Working title, Neverworld.
Age Rating: 10 +
Finally after many days, they sighted the castle. Baldev slowed his flight. 'I think it best if we use a little caution', he advised. 'In the passing of years, many things can change. I have no wish to be the target for a flight of arrows, even if my scales are thick'.
They need not have worried. Someone in the castle had spotted them from afar. A large banner had been unfurled from a turret flagstaff; on the banner was emblazoned an emblem of a dragon and a broken sword. 'I am glad to see that'. Baldev heaved a sigh of relief. 'It means that the truce is still in force. Now hold on tight while we impress them a little'.
He climbed higher into the sky, then proceeded to perform a series of amazing aerobatics. Sean hung on. He was petrified. His armour, which he had donned, clanked and rattled like a tinker's cart.
Trying to be brave, he yelled to the dragon. 'You could show the Red Arrows a thing or two'. Then his stomach rebelled, and he proceeded to jettison his breakfast into the castle moat.
They landed in the castle courtyard. The inhabitants were amazed at the sight of a knight in full armour dismounting from the dragon's back.
King Rupert was standing on his balcony watching Sean's arrival. Sir Bryan, at his side.
'A wondrous sight, my Liege. A knight riding a dragon. I realise that we are at peace with the dragon race, but I knew not that we had trained them as horses'.
'Nor I', replied the King. 'Neither do I recognise the knight'.
King Rupert instructed one of his Squires to request the strange knight to come to his audience chamber. Also to oversee the dragons needs.
Sean followed the squire through the castle. He was thrilled; all his dreams were coming true. He was actually in a genuine King's castle, what was more amazing; he was about to meet a genuine King. If they really thought that he was a knight, he was prepared to play the part. Wait until he got back home, his friends would never believe him.
Armed guards swung wide a pair of large doors, the entrance to The Kings chamber.
Turning to Sean, the young squire looked at him enquiringly. 'I will announce you Sir, if you will but tell me your name'
'Sean Lacy'. The squire gave him a puzzled look; then stepping through the door, he announced in a loud voice. 'Sir Sean of Lacy, my liege'.
King Rupert beckoned Sean to come forward to where he was sitting on a large ornately carved chair.
Sean stood in front of the King, not sure what to do, wondering if he should bow, or kneel.
The King smiled, as if sensing his dilemma. 'Welcome Sir Sean, of Lacy', he greeted him. 'Although I must say, that both your name and face are strangers to me, as is your armour and crest, it is of a design unknown in my Kingdom. Pray tell me, in what part of my realm do you dwell?'
Sean had wondered how to explain his presence in King Rupert's Kingdom. In fact, he and Baldev had discussed the problem in depth during their flight. He had decided on the only course open to him.
He would lie.
'Sire', he began. 'I come from a land far to the east of your Kingdom. I have heard of the valiant deeds of your knights, and have travelled far to pledge my honour and my sword in your service'.
Sean kneeled and bowed his head to the King. That may have been a little over the top, he thought.
'Arise, Sir Sean of Lacy. We gladly accept your allegiance. You have come at a very crucial time. Again, our world is under threat by a great evil. We welcome all true and noble knights to join in our coming conflict with Magule the terrible, and his ravening hoards'
Sean didn't know what on earth, King Rupert was talking about; but whatever it was, it didn't sound good. Me and my big mouth, he thought. Just what have I got myself into now?
The King signalled to one of his men, then turned to Sean again. 'Sir Sean you have obviously travelled far. You must be in need of food and rest. My squire will escort you to your quarters where you may refresh yourself. As for your most unusual steed, his needs are already being attended to'.
Sean figured that the King was politely dismissing him. Thanking him for his hospitality, he followed the young squire out of the chamber.
The Black Mountains echoed to the sounds of industry, as blacksmiths forged weapons for the coming invasion of the Westland's.
Companies of Trolls and Smorgs fought mock battles under the command of human officers. Magule watching from his high tower was incensed.
'Look at that cretinous rabble. They have not the intelligence to follow orders. Oh they are brave enough when they outnumber the peasants in the villages, but if they do not learn discipline, they will be hacked to pieces when they meet Rupert's knights. Luckily, there are more than enough for my purpose, and they are all expendable.
Ravena laughed. It was a sound like ice breaking on a pond. 'Fear not my lord. Rupert's knights are grown soft; they are not the force they were in his fathers day. As you say, we outnumber them so greatly that even if you were to lose half of your army, you would still be triumphant'.
Magule gave a grim smile. 'Yes, your right, 'Also the more of these creatures we loose in battle, the less there will be to share in the rewards afterwards. In fact once we have won, I intend to eliminate the remainder. They are not as malleable as humans and would ever be a threat to me'.
Magule gently caressed Ravina's cheek. 'I need you to gather more information; you may leave later. However, now I feel it is time for pleasure', he smiled, leading her to his bedroom.
As dusk was falling, a large crow flew from a tower window, heading west.
The dragon colony was having a council meeting. Argon, the Great Mage had told them of the threat from the Black Mountains. They were deciding if it was anything to do with them.
Silverwing, their hereditary leader, was speaking.
'We dragons have shunned the realms of man for obvious reasons. What we have to decide now, is whether the evil Magule intends us any harm. Personally, I do not trust him to leave us alone. While I grant that the last time he attacked human kind, we were not troubled. This time it may be different. Also the last time, the humans were victorious. However, the humans were stronger in those days, and more used to war. It maybe the case that after so many years of peace, they will not win without our help'.
'I say that we should vote on the matter'.
After a short deliberation, the council agreed unanimously to fight. They would offer their help to King Rupert.
Word rapidly reached Argon of their decision.
'Well I must say that is good news Willum, it is just what I had hoped for. With their help, we may rid our world of this evil Magule'.
Willum did not reply, he had a mouse in his jaws.
Sean awoke to the sound of steel clashing on steel. For a moment he thought that he was back in the castle courtyard from where his adventure had begun. Then he remembered, he was in a castle. However, this was a different castle.
He was startled out of his reverie by was a knock on his bedroom door.
'Come in', he called. The door opened admitting a young girl, a very pretty girl. She was carrying two wooden pails full to the brim with steaming hot water.
'If it pleases My Lord, I have brought hot water for your morning bath'.
She put the pails down, then proceeded to drag a small hip-bath from out of a closet. Pouring the water into it, then testing it with her elbow, she declared it ready.
I could get used to this; Sean thought, staring at the girls more than ample cleavage.
He lay waiting for the girl to leave the room. Instead of leaving, the girl took hold of the bed cover and pulled. Sean grabbed it and pulled back. A tug of war ensued; Sean won.
'My lord', she exclaimed! 'You must bathe. It is the custom that all those who dwell in the castle do so every day'.
'I do bathe every day', Sean replied. 'But on my own'.
The girl gave him a look of exasperation. 'My Lord, it is my job to help you bathe, how else can you wash the parts your hands cannot reach?'
Sean shrugged. 'I don't suppose you have heard of a loofah', he said with a grin.
'That is a strange word to me, Sir Sean, now do I bathe you or not?'
As he was not easily embarrassed, he climbed out of the bed and deposited himself into the tub.
'When in Rome', he murmured.
After particularly hearty breakfast, Sean decided to take a stroll around the castle grounds.
He found it was a truly magnificent building, everything about it spoke of strength, and power. Looks a lot different from the ruins we have back home, he thought.
The castle stood on a promontory of land, on three sides there was a fast flowing river. On the landward side a wide channel had been excavated, effectively turning the castle into an island.
Sean was admiring the view when he heard the beat of powerful wings. Baldev gently alighted beside him.
'Good morning my boy', Baldev greeted him. 'A fine view, and an even finer morning. I hope that you slept well'.
'Hello yourself. And yes thank you. I slept very well indeed. Some of the customs will take a little getting used to, but up to now I'm enjoying myself'.
'How was your meeting with the King?' Baldev enquired.
'I think it went well enough, I'm not sure he believed my story, but I am sure he would never have believed the truth'. Baldev nodded his agreement.
'Tell me Baldev, the King said something about trouble brewing, have you heard anything about it?'
Baldev looked serious. 'As a matter of fact I have, and it is not good'.
He explained to Sean the history of Magule, and the terrible war that had raged long ago.
'It would appear that the spell the Great Mage used upon him has been broken, and he is again raising an army. His sole purpose is to destroy King Rupert and his knights, for they are all that will prevent him from ruling the world'
Sean looked glum. 'We had the same sort of people where I come from, in the end they were defeated, but it caused a lot of suffering, and a lot of people died before it was over.
'What I don't understand, is how this Magule has lived so long. You say the last war was a hundred and fifty years ago, and that it's the same Mage, the one you call Argon, who imprisoned him. I just don't understand?'
'It is a long story, and I have not the time to tell it'. Baldev replied. 'One day I will give you a full history, but for the moment, you will just have to accept my word that some races are far longer-lived than others are. Now I must go. There are things that I must to do if the dragon clan is going to help in this conflict'.
The dragon spread his wings. 'Goodbye for the present', he called as he flew away south wards.
Standing at the side of the courtyard Sean was watching some knights at their training. Not bad, it's just like the sessions we had back home. He heard his name being called; it was Stephen, the young squire.
'We would deem it an honour if you would show us how the knights of your country use their weapons he said.
Oops! Sean thought. I've only ever done it for fun, these guys do it for a living. Still, they are only practising; I'll give it a go.
He had noticed that they were wearing chain mail. Something he did not posses. Stephen came to his rescue.
'My lord', he said. 'We seem to be of a size. May I offer you my mail, although the swords are only practise weapons, and therefore blunt edged they still can inflict a nasty bruise’.
Sean accepted with alacrity. Donning the suit, he hefted a few of the swords until he found one to his liking.
'This will do, who do I practise against?'
A rather large, hairy, and very thickset knight, who had been watching the proceedings from a bench by the wall, stood and walked over.
'I will try you, outlander', he sneered.
'That's decent of you, mind you I am a trifle rusty, so I would appreciate it if we take it easy for a few minutes', Sean replied. 'Whatever you say; outlander'.
Sean was getting a little fed up with the knight's manners, especially with this outlander thing.
As they moved to the centre of the practise area, Sean noticed the expression on Stephen's face. He looked worried, in fact very worried. That made Sean even more worried.
They faced each other and saluted with their swords. So far, just like home, he thought.
Without further warning, the burly knight launched his attack; he came at Sean swinging his weapon like a crazed windmill, forcing him to retreat.
Plenty of energy, but no style, Sean decided as he parried his opponent's wild swings, while continuing his careful retreat.
'Stand and fight', the knight yelled angrily. Sean realised that for whatever reason, this knight was not just practising. He staggered as his opponent delivered a painful blow to his side.
Enough of this: His Celtic blood surged in his veins as the battle lust took control. He went onto the inoffensive.
His realisation that he was more skilled than his opponent lent power to his sword arm. He drove the knight back across the courtyard, landing blow after blow. The knight wilted under the fury of his attack. He staggered then fell exhausted to his knees.
'I yield', he cried. Sean, who was just about to deliver a coup de grace, deflected his sword in mid swing.
The red haze that had enveloped his brain cleared; dropping his sword, he helped the knight to his feet.
'Well my friend, how do I rate for an outlander?' The knight gave a rueful smile.
'It was one of the hardest fights that I have ever experienced, if you fight like that in practise, I would not like to meet you on the field of battle. Please accept my apologies for being so churlish in my challenge, and for calling you an outlander. If you do not mind, from now on, may I call you Sir Sean?'
That's fine by me. What do I call you?' 'Eldred, is my name Sir Sean, I am one of our Kings war council, and as such, lead my own company. I would deem it an honour if you would join it, and fight at my side'.
Sean smiled and offered his hand. 'Done Sir Eldred, and please accept my apologies for taking our practise a little too seriously'.
Stephen ran over. 'A worthy battle My Lords, I think that Sir Sean has well proven his mettle. Shall we retire to the shade? I have brought wine and a haunch of venison for our midday meal'.
Back in his quarters, hot and sweaty, Sean would have given anything for a hot shower. If I were to stay here any length of time I could invent the shower and indoor plumbing, he thought. That would really make them sit up and take notice.
He rang the hand-bell for his room service.
There was a knock on the door and a serving girl entered. She was not the same girl as previously, Sean noticed. This one could have graced any glamour magazine page.
'What does My Lord require', she asked.
'I need a bath, so will you please fetch the water'.
The girl gave a bob of a curtsy. 'I will go and fetch the water at once Sire, It will take a little time to heat, but I will be as quick as possible', she said closing the door behind her.
Sean relaxed on his comfortable divan, sipping a goblet of wine. He felt exhausted. Slowly his eyelids drooped as sleep overcame him.
He awoke with a start. The servant girl was trying to remove his doublet.
'Your bath is ready My Lord, if you will only stand up I will undress and bathe you'. ‘Oh no, not again my girl’. Sean pushed her hands away.
'That will not be necessary, I can manage quite well on my own; but thanks for the offer.
The girl pouted. 'But My Lord, it is my job, if I am not allowed to do it, the chief steward may dismiss me'.
Sean, who was not one to cost anyone their job, shrugged his shoulders. 'If you put it that way how can I refuse'.
He stood while she slowly, very slowly, started to disrobe him. She was kneeling in front of him pulling his breeches off when he realised something very embarrassing was happening. He leapt into the tub, then promptly leapt out again,
'Ow! That's bloody boiling', he screamed. All thoughts of modesty forgotten.
'Oh, I am so sorry, My Lord, please forgive me My Lord, but cold water is no good for bathing. I do hope that you have not scalded anything important', she giggled.
'Get out you stupid girl' he yelled. She ran from the room, her laughter echoing down the passageway.
That night there was a feast in Sean's honour, it was to welcome him into the company of knights. Sean had never seen such an array of food and drink.
The banqueting tables sagged and groaned, threatening to collapse under the weight of food. There were suckling pigs with apples in their mouths. Haunches of venison, great cuts of prime beef, roast and boiled mutton, and a huge variety of wild fowl and other birds, plus every fruit and vegetable that was grown in the kingdom.
The walls of the great hall where bedecked with weaponry of all description. There was also an assortment of colourful banners and flags belonging to the knights.
Massive chandeliers with smoky tallow candles cast dancing shadows, as they illuminated the hall. Logs burned brightly in a huge fireplace. In front of which lay wolfhounds, very similar to the Irish variety he knew from home.
Sean looked on in wonderment. They certainly don't scrimp themselves. Any self-respecting dietitian would have a heart attack with this lot.
The only fly in the ointment as far as Sean was concerned was the difficulty he had sitting down. His buttocks felt like a slab of raw liver from his nearly boiling bath. After requesting, and getting, a feather filled cushion he began to enjoy the evening.
Wine, ale, and mead flowed like rivers, while serving girls and stewards ran to keep up with the demands of the diners.
At last, he thought, a pint. Saliva inundated his mouth just at the prospect. Now for the crunch test; how would it compare with his favourite brew; steeling himself for disappointment, he tried a mouthful.
Wow! Now I know what those real ale people were all shouting about. It tasted fantastic, without even a hint of the chemical aftertaste with which he had become so familiar.
'Sir Bryan, whom he was sitting next to, nudged him.
'How does our ale compare to your eastern ale?’ 'Fabulous', Sean spluttered, into his tankard.
He had always prided himself on having a good appetite, but this was too much. After half an hour of steady eating, he felt as though he would explode. The rest of the company, both men and women showed no sign of slowing.
King Rupert bawled down the table.
'I hear that you fought well today Sir Sean. You bested one of the best of my best'. Then he roared with laughter at his own joke. The rest of the company joining in.
You will never get on the comedians with that material, Sean thought.
The noise was tremendous. Even the group of travelling musicians that were supplying the cabaret were swamped by the sounds of knives scraping plates, and jaws chomping food.
Louder than anything, was the babble of conversation. Sean wondered how anyone could hear anything above the racket.
He awoke the following morning thinking his head would explode. It sounded as if all the rock groups in the world were performing just for his benefit. He groaned; scared to open his eyes; then there was a knock on the door.
'Come in', he whispered. It was the serving girl with his bath water.
'My lord seems to have overdone it at last nights feast', she smirked.
He sat on the edge of the bed, oblivious to his nakedness. 'If my lord will get into his bath, I will massage his shoulders, that sometimes helps a bad head'. She smiled.
'I have tested the water, it is just the right temperature, so every little thing should be safe.'
Sean was in no fit state to argue, or to appreciate her not very subtle remarks. Staggering to the tub, he lowered himself gingerly into the water, laying back while she skilfully massaged him. After some minutes he realised that her manipulations were reaching parts apart from his shoulders, he sat bolt upright.
'That's fine, you've worked wonders, you may go now'. She gazed at him in bewilderment.
'But my lord, do I not please you with my ministrations?' Sean tried to conceal his burgeoning manhood.
'I said go, vamoose, scat. Just get out'.
'As my lord commands, she pouted.
With much swaying of the hips, she left the room. As she walked down the corridor, she met another maid.
'I think that Sir Sean may be a little strange', she told her.
Sean had decided to explore the countryside around the castle, requesting young squire Stephen to accompany him. After borrowing a horse from the Kings stables, they rode out.
He was a very proficient rider. Back in his own world he was one of the best in the society at jousting.
As they were riding along the crest of a valley Sean looked down into it. At one end of the valley, there was an area where a thick mist covered the ground. Even though the sun was up, and it was hot. Sean was intrigued. Angling his mount, he headed down the valley toward it. Stephen galloped up to him.
'Best not to go down into this valley my lord, it is not safe to do so'.
'Why ever not?' Sean questioned.
'It is a place of evil magic. They say that goblins and elves live in the mist. They will capture the souls of anyone who is foolish enough to enter their domain', Stephen explained.
'I'm going to have a look; you stay here;' Sean commanded.
Although he was petrified at the prospect, Stephen insisted on accompanying him. As they approached the mist, the ground became progressively softer, the horse's hooves sinking down almost to their fetlocks.
Dismounting, Sean walked into the mist. The smell was disgusting. The further he penetrated into the mist, the soggier the ground became. From somewhere close by he could hear a bubbling sound.
Then he recognised the smell; it was naphtha. He realised that there must be a lake of oil trapped close beneath the surface.
In places, it had found a way above ground. Interesting he thought, as he beat a hasty retreat. The fumes were beginning to make his head swim. As he emerged from the mist Stephen ran over to him.
'Thanks be to the saints My Lord, you are safe; I thought not to see you again. I was sure that the evil ones had taken your soul'.
Sean smiled at him. 'You don't have to worry, there are no evil spirits in the mist, the only danger is in the cause of the mist. It is something we call naphtha where I come from, if anyone entered into without caution, they would be quickly overcome by the deadly fumes it produces; they would not survive long'.
Although it was obvious that Stephen did not understand, he did not question further.
'Come on my lad let's get back to the castle. I have some thinking to do'. Stephen obeyed with alacrity, more than glad to be leaving this place of demons.
Back in the castle, Sean asked for a meeting of the war council. Once they had all assembled, he outlined his plan. King Rupert sat deep in thought. Finally, he reached a decision.
'Your plan is most unusual, Sir Sean. I will not pretend to understand all that you have explained to us, but I am prepared to grant you all the help you need in putting it into operation'.
'With your Majesties permission I will go and organise the things that I shall need', Sean replied.
'Granted Sir Sean, time is of the utmost importance'. Sean bowed to the assemblage then left the chamber.
The war council decided to send an emissary, under a flag of truce, to meet with Magule, in the rather forlorn hope of averting the coming conflict. At the very least, it would buy them valuable time. They were ill prepared for war.
While they waited for an answer, Sean got busy.