Chapter 1

There is nothing like a quiet grove of trees to relax you after a hard day's hunt. Dragons and Ogres and Bears, oh my! The life of a Warrior is a hard one, especially if the Warrior is getting on in years. Seems like I have been doing this forever... I can hardly remember being young, my first kill... picking up my first valuable drop.

My reverie was interrupted by a boy's noisy entrance into my grove. He was randomly swinging a wooden saber (a weapon so ineffective that the Smiths give them away!). Once in a while, he hit a squirrel until it died, then casually pocketed its dropped acorns. I opened my backpack to look for something interesting. There near the bottom was something shiny... a Stardrop! Not a valuable item, but very pretty. I bet this kid has never even seen one before.

A squirrel hopped by me, never suspecting that he was to play a role in a practical joke. Using the simplest magic in the Kingdom, I 'gave' the Stardrop to the squirrel. Now the rodent would carry an extra surprise until someone killed it, and it was heading right for the boy!

"Hello!" I turned toward the voice, seeing a young girl enter the grove. She walked up to the boy, "Are you hunting? Want to form a group? I hear that we can get much larger prey that way."

"Uh... sure," the boy replied, still whacking away at squirrels, rabbits and trees. "What you wanna hunt?"

"Well, first let's see what happens when we try to hunt together," She pulled out a wooden sword (only slightly better than the saber), and moved towards my squirrel.

"Uh oh," I thought.

With the girl hitting it from the front and the boy from behind, the squirrel fell quickly. There, glinting on the ground was the Stardrop, the essence of beauty itself, a twinkling light that has captured more than one soul. Many people, mostly women, get quite captivated by their light, collecting and collecting until the Tavern keepers have to charge them extra, to ward against theft.

The girl moved first, snatching up the jewel.

"Hey!" The boy exclaimed, "That was mine!"

"I don't see your name on it," she replied, walking out of the grove, followed closely by the fuming young lad.

"Heh heh heh," I chuckled, then had a thought. I pulled out a pen and a mostly blank scroll and began to write.

"He brought her a rose,

She pledged him her love,

Peasants together, love is forever.

He hit a fat deer

She worked at his side

The big stag was antler'd,

"A treasure" they'd both heard.

He grabbed for the prize

She snatched it up quicker

"I want it now, I'll get it somehow!"

He begged and he pleaded,

She denied him completely

His eyes became crazed, wood saber upraised,

He swung quite quickly

She dodged it so easy

Her wood sword was quicker, much longer and thicker,

He ducked all her wild hacks

She saw him raise Hunang's axe..."

I looked up from my writing to see an unusual sight. A boy, hardly older than the young hunter, was standing in front of me. He was dressed all in red with gold embroidery. It looked like Royal page attire, something I had not seen in years.

"Are you Warrior Gareth?" He asked, bowing politely.

"Yes," I replied, making sure he saw my open scroll and the half-finished poem I was working on.

"The same Gareth they tell stories about?" The young man seemed doubtful. I guess I should wear armor ALL the time? Peasants robes are much more comfortable; besides, the Smith said it might take awhile to get all "the teeth marks out of your Sun tiger mail."

"What stories are they telling about me?" I asked, thinking about the last few years, mostly spent in Taverns, trying to forget the loss of my wife, and the wonderful few months we have shared since her miraculous return, thank the Gods!

"They say you were the hero of the Zibong War... and that you single-handedly stopped an evil mage from destroying both Kingdoms... and that you..." he stopped, embarrassed.

"I what?" This was news to me. Some friends and I had fought in the First Zibong War together, and I did lead a small band of Heroes to kill an Evil Mage, but it didn't really seem like something people would credit ME for.

"They say you married a ZIBONG!" he whispered conspiratorially.

I laughed, "Oh, that's me all right!" I rolled up my scroll and put it away, knowing it was unlikely I would finish it now. "What can I do for you?"

The page shyly handed me a neatly folded Parchment. "I am supposed to wait for a reply."

The parchment had a royal seal—the Buyan Coat of Arms. I glanced up again at the young messenger, who was clearly uncomfortable. Perhaps a Royal Page had honors enough to make up for the tights and the starched tunic. "I was told there would be a reply," he repeated.

I still hadn't opened it, only turning it in my hands, examining the seal and the quality of the paper. It was genuine. It tore open easily, with a sound that made the young man wince. I suppose I could have just broken the seal and unfolded it, but I never claimed to be a gentleman, only a warrior.

" 'Sir Gareth, First Knight of Phoenix Clan, Hero of the Zibong Wars, Foremost Accomplished Poet of the Realm, Citizen of Buya... ' " I had to stop to breathe. If this guy gave me any more titles, there wouldn't be room for a message! When did they start calling the King's Quest a "Zibong War"? I kept trying to tell everyone that I didn't do much of anything to deserve all these honors, but people believe what they want. PteriDae, my wife, found the whole thing amusing. She would. That is until King Yuri of Kugnae granted her the title of "Lady Zibong;" it wasn't so humorous to her then!

I skipped over the rest of my titles. (Why doesn't anyone ever remember that I am a cook?) The message, when I finally got to it, was short. (See! No room!)

" Honored Citizen of Buya,

Your presence is commanded today at the Buyan Palace. Be discreet.


Aide to King Senshi' "

I turned to the page that had been waiting patiently during my perusal of the summons. "Who is Morgan? Is he some court flunky? Can he really command me to appear?"

The page silently mouthed the word "flunky" a few times, then said, "Lord Morgan is in virtual command of the Kingdom of Buya, Sir Knight, especially now. King Senshi is not well and depends on him a great deal."

"How is Senshi doing?" I asked, " I remember him from the old days before the war, bald as an egg, but a real nice old fart nonetheless. Never could control that daughter of his, though, spoiled the brat rotten."

The page blinked. He seemed to have trouble with the concepts of "old fart" and "brat". Those certainly weren't the titles that he was trained to use! I could see that he was going to have a great time telling his fellow pages about this encounter.

"The old... uh, His Majesty is still unwell but makes an occasional court appearance," the page stammered. He blushed as I hid a grin at his near slip of the tongue. No doubt he was thinking of the tongue-lashing he would have received at court for just such a lapse.

"Bet he is happy, getting back into his old Palace! Buya really emptied out after the Zibong War. He hung around longer than most people before running off to Kugnae. Still, living as King Yuri's guest must have been a trying experience."

"Now that Buya is filling up again, and plenty of taxes are coming in, and smart young boys are willing to dress like, uh, willing to volunteer to serve as Pages, he must be one happy man." I nearly made the poor boy's discomfort even worse. I stifled a chuckle at the thought.

"Sir Knight, I have heard rumors that he is, in fact, very unhappy," the page whispered. "Perhaps that is why you have been summoned. I hope that you can help His Majesty. He has always been very kind to me and my family."

Oh, well. I had been considering ignoring the Royal request, but this child was making that very difficult. He obviously had a great deal of respect and admiration for his liege and only wanted what was best for the "old fart". How could I say no to dedication of that sort?

"I'll be there," I found myself saying.

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Story tagged with:
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