The Last of the Last Good King
Travis J. Rodgers
It was in that cool chamber, all alone, with the sounds of pitched combat outside the door, that Doracles realized that his life was ending. His dearest wife Eridani was either dead or would soon be dead. The bodies of his sons, Dorani and Golos, had been found earlier in the day. Where Kalani, his youngest child was, Heaven alone knew.
Al-Alamra, his most trusted friend and Master of Horse, had delivered the final message only moments ago: mercenaries had gained entrance to the castle by force or fraud. Countless were dead in all corners. Eridani, who not twenty minutes earlier had gone to bed and ordered him to follow not soon after, was last seen dashing into the servant’s quarters, chased by cruel men with crueler weapons. Having delivered the message, Al-Alamra had snapped shut his helmet, steeled himself, and dashed out into the fray. The door behind him had closed, and the bar had slid back into place, locking it.
All the things that mattered to him were gone or nigh unto gone. What would be the sense in holding onto this flesh construct now? What good was a king without the will to rule? How long for this realm is a man without will to live? Yet even with these thoughts, he did not go gleefully toward death; even he hesitated.
Was it age or nerves that slowed his hands then, as they pulled on the shirt of chainmail? He hadn’t donned the thing for any reason but pomp and ceremony in nearly a decade. That, perhaps, was his legacy: having rendered weapons and armor largely unnecessary for half a generation. These past actions, however, were no comfort to him now. His heart drummed in his chest, and he pulled the hauberk into place. In his left hand, he hefted the scepter of rulership. In his right, he clutched the mace known as Moh-drekka, the Bone Smasher. He hefted it uncertainly, having grown unaccustomed to the weight of it through neglect.
These accoutrements in place, the king’s thoughts were immediately upon Eridani. He resolved to set eyes upon her one more time, whether she be alive for dead. That affirmation steeled him, and fresh vigor spread to his limbs as a living fire in his veins. And as he strode to the door and took one final deep breath, little did he know that he would soon provide fodder to bards for generations.
The din of battle had scarcely abated, and when the door was cast open, the old king nearly faltered. The royal guard’s long knives flashed here and there amid a sea of bodies, their once-green tabards stained through with the blood of heroes. Woven among them like infected tendrils were the Swords of Sylva, mercenaries loyal to Lastan, who had set himself grimly about earning the epithet “the Cruel.” Their long, curved blades cut arcs through the fray, laying bodies in disordered heaps outside the throne room.
When once they all laid eyes upon the king, both sides redoubled their efforts – the Swords to slay him and the guard to honor and protect. Fit warriors spun deathcraft on both sides, but it was Doracles whose fervor soon made its mark upon the skirmish. He fended off a sword stroke with his scepter and drove the mace through a young father’s face, smashing bone into the pulp of the brain within. The glory of war so often stops at the limits of the battlefield, and Doracles was not oblivious to the heavy cost all death bore along with it. Thus did he think of the slain man as a father even in death.
“Moh-drekka!” a swordsman cursed, terror in his voice. Few enough saw the weapon anywhere but in a ceremonial display or hanging from the hip of the rightful king. Doracles initiated a display of another kind.
The mace hammered at a sword arm, reducing it to a limp and useless sack of flesh and bone fragments. He hammered aside another thrust, this time with the scepter. Inspired by proximity to this display of prowess, the royal guard felt fresh blood flow into weary limbs. Within moments of his arrival, Doracles had turned the tide. The horde was driven back across the long hall. The king grunted with effort, but he let no scream or taunt slip his lips as he continued the path down the long hall. In an instant, Al-Alamra was at his side, parrying blows meant for the king with a long knife, opening an angle of attack for Moh-drekka. A collar bone shattered here, a face erupted in gore there, and the king’s guard continued.
Each stride of the hall was won at the cost of blood, fighting vigor, and here and there a life. Just as inexorably as the group traversed the hall, the number of those traversing diminished. The sands of both glasses were scant, and it was unclear which would reach an end sooner.
The sea of green swept forward, strewing corpses along the hall. The simple black tabards of the Swords were intermingled, indeed in greater numbers. Doracles had no idea how many of them there might be, and he hadn’t the time then to think of these things. That he left to Al-Alamra. His Master of Horse’s beard, touched here and there with grays and whites under better times, protruded beneath his helm, matted with red clumps. A decade younger than the king, Al-Alamra had always looked up to the man. Though the younger man held the advantage in terms of pure fighting skill, the older man always impressed him with the sheer passion he threw into the battle. When it was the right thing to do, Doracles gave no thought to his safety in battle. He thought not of what role he would play beyond the fray. The two of them had won numerous battles against the goblin horde, and Doracles had felled Etta, the Trollking in single combat. That was more than a decade ago, and Doracles had hefted the mace less and less as peace spread throughout Regis and the remainder of the kingdom of Sylva.
Unlike Doracles, Al-Alamra could not help but think to the future. Before now he had always imagined himself growing old at the side of his king. He had postponed restarting a family after his wife had been slain in the first goblin raids. That postponement had always seemed temporary in his mind. It now seemed the chance had been ripped from him. This, however, was neither more nor less than what his duty demanded. These thoughts flitted through his mind as he parried a sword stroke that threatened to lop off Doracles’s scepter arm at the elbow. Al-Alamra wondered where this path led.
“Round the corner!” The Last Good King bellowed, though at the time none called him that, for none knew then what the future held.
“Press hard!” Al-Alamra ordered, and the Royal Guard pushed with renewed vigor. The front ranks clashed; the greens led by the king and his man while the Swords resisted, led by Jeance, a mustachioed and neatly coiffed dandy whose slender blade danced with almost inhuman speed and prowess.
“What a boon it would have been to turn these Swords to our advantage.”
Even in the pitch of battle, Al-Alamra managed an appreciation of their skill. The greens pressed; the blood-slick floor proved too hard for the Swords to hold the line. Cast back on their heels, they fell prey to the flashing steel of the Royal Guard. Al-Alamra himself put an end to Jeance, and the king himself felled a mountain of a man called Dwomir.
Round the corner they did, and the door to the servant’s chamber revealed itself. Doracles’s heart welled with hope as he noted that it was closed. He thought of Eridani for a half moment before forcing his focus to the matter at hand. Shield splintered beneath Moh-drekka while a blade rent mail and bore into his Doracles’s stomach. The weapon retreated, bathed in crimson. Al-Alamra gave no opportunity for the young Swordsman to savor the wound. Perpetual night cloaked that one.
The king’s movements were noticeably slowed but only for a moment. With a primal curse, he brought a vicious overhead blow to shatter sword and skull alike. The Royal Guard dipped into unimaginable reserves of energy and again renewed the furor of their attack.
“Every last man dies!” Doracles bellowed, both an order and a warning. There would be no escape for any man in that hall. Best they be aware of their fate.
Al-Alamra slashed another throat, reducing the Swords before the door to a handful, and perhaps twice that among the Royal Guard remaining at the king’s back. As the two men – King and Master of Horse – continued to weave death before them, the shrieks of their falling comrades were grim portents that the archers of the Swords had arrived.
The final swordsman blocking the door fell, his jaw removed from his body, tongue desperately fumbling with speech, and the king was at the door, unlocking it with trembling fingers. Al-Alamra turned to cover his back, deflecting what arrows he could from his sire. There were simply too many, but to his undying credit, Al-Alamra blocked those with his body that his shield could not. The door opened, Doracles stumbled in, Al-Alamra fell to his back just inside the door, and the archers continued their slaughter in the hall.
What greeted Doracles was death and sadness. Eridani lie in the corner, hands still clutching the hilt of a dagger in the back of a soldier who had collapsed upon her in dying, trapping her beneath his armored bulk. Doracles’s eyes flashed with rage.
“Eridani!” The words choked out of him. He rushed to her side, realizing that every step was agony, no escaping those wounds. His life flowed out onto the tiles beneath him. Her eyes flitted then met his. She, too, had suffered a mortal wound. They recognized this mutual doom and embraced one another through tears and even half-laughs.
“I’d have it no other way,” Doracles sobbed. “You in my arms.”
“Forever,” Eridani whispered.
They say that a day will come when the king rises again, and those faithful to him will rise as well to protect him. He will stand, as he did in life, for truth and justice. He will rule again with love, and he will stamp out wickedness. Al-Alamra, Master of Horse, saw the dying couple and swore that if his devotion could go to no woman of the realms, then he would devote his days beyond this world to protecting the spirit of that couple.
So it was the Doracles, the Last Good King, met his end on the Seventh of Mid-Summer, 1325.