Summary: A bedtime story.
Category: The Big Valley
Word count: 3925
“Settle down children. It’s bedtime.”
“No. You don’t need more water.”
“No wore laughter either. You need to calm down.”
“Move over. That’s right, make room. I need a spot on the bed between you.”
“All right, I’ll tell you the fairy tale again, but this is the last time and I mean it.”
“No, I won’t tell this one again tomorrow, but I will tell you a different story tomorrow.”
“I know you love this one, darlings, but if you can’t settle down, I’ll have to leave.”
“I think you’re ready now, so lets begin, just cuddle up. That’s right, put your heads on my lap and rest.”
Her lilting voice started at the beginning, once again weaving the tale that her children were so familiar with.
First there was the prophecy. It had been foretold in the Book of Scripts, that a man with no name riding from the North would bring peace and security to the kingdom of his father’s rule which would know him not. The rider would be a seasoned youth tempered by experience and war.
As they smiled at their mother, she continued.
Many, many years ago in a land far, far away in the East, there was an evil King named Dagmael. He ruled with an iron fist and no one in his kingdom could escape his wrath when he was angry. The worst thing about Dagmael was that he was always angry.
In contrast the Southern kingdom was ruled by a loving queen and her adored family. Their lands prospered, their subjects revered them, and they were known far and wide as the fairest rulers on the continent.
There was also a smaller kingdom to the North that was considered a lawless area, and the lack of law caused it to be easily taken over by the Evil King and his minions. It lay in ruins, all it’s riches having been plundered and used by Dagmael to further expand his army. His caravans ran back and forth daily taking their goods, but it wasn’t enough for the king. His evil goal was to reach the Westernmost coast of the Country. He wanted to see his great caravans traversing the land from coast to coast. Only the southern kingdom still lay in his path. Although he had fought them, from time to time, they always won. He was ready for revenge. He had massed his armies for an all out attack on the kingdom. His best knights were summoned, and had arrived by the caravans emblazoned with the cruelly barbed double arrows that marked everything under his rule.
The fair kingdom to the south was aware of Dagmael’s latest plot to attack and control them, for they had intercepted a message days earlier, detailing his twisted plans. The kingdom was concerned. Their messengers stated that this time Dagmael would be much harder to defeat. His army was rumored to be clothed all in armor and he had a powerful sorcerer on their side. The peaceful land sent their most beloved, eldest Prince to meet with the king, under a flag of truce, and discuss peace.
“I hate that King, Mama.”
“I know you do darling, now just relax, I think everything will turn out fine.”
“I know it will too. It always does,” came a sleepy voice.
With that, the mother continued her tale.
The other two princes and the princess, along with the good queen and their loyal subjects, waited each day for news of the Golden Princes’ success, but no word came. Fearing the worst, they prepared to defend their lands. While the knights were practicing their swordsmanship and fighting skills on the castle grounds, a messenger arrived, exhausted, bearing a letter from his master the Golden Prince, saying that he would be returning in two days time.
At the castle, everyone was rejoicing. The queen’s eldest son was returning and they hoped that he would be the bearer of good news. News, that would stop the approaching war. The next oldest prince, the Silver Prince, would meet him at the gatehouse at noon, two days hence, and escort him home. In truth, the princes loved each other. The Silver Prince had missed his brother greatly and was pleased to be escorting him home.
As the subjects and the royal family made ready to celebrate his return, with fancy banquets and games of challenge, something was occurring in the North that would change their lives. A young man with special, but untried powers was looking for a kingdom to call home. He had resided in the lawless North, doing good deeds, but with the death of his mother, and King Dagmael’s reign of terror continuing, he decided to venture to other lands seeking his birthright. All he had was a name for guidance.
The Book of Scripts shifted on it’s alter, as the man left his land, crossed the border of the North and entered the Southern kingdom.
He crossed the long dry expanse of land on the Northernmost corner of the Southern lands, riding his trusty steed, when he came across a rider wearing armor that bore the barbed double arrow’s emblem. It was one of the king’s minions. From a knowledge gained by hard experience, the man knew that this was a lead scout for one of the caravans that continually crossed the lands. He rode hard, attempting to best the evil knight and show him that, although they had succeeded in destroying the lands of his birth, they would not destroy him.
When the two were within striking distance, the fight began. Swords clanged as they fought and parried. It went on, each side gaining then losing ground, when the young man, calling on all his powers, gained a sudden burst of speed that defeated the evil knight once and for all. He was unaware that he had gained the favor of the Golden Prince, who had observed the entire fight from within one of Dagmael’s hated caravans, while flying a flag of truce. The king, sure of his knight’s victory, had accepted the wager offered by the prince and now the Prince would be returning to his castle, richer by 500 gold pieces.
As the man’s journey took him further onto the queen’s land, he had an encounter with the Silver Prince. The prince was crossing the fairy bridge, over the enchanted river, to meet his brother when the man approached from the other side. They met in the middle. Neither wanted to give ground. The prince, one of the best swordsmen in the entire kingdom was infuriated. He had the right of passage, by birth and stature. Words were exchanged, and they, both stubborn, began to draw their swords, he his two-handed sword, the stranger his bastard sword, when the enchanted bridge, despising conflict, hurled them both into the river below.
Both the prince and the man guided their mounts to the safety of the opposite banks, saluted each other, and rode off, not as rivals but as competitors.
When the Silver Prince reached the farthest corner of the good queens holdings, he joyfully hugged his bother, the Golden Prince, and welcomed him home asking if the goal of peace had been reached. When he found out that there would be no easy peace this time he decided that he would fight rather than give up portions of their land to King Dagmael. His brother was arguing for time, trying to find another way around war. Finally, growing weary with bickering they concentrated on thoughts of home, knowing the king must be defeated, but agreeing to allow the subjects and their family to aid in making the decision.
“Oh, I know this part. The princess, she’s my favorite. Tell me all about her, and make her good, please, Mama.”
“Smiling, she answered her daughter, “There is no other way to make a princess behave. Like you, they are always good. Now let’s get you covered back up. You sure can wiggle,” she said re-tucking the covers around her youngest, then continued,
The beautiful princess was spending her day out gathering huge bouquets of flowers for the Golden Princes return. Having her brother home, free from harm, filled her with joy. She was anxious to see him that night. As she urged her horse faster, she decided to stop briefly at her father, the kings, final resting place. Here she encountered the man without a name.
He was kneeling and reading her father’s headstone, and tramping on the flowers that the princess herself had planted. He would pay. She uncoiled her cat-o-nine tails and lashed ineffectually at the stranger, who, grabbing her whip, had the audacity to pull her from her mount. Angry, the princess asked who he was, and was shocked when he didn’t answer. He did ask if this was the grave of the good King Thomas, known far and wide for his travels and charitable nature. He also stated that he was looking for the castle, as he needed work. Deciding that his eyes looked honest, and remembering that good princesses were always gracious, she directed him to the castle, and told him her brother, the Silver Prince might hire him.
Thanking her politely, he followed her directions while she repaired the damage to her father’s grave. He was the best king who ever ruled the land, and the most wonderful father she could imagine. A princess would fix her father’s grave site. That’s what princesses do.
As the princess was encountering the stranger, the Golden Prince met with some of the villagers and told them that King Dagmael swore that this time they would fight, and he would guarantee they lost. He would have their land. He then asked if they would return on the morrow, after the feast and discuss plans further. The Silver Prince was furious, and said that anything other than a fight was futile. The Golden Prince wanted to weigh the odds, and the Bronze Prince, who was years younger and just starting to have a say in the family court, was undecided, causing major conflict as his brothers vied for him to see their points of view.
The verbal exchange grew in volume, drawing the Queen’s attention. She regally entered the throne room, welcomed home her eldest son, recoiled at the news that there would be no peace, and asked them to keep their voices lowered, as the servants could hear and she didn’t want panic to start, if they could, perhaps, devise a plan that would avert this catastrophe.
As she surveyed her kingdom from the raised dias through the tower window, she spotted the young man with no name. Instructing her children to greet their guest, she announced that she would preside over the feast in honor of the Golden Prince’s return, then she left, going to fulfill her queenly duties of helping the less fortunate.
Both older princes recognized their guest as the man they had encountered earlier. Smiling, they went to greet him, only to hear him ask for work. The Silver Prince, in charge of all castle matters, started to refuse, but the Golden Prince, recalling the 500 gold pieces, overruled his younger brother, thus the stranger was sent to the stables. He would begin training the horses used for the joust tomorrow at sunup.
Finding sleep slow in coming, and being kept awake by the party, the man allowed his brain to work at solving the riddle of his birth. His mother had always guarded him closely and told him about a dream she had as a child that was written in the Book of Scripts. She said he had an important role to play, but he would discover it after he was on his own. Until now, he hadn’t given her words much stock. He had always been told his father Thomas was a great man from the South. His father was a leader among men, from the highest rank. That of King. This was why the man with no name had traveled South. While there were many kingdoms in the Southern regions, this kingdom’s king had been named Thomas and he was said to be a leader among men. King Thomas was held in high esteem by all. As the pieces fell together, he knew with a certainty that he was the King’s son. Unknown to him, until this moment.
The Book of Scripts fell from its pedestal, as all magical books do as prophecies draw near their completion.
That night, it seemed, the entire kingdom turned up to welcome home the Golden Prince. The tables were bowing under the weight of the many platters of duck, fish, chicken, quail, carrots, leeks, potatoes, and bread. The goblets of mead overflowed as everyone toasted the safe return of the prince, despite being worried about the approaching threat of war.
As the night wore on and the guests made their way home, the Silver Prince swilled back goblet after goblet of rich honeyed mead. As he drank, he decided that the man his brother hired must be a spy sent by Evil Dagmael. Recklessly he decided to confront the man and slipped from the great hall to the stables. Rousing the man, he led him from the stables and began to express his concerns with his fists. The young man, no stranger to fighting, gave as good as he got, but in the end allowed anger to get the better of him. This time, when the prince asked what, he was doing there, and did he work for Dagmael, the man let his secret escape. He stated that he was there to claim his birthright as the King’s son.
Enraged, the prince dragged him to the castle, past the guards and into a private meeting room, reserved for royalty, hollering the entire time for his brothers, The Golden Prince and the Bronze Prince to join him. Everyone from servant to the queen was awakened, but the servants made themselves scarce. A better job they couldn’t find, nor more caring people to work for. It never paid to become involved in the personal business of the royal family.
“The Silver prince has such a temper,” came a sleepy voice.
Replying softly, the story teller said, “Yes he does, Son, and some things never change.” A soft smile lit her features momentarily, even though her children were too tired to notice, then she continued, lowering her voice even more.
Arriving on the scene, the disheveled princes were confronted by the angry man holding a drawn dagger in one hand and prepared to fight. Until he arrived, he hadn’t realized that this was the home and name he was searching for, and now he was prepared to fight to remain. The Golden Prince instructed his brother to state the facts, then questioned the man more closely. Although many of the strangers facts matched times and locations of his father during his travels, and the likeness was striking, seeming to indicate that the king was his father, the Golden Prince made a decision he felt was for the good of his family. He offered the stranger 200 gold pieces to leave and never return.
The man hurled them back at the prince. The sneer on the man’s face as he left, assured the princes they had not heard the last of him.
Unbeknownst to any of her family the princess managed to, once again, sneak from her room in the same fashion she had employed for years. She climbed down the rose-covered trellis and followed the man that claimed to be her brother.
She followed him as he rode to the nearest inn. Ready to confront him, she was surprised to be roughly pulled from her horse by some of King Dagmael’s henchmen, disguised as villagers. She recognized the barbed arrows burned into their flesh as the manhandled her. In a flash the stranger, noting her plight, whipped out a concealed dagger and deftly threw it at one of the evil minions, effectively stopping him, then he dispatched the other, with no regard for his own safety, and pulled the princess to his room.
Furious at his rough treatment and the scolding speech he gave her, she stomped her foot in anger and attempted to get him to do something that would prove he was not her father’s son from a Northern land. Everyone knew how uncivilized those lands were. He evaded all her traps, when three more minions burst through his door. This time the dagger was laying on the bed and weaponless and outnumbered, he was fighting a losing battle.
The princesses’ screams brought the sheriff, who armed with a hand and a half sword, easily convinced the evil henchmen to surrender and he took them immediately to the dungeon. He then escorted the princess and the stranger back to the castle. When they were within a fifteen-minute ride the princess spotted smoke, and they all rode to assist. After all that is what princesses do.
When they arrived, the princess noted her mother, the queen, and moved to sit by her in their gilded carriage drawn by a matched pair of bays.
“I’m glad the princess is safe. That man must be her hero,” came her daughter’s voice, so heavily laden with sleep, that it was a wonder she managed to get the words out.
“Yes the princess is safe. I thought you were asleep. I think you are as stubborn as your uncles” came the soft reply.
“That’s what they say,” the girl responded, as she snuggled closer to her mother. “I want to hear the end, hurry, I’m getting so tired.”
“”Well then let’s continue”
Her brothers, the three princes of the realm were already there. Sir Michael’s keep had been razed, and he had lost everything. The evil King Dagmael’s men had made the first strike. They couldn’t wait any longer. It would be fight, but since the decision was a long time in coming, the man saw this as a sign of weakness, and returned to the castle.
As he gathered his belongings to leave forever, the queen approached him and told him that her husband the king, was a good man that had visited the North as the prophecy proclaimed. When he returned, he dealt with the evil king. Then again years later King Dagmael, seeking revenge for his loss, returned. Again they met force with force, and although winning the king suffered grievous wounds and died. He died too young for anyone to truly understand the depth of his brilliance, but she was carrying on in the manner that he would have wanted. She shocked the man by then saying that if he had patience, a trait her husband didn’t possess either, he would have seen his brothers the princes decide to fight. He should be proud to be a son of the king, but as a son of so great a man he would need to stand up for what was correct. Not take the easy way out.
She then turned and watched the man leave, aware that he would be busy thinking that night.
She was correct, for she was very wise. The man after thinking about her words, decided to stand beside this kingdom, the princes, and make a fight that wasn’t his, his next step on his crusade to acquire a family.
At dawn the princes and the townsfolk gathered at Sir Edmund’s keep, prepared to defend it against the greater massed forces of evil. The princes of the realm watched in surprise as the young man they asked to leave joined forces with them. Within two hours all swords were sharpened to the hilt and the forces of good stood ready.
“Oh Mama, the fight part is coming. It’s so exciting.” came the muffled voice of her son. He was laying so close to her, she was getting warm, thanks to the heat his body generated.
“I’ll try to make it especially exciting then.”
“No, just do it like you always do. I love it.”
“All right dear, try to sleep now.”
“I can’t sleep until after the fight scene. You know that.”
“Yes I do,” she said ruffling his hair, as he snuggled even closer. “Here it comes.”
A great rumble shook the ground as the evil King, his sorcerer by his side, and a group of more than 70 henchmen wearing armor, and riding armor-clad steeds, amassed under a banner decorated with the barbed double arrow symbol. They faced the forces of good with overpowering odds.
With a swift downward chop of his hand the king signaled his forces to advance. Sword-met sword, clangs ringing throughout the morning as each side battled bitterly for supremacy. The Golden Prince, wielding a broad sword advanced through the ranks, but for every one he took down, it seemed like two rose to take their place. The Silver Prince, charged recklessly but with skill holding aloft a two-handed sword. Only his powerful muscles allowed him to use it effectively. He was making good progress against his foes. The Bronze Prince, unseasoned by battle, was holding his own, using his long sword, as he was more familiar with it.
His sword arm growing heavy, the stranger raised his eyes heavenward, and saw the sorcerer, begin to chant. He watches spellbound as a glowing ball appeared in his hands. Immediately he dropped his bastard sword and once again pulled out a concealed throwing dagger. Blocking all sounds of the sword fighting going on around him, he, with a mighty throw hurled it straight at the evil heart. Catching the sorcerer by surprise, he caused the spell of fireball to fail as the sorcerer collapsed. At that moment a hush fell over the battle ground and a white light descended. The forces of good were rejuvenated and each fought with the strength of ten.
Finally the king signaled retreat, and his few remaining henchmen, hearing his call, hurried to escape being slaughtered. The Southern kingdom was free and the evil king Dagmael vanquished for a time. The next battle would come soon enough but for now they needed to see to the wounded and clear the battlefield of fallen friends.
Resting on his sword, the fight over, the young man watched as the Golden Prince was treated for a shoulder wound by the local healer. As he returned his sword to his scabbard, he felt a hand on his back, and turned to see the smiling Golden Prince saying that perhaps he had a place in this kingdom and a home to belong to.
Agreeing to return to the castle, he watched from the background as the Golden Princes wound was once again checked, then smiled as the queen moved to take his hands and welcome him to her family.
His journey ended as the prophecy foretold. He found a name and a second home, in the land of his father, and he remained there for the rest of his life, using his special powers to bring joy to everyone he met.
The Book of Scripts closed then reopened to the next prophecy to be fulfilled, but that is another story entirely.
“Goodnight my darlings, sleep well.” Audra said, kissing her son and daughter goodnight, and gently climbing out from between her sleeping children. It was her favorite fairy tale as well. Some stories never grew old.