The King of Illiath
Many years had passed since that night in the mysterious woods, and the boy grew in stature and wisdom. This boy, Alexander, never forgot his night in the Dragon Forest. Soon after, King Aléon of Illiath in the land of Théadril, died. Alexander inherited the kingdom and ruled with all fairness and humility as his father had before him. Years later, Alexander loved Lady Laurien of Glenthryst and the two wed. A few years later, King Alexander fathered a son. After nine years of bountiful joy together, one winter his beautiful queen became ill. The King and the Prince mourned her death.
Now, with a young son to rear and a kingdom to rule, he found himself at a crossroads. Once more evil had entered the kingdom as the inevitable rumors of war spread through the valleys and between kingdoms as the scales of the Dragon were still coveted by man.
King Alexander sought to protect the forest green and leave it in peace.
“Where is Master Peter?” asked the Steward. “He is to eat his lunch now.”
In the large steamy kitchen of the great castle, the busy servants looked at the Steward with confusion as they did not know where the lad had squandered off to this time. Always hiding from the servants who wanted him to eat or do his school work or clean his room, Peter was a master at hiding in the large castle.
The Great Palace of King Illiath sat high on a hill overlooking the different lands it governed. Many other kings thought Illiath foolish to build his castle so low to the river’s edge instead of carving it out of a mountain peak to ward off enemy attacks and sieges, but Illiath knew that in order to build his castle out of a mountain, he would have to build it away from the Dragon Forest. And this was not a possibility. He insisted the forest remain in his sights at all times. Rolling hills covered in grasses painted the landscape in green hues like an artist’s canvas. The Castle, made of grey limestone, brick, timber, and earth, took decades to complete, but it was worth the toil and labor. Illiath, King Alexander’s grandfather, for whom the kingdom was named, hired masons and stone workers from far away lands to construct a manor worthy of a King. Enormous walls surrounded the outer court as a ring of defense. Here was where the archers and foot soldiers perched with a clear field of fire in case of attack. Past the first ring of walls and towers stood the second ring of grayish stone walls and wooden gates which led to the main castle entrance. The two rings made the castle imposing and one would approach with apprehension were it not for the gates facing North, South, East, and West. These gates allowed the citizens from the nearby towns and farms to enter with leisure in order to conduct trade and commerce. Surrounding the castle was a mote dug deep and filled with river water to prevent enemy attacks over the walls. A drawbridge was constructed to be lowered when the main gate was opened to allow villagers to enter at will. The courtyard was an open thriving place of business for the people of Illiath. Here was where the stable grooms looked after the horses of the King and his Knights. The blacksmiths made horseshoes and other metal objects of use. The Armorer mended the armor and weapons of the Knights so they would always be ready for jousting games or battle. The Chaplain had his chapel next to the Solar and this is where the King had his own private quarters. The Chaplain, who led services for the King’s garrison, Knights, and squires, lived on the other side of the courtyard as did the servants in their quarters. Huntsman and falconers trained daily to perfect the hunt as they knew at anytime the King himself would join them on their next adventure for pheasant, wild boar, or duck. All the game they brought back each day would be stored in the keep next to the kitchen. The cook and his scullions prepared the food for each meal. Not only did they serve the King and his men delicious meals, but they prepared food for all the soldiers and servants. The smell of fresh bread always lingered in the courtyard as the bakers and their assistants were busy baking all day and into the night.
The wine was supplied by the vintner, and the King’s butler took charge of the wine cellar hidden far beneath the Castle’s foundation. The wine and spirits flowed every time the Knights and their squires celebrated a victory in the great hall. Amongst all the fuss and noise and business in the castle court were the women workers who spun sheep’s wool into thread to help sew up the torn uniforms of the Knights and soldiers. They made clothes for everyone who lived in the castle as well as washed the clothes and repaired them. It was a lowly job, and so the King always made sure these women and their families dined with him and his family every Harvest Moon. He appreciated all the hard work of his servants in the Palace.
Woodworkers, tax collectors, soldiers, and servants worked hastily every day as the farmers bought and sold their hogs, sheep, and goats all within the castle courtyard. It was a small city within the walls. It was a peaceful and prosperous time in the land. As each soldier stood along the outer curtain walls of the palace, they could behold the Dragon Forest to the north with all its mystery and beauty.
Peter hid in his usual place in the castle this afternoon. Still small for ten years of age with his mop top of thick brown hair, he peaked out from under the massive mahogany table in the center of the large meeting hall. The noon sun shone through the large colored cut glass of the windows and its light cast down on the checkered floors. The floors were so shiny that Peter could see his reflection in them. And he could see reflections of others too. Prince Peter knew all the perfect hiding places of the castle. For all these ten years, he had many excellent opportunities to search them out. His father was very busy fending off threats of war and attack. Peter chose this place on this day because he knew his father, the King, would be meeting here later that day.
“Caught you!” yelled the Steward as he quickly lifted the red tablecloth up to reveal the Prince.
“Time…for…lunch!” he said as he sternly took Peter’s arm and pulled him from underneath the table when the trumpets sounded. “Too late,” he mumbled. “…your father is here.”
Relieved, Peter scurried away as the Steward released his arm and stood at attention to greet the arriving King. The huge wooden doors swung open and revealed the King followed by his many knights and their servants in waiting. Their armored bodies clanged loudly as they walked by, and their armored shoes clicked along the floors of the entryway making such a clamorous commotion that all the nearby servants peaked out from behind the walls to see what was happening. Their faces were serious and rigid, leaving the impression that this meeting was most urgent.
“My Lord,” the Steward said as he bowed his head toward the King who hurried by him. He noticed a distressed look on the King’s face. He then turned to see if, by chance, Peter was still nearby. But, alas, it was no use. The Prince was off to find another hiding place.
“Attention!” the head knight exclaimed as they all entered into the great hall to hear what the King had to say.
The hall was grand indeed. The ceilings, almost fifty feet high, loomed over a large painting of The Dragon Forest on one wall and the beautiful portrait of the Queen fair on the other wall behind the King’s throne. Great arches framed the doorways and halls. Long velvet drapes hung alongside the entryway held open with cords of fine silk thread. The walls near the entrance were decorated with royal crests of each of the ten rulers made from hammered steel and framed in mahogany wood. A few sets of full armor suits stood by the crests as memorials to past armor designs of Alexander’s father and grandfather. Standing in the middle of the Great Hall, stood a large table big enough to fit all the King’s knights around it. A thick and heavy red table runner with the King’s crest stitched in gold upon it lay on the table. Fine tapestries hung near the windows. Gifts from overseas, they were brought by visiting dignitaries. Burning torches lit up the great room. On this particular day, all of the Knights eagerly gathered around without patience even to sit. Their armor reflected the light of the torches and candles sending streams of light bouncing throughout the room. It was an awesome sight to see these warriors together in one room. Peter found it hard to conceal his delight.
The King’s forehead was wrinkled and his mouth formed a solid frown, for he had been to a secret meeting with one of his spies earlier that day. And the news was not good-the most distressing news was about the illusive Lord Caragon and his plans. The King shared this news with his men.
“My Lord, we must have those scales!” his head Knight shouted as he pounded his fist on the large table. The crash of fist meeting table sent a loud echo throughout the hall. All their eyes were on the King.
Sir Peregrine, the head Knight, had been the King’s most noble and, indeed, his bravest knight for many years. He had fought alongside Alexander when he was still a young Prince in the Battle of Cornshire. It was this battle that impressed the young Prince to name Peregrine his head Knight once he became King. Knighting Peregrine was one of the first acts of Alexander’s rule. Now the two of them faced possible war again. The King was glad his brave friend was beside him once more. With Sir Peregrine on his side, he felt they could win any battle.
“It is our only chance,” another knight replied. The Knights looked worried and agitated. “Here, here!” the others shouted in one voice.
Many of the King’s Knights lived outside the kingdom in their own nearby estates. They had earned the respect of the local villagers for they were men of great wealth and prestige. Now they were gathering once again with their King to have their voices heard.
Peter, listening and watching from up on the balcony near his room, overheard the knights’ words. He couldn’t believe what he had heard and he gasped. Hoping they did not hear him, he continued to listen as his father explained his plans to his knights. Peter’s hands were tightly wrapped around the stair rails as he pondered the idea of an impending war with all its consequences and destruction to the lands.
Sir Peregrine laid out his detailed plans. He desired to take some archers and foot soldiers and enter into the Dragon Forest to capture the Dragon for the kingdom in order to have the scales for themselves.
“The enemy must not have them, sire.” He explained as he walked around the large table. “If they obtain those scales before we do, all is lost.” His silver armor glistened in the light of the many candles above them. Of all the King’s Knights, he was by far the bravest, having won every joust and battle for the King and kingdom.
“You would dare enter into the forest where no man has entered before and lived to tell his tale?” the King asked. “Well, no one except one boy…” he smiled.
Peregrine stood silent.
“All is not lost,” the King said. “We must not take what is not ours.”
He paced the great hall as his men discussed the news. Their voices were getting louder and louder as their frustration grew. The King understood their desire for the scales and for battle. Lo these many years, they have gone without war and the idleness of peace has caused some of them to dangerously lust for war while others, blindly led by their complacency, craved peace. But a wise King must always hesitate to reflect before going into any battle. He must carefully weigh the costs involved. There is a high price for this kind of wisdom that every King must face…alone. Inside his head, the King found himself standing before the portrait of his late wife. Gazing into her lovely face, he missed her wise counsel. As he stood still, he could almost hear her voice. In the fine portrait, her long black hair lay across her bare shoulders of white skin and he could almost smell her scent of wild cornflowers and lavender.
His thoughts then turned to their son and all the families in the village. As King, it was up to him to protect those families. As he turned to make his way back to the table, he saw the large painting of the Dragon Forest across the room. Its beauty was mystifying as well. Its haunting presence had been with him all his life. What lay inside the wall of trees was unknown to all except the young boy who grew to be King. He stared at the massive, detailed painting in its enormous frame covered with gold. He could almost smell the mist. The memory of the black crow and its “caw” stirred him from his trance. He realized his men were staring at him now in silence. With head down and hands folded behind his back, he cautiously walked over to the table. Finally, the King spoke.
“We have truth and honor on our side,” he said as he looked at the large grand painting of the Dragon Forest once again. “With these attributes, as well as justice for our shield, we will not fail. We will not be defeated.”
“Here, here!” the loyal Knights shouted in agreement.
“I, as King, have the awesome responsibility to protect all the people of the village. I have sworn my life to the cause. Therefore, I must weigh all the costs involved in war. It is a heavy task indeed. One I do not take lightly,” the King finished.
Tapping his gloved fingers on the table, Sir Peregrine sat somberly and patiently listed. Avarice deep inside his heart for the scales of the Great Dragon had changed him. It was incomprehensible to him that his King wanted to protect the beast he had never seen at all costs only because of a legend and myth told to him long ago. He wanted to say this to Alexander, but he knew it was of no use. No one could change the King’s mind once it was made up. Still, he wondered how he could continue to serve a King he no longer believed in.
He looked around the table searching for the eyes of those who were in agreement with him and gave them a signal. They nodded in approval.
Peregrine stopped tapping his finger.
“But I am afraid you do not see the urgency of this moment!” Peregrine offered to the King as he stood. “We know Lord Caragon is already devising a plan to enter into the forest, strike the Dragon, and use the scales against us. We are defenseless without those scales. There is only so much we can do to protect the land.”
Many Knights nodded in agreement.
The King would not relent.
“We will go to war to defend our land, but we will not take what is not rightfully ours in order to do it. We can stand on our own…and we will!” The King shouted.
His beloved friend looked on with anger. Something had happened in that instant between the two men. The King thought it just a disagreement, but Peregrine saw it as the beginning of the end.
Peter’s heart began to race in his chest and he could hardly stand still. He wished he could be part of this meeting. He felt he was ready to stand with his father. His fists tightened around the stair posts even tighter than before until his knuckles were white and his fingers ached. He watched a little while longer as they argued on into the afternoon.
He ran to his room and opened the window that overlooked The Dragon Forest.
There it was. His window framed the forest now as some sort of gilt frame around a painting in the hall. The sun was lower in the sky and the trees were a dark green. It looked so mysterious and yet so ordinary at the same time. He had stared at the forest since he could peak out this window. He could still hear his mother’s voice telling him all the secrets of the Dragon and its lair. He picked up his small wooden sword in his hands. Looking out at the great forest green, he dreamed.
All his life he had heard the tales of the forest and the Dragon who lived there. Tales he heard from his father, his mother, the servants, and the Knights swarmed in his head. He had wished he could fight alongside his father in battle, but he was still too young. He lined up his stuffed toys and wooden soldiers along his bed and told them of his plans for battle. They listened to their master in silence. He grabbed his sword and raised it high above his head. He then pretended to fight the Dragon as his toys looked on. His sword sliced through the air as he imagined slaying the mighty beast and taking its scales. He climbed up on his bed as if climbing a mountain. He leaped down as if charging the great Dragon. He raised his sword and stabbed the great beast with one fatal blow. It was done. The kingdom was saved. Then he climbed on his soft feather bed, lay down, and dreamed of what real battle must be like.
“I wish I could slay dragons, don’t you?” he asked his toys, but they remained silent.
Their silence was deafening. He stared at them wishing he had someone to talk to. His toys never laughed with him or made up games to play with him. He rolled over and stared out the window as he dreamed of what was out there. Hours had passed and the sun was low in the vast sky casting long shadows throughout the room. Light bounced off the bed and the shelves in Peter’s room as he daydreamed.
He remembered when he and his father would play together in his room. They would laugh and play until they were so tired they could not laugh anymore.
But, lately, his father had been so busy with things about the kingdom that they had very little time together. He missed his father. He wished he had an adventure. He wished he had a friend.
Then the Dragonslayer fell asleep.