I’ve previously posted the prologue for “Smackdown,” but here’s a little taste of what our heroine has been up to since “An Affair with Wizards.”
* * * * * *
Renee the Righteous paced around a rectangular desk in the Dark Castle’s library. As her Questing outfit was being cleaned in anticipation of tomorrow’s Grand Gathering, she wore a silk gown of purple twilight embedded with so many white gems that she sparkled like the night sky—the same one she wore when she had her first meal with Lieutenant Lival. The skirt of her gown chirped like mating crickets from the speed of her movements. She twirled a finger around a strand of her flaming hair, her sky-colored eyes distant in deep thought.
“Be careful that you do not make your dress explode into flames with the friction of your strides,” said Brother Malicide with a soft chuckle.
The Head Monk sat firm upon the chair with a plush crimson cushion and could not help but feel like nothing more than a drop of water in the ocean that was the library. The room was a kingdom of its own; its borders defined by walls of books that matched the average castle tower. They were alone, but members of the Dark Guard stood outside the various entryways to make sure they remained that way under Renee’s orders.
Brother Malicide glanced upon the open book before him. He folded his arms across his chest and watched his adopted daughter with soft brown eyes. He wore a white robe that gave him the radiance of an angel, with the licorice hair that grew along the sides of his head made the baldness on top seem like a halo. It was his brother monks who fashioned his attire, for they had named him a saint for coming back from the dead when the nunnery fell, and they felt as though Brother Malicide should look the part. At that particular moment, he exercised all of the saintly patience in his bones as Renee circled around him.
“I know the words,” Renee said with a clipped tone. “I have run them through my mind so often that they appear in my dreams.”
“Perhaps,” Brother Malicide replied with coolness, “you would remember more if you spent less time with the lieutenant and more time concentrating on your queenly studies.”
Renee nearly choked on her own phlegm. “I do not know what you are referring to, dearest Monk Daddy.”
Brother Malicide’s tone did not waiver. “I sensed Lival’s heart racing last night, and I only feel such a pace whenever I espy you two in an embrace. However, you did more than cuddle last night, did you not?”
Renee froze. Sometimes she forgot that a part of Lival’s soul remained inside Brother Malicide, and he could sense everything they did together. Renee could have kicked herself when she could think of nothing for a retort than, “Umm…”
“Do I need to schedule guards to stand watch at your chamber door or tie you to your bed and the lieutenant down upon his own?”
“No,” Renee snapped. “I am not the foolish lover you think I am. I have studied the words.”
“Then prove it by reciting them correctly.”
Renee’s swallow was stuck in her throat for a few moments. She stopped in mid-stride, took a step backwards, and faced Brother Malicide from across the table. “I, Renee the Righteous, being a mighty Quester and Champion of the Monastery of Quaal, do by swear upon my life to uphold the laws of the Kingdom of Quaal as its Queen. I shall be as the protective father, the nurturing mother, and shall care for my people as such parents care for their children. No task is too small, nor any matter too trivial, for me to turn aside in a haughty scoff. My blood is your blood, my soul is your soul, and my essence belongs to my kingdom.”
Renee smirked upon her adopted father, but it melted from her face as he stared at her in silence.
“You forgot the part about not turning away from your duties, in good times or bad.”
Renee released a groan. “I got the gist of it. That shall suffice when I am crowned.”
“Every monarch in Quaal has spoken these words when they inherited the throne,” Brother Malicide said, “even King Jesterous.”
“That king was a psychopathic jerk face,” Renee cringed as she reflected upon her misadventures in the last monarch’s magical labyrinth, “so I do not think it would so terrible if I did things differently from him.”
Brother Malicide rubbed his eyes. “I think we are both weary from this royal exercise,” he said as he closed the heavy book, “and perhaps you shall get all the words right after you have taken some rest. I must admit, I am surprised that this Lord Asher Dark fellow even has such royal law books in his castle. All matters of the last royal House of Quaal were supposed to be stored at the monastery.”
“It does not surprise me that there is so much dust upon this literature,” Renee spoke between coughing fits from the cloud of dust that sprung when Brother Malicide closed the book. “It is not uncommon for the highborn to hoard the greatest treasures of the world and then disregard them once something of greater value crosses their paths.”
“Do not speak so harshly against the highborn,” Brother Malicide scolded. “As queen, you shall have to treat everyone with equal respect and not give preference for one type of folk over another. Besides, it is for the best that these books were kept here, for they would have been lost forever amongst the ruins of the monastery.”
“Not all were lost,” Renee said. “We still have the original Book of Crappola and most of the Great Books that tell the legend of King Jesterous and the Sword of Power, even though they are damaged.”
“Our brother monks shall mend them back to their original state with time.”
“I fear we may not have such luxury as we did before the War of the Nuns started,” said Renee. “The nuns have destroyed many villages of Quaal, with the survivors fleeing here for refuge. I fear that the nuns are setting up a trap: with all of Quaal locked up in this gilded cage, they only have to destroy the Dark Castle in one last grand battle in order to win the war.”
“That scenario has entered my thoughts as well,” Brother Malicide spoke with graveness. “That is why we must rush through this crowning. After you tell your tale at the Grand Gathering, you shall be named queen for being the last living person to possess the Sword of Power before it was lost. As the first monarch of Quaal in three thousand years, your authority shall be the glue that holds this kingdom together. All shall flock to your banner and fight by your side. Perhaps even some nuns who are not too wicked shall come to their senses and abandon Sister Ferriera as the laws of Quaal decree that they should upon naming a new monarch.”
Brother Malicide panted. He had never fully regained his strength from his experience with death, and his words had enough wind to blow a children’s sailing toy across a bathtub.
Renee glided to Brother Malicide’s side of the table and kissed him upon his brow. “The sun on the horizon settles down upon its earthly bed for the night, and you shall also take some rest. I think I should study the words a few more times before I yield to slumber. I shall only get one opportunity to speak them all correctly, and I cannot fail my kingdom, nor those whom I love.”
Brother Malicide was much too weary to argue. “Do not stay up too late, my dear daughter. For all you have accomplished, tomorrow shall be one of your greatest tasks in your young life.”
Renee smiled. “If you could do me a favor, though, and make certain that Lieutenant Lival is safely tucked into our bedchamber? I would hate to lash out against my adopted brothers if I find that they have pulled another prank on him.”
Brother Malicide arched an eyebrow. “Our bedchamber? So you are sharing such quarters despite my lectures.”
Renee batted her eyelashes, but her cutesy demeanor did not make her adopted father flinch. “I am a queen-to-be, and I should have the right to share by bed with whomever I like.”
“Not until he is wedded as your king. I shall be glad to escort Lieutenant Lival to the bedchamber I designated for him when we first arrived. You should remain in your own, or I shall send guards to make sure you do.”
Renee bit her tongue, her eyes fixed upon the book. “As you wish, my dear Monk Daddy.”
Brother Malicide rolled his eyes upon his adopted daughter’s dramatics. “Do not look so forlorn with me, child. We shall settle this matter properly once you are queen and the nuns are defeated once and for all.”
Brother Malicide stood, and Renee escorted him to the nearest entryway. They said their goodnight partings before two members of the Dark Guard escorted Brother Malicide away.
Renee returned to the book and re-read the monarch’s oath. Although her heart was glad to be reunited with her monk daddy, Renee wished she still had the freedom to follow her passion as she did when she traveled alone upon her Quest for the Sword of Power.
Renee lit a lamp when the day’s light faded, and she did not leave the library until the inhabitants of the Dark Castle were fast asleep. The green-cloaks who stood watch had changed shifts, and Renee relieved them of library guarding before she departed. They took to their posts along the castle walls, and despite their pleas, Renee would not allow any of them to escort her through the castle.
Hunger tore through Renee, and she made a short stop in the kitchen before she went to her chambers. She ate a light meal of cheese and fruit with only one goblet of wine to wash it down. With the limited supplies being consumed by so many residents, Renee felt it would be unqueenly of her to eat more than anyone else. It did not take much to fill her slender belly, and she slipped out of the kitchen before any passing guards could take notice.
Renee held her lantern aloft as she sashayed down the hallway, the skirt of her dress swooshing with every footfall. She reflected upon how she told Bonder the Wonder that she would never don another frilly dress again once he dressed her in a true Quester’s attire. She nearly laughed at herself for her youthful foolishness—not that having eighteen years of life under her belt made her a wise elder. The hallway was just as opulent as the rest of the Dark Castle, with ten-foot statues of the Dark House lining the way. Renee paid no heed of them… until a shadow sprouted from the base of the Lord Masher Dark’s image and crept across the crimson velour carpet.
Renee whipped out her mighty blade, Megan (formerly K’jillin, Fang of the East). As she stalked toward the source of the shadow, she held her breath as the man’s head produced an image of black, spiky hair. Renee could not slow her breathing and charged around the base of the statue with a mighty Quester’s cry.
No one was there. Renee panted as her eyes darted around, but she was alone in the hallway. She shook her head, and the shadow Renee sworn was there had disappeared. Renee was glad no one was there to witness her hasty act of humiliation. She heard the gossip and knew that somewhere, Guy Smokes wandered amongst the other refugees of the Dark Castle. What Renee did not know was if he would attempt to extract revenge upon her again, as he had through Ayagross. Renee shivered as she recalled that slob of a wizard pouring his love potion down her throat. She knew she deserved some sort of punishment for her treatment of Guy once the Sword of Power was lost, but Renee did not know how far his broken heart would push him, and that frightened her more than any potential threat from Sister Ferriera—the Mother Superior would just slay Renee and be done with it.
Renee made her way to the stairs that led to her bedchambers, but the incident in the hallway had shaken her nerves. She dashed back where she came and traveled through several hallways before she made it to the other side of the castle tower. She knew where her monk daddy had designated Lival’s sleeping chambers. Despite a nagging voice of conscience that told her not to disobey Brother Malicide’s wishes, she made her way to her lover.
Lival’s room was originally made for a servant, but it was no less rich than any other part of the Dark Castle—just a bit smaller. His suit of armor was propped in the corner as a silent guardian that gleamed from the moonlight seeping through billowing curtains. The suit’s metal arms were stretched out, Lival’s clothes draped across them.
Lieutenant Lival lay upon a bed of cotton sheets, his hands folded across his bare pecs, and his turquoise eyes wide open like a living corpse. He wore nothing except for the bracelet of Gonarth that Renee bestowed upon him and knickers of plum-colored silk, but that suited Renee just fine. Certainly her monk daddy would not be able to sense that they were together if the lieutenant was fast asleep.
Renee planted herself next to Lival and ran her fingers through his muddy-colored hair. Vernon may have taken the young lieutenant’s soul, but he could not steal the man’s heart. Upon the heat of Renee’s touch, Lival melted from his frozen state. His eyelids closed, and his muscles loosened into its proper relaxed state of slumber. Renee hugged Lival, resting her nose against his neck. He did not stir from his slumber, but his right arm stretched out and wrapped around Renee’s shoulders, pulling her into him.
Renee was just about to drift into sleep when the wooden door creaked open. Megan was unsheathed before the intruder had time to release a proper yelp. Renee released a wind of relief when a portly member of the Dark Guard raised his palms.
“Forgive the intrusion, my lady,” the man said, keeping his eyes fixed on Megan. “You were not in your chambers, and I guessed correctly that this would be the only other place I would find you.”
Renee was glad that the darkness of the night hid her blushing. Perhaps she was a bit too open about her relationship with Lieutenant Lival.
“Well, you have found me,” Renee hissed. “What is it that you want?”
“We caught a brazen fellow trying to sneak out of the castle. We thought it was a nun at first, but he proved to be a young lad once we removed his cloak. We thought it would be best to tell you of him right away—he could be a spy for those wicked nuns for all we know.”
Renee nodded as she sheathed Megan. “Take me to him.”
The man turned quickly on his heels. Renee hopped out of the bed, and Lival’s fingers wrapped around her wrist. His eyelids only opened a crack wide, but he held her tight despite his sleepiness.
“I shall return with all haste,” Renee whispered.
She planted a kiss upon Lival’s lips, the stubble of his groomed beard pricking her skin. Renee glided to the door and took another glance upon Lival, who had returned to his stiff pose of slumber.
Renee suppressed her grumbles as she followed the green-cloak. He was quick despite his girth, but perhaps it was the fear of Renee’s temper that gave his feet such speed. Renee twisted her free hand around Megan’s hilt, ready to take vengeance against this captive who would keep her separated from her lover.
She groaned as the green-cloak led her out of the tower to an awaiting carriage—this issue would not be quick to fix.
It took nearly half an hour for the golden carriage to make its way to the main gate. Although smaller than the one that remained wedged between the tree trunks in the Dark Wood, it had the same type of luxurious seats that made Renee fall asleep during the ride. She jostled awake when the cart came to a halt, and she recognized the main gate area where she talked to Guy about the need to slay evil in the name of the Holy Light.
She was led to the top of the guard’s tower, which was made of the same ivory-painted stones as the rest of the castle. The very top, though, seemed unusually bland in comparison to the castle’s ambience. The interior stone walls were not painted to match the ivory hue, and there was no furniture except a simple table made of light wood and an emergency horn used for fast communication mounted upon the wall. There were no bars or drapes upon the open slit that served as a window, and the summer’s evening breeze blew in without restraint.
Renee glanced to her right and held her breath. Tied to a simple wooden chair that matched the desk was the captured man, his arms bound behind his back, a brown rag wound around his mouth. His legs were bound to the legs of the chair, and thusly he could not escape.
Renee’s eyes grew wide when she saw him. Her throat went dry; her blood tingled with fearful apprehension. She wanted nothing more than to turn tail and run.
“You seem nervous about this fellow,” said a green-cloak. “Shall we kill him?”
Renee pursed her lips for a few moments before she replied.