The smashing metal sent sparks onto the flagstones. Deleane had only a sweaty grip on her sword and one strong blow could knock it to the ground. Her leather boots had a solid grip on the cobblestones and her steady stance made up for the lose hold on her sword. With each blow Deleane deflected she could feel herself weaken, leaving openings in her defence. Seeing the pleasure of her weakness in her challenger, Sir Jorge’s eyes, she tightened her grasp on the hilt, determined not make a fool of herself. The clanging of nearby fighters filled the expanse of the courtyard and the banging of the blacksmith echoed off the thick stone walls. Just as Deleane was about to slip over the end bell sounded and the pressure of Jorge’s sword lifted. Relief that sparring was over flooded through Delane’s exhausted body.
As much as Deleane loved to fight, she hated the scoffs of the men. Only a few of the knights, like Sir Owen treated her like a soldier and not a Lady. If most were to have their way Deleane would be in her room in the castle brushing her hair. She was only allowed to train with the knights because of the King. Both of her parents had lost their lives during a raid on the castle and were unfortunately mistaken for the King and his wife. Deleane’s mother had been braiding her long dark hair when the warning bell sounded. Deleane was still alive because she had been shoved into a wardrobe, hidden from the attackers. However, the raiders were weak, and the King’s forces quickly overpowered them. Deleane, being the daughter of one of the King's top knights, was made ward of the King. That was why she was allowed to stand in the overgrown courtyard, her underclothes drenched in sweat, hair cropped short at the shoulders, and train with the best fighters in the kingdom. True, her chainmail was too big, like the rest of the armour it was designed to fit a man, but Deleane wouldn’t trade the opportunity to fight for the world.
“Knights!” yelled Sir Owen over the chatting, “Official training has ended, feel free to continue practise.”
The knights started moving away from the central sparring ring, either moving off to do more training or, in the case of the older men, retreating back into the depths of the cool castle. Before anyone could get too far away Sir Owen called out, his eyes scanning the crowd, “Has anyone seen Sir Bodmore?”
There were heads shaken and murmurs of disagreement and Sir Owen’s forehead creased with worry. The fact that Sir Bodmore wasn’t present struck Deleane as odd, but she did not reflect on it as she dragged herself over to the vacant archery range.
Archery was the only form of fighting that Deleane felt was natural. Heavy armour was not required and she had a sharp eye for targets. Pushing the lose strands of her dark hair behind her ear she grasped her lightweight bow and swung the quiver over her shoulder. The target was a simple bail of hay with a cloth marked with a red ‘x’ draped over it. As she pulled an arrow out of the quiver and held it steady, Deleane fixed her hazel eyes on the cross and shot the first of many bullseyes. It was not until the aches all over her body worsened a few hours later that she emerged from the depths of concentration, where there had been nothing but her and the target.
Deleane slipped unnoticed by all but one, back to her chambers at the heart of the castle. That one stood in the courtyard archway obscured by shadow. He took no notice of her, his eyes remained fixed on a pair knights leaving for guard duty.
Heather, a girl only two years younger than Deleane, stood waiting in the antechamber fingering her golden, braided locks. As well as being the daughter and apprentice of the court physician, Heather served Deleane.
“lo’ Deleane!” she said, her usual bubbly self.
“Hullo Heather, training was far more exhausting than usual,” Deleane said as she began to remove her many layers of armour.
“Really mam’? I’ve prepared ‘some ‘ot water for you to wash,” Heather said quietly as she moved the armour to a cabinet for cleaning.
After quickly rinsing the grime off of her face and arms Deleane donned her long tunic and leggings and fastened her sword to her belt, securing it to the worn leather.
“I shall be back in time for supper Heather,” she said as she walked out the door, feeling much better than she did when she walked in earlier.
Heather gave her a low curtsey as Deleane left and hurried off to help her father in the infirmary.
Normally, Deleane would only take five minutes of scrambling through the undergrowth around the base of the castle wall and climbing down the steep ledges to get to the cave, but she was so deep in thought that it stretched out to twenty. While she had been in her chambers, word had reached her that another two knights had gone missing while on duty. Only three of the King’s knights had disappeared and already rumours were being whispered. Was there an assassin in court? Or were they just going to be found drunk on the inn floor? She was so distracted by these thoughts that she almost tripped over a golden goblet on the bone strewn floor. The tinkling of the knocked goblet rang through the cave and brought her to her senses.
‘There are kinder ways to wake one up.’ Pranxtor said telepathically, his tone sounding annoyed
“Sorry, I was naught but distracted. There have been goings-on at the castle,” Deleane said as the great golden beast dragged himself out into the light filled mouth of the cave.
The outside light there was reflected off of his scales, making him seem to radiate power and the cave seem to sparkle
‘Goings-on?’ he asked, his annoyance abated and replaced with curiosity
“Knights are a-disappearing,”
‘Do they know the cause?’
“No, but the castle is alive with rumours.”
‘Am I at the centre of these rumours?’
“I am sure the king suspects you,” answered Deleane.
‘Have they found the bodies?’ His thought stream was getting angrier.
“No,” the girl replied in a small voice.
The great beast growled deeply, and snorted sparks. It was amazing how fast his mood could change.
“I would swear in front of the court and King that you are not the taker of the knights!”
‘I doubt that would be of assistance and I would not appreciate you bring forbidden to visit me. Now come sit by me little one. You must be careful, use the fact that you will be underestimated to your advantage.’
The dragon had calmed down enough, and Deleane decided she was safe from being scorched and knelt down resting her head against his cool scales. Ever since she accidently stumbled into Pranxtor’s den after her parent’s death, and was quite sure Pranxtor was not going to eat her, Deleane had become friends with the dragon. Besides Heather, Pranxtor was her only true friend, her only source of comfort.
By the time she had arrived back at the castle it was almost time to eat. Deleane only just had a moment to change.
The next few days flew by, dotted with the occasional disappearance of a knight. Guards on duty were ordered to work in groups and no one was supposed to wander around alone. In accordance with these new security measures a dragon slayer had been called for and there was a round the clock guard outside Deleane’s chambers. This made it impossible for her to warn Pranxtor of certain danger.
Soon enough it was the night of a grand feast and being the King’s ward Deleane was required to attend. Deep down, Deleane dreaded coming face to face with the King. She had valiantly tried to avoid him at all costs, but tonight he would have her at last.
Heather helped her dress into an evening gown and wandered off. Deleane walked down the corridors towards the banquet hall, followed by her silent guard. The servants had spared no expense, and the hall was lavishly decorated. She moved briskly through the crowd towards the high table, purposefully ignoring the prince who tried to catch her eye. Throughout the evening she tried to be social and put on a forced smile. The prince tried to talk with her but Deleane just ignored him. The King stood and there was a scramble to sit down.
“I would like to welcome my guests to the court of Pelanore and introduce my son, Prince Rowan, my daughter Princess Josselyn and the Lady Deleane.” He gestured to the left his left where his children were sat and to his right where Deleane was sitting. “I would also like to extend my gratitude to Sir Gavain whom is here to rid our lands of unwanted creatures.”
A man of middle age stood from the table of knights. He looked rather ordinary except for an earring which he wore that looked like it had some sort of fang. Deleane dug her fingernails into the table as the man she believed to be the dragon slayer sat down. People clapped and the King declared the feast to have begun. At first the King was talking to Rowan who fiddled with the circlet of gold which sat on his black hair. To soon his attention turned to Deleane.
“Due to recent happenings,” He began, clearly trying to approach the topic as lightly as possible, “I no longer wish you to train with the knights.”
“Sire-,” she began.
“An order is an order. I do not want you to be seen as a knight. This is for your safety.”
The sound of music drifted up from the hall. Deleane had to refrain from running back to her chambers and it had taken all her will to not yell at the king, but, to excuse herself politely. It had taken months of pleading to be able to train, and the king had taken it away in a few words. She had been so angry that she did not notice the other pair of feet exiting the hall.
She pulled her wooden door shut behind her. Deleane was behind her screen when the knife came to her throat.
“Scream and I’ll kill you,” a voice said.
Deleane stiffened her body and became highly aware of the cool metal against her exposed skin.
“Couldn’t help but overhear what your king said. Apparently you’re a knight. You a little girly a knight!” he laughed.
The adrenaline, that was pumping through her veins was thinning out and bring replaced with worry. Where was her guard? This man must have killed him. Either that or he was drunk in the banquet hall. Deleane desperately hoped for the latter.
“Yes. Yes I’m a knight,” she said, directing courage into her words.
This surprised her attacker enough for Deleane to pull free.
“I thought I told you to keep silent,” he said, baring the few teeth he had.
Now that Deleane could see the man, she suddenly regretted her choice. What chance did an unarmed girl have against a dragon slayer with a knife? Then she remembered what Pranxtor said, they would underestimate her. She was not just a girl, she was a warrior, a fighter, a knight.
“I have orders to kill anyone whom might make the taking of this castle difficult,” he said, but in his eyes Deleane could see that the situation was slipping out of his control and he knew it.
“So you killed them all?” she asked.
“Were you not listening? If you are a threat you are going to die ,” he snarled.
“What chance does a poor, defenceless girl like me have against a dragon slayer?” She said edging towards the ornamental swords on the wall.
“The knights were just as defenceless as you are now, easy to pick off.” He flexed his fingers around his knife.
“Am I going to find out how you killed them when you weren’t even at the castle?” Deleane asked, trying to keep him talking.
The hilt of the sword was only inches away from her fingers.
“Seeing as you’re going to die-I was sent here days ago. I have spent the day watching out for the stronger knights and then killing them during their guard shifts and dumping the bodies in the valley by the dragon's cave.”
“You were going to kill my friend!” she yelled grabbing the sword, “Coward!”
It took him only moments to realise what was happening, before he too drew his blade. He aimed a blow for her head, but Deleane easily deflected it. It then became a fight of such ferocity that no training could have prepared Deleane for it. She struggled just deflecting the blows and his blade grazed her shoulder. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that she was losing, what she really needed was some way to trick him. The door was not an option, any move towards it and the blade would be through her chest.
Then it struck her. The window. As she did with the sword, Deleane crept closer to the window. The next moment he lunged, throwing his full body weight towards the girl, who was had crouched down in a matter of seconds. The slayer threw his hands in front of himself trying to stop, but it was too late as he crashed through the window into the courtyard below.
His arms and legs were set in grotesque angles, blood pouring from his mouth and his eyes were glazed over. The dragon slayer was dead. The sounds of running feet rumbled from outside her room and the door was flung open. The Prince and some guards rushed in swords ready but then lowered as they could see no one but Deleane, crouched down and covered in glass.
“He’s dead;” she said weakly, “the dragon slayer is dead. He was the one who killed all the knights.”
The guards murmured amongst themselves. When they left, Heather rushed in and tended to Deleane’s arm before putting her to bed as a mother would.
Deleane awoke to the sounds of dragging. She opened her eyes to see Heather pulling a trunk into the room.
“Tis’ from the blacksmith.” Heather said upon seeing Deleane’s raised eyebrows.
Curious, she opened the trunk to reveal a set of new armour. One of her deepest wishes was to have a set tailor made for her. It had finally come true.
“Should I take him a message?” Heather asked as Deleane lifted the chainmail over her head.
Pulling her hand into a new glove and smiling she said, “Yes. You can tell him it is perfect, just perfect.”
Copyright (c) Emilie Morscheck 2011