The Knight’s Reward-a short story.

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He laid down the black heart at the old man’s feet, it still beat sometimes… but much weaker than when he had cut it out of its body. The old man looked unimpressed, ‘so you killed the monster?’

The knight, still high on the frenzy that comes from blood nodded; he laid his sword down in the Wizard’s shadow… it still shone with the wyrm’s life blood.

‘Tell me Ser, how did you accomplish this feat?’ the knight bowed reverentially, ‘night and day I climbed up the mountain where it stayed.’ it seemed like just now when he finally climbed on the final ledge and came upon the sleeping devil.

‘The wyrm roared and spat hellfire on me!’ it had been sound asleep, its lair reeking of rotten flesh and something much worse. ‘But I was quicker, I ducked behind a stone and waited for it to tire.’ there was a treasure in its lair. More gold than he had seen in all his life. ‘When the beast paused I threw a piece of glass to distract it from Me.’ even a peasant knew of a wyrm’s lust for all that glittered.

‘When it turned I jumped on its back and drew out my sword’ he made a swinging motion ‘and chopped off the devil’s head!’

‘Hmm… so the monster knew you were there when you killed him?’ the knight was startled, he pretended to be offended ‘yes,’ he answered curtly, ‘the wyrm knew who had slain it?’ it wasn’t a lie, you see just before he pierced the monster’s heart the beast did wake up. It’s dying cry still rang in his ears.

The old wizard nodded, ‘and did the monster said anything to you?’

‘My lord,’ said the knight, ‘a wyrm is no being of sentience. It showed nothing more than the low cunning of its kind.’ of course he was not going to tell the man what it said, those words were a curse and he knew for he had heard far too many of them in his years. ‘What you are, is what I was,’ the monster had sighed in its guttural voice ‘what I am… is what you will be.’ no! He cannot tell the old man about the curse lest he thinks him unworthy.

‘very well.’ the wizard agreed, ‘what do you want?’ the knight checked his temper, he had killed the monster on the old man’s order, he had traveled a hundred leagues and back to the monster’s lair and risked his own life in the process. The least he could ask for was gratitude!

‘You seem angry Ser,’ noticed the wizard ‘does it have to do with me?’ the knight remained stoic, ‘ah! You must forgive an old man’s irreverence.’ he smiled at the Knight; sitting on the rock on the hillside he had first given the task to the knight.

‘Ask for anything you want and it’ll be yours.’

The knight went down on one knee ‘to serve you alone is my reward.’ the wizard smiled, broader now obviously flattered. ‘We do not have to play this game young knight.’ the knight frowned; it had been a long time since anyone called him “young”.

‘I have heard of you Ser, and of your quest.’ the knight looked pretended to be confused, ‘it wasn’t a coincidence that you arrived here when I needed you. It was ordained so a long time ago.’

He could already feel the success, just a bit more.

‘My quest could be fulfilled only if I have proven myself worthy!’ he said empathically.

The old man chuckled, ‘you are a cunning one alright.’ he admitted

‘Yet,’ the knight was surprised by the sudden hardness in the old man’s voice ‘you are no different than others. Are you?’

‘I killed your monster.’

‘You killed a monster.’

‘ Because you asked me to!’ the wizard shook his head, ‘you killed it because you wanted to, for the reward and for glory, is it not true? Ser Wyrmsbane?’ Wyrmsbane ! The knight smiled despite himself.

‘Enough jests, let us be honest now Ser Wyrmsbane shall we?’

The knight bowed his head ‘my Lord knows of the reward I seek above all.’ he sensed the change in wizard’s mood, ‘indeed.’ said the wizard, ‘neither treasures nor kingdoms. Neither love nor peace.’

‘I can always gain them on my own.’ explained the knight. ‘indeed.’ agreed the Old man ‘yet, you are afraid.’ the old man’s voice was barely a whisper ‘frightened of what tomorrow holds for you in store.’

The knight stiffened, how much did the old man know? No! He thought he must not do anything foolish not now.

‘You grow weaker with each passing day, closer to your end.’   He was eight when he killed for the first time.

‘You know of the monsters waiting at the end of your road.’ he was eighteen and a young knight, absolved of sins and crusading in the foreign lands. Slaughtering blasphemes and raping heretics,

‘And these monsters you cannot kill with that sword of yours can you, Ser Wyrmsbane?’

He remembered the last stop he had made before scaling the mountaintop, the sweet young maiden he had lured and deflowered with his sweet words and false chivalry. He promised to take her away with him when he returned, make her his lady… just as he had promised to so many others. All their faces now merged into one in his mind.

‘Why did you not come?’ they ask ‘why? Why?’

‘You have made enemies and betrayed friends so you fear vengeance.’

‘ENOUGH!’ said the knight, his armor grew heavier as his breath raced, and he had never felt as old as he did now. ‘Grant me my wish or let me go.’ growled the knight, the wizard chuckled.

‘immortality.’ mused the old man who had seen five and forty kings in his time ‘to defeat the final enemy.’ the knight remained stoic, ‘to outlive your enemies and all who mean you ill. Is that what you wish?’

Yes! Yes! Yes! That was all he ever thought of… the future, the uncertainty of tomorrow was the only thing that terrified him. Never thought twice the Knight before jumping into the fray of the battle or maw of monster but nightmares of old age kept him awake all night until he drowned them with wine. Neither his armor nor his sword could keep away the chains of time.

The wizard nodded, at the snap of his fingers, raven-clouds turned the dusk into midnight. Thunder rumbled and the storm picked up. Yes! The knight thought, finally.

‘ I give you exactly what you seek Ser Wyrmsbane! ‘ the voice rang with authority; the knight could have felt the magic coursing through him.

‘ Let the bonds of mortality be severed so the true form could be released! ‘ wait! Something was not right… immortality should not hurt this much.

‘ Let the past loosen its grip and the future sees you as you are!’ the Knight screams in agony. His body twists upon itself… his armor stretches and cracks, the jerkin underneath sizzles as his skin cracks and darkens. ‘Noooooo!!’

‘You will live forever, neither age nor die.’ ‘    AAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!’ his voice cracks ‘you can not…’ reduced to guttural sounds of an animal.

There was something cruel in the way the old man smiled, what used to be a knight whimpers in pain… his head was splitting in agony, his body was pitch black as if burnt crisp… when he sighs, he breathes fire.

‘Welcome to immortality, Ser.’ the monster whimpers, why?

The wizard looks down at him, still on all four ‘ why you ask Ser?’ what used to be a knight cowers, terrified of the frail old man.

‘You should know immortality brings out the true form of a man. You have slain monsters all your life but in your core, you were always one of them.’

The wyrm snarls, the old man annoys him with his smile ‘but that’s not all bad, is it?’

‘Soon your memories would fade and you would be reduced to a true beast.’ the monster roars, unleashing a jet of blue flames on the puny thing.

‘ENOUGH!’ sky rumbled and despite himself, the dragon fell quiet. The wizard rose above its fire, untouched.

‘You have caused much pain.’ it snapped its jaws at him ‘go now, back to the darkness. Enjoy your reward as the one before you.’ there was power in the voice; the urge to escape overwhelms it all of a sudden. The wyrm spreads its enormous wings and flies away, away from the old man.

The black dragon found a lair deep in the mountains where he laid himself down to rest.

He still sleeps in the darkness, he dreams about a man killing a monster.

 

sword_daughter__sleeping_dragon_by_kimsokol-d8e17zl
art credit: http://kimsokol.deviantart.com/art/Sword-Daughter-Sleeping-Dragon-507301041

 

 

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