The looks on the faces of my characters did not match the strength and determination in my voice; their looks more closely matched the lack of confidence I was trying to mask with my bravado. I repeated myself to the distraught knights. “You will not be annihilated. Not if we can help it.”
Dragon nodded, though somewhat hesitantly. “What is it you are up against? Tell us the number and nature of your attackers, that we might coordinate a plan to defeat them.”
The ranking knight frowned. “We know not who . . . or what . . . they are, nor how many. They come in a thick, rolling fog. We never see them. We only hear the devastation as the castle is laid waste. When the fog lifts, more of the castle we defend lies in ruins.”
Dragon blinked, cocked her head, and frowned. “So, you know not what it is you fight?”
The knight bowed his head. “We do not.”
My Old Dwarf scoffed. “How kin ye be fightin’ summat ye do na e’en be seein’?”
The knight sighed. “That, noble dwarf, is the conundrum.”
Black smoke started to drift from Dragon’s snout. “I daresay we need to hear your story from the beginning.”
The trio of knights exchanged wary looks. Slowly, they lay down their shields, but did not sheath their weapons before cautiously drawing near.
The ranking knight was the first to speak. “First, let us make our introductions. I am Sir Daniver. My companions are Sir Hrolf and Sir Jenneseer.”
I proffered my hand. “I am known as Mistress Writer, and these are some of my characters.”
“What?” Sir Daniver had started to reach for my outstretched hand but jumped back, and his eyes widened. “Thy … thy characters?”
“We will explain later.” Dragon puffed a cloud of smoke from her nostrils. “We need to hear your story now, that we may formulate a workable defense.”
Sir Daniver eyed us suspiciously, but he began the tale. “We come from a distant kingdom. Our country has been at peace for many generations. It is a good kingdom in which to live. We enjoy unparalleled prosperity. All in our nation have full bellies, and none want for material goods.”
Sir Hrolf picked up the tale. “It is a good kingdom in which to live. It is a boring kingdom in which to be a knight.”
Sir Jenneseer nodded. “We have tournaments every week. The same knights walk away with the top honors week after week.”
“Eh, then ye be jealous o these knights!” My Old Dwarf gave the knights an understanding nod.
“No, Sir Dwarf. We are those knights.” Sir Daniver blushed, and he scuffed his toe in the dirt. “I do not boast. It is fact. We have bested our competition in more tournaments than we can remember . . . every single week for half a decade now, at least.”
Sir Hrolf clenched his jaw and slammed his fist into his open palm in frustration. “We had no one worthy against whom to test ourselves. We wished only to be able to prove ourselves against a new and challenging opponent.”
My Old Dwarf nodded again, a slight smile of understanding tugging at the corners of his mouth. “So ye be wishin’. An’ summat be grantin’ ye yer wish.”
Sir Daniver winced and hung his head. He mumbled his reply. “Yes. Wish listeners, they called themselves. Strange, mesmerizing little creatures. Once they had lured us to this castle with promises of a most challenging opponent, they told us we could only return to our own kingdom if we could defeat the enemy who besieged this castle.”
The other two knights blushed and spoke as one. “We were fools!”
Cleric furrowed her brow. “Have you tried to find your way back to your own kingdom?”
Sir Daniver nodded. “Yes, Milady. We have roamed the countryside for miles around. We have spoken with many of the inhabitants of this land, following their directions to the supposed route back to our own land. We always end up back here, often just as another attack is being waged on the castle.”
“If the last of these ruins fall, we will be forced to remain here in exile for the rest of our natural lives.” Sir Jenneseer’s voice was choked with emotion.
“We will not allow that to happen.” I sounded a lot more confident than I felt.
“But . . . but thou shalt not use witchcraft. We will not accept the aid of a witch.” Sir Daniver thumped his hand in his palm.
Dragon snorted. “We will use any means at our disposal, and you will accept our aid.”
“Indeed!” Cleric smoothed her robes. “You welcomed the aid sent by the Lord of the Forest, whom you know to be a magical creature. Surely you realized some in our company wield magic!”
The knight shook his head and scowled. “Magic and witchcraft are two different things!”
Dragon snorted again. “None among us are witches, but several of us wield magic powers that may be able to save you and this castle.”
Sir Daniver grumbled, but grudgingly acquiesced.
“Then, with thy help, we will not face defeat and exile?” Sir Hrolf tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in a pleading gesture.
“We will not allow that to happen.” I tried to sound more confident than I felt.
“No, we will not.” Cleric shook her head with determination. “If we were not equal to this undertaking, the Lord of the Forest would not have tasked us with providing aid to the three of you.”
“I hope thou art right, Milady. I most fervently pray thou art right!” Sir Jenneseer brought his clasped hands to his mouth and closed his eyes.
“Praying is all well and good, but we need a plan.” My Gypsy turned to my Foreman. “You were a commander in your king’s mounted guard. Can you devise a defense?”
“It will be most difficult against an unknown and unseen enemy.” My Foreman rubbed his chin. “I believe other members of our group are more suited for this type of warfare.” He turned to Dragon. “Mayhap you can use your power of illusion to provide us with horses.”
Dragon nodded. “It will be done.”
“And more men at arms.” My Young Hero added.
Dragon nodded. “The annoying elf and I will coordinate a defense with you and the other non-magic users. Sorceress, Cleric, and the Gypsy lad will use their powers where they can.”
Sorceress pursed her lips. “Dragon, you and the Arrogant One might be able to cast your illusory magic with no aids, but Cleric, the Gypsy lad, and I need our spell components and paraphernalia to create our enchantments. Without them, we cannot be of much use.”
Sir Jenneseer sidled closer to Sorceress and cleared his throat. The knight glanced over at his two comrades, who were deep in conversation with my Foreman and my Bounty Hunter. He made certain they did not overhear his whispered conversation. “There are some books, some spell components, and other paraphernalia within the ruins.”
Sorceress gave the knight a penetrating look. “Are you certain of this?”
Sir Jenneseer glanced again at his fellow knights and lowered his voice even further. “I am certain. My . . . my sister is a hedge witch.” He blushed and hung his head. “I have seen items of this sort many times, so I easily recognized them when I chanced upon them. Thou wilt find botanicals and other components as well as the necessary apparatus.”
Dragon turned to Sorceress. “Go, then.”
Sorceress nodded and departed with Cleric and my Gypsy, while Dragon and my Arrogant One stayed to coordinate efforts with my Foreman, my Bounty Hunter, my Young Hero, my Old Dwarf and the knights.
Several hours later, we were prepared.
Are our preparations sufficient to save the castle? If we prevail, will the Lord of the Forest keep his promise and allow us to go back to our own world? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.