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A Line in the Sand

He could hardly breathe. He tried to sit up, but the rubble was too heavy. He worked one hand free and then another and began to push the stones aside, stones that had once been part of the mighty Glamis Castle.
What had happened to its princess?
At the thought, he fought harder to dig himself out of the ruins of his life. He was a Rose Knight, famous throughout the lands of Hy Rugosa for his flamboyance and his ringing laugh, a Crimson Knight who carried the proud name of Diabolo Hawk. What was left to him now, with the rubble of Glamis Castle all around him, the demesne he had sworn to defend with his life?
And its princess--he had sworn to defend her life, too.
He crawled out of the wreckage of the once impressive walls shot to bits by the cannons of the Armies of the Sun, wondering how he had managed to survive. His life would be nothing if she were dead.
He stumbled over the ruins, searching for a sign of life, ignoring the salty tears streaming down his face. He saw legs and arms and crushed skulls, but no compatriots, none of the residents of Glamis Castle.
Suddenly something jumped on his shoulder, chattering hysterically.
Even though it was only a tame monkey, the relief of feeling a living thing on his back in this wasteland of death had him crying even harder.
Then through the monkey's chatter, he heard the distant crying of another. It was she, the princess of Glamis Castle.
She sat on a rock at the edge of the lake, her legs tucked underneath her. There was what looked like a line in the dirt in front of her, a sign that seemed particularly significant to Diabolo now, given the ruins of their life illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun.
At his limping approach, she looked up. No longer alone, her pride took over; she squared her shoulders and her tears stilled. But the dark sheen was still enough to make his heart turn over. Some said she was the daughter of an angel, others that she was a forest goddess in disguise--but if the second were true, her disguise was not particularly good, given her penchant for garments in shades of green and brown. And the former was surely no more than the kind of compliment one made a princess, since she was much too earthy for any comparison to an angel.
She hugged the ruins of her green gown around her shoulders. "Diabolo. You survived. I am so glad."
"As am I that you still live, Lady." How strange that they stood here at the edge of the lake, the ruins of their lives at their backs, exchanging formalities, given the intimacies they had once exchanged in the freedom of the dark. He longed to take her in his arms, kiss the bruises on her face, make everything good again.
The monkey on his back grabbed fistfulls of his hair and began hopping up and down, screaming loudly.
A choked laugh escaped the princess's lips, and she rose, taking his hands.
"I failed, Lady," he said, bowing his head over their hands and the line in the dirt. "What can I do to make it up to you?"
She sighed. "I think only the fortune of the dragon can help me know."
"Then I will go in search of it for you."
She dropped his hands. "No, Diabolo, I did not mean it! Glamis Castle cannot be rebuilt. I will go to my relatives in Felixtown and seek help."
His hands empty, he gazed out at the lake. "Nonetheless, I will seek a dragon." He stepped back and bowed, the monkey chattering and scrambling for a hold on his dented armor. "And when I have found it, I will come in search of you and we will rebuild our lives."
He turned and walked away before he could add the "together" that threatened to spring to his lips.
Finding a dragon's lair was easier said than done--much like regaining the love of a princess. He chased rumors to the many reaches of the lands of the Rose Knights, from the Moonwood, to the Hill Gardens, to the Salt Mountains, while the monkey on his back chattered encouragement and deprecations. At times, stories of the princess reached him: she was in training as a Rose Knight herself; she had taken on the name of her former home, Glamis Castle; she was fighting at the side of her cousins in the Summer Lands.
He amused himself with writing tales for her, which he would recite in castle and town square while the monkey, now renamed Sun King, danced and did somersaults. And to his surprise, he discovered he had a talent for entertaining crowds and bringing them laughter. Whereas once he had wielded a sword and brought fear, now he wielded words and moved people to smiles and tears. Village and town and knight's holding, one and all they looked forward to when the Crimson Knight in the tattered surcoat with the monkey on his back would arrive again on his journeys.
But the power of the word went farther than a morning of laughter in a market square. Diabolo found that when he made Sun King dance while telling mocking tales of the armies that had destroyed the demesne of Glamis Castle, the power of those armies to terrorize the people north of the Summer Lands grew less and less.
And when he told epic stories of the princess turned knight now known as Glamis herself, her reputation grew with each telling. He never saw her, but it connected them somehow, and it made him smile.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 9th, 2019
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