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Country of Frozen Time
Translated from Russian
Jane H. Buckingham
Translation edited by
Shona Brandt and Dmitrii Suslin
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Titles in the Series
Prince of the White Tower
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURE
When Knight Caterino and his brother the Prince of the White Tower left the
Country of Frozen Time, Christian’s heart became empty. It was as if something very
precious had been taken away from it. In essence, it had.
Although the little troll Drool remained with him, the feeling of loneliness
oppressed him more strongly every day. Even his brothers, who had started to treat
Chris quite differently from the moment he was knighted, could not dispel his grief. It
became somewhat easier for Knight Christian when he met the kind look in the Fairy of
Eternal Youth’s beautiful eyes. But this did not happen often. And only for a short
moment. Immediately a whirlwind of courtiers flew to the Fairy and carried her off to
their eternally cheerful world, which did not agree with the boy’s mood.
Drool also started to pine for Kate very quickly. Even the countless candies,
cakes, and other sweets at the merry parties did not cheer him up. In order to take the
edge off his yearning somewhat, he did not stay a step away from Chris, but the boy was
so sad that, looking at him, Drool became even sadder.
Nevertheless, the friends did not part from each other. Together they went to the
Capital with the Fairy of Eternal Youth’s retinue.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Oh, it was a great caravan, which the country had not seen for all the time of its
existence. Immediately after the defeat of Alexandro the Black and the Defence Minister
Leonari and the coronation of the Fairy, ambassadors were sent to the Capital. The news
that the Country of Frozen Time had the Fairy as its new ruler had spread with the speed
of bird flight around the whole country, and rulers of provinces, regions, and
principalities rushed from all directions to the Fairy to pay her respect and allegiance
and obtain her goodwill.
Tired of wars and strife, the country welcomed the new Sovereign, who
guaranteed the return of order, peace, and lawfulness. That is why a small modest
convoy, which consisted of three hundred people, transformed into a caravan of
thousands after a week. This entire multicoloured triumphant cavalcade made its way to
the east, to the Capital. It moved slowly, because it often stopped to accommodate
another reception of this or that ruler, who hurried to declare his loyalty to the Fairy of
Eternal Youth and arranged a merry feast with dancing and entertainment in the
evening, of which the Fairy was so fond. The feast lasted most of the night; therefore,
they got up and again set off on the road late in the afternoon. However, no one was
upset about this; on the contrary, everybody was happy and waited for new meetings
and receptions, and the next night’s festivities.
However, none of this cheered up Christian. Even the Fairy was tired of his
eternally sad look. “Knight Christian,” she once remarked, “I understand that it’s hard
for you to part with your friends, but you can’t pine for them forever!”
Christian tried to smile, but the smile was so sour that the Fairy only twisted her
lips resentfully and said nothing. She was sitting high up in an elegant coach, while
Christian and Drool were riding beside it. But here a page at hand distracted the
Sovereign, declaring that the ruler of the Green Principality, Prince Arinako, had come
to ask her to accept the allegiance of his principality. The Fairy gave the order to meet
the famous and honourable Prince as expected of his rank.
Chris and Drool hurried to leave the Fairy and rode to the camp, to Chris’
brothers. They chanced upon a cavalry detachment headed by a grey-haired man.
Everyone who accompanied him was dressed in green, and Chris surmised that this was
Prince Arinako, whom he knew from Kate’s stories. A boy of ten on a magnificent horse
rode beside the prince, and the young knight realized that this was the prince’s son
Arian, who could have become Knight Caterino’s squire but did not.
“Do you remember how you first met Knight Caterino?” Drool asked, as if
guessing his thoughts. Chris blushed. Yes, his first meeting with Knight Caterino ended
up being quite jolly for all three of them: Caterino was almost beaten up and Chris fell
into Drool’s trap.
“You know, Sweet Tooth, every day it gets harder for me to stay here,” Chris
sighed. “This court life is not for me. Have I really become a knight just to participate in
balls and ceremonies of the court of Her Majesty? I was born for adventure and
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
wandering. My horse has become stale from the eternal slow pace. Do you understand
“Of course,” agreed Drool. “You’re bored. Life with Caterino was much more
interesting. But where will you find adventure now?”
“It’ll find us! One has only to go on the road. It’s the law of a wandering knight.
Are you ready to go with me on a journey?”
Drool blushed with pleasure. “You’re asking me to go with you?”
“Yes, I’m proposing that you become my squire and set off travelling the world.
Otherwise, we’ll both die from boredom in this crowd of merrymakers and flatterers of
the court. Will we ever learn to be so skilled at flattering, making small talk, and
proposing toasts at the table? Or is it that you can’t leave these tables loaded with cakes
Drool was offended. “Of course I love cakes and pastries very much,” he said
guiltily, “but I value friendship above all.”
“These are great words, Drool! I wasn’t doubting you.”
“Thank you.” Drool was pleased. “Of course I agree to be your squire and will
serve you as you served Knight Caterino. When are we leaving?”
“Tomorrow morning. We’ll go to the Fairy of Eternal Youth tonight and ask her to
let us travel. I’m sure she won’t refuse us.”
They so decided. What was said was done. The friends started to prepare for the
journey. It took them only half an hour. They were experienced travellers.
When everything was ready, they began to discuss in which direction they should
begin their journey. Chris wanted to return to where they had already visited because
there were plenty of dangers there; Drool thought that they should see new places
because that was expected of real travelers. They even argued a little and then decided to
toss a coin at the first intersection.
Evening came. Chris and Drool were in the tent, and the sound of music and
beating of drums reached them from outside. As always, the merriment had started.
“We have to go to the Fairy.” Chris immediately became serious and preoccupied.
He began to think of a speech to present to the Sovereign. “Our time has come!”
The friends inspected each other – whether they looked proper and whether their
costumes looked fine. It would be very untimely to disgrace themselves. When you are
thirteen and the centre of attention of hundreds and thousands of adults, this imposes a
great responsibility. Besides, it was about his honour and that of his family.
Christian prayed on a strip of carpet, remembering his mother Eliza and mentally
asking for her blessing, then went out of the tent with Drool. The friends were dressed
for travelling. A sword hung from the belt of each, and their faces were serious.
“Hey Chris!” one of his brothers shouted at him. “Where are you going?”
Only then did the boy remember that he had not told his brothers or consulted
them. “Enolio,” he turned to his brother. “I need to tell you all something. Will you
please gather our brothers in the big tent?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Enolio looked attentively at his younger brother and nodded in assent. “Of
course, little brother. Wait for us!”
Chris went into the tent where the brothers usually dined together. He sat at his
own spot and sat Drool down next to him. Within minutes, his brothers began to come
one after another into the tent. Richard’s squire did not even have time to put cups on
the table, when the brothers were already together. All thirteen.
“Christian, son of Richard the Brave and Eliza the Unapproachable,” the oldest,
Richard, turned to him. “What do you want to announce to us?”
Chris told them everything. He ended with these words: “I’ve already been a
knight for so many days, but indeed I’ve done nothing for this title. Not one feat. My
whole life could go this way.”
Several minutes passed in silence. Finally, Richard rose and said, “And you’re
asking us to bless you in the absence of our mother?”
“You’ve decided to follow in our footsteps?”
“Well,” Richard sighed sadly. “We have no right to stop you. Everyone from the
Brave clan chooses his destiny. And you’ve chosen yours.” The brothers nodded
approvingly, agreeing with the words of the oldest.
He continued, “You chose the most difficult destiny. The destiny of a knighterrant. Now you’ll live by special rules. Don’t violate them. Serve honestly and
honourably. Don’t bring shame to our name. Each of us has been a wandering knight
and none of us has disgraced our name. We’re certain that you won’t let us down.
Receive our blessing.” With these words, he walked to Christian and hugged him. All the
brothers got up and did the same. Each of them added his own wish. When the
ceremony of blessing was over, everyone again took his place.
Richard said in the end, “Let fortune be with you, little brother. Today we have
the right to recall that, thanks to you, we can now talk, breathe fresh air, and ride. You
saved us, and we’re grateful. After the Fairy sits on the throne of the White Tower, we’ll
set off to our castle to our mother,” the voice of the stern knight quavered with this. “She
hasn’t seen us for so many years! We’ll relieve her loneliness and surround her with care
and filial affection. She deserves it. Our father died and our hearts are full of grief for it,
so we’ll swear in memory of him, brothers, that four of us will be with her at all times...
In turn. Let her never experience bitter loneliness anymore. How she must have
suffered! And a task from us to you, Chris. Go to our castle and tell our mother that we
will soon come to her, and let her prepare the welcome.”
Thus the issue of in which direction Chris should set off was resolved. It was time
to go for an audience with the Fairy of Eternal Youth.
When the two friends reached the Fairy’s tent and were able to squeeze through
the crowd of courtiers and guards, they saw Alvansor the Flawless, Her Majesty’s chief
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“I see from your face, Knight Christian, that you have important business.”
Alvansor went straight to the point instead of greeting. “Do you want to see Her
“Please, Sir Alvansor,” the boy replied humbly.
“And you want to talk to her with as few people around as possible?” Alvansor
continued as if reading Chris’ thoughts.
“We will be very grateful.” Chris bowed.
“Nothing easier,” Alvansor winked at the boy. “It’s only that Her Majesty received
one of the rulers of the provinces. They had a long conversation. After that, the Fairy of
Eternal Youth asked to not let anyone see her for some time while she rests. But I
somehow think that she’ll make an exception for you.”
Alvansor disappeared into the Sovereign’s tent. He returned a minute later and
Chris understood from his exultant face that everything was fine. “Her Majesty asks you,
Sir Knight, and you, Mr. Troll, to enter her chamber. She is waiting for you.” The friends
were slightly bewildered by such solemnity.
“Christian Thirteen, son of Richard the Brave and Eliza the Unapproachable, and
Drool Hoskings, the youngest of the Hoskings family of trolls, lords of the Al de Baran
castle!” The royal valet announced their names, and Christian found out for the first
time that besides a name and a nickname, Drool also had a last name.
Her Majesty the Fairy of Eternal Youth was sitting in an expensive camp chair.
She gave the friends a favourable look. They in turn bowed almost to the ground.
“Chris, Drool,” she greeted them like old friends, “what brings you to me? Is this
so important that it can’t be said at the ball?”
Chris took a deep breath for courage and revealed to her everything he wanted to
say. The Fairy of Eternal Youth listened very attentively, and gradually her face
saddened. By the time the boy finished, she had become so sad that Chris and Drool,
who could not have failed to notice it, also became depressed, not knowing why.
“I understand you perfectly, Christian.” The Fairy got up from her chair and
walked over to the boy. The enchantress was completely unlike a sovereign and queen.
She more resembled a girl almost the same age as Chris. “And your request is clear to
Chris took a step forward.
“But I must disappoint you,” said the enchantress.
“Why is that?” Chris and Drool asked in chorus, looking at each other in
“Because I can only grant half of your request.”
Christian shrugged, not knowing what he wanted to say to Her Majesty.
The Fairy continued, “You’re asking me to let you and Drool wander around the
world. Do you like adventures? Well, you will have them. But the matter is that I have a
request for both of you.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The friends looked at each other. The Fairy of Eternal Youth wanted to ask them
something! This was an unprecedented honour.
“My request is addressed more to Drool. And I ask you, Chris, to allow him to
“We’re both at your service!” The boy and the troll bowed again.
“I ask you, Drool, to stay with me,” the Fairy said kindly, taking the troll by the
hand and looking him in the eye.
“Pardon me?!!” Drool was shocked, and Chris even more so.
“Yes, I need you, Drool, and I’m asking you to stay with me for a while.”
This was unexpected. Destiny had arranged it so that they had to part.
“Farewell, Drool!” Chris turned to the troll and rushed to hug him. “You must
stay here. You will not serve me. Well, your service is more honourable than being the
squire of an unknown knight, especially a boy.”
“No, Chris,” Drool started to calm him. “It just has to be. Right, Your Majesty?”
“You understand everything correctly,” the Fairy replied. “You can say goodbye
here, where nobody will see you, and I won’t disturb you. Till we meet again, Christian!”
And she left the tent to go outside, where thousands of people were waiting for her.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
After a few minutes, Chris came out with a resolute step. The farewell with Drool
did not take him much time. He was not a girl to be smeared with tears for long.
Although, girls also vary. A girl like Kate Konstantinova will beat any boy hands down.
Chris remembered Kate and became so sad that he nearly cried. He did not do so
because there were too many people around. But it was much worse in his heart. All the
same, it hurt him very much to part with Drool again and he only now realized it.
However, there was nothing to be done. Chris squeezed his fists tightly and headed to
his tent. He decided to ride off straight away, because he did not want to stay here
And then someone tugged at his jacket sleeve.
Chris looked around. Before him stood a boy a whole head shorter than him. He
was probably ten years old, tops. In the darkness, Chris could not immediately make out
the boy’s face, so he rather guessed that this was Arian, the son of Prince Arinako. Chris
was certain of this when a soldier with a torch walked past and the glare of the fire fell
on the boy’s head. Even in the darkness, it was evident that his hair had a greenish tint.
“What can I do for you?” Christian asked somewhat rudely.
By the way the boy bit his lip, it was clear that he was deeply offended by this.
However, he buried his resentment and asked with all the friendliness he could manage,
“Tell me, please, are you Knight Christian? Christian Thirteen?”
“Let’s assume so.” Chris still did not understand what the boy wanted.
“I’m Arian, son of Prince Arinako,” the boy introduced himself. It was obvious
that he was well brought up and proper dignity was well known to him. “I need to talk to
There was so much admiration in Arian’s eyes for a real knight that Chris
relented involuntarily. After all, he himself had only become a knight quite recently and
had not yet acquired any knightly arrogance. “What do you want to say to me?” he asked
“Is it true that you intend to set off on a journey?”
Chris’ eyebrows rose in surprise. “Who told you that?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“The Fairy of Eternal Youth told me, or rather my father.”
Chris was even more surprised.
“This afternoon during an audience.”
“This afternoon?” Chris asked himself rather than Arian. “Indeed, I only now told
her myself.” But he immediately remembered that the Fairy of Eternal Youth was the
most powerful enchantress in the Country of Frozen Time and was silent. “Let’s assume
that is so,” he said. “What follows from this?”
“She even said that you need a faithful squire.”
“She said that?”
“Word for word,” Arian said in such a convincing manner that it was impossible
not to believe him. “It happened when my father asked her, at my request, to appoint me
as squire to some knight. Then she said that at this moment only one knight needs a
squire and named you.”
“In other words,” Chris interrupted the boy, “you want to become my squire?”
Christian looked the boy over from head to toe with a critical gaze.
“I understand that I’m still not grown...”
“Not grown?” Christian laughed and Arian blushed to the roots of his hair. “Look
at you! After all, you aren’t even wearing pants yet but you want to go with me. Even the
village dogs and cats will laugh at me, seeing me with such a retinue.”
Arian was actually dressed according to the custom of the Country of Frozen
Time. His shirt did not cover his knees and was more like the tunic of an elf. On his bare
legs were short boots.
“Knight Caterino was a little older than me, but you were his squire!”
Chris was embarrassed.
Arian noticed it and continued the offensive. “I ride perfectly, shoot an arrow and
fight with a sword both on a horse and on land. This isn’t bragging. Simply any prince of
the Green Forest should be able to do all this from infancy. I swim like a fish and climb
trees like a squirrel. I throw a knife and take down a thin branch of a mountain ash from
ten steps away. And I run...”
“And you have a tongue so long that you can probably lick the stars with it
without getting out of bed.” Christian himself did not expect that he would manage such
a malicious joke, but a word once spoken is past recalling. The insult had been inflicted.
Both boys understood this.
“You forget yourself, Knight!” Arian instantly remembered that he was of a
princely family. “Maybe my tongue doesn’t always watch itself, but it isn’t wicked, and
doesn’t inflict insult on a person seen for the first time. I challenge you to a duel, and
you’ll be sure that you laughed at me in vain. As for knights, they indeed say that there ’s
apparently none haughtier in the world! I knew of only one knight who never put on
airs, and that was Knight Caterino!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Christian realized that he was wrong and already wanted to apologize to the
young prince, but the boy managed to say so much to him that an apology was out of the
“I am ready even now to satisfy your offended dignity!” Chris said. “Nor far from
here is a small ravine. I’ll wait for you there, and I don’t even need a second to turn your
splendid princely shirt into colourful festive ribbons.”
“We’ll see who’s what!” Arian snapped and ran off for weapons.
Ten minutes later, the boys were already standing at the bottom of the ravine and
ready to fight each other. It was late at night, but the huge moon sent light to the bottom
of the ravine, and the glare from hundreds of bonfires also reached them. Christian was
armed with a short sword and a dagger. Arian had a sword in one hand and a shield in
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Well, kid,” Christian decided to tease Arian and disrupt his composure, “you
attack first. Indeed, it was you who challenged me to a duel.”
However, Arian evidently knew no worse than Chris all the refinement of a duel,
because he did not even blink an eye and waited patiently.
“Ah, are you chicken?!” Christian shouted and brought the first blow down on
Chris had no intention of killing or even hurting Arian, so his blow was directed
past the boy. But his opponent took advantage of this, turned around, and dealt the
knight such a blow with his shield that Chris tumbled along the bottom of the ravine.
Christian got up, staggering.
“I don’t know such a move,” he muttered, and respect was in his voice. “Perhaps I
really was wrong?”
From these words, Arian’s mouth almost reached his ears. He had not expected
such quick acknowledgement. “How do you like that?” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
Arian penetrated Chris’ defence with a deceptive movement and, using his shield
as a cover from Chris’ dagger, knocked the sword out of Chris’ hand with his own sword.
Then Chris, in turn, threw his dagger onto the ground, grabbed the bottom edge of
Arian’s shield with both hands, and twisted it together with his opponent’s hand. Arian
screamed in pain and dropped his sword.
Chris put him nose down on the ground and said, “You did well, kid, but you still
have a lot to learn.”
Tousled and offended to the depths of his soul, Arian trudged off.
“You forgot your sword and shield!” Chris shouted from behind. He felt pity and
even sympathy for the brave boy.
Arian waved. “They’re yours now!” he shouted without turning around.
It seemed to Chris that tears sounded in the voice of the prince’s son, and he was
very sorry that he had treated Arian so harshly. He wanted to call to Arian and agree to
take him as a squire, but at that very second Arian cried out in pain, bumping into a
nettle bush, and Chris thought better of it. No, the small fry is of no use to him.
Excessive trouble, but not unseemly conduct. Besides, this forest dweller was drawn to
the trip only because of childish over-indulgence, and if so, then let him grow up a bit.
Chris set off to saddle Laura, his horse, a mare as black as a raven. Grabbing the
bridle and saddle in his own tent, he was already about to leave, when the canopy lifted
and a grey-haired, broad-shouldered man entered. Christian recognized him
immediately – it was Prince Arinako.
“Are you Knight Christian of the Brave clan?”
“Yes, I am!” Christian bowed. “To what do I owe such an honoured visit, Prince?”
“Just that you, Knight, were in a duel with my son, Arian. Is that so?”
“I would not call it a duel. Arian is a child.”
“Arian is my son first of all! The son of Prince Arinako! He has to answer for his
honour, just as I for him. He challenged you to a duel, is that so, Knight?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Yes,” Chris was forced to agree. He still did not understand what the prince was
“And you accepted this challenge?”
“That is true.”
“And your duel took place?” The prince could barely keep his irritation in check.
Chris said nothing, only nodded.
“And you won!”
“Yes,” Chris whispered.
“So why didn’t you kill my son but let him go back home with shame?” the prince
asked in a stern, accusing voice. “Why did you inflict such an insult on me and my
“How could I kill him? Indeed he’s younger than me and not even a knight.”
“Then why did you accept his challenge instead of boxing his ears or even
strapping him? No, once you acted this way, it means you accepted him as an equal. If
so, why did you spare his life? What is life to him, dishonoured? Arian!”
At the prince’s call, his son came timidly into the tent. Prince Arinako took him
by the shoulder and led him to Christian. “Here’s my son. You beat him in a duel, and he
doesn’t need your pity. He and I, we both demand that you now amend everything and
wash off the stain on our honour!”
“But how can I do that?”
With an abrupt movement, the prince ripped open Arian’s shirt and bared his
chest. “You must kill him!”
“Yes, kill him! Or I’ll kill him myself now.”
“I can’t do that.” Chris shrugged. “I’m not a murderer!”
“You should’ve thought of that earlier! If you won’t kill him, I’ll do it myself in
front of you. And his death will be on you. Then your family and our family will be
eternal enemies. While either one exists, there won’t be peace.”
Yes, Christian did not even suspect what a mess he had made. It was necessary to
find a way out. “Is there really nothing to be done to resolve our conflict without the
shedding of blood?”
Prince Arinako thought for a bit. For a moment, he ceased to be formidable and
important. “It depends on you.”
“Everything that depends on me, I’ll do it. Except murder, naturally!”
“Then take him with you.”
“What will I do with him?”
“Whatever you want. He’s now your property. Until forgiveness is received, he
will be your slave.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Well, not exactly a slave, of course,” Prince Arinako said pensively. “You
certainly don’t have the right to sell him. To sell or exchange, or even to lose. He will be
with you until he saves your life. When that happens, you can instantly dismiss him.
There is no other way.”
Christian looked at Arian, and it seemed to him that there was guile in the boy’s
eyes. “So I take him as a squire against my will?”
“You can think whatever you want about this. So, do you accept my proposal? If
not, then the boy won’t walk out of this tent alive.”
There was nothing left for Christian to do. “I agree,” he sighed.
“Thank you! You’re a noble knight!” With this exclamation, Prince Arinako held
out his hand to Christian, who shook it.
Then the prince turned to his son and said, “Now it’s in your power to wash the
shame from our name, Arian. Until that happens, I won’t be able to call you my son
“I will wash the shame from our name, Father!” the boy exclaimed passionately.
“Or I’ll die defending my master.”
“Serve honestly and with dignity.” With these words, the prince went with quick
steps out of the tent, where this entire conversation took place.
The boys looked at each other. Arian looked guilty and embarrassed. Christian’s
look, as befits a knight, was steely and stern. He looked at Arian for a long time, not
saying anything. His hand convulsively clutched the hilt of his sword. Arian clearly did
not like all this. He began to grow gloomy and almost sniffed, but remembered himself
in time. He was ready to endure anything from this young knight, stern beyond his
years, just to remain in his service.
Christian suddenly remembered unexpectedly how, very recently, when he was
still only Knight Caterino’s squire, his brothers, all knights, also ignored him and openly
mocked his age. This hurt him, and only Kate and his sworn brother Gene comforted
him. Now, in front of him was also a ten-year-old boy who risked his life and even his
honour to be his squire, and he was treating the boy just as his brothers had recently
Christian’s look began to soften a little. The steeliness disappeared from his
bright eyes, his eyebrows smoothed out on the bridge of his nose, and now he looked
openly and without hatred.
Arian, sensitive like a domestic cat, immediately noticed it and looked up. Guile
flickered in his eyes. In order to cover up his embarrassment, he hid his hands behind
Chris broke down and smiled. He could not be angry with his squire anymore.
And Arian understood it. “I’ll saddle your horse!” He picked up the saddle and
bridle off the ground. A second later he was no longer in the tent.
“Only don’t do anything without my permission!” Christian shouted after him.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
So, the young knight Christian Thirteen had acquired a squire in the most
unexpected way. However, in the Country of Frozen Time, as nowhere else, fate controls
the life of a person. This time, fate also made arrangements in its own way.
The convoy attending the ruler of the Country of Frozen Time was enjoying itself
to the utmost, when two boys left on horseback and made their way in the direction of
Bewitched Forest. No one, however, paid them any attention, because everyone was
unconcerned. Only one person followed them with his eyes and shook his head
thoughtfully. It was Richard.
“Ah, the time has come,” he said to himself. “Boys and girls become knights.
Where are we, old folks, to go now? These two will now take all that is most interesting
and exciting, and we’re only left to turn to stone and wait until someone in short pants,
or even without them, sets us free.”
The riders had disappeared from view, and Richard was already about to join the
revellers, when he suddenly saw something sparkling in the moonlight on the ground
ten steps from him. He walked over and picked up a horseshoe. Seeing it, Richard
frowned. It was a horseshoe from Christian’s horse. Richard wanted to call to the boys
and even took a few steps in their direction, but it was already too late. There was no
longer a trace of them. The older brother sighed bitterly. There is no worse sign for a
knight-errant than to lose a shoe at the very beginning of a journey.
“Oh, Christian, Christian,” Richard shook his head. “One word – thirteen!”
The unsuspecting knight and his squire were speeding neck to neck, trying to be
far away as quickly as possible from the merry caravan, where exciting events could
scarcely be waiting. The horses were quick and strong; they did not need to be spurred,
and sped without prodding, as if the mood of their riders had passed onto them. Hence,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
when morning came and the riders first felt fatigue, they were already far from the Fairy
of Eternal Youth and her court. Before them stretched virgin fields and meadows, and
on the left the blue band of Bewitched Forest was visible on the horizon.
“Are we going there?” Arian asked.
“No,” Chris replied. “We’ll visit my castle first. I must carry out a mission for my
brothers and then we’ll decide which way to go. Bewitched Forest is exactly for such
adventure seekers as us. But, you know, it doesn’t really attract me. I’ve been there
already. And there are too many unusual inhabitants. They live not according to human
laws, so they have no respect for wandering knights. Only don’t think that I’m chicken!”
“No, indeed,” Arian hurried to reply. “You’re free to do as you please. I’m just
your squire and follow you to where you tell me. By the way, this forest also doesn’t
attract me very much.”
“I’m sick to death of my own. I’ve lived in it for ten years. It’s unlikely there’s
anything in Bewitched Forest that’s not in mine.”
“You’re right.” Christian stopped his horse and looked around. “So many
interesting places in our country! We don’t have to search for long for something more
dangerous and impenetrable than any Bewitched Forest. We’ll leave it to dwarves and
mermaids. Uh, what’s with my horse?” Chris noticed that his horse had started to limp
slightly. He stopped and dismounted.
“Goblin, kill me!” he swore, when he had finished the inspection. “She has lost a
shoe.” The boy’s face grew very gloomy. His squire, who grasped knightly signs very
well, also scowled.
“A fine beginning!” Chris scratched the back of his head.
“Perhaps we’ll try to find it?” Arian proposed. “We’ll turn around.”
“No, nothing will come of it. Look how her hoof has worn down. It’s obvious that
the shoe was lost long ago. We won’t find it. We’ll have to go on foot until we come to a
village where there’s a blacksmith. We can’t ride anymore. You simply can’t find such an
excellent horse as Laura. Even as a foal, she was noted for her loyalty to me. She
wouldn’t let anyone near her. Not even Ian.”
“My tutor. He taught me everything that my own father would have taught me.”
“Don’t you have a father?” Arian asked.
“No. He died the day I was born.”
Arian sighed. “My mother also died after my birth. Only Father brought me up.”
The boys continued on their way. Each was walking, leading a horse by the reins,
and thinking his own thoughts. They did not want to talk. A lost horseshoe and sad
memories had spoiled their mood.
An hour passed this way. There was even no sign of human habitation on their
way. This was evident from the unconcern of the animals and birds that lived here. They
were completely unafraid of people, and even the hares did not take to their heels but
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
kept looking curiously at the boys, moving their ears comically and stretching their
noses up, sniffing.
“This place looks like the forest grounds of my castle,” Christian remarked. “I
never liked to hunt, and the animals in my forest are also not afraid of anybody.”
“Is it far to your castle?” Arian asked.
“No. We’ll be there in a few hours if nothing hinders us.”
“You probably haven’t been home for a long time?”
Christian reflected. Not even a month had passed since he left his home and went
in search of his brothers. However, so many things had happened to him in this time
that many years seemed to have passed from the day the tower of his castle disappeared
behind his back. When he thought this way, he immediately felt a passionate desire to go
home and hug his mother. Only now did Chris realize how much he missed her, the old
man, Ian, and his nurse, Joanna. And the desire to tell them the good news also urged
Chris picked up the pace. Arian too. The squire was already rather tired from the
difficult path. He was not accustomed to long marches and large distances. It was also
hard for him to go on foot. Growing up in the Forest Principality, he was more used to
climbing trees and jumping from branch to branch. To go on a rough road and on bare
ground was a bit unusual. Riding would certainly be much easier, but Arian could not
allow himself this; since his master was walking, it would be inappropriate for him to
ride. Hence, when Chris quickened his steps, his squire immediately began to stumble
and even almost fell.
Christian noticed this but did not laugh. “Perhaps my horse needs a rest,” he
declared. “She’s limping more and more. Let’s halt.”
Arian was delighted and immediately collapsed onto the grass. Chris sat down
beside him and took out a package of provisions and a flask of water from his saddlebag.
They had a light snack, because it is a great sin to fill one’s stomach on a march. A
sated person is a lazy person; he is already not so careful and can easily be taken by
surprise. The boys understood this very well. Nevertheless, both of them wanted to sleep
after eating. Neither had slept the whole night, and now it was beginning to tell. They
began yawning and rubbing their eyes.
Finally, Christian, seeing that his squire was now dropping from fatigue, gave the
command. “Nothing terrible will happen if we take a little nap. Nowhere is it written
that knights shouldn’t sleep.” With these words, he spread out his cloak on the grass and
lay down. Arian looked at him with envy. He had no cloak. He substituted it with a light
child’s cape, quite unsuitable, in order to sleep on it.
The knight understood everything. “Lie down with me, Squire Arian,” he
suggested. “From now on we have to share everything fifty-fifty: bread and bed,
adventure and danger.” Arian did not need to be asked twice. Very soon, knight and
squire were sleeping with sweet dreams, with only the wind and their faithful horses
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The boys slept for several hours, and when Chris woke up, he saw that the sun
had long gone past midday. He got up, stretched, and threw off the remnants of sleep.
He decided that there was no need to wake Arian. After all, they did not have to hurry to
anywhere special, and the boy was quite tired.
However, Arian woke up by himself. He stood up and looked around. It was clear
from his sleepy face that he did not quite understand where he was and with whom.
Gradually he remembered everything. A joyful smile instantly sparkled like the sun on
his face. “I forgot that you took me with you. I thought it was all a dream,” he shared his
“How do you feel?”
“Great! I’m ready to go with you even to the edge of the world and fight with the
whole world. I fear nobody and nothing!”
Christian smiled. After all, his squire was a great show-off and could not be cured.
“Get ready for the road. Pack the bags, prepare the horses, and check the weapons,” he
ordered. Arian immediately set about performing his duties.
Five minutes later, they were again moving in the direction of the Brave castle. At
first, they walked in silence. Arian constantly wanted to ask about something but could
not bring himself to do it. Finally, he could not resist. “Listen, Christian, can I ask you a
“Ask, but let’s agree on something first.”
“Call me Chris. It’s shorter. More convenient for you, and I’m more used to it.”
“So what do you want to ask?”
“Doesn’t it seem strange to you that we’ve travelled so far, but not even a single,
most pitiful adventure has come our way?”
Chris thought for a bit. “It really is strange,” he agreed. “Quite unlike the Country
of Frozen Time. When I was travelling with Knight Caterino, we had not a minute of
“Knight Caterino!” Arian exclaimed. “Listen, Chris, it’s boring to walk and be
quiet! Perhaps, you’ll tell me your adventures with him? After all, there’s nothing to do,
and a good story will smooth over and shorten any road.”
Chris did not object. There really was nothing to do, and he began to describe his
service with Knight Caterino.
Arian listened and only sighed with envy. “Cool!” he exclaimed when Christian
had finished his story. “Why did I turn out to be such a ninny that Knight Caterino went
travelling without me? Such adventures!”
“Yes, it was a great time,” Chris replied in the tone of an experienced veteran.
“Not so now. It will be night soon, and not one villain nor robber.”
“Exactly! My hand is simply itching to take up the sword.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The boys were still a little distressed about this and had already begun to think
about where to spend the night, when they saw a village ahead.
“There’s a blacksmith!” Christian pointed to a hut on the lopsided hill away from
the other houses.
“How did you know?” Arian was surprised.
“Blacksmiths always live apart from the other villagers, because people are afraid
of spirits, which help them to process iron. To farmers, a blacksmith and a sorcerer are
almost one and the same.”
“Strange,” Arian said. “With us, on the contrary, blacksmiths are the most
respected people and live in the most magnificent and thickest trees in the heart of the
“What you have in the Forest Principality aren’t quite the same,” Chris remarked.
“A lot will surprise you. But one thing I know for a fact: nobody makes knightly weapons
better than your blacksmiths.”
“That’s true!” Arian was proud that his father’s subjects were praised. “Knight
Caterino’s sword and shield, which he used to defeat the Black Dragon, were also made
by their hands. Not without reason did the old Sovereign not like our principality. By the
way, my weapon was also made by our masters.”
While talking, the boys reached the smithy. They already felt the intense heat a
few steps away from it, and when they got inside, they felt like they were in hell. A
mighty warrior was standing by the anvil. He was naked to the waist and the muscles
rolling under his skin glistened with sweat. The blacksmith looked at the newcomers,
and a barely noticeable smile touched his lips. Then his face became focused and stern
again. The iron master had a white-hot sword in one hand and he was hitting it with a
hammer in the other hand.
“What do you want?” the blacksmith said in a deep bass overriding the roar of the
forge, without interrupting his work.
“I need my horse shod!” Chris shouted.
“Wait for me outside, I’ll be right out. Just finishing up.”
The boys were just happy to leave the hot forge. They went outside and started to
wait patiently until the blacksmith appeared. Christian knew perfectly well that even if a
king himself entered this workshop, the blacksmith would still not put aside his work.
Otherwise, the sword would forever take away his gift of controlling fire and iron, which
the mining gnomes once gave the first blacksmith.
“It is instantly obvious he’s a master,” Arian remarked with respect in his voice.
“He works without apprentices.”
“Yes, exactly,” Chris agreed. “I’m even ashamed to come to him with such a
trifling matter as shoeing a horse. But nothing can be done. He’s likely the only
Meanwhile, the blacksmith came out and thrust the finished sword into a barrel
of water. It immediately hissed and there was dense vapour. “Show me the horse, Sir
Chris led Laura to him and told him what had happened. After hearing the story,
the blacksmith frowned. “First time I’ve hear of such a thing. Losing a shoe on the first
day! How did you anger the sky, Knight? You can expect trouble now, or Black Knight
himself will even come to you.” On hearing about the Black Knight, Christian turned
pale, but did not utter a word.
“Do you have an inn in the village?” Arian asked the blacksmith, when he began
to fit a new shoe to Laura’s hoof.
“Why?” His mouth was full of nails, but he replied without even taking them out.
“What visitor would come to our corner? Keeping such an establishment would be bad
business. One would quickly go broke!”
Soon the horse was shod. The blacksmith examined the rest of Laura’s hooves
and was even more surprised. “She was shod recently and done by a guy who knew his
job. Strange that the shoe flew off. It’s a bad omen.”
Chris finally got tired of hearing the blacksmith’s lamentations. He was uneasy
enough without them. He hastened to pay him and just in case told him to check Arian’s
“Everything’s fine with it,” the blacksmith waved. “And so I see.”
Suddenly he turned as pale as a ghost, though he was just as red as a boiled crab
from the heat and completely smudged with soot.
“What happened?” the boy asked. Instead of answering, the blacksmith pointed
to the village. The boys looked over there but could understand nothing.
“Look!” the blacksmith whispered in a trembling voice. “It’s him, Black Knight!”
Only after these words did the knight and the squire understand that the
blacksmith was pointing not at the village but above it, right in the sky. When they lifted
their heads, they felt their hair standing on end.
A rider was moving in the sky among the black clouds before sunset. He was of
gigantic stature, a real giant. His black armour absorbed light, and it was from this, not
because he was so huge, that everything immediately became unbearably scary and
dreary. His horse, covered in the same dark armour, let out black steam from its mouth.
Wherever the steam fell, it was as if death had arrived. The trees lost their leaves, the
grass withered, and birds fell down dead.
“It is he, after your soul!” the blacksmith shouted. “It would be better if you were
to remain a simple man and not try to move up among wandering knights.”
“It’s none of your business!” Christian shouted at him sternly and with reproach.
“Shame on you, blacksmith! One who rules over fire and iron ought not be afraid of a
ghost.” The blacksmith lowered his eyes. Chris’ words had cut him to the quick.
Meanwhile, the Black Knight continued on his way. He was heading in a totally
different direction. So, the blacksmith was mistaken. For the time being, he was not
going to Knight Christian. The son of Richard the Brave sighed with relief. The storm
had passed this time.
The Black Knight suddenly turned and looked at Christian through the holes of
his black helmet. Chris felt himself shrouded in an unbearable cold, as if death itself had
looked at him. The knight turned around and continued on his way. If he had looked at
Chris longer, the boy would probably have gone crazy.
Suddenly, darkness, which happens only late at night, came. There was no star or
moon in the sky. The wind picked up and attacked the people with fury. The horses
neighed in fear, and the boys had great difficulty keeping them in place. The blacksmith
helped them. He was very strong, and the thought came into Chris’ head that it was
possible they would not have managed without him.
The darkness was gone as quickly and unexpectedly as it appeared. The wind also
quieted down. All three again turned their gaze to where the Black Knight had recently
been. He was no longer there. Only trees, bushes, and grass remained dead from the
black steam of the ghost’s horse.
“Here’s an adventure for you!” Arian sighed cheerlessly.
Chris looked at him and laughed. “It’s good that you still have no pants, Arian,”
Chris said nervously, “or else you would have wet them.”
Arian was not even offended by such a stupid joke. “You should’ve seen yourself,”
he snapped. “Your legs were trembling like a newborn foal’s.” Both tried to hide their
fear and uncertainty with jokes and squabbling.
“I’m not staying in this village,” said Arian. Out of fear, he had forgotten that it
was not up to him to give orders.
However, Christian was in agreement with him. “Let’s go further. Night won’t
come soon, and we’ll be far from here in a couple of hours. It’s good that we’re not going
the way that one went...” Chris did not even mention the name but simply nodded in the
direction where the Black Knight had recently passed.
The friends jumped onto their horses and rode on.
LEGEND OF THE BLACK KNIGHT
They rode at a fast trot for almost an hour and did not utter a word in all that
time. They felt ill at heart, as if they had come across death. But time passed and bad
thoughts began to dissipate. Their mood improved and they wanted to talk again.
Arian was again the first to break the silence. “Chris,” he addressed the knight,
once their horses switched to pacing. “I’ve heard of Black Knight often, but don’t know
the details. Can you tell me about him?”
“Of course,” Chris responded reluctantly. “On the whole, you fear Black Knight
for nothing. He touches neither squire nor blacksmith.”
“Exactly. This only concerns knights. Wandering knights. Only we should be wary
“Why? He only kills wandering knights?”
“The fact is that he doesn’t kill them.”
“Holy cow!” Arian was again surprised. “What does he do to them?”
“He challenges them to a duel.”
“A duel? Cool!”
“And defeats them.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Yes, because it’s impossible to defeat him. As it’s impossible to defeat the devil.
He defeats the knight-errant and leaves. The knight ceases to be a knight after that. And
can never become one again. To become a knight again, he must defeat Black Knight,
but it’s impossible. It’s even impossible to find him. Only he can find whomever he
wants. But he can’t be found. If you want, I’ll tell you his story.”
“Please,” Arian was pleased.
“It was long ago,” Chris began, “in ancient times. The knight-founders were still
alive: Artois, Gottfeld, and Siegfried. They left the Fairy of Eternal Youth in the cave of
the White Dragon Wardrag and divided the country into three parts. Each went in his
“Now, Artois had a younger brother by the name of François. This François, as
expected of a younger brother, was a wandering knight. He wandered around the
Country of Frozen Time and accomplished countless feats. You know that it was far
more dangerous then than now. Once, Knight François came upon a castle surrounded
by a moat, which had blood instead of water. Real human blood. François realized that
in the castle lived the famous Murderer, about whom terrible things were told. Murderer
received the knight very affectionately. He wined and dined him and introduced his
daughter to him. Now François fell into a trap. He fell in love with Murderer’s daughter
and asked for her hand in marriage.”
“I knew it!” the squire interrupted Christian. “If a girl appears in a story, trouble
“Don’t interrupt! Yes, you’re right. Murderer announced to the wandering knight
that only when the knight had fulfilled his three wishes would he give his daughter’s
hand in marriage. By Murderer’s order, François had to commit three crimes: kill an
innocent person, betray his brother, and renounce his parents. François was so in love
with the scoundrel’s daughter that he, in his madness, vowed to fulfil all three wishes
and signed an agreement with his own blood. Murderer laughed with joy and hid the
agreement. François sat on his horse and set off to fulfill the promised crimes. However,
the farther he rode away from Murderer’s castle, the stronger he was seized by doubts in
the correctness of what he had done. The spell of Murderer and his daughter weakened
with every hundred steps.
“Finally, François had ridden so far away that he exclaimed, ‘No, I will never
become a criminal! Not that!’
“But he remembered the oath he had given the villain. He was bound by it and
forsaking it meant he would fall into disgrace. ‘No, better that I lose my honour than
commit these three atrocities!’ He said this, dismounted, took off his weapons, threw off
his armour, put everything on the saddle, and set off on foot.
“Several weeks passed, and the famous Knight François had turned into a
common tramp. When he went to his older brother’s court, no one even recognized him.
The former knight was sad. It was bitter for him to look at the merry jousting
tournaments, which were held at the royal court; indeed, he could not take part in them.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
He was ashamed to look into the eyes of noble lords, knights, and barons, ashamed to
appear once again before his brother. No, it’s better he stay with tramps and eat table
“Murderer, who all this time had been spying on François in the magic mirror,
began to worry. You see, if this cursed knight would not keep his promise, Murderer’s
daughter would remain an old maid. Murderer decided to help the young man keep his
oath and do it in such a way that the knight would suspect nothing.
“He went to the cellar, where he kept a magic potion; indeed, he was a skilful
sorcerer. He took a small box out of a very large chest. In the box was a deception
potion. One only needed to shower the eyes of any man with this powder and he would
immediately see the opposite of everything. Good would seem evil to him, and evil good.
“Murderer turned into a black vulture and flew to the castle of King Artois that
same evening. He pretended to be a really dirty bum, approached the young man and
said, ‘I’ve been watching you for a long time. Joy and laughter all around. Even the
lowest beggars are happy as children. Why are you alone sad and dissatisfied?’
“‘Don’t bother me with your stupid questions, old man! I am not in the mood for
“‘By the way you responded, it’s obvious that you’re one of the nobles. How did
you come to such a life?’ Murderer would not leave him alone.
“François’ heart was so heavy and he so wanted to share his troubles that he
confided in the old bum and told him everything. Ah, if he only knew in whom he
confided his secret!”
“True,” Arian interrupted the story again. “It’s always so with these sorcerers. You
never know what to expect from them. Indeed, I remember, there lived a witch near us.
Her name was Ruina...”
“What are you, Arian, stupid?!” Chris was indignant. “That’s the second time
already you’ve interrupted me. Don’t you know that it’s impolite? How do bards sing
songs at your father’s court? You probably don’t let them utter a word with your
The rebuke was quite fair. Arian was embarrassed. “Excuse me, sir,” he bowed his
head humbly. “I won’t interrupt you anymore.”
“Now you’re flattering,” Christian sighed, satisfied that his lesson was not lost.
“Okay, listen to what happened next.
“François shared his story with the old bum, not knowing that it was Murderer
“Murderer said to him, ‘I know how to help you with your troubles. Come with
me. I want to show you something.’
“He led François along a dark corridor of the royal castle. You have to remember
that his older brother Artois was no longer a count at that time but king of his own
kingdom, therefore, his castle was also a king’s castle. There were many dark corridors
in this castle. Murderer lured François to the darkest of them – even torches on the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
walls could not dispel the darkness – and threw the magic potion right in the young
man’s eyes. François did not even notice it because he thought it was just old dust
stirred up by their footsteps. Murderer saw that his dirty deed was done, laughed loudly,
“‘Hey, old man!’ François shouted. ‘Where have you gone?’ Silence was his
answer. ‘Cursed liar!’ he muttered. ‘Decided to play a trick on me. Just wait for my eyes
to catch you, I’ll give you a good beating.’
“He began to find a way out. He was tired of wandering along dark corridors. But
François didn’t know that Murderer had led him into the castle dungeon, where terrible
criminals, thieves, burglars, robbers, and murderers sat in iron cages. He went to a cage
in which sat the most brutal murderer and robber in the kingdom, Blue Miller. He had
lured passers-by and strangers to his mill, killed and ground them up, baked bread with
the flour, and sold it at the market. However, François saw not a terrible murderer but a
handsome prince in the cage. After all, he was already under a spell and saw everything
differently from what it actually was.
“‘How did you end up here?’ he asked the prisoner.
“‘Oh, I’m unlucky,’ Blue Miller wept, immediately realizing what had happened.
All villains can see very well when they are being sympathized with and considered
normal honest people. ‘I’m the oldest son of King Siegfried and your older brother’s
chief minister Mormok abducted me. He’s a villain and a traitor; he waged wars between
our kingdoms so that the kings would kill each other, and he himself would take their
place and become king of the two kingdoms.’
“Don’t think that Blue Miller was such a clever and crafty intriguer. No! The night
before, Murderer had come to his cage and told him to say this, and promised him
freedom for the service.
“But François didn’t know this and was awfully worried about his brother.
“‘I’ll save King Artois!’ he exclaimed. ‘And I’ll kill this traitor Mormok.’
“Having said this, he broke the lock of the cage with his bare hands and released
Blue Miller, who rushed to freedom and killed two more guards on his way.
“François rushed to the king and ran straight into the throne room, where at that
moment the king and his First Minister were deciding important matters of state. The
guards didn’t stop him, because he used a hidden passageway, which his older brother
had shown him when he was a knight. François attacked Mormok and, before the guards
and the king came to their senses, killed him with one crushing blow.
“So François had fulfilled Murderer’s first wish: he killed an innocent man. Yes,
Mormok was King Artois’ devoted friend and had served him from the time they both
wandered around Europe and accomplished feats in honour of the Fairy of Eternal
Youth. He had certainly never dreamt of any betrayal.
“‘I saved you, King!’ François exclaimed. ‘Thank God I managed to do this.’
“The king’s eyes flashed with anger. ‘Oh, you worthless tramp!’ he shouted. ‘You
killed my best friend and dare to talk about saving me? Guards! Seize him for execution
“The guards rushed to François, but he scattered them like children; indeed, he
was a knight and had defeated dragons and goblins. What were some guards to him? He
exclaimed with resentment, ‘Don't you recognize me, brother? It’s me, François!’
“‘François?’ The king went up to the young man and looked at him closely. It was
difficult to recognize the handsome knight in the dirty tramp. But the king did and
recoiled in horror. ‘Why did you do it?’
“François told him everything about Mormok and the prince, the son of King
“The king’s hair stood on end from this story. ‘Unlucky wretch!’ he wept. ‘There
was never a son of King Siegfried in my dungeon. The one you took for him and set free
was Blue Miller. He’s a criminal and a murderer! And you, my brother, are reckless! I
have to arrest you. The law is the law.’
“He clapped his hands and the guards bound François, who was so bewildered
that he didn’t even resist. He was put in the same cage, which Blue Miller had been in
earlier. The unhappy young man understood nothing. He sat and thought about what
had happened to his brother. Why didn’t he believe him?
“It was dark in the dungeon. Not even a torch was burning. But a jailer came in
the evening, brought the young man food, and lit three torches. ‘His Majesty’s order,’ he
said. ‘The king doesn’t want his crazy brother sitting like a filthy criminal. A separate
prison in the tower is being prepared for you. It’ll be warm and bright there. For the
time being, you stay here. It’s only for a few days.’ The jailer left the food and went out.
“François looked around and saw a beautiful girl in the adjacent cage. Again, his
deceived eyes did not perceive in her the detestable old witch who had kidnapped young
children and ate them, not even leaving the bones. ‘How did you turn up here?’ he asked
“‘Oh, young Knight François, Mormok put me here.’
“‘Mormok again?’ the knight exclaimed. ‘But I killed him!’
“‘Yes, but he managed to enchant your brother. He slipped a potion into his food
and the king only listens to him. I’m the daughter of a noble alderman. Mormok wanted
to marry me, but I didn’t like him and flatly refused. Then he kidnapped me and put me
in this cage, and told the king that I’m a witch.’
“‘Miserable!’ François sympathized with her. ‘And my brother’s also unlucky.
How can I save him?’
“‘Nothing easier,’ the witch replied, without batting an eye. ‘My father and his
soldiers are now at the gates of the royal castle. He has come to free me from Mormok’s
clutches. Open the gates and let them into the castle. My father has an antidote for the
scoundrel’s spell. He’ll save me, you, and your brother.’
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“François believed her because it was impossible not to believe such beautiful and
honest eyes (so it seemed to him). He broke the cages, first his and then hers, and
together they went to the castle gates to open them and let in the ‘princess’s’ father.
“Of course, the witch was carrying out Murderer’s order, and it was not her father
at all at the castle gates, but the main enemy of King Artois, Duke Tartu with his army,
which were witches, goblins, and even a dragon. Duke Tartu was a rebel and a traitor,
and had long dreamt of killing King Artois. And François was going to let such a person
into the castle.
“The witch lulled the guards to sleep with a fetid breath so that they wouldn’t stop
them, and they reached the gates without any difficulty. The night was dark, and even
the dogs were sleeping and didn’t hear the enemy gathering by the castle walls.
“But they forgot that the king had a protectress – the Fairy of Eternal Youth. That
night she appeared to the king as a white dove and woke him with the words, ‘The
enemy has entered your home, King Artois. Wake up!’
“The king immediately sounded the alarm. When the enemy burst through the
open gates, the king’s warriors and soldiers met them from all sides and killed every one
of them. They captured only one prisoner. It was François. It was he who had opened
the gates for the enemy. Therefore, he had fulfilled Murderer’s second wish: he betrayed
his brother and the king.
“‘How could you do it?’ The astonished king looked at his younger brother.
“‘But indeed they wanted to save you,’ the naive and bewitched François only
“Then the king took him by the arm and brought him into his own bedroom,
where the portraits of his father and mother were hanging on the wall. They were also
“‘Look at them,’ the king begged, ‘and tell me, who are they?’
“François looked at the portraits and saw Mormok on one of them and Murderer
on the other. ‘Why did you hang them in your bedroom?!’ François exclaimed and
rushed to the portraits with the clear intention of destroying them. ‘These are villains!
They’ve put a spell on you.’
“‘Come to your senses, François,’ the king shouted. ‘Do you really not see our
father and mother on the portraits?’
“‘No, they’re not my mother and father!’ François objected. Thus he fulfilled
Murderer’s third wish: he renounced his parents.
“At that very moment thunder pealed and lightning flashed in the sky. Murderer
appeared before the king and François as if he had grown from the ground. He laughed
with joy and rubbed his hands. ‘Now this knight is mine, forever!’ he shouted.
“And the scales fell from François’ eyes. The spell stopped working and he saw
how terribly he had erred. ‘Brother,’ he babbled, ‘I didn’t want this. I was indeed mad
and here’s the man who made me do it. Now I realize that he tricked me and robbed me
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“King Artois drew his sword and wanted to kill Murderer, but he didn’t even have
time to take a step, as the sorcerer wrapped his younger brother in his magic cloak and
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
disappeared. There was nothing left on the spot where they had just stood. The king
cried bitterly, but there was already nothing he could do, because even royal authority is
powerless against sorcery.
“Murderer transported François to his castle, where his daughter was already
waiting, anxious to marry a handsome knight. When François saw her, he even screwed
up his eyes in aversion. Only now did he see what she really was – worse than a marsh
frog and the most disgusting rat.
“‘Well, Knight, now you’ll marry her, my wonderful daughter. She has been
waiting for you all this time! Come, hug and kiss her. And swear to love her forever.’
‘No, I won’t do it!’ François clenched his fists in indignation. ‘You deceived me
and forced me to fulfil your wishes with deception and witchcraft. I won’t marry your
daughter, because I no longer love her!’
“Murderer’s daughter started sobbing and the sorcerer turned black with rage
and shouted, ‘Nasty boy, how dare you break your promise? Indeed, you signed it in
“He pulled from his pocket a piece of paper on which an oath was written in
François’s hand and his signature made in blood. ‘Do you see this?’
“‘Yes, I do. Now I’m in your power, and you can do what you want with me.
You’ve already destroyed my soul. But I won’t marry her.’
“‘Fool, you don’t know what you’ve turned down.’ Murderer still hadn’t lost hope
in persuading the obstinate knight. ‘Fine. I won’t kill you for the time being. I’ll give you
time to think. Who knows, maybe you’ll come to your senses. For now, you’ll sit in my
“He uttered a spell and François found himself in the dungeon. He was plunged
into a deep basement, filled with human bones, where rats ran and poisonous snakes
crawled. These were Murderer’s loyal guards, which he had ordered to watch over
François so that he wouldn’t run away. He said so to François.
“‘And where can you run from me?’ Murderer slapped his pocket, in which lay the
knight’s oath, and laughed. ‘While this is with me, you’re mine and can’t get away.’
“The sorcerer left, and François wept bitterly for his unhappy fate. After a few
hours, the tears ran dry and he had no more strength to cry. Then he began to think
about what to do and how to be. He decided to flee the basement. But how to deceive the
terrible guards watching him day and night? He thought and thought, and came up with
an idea. It turned out to be extremely easy. He simply found one of the skeletons on
which the clothing had not yet decayed, and changed clothes with it. He put it in his
place and put the hat on it. From all sides it seemed that he was asleep. He himself then
crawled to the exit. The stupid rats and snakes understood nothing and even continued
to guard the corpse.
“He reached the fortress wall, climbed over it and fell into the ditch. You
remember that the ditch was full of human blood. When he fell in, the blood, till then
fluid like water, began to thicken and soon became so thick that it was absolutely
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
impossible to swim in it and he began to sink. ‘So be it,’ François said to himself. ‘Better
“However, he didn’t manage to drown. A giant eagle flew past the castle. It saw
the knight, swooped down, seized him, and flew to the mountains. It was unknown how
long it flew. François lost consciousness from fatigue and when he came to, he was
already in the eagle’s nest. The bird did not eat him right away because it was full, but
flew again on a hunt. The knight was left alone. He tried to get down the steep cliff, but it
was impossible. Then he began to weave a rope from vines, from which the nest was
made. He had already woven quite a long rope, though it was still inadequate for
descending the mountain, when he saw a dragon flying past. François was pleased,
made a loop at the end of the rope, and hooked it onto the dragon’s neck when it flew
past. The dragon pulled him out of the nest, and flew down with him. It did not touch
the young brave because it smelled a knight – dragons treated knights with fear and
respect at the same time – and carried him to the valley.
“However, François had only taken a few steps along the valley when Murderer
appeared before him.
‘How dare you run away from me?’ Murderer yelled. ‘You will be punished for
this, Knight! I’m putting a curse on you. From now on, you will forever wander the earth
and bring troubles and misfortunes to the world. From now on you will be the knight of
“And François turned into Black Knight – the knight of death. The sorcerer was
in possession of his soul, and therefore made him a ghost.
“‘Now go and find your first victim,’ he said. ‘And let this be your brother, King
Artois.’ There was nothing left for Black Knight to do but carry out Murderer’s order.
“He went to his brother in order to kill him and destroy his kingdom. People fled
in terror when they saw him on a horse as black as he was. But King Artois was already
riding to meet him, ready to fight.
“They met and started to fight. It was a long and hard duel. Unfortunately, the
ghost was stronger because witchcraft and even death itself stood behind him. He threw
the king off his horse and lifted the sword over him for the final blow. But a white pigeon
settled on his sword and the Black Knight could not lower it.
‘I’m the Fairy of Eternal Youth,’ the pigeon cooed. ‘I’ll lift the curse off you. I can’t
restore your previous appearance, but from this day you’ll kill nobody and will be able to
fight only those who are like yourself, that is, wandering knights. And those you defeat
will forever lose the knightly rank. But if any of them can defeat you, then his victory will
lift your curse and your soul will find peace. But only the one who fights with you a
second time will be able to do this. Only the one whom you’ve once defeated will one day
be able to overcome you. Look for such a hero.’
“The pigeon so said and flew away. Black Knight went away and has been
searching ever since for the knight who will lift the curse from him.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE
“What a sad story!” Arian said pensively, when Christian’s story ended. Both boys
felt sorry for poor Knight François.
It was already deep into the night. On account of the story they had not noticed
how the time passed. Fear was added to sadness. After a terrible story, the darkness
scares very easily. Besides, please do not forget that they were still children, and this is
excusable. Let me tell you a secret: many adults are also afraid to walk in the dark. The
darkness scares with its obscurity. You never know what awaits you a few steps further
on. Different fantasies come into the head, and one must say that they do not set the
mind at ease but scare even more.
Here it started to seem to our heroes that all sorts of terrible creatures were
gathering around them, wanting to attack them. Chris and Arian held onto the hilt of
their swords. Their unease was also communicated to their horses, which snorted with
agitation when their bridles were pulled too zealously.
The darkness, meanwhile, grew stronger and stronger, and finally it became so
dark that they could not even see anything just a few steps away.
“Maybe we should stop and build a fire?” Arian suggested.
Chris objected, “Where will you find firewood or at least brushwood in this
darkness? No, we’d better continue on our way. I think the horses will lead us out. They
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
can always smell trouble, predatory animals, or a pit. And they are quite calm. So there’s
nothing to fear.”
Suddenly Laura snorted anxiously and stopped.
“What’s with her?” Arian asked in a whisper. “Oh, my Palma also doesn’t want to
Palma was the name of the squire’s horse. In his principality, they very often
named horses after trees, because trees were as sacred as horses for the residents of the
Green Principality. Although there were no palm trees growing in the Green
Principality, Arian had heard about such trees from his nurse. He liked the word, and
his horse was really graceful and slender, if it is possible to say so about a horse. Even
Chris looked at it with envy.
Now these two breathed uneasily in the chilly night air. The sides of the animals
trembled slightly, and they began to move backwards. The children needed effort to
force them to stay in place.
“Probably robbers,” Arian suggested.
“If it were only so,” Chris sighed. “Robbers are also people, but the horses have
never reacted to people this way. It’s either animals or...”
“Or...” Christian paused, then added, “something evil.”
Chris crossed himself just in case. Arian looked at him, then unbuttoned his shirt
collar and clutched the amulet hanging on his neck. He was not a Christian like Chris,
but he worshipped the forest gods.
Suddenly a lingering howl rang out in the darkness. Very sad and sinister.
“It’s probably werewolves,” Chris muttered. “That’s really what I wouldn’t want to
“Once a pack of these creatures also appeared in our principality,” Arian
whispered. “They only attack single travelers or horseman, because they’re cowards, like
the jackals. And they’re very afraid of fire. Let’s light some torches.”
“Where are you going to get them?” asked Chris.
“I always have torches in my bag. We in the principality never part with them. It’s
the best method if you need to drive away or scare away large beasts. And there are quite
a few on our land. Some can even climb trees as well as we do.”
Arian chatted and lit the torches at the same time. His voice was no longer so
scared, and Chris felt great satisfaction that he had such a brave squire. Chris held
Arian’s horse with his own so that Arian would have free hands.
Arian lit the torches with the help of two flints, and, when the flame flared up, the
boys saw that they were surrounded by a pack of werewolves on all sides. Half-wolf,
half-man. The monsters stood on their hind legs and bared their disgusting teeth. On
seeing the fire, they immediately withdrew to a safe distance and howled with anger.
“Maybe it’s worth wounding one of them.” Christian handed the torch to his
squire, then took out his bow and placed an arrow in it.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“If your arrowhead isn’t silver, then you better not do this,” Arian advised him.
“We’ll only provoke them. And when they’re provoked, they often forget their fear.”
Christian relaxed the bowstring and put the arrow back in his quiver. “Then we’ll
hit the road and won’t pay any attention to them,” he proposed and urged on his horse.
Laura tried to resist. It wanted to stay in place, but the boy struck its sides with
his heels, and it, after snorting discontentedly, started to move. There was no need to
urge on Palma. It saw that it would be left alone if it were obstinate, and obediently
The werewolves let the two riders through, although the clicking of their sharp
and strong canines showed their discontent. When the riders had ridden a few dozen
steps away from them, they got up on all four legs as if on command and rushed in a
light jog after the riders.
“They’ll pursue us this way all night, and realize before sunrise that their prey is
slipping away and will most likely rush to attack in despair,” Arian said, looking back. To
annoy them, he set on fire tall dead bushes, which they rode past. The bushes flared up
and were burning with a strong, bright flame in a few seconds. The werewolves just
howled in resentment.
“Ah, if only we were in the woods!” the squire sighed. “We would get a fire going
or better yet, climb a taller tree and sleep peacefully.”
Here a savage cry rang out. One of the werewolves summoned up courage and
rushed at Christian’s horse, trying to grab it by the throat. Chris was on his guard and
instantly thrust the torch into its muzzle. The werewolf bounced back ten steps and
began to roll on the ground, squealing. This had a sobering effect on the remaining
werewolves. They understood that they were dealing with creatures that could stand up
for themselves, therefore they immediately scattered. Arian was right. They were
cowardly like rabbits.
“Aha!” Arian laughed, waving the torch. “Didn’t like it! Try to poke your nose in
“Aren’t you rejoicing a little early?” Chris asked. “Maybe they’ll be back?”
“No,” the squire replied confidently. “They won’t dare anymore.”
And he was right. The werewolves did not appear again. The children rode all
night, and their horses showed no more signs of alarm. All the same, the friends decided
not to stop for the night, and when dawn finally came, they nearly fell off the saddle
from fatigue. To spend all night in the saddle is beyond one’s strength.
When it became quite light, and the sun should have appeared already, Chris
gave the order to dismount. “I think we honestly deserve a rest.”
“I think so too.” After muttering this, Arian fell from Palma to the ground. His
head had barely touched the ground and his body had taken on a horizontal position,
when he immediately fell asleep and started to snore loudly.
Chris dismounted and exclaimed indignantly, “Hey, squire, who’s going to
prepare a place to sleep? Who’s going to unsaddle the horses and make a fire?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“I am,” the squire mumbled. “Already up now, just a minute...” With these words,
he turned over on his side, put his hand under his cheek, and did not say another word.
Chris just laughed at him. Without a word, he did everything that needed to be
done, and only then lay down next to Arian on his own cloak. Strangely enough, he did
not fall asleep immediately, though he was no less tired than his squire. He simply
recalled that he was a few hours away from home. He suddenly realized only now how
much he missed home, his mother, Eliza, his nurse, Joanna, and the old man, Ian. His
heart and soul were already there, the reason he did not fall asleep immediately but lay
on the ground tossing and turning, with different thoughts and memories climbing into
his head. However, fatigue did its job after all and Chris also fell fast asleep.
Arian woke him. “Mr. Knight-errant,” Arian pushed Chris. “Soon it’ll already be
noon. You could sleep like this till evening, and then we’d have to travel at night again. I
don’t particularly like that.”
Chris looked up at the sky. The sun was in fact in the zenith. “You’re right,” he
said, jumping onto his feet, “we must not waste another minute!”
“I’ve already prepared food and saddled the horses!” Arian reported.
After half an hour, their horses again cheerfully overcame mile after mile, and the
boys were entertaining each other with stories. Arian recounted the life and customs of
his country and the feats of his father, Prince Arinako, while Chris, at the insistent
request of his squire, told him about his adventures during the time of his service as
Knight Caterino’s squire.
Arian listened to him, his mouth open in wonder, and often sighed with envy.
“You don’t say!” he exclaimed several times. “And all this could have happened to me!”
He almost cried with grief.
“It doesn’t matter,” the knight consoled the squire, “there’ll be enough adventures
and exploits for you. In our country, such things don’t stop!”
“I really want this!! I swear by the dragon!” Arian even bounced in the saddle
with impatience. “You’ll see, Knight Christian, I’ll be just as faithful a squire! Only don’t
send me away, please. If I do something wrong, it’s better you flog me properly. I won’t
Chris kept silent. He certainly had no intention of beating Arian, but he did not
tell him this so that he would not relax too much.
“All the same we can’t compare with Knight Caterino,” he said to Arian. “It’s
certainly not for us to accomplish such feats.”
“Because,” Chris sighed, “there are practically no wizards, witches, or dragons left
in our country that are worth a decent knight to have business with. One can even say
that only small fry like werewolves in the night are left.”
“That’s true,” Arian agreed. “Only a dinky thing was left for us.”
Neither boy was noted for modesty. But then, modesty does not characterize
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
While they were talking and lamenting the lack of proper villains, with whom it
would be possible to fight, a strip of forest appeared on the horizon ahead.
“Here’s my land!” Chris was pleased. “My forest. Another hour and we’ll be in my
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
He set spurs to Laura because he was simply burning with impatience. It raced on
almost without touching the ground. Arian was also happy for Chris; besides, he had
never been in a knightly castle not on trees but standing right on the ground. And the
forest, which they entered, Chris’ forest, did not look quite like his native forest in the
Green Principality. It was much friendlier and more beautiful, and the leaves of the trees
seemed to let sunlight through, and from this the forest sparkled with thousands of
bright colours. The animals looked at people without fear and did not run away on
hearing the sound of hooves, but came out to greet a traveller returning from a distant
journey. Birds sang joyously. They were also happy that the boy, who grew up in their
woods and was brought up by them and their songs, had finally returned. And that he
was safe and sound.
When not much distance was left to the castle, such impatience took possession
of Chris that he set his horse into a gallop and rushed home with the speed of wind.
Arian barely kept up with him.
Now the trees parted and the castle of the Brave clan appeared in a big sunny
glade. Chris could not control himself, pulled out his hunting horn, and the
surroundings resounded with the joyous roar of a running royal deer. When about two
hundred paces were still left to the castle, its gates opened hospitably and the
drawbridge lowered smoothly over the moat. The riders rode over it into the castle.
Chris jumped from his saddle and threw himself into the arms of the woman rushing to
meet him. It was his mother, Eliza, the widow of Richard the Brave.
Arian watched enviously as she hugged and kissed her returning son. He himself
had never experienced maternal affection. Yet Arian was happy for Chris, so happy that
he even wanted to cry with happiness, but he did not, because he felt big and grown-up;
besides, he was a true squire of a knight-errant and he was not supposed to shed tears.
“I bring happy news to you!” Such were the first words uttered by Christian to his
mother. “I found my brothers. They are all alive and well and will soon be here.”
Mama Eliza could not say anything. Happiness had made her speechless. She
first laughed happily and then, on the contrary, cried.
“Really, Mama,” her youngest son pressed her tight to himself. “You’ll never cry
and mourn again. And you’ll never be left alone at home again. My brothers swore to me
on this. Now one of us will always be with you.”
He talked and talked, and his nurse, Joanna, and old Ian were standing beside
him. They did not even try to hide their tears.
“Meet my friend,” Chris said, finally turning to everyone. “This is Arian, son of
Prince Arinako. He’s my squire.”
“Your squire?” Mama Eliza finally started to talk.
“Indeed I’m a knight now! A real knight-errant. And Arian’s my squire! If not for
him, I wouldn’t have been able to get home.”
Hearing such praise directed at him, Arian blushed to the roots of his curly and
slightly green hair. He approached Mama Eliza, bowed, and kissed her hand. Mama
Eliza hugged him and pressed him to herself.
“Good boy,” she said. “I heard a lot about your father and the Princess, your
mother. How are they getting along? I hope both are healthy?”
Arian frowned at such a question but steadfastly replied, “My father is well, and
may the forest gods give him many years. My mother died when I was two years old.”
Here his eyes were filled with tears for the first time, as he could not take hold of
“What misery!” Mama Eliza exclaimed and hugged Arian again. “But why are we
standing here? Let’s go inside. You need to rest, bathe, and eat! Come quickly!”
Christian spent exactly three days at home with Mama Eliza. He fully enjoyed the
hospitality of his home. Two nights in a row, he described at the table the adventures he
chanced to experience in the past month. It was a long story about how he and Kate got
to the Capital and what they had to overcome on the way, about how they found the
Prince of the White Tower, Kate’s brother, who turned out to be bewitched, and they had
to save him, doing battle with the Sovereign himself. How he, Chris, cut off the
Sovereign’s head in the fight, how all three of them fled to the West to the Fairy of
Eternal Youth, came upon the Valley of Stone Knights along the way and found Chris’
brothers there, and how they lifted the spell.
In the evening of the third day, after Chris recounted the fight of Knight Caterino
with the Black Dragon, he gave the order to his squire to prepare for the road. “We set
off tomorrow at dawn!” he declared.
Mama Eliza, on hearing these words, sighed bitterly. “Do you really want to leave
us so soon?” she asked.
Chris sighed. What could he say in reply? It was obvious from his face that it was
impossible to keep him at home. Already this morning he woke up with the feeling
familiar to every wandering knight. The road was calling him. And to a wandering
knight its voice is stronger than reason, stronger than fear and love for a quiet and
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
comfortable life. Chris felt uncomfortable sleeping on a soft, clean bed. All night he was
tormented by stuffiness because he was used to sleeping in the fresh air. In the morning
at breakfast, he sat frowning because the table and chair had begun to seem
uncomfortable and tight. But could he really tell his own mother this? It would hurt her
deeply, therefore he just walked up to Mama Eliza, hugged her tightly, and said, “Time
for me to go, Mother. Indeed, you bore me to be a wandering knight. And I’ve gone on
this path. My brothers gave me their blessing, you please do so too.”
“I was hoping that you would stay with me for at least a week. You ’ve stayed such
a short time.”
“There’s nothing I can do,” Chris acknowledged. “It’s stronger than me.”
“That’s exactly what your brothers said.” Mama Eliza wiped away a falling tear.
“Well, I can’t hold you back. Such is your destiny and I’m unable to stand up against it.
Only finally fulfil a request of mine.”
“I’m ready to fulfill a thousand of your desires!” Chris exclaimed. “Please say
what must I do?”
Mama Eliza thought for a moment and then said, “You know very well that when
your brothers set off travelling the world, every time your father and I went out to see
them off. But your father is no longer among the living and he won’t be able to do this.
So I thought that maybe you’ll go say goodbye to him? I’m sure that he’ll bless you from
“Certainly, I’ll go to Father!” Chris, who at heart was afraid that his mother would
ask him to stay at home for a few more days, replied gladly.
Wasting no time, he called Arian and set off for the chapel, which stood in the
middle of the courtyard. It was the family crypt of the Brave clan. Christian left his
squire at the entrance, went inside, and descended into the underground vault.
This was a gloomy place and Chris did not much like to be here, because he was
instinctively afraid of everything connected with the dead. This time, however, he came
here without any fear. Indeed, he came to Father’s remains to ask for his blessing, and is
it possible to be afraid of someone you ask for blessing?
It was dark in the crypt and Chris lit a candle so as not to bump into somebody’s
sarcophagus. There were quite a few of them. The Brave clan was one of the oldest and
most famous in the Country of Frozen Time and traced its roots to the knight-founders.
The sarcophagus of Richard the Brave stood in the very centre of the chamber. Chris
walked up to it, put the candle next to the bolster, and got on his knees in front of the
coffin. He put his hands together in prayer and had already spoken his first words, when
he heard a rustle in one of the dark corners. The boy gave a start in surprise. He felt
uneasy, though he knew perfectly well that this was just a rat.
In his prayer to his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and all the other
ancestors resting in the tomb, Christian asked them to help him in feats, overcome
difficulties and evil forces, and also strengthen his spirit. In turn, he vowed not to shirk
his obligations and to thoroughly observe the knightly code of honour.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
When Christian finished his prayer and got up from his knees, something rustled
in the corner again. “Cursed rats!” the boy swore. “What do they search for in here?
There’s no food. Are they really attracted by old bones?”
At these words, a bright light suddenly lit up the chamber. Torches that hung on
the walls, and which no one had lit for about a hundred years already, suddenly flared
up by themselves. Chris started. He looked around and carefully examined the whole
vault. On the grey damp walls were many pictures painted directly on the plaster. The
frescoes depicted those buried in this crypt. Stern and brave faces looked at Christian
from all sides. The boy understood that his prayer had been heard. He mentally thanked
his ancestors and headed for the exit, but when he had taken a few steps up the stairs,
the door leading to the outside suddenly slammed shut. Chris shrank back. He looked
around at the portraits of his ancestors and realized that they had not dismissed him.
So, his mission had still not been completed. Chris looked carefully at all the portraits
one by one. When he reached the portrait of Richard the Brave, he saw that his father
was not portrayed as always. His father was gazing at him from the wall, and wherever
Chris was standing, he caught the gaze of Richard the Brave on him at all times. The
fresco was as if alive. Chris understood that his father wanted to tell him something. He
went right up to the portrait and realized what the matter was.
The knight’s right hand, in which was always a sword, was now unarmed (the
sword was lying in its scabbard) and pointing behind Chris. The boy turned around and
looked in the direction indicated. It was the same corner, from which Chris had twice
heard some sounds. “I understand everything!” the boy said passionately, addressing his
father depicted on the fresco, and ran to the indicated place.
The corner was covered with old dusty rubbish, and Chris began to cast aside the
ancient shields, spears, and halberds, all of which were already old, broken, and no good
for anything. When Chris had cleared the corner of junk and kicked the last shield aside,
he found a hatch door on the floor. It was so covered with sand and dust that it was hard
to notice. At another time, if the boy just had to sort out the pile, he would never have
seen it. Now, however, Chris was very attentive and therefore discovered it easily.
“Should I go down there?” he asked, addressing his father, or rather, the portrait
of his father. Of course, the portrait said nothing, but he understood from the portrait’s
glance that he should do exactly that.
There was no handle on the hatch door and Chris had to pry it with the rusty tip
of a spear. For a long time the hatch door did not want to open; the old dust had
ingrained so strongly into the cracks that it held the door no worse than cement. Chris
had some trouble opening the hatch. It finally yielded, and before him was revealed an
entrance to yet another underground vault. Chris looked in there but saw nothing,
because it was as dark as a cellar. It was necessary to take a torch from the wall.
Having gone not too far down, Chris discovered a small room dug right in the
ground and completely empty. He looked around in surprise. He understood nothing.
What should he do here? The room was absolutely empty. There was nothing in it but
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
bare earthen walls, on which were seen various roots, white withered grass, and holes
made by moles and earthworms. Chris was even frightened for a second. It seemed to
him that he was buried alive, but then he remembered that he was here by the will of his
father and was ashamed of his fear. He began to carefully examine the damp black layer
of earth step by step. His nose began to twitch from the dampness and mustiness. It was
not even as unpleasant in the crypt as it was here, but Chris did not give up and
continued the inspection. His efforts were crowned with success. When he touched one
root with his hand, a large piece of soil fell off the wall and revealed a deep depression.
Chris realized that he had found a cache, held up the torch, and saw a small bundle. He
pulled out the discovery and turned it in his hands. It was something solid like a small
chest and wrapped in several layers of oil-soaked skins tied with tarred ropes. Chris once
again illuminated the recess with the torch to make sure there was nothing else in it.
There was not. Only rotted through boards were scattered about. Chris understood that
they formed a chest, in which the parcel had been, but it had rotted and fallen apart over
Cautiously pressing the bundle to his chest, Chris climbed out of the underground
vault, or rather emerged only into the crypt again, closed the hatch, and again covered it
with old garbage. Then he looked at the portrait of his father and asked loudly, “Should I
take this, Father?”
Before Chris was the former Richard the Brave again. As before, he looked from
the wall at somewhere in the distance and his hand was grasping the sword, but in his
eyes were peace and firm confidence in his own strength. Chris realized that he had
fulfilled his mission. The torches on the walls had stopped burning, and the crypt of the
Brave clan again plunged into the gloom of eternal rest. Chris mentally said goodbye to
his ancestors and went outside, where Arian was waiting for him with impatience.
“Why were you there for so long? What is that you have?” Arian immediately
bombarded Christian with questions. “And why is your face so white?”
Chris only shrugged. He was too agitated to say anything. He hurried into the
castle, to the banquet hall, where Mama Eliza, Joanna, and Ian were already waiting for
him. Arian, bouncing with impatience and burning with curiosity, ran after him.
When everyone was seated at the table, Chris told those present what had
happened to him and put the discovered bundle on the table.
Everyone was staggered by what they heard. Even the imperturbable Mama Eliza,
who had seen a lot in her lifetime, was greatly stirred by her son’s story. “Let’s quickly
open the bundle!” she exclaimed. “What’s there after all?”
Chris began to unwrap the package in complete silence. The pelts and leather
were so old that they literally ate into each other and had to be cut with a knife. Inside
really turned out to be a small chest. Quite small, made of precious mahogany and
covered with gold inlay. It was unusually beautiful but impossible to open. A small silver
lock was on it. This circumstance put everyone in a difficult position.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Do I really have to break this box?” Christian exclaimed and was already
prepared to deliver a blow to the lid with a knife, which he was still holding.
Arian stopped him. “Wait!” he cried. “Maybe we should look in these rags? What
if the key is there?” He was right. The key was indeed found in the rags, in which the
small chest had been wrapped, it was just that no one noticed it in their excitement.
Chris carefully unlocked it and lifted the lid. In the box was a small dark brown
oblong object. Chris, his mother, and the servants stared at it in perplexity, incapable of
understanding what it was. They looked at each other and said nothing.
“What is it?” Chris asked, the first to break the silence. No one answered him.
“I think I know what it is,” Arian finally said, taking the strange object in his
hands and tossing it on his palms.
“What?” all four of them asked him in chorus.
“I have something similar,” the boy said, then loosened his shirt collar and pulled
out from under it a gizmo indeed similar, only smaller and lighter in colour.
“What is it?” they asked him again.
“My father gave me this thing,” Arian explained. “A month ago Knight Caterino,
who you know, appeared in our principality and killed the Forest Dragon. We stuffed the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
dragon, but my father pulled this tooth out of its mouth and hung it around my neck as
an amulet. It’s my talisman. It drives evil spirits away from me.”
“A dragon tooth!” Mama Eliza exclaimed. “Of course, that’s it. How could I not
have guessed this sooner?”
“A dragon tooth?” Chris wondered. “Can it really be?”
All this talk interested Arian. “What’s this you’re talking about?” he asked.
“Our ancestor, named Cronitar, the first of the Brave clan, because he was
precisely the first to receive this nickname, killed the great Grey Cliff Dragon in combat.
All of this dragon’s magical power was in its teeth, and Cronitar had to knock them all
out to the last one. He kept one of the teeth as a souvenir and then handed it to his son,
who gave it to his son. Then this tooth disappeared somewhere and it was just a memory
in the stories of the descendants,” Mama Eliza answered Arian’s question. “Come, look
at the portrait of Cronitar; indeed, he’s depicted near the defeated dragon and holding
the same tooth in his hand. We’ll have a look, compare them, and find out whether it’s
It was not necessary to go anywhere because Cronitar’s portrait was hanging right
there in the banquet hall. All of them immediately realized that what had been taken out
of the small chest was the same tooth which the first Brave had pulled out of the Grey
Cliff Dragon’s jaw.
“Wow!” the nurse Joanna exclaimed. “So, our ancestors have taken Christian
under their protection, since they’ve entrusted this magic tooth to him. Now I feel peace
for you, my boy!” The good woman rushed to hug her charge. “This talisman will protect
you from all harm.” She held and hugged Chris in such a way that he even became
uncomfortable that he was cuddled like a little one, especially before the eyes of his own
To hide his embarrassment, Chris turned to Arian again. “How are our horses?”
“They’re ready to go now.”
At dawn the next day, they set off on a new journey. Where to? They themselves
did not know. Again, the inhabitants of the castle came out to see them off. It was
certainly sad to part with the boy again, but they were sustained by the thought that in a
few days they would meet Chris’ brothers. Therefore, the parting was not as sad
compared with when the boy had left home the first time. Even the Brave castle did not
look so despondent and deserted. It was as if it also prepared for the meeting with its
children; after all, those who lived in it were its children.
The same as last time, Chris spurred his horse and rushed along, to meet new
adventures without a backward glance. When he had already travelled such a long
distance that only the castle towers were visible, he stopped Laura and looked back.
“Have we forgotten something?” Arian caught up with him.
Chris looked embarrassed. “No,” he replied. “It just seems to me that I won’t be
seeing my home and family soon.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“But I don’t miss my principality at all,” the squire said cheerfully. “I’ve been so
tired of it for ten years!”
“It doesn’t matter. If you travel a bit with me, home will pull you back too.”
Chris did not argue with Arian and spurred his horse. He wanted to be far away
from home quickly so there would be nothing to tie him to it. That was the reason they
rode for nearly two hours without stopping, and with fairly decent speed so that the
horses were finally soaked.
“We’re driving the horses too hard!” Arian, who already could barely stay in the
saddle from fatigue, shouted to Chris.
Chris pulled on the reins so abruptly that Laura even reared and neighed loudly
with resentment. “Okay, let’s take a break,” the knight agreed.
“About time.” Arian immediately dropped to the ground. “We were rushing so
fast that we’ve probably missed more than one adventure. If anybody saw us, he might
think that we were running from someone.”
“Stop grousing and dry the horses,” Chris ordered the squire.
“Actually, I by right of my position am supposed to be grouchy,” snapped Arian,
obediently carrying out the order. “We squires should be concerned for the honour of
our masters. I’ll say exactly that we probably passed a dragon but didn’t kill it.”
“Where did you see a dragon?” Chris was surprised, helping Arian after giving the
order to wipe down the horses.
“It seemed to me that something flew past in a birch grove. Big and black.
Probably a dragon.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” The knight was annoyed. “I should have fought
“I shouted to you but you didn’t even stop.” Arian felt guilty. “Besides, at that
moment my foot was stuck in the stirrup.”
“Foot was stuck!” Chris mimicked. “Why the hell would I need a squire who
hushes up about a dragon? Now, even if it was a dragon, we already can’t catch up. What
was it at least? Big or small?”
“I didn’t see all of it. It flew past so quickly. Maybe it wasn’t a dragon at all?
Maybe a giant eagle?”
“Giant eagles don’t fly in groves, they hunt only in valleys and live far away in the
mountains. They also don’t fly within our boundaries.”
“And what, dragons don’t fly to your land?” Arian asked.
Chris thought for a bit. Indeed, dragons had not been in these forests for around
three hundred years.
“What was it then?”
The boys thought. They had settled the horses, wiped them down, taken off the
saddles, let them graze, and they themselves were busy with their weapons. A slight
uneasiness crept over them.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“We’ll rest now and then go to see what monster is there,” Christian proposed.
A MIRANDA – A BAT-WOMAN
The boys waited an hour while the horses rested. After all, they had driven them
hard. The boys themselves were tired from the long ride but not enough to fall asleep.
Besides, it was still early. For something to do they started to play with stones, many of
which were lying nearby right on the grass as if someone had scattered them there
especially. The game fascinated the knight and his squire so much that for a time they
forgot about everything in the world and came to their senses only when the sun was
already in its zenith.
“There now,” Chris was put out, “it’s now already time to dine and feed the
“Well!” Arian waved his hand. “Will we die from skipping a meal once?”
“You’re right!” Chris slapped him on the shoulder. “Saddle up!”
They jumped onto their horses and galloped back to the birch grove, where Arian
had allegedly noticed a dragon. Half an hour later, they were already at the spot. Tall,
slender birches surrounded them. Drenched from the sunlight, they were as if glowing
with pleasure. Everything around was so wonderful and beautiful, it simply pleased the
However, this was just the first impression. It seemed this way only in the
beginning, and then a vague sense of alarm suddenly seized the boys. They did not
immediately understand why.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“The birds aren’t singing here, and in general it’s so quiet that it even hurts the
ears.” As a true forest dweller, Arian was the first to find the cause of the alarm. “So,
there really is someone there. Someone very bad and evil. Exactly! It’s a dragon.” He
fidgeted in the saddle and pulled his sword from its scabbard just in case.
Christian was in no hurry to arm himself. He turned Laura on the spot, listened
carefully, and took a good look around. “In which direction did you see it?” He touched
the squire on the shoulder.
Arian silently pointed to the crooked birch tree, which was standing at a distance
and bending so low to the ground it was as if lightning had hit it earlier. Chris
dismounted and walked towards the birch.
“Where are you going?” Arian yelled at him. Despair rang out in his voice. “It’s a
crooked tree. Do you really want to go under it? In our principality there’s no worse
omen than going under a crooked tree!”
“Don’t be superstitious, Arian!” Chris did not even stop. He wanted to take his
sword out of its scabbard, but he did not do this, because he pretended to be brave
before Arian. This had the right effect on the squire. He also put his sword back, jumped
off the saddle, and followed his master, holding the reins of both horses. However, the
horses suddenly stopped and became obstinate. No matter how the boy pulled them,
they did not want to take a step forward, only moved back and snorted.
“What’s this?” Arian was exasperated. “Do you want to leave us? How
This worked. Palma and Laura guiltily lowered their snouts, flicked their tails,
and trudged obediently after Arian. The boy was several steps behind Chris but did not
lose sight of him. His heart was pounding with excitement. He felt that something
important would happen now. Perhaps this would be their adventure?
Chris also felt the same. Nothing was visible in front of him but something
suggested to the young knight that it was only a semblance of calm. Something was
ahead anyway and they would soon see this something. With this thought, he took a few
more steps and stopped.
Arian joined him a few moments later. “Look,” Chris turned to him. “This
crooked birch seemingly forms a gate. See, an exact same one is on the other side, just
that it isn’t visible from the road.”
“Right!” Arian was pleased. “The black thing flew through these gates and
immediately disappeared. Are we really going there too? And under two crooked trees at
“Do you think I’ll turn back?”
Arian was embarrassed. He had certainly asked a stupid question. What knight
turns back if there is danger ahead? If he does so, he will immediately cease to be a
“Though you don’t have to go with me,” Christian slapped Arian on the shoulder,
embarrassing him even more.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Oh, no!” a reddened Arian muttered. “I won’t forsake you in any situation. Or
I’m not the son of Prince Arinako!”
“Then let’s go,” Chris gave the order, drew his sword, and went forward under the
Arian followed him together with the horses. He breathed heavily and loudly
through his nose with excitement, but when they had passed the crooked trees, he
instantly held his breath.
Nothing happened. They were still in the same forest, the sun was still shining,
and there was the same silence. It was like this for a few seconds. Then, with a crack and
a noise both crooked birch trees fell, pulling the dark entangled roots out of the ground.
The knight and his squire jumped back in surprise, and their horses neighed
loudly from fear and reared. Arian, though, did not let go of the reins and the animals
pulled him off the ground. Chris rushed to help Arian. He barely had time to grab the
tail of his shirt and caught him. Otherwise, Arian would have been seriously hurt.
This event distracted them and they forgot their fear. When they had calmed the
horses down, tidied themselves up, and looked around, they saw that everything around
them had changed by this time.
They were no longer in the bright birch grove. Now an unfamiliar forest towering
with giant spruces surrounded them. It was gloomy, because the crowns of the
coniferous trees hardly let in sunlight, and ominous, because, unlike the birch grove, it
was filled with sounds. They were not good sounds.
“Here’s the dragon’s lair,” Chris announced with quiet satisfaction.
Arian gasped loudly, because several thorny shrubs, as if alive, quickly dug into
his bare legs. Chris told him to sit in the saddle; the squire hesitated, and Chris set him
on it. “You may still fall into a trap,” the knight grumbled. “I would have to spend time
on you then.” Arian smiled apologetically.
Chris also ended up in the saddle, because one suspicious bush also crept up to
him. The horses froze, rooted to the spot, as soon as they felt riders on them. The shrubs
immediately moved back.
“This place is very similar to Bewitched Forest,” Chris muttered. “In which
direction shall we go?”
Arian shrugged his shoulders. “You’re the knight, not me.”
This even amused Christian. He laughed. “Oh, you’re a sly one! Indeed it’s you
the dragons appear to.”
“Oh, there it is again!” Arian suddenly shouted, pointing behind Chris, who
turned around and had time to notice that something big and black was faintly
perceptible among the trees.
“After it!” Chris yelled and drove Laura in the direction in which the unknown
creature disappeared. Arian raced after him.
A minute later, they saw it, the reason they turned up here. It was not a dragon at
all. It was a miranda, a woman of great beauty with giant black wings, like those seen on
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
bats, protruding from her back. Both boys had heard quite a bit about these creatures
but were seeing one for the first time. They were taken aback and did not immediately
pull out their swords.
It almost cost them their lives. Mirandas are very warlike creatures, the same as
amazons, but, unlike them, they do not gallop on horsebacks but fly with their wings.
The miranda saw the horsemen, soared above the trees, and let out a battle cry.
Instantly there was a heavy fighting bow in her hands, and she showered the boys with
long, sharp arrows. It all happened so quickly that they did not even have time to come
to their senses. But their horses turned out to be much quicker and immediately darted
from the spot, plunging into the protection of the trees.
Fortunately, the miranda was a poor shot. All of her arrows flew past; only one hit
Chris’ shield and pierced it. It did not touch the boy but stuck in the saddle right by the
boy’s thigh. Chris, in turn, also took out his bow and was about to shoot at the flying
amazon, but then recalled that it was no glory for knights to fight with women and
“Shoot, Chris!” Arian shouted.
The miranda, apparently out of arrows, snatched from behind her back a long,
two-handed sword and went on the attack. The airflow of her mighty wings fell right on
the boys. The miranda had immediately identified which of the boys was more worthy of
her attention, and her first blow was directed at Christian. The attack was shattering,
and Chris barely managed to hide behind his shield and could hardly stay in the saddle.
But Arian was knocked off his horse by the wing. On seeing this, the miranda let out a
triumphant shout and again rushed at Chris. However, Chris had already come to his
senses and met the enemy adequately. To make it easier to fight, Chris and the miranda
moved out into the open. They were both wonderful fencers; their swords were flashing
like lightning and spraying sparks around them. Neither could gain the upper hand for a
long time. Christian was agile and quick, but the miranda flew around him with the fury
of a black kite, though she could not penetrate his defence. They were opponents worthy
of each other.
Arian tried at this time to get back on his feet. When he had fallen to the ground,
several particularly thorny bushes quickly fell on him. They had instantly coiled around
him from all sides, and now the boy was struggling to free himself with the help of a
dagger, because he had dropped his sword during the fall, and it would be unlikely that
it would come in handy in such a situation, when short and economical instead of
swinging motions were needed. This was the reason he could not come to the aid of his
Chris fought alone. Besides, he would not have allowed Arian to intervene,
because it was a fair fight, and he was not in need of assistance.
Both antagonists had already started to get tired. The first rush had ended and
they began to act more carefully. The miranda grinned evilly and her pretty face became
distorted – her eyes turned yellow and long, sharp teeth stuck out of her mouth. Chris,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
though, did not pay this any attention. A common way to intimidate the enemy. He
could also bare his teeth as much as he wanted.
The miranda attacked again. Chris was waiting for her. He leaned slightly to the
left and forward and struck the miranda’s weapon directed at him. A ringing sound was
heard and the miranda stared perplexedly at her sword. The blade was cut off almost to
the hilt. Chris also did not understand how he managed it.
Left without weapons, the miranda immediately soared up and came down again
like a rock. Chris thought that she had decided to smash herself on the ground from
despair and shame. But he was mistaken. She had not thought of suicide but had simply
pounced on Arian, who had just managed to get up. The boy did not have time to
understand anything when the miranda’s strong hands grabbed him and tore him off
Already in the air, Arian tried to resist, but the miranda threatened him, “If you
swing your pathetic little knife, I’ll soar up to the clouds and drop you.”
“Pathetic little knife?” Arian was indignant but followed the miranda’s advice,
because he did not much like the prospect of being dropped from a great height, and he
Christian was deeply outraged by the miranda’s action. How dare she abduct his
squire? He rushed after her in pursuit. The miranda was flying low because mirandas
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
could not fly high for very long; moreover, the boy was hindering her greatly. Not that
he was very heavy, but it was quite impossible to manoeuvre with him. Still, she was
flying fast enough, deftly avoiding the trees that stood in her way.
Chris spurred Laura on and rushed after her in pursuit. Palma raced after them,
because it did not want to be left alone in such a gloomy place. They raced with all their
strength, and soon were a small distance from the miranda. She noticed the pursuit and
increased speed. They were lucky that she was not flying on open ground but in a forest,
otherwise they would not have caught up with her.
When Chris saw that the miranda was not far ahead, he quickly took from the
saddle a rope with a loop at the end, and threw it to Arian. The miranda did not notice
this, so it was a complete surprise for her that flying had become much more difficult,
almost impossible. Arian managed to throw the loop over one of her feet, and Chris
immediately tightened the knot firmly.
The miranda was trapped. She could not lift one more boy, let alone one with a
horse. She screamed in a wild voice, but it was too late. Chris pulled her to him, and
soon the flying fighter was on the ground. She beat her wings fiercely on the grass and
tried in fury to smother Arian.
“Stop!” Chris ordered her. “Otherwise you’ll immediately part with your head.
You’re my prisoner.”
The miranda hissed furiously but released Arian. “Wow, it was great!” the boy
exclaimed. He was completely dishevelled and scratched, but his eyes shone with
delight. “Here’s an adventure! Isn’t it great we caught her?”
“Two on one!” The miranda began to puff up with anger.
“Who asked you to abduct my squire?” Chris asked her severely.
The miranda was confused. She had already stopped struggling, folded her wings,
and immediately began to resemble a charming girl in a splendid, wide dress. “I wanted
to take a trophy,” she muttered.
“Trophies are for winners,” Arian was indignant, “and you lost. Besides, how can
a living man be a trophy?”
“Somehow I don’t see any man here,” the miranda grumbled. Apparently, she had
decided not to be courteous to Arian.
“And what am I, in your opinion?” Arian was angry.
“A pitiful little boy, only fit for getting a ransom from his noble parents.”
“By the way, I’m Knight Christian’s squire!” Arian mentioned. “And you’re our
captive, and it’s for you that we’ll demand a ransom.”
“Don’t worry,” the miranda replied proudly. “My master will pay you any ransom.
True, he’ll then cut off my head, but he won’t lose his honour.”
“Your master will cut your head off for losing a fight?” both boys asked her in one
voice. They were simply stunned from surprise.
“Yes,” the miranda replied just as proudly. “My master is tough but fair.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Chris sheathed his sword with a ringing sound. “What’s your master’s name?” he
asked. “And where are we in general?”
“My master’s name is Marquis Henri de Kostiniak. He’s the owner of these parts.
And he’s the best friend of the Black Queen.”
“The Black Queen?”
“Yes, our Queen Angusta adores him!”
“Wait,” Chris thought for a bit. “Do you mean to say that we’re in Mortavia, the
“Ha-ha, where do you think you are?”
“Just this morning we were in the Country of Frozen Time, where the Fairy of
Eternal Youth rules.”
“It’s better for you not to utter this name aloud,” the miranda suddenly
whispered. “Our Queen and Marquis Kostiniak don’t even want to hear it.”
The boys turned pale. They looked at each other and sighed. “That’s what we’ve
come to!” Arian thought aloud.
The miranda looked at the boys and awaited her fate. “Well, will you take long to
decide my fate?” she finally asked sarcastically. “Tie me up with ropes or kill me on the
spot. In the first case I won’t say another word, because I’m obliged to be silent in
captivity, and in the second you’ll see how mirandas die.” The bat-woman proudly
folded her arms in front of her chest.
“We don’t intend to kill you,” Christian Thirteen announced generously. “I’m
letting you go without a ransom. You’re free.”
“Free?” The miranda was startled.
“Yes, you can fly. Only tell us, why did you attack us?”
“You crossed the border,” the miranda replied. “I’m the border guard and I stand
guard over my master’s possessions.”
“You serve your master well,” Chris praised her. “We never thought that we
would trespass or encroach upon another’s kingdom without permission.”
“So you aren’t scouts and spies of the Fairy of Eternal Youth?”
“Of course not! I’m the wandering knight Christian Thirteen of the Brave clan,
and this is my squire, Arian. He’s the son of Prince Arinako, ruler of the Green
The miranda looked at the squire with regret. “I did say that I can get a decent
ransom for him.”
“Don’t even dream of it!” Arian angrily interrupted her.
However, the miranda was no longer looking at him. She turned to Christian
again, “So, it means I can be free, noble knight?”
“Certainly,” the boy answered. “And don’t worry, we’ll leave the confines of your
“Now it’s up to you. Go back if you want to, or wander through our lands. You’ve
already overcome the border and the border guard. No one will interfere with you
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
anymore. By the way, you’re a very good warrior, Knight Christian.” Christian blushed
from such praise.
The miranda continued to speak, “You could become an enhancement of our
“Tournament?” Christian perked up. “Do you have a joust?”
“Yes, it’ll begin the day after tomorrow. My master organizes it, and the best
warriors of our kingdom will take part in it. If you also want to take part in it, my master
will be very happy. And now, goodbye!” The miranda spread her wings and prepared for
take off. But before that she turned and shouted, “Finally, noble knight, I want to tell
you that it’s not customary in our country to spare a defeated opponent, even more so to
let him go free. Maybe you’ll be sorry about this!” With these words, she took off and
soon disappeared from sight. The boys followed her with amazed looks.
“What a woman!” Arian said with surprise and delight after her. “To have such
wings. It would be great.” Then he turned to Chris. “Well, are we going back before night
Chris reluctantly sat on Laura and directed it in the direction from which they
came. He was silent all the way. Arian, on the contrary, was chatting incessantly. He
talked about the wings, how he loved to fly, and lamented that they had let the miranda
go instead of demanding that she reveal the secret of her wings. Indeed, it was well
known that mirandas could take off their wings and put them on whomever they
Most of all he was delighted with the fight between Chris and the miranda. “What
a fight it was!” Bouncing up and down in the saddle, the boy waved his arms and
repeated all the movements of his knight. “She did this, and you did this...”
They were already not far from the spot where not birches but firs now stood
crooked, when Chris abruptly stopped his horse. His face was serious. The squire
immediately fell silent and also stopped Palma, because he understood that the knight
wanted to say something very important.
IN THE COUNTRY OF MORTAVIA
“Listen, Arian,” Christian turned to his squire. “Did you hear about the joust? The
miranda talked about it.”
“Yes, she babbled something like that.”
“So,” Chris said seriously, “I’ve decided to participate in it. For a knight there’s no
better test than a tournament.”
“You want to stay in this horrible place?” Arian even paled with agitation. “This is
Mortavia, the country of death. There’s almost no return. And this whachamacallit that
attacked us is a toy compared with those who live here. Listen, Chris, don’t be stupid.
Let’s return to our world. It’s no less interesting there. It would be better we go in search
of the phoenix, or...”
“No, Arian,” Chris cut him off. “I’ve decided to stay here. I’m releasing you from
service. You can return.”
The squire did not even think for a second. “Oh, no, I’m not leaving you for
anything. I swore to serve you. And no one can release me from this oath. I’m staying
Chris said nothing. He just turned his horse around and rode in the opposite
direction. Arian followed him, as a faithful squire should. Now the forest around them
did not seem so dark and sinister to the boys. The decision had been made, and it was
too late to go back. So, is it possible to fear a forest when adventures ahead are much
more dangerous? Indeed, they were in the kingdom of Mortavia.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Perhaps the time has now come to say a little about this kingdom. Though there
is not much known about it. There are many such as it in the Country of Frozen Time.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
They do not defer to its rulers, because they exist by themselves, regardless of what is
happening in the magical country. Almost nothing is said about such kingdoms in the
annals and chronicles of the Country of Frozen Time. They are only mentioned
sometimes in legends and folktales, and even then far from all of them. Once Knight
Caterino, the Prince of the White Tower, and Chris even managed to discover one of
these kingdoms. It was the kingdom of the Underground Gnomes, and it was hidden
from outside eyes by magic imposed on it by the gnome king. Later, several kingdoms
appeared in a similar way. Witches and wizards also built them. This took place after the
Sovereign ascended the throne of the Country of Frozen Time. He was a great sorcerer.
And, like all sorcerers, he feared his professional brothers. You never know what they
might do. What if they took away his powers with the help of sorcery more powerful
than what he possessed? The Sovereign hunted the greatest and most dangerous
wizards. He killed or bewitched many, but some, just like the gnome king who did not
want anyone to disrupt the peace of his people again, fled from him together with their
country and subjects.
The kingdom of Mortavia appeared in almost the same way. Only much earlier.
The events associated with it went deep into antiquity, to those days when the first
knight-founders ruled the Country of Frozen Time and divided it into three kingdoms.
Here is how it came about.
As often happens, in the retinue of one of the new kings there was a man
dissatisfied with the position created. It seemed to him that such division was unfair.
“How is that?” he said. “We were indeed travelling and wandering side by side together
with the knights, and now they’re kings but we’re simple lieges again.”
He had supporters who were talking the same way. So, the first conspiracy
emerged in the young state. It certainly led to strife and war. The first war started in the
Country of Frozen Time because of power. The leader of the opposition was the cunning
and crafty Baron Greenberg. In his uncontrollable aspiration for power, he disregarded
the Christian commandments and won over to his side known sorcerers as well as many
other evil spirits, which, as we know, were found in great numbers in that land, where
the Country of Frozen Time came into being.
The knight-founders reunited to overcome the mutual and terrible enemy, and
Baron Greenberg was unable to defeat all three. He had hoped to overcome them one by
one, as base traitors have always done. Therefore, he was killed in one of the brutal
The chronicles say little and sparingly about those events. It is difficult to
reconstruct the whole picture. Besides, there are big differences in them. Some
chronicles write this way, others differently. It is even harder to understand why. What
happened next is possible to say in a few words.
After the death of the baron, his wife, the cunning and insidious witch Angusta,
headed the army of traitors. However, despite all her craftiness, even she could not
defeat the knights. Moreover, the Fairy of Eternal Youth came to help them. Together
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
they surrounded the rebels in one of the mountain gorges and were about to crush them,
but when morning came into the valley, they found only emptiness. There was nobody.
But, indeed, not even a mouse could pass through the siege.
People sighed with relief. The army of rebels, though few in number, consisted
entirely of Angusta’s servants and subjects. They were all nasty people, even different
monsters and other magical beings, which were best not for people to meet.
But where did they all go? No one could understand it. Only the Fairy had
discovered traces of witchcraft and realized what was wrong. Angusta and her army had
simply hidden in time. In a country where time had stopped, it is not that hard to do.
In order that Angusta would not return, the Fairy of Eternal Youth sealed with
her spell the place in time through which the rebels had made off. “Now they cannot
return!” she assured those present. “You can live in peace.”
Thus ended the first war, which lasted thirty years. There were no more adverse
events during the reign of the knight-founders. Wars and contentions only began again
after their death, but that is already quite another page in the history of the Country of
Frozen Time, and Angusta never appeared in it again. She was lost in the maze of time,
and for a long time nobody knew anything about her.
True, after four hundred years, one of the mirror gnomes, those that live in
mirrors and can travel freely in time, saw her and recorded in his diaries that Angusta’s
dream had been fulfilled. She had become queen in the kingdom she had created. This
kingdom was called Mortavia, quite large and populous, but the people lived under
terrible laws, the main one being the rule of the strong over the weak. And there was no
justice. This word was prohibited in the kingdom. The people living in this kingdom
called it the Black Kingdom and Queen Angusta the Black Queen, because she always
wore black clothes and did only dark business with more than enough helpers. Her main
dream was to return to the big world and sow evil in it. But she could not succeed. The
spell of the Fairy of Eternal Youth would not let her back. Occasionally, one or another
monster or a scoundrel in human form would escape from Mortavia, then have
difficulties in the big world. Heroes and knights had to take up arms and fight with evil.
Once, a whole principality with an evil and cruel prince by the name of Alexandro
accidentally broke away from Mortavia. Alexandro was nicknamed the Black Prince for
his cruelty and malice. He even locked horns with the Sovereign. He lost, of course, but
became famous as a very dangerous man for the state.
Not only did people and other creatures from Mortavia get into the big world,
but, conversely, knights, rogues, and adventurers sometimes went to the Black
Kingdom. However, none of them had ever returned alive.
Chris and Arian certainly knew about this, but tried not to think about the bad
and rode in silence, assuming a carefree air. How else could it be? They had chosen their
path, come what may. There may not be seven deaths, 1 but it is not possible to escape
one. However, they were too young to think about death.
The forest meanwhile started to thin out and then it ended entirely. A valley
spread to the horizon in front of the riders. Holy! What a sad sight it presented. In the
big world, there were such rich colours and the air was filled with the fragrance of
flowers and grass, a real paradise compared to this despondency. This more resembled
“I’ve already seen this,” Christian voiced his thought aloud.
“Where?” the squire immediately asked.
“The Black Principality. We passed through it once. Not the best place on earth.”
“This certainly isn’t the land of milk and honey,” Arian responded light-heartedly,
“but I think there are worse.”
“That’s for sure.”
Not far from the forest stretched a worn and muddy road. The riders directed the
horses to it, but as soon as they bypassed a rut, the animals immediately got stuck
almost knee-deep in mud, and the friends brought them back onto the grass. It was
easier to travel on it.
“It has probably just rained here,” Arian suggested.
“I think such a road is always here. You see, there’s no trace of any hooves or
wheels on it,” Chris said. “Maybe it’s not the custom here to use roads at all? Maybe
they’re intended for something else?”
“Can be anything,” Arian agreed. “Indeed, some people put their homes directly
on the ground instead of simply building them on trees, and then, of course, they can’t
pick them up and suffer their whole life.”
Chris laughed and asked Arian to describe the traditions in the Green
Principality. “Your principality was rebellious for centuries, and tall tales were forever
told about it. One doesn’t even know what to believe and what not to. Is it true that you
live only on leaves?”
“Of course not!”
Arian started talking about his homeland, and Chris found out to his
astonishment that the residents of Green Principality were little different from the rest
of the population of the Country of Frozen Time. Except that they only built their houses
in the crowns of mighty trees and, from living in the forest and having a close spiritual
connection with it, their hair had acquired a green tinge after a century. But Arian
looked even more attractive and mysterious because of this. Who can boast such a
The boys talked and the anxiety that was in their hearts disappeared on the spot.
However, it returned immediately when they heard someone shouting, asking for help.
The Bible mentioned seven kinds of deaths: spiritual, physical, operational, positional, temporal, sexual,
and a second death.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Without thinking for a moment, the boys rushed their horses in the direction where the
noise came from, and when they were over a low hill, such a spectacle presented itself.
A long wagon with a covered top stood at the foot of the hill. Such wagons usually
belonged to travelling performers. Judging by their colourful clothes adorned with
colourful ribbons, they were. A bear was bouncing and growling angrily near the rear
wheel, but it was chained and it tried in vain to free itself. A beautiful girl in a blue dress
was screaming and calling for help. She tried to protect an old man who was being
beaten by three armed men. They paid the girl no attention because they were busy with
the old man. The man, though old, was as strong as the chained bear and only moaned
under the soldiers’ blows. Judging from everything, he could manage all of them, but he
did not resist and meekly endured the beatings. But then the girl was behaving quite
differently: she argued with the soldiers, grabbed their arms, and even pulled one by the
hair. The soldier cried out in pain, threw the girl off, and already began to hit her.
Seeing this, Christian got angry in earnest. He, like every true knight, could not
watch when a woman was being treated badly in front of him, so he spurred his horse
and soon turned up near the wagon. Arian was not a single step behind his comrade and
followed Chris like a shadow, but, as proper for a squire, kept a little behind at all times
and did not say a word.
“Stop at once!” Chris ordered the soldiers. They, on seeing such a young rider,
were surprised and stopped the unfair fighting.
“Now apologize to the lady and this venerable old man!” Chris ordered them in a
However, the soldiers were clearly not inclined to follow orders. They were
simply surprised that a boy with a sword at his waist appeared from somewhere and
gave absurd orders. One of them grinned in a disgusting way. “What are you yapping
“If you’re deaf,” Chris replied, trembling with fury, “then I can’t help you with
that, but if you heard everything perfectly, then I’m not going to repeat myself.” The
soldiers even opened their mouths from such impudence.
“Well, I’m waiting!” Chris uttered with undisguised menace.
These words served as grounds for action for the soldiers. They started to yell
wildly and all three rushed at Christian. He did not even move an eyebrow, and when
the healthiest and strongest-looking soldier with thick red sideburns grabbed Laura’s
reins to pull the boy from his saddle, Chris drew his sword and brought the hilt down on
the attacker’s head. The soldier screamed in pain, clutching his head, though he had on
a helmet, and fell to the ground.
The other two immediately rushed back. They realized that it was better not to get
mixed up with a young man who could deliver such an expert and hard blow. He was not
simply holding a weapon but could use it much better than they, simple common
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The soldiers immediately changed their tone and spoke to Chris in a different
manner. “We’re only carrying out the orders of our lord, Baron de Kostiniak, oh, noble
young man,” they wailed.
Chris caught the girl’s grateful glance and the old man’s puzzled look and asked,
“And why did your lord order you to beat this poor old man?”
“He dared to sing satirical songs about him,” one of the soldiers replied, “and
when the Baron found out about this, he ordered him to be hanged and taught a proper
lesson before that.”
“I was slandered,” the old man babbled instantly. “I would never allow myself the
liberty regarding noble lords. I only ever mock common people.”
“Is it really possible to hang a man for such trifles?” Chris was surprised. “He’s
indeed an actor, and can a noble lord like Baron Kostiniak really pay attention to such
trifles? We have lords that keep buffoons especially so they’ll tell them everything that
ordinary people think of them.” The soldiers listened, eyes bulging in surprise. Such a
speech amazed them.
“And where are you going to hang this unlucky person?” Chris continued to
“On the main square of the city of Bienvillemort,” one of the soldiers replied. “We
must get him there.”
“Are these your horses?” Chris asked, nodding at three flea-bitten dray-horses
“Then mount and ride to your lord. Report to him that Knight Christian Thirteen
of the Brave clan asks to be received and allowed to participate in the tournament. You
indeed have a tournament?”
“Yes.” On hearing about the tournament, the soldier just shook with fear and
started to answer Chris with even greater respect. “I’ll carry out your order without fail
and pass on your words to the Baron. But how can I leave them?” The soldier looked at
“I’ll bring them to the city myself,” Chris said. “And you can put your comrade in
The red-haired soldier had already come to. He was sitting on the ground,
holding his head and howling. Evidently, Chris had delivered him a truly skilful blow.
The soldiers picked up their friend and quite rudely threw him into the wagon, and they
jumped on their horses and galloped ahead along the dirt road.
“Now we also go in that direction,” Chris said to Arian, his eyes following them.
“Oh, kind young man, thank you!” Once the soldiers had disappeared from sight,
the performers rushed to Chris. There were nine people, not counting the children. All
this time they had simply been hiding in the wagon.
“No need to thank me,” Chris replied. “I have done nothing for you.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Something fell in the wagon. The red-haired soldier had lost consciousness again.
Chris looked at him and thought for a bit.
“What if I let you go?” he turned to the performers. “And I’ll take this poor fellow
in your wagon to the Baron’s castle.” The performers’ faces immediately became gloomy.
Obviously, the thought of parting with the wagon was not to their liking.
Chris immediately understood everything. “You’re sorry to give up this wreck?”
“This is our only shelter,” the girl in the blue dress replied. “And, according to our
laws, those who have no shelter are subject to the death penalty.”
“What harsh laws you have!” Chris was thunderstruck. “Then I’ll buy this wagon
from you. Take the money and run. Buy a new one in the nearest village. How much is
“A half-dinar,” the girl replied.
Chris took a gold coin out of his pocket. “Is this enough?”
“Oh, one can buy two wagons like that with this money! Even with excellent
“Then take it!” Chris threw the gold coin to the girl. She deftly caught it and
hesitantly began turning the coin in her hand.
“Is something wrong?” asked Chris. “It’s real gold.”
“We don’t have much change, noble sir,” the old man intervened.
“Keep the change,” Chris shrugged.
“We may be poor, but proud and honest,” the old man said with dignity. “We earn
money with our ability and skill, we do not beg from passers-by. You insult us, brave
“If you ponder for long, the guard now in your wagon will wake up, and I will no
longer be able to prevent him from sending you all to the gallows.”
The performers began to discuss what to do to take the gold honestly for a wagon.
“Wait,” Chris interrupted them. He heard that they were going to give him the
bear and absolutely opposed this. “Let’s agree this way. Take your gold, take all your
things and the bear, and be on your way.” The performers were about to make a noise
but the boy silenced them with an imperative gesture. “When we meet again, you’ll show
me your performance and pay the debt with it.”
The actors liked this option. They readily agreed and began to collect their things.
Soon they took to their heels to the forest and one by one disappeared behind the trees.
The last to flee was the girl in the blue dress. She first ran to Chris and said to him
with gratitude and agitation, “Nice young man! Why do you go to Marquis Kostiniak?
He’s a terrible man. He’ll kill you and your soul! Don’t do this! Go back!”
“Don’t worry about me, beautiful!” Chris blushed slightly. “My sword is always
with me and I’ll be able to fend for myself.”
“You’re mad!” the girl exclaimed almost with tears in her voice. “Nobody has ever
won in this tournament of the Marquis’ terrible servants. You and your friend will die in
Bienvillemort. Go back where you came from. I, Melissa, daughter of Cassandra the
clairvoyant, am telling you this.”
“Thanks for the advice, Melissa. But I’ve already accepted the challenge and
declared this. So, I’m going to the tournament in Bienvillemort. Pray for me. My name is
“May the good spirits keep you!” Real compassion for Chris appeared on
Melissa’s face. She warmly kissed his hand and rushed after her friends, who were
already out of sight.
“Melissa, what a beautiful name,” Chris said after her. “She’s nice, right, Arian?”
“What next!” the squire snorted. “So, she’s a girl. Brave, of course. But nothing
“What do you know?!” Chris was not satisfied with this answer.
“There,” agreed Arian. “Looking at beauties isn’t for squires. When I become a
knight, I’ll also chase after every approaching skirt.”
Chris just spat. Arian turned out to be bad company in such conversations.
“Okay,” he said, “let’s go to this Bienvillemort.”
They tied Laura and Palma to the wagon, sat down on the coachbox, and moved
the two smallish mules harnessed to it.
MARQUIS HENRI DE KOSTINIAK
The city of Bienvillemort was situated at the foot of the Tenivesis Mountain. It
was fairly large and had about twenty-five thousand residents. The entire city’s
population rendered tribute to Marquis Henri de Kostiniak, whose castle was a few
hundred steps from the city and was separated from it by the narrow but turbulent
Talvira River. This town was ancient and famous. It was once free, rich, and even more
crowded. It even had another name. It was called Bienvilleterra and its inhabitants were
known for their skilled goods and cheerful character. But that was long ago. Not even
the elderly who remembered those times had remained. Since Queen Angusta bestowed
the town and its lands to Marquis Kostiniak, everything changed. The city changed, its
inhabitants changed. No one dared to oppose the Marquis’ authority. The lord was cruel
to those who doubted his authority. In the first decade of his rule, he crushed all pockets
of opposition and discontent, and established his orders. Everybody, from small to large,
became the Marquis’ slave. With the Marquis’ tenure, there were soldiers, spies, and
police watching out for treason. But people were afraid to even think, let alone talk
about treason. Therefore, everyone kept quiet more and more. Even when young ones in
cradles wanted to cry, the mothers would whisper, “Quiet, don’t cry, or else the Marquis’
servants will come and carry you to his castle.” And the little ones would immediately
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
become silent and lay quietly like mice in their beds and cradles. When they grew up,
they knew very well how to keep their mouths shut.
However, every ten years for a month the Marquis proclaimed amnesty to all his
subjects and ordered them to be cheerful and happy. During these days, he held a great
military tournament, to which, besides the many tyrants and evildoers such as
Kostiniak, warriors and heroes also came from across the country to compete with the
Marquis’ servants. These servants were not people but magic creatures such as the
miranda – a bat-woman, the six-handed but one-eyed giant Crash, Dron the wolf-man,
and many other similar creatures, of which the Marquis had a lot and thanks to which
he kept his entire land in obedience. People recoiled in fear when they saw the miranda,
who, flying in the sky, could pounce on a person at any moment and kill him. The
servants were distinguished by cruelty and selfless devotion to their master. They
obeyed him because the Marquis was a sorcerer, skilled in an art admired by the Black
The great tournament had been held four times already in Bienvillemort. Those
who dared to take part in it had to fight with the Marquis’ monsters. In case of victory,
the Marquis promised to give as the award to the winner the Sun God’s armour, the
possessor of which would become invincible in battle. Anyone who wished could
participate in the tournament. However, each time there were fewer and fewer who
wished to take part, because no one had ever been able to defeat all the Marquis’servants
and no one reached the end. That is why only ten fighters participated in the
tournament last time, and the Marquis was afraid that there would be even fewer this
time. He was not mistaken. Only three days left to the tournament, and not a single
warrior had volunteered to take part in it. Hence, the Marquis was worried and
displeased. In the morning, he announced that if no one turned up, he would personally
pick two hundred people from the city, and as many again from his troops, and force
them to fight with his monsters, because he had invited many important guests and had
no intention of disappointing them.
Terror reigned in Bienvillemort, and people prayed that some hero would accept
the challenge. So far, there was no one.
The Marquis sat as black as a thundercloud in the reception hall, looked at the
portrait of the Black Queen hanging on the wall, and concocted the most terrible
punishment for his subjects. He was almost three hundred years old, but he looked like
a man in his prime, not yet forty. Sorcerers and evildoers live for a long time. On the
table in front of the Marquis was a huge tray with a cooked bull, but he had not even
“This bull smells bad,” he grumbled. “Bring the scoundrel cook here!”
Half a minute later, the guards had already dragged the scared-to-death cook and
dropped him by the Marquis’ feet.
“You’ve prepared a very bad dinner today,” Kostiniak said to the cook. “The bull
has very tough meat.” He lied, because the bull was very well prepared.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
However, the cook did not even begin to argue with the lord. He rushed to kiss
the Marquis’ feet and begged for mercy. The Marquis looked at him, smiled, and
announced insinuatingly, “You’re at fault and must make amends. Go and prepare me a
“Oh, Master, I will cook anything you wish!” the cook cried out.
“I heard that you have a little son?” Kostiniak suddenly asked him.
“How old is he?”
“He turned three yesterday,” the cook revealed, surprised and frightened by such
“Wonderful!” Marquis de Kostiniak rubbed his hands contentedly. “I adore threeear-old boys. Go make me a roast of your son. And see that the dish is delicious, don ’t
spoil it, otherwise I’ll make you cook your wife and all your other children, and even
your parents, and eat all of it yourself.”
“Have mercy!” the cook cried out and fainted. He knew that the Marquis was not
joking. He would really eat a cooked child and had done this more than once. He was no
better than his monsters.
Kostiniak only laughed and shoved the cook aside with his foot. He was about to
give the order to hang the unlucky one and his family after the cook had roasted his own
son, when the miranda flew in the huge window. The Marquis immediately forgot about
The bat-woman folded her wings and knelt before her master.
“What do you have to say, Isaura?” Kostiniak asked her. He saw from the
miranda’s face that she had important news.
“My Lord,” the miranda said without rising from her knees, “a person from the
big world trespassed the border of Mortavia.”
“A person of the big world came into Mortavia?” Kostiniak asked excitedly. “Did
you kill him?”
The Marquis frowned. “Why not?”
“He turned out to be stronger than me. In a single combat, my sword shattered
into pieces when we began to fight. But even without this I wouldn’t have gotten the
better of him. This is a great warrior.”
“And he spared you?” The miranda nodded in the affirmative.
The Marquis jumped up from his chair in anger. “Then I’ll kill you myself.”
The miranda bowed. “Everything is as you wish, my Lord. But I haven’t told you
“What else? Speak!”
“This warrior is a knight-errant. I told him about the tournament and he caught
fire like a torch, knowing neither conditions nor awards. He volunteered immediately.
He’s reckless and will be an enhancement to your tournament, Master.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The Marquis’ face brightened with the miranda’s every word, and near the end he
was simply beaming with happiness. “What kind of person is this?” he began to ask the
miranda. “How old is he? Is he very strong?”
“He’s young. Still a boy, and his squire is also quite a child. But he’s a true knight.
He has a knightly weapon, but I just don’t know of a sword equal to his.”
The Marquis cheered up quite a bit with these words, and when two of his guards
ran into the hall, fell on their knees, and spoke about Knight Christian of the Brave clan,
the Marquis even became kinder.
On seeing the cook lying on the floor coming to his senses, he kicked him and
ordered him to clear out. “I cancel my order,” he told the cook. “Get out of here. I want
to eat and I’m not going to wait for you. Okay, I’ll make do with this bull.”
He started on the beef and the cook rushed with all haste into the kitchen, where
he cuffed the back of the scullions’ heads, fell onto the bench, and sobbed at the top of
his voice for a very long time. When he took off his white cap to wipe his eyes, everyone
saw that his magnificent head of black hair was as white as snow.
Kostiniak summoned the commander of the guards and warned him, “If no one
else will turn up except this knight, then you will participate in the tournament.”
Merengo, the head of the guards, merely bowed in silence. He was devoted to his
master, like a dog, and was ready to carry out any orders. He did not value his own life
and dreamed of only one thing: to die in battle. “And let the third one be anyone from
these urban boors!” the Marquis ordered. “Let them choose for themselves. If they
won’t, then I’ll choose, and no longer one but two hundred. Let my dogs eat their fill
properly.” The Marquis called his own monsters dogs.
AN ILL-ADVISED ACT
The mules were barely moving; the creaking wagon was shaking violently and
shifting from side to side. Chris and Arian were not delighted with such a ride, but there
was nothing to be done. Surely not abandon the wreck on the road?
Very soon the redheaded soldier came to from the shaking. At first, he could not
understand what had happened to him and where he was, but when his head cleared up,
he yelled, “Where are those devilish performers?”
“They ran away,” Arian quietly replied. Chris did not even turn around.
“How?” The soldier did not understand.
“Here’s how,” Arian said with malicious joy. “You slept and they took advantage
The soldier realized that they were not joking with him. He blinked like crazy,
then tears poured from his eyes and sobs burst from his lips. “Oh, woe is me, woe!” he
wailed. “What have you done to me? Now I’ll be hanged. And all because of this cursed
old man. Who asked you to interfere?” These words were meant for Chris. The boy made
Then the soldier began to swear and hurl curses at him. “Cursed boy!” he
shouted, tears smearing his face. “Well, it doesn’t matter, my lord will hang me, but
you’ll also have it coming. He doesn’t forgive those who treat his people badly.”
“Better you tell me how much further it is to the city.” Chris said, not at all
touched by all this wailing. He never much respected minions, because he considered
them cowardly and mercenary.
“Five miles,” the soldiers turned pale. He started to tremble with fear.
“You know what I would do in his place?” Arian intentionally addressed Chris in
a loud voice.
The soldier became alert. His ears moved with curiosity and he was all attention.
“I’d run after those performers. Chuck my uniform, find something else to wear,
and move to another kingdom.”
“I would do the same,” Chris agreed.
The boys started throwing significant looks at the road. The soldiers pondered
something laboriously for a few minutes, then jumped from the wagon and rushed into
the forest, which still stretched alongside the road. He had already disappeared among
the trees and a lot of time had even passed, when the boys heard his shout: “Curse you,
“What a lowlife!” Arian was indignant. “One can say we saved his life, but still he
Chris did not say a word, only pressed his lips together tightly, and urged the
mules to go faster. He was concerned about what was happening. Too many little things
not in his favour had been piling up. First a horseshoe was lost, then the meeting with
the Black Knight, after that the crooked birch, Melissa’s warning, and now even the
curse of the redheaded soldier. And it is well known that the curse of a redhead almost
always comes true.
Arian, though, had quickly forgotten about all the unpleasant things and was
talking non-stop. His ten-year-old sprightly nature demanded activity, but since he
could not even turn around much in the wagon, he at least had to talk to his heart ’s
content. “Listen, Chris, how did you manage to deal with this soldier so quickly?” he
asked. “From his looks, one could say that he can knock down a bull with one blow, but
you gave him one left-handed!”
“First of all, not left but right, and secondly, I had a sword in my hand and I hit
him with the hilt.”
“So? It also needs skill. Where did you learn it?”
“Ian taught me a lot,” Chris replied pensively. “And don’t forget that my sword
and I have been in many difficult situations and, as you know, they’re the best training
for knights and their weapons. Remember that I told you how my sword was under the
gaze of the Golden Sphinx?”
“Yes,” Arian agreed.
“And then it chanced to be in the Black Dragon’s body even before Knight
Caterino killed it. Here’s the answer to your question of why the miranda’s tempered
Damascus blade broke like a reed under my blow, and the gigantic soldier toppled over
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
like a rock. There’s so much power in my sword that it simply transfers to me when
“Everything’s clear,” the squire stroked the handle of Chris’ sword with envy.
“Perhaps, when I become a knight, my sword will also be my brother of steel?”
The first human settlements had come into view in front of them. Once Chris had
a chance to see how simple people live in the Black Principality, and he still shuddered
at the recollection. He expected to see something similar today. But no, the village,
through which the road ran, was quite decent. Well-cultivated fields and rich meadows
with splendid animals grazing surrounded it. Such pictures as in the big world were
found at every step.
However, the village was empty. No one was strolling along the streets, although
evening was approaching and all work should have already come to an end. There were
no old men and old women sitting on benches and no kids running around. The boys
passed through the entire village, and it was not small, but met no one. Nevertheless,
they very much felt that invisible eyes were watching them. So, people were still living in
“Strange village.” Arian was turning around in his seat and trying all the time to
see somebody. “Nobody. Maybe they’re afraid of us?”
“More likely they’re afraid of each other,” Chris objected.
The same thing happened in the next village, and in a third and a fourth. When
the sun was starting to set, they saw a mountain and a city at its foot.
“I bet this is Bienvillemort!” Arian half-rose from his spot. “And here are people
A group of riders hastily rushed straight at them. The horses pounded their
hooves furiously on the hard stony ground, and the riders’ faces were distorted with
rage. They surrounded the wagon, not saying a word. Anyone in Christian’s place would
be frightened, but not he. The knight waited calmly for what would come next.
Finally, the riders stopped; a tall stately warrior, whose appearance reminded
Chris of Alvansor the Flawless, gave them the command. He dismounted and walked
over to the wagon. “Which of you is Knight Christian?” he asked.
“He’s before you.” Chris jumped down and stood before the warrior. “With whom
do I have the honour of speaking?”
“My name is Merengo,” the warrior replied. “I’m head of Marquis Henri de
Kostiniak’s guards and authorized to meet you, Knight Christian. Is it true that you wish
to participate in the tournament?”
“Then the Marquis is waiting for you in his castle! I and my people will escort
“Let someone bring my wagon,” the boy asked Merengo. “We’ll ride with you.”
“As you wish.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The sun had sunk below the horizon when Knight Christian Thirteen and his
squire escorted by Merengo and the guards passed through the city, which at this hour
was as empty as the village. They rode across a tall narrow bridge over the river and
turned up in front of a high and ominous castle, which, like a bird of prey, was located
on a mountain plateau. The road from town, which was seen in full view here, led to it
on one side, a bottomless abyss was on the other side of the castle, and on top of
everything, it was surrounded by a wide and deep moat full of black oily water.
The party entered the castle gate along the drawbridge, which was immediately
raised and the gate closed. They stopped in the square courtyard of the castle. A tall
black-haired man with a slender moustache and pointed beard descended a steep stone
staircase to meet them. He smiled broadly; nevertheless, all present stiffened as one at
his appearance and lowered their eyes.
“Welcome, famous knight!” The man immediately addressed Chris, approached
him, and made a profound bow. “I, Marquis Henri de Kostiniak, owner of this castle and
lord of the land, and obedient subject of our Queen, welcome you to my home. As soon
as they reported to me about you, I sent my guards to meet you, in order to arrange an
escort of honour for you.”
Waiting for a pause in the Marquis’ words, Chris said, “Mr. Kostiniak, it’s really
not worth worrying about. I simply bought the wagon of some wandering performers
and travelled in it instead of riding. This explains my rather slow journey to
Bienvillemort. I hope I am not late for the tournament?”
The Marquis’ face clouded over for a moment at the mention of the performers,
but when Chris started talking about the tournament, it broke into a smile again.
“Certainly not! The tournament will start on Saturday. Have you really decided to
take part in it?”
The Marquis looked Chris over from head to toe, and Chris was not very pleased
with this. “Perhaps, according to your laws, I’m too young for such events?”
“Oh no, not at all! Anyone who wishes can participate in my tournament.”
“However, I must warn you right away, young man, that you’ll have very serious
opponents. Consider everything properly. Many, on seeing them up close, refuse to fight
with them. And this damages the prestige of my tournament.”
The Marquis led Chris into the castle. It was as bleak inside as outside. Dark,
narrow corridors and bare stone walls were decorated in some places with time-worn
tapestries. Arian followed them like a shadow and at the same time did not go beyond a
distance of three steps. The Marquis glared at him several times but said nothing,
because he was busy in conversation with Chris.
“I never refuse to fight if I’ve already stated my desire. Besides, I’ve already had
the honour of crossing sword with one of your servants. And not too badly.” Chris
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
became uncomfortable, it was as if he was boasting, but the Marquis pretended that he
had not noticed anything.
“Perfect!” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “I admire your courage, Knight. And
Chris caught some awkwardness in his voice. “What must I do so that you will
believe me? Arrange a fight right now?”
“Not at all!” The Marquis waved. “Sign a document for the sake of my peace of
mind. It says that you agree to participate in the tournament, will have no claims in case
of defeat, and will receive the Sun God’s armour in case of victory. Just a custom, a
tradition. An empty formality.”
“Good that you have traditions, to not trust the word of a noble person!” Chris
The Marquis bowed apologetically. “In our country, a word is an empty sound, it
could come from anyone,” he said with a smile. “Even the Queen authenticates all her
words with a signature and a seal. That is the law!”
“Fine, let’s have your paper! I’ll sign it.”
Chris got so excited that he never even asked the Marquis about the rules or the
tournament. Arian wanted to warn Chris but did not have time. The servant who was
with them all this time immediately ran up to Christian and extended a tray to him, on
which were already a written document, a knife, and a quill pen.
Chris took the pen. “Where’s the ink?” he asked.
The Marquis immediately handed him the knife, “We sign with blood.”
“Yes. It need not even be your own.” The Marquis nodded at Arian. “Your squire
is quite suitable. Slit his throat and that’s it.”
“Oh, no!” Chris stated decidedly. After picking up the knife, he made a cut on his
palm and signed the document with his blood.
Arian again wanted to warn him, and began making urgent signs so that the
knight would not do what he was doing. But the Marquis saw this and got between Chris
and Arian so that the knight could not see the squire. When the document had been
signed, the Marquis triumphantly snatched it right from Chris’ hands and hid it in his
pocket. After this, he looked around with the appearance of a winner and laughed
resonantly like a boy. “Here, the deal is done!”
For some reason, Chris was in no mood for mirth. He saw Kostiniak’s triumphant
face and Arian’s downcast face, and he suddenly realized that he had done something
not quite right. But it was already too late.
“They’ll take you to your chamber.” The tender intonation in the Marquis’ voice
had vanished without a trace. “Have a rest after the journey, and I’ll wait for you at
dinner at midnight.”
He took off with these words. And he did it so quickly and quietly that the guests
did not even realize in which direction he went. Instead of him a servant bowed in front
of the boys. Without a word, he invited them with a gesture to follow him.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The boys started talking to each other only after they had found themselves alone
in a large room curtained with wall hangings.
First Arian said, “I don’t like all this!”
“What don’t you like?”
“Everything! This city, this castle, and especially this Marquis. Why did you sign
his paper? And even in blood!”
“You heard,” Chris started to justify himself in a guilty voice, “he accused me of
“In my opinion, he would do whatever it takes to have you participate in his
stupid tournament. By the way, I also really don’t like this strange tournament.”
“What do you find strange about it? A tournament is a tournament. Usual
business for a knight.”
“Didn’t it seem strange to you that the Marquis never said that it’s a joust
“Can there be another kind?”
“Why not? In this country, everything is different. And the people are also
different.” Arian got excited. “Not excluding that we’re now being watched.” After
making this assumption, Arian started to examine all the corners and walls. He looked
under the bed and looked behind all the wall hangings.
“Are you really afraid?” Chris tried to tease him.
“Yes,” Arian frankly acknowledged. “I fear for you, because you’re my knight and
I’m your squire. Your life is dearer to me than my own. I never once disgraced you by
cutting in on your conversation. But you should have looked at me more often, then you
wouldn’t have signed all sorts of dubious documents. One can indeed sell one’s soul this
way, by accident. This Marquis does all this with some dirty trick.”
“Stop grumbling.” Chris did not expect Arian to be so angry with him. “Now let’s
go to dinner with the Marquis and he’ll clarify everything. You’ll see that you’re being
upset for nothing.”
Arian raised his index finger. “And still, there’s a dirty trick here!”
At these words, the door swung open and the miranda walked in. “Have you
decided to still take part in the tournament?” she addressed Chris without greeting. He
said nothing, only nodded.
“Useless.” The miranda strolled around the room like the host and sat down on
an armchair standing by the fireplace. “It’d be better for you to return to your world.”
“Does it really befit a knight to run from a jousting tournament?”
The miranda smiled. “Who told you that it’s a joust?” Chris was bewildered. Arian
The miranda continued, “It isn’t a joust at all. My master just sent me to explain
the rules to you. You’re indeed a stranger, and he thought that maybe you don’t know
“Speak!” Chris ordered the miranda.
“Besides the guards, my master also has bodyguards. Like me, they serve as
slaves. We aren’t people. To you we’re unnatural creatures, monsters! There’re nine of
us at this time. As you might already be sure, it’s not easy to deal with the likes of us.”
“But we dealt with you!” Arian interrupted her. The miranda looked at the boy
and hissed angrily. However, he was not frightened in the least.
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“Nevertheless, everyone here is afraid of us, even the Queen. Although my master
will never do anything bad to her.”
“Why is that?” Arian immediately asked the miranda. Somehow, he did not
consider it necessary to stand on ceremony with her. “What, she’s afraid of him?”
“It’s none of your business, cheeky squire! It doesn’t concern you. And keep quiet
in general, I’m talking to your master.”
“Fine,” the boy agreed. “I’ll listen and not miss a single word.” Then Arian began
turning Chris’ sword in his hands, giving it an inspection.
“But our services haven’t once been useful for the Marquis, because nobody dares
to become his enemy, and those who dared, we immediately killed. It was very rare,
though, and a long time ago. Now, in order that we don’t become stale, our master came
up with this tournament. He challenged the best warriors and the bravest of Mortavia to
fight with us. Then there were many more of us. But after five tournaments more than
half of Kostiniak’s slaves were killed. After all, sometimes there were quite good warriors
amongst the people. Nevertheless, there was not a single winner. Nobody reached the
“What must be done to reach the final?” Chris asked.
“Defeat all of us.”
“Well, we already beat you,” Arian could not control himself again, “that means
that now it’s just the others. If they’re all like you, then I don’t think we’ll stay here
“Your squire isn’t just cheeky but also cocky,” the miranda remarked. “But he’s
right about one thing. I won’t take part in the tournament.”
“What joy!” Arian again could not resist from saying something nasty.
“Other servants of the Marquis will deal with you,” the miranda grinned nastily
and looked at Arian. “So, when the blind white lizard tears your knight apart or puts him
on the rhinatag’s horn, I’ll catch you, smug little squire, first rip your sharp little tongue
out, and then kill you. I promise that you’ll die in terrible agony. No one knows torture
like mirandas.” She said this so lustily, as if Arian was already in her hands.
“We’ll see who’ll win,” the squire growled. Nevertheless, the previous bravado
was no longer in his voice.
The miranda abruptly got up from her armchair, noisily opened up the wings
behind her back, and then folded them up again, as if she wanted to stretch. “We’ll meet
at dinner,” she said, turning to leave. “All the tournament participants will gather at the
table next to the Marquis. Both the slaves and the allegedly free.”
She looked at the door, both sides of which swept open under her gaze. The
miranda flew out of the room like an arrow. The boys followed her with their eyes and
exchanged glances uneasily. The door closed. By itself.
“I knew it!” Arian exclaimed. “It isn’t a joust. It’s a trap. And this Marquis is
simply a murderer. We must leave the castle.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Too late,” Chris sighed. “He has my signature, and it holds me tighter than any
chain. I feel it exactly. The Marquis is probably even a sorcerer.”
“Of course he is,” Arian agreed. “Do normal people really have such slaves? After
all, only sorcery can keep them obedient.”
“Now he’s keeping me obedient too.” Chris took his sword from Arian’s hand.
“Until I win this tournament or die, I won’t be free. My honour keeps me here. A knight
of the Brave clan must be answerable for his word. Even if the Marquis hadn’t forced me
to sign in blood, I still wouldn’t go back on it. Now let’s go to the Marquis. It’ll be
midnight soon and we’ve been invited to dinner.”
As if in response to his words, the same silent servant appeared at the door and
gestured to them to follow him. Along the dark corridors, where they did not meet a soul
on the way, they reached a banquet hall round like a circus arena, in which were long
tables, with the Marquis’ nine slaves sitting, standing, or lying at the one in the centre.
They were terrible creatures, the largest of which were the three-metre lizard, as white
as snow, and the one-eyed giant with six arms and a head as small as a child’s. They
were both repulsively hideous.
However, the others were not much better. Two midgets, twins, clothed in
reflecting armour, were sitting importantly; a centaur with three heads, six legs, and a
long tail; a two-metre mutant: half man and half wolf. There was even a man who had
the legs of a horse, and instead of a nose, a huge and sharp horn like that of a rhino
stuck out of his face. Chris and Arian guessed that this was the rhinatag that the
miranda had talked about. The miranda herself sat apart from the others and watched
Chris intently. Evidently, she was interested in his reaction.
Chris looked calmly at the monsters. Not a muscle moved on his face. Arian
turned his head and also looked with interest at his knight’s future opponents. He did
not hide his feelings. Only there were not fear and horror on his face, but aversion and
disgust. When a fat woman, who had live poisonous snakes instead of arms and octopus
tentacles instead of legs growing right from her body, suddenly grabbed and pulled him
towards her, he pretended that he would puke.
The fat woman laughed. “Do I really have to battle with this chick? He’s weaker
than a mosquito. I can eat him right now.” And she suddenly opened a mouth that
became incredibly huge and was covered with large and sharp shark’s teeth. Arian
recoiled in horror, and Chris pulled out his sword and even raised his arm to strike. On
seeing this, the monster let go of the boy and waved her snake-arms, “It was a joke!”
All the creatures sitting at the table neighed loudly and cheerfully. Arian hid
behind Chris and sniffed fearfully. Now he kept far away from the monsters. He felt sick
and was truly scared. He even wanted to grab Chris’ hand but saw the miranda, who
looked like a beautiful princess against the background of the others, looking mockingly
at him, remembered that he was the squire of Knight Christian and not a little boy,
instantly acquired confidence in himself, and straightened his shoulders.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Chris understood his mood and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. “Don’t
be afraid, little brother,” he whispered to him. “We’ll break through!” Arian timidly
shook Christian’s hand and brightened up when Chris answered with a strong
handshake. Now he was afraid of nothing.
They made their way together to the main table, where the Marquis Henri de
Kostiniak was sitting and calling them to him with signs.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Well, Knight, what do you think of my dogs?” the Marquis asked Christian
smugly, when Chris sat down beside him. Arian immediately stood behind Chris, ready
to carry out any of his knight’s orders. “Aren’t they lovely?”
“Yes, they’re amusing,” Chris agreed. “Only I thought that I’d be fighting noble
knights and not such freaks.”
“No need to call them that.” Marquis de Kostiniak was offended for his servants.
“You really didn’t know with whom you’ll be dealing?”
“Ah, what a pity!” The Marquis pretended that he was distressed. “But there’s
nothing to be done now. I warned you that you should think before you agree.”
“I’ll fight,” Chris calmed the Marquis.
The Marquis simply lit up. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Knight. Guests
from all over the country have already begun to gather in the city. These are the most
famous and powerful people. I think they’ll enjoy the tournament. By the way, you
probably can’t wait to get acquainted with those from whom you’ll have to defend your
life. Yes, your life! Indeed, every fight is to the death. A mortal combat. Unfortunately,
there’re only two participants. It has become totally impossible to find people willing to
participate in the tournament. Here I remember, forty years ago there were ninety
participants against thirty of my servants. They all perished. Sad, I agree, but will there
really be someone able to stand against my bodyguards?” The Marquis shook his head
and looked sympathetically at Chris.
“Let Merengo enter!” The Marquis’ chief of the guards entered the hall. The
monsters saw him and squealed with delight.
“See how sincerely glad they are on seeing him? They aren’t evil, my little ones. In
a few days they’re expected to fight with him, and perhaps die, but they look forward to
it like kids.”
Merengo passed through the banquet hall and sat down next to Chris.
“And where’s the city dweller?” Kostiniak asked severely. “Whom did they pick?”
“They didn’t,” Merengo replied. The Marquis frowned menacingly. “There was a
“A volunteer?” Bewilderment appeared on the Marquis’ face. “Among these
“Who is he?”
“Brusila the blacksmith.” As soon as Merengo uttered the name, two guards led a
man bound in chains into the hall.
The moment Chris saw him, he immediately leaped up from his seat and turned
to Arian. “Do you see this?” The squire, not taking his eyes off the blacksmith, nodded.
The reason for their surprise was that Brusila the blacksmith was as alike as two
peas in a pod to that blacksmith they met when they discovered that Laura had lost a
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The Marquis noticed their surprise and was surprised in turn. “Do you know this
“No!” the boys answered in one voice.
Then Kostiniak turned to Brusila. “Did you really voluntarily agree to take part in
The blacksmith, after giving the Marquis a look he did not like, nodded in the
affirmative. “Yes, I did!”
“Why did you do it?” Kostiniak almost drilled the blacksmith with a piercing gaze.
“I don’t want people to be killed for nothing. After all, you gave the order to throw
two hundred people to your monster cannibals if no one is willing.”
Chris looked in amazement at the Marquis, who caught his look and was
embarrassed. “I promised to show the Queen’s son the tournament, and therefore gave
such an order.” The Marquis seemingly justified himself before Chris. Then he proudly
looked at the blacksmith and said, “So?”
“I decided to save them.”
“With the price of your own life? Is that so?” The Marquis sprang from his seat,
ran to the blacksmith, and looked him in the eye.
“Let me die, let me perish in mortal combat, but knowing that innocent people
will be killed, I just can’t.”
The banqueting hall fell silent with these words. Even the monsters stopped
screaming and smacking their lips and looked perplexedly at the man in chains. What he
wanted to say did not get through to them. They could not understand how it is possible
to sacrifice one’s own life for others.
However, Kostiniak was simply shaking with rage. “Merengo!” He ran to his chief
of the guards. “What’s this? For more than a hundred years, I have oppressed this city
and these people, and there was never one among them capable of generosity and selfsacrifice. Where did he come from?”
“I was born in Bienvillemort,” Brusila intervened, “and all my life I’ve seen how
people of this city suffer under your yoke, Kostiniak. And all my life I’ve dreamt that
they would take up arms and overthrow you. But miracles don’t happen. People are
afraid of you, of your sorcery, and of these freaks!” The monsters growled indignantly at
“You rebel!” The Marquis looked attentively at the blacksmith, went up to him
again, and tapped him on the shoulder. “How is it that my spies missed you? But you
won’t deceive me. Your generosity has ruined and betrayed you. My order has forced
you to come to me and lay your life down at my feet.”
Brusila looked at Kostiniak with hatred and gritted his teeth. The muscles on his
powerful arms bulged and the chains snapped one after the other with a ringing sound
and fell to his feet. The monsters nodded approval.
“Impressive!” The Marquis slapped the blacksmith on the shoulder. “But why
spoil a good thing? I would’ve ordered them to unchain you anyway, blacksmith. Since
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
you’ve done it yourself, then sit at the table with us. Now you can talk as equals with any
knight and duke. Isn’t that so, Merengo?” The chief of the guards nodded. The
blacksmith sat down.
The Marquis grinned again. “Why don’t you want to sit next to Merengo? You
don’t like him?”
“No!” the blacksmith replied loudly and looked at Merengo with the same hatred
as at the Marquis. “He’s a faithful dog of a tyrant, so he’s also responsible for people’s
sorrow and suffering.”
“Okay!” the Marquis suddenly interrupted Brusila rudely. He immediately lost all
his civility and became like a man tormented by a headache. “I’m tired of hearing defiant
speeches. I hope you’ll fight as well as you wag your tongue. Sit down and eat!”
The blacksmith obediently picked up a big chunk of meat and sank his strong
white teeth into it.
“Doesn’t it bother you to eat the food in the house of a man whom you hate?” the
Marquis asked scornfully.
“In any other situation I wouldn’t eat a crumb in this house. But now let your
food give me strength and help me deal with your monsters.”
“However, if you continue to be insolent to me and insult my slaves, I’ll kill you
on the spot, before ripping out your foul tongue, and two hundred citizens will fight
instead you. No, not two hundred, but three hundred, four hundred, five hundred!” The
Marquis was so angry that he started to pound the table with his fists.
Everyone froze. Chris and Arian feared for Brusila’s life, but the others were just
curious as to how this would all end.
The Marquis came to his senses and looked around. “It was a joke” he assured
Everyone laughed, expressing joy at the Marquis’ cheerful nature. Only Chris was
gloomy, and Merengo had not smiled once since the Marquis ordered him to fight. And
Brusila certainly did not laugh.
Meanwhile, the hall began to fill up with the Marquis’ guests. These were such
disgusting, though human, faces that it was fitting to take them for the Marquis’
monsters. All these dukes and earls, marquises and barons were more like highwaymen.
Chris looked at them with surprise. Merengo saw his bewilderment and quietly
said to him, “In our country a noble man has no right to be a handsome man, because
the Queen so ordered.”
“But the Marquis?” asked Chris. “He’s not bad looking at all.”
“He’s the exception to the rule. Why? It’s his secret. Only the Queen reveres him
like her own father.”
Only one of the guests did not have a scary face. It was Prince Lautar, the son and
heir of the Black Queen. He was even handsome, as befits a prince. He was a pale boy,
almost the same age as Chris. During the whole feast, he did not take his eyes off the
knight and Arian.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Prince Lautar’s face was sad and mournful. He looked indifferently at the
surrounding people, and whenever the Marquis asked him anything, he only nodded or
answered in monosyllable words. He resembled a flower that grew in the middle of a
The feast lasted until morning. The guests complimented the master of the house
and drank to his health, anticipating the pleasure of the upcoming tournament. They
certainly looked with curiosity at the future participants of the spectacle and
immediately made bets.
Chris felt like a gladiator whose life was relinquished for the amusement of the
audience and clenched his fists with resentment. He immediately caught Merengo’s eyes
on him. The warrior looked Chris straight in the eye and then lowered his head. It
seemed to Chris that Merengo was ashamed.
The feast went its normal course. The wine flowed freely, and soon many guests
were drunk and became violent, swearing loudly and fighting among themselves. Even
the Marquis’ monsters looked at this disgusting bunch in slight bewilderment. It seemed
to Christian that the Marquis’ guests were those monsters with whom he would have to
cross swords. Brusila looked at them with even more contempt and hatred. The
blacksmith was just about ready to pounce on them and kill them all with his hammer.
Only there was no hammer in his hand now, and armed guards were behind his back
watching his every move.
Prince Lautar got up from his seat, looked all around for a moment with an
anxious, slightly surprised look, and went out of the hall, not even glancing at the
Marquis. The Marquis was looking at his feast, or rather no longer a feast but a real
orgy, and rejoicing. The spectacle of aristocrats crawling and drunk as a skunk gave him
Chris thought that there was nothing more for him to do here, and turned to say
this to Arian. But there was no squire behind him. “Strange,” he muttered to himself.
“He was just here. What exactly has happened to him?”
THE MIRANDAS ISAURA AND ISABELLA
Nothing had happened to Arian. The squire was simply tired of looking at
Marquis Kostiniak’s disorderly guests and decided to explore the castle. The situation
was the most suitable for this. The Marquis and his bodyguards were in the banquet
hall. They would unlikely leave it until morning. So, nobody would interfere with his
spying. Arian wanted to ask Chris’ permission first, but the knight’s face was so serious
and focused that the squire had doubts whether he would get permission. Arian had
already had time to understand Chris’ character a little. Indeed, Chris made an effort to
look after him a lot in everything. He wanted to do everything himself. This did not quite
suit Arian. He wanted more independence in actions. This is the reason he said nothing
to Chris and left the hall unnoticed. The door was literally behind him, and no one
looked in his direction, because at that moment all eyes were directed right at a count,
who, in a state of drunkenness, suddenly considered himself a hero and attacked the
Arian hid in the hallway and started to wait and see whether anyone had noticed
his manoeuvre. A few minutes passed, and the boy, having calmed down, stepped out
from behind a tapestry, where he had been hiding, and wandered around the Marquis’
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Kostiniak’s home was not distinguished by originality and was built in the model
of many knightly castles. Therefore, it was not difficult for Arian to find his bearings.
The squire wandered around the castle but did not find anything suspicious. The castle
was a castle. Damp and dark, as in other castles. The fumes from the smoking torches
got into his nose and he wanted to sneeze. Arian was already starting to get bored and
thinking about returning to his knight. Suddenly, his attention was attracted by a
strange quiet rustling coming from one little passage that led to somewhere below,
probably to the vault. This corridor was obviously usually locked up, because a thick,
heavy door separated it from the main corridor, but now it was open. It was as if
someone had forgotten to close it. Arian decided to go there.
There was no torch in the passage and it was not possible to see what was in it.
Then Arian turned around and took one of the torches from the wall, waved it so that it
lit up as it should, and boldly entered the little passage. In two steps, he discovered
stairs leading down. The sound was coming from there. Arian began to stare into the
darkness, and although in the forest he could see in the dark like a wild forest cat, he
could see nothing here. The noise from there continued to reach him and even grew
louder. Only Arian could not place the kind of sound. The nature of the sound was
constantly changing. If at first it seemed to the boy that he heard a voice asking for help,
then the sound began to resemble hissing snakes, or gas escaping from underground.
When he had taken a few steps forward, he clearly heard a child crying. Now Arian
immediately felt uneasy and regretted that Chris was not beside him. He had almost no
weapon with him. Three daggers hung from his belt. Nevertheless, they were not
fighting knives, but those which the Forest Principality inhabitants used to help them
climb trees. However, just in case he pulled one of them out and held it firmly in his
“Who’s here?” he asked.
Instead of an answer the door behind closed with a thud. Goosebumps ran down
the squire’s spine. He felt his legs trembling. He even got angry with himself.
“Knight Christian was right when he called me a show-off,” he scolded himself. “Yeah,
I’m some coward!”
Then Arian began to descend the stairs boldly, lighting his way with the torch,
until he found himself in a spacious basement filled with barrels. “Ah, it’s just a wine
cellar!” Arian concluded disappointedly. “And I thought...”
He was about to turn and leave when he saw a miranda on the floor tied up with
thick and sturdy straps. She was lying and wriggling, trying to break free. Only this was
not the same miranda with whom Chris had fought. That one had black hair and her
eyes sparkled with anger and hatred towards all living things. This one had golden curls
almost reaching to her feet, and pain and fear were in her sky-blue eyes. And she was
also dressed quite differently. If the Marquis’ slave was dressed in a short, dark-grey
tunic and high boots of the same colour, and her wings were black as pitch, the short
tunic of this one was as white as snow, her feet were shod in elegant sandals, and light©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
grey, silvery wings were behind her back. In general, this miranda was far more
attractive than that one. Her mouth was bound with a strap tied at the back of her head
and she could not scream. The sounds that Arian had heard came from her right wing,
one end of which had managed to break loose. As soon as Arian saw her, he immediately
got down on his knees and started to free the unfortunate prisoner.
“Who are you?” he asked her as soon as he cut the strap preventing her from
“My name is Isabella!” she replied. “Why do you set me free, brave boy? Indeed,
the Marquis will kill you for this.”
“The Marquis can’t touch me.” Arian quickly cut the straps binding the miranda.
“What are you doing here and why are you in the Marquis’ dungeon?”
“I came this morning to free my sister Isaura and kill the Marquis. But Dron and
the rhinatag caught me, and my sister...” the miranda sobbed, “helped them.”
“Black-haired, yes?” the boy guessed.
“Well, some sister you have!” Arian could not resist exclaiming.
“Is that so!” Isabella stood up for her sister. “She was once a beautiful miranda
and loving sister. Until...” The miranda sobbed and tried to stretch her stiff wings,
because Arian had finally freed her. “Until the Marquis caught her in a trap and took
possession of her soul. Now she’s an evil monster and she hates me, just like all the
others. Will you show me the way out?”
Arian helped the miranda get up and led her upstairs. Together they went out
into the main hallway. The boy looked around and, on seeing that no one was around,
pulled Isabella behind him. He held her by the hand.
“I saw a way out right here next to the observation tower. We’ll go on it and you
can fly away.”
“Yes, I’ll fly to the mountains, where my tribe lives. Thank you, noble boy. Just
tell me, what’s the name of my little saviour?”
Arian blushed. “My name is Arian. I’m the son of Prince Arinako. And I’m not a
child at all. I’m already the squire of a real knight-errant.”
“Thank you, Arian!”
They went out onto the platform of the observation tower and the miranda
spread her wings, preparing for flight. She was so beautiful that Arian admired her.
Before she took off, Isabella approached the boy, hugged him, and kissed him.
“Farewell, squire. I hope nothing bad will happen to you. May the heavenly gods
guard you. I’ll return again and free my sister.”
The miranda spread her wings again and her slender legs pulled away from the
platform. The white tunic fluttered with the wind and its fluttering was reflected in the
silvery wings. Arian thought that he had never seen anything more beautiful in his life.
Isabella circled above the tower and flew in the direction of Bienvillemort. Evidently, the
mountains where she lived were in that direction. Arian watched her and was sad to part
with such a fantastic and beautiful creature. They had spent so little time together. But
Isabella was already far away, it was hard to make her out. She had turned into a small
dot starting to glow in the sky. It was almost dawn.
Suddenly, Arian heard a noise behind him. He turned around and froze in fear.
Before him was a completely different miranda, as terrible as the goddess of war. It was
the black-haired Isaura. She first looked at the departing Isabella, then at Arian. A
hostile light flashed in her eyes.
“Aha! It’s the same snotty squire of the knight-errant again, who always sticks his
nose in none of his business!”
Arian did not even manage to say a word as she noisily swooped down upon him,
caught him in an iron grip, and took off into the air. In a second, Arian saw the ground
beneath him. They were so high up that he even felt dizzy and nausea rose to his throat.
“What if I throw you down?” The miranda laughed and made a sharp turn. The
air around them buzzed loudly. “How do you like that?”
Arian said nothing. For some reason, he did not quite want to make fun of Isaura
The miranda was gaining speed. She was full of energy and carried the squire as if
he weighed nothing. The last time, after the fight with Chris, she was exhausted and they
were flying low and slow. Now, after a hearty feast and strong wine, Isaura was full of
energy, and the wind whistled in Arian’s ears and nausea rushed to his throat.
Isaura was flying in pursuit of her sister. She did not let her out of sight and was
quickly catching up. The blonde miranda was too weak after her captivity in the
basement to fly fast. Besides, she did not know that she was being pursued, and when
her sister’s black wings made a noise above Isabella’s head, it was a complete surprise
“Stop!” Isaura yelled at her. “Stop and look at me.”
Isabella turned around and looked quizzically at her sister. When she saw Arian
in Isaura’s hands, her eyes reflected pain and despair.
“Aha, so you’re sorry for the boy?” The black miranda rejoiced. “Then if you won’t
listen to me, I’ll kill him.”
Arian felt the cold blade of Isaura’s sword on his neck. He wanted to shout to
Isabella not to obey, but the black miranda squeezed his throat so tightly that he
“Don’t kill the boy,” Isabella begged. “Isaura, my sister, you have committed so
many sins in the Marquis’ service. Don’t do another. I’ll do what you say.”
“Then you’ll fly with me and appear before the Marquis.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Oh, sister, sister!” Isabella sighed. “Indeed, you’re ruining me.”
“I know nothing. You escaped from the Marquis. He sent me after you. And you
slipped away with this little rascal.”
“You swear that you won’t tell the Marquis this. Otherwise, he’ll kill this young
hero, and then I’ll have returned to the castle for nothing.”
Isaura angrily squeezed Arian again so tightly that he almost choked. “OK, so be
Isaura turned and flew back to the castle. She did not even look back, because she
was certain that her sister was flying behind her. And she was right. Arian, who was
dangling like a chicken in a hawk’s talons during the flight, saw how sadly and
hopelessly she flapped her wings, if it is possible to say so about wings.
Then all of them landed on the platform of the observation tower. Isaura threw
Arian away with hatred and hissed in a voice breaking with anger, “Go to your knight
and don’t come across me anymore. One more meeting will be the last. For you.”
Arian was not really scared of her. Before walking away, he went up to Isabella
and took her hand. Tears glistened in the boy’s eyes and he hastened to wipe them with
“I’m sorry this happened. It was all my fault. I shouldn’t have stayed so long on
the tower. But you flew so beautifully!”
“You’re not at fault, Arian!” The white miranda touched the squire’s hair. “Fate
has simply arranged it so.”
“Enough chatting!” Isaura pulled her roughly. “Follow me! Let each go his own
“You’re some disgusting bat,” Arian grumbled softly and ran to the banquet hall,
pondering on the way what he would say to Chris about his absence.
TWO MORE VICTIMS FOR THE MARQUIS
During that time, the following took place in the banquet hall.
Chris also wished to leave the feast and set off to his apartment or search for his
squire, but Count Barbizon caught his attention. This robust person had drunk too much
wine and considered himself a great hero capable of fighting anybody. “What are these
scarecrows to me!” he began to brag to his drinking buddies. “I can fight with all of
These drinkers and brawlers just like him were pleased and immediately began to
urge him on. “You brag all the time because you’re drunk and don’t think things over.
But you’ll yield your sword to whichever of the Marquis’ slaves you’re up against, and
you’ll run back home straight away!” They started shouting in eager rivalry, glancing
slyly at each other and winking.
Count Barbizon got mad, pulled out his sword, and started waving it. “And I can
challenge you all to a duel! You hear? All of you!”
His friends only made fun of him. “You’d at least grapple with Dron! No need to
talk about the others now.”
“Why Dron? I’ll fight the blind lizard himself!”
“Now I’ll fight!”
The Count ran to the blind lizard and started to poke it with his sword in different
places of its scaly skin. The blind lizard began to twist its snout in astonishment. It could
not understand at all what was happening. Everyone around was laughing loudly and
merrily. This further stimulated Barbizon. He began to poke the lizard so furiously with
the sword that it eventually snapped. But there was not even a scratch on the lizard ’s
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
skin. Laughter burst out in the hall. This brought Barbizon to a rage. He ran up to one of
the guards and began to yank a halberd from his hand. The guard looked at the Marquis.
Kostiniak gave him a sign to yield.
Seizing the weapon, the Count again rushed to the blind lizard. With all his
strength, he pounced on the monster, which finally realized that it was being attacked
and roared with pain and rage. The blind lizard rose from its seat and began to search
for the offender. It had also drunk a lot of wine, so it was focusing with difficulty, and its
sensitive ears and sense of smell were deceived by the noise of those feasting and the
many scents. Hence, it could not understand from which direction it was being attacked
and was twirling amusingly on the spot. The noise in the hall intensified, and the Count
really picked up courage and began to strike the lizard frequently and fiercely.
Marquis Kostiniak watched what was happening. When the lizard began to
whimper from pain and tucked its tail beneath it, the Marquis left his seat and ran up to
Count Barbizon. “Stop, Count,” he grabbed his hand. “For what reason are you attacking
my slave and beating him, even with a battle weapon? Who let you?” He was trying his
best to be polite.
“I’ll kill this cowardly brute!” Barbizon roared with rage. “I’ll prove to everyone
what I am!”
“By all means,” the Marquis replied. “But just bear in mind that I won’t let
anyone kill my slave. The day after tomorrow he’s to participate in the tournament. How
will he fight, in your opinion, if you already maim him today?”
“So, I can’t kill him today?”
“No, you can’t!”
“What am I to do? How can I prove to my friends that I’m no coward but a great
“Nothing easier!” the Marquis exclaimed cheerfully. “Take part in the tournament
and kill the blind lizard in a fair fight. I won’t allow him to be dealt with any other way.”
Count Barbizon stared at the Marquis with blurred eyes that saw almost nothing.
He was also thinking with great difficulty. “In a tournament?” he asked, wobbling. “In a
“Yes.” The Marquis hugged the Count and smiled joyfully at him. “Business-like!
You see how awkward and timid he is. Such a brave man as you will get the better of him
in no time at all.” The feasting crowd picked up the Marquis’ words with loud and
cheerful shouts, calling upon the Count to kill “the lizard” in a one-on-one.
“And what pleasure you’ll bring your friends!” Kostiniak continued to tempt the
Count. “What glory about you will spread across the entire country! Even the Queen will
find out! And her son, Prince Lautar, will applaud you. Agree, Count!”
The Count smiled, wobbling even more, looked again at the blind lizard, which
was still spinning around the table and waving its paws amusingly, gave a wave with his
hand and said loudly, “I agree.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
His words were met with a storm of ovation and applause. Everyone praised
Barbizon and his courage. Pretty girls in short dresses appeared from out of nowhere.
They ran into the hall and showered the Count with flowers and air kisses. Barbizon
himself immediately blossomed like one of the roses stuck in his hair.
The text of the agreement instantly appeared in the Marquis’ hands. “Then sign
this paper,” he prompted Barbizon. “Only in blood. Simple ink won’t do in this matter.”
“In blood?” Barbizon hiccupped loudly. The Marquis nodded. “Nothing easier!”
the Count declared and nearly fell on the floor. The Marquis barely managed to catch
Now a servant appeared with a tray on which lay a feather and a knife, and it was
all over. Count Barbizon put his signature where expected and immediately fell onto the
floor near the Marquis’ feet. After a moment, he began to snore loudly and Kostiniak
yelled, “Long live Count Barbizon! Long live our new hero, gentlemen!” Everyone
shouted in reply, pleased that the tournament promised to be more interesting and
fascinating with every hour.
Chris looked at all this with disdain. When he saw how foolishly the Count had
behaved, he did not pity him in the least. Still, the thought came to him that he himself
had recently acted just as foolishly and carelessly as Barbizon.
“Where’s Arian?” he asked himself again. At this moment, someone coughed in
his ear. Chris turned around and sighed in relief. The squire was standing behind him,
looking a bit dishevelled and rumpled, as if he was scared of something. But Chris did
not pay this any attention. “Where have you been?”
The squire waved his hand aggrievedly. “I strolled around the castle. Almost
completed a feat, but spoiled everything myself.”
Chris raised his eyebrows in surprise. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ll tell you later, but look. This is the miranda Isabella, sister of the Marquis’
slave.” Chris looked in the direction Arian indicated and saw two mirandas entering the
“She tried to kill the Marquis, but was captured,” Arian explained in a whisper in
Chris’ ear. “I tried to help her, but this devil Isaura saw us and everything fell through.
It’s unclear what they’ll do to Isabella now. I’m so sorry for her. If they try to kill her, I
swear by my sword, they’ll have to do it over my dead body.”
Chris remained in his seat, although he was just going to leave. Isabella interested
him. Besides, he was sure that he would not be able to drag Arian away. The squire did
not take his eyes off the prisoner.
The eyes of all those present were already turning to the mirandas. The sisters
were so different and at the same time so alike. The noise began to subside.
The last to see the sisters was the Marquis himself. “And here’s the little sister of
my Isaura!” he exclaimed, rubbing his hands in pleasure. “What do you have to say,
Isabella? Still want to kill me?” The white miranda gave the Marquis a look of hatred
and said not a word.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Silent?” Kostiniak walked over to her. “You don’t want to talk to me? Well, no
wonder we say ‘proud as a miranda’. Your mountain tribe, which I almost wiped out,
always bothered me. How many of you are left? Or are you the last? Speak!” Isabella
“Be silent, be silent if you want.” Kostiniak folded his arms and turned to the
guests, as if he had forgotten about Isabella. “I have prepared entertainment for you. Do
you want to see capital punishment?”
“Of course!” was the universal response.
“And you will!” the Marquis stated cheerfully, like the master of ceremonies in a
circus, and clapped his hands. Chris felt Arian tense up and lean forward behind his
“Do you hope to frighten me?” Isabella asked the Marquis contemptuously.
He looked at her in surprise. “What are you talking about?”
“Isn’t your punishment intended for me?”
“Of course not,” Kostiniak spread his hands in surprise. “After all, you’re not my
slave such that I could publicly punish or pardon you. Isaura, come to me.” The black
miranda obediently approached the Marquis and bowed. The Marquis moved his hands
artistically. “Dear Isaura, tell us everything that happened to you this afternoon on the
border of our country, which you have to guard.”
Quietly, but in a calm voice, the miranda recounted her meeting with Chris, her
fight with him, and her defeat. When she finished, a dead silence fell in the hall. Some
looked at her, others at Chris, and everyone was waiting for what the Marquis would say.
“Now say what befalls a border guard who lets a newcomer pass through the
territory he guards.”
“For this, death befalls him,” Isaura replied calmly all the same. She got down on
both knees and humbly bowed her head. Her hair fell from her shoulders and revealed
“Correct,” the Marquis agreed. “That is the law. It’s harsh. Yes, we live in a state
with harsh laws, but it is precisely thanks to them and their strict implementation that
we prosper. Our people don’t grumble and know not to dream about changes, and so we
have no conspiracies and intrigues as in other kingdoms, and our Queen reigns
peacefully. Therefore, the law is important to us. That’s why you’ll die, Isaura, although
you’re my most trusted and loyal slave.”
A few of the guests nodded approval, agreeing with their host. The miranda
bowed her head even lower. She was the epitome of humility.
Only Isabella did not think of resigning herself. “Scoundrel!” she exclaimed.
“You’re lying, and my sister’s life is in your hands.”
“It’s not true!” the Marquis waved. “I’m the most humble subject of her Majesty,
and who else but I should follow through with carrying out the laws? What happens if I
don’t abide by them? What example is that for people?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Don’t lie!” Again, Isabella did not believe him. “Everyone here knows very well
that Mortavia’s laws are written by you but not for you. What do you want, scoundrel, so
that my sister will remain alive? Indeed, I understand very well why you put on this
comedy. Well, you have the right to it, since I’m in your hands. Speak!”
The Marquis again put on a hurt look and shook his head reproachfully. “Ai-yaiyai! I hear so many insults from the lips of a miranda, who tried to break into my home
to kill me. Why? Only because her sister serves me faithfully and loyally?”
“Better keep quiet about that! Indeed, you have put a spell on her!”
“So what? Do the laws of our Queen prohibit spells? Anyone who wants to can do
that. We have freedom!”
“True!” The Marquis’ guests supported him again.
“You have an answer for everything,” Isabella sighed. “I’m tired of arguing and
bickering with you. Tell me, what do you want?”
“I do have the right not to carry out the law on the death of a border guard. This
right is given to me once every ten years, during the great tournament. And I’ll use this
right to spare your sister if you agree to do something for me.”
“I’ll do anything, anything, just not anything mean and low. If you demand that
from me, I’ll sacrifice my own life and the life of my sister.”
The Marquis simply gritted his teeth with rage at these words. “Oh, this nobility
of the mirandas. How I hate it! I would wipe out your whole race.”
“You’ve already done so. Isn’t it enough for you that we left to live in the
“No, you’re too noble to live in my country!” Kostiniak turned pale with anger.
“It’s exactly for the likes of you that I came up with this tournament. Best of all, it purges
my land from stupid brave spirits willing to defend the weak and the humble. It’s you
preventing us from ruling the world! So, better you die in battle with the monsters,
which you can’t defeat. I want exactly this from you, Isabella. After all, you and these,”
he nodded towards Chris, Brusila, and Merengo, “are probably the last people in our
country with these qualities. They’ve fallen into my trap like a fly falling into a spider
web. You’ll share their fate too, right? You indeed have no other way out. Your nobleness
won’t let you refuse my proposal. You won’t be able to save your sister, even if she
already isn’t the same miranda as before. Sign this paper with your own blood. In it is
written that you’ll fight with my slaves in the tournament, and your soul will be mine in
The Marquis handed the miranda the usual parchment. Isabella looked him up
and down scornfully, while Kostiniak bared his sharp yellow teeth in a grimace of
hatred, and carried out the order.
The music started playing again. The Marquis overturned a glass of wine on
himself, cheered up, and again became the hospitable host of the festival.
“Now go to the guests and your companions in arms and enjoy my hospitality.
You’ve made your choice, rescued your sister, and I thank you so much for this!” The
Marquis bowed gallantly to Isabella. “So grateful! Now you’re free, because you’re my
guest and a participant of the tournament, not a prisoner!”
Without answering him, Isabella went to the table where the tournament
participants were sitting. She sat down beside Brusila, and Arian instantly appeared
behind her and poured her a glass of wine.
The feast continued.
THE EVE OF THE TOURNAMENT
The next day, the Marquis invited the five tournament participants, five
gladiators, to the castle’s armoury chamber. The initiation into valance should take place
here. It included showing them the Sun God’s armour, which the winner would receive
as the tournament rules explained, and allowing them to choose any of the weapons.
The gladiators behaved calmly and with fortitude, all except Count Barbizon. This
drunk, when he came to after boozing and learned that he had become a tournament
participant, almost went mad with terror, and now his moustache, still dashing and
thick yesterday, drooped fearfully. The Sun God’s armour turned out to be an ordinary
suit of knightly armour, gilded. The rules were also simple. Battles with the monsters
were determined by lots and had to be to the death. The winner of the match was the
one who remained alive.
Chris examined with a cursory glance the weapons kept in the hall and
understood that there was little that would be of use to him here.
“As you know, Arian,” he shared with his squire, “I’ll manage with my faithful
two-handed sword. And my chain mail is lighter and more reliable than these
antiquities. I also don’t need a helmet. I’m used to my head always being in the fresh
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Exactly,” Arian agreed. “If your sword was able to break Isaura’s sword, then it
will pierce the hides of these creatures for sure. But I don’t have such a sword. I’ll
rummage in this pile of rusty junk and, trust me, I won’t be shy, I’ll gather as many as I
can carry. I’m a sword-bearer after all!”
The others felt the same way. Indeed, none of them had a real magical weapon,
which had been in the body of the Black Dragon or under the gaze of the Golden Sphinx.
Isabella and Brusila, who had no weapons at all, began to search for suitable
accoutrements for themselves. Merengo gazed indifferently at the mountains of armour,
swords, sabres, spears, halberds, and other similar scrap-iron. He did not hurry. Count
Barbizon, on the other hand, immediately rushed to the chain mail, armour, and shields.
Obviously, he worried very much about the question of how and with what to escape
from the claws and fangs of the monsters. When everyone gathered again in front of the
Sun God’s altar, he was so covered in armour that it was practically impossible to get at
him with either a sword or a spear.
Isabella and Brusila armed themselves quite differently. The miranda took a light
chest armour and a long two-handed sword. A steel helmet with eagle wings on the back
covered her head. The blacksmith armed himself with a huge hammer on a long handle.
He tossed it in his hand as if it was a feather. Merengo remained in the same guard
outfit and only took another sword and put it behind his back. So, everyone except
Count Barbizon chose the tactic of lightly armed combat. They understood that the
monsters only seemed clumsy and bulky in looks. In fact, they were quick and light in
battle, and it would be unlikely to hide from them behind armour as the Count was
When they had finished arming themselves, they started to draw lots: who, when,
and with whom to fight. Merengo was the first to fight. He got Dron the wolf-man as his
opponent. Second in turn was Chris. He had to fight with the turtle-brothers. Count
Barbizon followed him. The rhinatag fell to his lot. When the Count found this out, he
could barely restrain himself from crying. Isabella was fourth, to fight the woman with
tentacles, and Brusila was the last, to fight the giant Crash. This was the first round. It
would also determine the participants for the next.
During the draw, the pick of Mortavia’s elite was in the hall. They immediately
placed bets. The noise was inconceivable, and Marquis Henri de Kostiniak, like the
conductor of an orchestra, towered above all this. He announced the results of the draw
in a loud voice and made amusing comments.
Chris looked with such hatred at this whole spectacle, as a participant and one of
the main characters, which he happened to be, that he even attracted the attention of the
Marquis. “Why do you look at me this way, my young lord?” he addressed Chris. “Was it
something I did? Do you doubt the integrity of our draw?”
“Why do you address me this way?” The boy answered the question with a
question. “Am I a crowned head?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The Marquis laughed, “Ah, my old French gallantry! But you’re right in
something. Yes, today you’re all kings. True kings of the great tournament. And you’re
crowned until such time as your crown flies off together with your head! Did you hear?”
he addressed the guests. “From now on I give the command to call all tournament
participants ‘Your Majesty’.”
Henri de Kostiniak was a great joker. His joke was appreciated accordingly.
Everyone laughed delightedly. Chris looked at this disgusting merrymaking crowd, in
which among the disgusting faces only one person looked decent and did not laugh (it
was Prince Lautar), and only spat in annoyance. He would be risking his life for these
“The first round will start tomorrow!” the Marquis announced. “The guests can
have a good time, have fun in the city, and the participants can relax or prepare for
tomorrow as they please. And I’m leaving you, gentlemen. I should give a report to Her
Majesty tonight, and assure her that nothing threatens the Prince in my home. Isn’t that
so, Your Highness?”
After saying these words, the Marquis approached Prince Lautar and bowed
deeply before him. When the noble guests saw that, they did the same. However, Chris
did not notice special reverence from any of them. Lautar, in turn, swept his eyes
indifferently over everybody and merely pressed his pale thin lips tighter.
“Please come along with me, Your Highness.” The Marquis led the Prince away to
one of the corridors and the young man was forced to follow him.
“How strange this Prince is,” Chris whispered into Arian’s ear. “He doesn’t fit in
with this company. It feels like he’s kept here by force. Wouldn’t hurt to find out the
particulars about him. For some reason, he’s much more likeable to me than this
Marquis, whom, God willing, I’ll even force to jump under my sword.”
Lautar seemed to have heard what was being said about him, because he turned
and, before leaving the armoury hall, looked Christian intently in the eye. The young
knight read depression and hopelessness in his look. He turned to Arian, “Will you be
able to find out about him?”
“I think everyone here knows about it,” the squire whispered. “Try asking
Merengo or Isabella. And I better try to spy upon where the Marquis took the Prince and
what he’ll do with him. May I?”
“Try,” Chris shrugged. “Just watch no one catches you.”
“I’ll indeed be careful this time!” Arian disappeared with these words. He did it so
cleverly that Chris did not even notice when it happened. The squire turned out to be
nobody’s little fool.
Following the Marquis and the Prince, the crowd of noble guests poured out of
the armoury hall. The tournament participants no longer interested them. They had
forgotten about them, and would remember them only tomorrow when they would take
their seats. The gladiators were left alone. They had the opportunity of either resting
before tomorrow or practising here in the armoury hall. There was more than enough
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
room here. Isabella decided to make use of this and proposed a training match with
Count Barbizon. He politely declined, saying that he would prefer to dine well and then
with the help of a sound sleep gather strength before his mortal combat with the
On the other hand, Brusila volunteered to fight with the miranda. “Who knows,”
he said, “maybe it will befall me to fight this devilish black-haired miranda. This way, at
least I can study your battle tactics.” At the mention of her sister, Isabella bit her lip and
grabbed the sword. She and Brusila began to warm up.
Chris decided to talk to Merengo about Lautar. He went to the former head of the
guards and asked him to spare a few minutes to talk.
“I’m completely at your disposal, young man,” Merengo replied. “But why don’t
we follow the example of Isabella and this brave blacksmith? We can talk about anything
you want during practice.” Chris agreed and they also started to circle each other.
“These turtle-brothers are very dangerous because they fight together and act
very much in coordination,” Merengo started to teach Chris. “They’re armed with short
swords, so try to keep a good distance from them with your long sword. Don’t let them
come close or take you in their claws. Their shells are impenetrable, so better not try to
smash them, but aim instead at their extremities and in the slits between the dorsal and
“Thank you for the advice.” Chris repelled several of Merengo’s hits and went on
the attack himself. “But I’m interested in Prince Lautar. Why is he so sad and different
from the others?”
Merengo was engrossed in thought, which did not prevent him from attacking
Chris or defending himself from his sword. He was a great warrior, experienced and
composed. Chris thought that Dron would have a worthy opponent tomorrow, and it
was not known how their bout would end.
“Prince Lautar is our Queen’s son,” Merengo began recounting. “He’s all of
fourteen years old, and no one knows about his father. It’s dangerous to ask. Those who
dared quickly lost their heads. The Marquis watched over this relentlessly. I can’t tell
you any more, because I know nothing more. The Prince has been closely guarded since
birth by the Queen’s slaves. What he does in the castle, what he likes, whom he detests –
no one knows. This is the second time they’ve brought him here so that he would enjoy
the tournament. They want to cultivate cruelty and ruthlessness in the Prince so that he
will be a true king when he grows up. I can only remark that it wouldn’t hurt if it works
out. The last time the Marquis brought him to the tournament, the boy fainted at the
sight of the first match and flatly refused to watch the rest. There was nothing they could
do with him. It’s not known how he’ll behave this time. But he likely won’t much like the
whole event. The Marquis and the Queen have even begun to doubt that he’ll be a
“A worthy ruler?” Chris smiled, dodging a particularly dangerous hit.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“You fight very well,” Merengo remarked approvingly. “You had a good teacher, a
true master. In our country, a ruler is only considered worthy if he governs severely and
mercilessly so that the subjects have no hope of changes. True, we’ve only had one
“How old is your country?”
“No one knows. It seems, around three hundred years.”
“And all this time ruled by Queen Angusta?”
“Yes, and also Marquis Kostiniak. They’re Mortavia’s oldest inhabitants. People
live and die, while they only live. They live and govern, eliminating enemies and
punishing the guilty.”
“This tournament is the best means for that!” Chris made a deceptive movement,
dropped in behind his opponent, and his sword landed a blow on Merengo’s neck.
“Well done!” the former guard was delighted.
They trained for another two hours, changing pairs, fighting two on two, one
against three, and worked their bones and muscles well for tomorrow’s bout. In
addition, they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of their future opponents and
gave each other advice, what tactics to follow. In general, they were preparing seriously
for tomorrow. Finally, tired and having wished each other good luck, they parted to rest
in their own rooms.
Chris immediately fell into bed and was soon fast asleep. He did not even eat. He
only drank water from a tall silver goblet. He slept for a long time, because when he
opened his eyes, it was deep into the night outside the windows. A greenish moon
floated in the black sky. It was so bright that every detail in the room was clearly visible.
Chris stretched and rolled over on his side to sleep again, when he suddenly
remembered his squire. Arian still had not returned from his reconnaissance. Indeed, so
much time had already passed. Something had happened to him perhaps? Chris berated
himself for his forgetfulness. Really, how could he have forgotten about his squire? The
boy got out of bed and trudged to the door with the intention of searching for Arian.
However, Arian himself appeared. His eyes were shining with such triumph, as if
Chris had already killed all the opponents and become the winner of the tournament.
But at the same time, fear and fright were surmised in them. “I’ve found out some
things!” he reported in a whisper. “Now you’ll be knocked over!” And he recounted the
following to Christian.
Arian tried to follow the Marquis and Prince Lautar unnoticeably as they went
along the corridor. He managed this because it was as dark as a cellar in the corridors,
there were no guards, and he was sneaking so quietly that even a dog’s sensitive ears
would not have heard.
The Marquis and the Prince came to the reception hall, where there were a lot of
chairs and tables, and closed the door behind them. Arian was upset for a moment that
he would not find out anything, but he kept his head and recalled that he had already
been in that room and that there was a small balcony under the ceiling, probably
intended for musicians. Therefore, wasting no time at all, he climbed the servants’
staircase, which would be removed at the tournament, to the next floor. He quickly
found the door leading to the balcony. To his great relief, it was not locked. There was
completely no need for the Marquis to lock doors, because he was certain that it would
not even enter anyone’s head to spy on him. But now it entered Arian’s head. He quietly
crept to the balcony and hid in it, looking down between the balusters. Everything that
happened in the reception hall was clearly visible before him.
Kostiniak and Prince Lautar were already standing in the middle of the room in
silence. They both looked at the big painting, twice as tall as a person, on which was the
image of a beautiful black-haired woman in a black dress. Arian guessed that it was the
portrait of the Black Queen.
“When?” Kostiniak asked.
“Now,” the boy answered. He was focused and holding his hands in front of him,
It became dark in the hall, but a greenish fire flared up in the Prince’s hands. The
fire began to spread out around the room and soon flooded it completely. The portrait
on the wall suddenly came alive. The black-haired beauty walked down from it to the
floor and approached the Marquis. “Hello, Father!” she said to him. The Marquis
hugged her and drew her to himself.
So, this was the reason the Marquis had such unlimited power over Mortavia. He
was Queen Angusta’s father! Arian looked at Lautar and noticed that the Prince saw and
heard nothing of what was happening. He stood stock-still, like a statue, and although
his eyes were open, it was obvious that he was unconscious.
“Witchcraft!” Arian whispered. He hastened to reach his talisman, the tooth of
the Forest Dragon, kissed it, and squeezed it in a hand becoming warm, appealing to the
kind forest spirits to intercede for him in case of need. Although Knight Christian’s
squire was scared, he would not let slip a word of what he was hearing.
“How is my beloved child?” Kostiniak asked the Queen.
“Everything’s quiet with me. But here danger threatens you, Father.”
“Yes, I saw a bad dream. I dreamed that you yourself took part in the tournament
and were killed in battle.”
The Marquis turned pale. “Your dream is wrong, my daughter, nothing will
happen to me. I assure you!”
“Why do you want this tournament? Is there really no other entertainment?”
“Of course not. We’ve been living here for three hundred years, and there are
already no enemies worthy of me left in this country. This tournament is my last joy.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Besides, this is the best means to destroy those who can present any kind of threat to us.
They go to their death like moths to the flame of a candle. They indeed know that they’ll
die, but they still go. Ah, human stubbornness. How many souls I’ve ruined, and they all
fly and fly to my light.”
“And still I fear for you.”
“Why do you fear for me? You know I’ve passed all my power to you.”
“But you remain unprotected. What if someone guesses that you’re no longer a
great magician at all but a mere mortal?”
“It won’t happen. And even if does, then you’ll help me. Three hundred years ago
you almost took control of the Country of Frozen Time with my magic.”
The Queen smiled bitterly. “I may not be able to save you. You’re so far away.”
“Prince Lautar will show you if anything happens and you’ll have time. Besides,
when you leave, I’ll ask him. Don’t think that I’m so careless.”
“Time for us to say goodbye,” the Queen said. “My time is up. Be careful.”
“Don’t worry, my daughter.” The Marquis led Angusta by the hand back to the
portrait. She entered it right in the air, as if along invisible stairs.
“A ghost,” Arian whispered in his hiding place.
When the Black Queen froze in her portrait, the green light faded, and Prince
Lautar lowered his hands. The Marquis looked at him with displeasure and said, “Why is
it you’re so weak? How brief a time you have. Why didn’t I find a stronger boy?”
Lautar’s look assumed comprehension and the Marquis immediately smiled at
him as at his own son. “Aren’t you tired, my boy?” he addressed him tenderly and with
“Yes, I’m tired,” Lautar agreed with him.
“But I need you. I need your miraculous ability of foresight.”
“I can’t now,” the Prince said and lowered his head guiltily.
“At night, not before.”
The Marquis bit his lip with vexation. “All right, we’ll come here tonight.” After
that, he took the Prince by the hand and led him like a weak-willed living doll away from
Arian sighed with relief. He already wanted to run to tell Chris everything, but
remembered that the Marquis wanted to talk with the Prince about something and
thought that it would not hurt to eavesdrop on this conversation too. He decided to wait
right here on the musicians’ balcony until night. As night was still far away, he lay down
on the floor and fell asleep. The boy was not afraid of sleeping through the right
moment, because he had the ability to sleep lightly like a wild beast. When the door
creaked at night, he immediately woke up and took his observation post. He saw again
how the Marquis forced the Prince into a trance, and all around was already lit with
“Tell me, what will end this tournament?” Kostiniak ordered Lautar.
“Death,” the Prince’s thin lips whispered.
“Mine?!!” The Marquis recoiled in horror and even hid himself from the boy with
his hands. He did not move from the spot for a few seconds and was like a statue
depicting fear. Then he came to his senses and his face was contorted with anger. “But
“I don’t know. The winner will kill you. First, he’ll defeat all your slaves, then you.
Your castle will be destroyed before your death. It first, then you.”
Kostiniak grabbed Lautar’s hands and shouted, “Who is he? Tell me his name!!!
Which of the five? The Count, the miranda, or the blacksmith?”
“I don’t know.” The Prince uttered everything in such an indifferent, calm voice.
“No, I won’t allow this! Cancel the tournament perhaps? Or kill everyone
tonight?” he began to discuss with himself.
“You can’t run away from fate.” Lautar became quiet. The light in his hand and
around him began to fade.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The Marquis clenched his fists. “We’ll see who’ll have the upper hand. Haven’t I
been cheating fate?”
“What?” the Prince asked without understanding; he had already come to and
was looking perplexedly at Kostiniak.
“This doesn’t concern you, silly boy!” the Marquis replied roughly. “Go to sleep!”
Lautar gave the Marquis a contemptuous glance and proudly walked out.
“Where did this commoner get such a majestic, royal look?” Kostiniak asked
himself. He stood near the Black Queen’s portrait, pondering over his own affairs, and
then also left the reception hall.
Arian sighed with relief in his hiding place. He was already pretty tired of hiding.
His hands and feet had fallen asleep. He listened. It was quiet. Not a single sound
reached him. The boy carefully left the musicians’ balcony and went stealthily and
effortlessly to the room where Chris was. However, before he was already a dozen steps
from the room, something else happened to him that frightened him quite a bit. A guard
was standing by the door that led to Christian’s room and there was no way to go past
him unnoticed. Arian again hid in the corner and started to wait for the guard to leave or
even change the place of sentry. However, there was little hope of this. The Marquis of
Kostiniak’s guards were disciplined and fulfilled their duties religiously. It was possible
to wait until the morning and end with nothing. The boy had to see his knight as soon as
possible and report what he had seen and heard.
Then his gaze fell on a narrow window. Arian went up to it and looked out, as it
was open. He looked along the wall and saw that the window of his knight’s room was
quite near and the wall was perfectly suitable for reaching Chris along it. For someone as
skilful at climbing trees as Arian, it was not particularly difficult. Not thinking for long,
Arian climbed through the window. He did this silently and quickly and was soon
climbing along the wall with the agility of a lizard. He was not afraid of heights; besides,
it was not so high, and even if he did fall, he would fall into the ditch with water. And
Arian swam like a fish.
He had completed about half the distance and there was very little left to the
necessary window, when he saw that a wide iron cornice obstructed his way. It had not
been visible from the window. There was no possibility of holding on to the metal. He
would only hurt himself, fall, and make a noise. He had to return. But that turned out to
be much harder than getting here. Nevertheless, there was nothing else to do. Remain
here on the wall? Muttering curses at Marquis Kostiniak, Arian began to return.
The moon looked out from behind the clouds and shone with a bright light. “This
is just too much!” the squire growled.
Now the guards could catch sight of him from the wall. He had to crawl to the
place on the wall hidden in the shadow. The way was doubled then. Arian was at the
observation tower, where he had parted with the miranda. Only now, a guard was
walking back and forth on the platform, with shod boots clattering loudly and the axe in
his hand gleaming threateningly in the moonlight. In order not to be noticed, Arian
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
simply had to press against the wall along which he was climbing. The boy had already
regretted several times that he had decided to use such means to return to Chris.
Besides, he was dead tired and absolutely unable to climb further. He almost cried. Only
what is the sense in crying now? After all, whether you cry or not, no one will remove
you from here except yourself. Why not call on the help of the guards?
Arian looked down and his mood improved. He saw a very small area at the edge
of the water above the ditch. It was quite simple to reach it, almost as easy as going
down stairs. He jumped to it and sighed in relief. Now it was possible to stretch his legs,
take a break, and gather strength for the next ascent.
The squire caught his breath. He sat for a little and rested. Before returning to the
wall again, he decided to wash himself. The water was very close, he only had to stretch
out his hands, and Arian was sweaty and dusty. He also wanted very much to drink but
decided not to. The ditch was neither a well nor a stream. The water was stagnant and
probably disgusting. But it would do quite well for washing!
He scooped up a handful of water and had already brought it up to his face, when
the acrid smell of something very unpleasant and sticky hit his nose. The water was foul,
fouler than he had ever seen. This was not something to drink and was even disgusting
to wash with!
Arian grimaced in distaste; no, he would not wash himself, and opened his palm.
The water ran back. True, half of it ended up on the boy’s shirt, but he did not even pay
any attention to such trifle and began to climb the wall again. To his good fortune, a
small cloud covered the moon after a few minutes, and it was so dark that nothing could
be seen. This suited Arian just fine, and he reached the window from which he had
gotten out to walk on the wall.
Here more good fortune awaited him. There was no guard near the door. His
footsteps resounded quietly in the adjacent hallway. The squire sighed with relief and in
a second already met Chris, and he immediately recounted everything candidly and with
all the details.
Christian was at a loss after listening. “Sorcery again,” he said with bitterness. “I
knew that this Marquis isn’t simply a marquis. What normal person can enslave such
“How many times have I told you so?!” Arian responded with enthusiasm.
“Only why did I sign his document?” Chris asked himself. Then he looked at
Arian in surprise and touched the hem of his shirt. “What happened to your clothes?”
“What’s wrong?” Arian looked at his own shirt and saw that it was all dark at the
bottom. “Ah, this? I soiled it with water from the ditch. Imagine, I wanted to wash, but
it’s so disgusting. Foul and rusty.”
Chris sniffed the hand that had touched the wet shirt and shook his head
dubiously. Then he lighted a candle and examined his squire more closely. “It isn’t
water, Arian,” he finally said. “I know what it is.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The boys were silent for a few minutes, staring at each other.
“So, our Marquis isn’t a marquis after all,” Arian sighed, breaking the silence.
“He’s the Murderer! The same one that ruined Knight François!”
THE TOURNAMENT – THE FIRST DAY
The fateful day came; the volunteers had to cross swords with Marquis
Kostiniak’s slaves. The program was divided into two parts. Two matches were to take
place in the first half of the day and three more after lunch. This meant that Merengo
had to fight with Dron and Christian Thirteen with the turtle-brothers in the morning.
As soon as the trumpet proclaimed the end of breakfast, the guests rushed to
occupy the best spots. The arena where the tournament was to be held was in the
courtyard of the castle. It was sanded and the spectator seats were at the colonnade
surrounding the courtyard. There were not many in the audience, only a few hundred
people. The tournament organizer, Marquis Henri de Kostiniak, and a downcast Prince
Lautar sat in the most distinguished seats, and two rings of guards surrounded both of
them. The rest of the spectators sat, stood, and hung on the railing, the benches, and
even the bare boards of the flooring. None of the guests had eaten much at breakfast and
they had not drunk either. Everyone knew perfectly that he would get more thrills that
day than food or booze.
It must not be said that the tournament was furnished splendidly and elegantly,
as is done in real jousts. The Marquis did not labour to present any decorations, welldressed heralds, or horn blowers and trumpeters at this competition. No one in the
audience needed it. It was unlikely that this crowd, having slept itself sober after a night
of orgy, would even understand beauty and refinement. They needed one thing – to
enjoy the sight of blood and death. They would unlikely be interested in anything else.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Chris was getting ready for battle. Arian did not move a single step away from
him. He checked everything he could. He polished and scrubbed Christian’s shield with
sand till it shone. “It’s a very bright sun today,” he instructed the knight. “And these
brothers have shells like mirrors. Watch they don’t blind you with sunlight. Better keep
them in the shade and blind them yourself. I’ve polished your shield and now it’s as
good as any mirror.”
Chris was silent. One ought not babble on in vain at such a crucial time, when the
body and soul must prepare to forget the fear of death and the pain of wounds. Arian
understood this perfectly. However, the squire was not forbidden to chatter, and the boy
was trying to distract himself with conversation from worrying about Christian. Next to
him, Merengo was preparing for his fight. The Marquis simply drilled into him with a
sharp piercing gaze. Merengo, though, looked at the ground and his lips were
whispering something. Chris understood that he was praying and wished him success in
his heart. Then he glanced at the cages, which were across from him, right under the
Marquis. They were constructed right into the wall, and the Marquis’ mutants kept
looking from behind their thick bars at Chris and Merengo. Chris looked at them
without hatred. It is not possible to be angry with someone you will be fighting. Anger is
the worst assistant in a mortal combat. It blinds and strips one of vigilance and proper
assessment of the situation. Besides, Chris saw that they were nothing like yesterday’s
carefree freaks having fun at the banquet table. He paid attention to the fact that they
were serious and even seemed sad to him.
Chris felt like a hired assassin who was ready to commit his crime publicly, to the
amusement of the crowd. The boy shot a glance at the audience, and they seemed to him
far more disgusting and horrible than those in the cages. He even began to pity the
monsters. Would he really kill them? He heard the sound of the trumpet. This was the
signal for the beginning of the first battle.
Merengo got up from his spot. Having gone down the stairs, he went out onto the
arena. The sturdy wrought-iron door slammed shut behind him. Merengo did not even
look around. The door of the cage, where Dron was, squeaked and screamed as it
opened. The audience shouted, made noise, and whistled. Their ugly faces became even
uglier from the excitement seizing them. However, neither Merengo nor the wolf-man
released into the arena even turned their heads in their direction.
Dron was armed with a short trident, which he was twirling like a light twig in his
hand-paws and with his long and razor-sharp claws. He towered above Merengo, who
was also tall and broad in the shoulders. Merengo was armed with a two-handed sword
and leather armour protected his body. The same steel helmet of the guards was on his
head. He had nothing else.
The opponents stood facing each other and got ready for combat. Both were
waiting for the signal. The audience became silent. They were also waiting for the signal.
The Marquis snapped his fingers. The spectators yelled as if thunderstruck. The
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The opponents did not immediately enter into battle, but started circling each
other, looking for the moment to attack.
Dron lunged with the trident and missed. Merengo jumped aside and struck him
in return. Now everybody understood why Dron had neither chain mail nor armour. He
simply did not need any. Merengo’s sword bounced off Dron’s head, not even leaving a
scratch. But then Dron’s claws traced three deep cuts on Merengo’s chest armour.
Everybody saw what colour Merengo’s shirt was. The guard jumped aside again so that
Dron’s long paw would not reach him again.
Dron and Merengo, they were equal contestants. Merengo was an excellent
fencing master and wielded the sword perfectly. Dron was incredibly agile and fast, and
his trident flew like lightning. The fight was not fast-paced. Each was fighting to the
death and neither intended to yield.
The audience roared with delight. They had not seen such a sight for a long time.
The Marquis sat and was scarcely breathing, watching the fight. He clenched his hands
so tightly that the fingertips had turned white. Chris glanced at the Marquis, muttered a
curse at him, and again stared at the arena. He admired Merengo’s courage, strength,
and fighting skills.
However, Dron turned out to be more enduring than an ordinary person. Minute
after minute passed, but he did not look tired. Merengo, however, began to tire. He
could not find Dron’s weak spot, where his sword would be able to harm the beast. His
hide was impenetrable and his skull as strong as iron. Not even the most powerful and
skilful blows inflicted any damage.
“Oh, if only he had your magic sword!” Arian whispered excitedly in Chris’ ear.
Chris thought so too. But Merengo had a simple sword, not touched by the
shadow of chivalry, and the man began to give in. He attacked less and less frequently
and was increasingly on the defensive.
A triumphant smile began to play on the Marquis’ lips. During the fight, Chris
was trying to watch Kostiniak unnoticeably. The audience was roaring and shouting.
Those who rooted for and betted on Merengo cursed their own choices. Nevertheless,
there were few of them. On the whole, Dron’s fans were shouting joyfully, invigorating
and inciting him.
Sweat was streaming down Merengo’s face. He started gasping for breath and
even fell once. Only a miracle saved him. Dron missed, and his trident dug into the
ground with all its might centimetres from Merengo’s face and cracked. So powerful was
the blow. Following it, a hit with his claws ripped the helmet off the man. If the straps
had not broken a few seconds earlier, the helmet would have flown to the ground
together with the head of its owner. But this was visible only to Chris and Arian, who
were closer to the arena than everyone. The rest of the audience stood up and shouted,
thinking that Merengo was finished. They sat down, disappointed.
Merengo was alive, and the last desperate hit he inflicted, when he had only just
got up from the ground, cut off Dron’s right hand. Blood gushed out like a fountain.
Dron roared in pain.
“Oh, here’s your weak spot!” Merengo yelled and cut off Dron’s other hand.
Dron fell on his knees. Blood was flowing from him in tight jets. With the loss of
blood, he also lost both strength and mind. He no longer showed resistance. And
Merengo struck him again and again. The shocked audience was silent. In the silence,
Merengo finished Dron off with his furious merciless sword.
Then he looked with a crazed gaze around the arena and at the spectators looking
at him. Merengo met Chris’ and Arian’s gazes. He had expected to see approval and joy
in their eyes, but instead saw fear and pity on their faces. Merengo understood that it
was him and not Dron these alien boys pitied. However, who knows? Perhaps they were
sorry for Dron? Merengo looked at the Marquis and saw that his master was looking at
him with hatred. Moreover, Kostiniak suddenly jumped up from his throne and ran off
The Marquis’ servants ran out onto the arena and dragged away the lifeless Dron
with boat hooks, and covered up the blood on the ground with sand. A servant playing
the role of a herald announced “Merengo won!” in the complete silence. A trumpet sang.
The Marquis returned to his place again and the spectators finally buzzed happily. Even
those who had not bet on Merengo. The former chief of the guards left the arena. He was
at a loss and, it seemed, could not believe that he was still alive. In this tournament,
such a thing happened very rarely.
“Your turn,” Arian uttered in a frightened, toneless whisper. He grabbed Chris’
hand firmly, as if he did not want to let him leave his side. Chris only now realized that
before him was not at all the squire of Knight Christian Thirteen but a most ordinary
ten-year-old boy deathly afraid for his, Chris’, life.
The herald had already announced his name, and the boy caught the glances full
of curiosity. “What will this puppy show us now?” they seemed to say.
Chris hugged Arian. Confidence and peace of mind suddenly left him. Why is he
fighting? Who is he defending, and from whom? Is he saving someone from danger or
death? Why is this necessary? Are these turtle-brothers really his enemies? But the clock
had already started ticking and there was nothing he could do. Something stronger
pushed and compelled him to go to the arena. He could not stop himself.
“Pray for me, Arian.” Chris moved the squire away from him and set off to the
arena. He looked back momentarily and saw tears glistening on Arian’s cheeks. His
squire was crying. Chris turned away. Now he was really sorry that he had brought the
boy with him. Arian, in a helpless rage, squeezed the handle of one of his daggers.
Out of nowhere appeared the miranda Isaura. She looked at Arian and smiled
gloatingly. His tears brought her inexpressible pleasure. “Soon you’ll be mine!” Isaura
shouted and flew to the castle roof, from where she was watching the tournament.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Arian did not move. He was indifferent to her words. He was only concerned with
what would happen now in the arena. He did not notice his legs carrying him into the
arena, and he turned up next to Christian. The door slammed shut.
“What are you doing here?” a surprised Chris yelled.
“I’m with you! I’m your squire and have no right to leave you in time of battle.
What if you get hurt? Then I’ll carry you from the battlefield.”
“You fool!” Chris yelled. “Who gets hurt? There won’t be any wounded here.
Return to your place.” But it was already too late. The bars on the cage of the turtlebrothers started to creak.
“So unfair!” the audience rooting for the turtles shouted. “A knight must fight
alone, without a helper. Remove the second boy!” Christian saw that almost all the
spectators were shouting.
“Let the second one also fight!” the old Duke Valperius suddenly shouted in a
loud voice from his seat. His word meant a lot in this country. And he had bet on Chris.
The spectators were forced to be silent. Even Marquis Kostiniak did not say a
word. He just waved his hand in assent. He did not treat Chris too seriously and
obviously had a low opinion of him despite Chris’ knightly dignity. Hence, he readily
agreed. Besides, the slaughter of two boys instead of one, as expected, was even more
interesting. Arian’s conduct was apropos for him after all. The Marquis’ mood even
improved slightly. He waved his handkerchief.
The trumpet started playing. The turtle-brothers slowly and carefully came out of
the cage. In the hands of each was a short but broad sword. They approached the boys.
“Stand behind me!” Chris ordered Arian. Now the squire realized that he was only
hindering instead of helping Chris’ actions. The boy carried out the order obediently. He
knew that he could do nothing with his daggers here. Nevertheless, Arian decided to sell
his life dearly.
The turtles took off and simultaneously rushed at the knight. Merengo had been
right. They acted very synchronously. Only for a split second, Chris took a step forward
and passed between them. The midgets crashed into each other on the very spot where
Chris had just been standing. A deafening crash was heard from their collision and they
flew in different directions. One brother fell to the ground and, after turning over several
times, tumbled onto his back. The other ran a few steps and hit the wall surrounding the
The audience simply howled with delight. They began to shout to Chris to make
short work of the turtles one at a time. But Chris did not intend on doing that. He stood
and waited for his opponents to collect themselves and continue the fight.
The midgets got up on short legs. They were a little taller than Arian. And they
looked somewhat confused. They no longer decided to attack at once. Now they started
to walk around Chris, intending on taking him from both sides. To avoid this, the boy
took a step back and was against the wall. Now there was no need to fear a hit from
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
behind. The turtles again rushed at him at the same time. Chris beat off all their attacks
and even forced the brothers to retreat. The audience clapped, approving of his fencing
Chris made use of Merengo’s advice and tried to keep the brothers at a distance
so that their short swords would not reach him. To beat back both instantly, as well as
watch that they did not go behind him and protect and defend Arian at the same time,
was incredibly difficult. The brothers attacked first both at once and then one by one.
They had chosen the right tactic. They were exhausting Christian and waiting for him to
run out of strength. They were not good fighters, but their advantage was really their
fantastic speed, which was difficult to expect from such seemingly clumsy creatures, and
their completely impenetrable shells. Chris’ sword just clinked loudly when it whacked
their smooth, shiny, mirror-like surface. It did not even leave a scratch on them. Such
shells covered not only the chest and back but also the legs, arms, and head. The turtles
had practically no weak spots.
Finally, Chris felt completely powerless. His skill turned out to be useless against
two shorties with short swords. He was fighting with only one two-handed sword. He
had not taken his shield into battle, because he understood that he simply would not be
able to defend well and for long against two opponents immediately. Here it was
necessary to act with both hands simultaneously. Hence, he was still alive. But it was
clear to all – the audience, the turtle-brothers, and the knight himself – that he did not
have very long to live.
Arian, also seeing and understanding all of this perfectly, almost cried with rage.
He simply had no opportunity to enter the battle. How sorry he was that he had not had
the sense to bring a sword with him. And then what he had dreamed of fell at his feet.
The boy looked up and met the sly look of Duke Valperius. Arian realized that the Duke
had thrown a sword to him. However, what was the difference who threw it?
Arian grabbed the weapon and rushed to help Chris. He did so just in time. The
turtles had managed to take on the knight from both sides after all and the situation was
very bad. Arian distracted both brothers to himself. The shorties got so angry at his
intervention that both, leaving Chris, pounced on him at once.
Arian was still an inexperienced fencer and had never been in a real battle; on top
of that, the Duke’s sword was way too big for him. All these reasons led to him simply
toppling over on the ground rather than fighting with the midgets. The brothers, in turn,
had not expected that the defence would be so weak; they rushed with all their strength
to the attack, and when the obstacle suddenly disappeared from their path, fell by
inertia onto Arian themselves.
A small pile was formed. Only that Arian, quick as a lizard, immediately crawled
away to the side so that the turtles would not crush him with their shells. Here the
midgets were puttering about on the ground. Now their heavy shells were interfering
with them. That which was an advantage in battle did not allow them to get up quickly
from the ground.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Now Chris already started to treat them inconsiderately. He ran up to them,
stunned one opponent with a strong kick in the head, and simply stepped on the other ’s
hand, which was holding a sword, and disarmed him. Just to be sure, he even firmly
whacked him in the jaw with the hilt of his own sword.
“Waste these creatures! Finish them off!” the enthusiastic audience yelled. They
corroborated their words with gestures. The thumb of everyone’s right hand pointed
down expressively. “Kill them!”
The turtles were lying unconscious and did not even hear how their fate was
Chris took the two seized swords and threw them at one of the castle walls. Then
he got up and walked from the arena to the exit. The turtles came to at the same time,
raised their heads, and looked at him perplexedly. The audience shouted indignantly
Arian looked at them and understood nothing. Suddenly he saw the pale,
somewhat frightened face of Marquis Kostiniak. It was not even simply frightened. No.
There was real horror on the Marquis’ face. Next to him sat Lautar. The Prince stared at
Chris. In his eyes was genuine interest.
The Marquis saw that Arian was looking at him and collected himself. “Wait,
Knight!” he shouted in a loud voice, drowning out all the other noises. Chris stopped,
turned very slowly in the direction of the Marquis, and looked him in the eye.
The Marquis gave a start but hastened to recover instantly. “You forgot
something, Knight!” he said in a voice cracking from malice.
“I forgot nothing,” Chris retorted.
“You’re mistaken, Knight. You forgot to finish off the defeated opponents. Do
“I don’t kill the unarmed.”
“Such is the law. You won and you must kill!”
Chris raised his eyebrows. “I won. It’s true. But where does it say that I must kill
whom I defeat?” The Marquis was embarrassed. Chris continued, “It doesn’t say in my
oath, which I signed with my own blood, that I must kill those defeated by me. It says
that in case of my defeat they can kill me. That’s it. But it says nothing about my having
to kill. I remember very well what’s written there.”
“What does your oath have to do with it?” Kostiniak roared. “In our country one’s
supposed to! You win, you kill!”
“I don’t live in your country. And I won’t kill anyone.”
“But that’s just stupid!” The Marquis, as well as everyone else there, obviously
could not understand. “Why?”
“Because I’m a knight. A knight-errant. Not a killer.”
Chris sheathed his sword. “Let’s go, Arian.” Both boys left the arena, leaving the
defeated but living turtle-brothers lying there.
“One more!” the Marquis whispered and leaned back wearily in his throne.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
THE TOURNAMENT – THE FIRST DAY
The first half of the day ended with victory for people and defeat for monsters.
That had never happened at this tournament. The audience was even somewhat
disappointed by such a result. Chris’ action simply infuriated them. Thirsting for blood
and death, they could not forgive the young knight for sparing the lives of the turtlebrothers and loudly wished him death in the next match.
However, the most shocked of all was Marquis Kostiniak. Once the audience had
left their seats and rushed into the banquet hall to eat, drink, and discuss the course of
the tournament, he, instead of following them, ran into the reception hall and locked
himself there in solitude.
After lunch, everyone was just trembling with impatience. The guests could not
wait for the continuation of the spectacle. The noise and the uproar were unimaginable.
Chris and Arian were in their room and were silent. They could not collect
themselves after what had happened.
“You saved my life, Arian,” Chris said, when it had already become absolutely
unbearable to be quiet.
“Nonsense,” Arian waved that aside. “I only hindered you.”
“No, you’re wrong. If not for you...” Chris did not manage to finish. The door
opened and Merengo, Isabella, and Brusila entered the room.
“May we come in?” Isabella asked.
“Certainly!” Chris stood up to meet the guests suitably.
“We come to congratulate you,” Merengo explained. “You behaved remarkably.
And you, a knight from a strange country, even taught us something.”
Chris shrugged. He did not consider that he had done anything gallant or great.
He said so to his associates of the sword.
“Your country is wonderful if it reasons this way,” the miranda Isabella said
sadly. “You didn’t just defeat the turtle-brothers, you delivered a blow to Kostiniak
himself. Now beware of him.”
Chris kept silent. He was pondering whether to tell them what Arian had found
out about Kostiniak. But here the signal rang to continue the tournament, and they all
set off to the stadium. Chris would have been happy to stay in his room, but this was
forbidden by the rules. Tournament participants had to sit in the best places and watch
When they sat down on the first-row bench, Count Barbizon was already standing
in the centre of the arena and waiting for the rhinatag to attack him. But that one was
still in the cage. The Count was ironclad from head to toe. He was holding in his hands a
large mace with sharp spikes. He looked very impressive. But only till the moment the
cage opened and the rhinatag came into the arena.
This was a terrible opponent and many immediately questioned the Count’s
victory, if they even thought of it. The monster quickly rushed at the Count with rage
and the strength of an ox. His first strike reached its target and Barbizon, after flying
several metres up, fell to the ground.
Chris turned away. He did not want to see what would happen next.
“Look, he is getting up!” Arian exclaimed enthusiastically. “This after such a
strike and a fall. This Count is an ace!”
Chris turned back and saw that Barbizon actually got up from the ground and
went on the attack. The iron rumbled menacingly and the mace whistled through the air.
The Count chose the heavy armour on purpose. It was as if he did not have it on. He was
moving lightly and freely. The audience supported him with shouting and the stamping
of feet. They immediately began to take his side, although the vast majority had bet on
The monster had no weapon. He used only his strength and the giant horn on his
head, which he aimed at pinning a person. He did not move quickly, but there was huge
power in his every movement. He almost did not pay attention to the deafening blows of
the Count’s mace.
Barbizon aimed at the monster’s horn, but it was as if made of steel. The rhinatag
only screamed loudly and drew his head back with the blows, pressing forward all the
time, chasing the Count to the wall. Barbizon saw his intentions but could do nothing,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
and retreated farther and farther with every step. Now there was already nowhere to
step back. He was pressed to the wall. Now terror seized him. All the courage that was in
him had suddenly vanished. The Count yelled wildly in fear.
The rhinatag also yelled. It was the triumphant roar of a winner. The giant bent
down. The mace struck him on the head, but he only set his feet firmer into the ground
and delivered the last, the strongest strike of his terrible horn.
Count Barbizon was nailed. The spectators screamed in horror. The Marquis
sighed in relief and a beatific smile played on his lips. Prince Lautar, the miranda
Isabella, Chris, and Arian turned away. They did not want to watch further...
“The rhinatag won!” the servant-herald announced in the complete silence, when
it was all over with Barbizon. “The slave of Marquis Henri de Kostiniak.” There was a
“He impaled Barbizon on his horn and is walking with him around the arena,”
Arian muttered. “I’m going to throw up now!”
“Go to the room,” Chris advised him.
“Oh, no! Isabella will fight now. I must watch this.”
“Mind you don’t run to her aid; you’ll only hamper her.” Arian knew even without
Chris that he had better not interfere with what would happen now.
Isabella walked out onto the arena. It was her turn to tempt fate. Hissing and
spitting acid, from which the sand was smoking, the octopus-woman slid towards her.
She discharged a cloud of black gas from one of her tentacles. The miranda’s wings
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
unfolded with a noise and Isabella flew up two metres. The cloud did her no harm. Like
a kite from above, she fell upon the monster, sat on its shoulders, squeezed the short
thick neck with her legs, and placed her sword against the monster’s mouth.
“Pour out your poison!” Isabella ordered. “Or my sword will take out all your
There was nothing left for the octopus-woman to do but to obey. Poison flowed as
green jets out of her tentacles. The fat woman lost strength with each drop. In the end,
Isabella, just as Chris had done, stunned her with the hilt of her sword. The horrible
creature fell down onto the ground, spreading like jelly in all directions. Thus the white
miranda quickly and unexpectedly finished the fight.
The audience again demanded killing the monster. Isabella simply did not talk to
anybody. She sheathed her sword and left the arena with a calm and beautiful gait. The
furious and frightened-to-death Kostiniak wanted to challenge her but hesitated, and
only looked at Chris, Merengo, and Brusila with hatred.
The audience clamoured disappointedly. They were dissatisfied. This was already
the second time they did not see what they had come here for. For the first time the
Marquis caught the dissatisfied looks of his guests.
Brusila was already hurrying into the arena with a hammer in his hands. He wore
a loincloth and a leather forge apron – his favourite clothes. His light, slightly curly hair
was tied up with a band so as not to interfere in the fight. His kind blue eyes were
shining with fearlessness, almost joy.
“Hell’s waiting for you!” the Marquis swore softly in his direction. He already
began to fear that Brusila would also win the fight. Subsequently, it turned out to be so.
When the six-armed giant Crash came out onto the arena, the audience screamed
in anticipation of a fine fight. He was unarmed. He had no need of weapons. His six
powerful arms were able to sweep away an entire army, and no one doubted his victory.
No one but Marquis Kostiniak.
The battle began with a strike by Brusila. He swung his hammer, targeting the
giant’s chest. He would have been glad to aim at his head, but the giant ’s height of three
metres did not allow him that. The blow to the chest unfortunately did not reach its goal.
The giant nimbly dodged it, and instantly three fists came down on the blacksmith.
Brusila withstood the first two terrible blows with truly fantastic fortitude, but
the third one knocked him off his feet. Brusila fell on his back but did not let go of the
hammer. Crash raised all six arms triumphantly and waved them victoriously in the air.
The audience shouted and greeted him with applause. The giant went around the arena
and then returned to the battlefield.
Brusila had already gotten up. Crash saw that he was ready to continue the fight
and rushed at him with his fists. This time he attacked Brusila with a whole series of
powerful murderous blows. But the blacksmith deftly blocked them with his hammer.
Then the giant, seeing that his fists did not reach their target, set his feet in motion and
kicked Brusila in the chest. The hammer did not save the blacksmith from this blow, and
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
he flew to the wall, hitting it with his whole body. The spectators screamed with delight,
and the giant again went around the arena, collecting congratulations, words of praise,
and support from the fans.
Brusila broke away from the wall with difficulty. He was feeling weak. But he also
did not drop the hammer this time. After shaking his head like a dog getting out of
water, he went on the attack. The giant was already waiting for him. He was standing in
the fighting stance of a boxer and was prepared to meet the enemy. Six-armed Crash
was not very agile. Otherwise, he would have had time to dodge the next hit. Besides, he
also seemed not to be very quick-witted. He did not understand at all why Brusila
suddenly did not send a hammer blow to his chest. No, the blacksmith came up to him
so closely that the giant was pleased and wanted to drive the blacksmith into the ground
with all his six fists, but he did not have time, because the blacksmith struck first and
totally not where the giant expected.
Brusila hit the giant not in the chest or the belly. What was the sense of hitting
there when there were dense muscles solid as iron? No, Brusila struck the weakest spot,
which he thought he had found in the giant. He struck his hammer exactly on the right
big toe. He did this so masterfully and powerfully, as if hammering a nail into the
The giant squealed in pain. To be exact, he squealed but did not cry. He squealed
like a puppy with its tail stepped on. He was jumping on one leg, clutching the injured
toe with all his hands. And Brusila, not wasting time in vain, nailed Crash’s left big toe to
the ground. Now the giant simply did not close his mouth, from which an incessant howl
belched out. He dropped to the ground and began to roll on it. He also did not dream of
continuing the fight.
Everyone who saw it got up in astonishment. The fourth victory in one day. Of the
five people who participated in the tournament on the first day, four won! Truly a world
turned upside down.
The giant was rolling on the ground, crying, releasing bubbles, and his childlike
head was twitching, but his only eye was looking at Brusila with resentment and pain.
“Wah! Wah! Wah!” Marquis Kostiniak’s former undefeated fighter was wailing just like
a baby. When the blacksmith casually took a step in his direction, the giant shouted
shrilly, trembled, and began to crawl towards his cage, as if he hoped to hide in it.
Brusila smiled and wiped the sweat off his face, and threw the now useless
hammer on the ground. This time nobody was going to demand that Brusila kill the
giant. It was obvious from the blacksmith’s face that he had no intention of doing so.
“Well, Mr. Marquis?” Brusila said aloud. “Isn’t it true that this time nothing is
going quite the way you wanted?” Kostiniak could not even hide his fear and hatred. He
shrank so much into the armchair in which he was sitting, it was as if he was afraid
Brusila would now run right over to kill him.
Nevertheless, none of the tournament participants intended to do that. Chris,
Arian, the miranda Isabella, and even Merengo ran out onto the arena and began to
congratulate Brusila on his victory. Even the spectators stood on the side of the
blacksmith and openly rejoiced at the defeat of the six-armed giant. The myth of the
invincibility of Marquis Kostiniak’s monsters had shattered in their eyes. If so, it meant
that the Marquis himself had also lost his former power. This was simply written on his
To deal the final blow to the Marquis, Prince Lautar left his seat and, despite the
Marquis’ look of hatred, also ran onto the arena. The Marquis had never seen the Prince
so cheerful and enthusiastic. He almost cried from fear and ran, surrounded by guards,
to his apartment. Now it seemed to him that the guards did not look at him with such
reverence and fear as before. Fear crawled like a snake into his soul and no longer
intended on leaving.
Four winners! Which of them would be his assassin? Kostiniak desperately tried
to solve the riddle.
Who? Which of them?
THE NIGHT OF THE MURDER ATTEMPT
THE BATTLE WITH THE BLIND LIZARD
The first day of the tournament ended with a grand feast, which all the guests, as
well as the winners of the first round, attended. Hence, of the monsters, only the
rhinatag sat at the table. Count Barbizon’s servants had carried his body to the castle of
his clan to bury him there with dignity in the family crypt. Only the host’s spot was
empty. The Marquis had not come to the feast. He asked to be excused, citing a severe
migraine had sent him to bed. Many guests just laughed at him inside.
Prince Lautar’s seat was also empty, not because he did not come to the feast, but
because he was sitting next to Chris and Arian and chatting with them about different
things. He had made friends with the boys after he walked up to Brusila and held out a
hand to him. “I congratulate you, brave and resourceful warrior,” the Prince said, not
looking around at the aristocrats, who were looking disapprovingly at the Prince talking
to a commoner. Let him be a fighter, even a winner, but indeed a commoner! Brusila
was also surprised by Lautar’s gesture and held out his hand warily, as if afraid that this
was just a bad joke that nobles had a weakness for. But there was no deception. Prince
Lautar sincerely shook the blacksmith’s hand. Then he turned to Chris and addressed
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
him, “And you also fought well!” They became acquainted this way and now all three of
them were talking about things boys love to talk about at all times and in all countries.
About games, horses (cars in our world), and weapons.
The feast was merry and noisy; the guests shouted and sang, and praised and
encouraged Chris, Merengo, Brusila, and Isabella. Now bets were made more and more
At the height of merriment, Marquis de Kostiniak burst into the hall, quick as a
fierce storm and evil as the devil. “Tomorrow’s the second round!” he declared without
any greeting. “The people will fight with the blind lizard. Four against one!”
Silence immediately hung over the table. The guests looked first at the
participants, then at the Marquis. He was still the host and in charge of the tournament,
and he had expressed his will. Kostiniak gave all those present the evil look of a predator
Chris felt like he was dead tired. Indeed, he had forgotten that the tournament
had just started and more was still to come. “I need to rest,” he said to Arian. “I’ll be in
my room.” Arian got up to go with him, but Chris immediately caught Prince Lautar’s
look becoming sad and stopped the squire. “You stay here and follow the situation,” he
He went into his room and, without undressing, threw himself onto the bed. He
was already asleep a minute later. This was the best rest for someone for whom a fight to
the death was waiting the next day.
He woke up from a sudden and quiet creak. “Arian, is that you?”
There was no answer. Chris listened carefully. It was deep into the night and it
was impossible to see anything without a light. Just in case he quietly slipped out of bed
and grabbed his sword, which was hanging on the back of the bed. As soon as he had
done so, the bed suddenly shuddered and began to sink smoothly. Chris’ heart stopped.
He realized that he had almost fallen into a trap. If he had not woken up, then...
It was not difficult to guess whose hands were in this matter. It meant that the
Marquis had decided to remove all the tournament participants so that there would be
Meanwhile, the bed had sunk to the ground floor. The flame of a lacklustre torch
in the space created allowed Chris to see three guards armed with swords rushing to the
bed and starting to hack it with force.
Chris jumped down onto the guards. He knocked one down just with his fall and
stunned another with a blow on the head with the hilt of his sword, and the third, the
one holding the torch, did not even bother to resist and immediately fled. In three leaps,
Chris caught up with him and brought him down on the floor.
The guard, though a tall enough fellow, was a considerable coward. “Don’t kill
me!” he pleaded.
Chris placed the blade end of the sword against his throat. “Did the Marquis
order you to kill me?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“I can’t say! I’ll be hanged!”
“Then I’ll kill you right now.”
The guard was frightened. He was trembling with fear and his teeth were
chattering loudly and frequently. “Yes, we got orders to kill all the tournament
participants,” he groaned.
Panic squeezed Chris’ heart but he had to continue the interrogation. “Whom
have you managed to kill already?”
“Nobody. We started with you.”
Chris thought for a bit. So, all his friends were alive. This was good news. But
what to do next? He did not know. Go to the Marquis? Or warn his friends first of the
impending danger? Chris chose the latter. He stunned the guard and ran looking for the
rooms of his comrades-in-arms.
Suddenly, somebody called him by name. Chris turned around and saw Isaura.
The miranda was standing and her wings were spread out; obviously, she had just flown
here from somewhere.
“What do you want?” Chris asked. “Or have you also been sent to kill me? What
other mean trick has your Marquis decided on?”
“Yes, he sent me to you, Knight. My master has caught your squire.”
“Caught Arian? What are you saying? How dare he?”
“Your squire tried to sneak into the Marquis’ treasury and was caught. Master has
ordered that he be thrown to the beasts to be torn to pieces. He can’t stand thieves. I’ve
been commanded to tell you this and offer my profound apology on behalf of the
“Arian isn’t a thief!” Chris was outraged. “This is another mean trick of
Murderer!” Without saying another word, he ran to where he had fought the turtlebrothers that morning.
Arian was indeed in the arena. He was lying in the centre with arms bound
behind his back. There was terror in his eyes. The Marquis was sitting in his own place
looking at the boy with snake-like eyes filled with hatred.
“What were you doing in my basement?” When Chris ran in, the Marquis had just
started to interrogate the prisoner.
“You don’t scare me, Murderer! I know everything about you!” Arian twitched,
trying to break free.
“Now you will die,” the Marquis hissed like a snake. “And no one else will find out
The door to the largest cage creaked loudly and the blind lizard emerged from it.
It blew its wide nostrils with a noise. Its small ears were trembling often. It heard Arian,
caught his scent, and was slowly moving in his direction. Arian saw it and tried to crawl
away. In vain. His feet were also bound.
Chris did not think any more. The door leading into the arena was locked and he
just jumped down. It was high, but a thick layer of sand cushioned the fall, and Chris
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
found himself in the arena. He ran to his squire and freed him with one motion of his
“And here’s Knight Christian,” Kostiniak uttered in a voice full of satisfaction.
Chris did not engage in conversation with him. He was not in the mood for it. He
had to think about how to save Arian and himself. The blind lizard was already
thumping its front legs eagerly and beating its long tail with sharp spikes on the end.
“Devour them, devil’s beast!” the Marquis yelled at it and whistled, as a hunter
does when he sets his dog on the prey.
The lizard darted forward, to where the boys were. They barely had time to run to
the side, and the blind giant did not find them. It sniffed the sand on which they had
stood and picked up the trail. Its nose noisily inhaled air.
Suddenly Arian darted off. Not only did Chris not manage to stop him, but he also
did not understand what was happening. The squire ran almost right up to the white
lizard, grabbed a handful of sand from the ground, and threw it right in the lizard’s nose.
The white lizard growled with anger. Tears immediately streamed from the empty
sockets. It stood up on its hind legs and began to rub its snout with its short front paws.
“You’ve only angered him,” the Marquis remarked in an artificially cheerful voice.
Arian spat in his direction. Chris squeezed the sword tighter in his hands. The
white lizard began to listen. Once it was deprived of scent, it had to rely on hearing. The
boys froze. They tried not to breathe or move. Nevertheless, the lizard heard them. It
went straight to the boys. Its tail was writhing like a snake and raising clouds of dust.
Although it was night, many torches lit the arena excellently. The Marquis had made
sure that the spectacle could be seen very well.
Suddenly the sword in Chris’ hands began to glow. It turned white, as if it was
ready to discharge lightning. Both the boys and the Marquis looked at it in surprise.
“Chris, look at your belt!” Arian yelled suddenly.
The knight looked down and saw that the dragon tooth, which he had received
from his ancestors in his castle and which he was carrying in a little bag, was glowing
with exactly the same light as the sword. He understood that the moment had arrived
when the talisman must do what it was intended to do. The knight opened the bag and
grabbed the tooth with his left hand.
It was as if something had prompted Chris what he must do. He took a step
forward and surrounded Arian and himself with a triple circle drawn directly on the
sand with the shining sword. And Chris managed just in time, because the lizard had
already sprinted. The monster seemed to hit a cliff. It bounced back and began to beat
on the invisible wall with its giant tail. There was a deafening roar. The invisible barrier
shook and the boys felt the tremor. The lizard was already beating on it with not only its
tail but also its paws and its whole body. It sensed and considered nothing because of
rage. Its aim was to force its way to the people and crush them. And it was trying with all
its might. Its furious bellow shook the castle walls.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“What to do next?” Chris asked himself. “This barrier will only stop it for a while.
We must think of something!”
An audience had already started to gather around the arena. The noise, which the
blind lizard raised, attracted them. They clamoured in offence and were upset that they
had not been invited to watch the fight with the lizard and that the show in general had
started so early.
However, Chris’ comrades-in-arms also appeared. All three of them. When they
saw what was happening in the arena, they, without thinking twice, jumped down one
after the other and all three attacked the blind lizard. Merengo and Isabella began to
strike its impenetrable hide with swords and Brusila with his hammer, from which he
did not part day or night. The lizard growled and rushed at the brave heroes. Bets were
already being placed and the audience was arguing about who would win: the lizard or
The situation of the people was unenviable. The magic circle had stopped
working and the next strike of the tail reached its goal. The boys bounced back ten steps
and both were stunned. If one of the spikes on the beast’s tail had hit them, they would
have certainly died. Fortunately, this did not happen. They were lucky, as the blow was
not too powerful, because the lizard was distracted by a new attack. Chris came to first
and immediately tugged at his squire. It was too dangerous to leave him in the arena,
where the giant monster was fighting.
The battle escalated. When the boys looked at their rescuers, they saw that it had
become tough for them. The lizard was a terrible opponent, even for three. Without a
word, Chris and Arian rushed to help their friends. Even they could do little to decide
the outcome of the battle. It was simply impossible to get near the lizard. It was twirling
on the spot and furiously striking with its tail. It was only a miracle that it still had not
managed to kill anyone. Swords brought almost no damage. Even Christian’s sword,
despite its magical power, could not penetrate the thick scales of the lizard. The monster
already had time to recover from the unexpected attack and went on the attack itself.
The position of Chris and his friends had become critical. Murderer even got up from his
seat to get a better view of his sworn enemies perishing.
A powerful blow of the tail reached its first target. The victim of its spike turned
out to be Merengo, who was standing closest to the lizard and furiously waving his
sword. He had no time to dodge, and the sharp half-metre spike easily pierced his chest
armour and went through him. Both the audience and those fighting yelled with horror
when they saw coming out of Merengo’s back a white spike, which immediately turned
red from the blood. Then the spike disappeared. The lizard’s tail was already elsewhere.
Merengo fell to the ground and groaned. He was still alive, but everyone saw that
his soul was about to leave the body. The lizard roared triumphantly, stood up on its
hind legs, and began to beat its chest with its front paws.
“Why are you rejoicing, freak?” the Marquis yelled at it. “Finish the rest!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Nevertheless, the lizard was too stupid and conceited. It did not listen to the
Marquis and continued rejoicing. Chris, Arian, Brusila, and Isabella took advantage of
this and rushed to pick up Merengo. They did not want the lizard to trample him when it
started attacking again, so they dragged him aside and put him against the wall.
“It’s over for me, friends,” Merengo muttered with difficulty, looking at them with
the blurred eyes of one dying. “I was unable to help you.”
“You did everything you could,” Chris encouraged him. “You’re a brave soldier
and fought heroically and honestly.”
“I couldn’t defeat the lizard, because I wasn’t as pure in soul and heart as you. I
wasted my whole life on unjust service to the villain, who wasn’t even in a state to value
my faithfulness and sent me to my death. I was a faithful dog of the scoundrel and
helped him to oppress and kill innocent people. I’m being punished for this. I got what I
deserved.” Merengo was speaking with difficulty; blood was streaming out of his mouth.
If Arian was not supporting him, he would not even be able to sit up. His voice grew
fainter and fainter with each passing second.
“Goodbye,” he said at last, feeling that he had not much strength left. “You’ll win,
I believe this. Your truth will help you.” Merengo dropped his head to his chest after
these words and did not utter another one.
“He’s dead,” Arian sobbed.
“Our turn soon,” Brusila shook his head. But there was no fear, no bitterness in
his eyes. He only tossed his hammer in his hand. “This beast is no longer rejoicing.” The
blind lizard really had stopped rejoicing and again dropped down on all fours and
listened in search of new victims.
Brusila and Isabella did not wait for it but went into battle themselves. Chris and
Arian laid the dead Merengo down and closed his eyes. Arian took his sword, which the
brave warrior did not let go of until the last minute, and together with Chris also joined
the battle. They understood perfectly well that only all together could they defeat the
blind lizard. To win or perish. To die in battle, fighting, and not standing in anticipation
of one’s own death, if that could not be avoided.
Arian overtook Chris and ran to Brusila. Chris wanted to stop him but by chance
saw the Marquis. He was looking at the boy, who caught the fear in his gaze. At this
moment, Chris realized that they would win. He again seized the dragon’s tooth and
sparks ran along his arm. At the same moment, Chris saw a raging flame in front of him
and a dragon, the same that had killed his ancestor, flying in the black sky. The dragon
was spewing pillars of fire out of its mouth. The vision disappeared. In front of Chris
were again the arena, the audience, the blind lizard, and his friends, ready to fight.
Chris ran and stood next to the miranda. Then it came to him. “Fire!” he shouted.
“We need fire! If the lizard isn’t afraid of iron, then he should be afraid of fire.”
“Where do we get fire here?” Brusila shrugged perplexedly. The lizard was
already on the move and going towards their voices.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Nothing simpler,” the miranda Isabella said and flew up. She rose two metres
and took from the wall one of the torches there for lighting. “Catch, Knight Christian!”
Then she also threw torches to Brusila and Arian.
As soon as Christian had fire in his hand, he immediately ran up to the lizard and
stuck the flame right in its face. A second later, the blacksmith and the squire did the
The knight was correct. The lizard roared in pain and staggered backward. It even
stood up on its hind legs. Isabella, also with a torch, instantly flew to it and shoved a
burning torch right in its jaws. In fear and pain, the lizard fell on its back. It did not even
try to resist. It was powerless against flame and smoke, which was choking it. Moreover,
its hide suddenly flared up. The lizard simply lost its head and instinct told it what to do.
It fell to the ground and started to roll on it, trying to smother the flame. It succeeded.
But when it got back on its feet, its belligerence had disappeared without a trace. It was
more like a frightened overgrown mole. Soon, it was washed up.
The four brave warriors surrounded it on three sides. The people were waving
torches in front of it, and there was nothing left for it to do but flee. Whimpering
plaintively, it somehow dragged itself to its cage, dove into it like a mouse into a hole
when saved from cats, and huddled in the furthest corner there. It was clear that no bait
would succeed in luring it from there.
The friends locked the door behind it and only then threw the torches on the
ground. Then they all turned in the direction where the Marquis was sitting. “We won,
Murderer!” Arian yelled to him. “The tournament is over.”
“Not at all!” the Marquis replied. “Defeat all my slaves first.” Having said this, he
waved his hand. All the cages opened and all those with whom our heroes had to fight
began to come out of them, and there was even a centaur with three heads. It was the
only one who had not yet participated in the tournament.
“Kill them all!” Murderer ordered in a loud voice. “Every one of them. If at least
one of them remains alive, I’ll have you all hanged.” The monsters hesitantly made their
way to the four friends standing in a circle, ready for new trials.
The Marquis laughed aloud and clapped his hands. “Well? Now you have to kill at
least a couple of them before they kill you?” he asked with a sneer.
“If someone here should be killed,” Chris said in the complete silence, “it’s you.”
The Marquis even went white when he heard this. “Hurry!” he yelled at his slaves.
“What are you waiting for? Finish them. And you too, Isaura, go with them.”
The black miranda obediently left her spot on one of the towers and landed in the
arena two steps away from Chris and his friends. She drew her sword and attacked
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
But Isabella was between her and the boy. She parried the blow of her sister’s
sword. “Sister, only after killing me will you be able to continue carrying out the
Marquis’ will,” she warned.
“Good, I’ll kill you then,” Isaura agreed without any hint of doubt. And the sisters
flew up to the sky and entered into a fierce fight.
The remaining monsters did not hurry to attack. They were afraid because they
had already lost once to these people. Brusila raised his hammer and stood between the
monsters and the boys. The blacksmith smiled and the monsters became even more
scared. All of them retreated at once. The six-armed giant even sat down with fear. He
was still limping.
Still, it was a momentary fear. The monsters were afraid of the people, but they
feared Kostiniak even more. The first to come to its senses was the centaur. It was the
least scared of all, because it still had not fought with anyone or suffered a defeat. It
neighed loudly like a horse, flicked its long tail, and charged at Brusila.
However, before it managed to take even a step, Chris was before it. The boy’s
sword lit up again. He again enclosed himself, the blacksmith, and Arian in a magic
circle. Seeing this, the monsters all got into a terrible rage at once. Evidently, they did
not like it when people concealed themselves this way. They attacked the invisible wall
with all their weight, wanting to break through it and carry out the Marquis’ order.
“I knew that the Marquis’ slaves are merely ordinary evil spirits,” Chris told his
friends. “The dragon’s circle doesn’t terrify normal beings. We must hold out till the
morning at least, and they’ll all perish then.” To hold out until the morning. It was easy
to say. The invisible barrier simply shook from the blows bombarding it. The monsters
hit it violently and growled with anger.
Isabella joined her friends. She flew to them without interference, but her sister
bumped against the invisible barrier and remained beyond the magical boundary,
beating on the dragon’s circle in a frenzied madness.
The friends, standing in the centre of the circle, watched as the audience fled in
fear from their seats, the guards ran between the rows, and the Marquis gave them some
orders. What? They were not audible for the overall noise. But it was clear that they
concerned them directly. So, the Marquis no longer believed in the unlimited strength of
“We can’t hold on for long,” Isabella said pensively. “They’ll be able to reach us
“What shall we do?” Brusila was holding his hammer in readiness. No one knew
the answer to this question.
“Maybe we’ll try fire again?” Chris suggested.
“It’s unlikely these fellows are afraid of fire. They aren’t blind, they’ll be able to
dodge,” Isabella sighed.
Chris looked with hatred at the Marquis, who at that moment came out onto the
arena, accompanied by guards urging the monsters on with halberds and spears.
“Interesting. Why don’t they touch the guards?” he wondered.
“The guards didn’t sign a paper pledging to fight them,” Brusila grinned. “These
demons need our souls and they’ll get them.”
“They won’t!” Arian exclaimed. “I forgot to tell you that I have all your receipts.”
“Our receipts?” all three exclaimed.
“Yes.” The squire shook out from his front pocket a scroll of parchment. “I stole
them when I was in the basement. The same place where I found you, Isabella. I decided
to go there again. Thought I’d still find and free some of the captives. But no one was
there. I already wanted to go back, but then Murderer came and I hid. I watched as he
hid something in an old barrel near the wine, and when he left, I found these papers in
it. Only I didn’t have time to bring them to you. I was caught right in the basement.”
Arian chattered all this so quickly that he was even out of breath.
“Didn’t they search you?” Chris was surprised.
“They did,” the boy smiled slyly. “But found nothing.”
“Such a big scroll?”
“When they searched me, it wasn’t there.”
The sly smile on Arian’s face spread from ear to ear. “I, too, have a dragon’s
There was no time to understand more, not a second to lose. It was necessary to
destroy the receipts giving the Marquis the power over their souls. The receipts of Count
Barbizon and Merengo were no longer of use to anyone, but the paper with the
signatures of Brusila, Isabella, and Chris (among them even the receipt of Isaura) came
in very handy.
“I’ll bring a torch right away,” Isabella said. She needed only a few seconds to fly
for it. Even Isaura was unable to hinder her, because there simply was no time to
understand anything. “Here, take it, Arian.” Arian took the burning torch, and all the
others took their own receipt.
“Hey, Murderer!” Chris called to the Marquis. “Do you see what we have in our
hands?” The Marquis immediately recognized his parchments. His face became
distorted with horror. He barely stayed on his feet.
“You broke all the rules,” continued Chris. “You directed an unfair game.”
“That’s not so!” the Marquis yelled. “You can’t do this. You’ll shame your name.”
“On the contrary, we’ll clear our names from this filth you soaked with your
treachery and lies. You can’t fix your vile tournament anymore! We won and won’t
continue to participate in the trading of our souls. We take back our obligations, which
you swindled us with meanness, deceit, or blackmail.” After his words, all three shoved
their receipts into the flame of Arian’s torch.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
At that very second, lightning and deafening thunder rumbled in the sky until the
foundation of Murderer’s castle shook. Lightning began to fall on Kostiniak’s demons
one after another. The monsters, on which the lightning fell, instantly disappeared. They
burst like soap bubbles with a crackle and a pop. Only sparks were scattered on the spots
where they had been. In a few seconds, none of them remained in the arena, where
blood had spilled and winged death had flown in search of prey all those days. Even the
blind lizard had vanished from its cage. Only the miranda Isaura alone remained lying
on the sand. She fell when lightning struck her and remained lying there, unconscious.
Rain immediately followed. It fell in torrents. The torch in Arian’s hands went
out. There were not even ashes from the receipts. The wind raised during the storm had
carried them away. The friends stepped out of the circle that had saved them.
Isabella immediately rushed to Isaura. “Sister!” She began to shake her. “Are you
Isaura raised her head and looked around herself in amazement. Only now did
they all see how beautiful she was. “What happened?” she asked in surprise. “Why
haven’t you killed me? Indeed, I’m so guilty.”
“You’re also free, Isaura!” Isabella rushed to hug and kiss her sister. “You’re no
longer a slave to the Marquis! He has no power over you!”
“Sister!” Isaura exclaimed and tears streamed down her lovely, kind face.
“Forgive me! I almost killed you.”
“You aren’t to blame! Now we’re saved and can return home.”
“Home?” Isaura was surprised. Her face became stern and severe, like all
mirandas of her tribe. “Oh no, first I have to settle a score with someone here.” She
grabbed the hilt of her sword and spread her wings menacingly.
“Right!” Brusila exclaimed. “Where’s this lover of blood spectacles? I think he
deserves a good hit on the head with a hammer!”
They all turned to the place where Kostiniak had just been. The Marquis was
lying on the ground in a large and deep puddle. The guards had run away in fear when
lightning began to strike and there was no one to protect Kostiniak. The only loyal
warrior and defender, Merengo, was no longer alive by his order. Now Marquis Henri de
Kostiniak, the former sorcerer Murderer, was completely alone before the participants
of his fiendish tournament. He looked at those he had recently marked as a sacrifice and
trembled with fear. When the formidable warriors surrounded him on all sides, he
screamed with fear, “Don’t kill me! Don’t!”
The Marquis was crawling on his knees before them and begging for mercy. This
sorcerer, recently still bringing terror to the whole country, now behaved like the lowest
of the low, in order just to preserve his own life. All his former grandeur had
disappeared. A worthless worm was crawling before people and mirandas. Everyone was
disgusted. Even Brusila dropped his hammer and contemptuously spat into the puddle
where Kostiniak was wallowing.
“A real warrior will never defile his sword on such pettiness as you, Murderer.”
There was so much contempt in Chris’ voice that the Marquis cringed in humiliation.
“We’re not going to kill you.”
Everyone agreed with him. Nobody wanted to soil their hands with the unworthy
Marquis. Therefore, the winners left the arena and went to the castle gate. They did not
want to stay here another minute. The gate was at the other end of the courtyard.
They were already at the gates when Chris remembered that they had forgotten
about horses. “We won’t go far,” he said. “The Marquis won’t sit in the puddle for long.
He’ll raise the alarm and try to catch us.”
Chris was right. Guards were already running towards them. Seeing them, both
mirandas unsheathed their swords and flew to meet them. The guards screamed with
fear. They knew perfectly well what these warlike creatures were capable of. Besides, the
fear of Isaura was in their blood. They fled. However, here an enraged Marquis with
another troop of guards appeared in front of them. They were even more afraid of the
Marquis, so they turned back and began to fight with the mirandas.
Chris, Arian, and Brusila were busy with the gate. It was closed and there was no
one beside it, and no fewer than four people were needed to turn the huge winch to open
it. Not thinking for long, Brusila brought the hammer down on the chain holding up the
gate and smashed the links after several strikes. The blacksmith knew well how and
where to strike. The gate collapsed and broke into pieces. A split second before this,
Brusila managed to leap and turned up on the other side of the ditch. The boys, though,
did not have time to do so and stood at a loss in front of the remains of the bridge,
weighing how to cross over to Brusila. But it was impossible. They already wanted to
turn back and search for another way out, when the two mirandas, beating off the
charge of the guards, picked Chris and Arian up in their arms and flew with them out of
the castle. A moat with blood instead of water and Murderer’s terrible castle remained
below. The boys saw Brusila waving to them in farewell. Then the bold blacksmith ran to
the bridge over the quick Talvira.
“Why is he running to the city?” Arian was surprised. “It’s much easier to hide in
“The blacksmith knows his own city much better,” Isaura, carrying him, replied.
“It’ll be easier for him to hide there from the Marquis’ vengeance. But you’ll hide in
Tenivesis. Wait for things to quiet down and leave for your country.”
“It’s not appropriate for a knight to hide like a stowaway,” Chris remarked.
“We’ll fly to the mountains and return with a detachment of sisters,” Isabella
said. “We’ll crush this nest of wasps and help you return. The Marquis isn’t as dangerous
at all as we expected.”
“He’s the most common charlatan,” Arian agreed. “He gave his magic to the Black
Queen long ago.”
“No matter how, she may come to his rescue,” Isabella sighed. They were already
almost at the top of Tenivesis.
“I wonder what the Marquis is doing now,” Arian said when the mirandas
descended onto the mountain surface.
Marquis Kostiniak, all the time seething with rage and seized by a thirst for
vengeance, gathered in the courtyard all the guards and aristocrats, former guests and
spectators of the tournament, and delivered a speech.
“Our tournament broke down through the fault of its participants,” he started.
“They deceitfully repudiated their obligations and thereby placed themselves outside the
law. Therefore, I propose to you, gentlemen, a new entertainment in place of the lost
one. I propose to hunt for the two boys and the blacksmith, who have run away from my
castle. They couldn’t have gone far. So, get ready, saddle the horses. We set off in pursuit
of the fugitives. Gather in the courtyard in half an hour. A glorious hunt awaits us!”
When the Marquis finished his speech, the guests happily started to make noise
and ran to get ready for the promised hunt. What could be more interesting than
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Murderer went to the reception hall, where Queen Angusta’s portrait hung on the
wall, and gave orders to bring him Prince Lautar. The boy was in front of him in a
“I need your help again, Your Highness.” Murderer made an impatient sign to
Lautar to approach him. “I want to find out something.”
“I don’t intend on helping you anymore!” Lautar replied testily and remained in
place. “I know what you need. You want to ruin those brave people your monsters
couldn’t kill. Therefore, I’m not going to take part.”
“You’re mistaken, obstinate boy,” Kostiniak laughed. “Indeed, I always obtain
satisfaction from you.” He ran up close to the Prince, held him firmly by the shoulders,
and looked into his eyes. Lautar shuddered and froze on the spot, unable to tear his gaze
away from the Marquis’ snake-like eyes. He continued to drill the Prince with his gaze
until the boy began to enter an omniscient trance.
When everything was ready and Prince Lautar was completely in the Marquis’
power, Kostiniak took the boy’s hands in his and said, “Now show me everyone who has
just left my castle!”
The cloud of light in Lautar’s hands turned into an image. Kostiniak first saw
Brusila the blacksmith making his way through the dark streets of Bienvillemort. “I’ll
always have time to look into this one,” he waved. “Where are the others?”
Then he saw the mirandas flying across the sky and started to grind his teeth in
rage. “I won’t catch up with them!” he exclaimed. “Cursed creatures! Okay, the boys.”
The mirandas disappeared.
If the Marquis had not been so excited but had looked closely, he would have paid
attention to how strangely the mirandas were flying. They were flying slowly and with
difficulty and holding each other’s hands. The reason was that each sister only had one
wing. One left, the other right. Together they made up a single entity. But Murderer did
not manage to spot this.
He was impatient to see Chris and Arian. And he saw them. The boys were on the
top of the mountain Tenivesis and were also holding hands. “Here’s where you’ve gone
hiding, my lads!” The Marquis even danced with joy. “Climbed into a mousetrap by
themselves. Now, wait for company.”
There was nothing more he needed from Lautar. He let go of the boy’s arms and
quickly left the room. The Prince sighed deeply and, not opening his eyes, sat down on
the floor in exhaustion. The magic light continued to flow around him.
The Queen’s portrait came to life again. She came down onto the floor and walked
over to Lautar. Her face was full of grief and sadness. “So, Father has already gone to
meet his fate?” She placed her hands on the Prince’s shoulders.
“Yes,” he replied in a monotonous voice. “Death has already opened her wings
behind him. No one can save him now. He himself is going to meet her.”
The Queen sighed sadly. “Well, then, the time has come for me to rule alone. Your
predictions have started to come true, my boy. Don’t stay in this castle another minute,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Prince. Return home. I still need you.” Having said this, the Black Queen returned to the
Prince Lautar came to. “They won’t perish,” he whispered.
Down in the castle courtyard, noble hunters were already clattering their
weapons, dogs were barking, and horses were pounding their hooves. A chain creaked,
opening a second gate, from which ran the road to Tenivesis. Murderer had started the
We will leave him behind and return to some time ago to find out what happened
to the valiant Knight Christian Thirteen and his faithful squire, Arian.
When they found themselves on top of Tenivesis together with the mirandas,
Chris thanked the sisters.
“Don’t waste words in vain, Knight,” Isaura interrupted him. “We owe everything
to you and your fearless squire. Our freedom and our lives. Now we’ll fly home, and we’ll
return in the evening with help and get you out of here. You better not attempt anything
“What if the Marquis finds them here before we return?” Isabella asked
anxiously. “Then they’ll perish.”
“We’ll fight like tigers!” Arian exclaimed. “What’s some Marquis to us? He’s a
coward and a traitor.”
“Exactly, a traitor!” Isaura grinned. “We should’ve finished him off then in the
puddle. What if our misguided generosity comes back to bite us? Let’s hope that he’ll be
searching for you in Bienvillemort. And he’ll spend a lot of time on it.”
“What if he comes here after all?” Isabella continued to doubt the correctness of
their actions. “Indeed, he’s capable of many things.”
“In this case, sister, we’ll leave the brave young men our wings.”
Arian giggled. “Brave young men.” He looked mischievously at Isaura. “Earlier
you just called me a bad boy who pokes his nose into other people’s business.”
Isaura looked at Arian. “I was wrong.”
“What wings are you talking about?” Chris intervened in the conversation.
“Ours,” Isaura replied. “My sister and I will each leave you a wing. If need be,
you’ll be able to fly away from here. But only for a very short distance.” With these
words, she took a wing off her back and gave it to Chris. Isabella did the same.
“One of you will place the wings on your back and say, ‘Miranda wings, in the
name of the bottomless great sky, lift me off the ground.’”
“And what about Arian? I won’t fly away alone.”
“Put him on your shoulders or carry him in your arms. The wings are strong,
they’ll carry two. You can, of course, each fly with one wing, holding hands, but this
needs a common will, and is impossible without long, tiring training. Now it’s time for
us to fly. See you soon, friends!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The mirandas, holding hands, took off and flew in the direction of Bienvillemort.
The sun appeared on the horizon at this very moment and met them with the gentle rays
“Ah, it would be great for us to learn that!” Arian said, delighted. “Shall we try
now? What’s there to say?”
“Where’s your sword?” Chris asked his squire instead of answering.
“My sword?” Arian was embarrassed. “It seems that I dropped it when Isaura
picked me up under the arms. Just can’t get used to her iron grip. Such a frail girl in
Chris just laughed at his unhappy squire. “It happens,” he calmed Arian. “But
when you become a knight, your sword will never forsake you. No matter what
“If only it would be sooner,” Arian sighed. “I just can’t wait.”
“In any case, you’ve turned out to be an excellent squire.” Chris slapped Arian on
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Really?” Arian lit up with joy right away. As always, his mouth parted to his ears
and his fingers began to fiddle with the edge of his shirt.
“Of course! If not for you, we would all have been killed. Who got the receipts?
So, you’re no longer my property! You saved my life and are now free.”
“But you won’t banish me from serving as squire?”
“I won’t. Wherever will I find such a nice little one? Furthermore, we’re friends,
“Wonderful. Since we’re friends, we should think about what to do next. Although
Tenivesis isn’t high, it’s cold here, like the highest mountain at home. And your legs are
bare. I’m afraid you’ll catch cold. Our bags with warm clothes are still in the castle.”
“Exactly,” Arian agreed and shivered. “Perhaps we shall light a fire?”
“No, they can see the smoke from below and will then realize where we are.”
“But I think they’ve already known for some time where we are,” Arian pointed
down. Chris looked and saw a large detachment of cavalry and infantry ascending the
“So, it’s time to leave here,” Arian remarked. “Can I wear the wings?”
“No, I’ll fly,” Chris disagreed. “Help me get them on.”
The wings were large and uncomfortable at first glance. However, when Arian
placed one of them on Chris’ back, it instantly stuck to the knight as if it had always been
there. The second wing also stuck on as easily. Chris drew himself up and tried mentally
to spread the wings. They carried out his command with a soft rustling.
“You look like a crow,” Arian remarked spitefully. He was a little jealous of Chris
and wanted to soothe himself this way. In actual fact, Chris looked very impressive and
beautiful. He was like a miranda. “Will I sit on your shoulders?” the squire asked.
“I’ll attach you to me with a belt,” Chris replied. “Otherwise, you will let down
your guard and fall, and I won’t be able to catch you.” So he did. He put his left arm
around the squire and, pressing him close, girded both of them with his wide belt.
“It tickles!” Arian squeaked and chuckled.
“Doesn’t matter. Now I’m comfortable about you. What needs to be said?”
“But it’s not me wearing the wings.”
“You have an answer ready for everything,” Chris grumbled with affected
discontent. “Miranda wings, in the name of the bottomless great sky, lift me off the
As soon as he said it, the air shook under their feet, which immediately broke
loose from the mountain surface. They took off.
It was so cool that the boys even forgot for a while why they, strictly speaking,
rose up in the air at all. However, a minute later, when they dropped a few dozen metres
and the furious shouts of horsemen flew to them, they remembered that they needed to
take their legs, or rather the wings, far away from here. Chris told the wings to carry
them towards Bienvillemort, in the direction from which they had come to the Marquis’
castle. There was the way out to the Country of Frozen Time.
When Murderer saw that his prey was slipping away, he simply roared with rage.
“No, you won’t get away from me!” he yelled. “I’ll settle the score with you yet. Don’t
think that if you know how to fly, I won’t get to you. No, I still have sorcery. I haven’t lost
all of the powers of darkness.”
He jumped off the horse, on which he was riding, and began to cast spells. Those
accompanying him turned their horses around in horror and raced back. It is better not
to be near where sorcery is happening. A cloud of thick, black smoke suddenly wrapped
around Murderer. He was simply not visible, but a two-metre giant vulture with iron
claws on its feet took off into the sky from the place where he had just been standing.
The vulture circled above the Mortavian nobility, which took to their feet in fear, and
went in pursuit of Chris and Arian.
The squire was the first to notice the chase. “Look!” he shouted to the flying
Chris turned around and saw the vulture. The predatory bird was flying quickly
and like a shot. The familiar evil eyes flashed in the sunlight, the iron beak clicked
loudly, and the steel claws were jingling.
“It’s Murderer!” Arian shouted. “Now he’ll catch us!”
They increased speed, but not much. It was difficult for the wings to carry two
flyers quickly. The vulture was catching up with every second.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Can’t avoid a battle,” Chris said and drew his sword. He turned and prepared to
meet the enemy face to face.
The vulture obviously did not expect this and barely had time to turn aside in
order not to crash into Christian. After all, Murderer was an out-and-out coward. The
boy struck with the sword and hit him in the left wing, almost chopping it in two. Not
enough spread. However, Murderer was screaming in pain. Suddenly, he lost his mind
and fear together with his reason, and he attacked the enemy with fury. A fierce battle
It was very difficult for Chris to fly holding Arian with his left hand and fighting
off the vulture with his right. He began to lose altitude. At this point, they were above
Talvira. The vulture saw it and doubled the pressure. Chris surmised that Murderer
intended on throwing them into the river, where the miranda wings would get soaked,
become heavy, and be unable to carry two at once. Moreover, the bird was circling above
them and did not allow him to fly to shore. Then Chris found the one place where he
could land. He was tired of flying and wanted to fight on solid ground, where it was
much simpler to deal with Murderer. It was a bridge, a narrow flimsy bridge over a
turbulent river. Chris saw a gilded coach passing over it. He remembered that Prince
Lautar had arrived in it. Chris began approaching the bridge imperceptibly to the
vulture. They were getting closer and closer to the water; infrequent spray even touched
their feet. It became increasingly hard to fight. They were just about to fall.
There was a deafening roar. The ground shuddered. Murderer and the boys
looked in the direction whence it came and even stopped the battle. The noise came
from Tenivesis. The mountain and the ground were shaking. Rocks the size of a castle
broke off from the top and fell down, destroying everything that was in its path.
Along the road that ran from the foot to the peak fled the former audience of the
bloody tournament and current hunters. Not pitying the horses, they raced down. Many
of them fell to the ground and were killed, others fell under the avalanche and also
perished, and a third disappeared into an abyss from out of nowhere. The cream of
Mortavian nobility vanished. But not just people died.
Murderer looked at his castle and squealed with fright. His castle was also
destroyed. It collapsed. Tower after tower, wall after wall, it fell into a bloody pit. Nature
itself wiped from the face of the earth this terrible structure, in which dwelt meanness,
deceit, black magic, and death. The evil sorcerer remembered Lautar’s prediction.
However, he evidently no longer feared anything. Only one aspiration, one desire
possessed him – to destroy Chris and Arian, and he again rushed into battle. Chris
greeted him with the sword and the vulture flew off several dozen metres in order to
It had become harder to fly with each second. The miranda wings had gotten wet
and become heavy; they would lose strength imminently and crash into the river along
with the boys. Then Chris noticed that Arian was trying with one of his knives to cut the
belt tying him to Chris. He understood that the boy was doing this to give him freedom
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
of action. But below was a raging river, which carried its water ahead so rapidly that it
was even impossible to follow with a glance a woodchip thrown into it. And a half-mile
ahead its water was rumbling and dropping into a bottomless waterfall precipice.
“Don’t you dare!” Chris yelled.
However, it was already too late. Arian waved his knife for the last time, Chris did
not manage to catch him, and the boy flew down. A second later he disappeared in the
water. Chris wanted to rush after him, but here Murderer swooped down on him and
they were engaged in a fierce battle. Arms, wings, legs, and claws went into action. Chris
did not even notice how they both turned up on the ground. Both of Chris’ wings broke
from the fall and fell off the knight’s back. When Chris came to, he grabbed the vulture
by the wings and forcibly began to break them. Murderer started to tear himself away
and his steel claws almost tore open the knight’s chest. Finally, he managed to escape
and flew up to the sky. Chris began to wait for him to attack again. His sword was still
with him. A knight would not part from it under any circumstances.
However, Murderer did not fly to the boy. He flew to the bridge, which was a few
steps from them. Chris looked at where he was going and felt cold inside. He saw Arian,
who was trying to get up on the bridge along a beam, which he apparently managed to
hang on to after the fall. He had almost climbed up, when Murderer fell on him like a
rock from above.
“Arian!” Chris yelled. “Watch out!”
But he was too late. Arian looked up, saw the vulture flying like an arrow at him,
and unclenched his hands in fear. He still clung to the beam with his feet for a second,
but the bird struck him in the chest with its beak, and the boy again flew into the water.
Chris only had time to see his blue shirt. The current speedily carried him down.
Christian, forgetting about Murderer, rushed downstream, trying not to let Arian out of
sight. He had to run past the bridge, and here he fell, stumbling over a stone. It saved his
About a hundred people and another fifty horses left without riders swept across
the bridge at great speed and almost trampled Chris. They galloped past two steps away
from him and fled in the direction of Bienvillemort. Chris was lucky. But then Murderer
did not turn out to be as lucky.
When the vulture knocked Arian into the river, it emitted a victorious cry of joy,
and, spreading its wings, began to dance, jumping amusingly on short, crooked legs.
When Murderer saw horses rushing at him, out of fear he forgot that he was a bird and
able to fly, and there was no time for transformation. He began to rush about on the
bridge, running in one direction and then another. The vulture issued a final scream and
was trampled to death a moment later by hundreds of horses’ hooves. Feathers flew in
all directions. When there was no one on the bridge anymore, almost nothing was left on
the spot where Murderer had been, only dirty feathers and bloody scraps of meat and
broken bones. Thus, the great sorcerer Murderer ended his life ignominiously.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Chris got on his feet with difficulty. His body, arms, and legs were aching
unbearably after the fight with Murderer. The boy’s eyes were full of despair. All Chris’
thoughts were of a lost friend. He had lost those precious seconds that were necessary to
save Arian. The raging water of Talvira carried the capital squire away and gave him as a
sacrifice to the waterfall. In any case, Chris decided to go downstream in the hope of a
miracle. He took a few steps forward and heard a familiar neigh behind his back. He
looked back. There it was. Laura snorted joyfully before him.
Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes. He did not wipe them off. Laura was saddled.
Evidently, one of the noble lords coveted and appropriated it. This unlucky thief
probably died on Tenivesis. It was all the same to Chris. He climbed into the saddle and
went in search of Arian.
RETURN TO THE COUNTRY OF FROZEN TIME
MEETING AN OLD FRIEND
Chris spent all day in search of Arian. But it came to nothing. He hoped for a
miracle, that the boy would be able to get ashore or catch hold of some snag. Christian
kept praying for it. But the miracle did not happen. What was more, when Chris went
down to the waterfall in the evening, he found one of Arian’s boots washed up on the
shore. Chris began to hope that Arian had managed to get to shore and was now lying
there unconscious. The boy began desperately to search for and call his squire. He
became hoarse and lost his voice. He listened, hoping to hear an answer. The noise of
the waterfall was such that it was not possible to count on this. Still, Chris never stopped
searching. He swore to himself that he would not leave Mortavia until he found Arian.
He was already about to jump into the waterfall, when someone called him by name.
Chris turned around and saw the same old man he had saved from the Marquis’ soldiers
a few days ago.
“What are you doing here, noble Knight Christian?”
“I’m searching for my friend. He fell into the river.”
“That’s your friend the Talvira Waterfall swallowed?” The old man shook his
head. “I grieve with you.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Did you see how it happened?” Chris asked in a voice trembling with grief. The
old man nodded sadly. Chris buried his face in his hands and wept. Now he was not
ashamed of tears. It was all the same to him.
The old man came up to him and patted him on the head affectionately like a
child. “Return to your world, young man,” he said with a sigh. “There’s nothing more for
you to do here. You killed Marquis Kostiniak and you can’t remain here. The Black
Queen won’t leave his death unpunished.”
“No, I need to find my friend and bury him honourably.”
“Unfortunately, that is impossible.”
“The Talvira Waterfall isn’t called the killer waterfall for nothing. Many, many
people have perished in its waters. In the old days, when there were so many recalcitrant
ones that Kostiniak’s executioners could not cope, people were simply thrown into the
Talvira and disappeared forever. Nobody has ever seen them dead or alive. The waterfall
has never given back what it once took. Don’t even try to find him.”
“No,” Chris disagreed with the old man. “I’ll set off for the city, find Brusila the
blacksmith, and ask him to help me. If necessary, we’ll go down to the bottom of the
waterfall, but we’ll find Arian.” The old man just shook his head.
Without saying another word, Chris sat on his horse and rode towards
Bienvillemort. He approached the city gate already in the dark. It was evening. Strangely
enough, the gates were open, and there were no guards near them. Chris rode into the
city. There was not a single person on its streets. Only the wind was swinging the street
lanterns, which were not lit but only creaking wistfully.
“Where am I going to find Brusila here?” Melancholy took possession of Chris.
He rode slowly and looked around, hoping to find at least one passer-by and ask him
about the blacksmith.
Nevertheless, Chris met no one. He was already barely keeping himself in the
saddle from fatigue. His head was spinning. He wanted very much to sleep. The previous
sleepless night and a difficult day were affecting him. He reached the main city square
with great difficulty. The square was empty as well. There was not a single person. Only
in the centre – at first Chris did not even realize what it was, and when he did, he could
not believe his eyes – there was a gallows, on which a hanged man was swaying in the
sharp night wind. Next to him a torch, instead of a lantern, was burning.
Chris rode past the gallows, trying not to look in its direction. However, when he
had already passed, he broke down and looked around. There was a bag on the head of
the hanged man. Just at the moment when Chris looked around, the wind lifted up the
bag and the torch illuminated red sideburns and a board on the chest with the
inscription Deserter and Traitor. Chris remembered the red-haired soldier, whom he
and Arian had driven into the forest, and felt consciousness leaving him.
He regained consciousness early in the morning and was surprised to find that he
was still sitting in the saddle, but Laura was not wandering through Bienvillemort at all.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
A forest surrounded horse and rider. Christian looked around and recognized the same
place where he and Arian had met the miranda Isaura and fought with her. It was only a
few days ago, but it seemed to Chris that a whole eternity had passed.
The knight remembered everything that had happened to him in the past days.
When his head cleared, he wanted to turn the horse around to go back to Bienvillemort,
but Laura did not obey him. The boy spurred it, but the horse did not even move its
snout and continued forward. Chris surmised that it was carrying him towards the exit
of Mortavia. He could not allow this. Chris considered that he had no right to return
without Arian. He wanted to whip the horse, but he could not lift his arms.
Not only his arms and legs but also his whole body suddenly refused to serve
Christian. He sat in the saddle and could not move. From all sides the surly Mortavian
forest, where bushes and trees hunted living beings as wild animals or birds do, looked
at him with hostility. But for some reason they did not dare touch the knight, only shook
their branches in annoyance and creaked discontentedly, although there was no wind.
Laura quickened its pace. Ahead appeared two crooked trees, near which was the
exit of the Black Queen’s country. When Chris and Arian had passed under their arches,
they fell down on the ground behind them as if forever closing the way back. Now,
however, they seemingly saw and recognized Christian and, as if with a wave of a magic
wand, got up in their former position.
Christian understood that Mortavia was driving him away from its territory. And
there was nothing he could do about it. Tears of despair, resentment, and pain flowed
down the knight’s face when he saw Laura irreversibly enter the magic gates. “Farewell,
Arian,” Chris’ lips only managed to whisper.
The gates were again left behind, and Chris again heard them falling to the
ground. Now he was able to turn around and look back. There were no more crooked
birches. Instead, only two charred logs were lying about. Chris began to look around and
saw that there were no other birches and he was not at all in the birch grove where Arian
had seen a flying miranda. Harsh mountains and forbidding cliffs surrounded him on all
Chris dismounted and sat on the ground. He clasped his head with his arms and
sat so for a long time without moving. Laura thrust its snout into his face, consoling
him, but he did not seem to see it. The horse neighed resentfully.
When Chris woke up, he began to look at the sky to determine by the sun where
he was. These were the Western mountains. Nearby was the mountain castle of the Fairy
of Eternal Youth and the cave in which the white dragon Voidrag lived. He first decided
that Mortavia had indeed thrown him out to the edge of the earth. But even this
discovery did not comfort the boy.
He sat in the saddle without particular joy and directed Laura to the east, in the
direction of the Capital. He felt worse than ever. The thought of his perished squire
never left him for a moment. Chris firmly believed that his squire perished through his
fault. How could he forget and stop holding the boy? It was no excuse that he had been
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
fighting with Murderer and he needed both hands for this. He had simply been afraid,
had panicked, and had begun to hold the sword with both hands!
Thus Chris rode, swearing and cursing himself with foul language. He did not
even notice that a rider had appeared from one ravine he rode past. This rider had a
spear in his hand. The long battle lance of a knight.
“Knight Christian!” the rider yelled. “Stop!”
Chris turned around and looked at the rider without any special surprise. It was a
knight. He was against the sun and it was hard to see what armour was on him and what
was depicted on his shield. But it was a knight. A real knight-errant. His whole
silhouette said so. It was visible from both his posture and his entire appearance.
“I challenge you to a duel, Knight!” the rider shouted.
Chris unsheathed his sword without fear and prepared for battle. He was not
even scared when the knight came so close that it was possible to have a good look at
him. His black silhouette remained so black even when light fell on him. Everything on
the knight was black: the armour, the horse, and the weapons. Even the sun’s rays were
unable to win over his blackness. Because this was the Black Knight. A creation of
Christian saw, recognized him, and understood why the knight’s voice was so
toneless when he issued the challenge. He had no echo. Even here, in the mountains,
where even a mouse had an echo.
“I’m ready to fight you!” Chris put the shield on his left hand. By some unknown
chance, it was beside Laura’s saddle. It was also unknown how he had a spear in his
hand. A real knight’s lance for tournaments.
The knights rode off to a distance from which it would be convenient to gallop
towards each other. This was not an ordinary tournament. There were no spectators, no
trumpet, no herald. The Black Knight spurred on his black horse and this served as the
signal to start the duel. Chris galloped to meet him, holding the lance atilt.
They collided. The shields crashed and the lances broke, but both knights
remained in the saddle. They went to their initial positions and found new lances there.
The same thing happened again. For a moment, Chris even felt happy. Did he not always
dream about this? So, let no one see that his opponent was a ghost. There is nothing
better in the world than a joust. Honest and noble. As he stayed in the saddle, Chris
forgot about everything in their world.
Nevertheless, happiness did not last long. Right up to the moment, when he
found himself on the ground. Chris did not even understand how it happened and where
he made his mistake. Why did the Black Knight knock him down?
The fall was serious. It seemed to Chris that his soul was knocked out of him. He
could neither move nor breathe for a few seconds. But then he saw the knight above
him. There was a sword in the knight’s hand and this sword was flying at him. Chris
managed to dodge and even got up on his feet and drew his own sword.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Now they fought on foot with swords. The Black Knight did not say a single word.
Chris tried not to look him in the eye. He feared those black bottomless pits, therefore
he did not look at them. Yet, Ian indeed always taught him to look into the eyes of the
enemy. So, he looked the Black Knight in the chest and fought.
The fight lasted a long time. Chris swore that he would not lose the fight, and
fought enthusiastically and persistently. Several times, he even managed to force the
knight to retreat. When Chris’ shield broke into pieces, he did not even get cold feet but
only grabbed the sword with both hands and continued to fight.
Sweat poured thick and fast from Chris, but the Black Knight was still silent. He
did not utter a sound at all but fought like some kind of machine. And it was eerie.
Nevertheless, Chris tried not to succumb to fear. He knew that if he took fright,
everything would soon be over for him. The Black Knight was an excellent swordsman.
However, since the times of the knight-founders, many techniques which he did not
know of had been discovered and invented. This allowed Chris the possibility to stand
firm against him for so long. But he himself could not reach the knight, no matter how
he tried. It was as if a spell was cast over the knight. Or rather, a spell was also cast over
him. Even when Chris delivered a blow which was impossible to repel, his sword cut into
Finally, Chris was tired of all this, and he stopped in order to wipe the sweat,
which was interfering with his fighting, off his face. The Black Knight also stopped.
Chris, trying not to look him in the face before, forgot about it and looked him in the eye.
And he immediately became unwell. Very unwell. He felt the black abyss pulling him
into itself. Yet, he understood that the Black Knight had just been playing with him till
now. Like a cat playing with a mouse before killing it.
This infuriated Christian. Very much. He even choked with anger at the Black
Knight, at himself, at Mortavia that stole Arian from him, and indeed at the entire
world. Chris screamed with rage and again rushed at the Black Knight, who, apparently,
had not expected such a charge, stepped back, and fell over backwards.
Chris did not attack him. No, he waited for the knight to get up. It seemed to him
that he saw some feeling in the knight’s eyes, something resembling astonishment. But
it was only for a moment. The knight stood up after a second and his eyes were again
empty bottomless black sockets.
“You did it in vain, Knight Christian,” the Black Knight said in a hollow voice.
“Why did you not kill me?” And again it seemed to Chris there was something alive in
his voice. Like suffering and pain.
The boy said nothing. He was not in a talking mood. The knight attacked again.
Only now the attack was really fierce and merciless. So merciless that Chris retreated.
He was barely able to beat off the blows; he retreated and retreated. He was almost
running. Tears of despair filled his eyes. And then his hand could not hold on.
Somehow, the sword flew out of his hand. It flew high above the ground, somewhere
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
behind the Black Knight, and fell on the rocky ground with a ringing sound. Chris
himself fell on his back and nearly hit his head on a rock.
The Black Knight stepped on the boy’s chest and set the sword against his throat.
His figure expressed neither pleasure nor triumph from the victory. Nothing. He was the
same dead statue.
“Well, kill me! Kill me!” Chris yelled. He really wanted it very much. He did not
want to live after all that had happened to him. “Why are you looking at me?”
“I’m the knight of death, but I’m no murderer!” the Black Knight replied. “I
intend on killing no one, Christian.” It stung the boy painfully that he was not called a
knight. Yes, now he was no longer a knight. Would he really be able to live after this?
The Black Knight left him, sheathed his sword, and went to his horse, which met
him with noisy snorting. “We won again, my faithful horse,” the owner of the black
horse said. He sat in the saddle and, not looking back, rode off.
Christian remained lying on the ground. He did not want to get up. He wanted to
stay there forever. His life was over; only the clear blue sky above his head and the clean
mountain air around him were left.
The Black Knight became a giant again. The same one Arian and Chris had seen
near the forge. Now he directed the horse to the mountain gorge, so deep and narrow
that the sun’s rays would never hit it. The jingle-jangle of his armour reached Chris. He
closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them, the Black Knight was no longer
there. As if it was all a dream.
MEETING ANOTHER OLD FRIEND
THE ASCENT TO ROSEBLAN
Chris remained on the ground for a few hours. All this time he had been
dreaming only about dying. How could he return to the people now? What would he tell
them? He, who had killed his squire and then completely lost his knighthood! Who
would talk to him now? He was disgraced. Chris constantly thought about the Black
Knight, about how hard it was for the unfortunate François when he wandered among
men and did not dare tell them who he was. How he understood him now! Did he not
find himself in such a situation now? The same, exiled and alone. So what if he did not
have to kill anyone as Knight François had to? Did this really change anything in his
disgrace? He had already killed. Arian perished through his fault. Now there was
nothing more to be done. The boy thought that what had happened to him was his fault,
even from the very beginning. He had made a mistake when he decided to set off
wandering and took Arian with him. Now this is how it had ended. But why? What did
he do wrong? Did he really violate the rules in something at least? He could not find an
answer to this question.
Time passed, but death did not come. Gradually Chris began to realize that he
could not lie here forever. The bitterness of defeat had lost its edge. After all, he would
again be the simple boy Christian from a respectable family and noble clan, his mother’s
thirteenth son. What was wrong with that? He would travel to the Capital, to the Fairy of
Eternal Youth and serve in her court, be a courtier, learn to flatter and fawn, and scheme
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
in order to attain a high official position. Indeed, everyone was doing it! Was he better
than the others? Of course not.
Chris wanted to howl at such thoughts. Oh, no! Only not that. Anything but that.
No, he would certainly not go to the Capital. For what? To listen to taunts and not
even have the possibility of challenging the offenders to a duel? After all, he was a
former knight! Who would fight with him? He would only disgrace himself. He would go
far away from people. To where there would not be the need to explain anything to
anyone. Are there not enough monasteries in the Country of Frozen Time? Who would
be interested in a young monk? Or, better yet, after taking the vows, he would actually
go into the wilderness and live there, alone, in a cave and read divine books. Perhaps
later, when faith comes to him so deeply and firmly that all doubts leave him, he will set
off to the heathens and convert them to the true faith. His skill in wielding a sword and
galloping on a horse would be needed there. Yes, of course, he would become a warrior
monk. A crusader of the Holy faith. And his name would resound all over the country.
After all, there were other fish in the sea than wandering knights. And he would meet
the Black Knight again, and would surely win indeed under the sign of the cross, and
become a wandering knight again.
Chris consoled himself this way and tried to convince himself that his life was not
yet over and that he must hope for a better future. However, this hardly helped him, but
he rose from the cold stony soil after all and shivered. The day was drawing to a close,
and in the mountains the heat of the day gave way to the coolness of the night very early.
He walked over to Laura, took it by the reins, and walked along with it to the East. On
the way, he lifted up his sword and hung it behind his back. Now everyone would
recognize him as a former wandering knight, having suffered a defeat. Chris did not
ride. After all, Laura, in spite of everything, remained a knight’s horse, and he now had
no right even to sit on it.
The sun hid behind the highest mountain and it immediately became dark, as if it
was night. It was possible to see stars in the sky. Darkness thickened fast. Very little time
had passed and already nothing could be seen. The road became dangerous. To the
darkness was added the voices of predators – birds and animals. An owl hooted, a
mountain eagle tapped with its beak, a jackal howled extendedly like a baby crying. The
mountains picked up the sounds and, by increasing the volume, multiplied their echo.
But Chris did not pay any attention to all this and continued doggedly on his way.
He rounded the foot of one low but steep cliff and came out onto a small plateau.
A little fire was burning in its very centre and someone was sitting near it. Friend or foe?
A robber? Or an evil sorcerer? Chris did not think for long and went straight to the fire.
The creature sitting by the fire did not stir. The closer Chris got, the more recognizable
the silhouette became. Small, round. Chris took two more steps and stopped.
Drool was sitting by the campfire. He was sitting with his back to Chris, and right
next to him a sword was lying right on the ground. Chris immediately recognized it. It
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
was Knight Caterino’s sword. He stared wonderingly at Sweet Tooth, who did not even
turn to him but continued to cook a sausage on the fire.
“Hello, Chris,” Drool said in a voice full of sympathy.
“Hello, Drool.” Chris sat down beside the old friend, hugging his knees like a little
“How are you doing?”
“Worse than ever!” Chris could not lie to Drool and pretend that everything was
all right with him. “At first everything was so cool, and then...” And he told Drool
everything that had happened to him after he came out of the Fairy of Eternal Youth’s
“Yes,” Drool scratched behind his ear. “Things!” They both sighed and were silent
for a while.
“Now you want to become a monk?” Drool suddenly asked. Chris was confused.
He had said nothing about this to Drool. He simply did not know how to answer.
“A strange enough desire,” Drool remarked. “Doesn’t it seem to you, Chris, that if
you go this route, then it’ll also lead you to defeat?”
“Motives,” the troll mused. “You don’t have the motives to become a monk. You
are being pushed onto this path not quite by the same reasons that should guide
“What do you mean?”
Drool’s eyes sparkled. He was still the same kind, nice fellow who could even say
bitter things in such a way that it was not unpleasant. “A person becomes a monk when
he wishes to devote himself to his god.” Chris blushed. For some reason he thought
about God last.
“You see,” Drool continued, “when you set off to wander as Knight Caterino’s
squire, quite different feelings drove you on then. You went to help Kate find and save
her brother, as well as find your own brothers. All the rest was unimportant to you.”
Chris hung his head. He understood everything. Yes, his friend was certainly
right. When he set off travelling with Arian, the most important thing for him was to
become famous. To become as famous a knight as Caterino. Conceit sent him on the
way. Conceit and pride, nothing more. He went to the tournament only to coat his name
in glory. Where was his glory now? The glory of an invincible warrior? It remained at the
bottom of the Talvira Waterfall.
Chris hugged Drool and burst into tears. “Yes, I have myself to blame for
everything I even involved Arian in my own adventure but couldn’t save him when
necessary. What should I do, Drool? ”
“Start all over again.”
“All over again?”
“Yes. I’m here precisely to tell you this. Become a squire again, since you’re no
longer a knight. Earn this title anew.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“A squire?” Chris sobbed. “Who needs me?”
“You’re mistaken here,” Drool objected. “You’re simply essential to someone
Tears dried at once on Chris’ face. “Who?”
“Recognize this sword?”
“Yes! Kate needs me? Knight Caterino? She is calling me?”
“No, not Kate. Another needs you.”
“Who? Tell me.”
“The Prince of the White Tower.”
“Gene? My sworn brother?”
“Where is he? I’ll go to him now!”
“The Prince is now in his own world. And he’s in great danger. Only you can help
“What must I do?”
“You must deliver this sword to him. Without it, he won’t cope with those who
want to destroy him.”
Christian thought for a bit. “But how do I reach him?”
“This sword will take you there. It’ll bring you to where you’re needed. Only you
must climb to the top of Mount Roseblan before sunrise. Only from there will you be
able to leave our country. It’s a pity that I won’t be able to set off with you. But I’ll also
be there, only I’ll find my own way. So wait for me there.”
“I must hurry.” Chris got to his feet. “Roseblan is a very high mountain. I should
“It’s very dark now, so be careful.” Drool helped Christian to gather things
together. He hung Knight Caterino’s sword behind Chris’ back next to his own. “Yes, I
almost forgot. There, on the peak, grow immortal roses. Grab one of the flowers and
attach it to your hair.”
“I’ll do everything necessary.”
Drool accompanied the boy to the mountain. It was the highest in the Country of
Frozen Time and almost inaccessible. But this did not stop Chris. His life had meaning
now. There was a goal before him and he would do everything to reach it.
“Farewell, Drool!” With these words he started the ascent.
“Or rather, see you soon, Christian,” Sweet Tooth replied.
The little troll was holding a torch, and for a very long time while he was
ascending, Chris saw his little lonely figure. Laura stood with bowed head a few steps
away from him. Chris did not want to look back, but he turned around ambivalently
several times and looked down all the same.
He walked at first. The slope was smooth, but then it went up abruptly, and Chris
began to climb. He climbed, climbed and climbed. Then it was possible to walk again.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
When he looked down, he no longer saw anything. Below him was darkness. Above him
was a starry sky. In front of him was the way up. There was no time to rest.
Chris was filled with enthusiasm and forgot all about weariness. It was as if it had
not been a crazy and tiring day. Something drove him forward, and he climbed and
climbed again, not afraid of falling down and breaking an arm or a leg in the dark.
Because he was needed. Indeed, his sworn brother from that unknown distant land
needed him. He would do everything to reach him, deliver the necessary sword, and
help him. Let this even be beyond human effort. He would do it.
Several hours passed. Chris continued the ascent. The stars looked indifferently
at him from above and the boy was lonely. Loneliness is the best tool for reflection. He
thought about a lot in those few hours. This time he thought least of all about himself.
All his thoughts were busy with the little boy, with whom he had fraternized a month
ago. He went on and on, up to his knees in snow, because the higher he went, the colder
and harder it became. In some places, it was necessary to climb on icy steep slopes,
clutching with fingers the blocks of ice frozen to the mountain. Still he climbed. It
became difficult to breathe. The air simply whistled in his lungs and burned them with
cold fire. But Christian did not notice this and continued climbing. Quite a distance
Dawn came. Chris gathered snow in his mouth – he was thirsty – and looked to
the East. The sun would appear soon. He must succeed. Succeed on all accounts. And he
The sky turned completely red when he clambered up the summit of Roseblan,
smooth as a canvas. Rose bushes were growing right here in the snow. The flowers were
still asleep, taking shelter in buds, like kids under blankets, but a slight tremor showed
that they were ready to wake up.
Chris picked a bud from the largest and thickest bush and put it in his hair. Like a
girl who was going on a date. From the side he even looked very nice. But the boy
thought about it least of all. He stood in the middle of the rose glade, took Knight
Caterino’s unsheathed sword in his right hand, raised the blade high above himself, and
turned his face to the rising sun.
The first rays of the Fire God had barely painted the summit of Roseblan and the
roses on the bushes started to open one after another. Christian had never seen such a
spectacle. Thousands of roses of different colours had opened such that the snow on
which they grew became invisible, and the meadow was covered with the most beautiful
carpet in the world. A carpet of flowers.
Chris felt the tender bud in his hair opening too. It opened and began to drink the
sun’s rays, as if they were the dew of the gods. The boy felt the flower filling him with
restorative strength. The fatigue and pain of a body worn out by the ascent instantly
disappeared. His arms and legs stopped aching. Hunger, thirst, and cold were forgotten.
It was as if he was born again in the light.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Knight Caterino’s sword in his hand was also filled with the sun’s rays. It, like the
roses, drank them and could not have enough. Now so much had accrued in it that it
began to beam a bright radiance. The glow grew brighter and brighter. It started to hurt
the eyes and Chris could no longer look at it.
Nevertheless, he felt the sword taking him away from the ground. Chris looked
down and saw that he was no longer standing on the summit of Roseblan but flying
above the mountain, rising higher and higher with each second. The feeling was not that
the sword was dragging him behind it. No, he was soaring in the air, as if there was no
weight in him at all.
Mount Roseblan remained below and then floated back somewhere. Chris did not
immediately realize that he was flying forward. When he realized it, he was really
enjoying the flight. He gave himself to it all without any reserve. And Knight Caterino’s
sword, increasing speed every second, carried him forward to meet the new and the
unknown. Now the mountain was left behind and far ahead on the horizon was a grey
band. It was the water of the ocean of Timelessness flowing.
Chris understood that he would leave the Country of Frozen Time in a few
seconds and held the magic sword firmer. Flying was so cool, and for the first time the
boy’s soul was light and calm.