The Crimson Shadow short story
I told you all about the short story competition that I entered for the new David Farland novel, Nightingale. Sadly, I did not make it to the finals. On the plus side, I can share my story with all of you. I hope you enjoy the story I took the time to write. Please let me know what you think. Be as kind or harsh as you need. The feedback will, hopefully, make me a better writer.
“The Crimson Shadow”
Dalenar Starbringer, Golden Knight, Blade Singer, and Captain of the King’s Cross stood his nightly vigil outside the King’s bed chamber. As always, the other three knights of the Cross slept during the evenings in their quarters across the hall. They were all that remained of the old way, when war and assassinations were a common occurrence. This King, Reigngold, first of his name, changed all that. Since his coronation three decades ago, there has been peace and prosperity throughout the kingdom of Tallamar. The high families of the realm had even begun to utilize their resources toward the good of the realm and it’s subjects. Dalenar knew it was only a matter of time until the Cross would be disbanded. Perhaps the seventeen year old, Dalenar, would not only be the youngest Captain of the Cross, but also the last.
Corporal Thormire Longshot, a young soldier of thirteen, entered the hall. Dalenar knew it would be another routine perimeter report. Like clockwork, the young corporal would come every night three hours into the watch to update the members of the Cross on the happenings of the evening. He was a good soldier and took his job seriously. At least someone still took their duty seriously. “During the watch, we took in three beggars for the night and turned away five petitioners who will return in the morning. There have been no other occurrences or emergencies tonight,”. The young man explained with a rigid salute of a fist dragged across his chest from left to right. And with that, he turned and marched down the well lit stone hallway and out of sight.
Dalenar could not help but feel let down that the night was so quiet. After all, what good is a knight without a battle to fight. To pass the time, he began to polish his fine steel sword, taking extra care to get the golden lettering to shine. Those words constantly reminded him, “A knight’s story is not about the enemies slain or the battles won, but the lives he protects and changes for the better.”. It was that legendary sword, the Senator’s Tongue, that was used to build the kingdom of Tallamar by the first member of the King’s Cross over one thousand years ago. And so he sat, determined to clean his gear until the Father Star returned. If he couldn’t fight, he wanted to at least look like the brave knight that he dreamed of being.
“Protect the palace!,” a voice screamed from outside. Dalenar ran to the window and looked out, shocked at what he saw. At least one hundred bodies were strewn throughout the courtyard gardens. He quickly ran back to his post, shouting for the rest of the King’s Cross to prepare themselves. As he entered the room, he saw the king, already sitting up and shaking. “Death comes for me this night. He told me in my dreams. I have been for longer than I should. He wants what is his,” he mumbled looking as pale as the Night Watchers of the old republic, with sweat running down his face.
Within minutes, the other three knights of the Cross entered the chamber. “What is all of this commotion?,” belted Aveline Strongarm, the Onyx Knight. No answer was needed as they heard more yelling from outside. “There must be at least fifty attackers,” Dalenar absently thought to himself. The warrior in him was hoping to go out and join the battle to turn the tide, like in a children’s story, but those actions were no longer his place. As a knight of the King’s Cross, he was to stay with and protect his king.
Even without a battle in such a long time, the training of the knights took hold. In mere moments Dalenar, Lapadis, and Feigngar moved into their positions, surrounding King Reigngold on three sides. The wall would protect their backside. Aveline, the strongest fighter of the Cross, took his place outside the king’s door, waiting to fend off the coming attackers. Standing at the ready, the knights were prepared for whatever would come through the door.
“You can’t defend me from this,” the king began to murmur in a barely understandable whisper. “Death incarnate stalks the grounds. Protect your own lives and leave me. Standing in his way will only bring pain and death. The gods have spoken. They say my time came long ago.”. The Cross did not heed his warning. Their collective purpose in life was to ensure the safety of their king. But, was their king even still there? He sounded like a madman hiding from ancient demons that haunted in the darkest recesses of a man’s mind. The distant death cries were coming more frequently. In time, the attackers would be within the palace.
Dalenar began to feel responsible for the deaths of all those young soldiers outside. Just moments ago he was wishing that something would happen that night. Could his selfish dreams of glory had been heard by the gods and brought this massacre among his men? Even though he knew he could not dwell on his thoughts during the night, the Golden Knight knew he would have to avenge those deaths. As the bringer of this awful fate, it was his responsibility to see justice done. But he could not worry about that now. He had to keep the king safe. That was his one duty in life now.
“If you won’t leave me, at least listen to a story while you await death,” the king blurted. Dalenar wasn’t sure if dying while protecting his king would be such a bad thing. Maybe it would make up for bringing misfortune to the palace guard through his petty wishes. “Before my reign, death was all around Tallamar. Through peace and medicine, I was able to extend the lives of thousands. Death was no longer a constant worry for my people. Even the poor and needy were able to enjoy the prosperity of the kingdom. Peace will not last without me. Death will, once again, follow all of my subjects. This awful future will happen to get back at me for the stability that I have brought. I should have died from stone lung seven years ago. I cheated death though. The hospital nursed me back to health like it did for so many others. Now the gods want what’s rightfully theirs. Let my kingdom know that my queen shall rule until my son is seventeen…” the pause made the room eerily quiet. The sounds from outside even seemed to stop. In fact, there were no sounds coming from outside. The queen, sitting to the king’s right as tradition dictated, noticed too as she began to shake and whimper. The fear in her eyes steeled the knights, renewing their determination to protect their charge. “The Crimson Shadow comes for me. The time draws near!,” yelled the king, shaking violently and drenched in sweat.
The time was drawing near, but still no one came. “Maybe we are victorious,” shouted Feigngar, the silver knight, to a silence that screamed that he was wrong. If they had won, the sounds of celebration would be dancing through the palace halls and young Corporal Thormire would be dutifully presenting the report of victory. The cheers and the young Corporal never came. Chances were that he, and all of the other young guards were laying dead or dying.
All heads in the room turned as one to a crack, a cough, and the gurgling of a man asphyxiating on his own internal bleeding. Time stopped as they all gasped together with their king with the tip of a blade sticking through his abdomen, glistening in the candle light. Suddenly, time shot back to normal speed as the shock of what just happened gave way to anger and adrenalin. Immediately, the queen let out an ear-piercing scream that echoed within the knights’ helmets as Lapadis Stonehammer, the Shining Knight, bellowed, “The Snakeway!”. Through all of the confusion at least one of them remembered the escape passage under the king’s bed. That’s when Dalenar knew who must be behind the attack. The Turnbow family designed and built the palace over one hundred years ago, but the Snakeway would most likely still be on the original plans. They would be the only ones outside the King and his Cross who could possibly know about the stairway.
There was no time to worry about who was responsible yet. The battle that Dalenar had hoped for moments ago became a reality as the knights shifted the King’s bed, that still held the dying king and his crying queen, to the side to make chase. Down the Narrow staircase, the three armored men moved, being careful to skip the second step that was coated in an oily fat to fell any who would chase the king during an escape. Armor clanked against stone as the men came to the secret opening at the bottom of the oddly spaced steps, to see a man in crimson robes with the ears of an Assai being bear hugged by Aveline. “Hold him there,” yelled Dalenar as he came through the passageway. But the assassin was quick and deftly stabbed the strong, Onyx Knight in between the lobstered steel of his elbow joint, forcing the big man to loosen his grip.
That moment was all that was needed as the crimson man ran down the hall, dropping a large cast iron chandelier to the immaculate white marble floor by shattering a link on the chain with his sword. Flecks of marble shot through the air with the impact, clanking off armor as the man neared the exit. Dalenar feared the assassin would escape as he saw the man exit onto the steps of the palace. The knights continued around the fallen chandelier in defeat. There was no way for them to catch him now.
The four armored men looked on in shock as the crimson man reentered the hallway with a blank look within his eyes. Behind him, in the gardens, laid hundreds of soldiers who were barely into adulthood. The red face wrap of the man began turning darker as tears were slowly rolling out of his eyes.
“Stop right there Assai,” yelled Dalenar, as he fought to hold back tears, “or should I say Turnbow?”. He couldn’t understand why they would hire this man to assassinate King Reigngold. The noble houses were much better off than they had ever been, but there was no mistaking the crimson robes of the Turnbow family. The man-made no reaction to the accusation. Instead he muttered one thing, “six heartbeats”. The Cross looked at each other confused as a whirling tempest began to grow in the man’s eyes, like the storied hurricanes of the Dead Shore. The air grew hot and the wind picked up, drawing everything toward the man in the crimson robes. With renewed vigor, the knights rushed toward their enemy surrounding him and slowly slashing into him, but the man did not even flinch. The tempest in his eyes quickened and turned orange as flame. Soon, his sword was out and he was parrying every attack the knights tried and the ground began to rumble. Bits of stone began raining down on the battle. Dalenar fell into the flowing trance of a Blade Singer, looking more like water than a human.
Even that fabled fighting style could not get through to the crimson man. It was as if he knew the next attack before it happened. The other knights stepped back, afraid of getting caught in the wicked dance taking place before them. They stood in awe, seeing their Captain’s true potential for the first time. All of their doubts of this young warrior began to fade as the Golden Knight continued to match his enemy, blow for blow. They cleared further away as a gust of fine dust and stone began to whirl around the two. Soon, nothing could be seen but shadows twirling, thrusting, and parrying at each other at an incredible, terrifying speed.
It seemed as if the battle could go on forever as the dawn was coming in the east. As the light began to encompass the two warriors, the crimson man seemed to double his efforts. It was like he had been playing with the Golden Knight this entire time. But, Dalenar was no novice. As the attack quickened, he fell into a defensive stance carefully slashing as the hurried blows of his attacker came faster and faster. Twenty minutes, the two warriors continued until the earth began to shake violently and a blast of heat and wind blew the knights off their feet. In a daze, the Knights of the Cross stood, staring at the crimson man as he burst through the front gates and onto the slowly filling streets with his cloak trailing behind him like the tail of a comet. His gaze seemed to be stuck on the Father Star cresting the edge of the horizon while he continued running, as if it would come down from the brightening sky and consume him.
The knights looked around at the devastation that use to be the palace gardens, still under the spell of the blast that sent them to the ground. Dalenar, who was somehow still standing after the explosion of power, slumped to the ground as if the weight of his armor had tripled. As the moaning of injured guards became apparent, the bells began to toll. The king was dead, due to the failure of his Cross. “Lapadis, care for the wounded,” Dalenar commanded in an authoritative voice they had never heard before. “The rest of you, guard the queen.”. With that, he removed his helmet and stared blankly at the slowly brightening sky, wondering what his purpose could possibly be. He had failed his king and his kingdom. Knights of the King’s Cross were supposed to be heroes. They were supposed to be the victors. But he was a failure. It was honor, not pride that haunted him. It was demanding something, but what?
Aveline and Feigngar entered the palace surprised to see the queen standing at the base of the grand stairway, dressed in a court dress with her Bloodgold tiara sitting atop her jet black hair. “I will hold court now,” she choked out with tears welling in her eyes. “The king is dead, and I rule this kingdom until my son comes of age. I will not allow whoever did this see any hesitation in my actions. Justice will be swift, even if I have to tear the kingdom apart to bring it. The day guards will be here soon and I want the entire court assembled… Including my son. And find Dalenar! He may have failed my husband by letting him die, but he is honor-bound to find the killer and redeem himself.”