Authors: Becky York
Tags: #fantasy, #space travel, #knights, #medieval fantasy, #knights and castles, #travel between worlds, #travel adventure fiction, #knights and fantasy, #travels through time and space, #fantasy about hidden places
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The battle was lost.
The old enemy had returned, more
powerful, more cunning, more ruthless than ever before. They had
swarmed across the darkening sky, killing all in their way until
the tower itself was at their mercy.
The sacred tower! The very cord of
The young woman stood on the ledge
beside the breach. Her hands reached down as if to pick up the
child who slept far below, the child she would never hold
“My poor boy!” she cried. Then she
Roland’s father had promised he
would return "from the dawn”. Roland knew that it really meant from
the east, but still he made sure that every day he watched at sun
rise, hoping to see his father riding back across the meadows. The
bold knight had been gone for over a year now
Roland’s mother had died when he was a baby and he had no brothers
and sisters. At just ten years of age he was left as master of his
own castle – or, at least, he was
As usual, on a bright spring
morning he leapt from his bed, dressed and quietly made his way
from his bedroom up the winding staircase to the top of the tower.
For a while now his bedroom had been in the oldest and smallest
tower in the castle. It was draughty and cold but he didn’t mind.
It was supposed to be a punishment but really he was very thankful
that he was a long way away from his aunt and uncle. The tower was
very old, so old that no one remembered why the staircase ended
abruptly, with only the broken promise of more storeys above and
only a steep drop beyond the topmost step. Whatever was meant to be
up there had never been built, hence it was known as the
From the top of the bit that
been completed Roland could peer out into the mists of
the dawn, as he did every morning.
He sighed as he stared out at the
hills beyond the castle, then down at the castle itself. It had
once been beautiful, its towers gleaming proudly before the dawn,
but now it was wrecked, broken, smashed as if a hurricane had
passed through it – or a madman in a rage armed with some monstrous
siege weapon. The madman bit was probably right – or at least half
right – as Roland suspected that his uncle was half mad. Roofs had
been torn off to expose secret rooms that didn’t exist, walls had
been torn down to reveal secret passages that were no more real,
the ground had been dug up to unearth secret chambers that had
never been there in the first place.
Uncle Dagarth and Auntie Hildegrind
had arrived almost the moment after Roland’s father had gone – to
“check Roland was alright,” they said – they would “only stay a few
days.” Those few days turned into a month and that turned into yet
more months … Slowly, various members of their own retinue arrived
together with Roland's cousins, Dogwood and Dagwood. Dogwood and
Dagwood were slightly older and rather bigger than Roland was, and
rather nasty too.
From the moment he arrived Dagarth
had begun to ask questions – actually only one question, but put
many times, in many different ways. At first he had been subtle, or
as subtle as he could be, which wasn’t really very subtle at all.
He had become even less subtle, and quite overbearing, as time had
gone on. The question was: “Where is the treasure?” or just “Where
is it? Well! Come on!”
When he didn’t get the reply he
wanted he threw a tantrum. He waved his arms about and shouted: “I
know there is treasure here! I was sent away from here as a child
before I could learn its secret – to stop me learning its secret! I
was deprived of it!
I was a deprived child!”
He asked everyone; Roland, the
servants, the men-at-arms — and Firebrace, of course.
Firebrace had been vassal to
Roland’s father, and his father before that. He had fought side by
side with both in many campaigns. The old man had been left to look
after Roland whilst his father was away, but he could do nothing to
prevent Roland’s uncle from taking over the castle. Dagarth was a
lord in his own right. Firebrace was a mere commoner. Firebrace had
watched on as the usurper took over the castle as if it didn’t
really matter and nothing important was happening. That infuriated
Dagarth too, who got even more angry when he interrogated the old
man. “Where is it? Where is the treasure?”
“It is not hidden,” Firebrace
“Well, why can’t I find it then?”
“Because you can’t see it,”
Firebrace had responded, and Roland had stifled a giggle.
“I know that you idiot! If I could
see it I would have found it wouldn’t I! Now tell me where it is so
“You could see it if you had eyes,”
Firebrace said. “It is between the earth and the sky.”
“Everything is between the earth
and the sky you old fool! You won’t have any eyes if you don’t tell
And Dagarth tugged the end of the
old man’s beard. In response Firebrace stared into his eyes with a
look that made Dagarth stand back, fearful for a moment and
“Throw the old fool in the moat!”
Auntie Hildegrind said, spouting the words out around a chicken
drumstick clamped between her teeth. “Clap hot irons on him!”
Dogwood and Dagwood, took up the
suggestion. “Yes! Clap hot irons on him! Set his beard on fire!
We’ll do it! We’ll do it!”
They both ran to the roaring fire,
pulled out burning sticks and ran around with them.
“I haven’t finished with you old
man!” Dagarth growled in the most sinister of ways. He turned his
back on Firebrace and walked back to his throne.
The throne was something that
puzzled Roland. Why did Uncle Dagarth need one? Roland’s father had
never had one –he had never found it necessary. He sat on the
ordinary chairs like everyone else. Now there was a grand throne
and the living room had become
throne room, a cold and
cheerless place where once there had been warmth and laughter.
After the questioning had failed
the demolition had started. men-at-arms had been ordered about with
pick axes and shovels, rushing about like a scavenger hunt in full
armour. It looked quite silly and Roland had laughed at it. Perhaps
that was the final straw that had got him sent to the tower. It had
been long coming, according to Auntie Hildegrind, as he was being
so stubborn and defiant by not letting his poor cousins have their
share of the family fortune. “Shame on you!” She had
chided, “How selfish can you be? A few months in the Unfinished
Tower might help you feel more charitable and giving…”
Roland had had a tough few months.
As he continued to stare out from the top of the tower that spring
morning he wondered why his father had left him to such a plight.
How could his father have done this? Deciding not to dwell upon it,
he went back to his room, washed and went to the hall for breakfast
and the usual interrogation, with the usual question.
Roland was only allowed out of the
tower for meals – and questioning, but on this day Auntie
Hildegrind had other plans for him. It was time to commence
knightly training – not his, but that of Dogwood and Dagwood. After
breakfast-stroke-interrogation he reported to the courtyard where
his auntie and cousins were waiting impatiently.
“Where have you been Roland?”
“Usual breakfast grill,” Roland
“Well, you should have answered the
question truthfully by now, then you wouldn’t have had to keep us
waiting,” and she turned to her own sons. “Now boys, you mustn’t
tease little Roland, just because you are strong and brave and he
is the – almost certainly - illegitimate son of a proven, craven,
coward who ran away and left him. Just because he is a little
scoundrel who won’t share the fortune that is secreted somewhere in
the walls of this castle – and won’t tell us where – it doesn’t
mean that you have any right to be nasty to him…”
First Dogwood and Dagwood were to
learn swordplay, and were given bright new swords forged by the
castle’s blacksmith. Auntie Hildegrind handed them to her sons, and
had then turned to Roland. “Now Roland, because you are never going
to be any good at swordplay and you might hurt someone,” – and she
looked at her own sons – “I am only going to give you a pretend
sword,” and she pretended to hand Roland a pretend sword. Roland
pretended to take it, and pretended to look at it.
“We must keep
in mind at all times,” Auntie Hildegrind said.
Dogwood and Dagwood also had shiny
new suits of armour also specially forged by the blacksmith. They
looked very smart too, despite the fact that they clanked every
time they moved.
“Roland,” Auntie Hildegrind
insisted, “must have some protection. After all, one day he might
be willing to tell us where the treasure is,” and she gave him
another of her special issue inquiring glares.
An old chain mail tunic had been
found for Roland. It was much too large for him, but he was glad of
it as it protected him right down to his knees. It also had a few
holes which he had had to darn for himself with some wire and a
pair of pliers.
“We must make sure that you aren’t
tempted to move during the exercises so I am going to tie this belt
around your ankles,” Auntie Hildegrind said, making sure that it
was nice and tight and that Roland was totally immobile, as if he
had been glued to the spot.
“All we need now is a target,”
Auntie Hildegrind said. She produced a round piece of cork with
concentric rings on it to fix to Roland’s chest. “Now boys,” she
said to her sons, “you know what to aim at!”
Dogwood and Dagwood did their best
to miss the target and hit Roland instead. They took great pleasure
in lunging and thrusting at his chest whilst he did his best to
parry with his pretend sword. If they had been any good Roland
would probably have been hurt, but even with an immobilised target
their attempts to injure him were puny.
After the swordplay they moved on
to jousting practice. This consisted of Roland running around with
one of the boys on his back. Whichever one it was – Roland was
beyond caring which – had a lance and the idea was that Roland
carried them up to a target which they were supposed to hit with
it. It wasn’t very successful as both of the boys took great
pleasure in digging their spurs into his sides, causing him to
“It really isn’t
Auntie Hildegrind scolded. “Roland! How are my boys to have proper
practise at jousting if you
run in a straight
After the knightly training was
over Auntie Hildegrind left the boys to play by themselves for a
while: “You boys play together nicely – and remember don’t tease
little Roland, even if he is weaker than you and is never going to
be anything noble or glorious or even fit to look after your
horses! I am off to consume a pig with a very large plate a
truffles followed by several roast chickens…”
After Auntie Hildegrind had waddled
off Dogwood and Dagwood turned to Roland.
little cousin, why won’t you tell us where the treasure is?”
“I don’t know where it is,” Roland
replied, quite honestly.
“Our dad will get it out of you!”
Dagwood said. “You’re weak and puny! I bet you fight like a girl -
just like your dad! He ran off ‘cos he was too scared to defend the
treasure and thought he would be killed for it!”
“It’s not true!” Roland said, “At
least my dad isn’t crazy, going around whining and shouting all the
Dogwood became angry and pushed
Roland as Dagwood put out his foot to trip him. Roland fell
backward into the mud. Dogwood laughed and told Roland, “Your dad
wet his pants and ran away, so he could wet his pants another
Dagwood added: “And now his son has
wet pants too! Suits them both!” and they both laughed.
From the edge of the courtyard
Firebrace watched on, his face growing red with anger.
Back in his room, clothes changed,
Roland collapsed on his bed. He was exhausted, depressed and angry,
especially about what
about his father. He clenched his fists but then tried to