Part 9: Level One: The Elf-King & The Black KnightLevel One: The Elf-King & The Black Knight
Righto. We've foolishly decided to join the lists in a knightly tournament despite not being a knight, or you know, being armed with more than a dagger. Now Gonzaga the Black Knight is about to plant a lance in our skulls.
Things could be going better, is what I'm saying. The good news is we can get ourselves out of this. As mentioned by someone already, fleeing is not an option; Gonzaga could easily ride us down and kill us (see below if you're interested in specifics). So we'll have to stand our ground:
Bravely, you stand your ground. You dodge under the lance, and leap to the saddle, trying to knock Gonzaga from his mount.
This is probably the only sensible strategy, to unhorse Gonzaga so he can't just ride us down. Unfortunately, we're not exactly a superhero here.
Alas, the knightly saddle is different from the riding saddles with which you are familiar. It is designed to keep its rider mounted at any cost. The black knight sways, but does not fall. You slide your dagger in a crack at the elbow. He flinches but does not cry out.
We've scored a hit! Unfortunately, we must now either slide back to the ground or try to remain on Gonzaga's horse. You know what? This was a stupid idea, let's get the hell off this thing.
You slide to the ground. Gonzaga rides on, then turns his horse. He stands, and breathes heavily for a moment. "Bravely done," he says. "I will accept your surrender."
Even though we were theoretically winning, there's absolutely no chance of us actually taking Gonzaga down. In a rare moment of honor in this dishonorable tourney, he's offering us a way to stay alive and save face by getting in one good hit and yielding. We've proved ourselves, so let's get the hell out of here and take that offer.
Gonzaga nods sagely. "I salute thee," he says, riding to you and leaning over. "If you wish to live," he whispers, "depart now, before you are matched again. No other knight here will spare you."
It seems that the black knight is the one sorta-nice guy here. Just our luck. But we still have a quest to fulfill, so...
Fighting again isn't an option. We barely managed to survive Gonzaga. Let's go find the exit, at least, and see what we can do.
You do find the exit. It is guarded by a dozen alert men-at-arms.
Well hrm. Maybe we can sweet talk them into letting us through?
They laugh at you and refuse to let you pass.
Y'know, clearly we're missing something here. Maybe we need to head back to those elven woods after all, and this time follow that piping sound.
As you wander through the forest, entranced by the sound, you suddenly notice that a man is blocking your path. He must have been standing there for minutes as you approached, but you did not see him until you were mere inches away.
No, you realize, it is no man. He stands at least two feet taller than you, and his body is painfully thin. The skin, the hair, and the eyes are all pale, paler than those of the fairest maiden. There is a dangerous glint in his eggshell eyes.
Ah yes, an elf in the Elven Woods. I guess we should probably have expected that. Asking about the maze is no help, as he's none too friendly.
Ask About Maze: He stares at you unperturbedly. In a voice just above a whisper, he says, "This is not a tourist advisory station. Leave now."
Hey before I go, is that sword magic by any chance?
"Indeed it is," he says, drawing it. The metal glints as if it were silver, but it is not; for who would make a blade of so brittle a metal? "This blade is the chief defense of our people 'gainst interlopers like you." He brandishes it in a practiced, complex pass.
I know it's a long shot, but we're on this quest, you see, and we have to get a magic sword, and...
"This is no concern of mine," he says shortly. He stares at you for a moment and adds, "But would you wish to injure He Whose Name Is Not Spoken, at least in some slight wise?
You mean the Mad One? I suppose we're technically already trying to do that, so sure. Why?
With a single swift motion, the alfar sits on a rolling log. "Not far from here, the Usurper Timozel holds a tourney, where the men he calls his knights display their valor at arms. That he sited this festival so close to my domain is a calculated insult to the alfar kind; one I would chasten him for. Alas, I may not leave the confines of this wood, lest my folk be injured in my absence. Would you enter the tourney in my stead?"
Buddy, I already tried that and it did not go well.
"Fear not. If you agree, I shall see that you are equipped. When you enter the lists," he whispers, "say my name; and you shall be clad in armor impenetrable, armed as befits a knight, mounted on a battle-trained steed. My name is Tostien." You repeat it several times. He corrects your pronunciation irritably; you don't quite get it, but at least he seems to feel you are close enough.
Cool. Can I keep all that stuff after the fight?
He arches one elegant eyebrow. "Your blade will be of magic; gossamer, to wither after a minute, an hour, or an age. My powers cannot extend to the Castle Perilous. But if you enter the lists and are victorious, I shall tell you where you may find a blade to your satisfaction.
I suppose that's a good enough deal. We don't need his sword, just anything magical, and he seems to know of one that we could actually claim as our own. Back to the tourney then!
Only this time we're gonna pick that stupid Use Magic option, because it's the actual solution.
One of these "random" words (as noted, many are references; this won't be the last time) suddenly seems a bit more familiar, doesn't it? So we just say his name, and...
For a moment, the world seems to freeze. Then, there is motion again.
You find yourself on a gray stallion whose name, you somehow know, is Veillantif, and the sword you bear is named Joyeuse. You bear a shield emblazoned gules and or per checky. A look of shock passes from face to face across the crowd.
Veillantif was the steed of Roland the paladin, and Joyeuse the sword of Charlemagne. Tostien spared no expense here, is what I'm trying to drive at. We are way better equipped than last time. Note also the heralrdy on the shield; Tostien is trolling the shit out of Timozel by having us bear the colors of King Carlon.
You are matched 'gainst one Gonzaga, a knight who bears a simple shield of sable, whose armor is likewise black.
Hey, we've met before! I don't think Gonzaga would recognize us though, which makes it easy to buy this as either a first or second encounter with him.
You take stock, to realize that the lance of your foe has shattered and he is reeling in the saddle. You cast away your lance, for it is unchivalrous to meet a foe on uneven terms. He salutes you and, swords drawn, you charge again. You draw nigh. He strikes from above; you cannot dodge, and you realize that your armor is more than natural, for your helm deflects the blow and you feel not the slightest impact. You knock Gonzaga from his charger.
And so it goes the long day through. You unhorse the flower of Timozel's chivalry. As the sun grows dim and your limbs grow tired, you realize the tourney is near over. While different knights spar, Gonzaga approaches you on foot.
"Hail, foeman," he says. "'Twas well fought." You respond, in common wise, as friendly enemies. "Know thee the meaning of the arms you bear?" he asks. "'Tis the arms of King Carlon." He hesitates, then continues in a low voice. "Thou must flee," he says. "As soon as the sun sets and the bann of peace which overhangs the tourney with it, these shall rise en masse against thee, for a servitor of the ancient king."
That's... a pretty good point. We're well-equipped, but still getting tired; we can't possibly defeat all these knights at once outside a structured tournament. So how do we get out of here?
He hestiates again; then responds slowly. "I think if I tell thee, we must face again, but then in earnest." He makes a face, then says, "Ride to the north. Ride yarely! The entrance to the maze is guarded, but with thy arms and destrier, thou mayst overawe the guards."
Don't need to tell me twice. Except you did, already, I guess. Let's get the hell out of here before Tostien's enchantments wear off.
You do as he says. You realize that Veillantif is no common horse, for the wind is like a knife on your cheeks as you gallop. Within moments you are at the gate. It is guarded by a score of men at arms. They level their pikes against you, but you spur Veillantif into a charge. A ton of horse and steel thunders toward them; they break and run. You gallop through the gate... and suddenly are floating in air, a forest murk about you.
An alfar stands with you. For the first time since you met, a smile spreads across Tostien's face. "Well done, mortal." Fingers wave in a complex motion, and you are clad again in simple garb: Veillantif, the Sword Joyeuse, and the arms of King Carlon are nowhere to be seen. "And now for your reward," he says sardonically. "The Sword Valterre may free a King. It lies within the highest point of the Castle Perilous." And then he is gone.
And that's it for the tournament. We've survived once, won a second round, and now know where that magic sword we need for the Castle Perilous can be found: In the Castle Perilous.
Alternate Solutions & Deaths
Here's the... not-so-fortunate outcomes of that unarmored Gonzaga joust.
Flee From Gonzaga: You turn tail and run like the coward you are. The black knight rides you down and spears you like a boar. He stands over you as your life ebbs away. "Poltroon!" he shouts.
Yeah that went about as well as one would expect.
Stay On Gonzaga's Horse: Gonzaga uses his sword to pry you off the horse. You fall to the ground. Winded, you desperately try to rise as the horse thunders toward you again. You fall under the destrier's iron-shod hooves. As your sight dims, Gonzaga salutes you wordlessly with his blade.
Well, at least we proved something of ourselves. If we'd not let ourselves yield to Gonzaga, this would be the same outcome.
Fight A Second Round Unarmored: The next knight simply stays out of range of your dagger, knocks you atop the head with his lance, then rides you down. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea.
If we survived Gonzaga, we could still die:
Attack The Guards At The Exit: They kill you.
Short and to the point. Speaking of, let's see what happens if we try to kill Tostien for his magic sword:
Attack The Elf: You whip out your dagger and leap for the alfar in one swift motion. You never saw him move, but you find yourself hanging in midair from the point of his blade. He studies you with repugnance. "We are few who once were many," he whispers to you, "but we still have teeth." He displays his as your sight dims.
And finally, supposing we ignored Gonzaga's wise warning and chose to remain at the tournament?
It is as Gonzaga says. At nightfall, a hundred knights arise to strive against you. Mounted on Veillantif, bearing the Sword Joyeuse, protected by the power of the Alfar Tostien, you fight and fight bravely. Your horse begins to stumble in the gore that surrounds you. By the score your enemies fall; but they are too many. Though it is a battle for bards to sing of, at last you fall.