(A/N: I want to thank both my wonderful, kind, gracious reviewers for reading the first chapter…you're wonderful! Thanks especially to RebelAuthoress; you might have noticed that I DID change the title...this was how I wanted it at first, but I couldn't decide which was better. Thanks!
Both of you said essentially the same thing, which was that I needed to develop my characters more, and give Helena faults, and Sir Rong good qualities. I don't know about Rong, but Helena has some bad qualities; namely that she's a spoiled brat who throws temper tantrums! Oh well. Read on, and tell me what you think.)
Chapter Two: In which the valiant knight is defeated by a broomstick, and something is found which was not lost.
Sir Rong was sitting in a little alcove in the passageway, feeling sorry for himself when he heard the scream. His first thought was that it was Helena, and he was on his feet and halfway down the corridor when he realized his mistake. The voice wasn't familiar, and, although he'd only heard her speak a few times, he knew he would recognize the princess's voice.
But someone was screaming still, and there were sounds of shouting issuing from the banquet hall.
Sir Rong hesitated. He was a knight, after all, and it was his duty to help if there was some sort of disaster…
But he was not a good knight, or even a competent one. There were far more qualified men who could undoubtedly deal with it…
He stood there, torn between helping and staying put…until he heard another yell, this time of frustration and fury. And this time, one that he recognized.
Sir Rong was outside the banquet hall before he could register that he'd heard the princess's voice, and long before he could register that it had not been a scream of terror.
And then he saw her.
She was kneeling on the stone floor in front of the doors, getting to her feet. There were wisps of smoke fading around her, and she was pulling at the doors furiously.
Finally she turned around, giving up on the doors, and stared wildly around, meeting Rong's eyes. "Help me!"
He hurried up the steps, tripping in his haste, but pulling himself upright instantly. He fell against the doors and gave a mighty wrench at the handle. He knew the moment his fingers closed on it that it was no good. Something—probably magic—had sealed the doors shut.
Sir Rong shuddered. Magic was not something that he trusted.
"What's happened, Princess?" He gritted his teeth, expecting the worst. He got it.
"They're all gone!"
She gestured at the doors. "They were screaming about something, and then there was black smoke everywhere—it made me cough—and then everything went quiet, and they were gone! Just gone…like they'd never been there. It was unbelievable."
Sir Rong did not feel that this was the time to panic, although he was sorely tempted. "We've got to tell someone. Where's the king?"
Helena stared at him, horrified. And suddenly, before she answered, he knew what she was going to say.
"He was at the feast."
"What about the magician? The knights? Your father's advisors?"
She shook her head after each one, and said in a faint voice, "No. They were all there. It was just me who left, and that was only because my dress was ruined."
Sir Rong was aghast. "What do we do, then?"
Helena was quiet for a second, looking down at her feet. Then she looked up, and her eyes were wide, a grin on her face that made Rong think of a fox in a henhouse.
He, quite unreasonably, wanted to run away, cover his ears, or do some other ridiculous thing…anything to stop from hearing what she would say next. He didn't know what it would be, but her face filled him with a sort of dread.
"We rescue them."
Sir Rong felt that it was to his credit that he didn't collapse to the ground, twitching, at the thought of going on a quest, with a princess. Granted the princess was probably better at knightly conduct than he was, but she was still a princess. The punishments for getting a princess killed, or failing to guard her, were very unpleasant.
The princess in question was staring at him expectantly.
"Urm…Princess," he tried, "perhaps your best bet would be someone else…"
She threw up her hands. "You are the only knight left! The rest are gone. You will help me."
"I…I'm no knight. I can barely ride without falling off. You'll have to find someone else…I…" There was no way he was going on a quest. That had only happened once before, and there was no way he was repeating the experience.
Helena was taller than him, and she was standing very close, clenching her fists and yelling in his ear. "THERE IS NO ONE ELSE! Get that through your helmet! You're the only one who knows anything about chivalry! You have to help me save my father."
She paused, daring him to contradict her. His mind, spinning from being so near to her, couldn't come up with anything better than "But…"
Helena looked satisfied. "I'll go to the kitchens and find supplies. You round up whatever you need, and meet me in the armoury in half an hour. We'll need weapons if we're to go on a quest." She gave him a stern look. "If you're not there—if I find you've run away—you'll suffer for it. If I have to travel through flood and fire, I'll find you and make you pay for deserting me."
And with that she was gone.
Sir Rong felt dizzy. He sat down suddenly, jarring his back, and put his head in his hands. And promptly poked himself in the eye.
It was not going to be a good day.
Princess Helena was quite pleased with herself. Not only did she have a quest to occupy her in her newfound boredom, but there was no one to tell her that it wasn't the proper thing for a princess. This was shaping up to be a perfect day.
Sir Rong somehow found his way into the armoury, (although not without wandering around aimlessly for almost an hour) but could barely find the willpower to open the door. He felt sick to his stomach. He'd only ever gone on one quest before, and it was not something he chose to remember if he could avoid it.
He shied away from the thought. It had involved sunburn, bug bites, dragons, and rain. A lot of rain. There had also been a great deal of running around, an even greater deal of screaming for help, and a minor setback of his managing to fall into a river, fully armoured. He'd been told a hundred times that he was lucky to be alive, but after the humiliation of being rescued by a milkmaid, and dragged to shore by his ankles, he'd almost rather have died. And then being unceremoniously dumped at the feet of one of the milkmaid's cows, and having the cow lift its tail over his breastplate, Sir Rong had been ready to become a hermit. Or a monk. Anything to hide away somewhere his fellow knights would never find him.
But hiding wasn't something that knights did, unfortunately.
Neither, of course, was being to cowardly to open a door to go talk to a princess. Oh well.
Rong braced himself and pulled on the door, sighing in resignation. "Well, Princess, let's get started…"
With a crash, the contents of the broom cupboard that he'd just opened spilled out and knocked him to the floor. A broom smashed into his forehead, knocking his helmet off, and several buckets rolled out, tripping him.
He lay there, blinking away the stars in front of his eyes, feeling some sort of cleaning agent soaking into the seat of his pants.
And, predictably, that was where the princess found him.
"What are you doing?"
Sir Rong stood up very quickly, which turned out to be a mistake. Down he went again, his feet slipping out from under him, his head cracking against the door. While he was lying there, collapsed, Helena rolled her eyes and heaved an exasperated sigh. "Look, we have to get going. What are you doing looking through the broom cupboards?"
Sir Rong was very truthful, by rule, but something in him rebelled from trying to explain to this competent woman that he'd been hopelessly lost. "I…erm…thought I heard something." Not being terribly experienced with lying, he wasn't terribly good at it.
"What, were the brooms banging on the door?" She shot back sarcastically, "or were the buckets trying to escape?"
"I just made a mistake." He was feeling decidedly surly. First she'd ordered him to go on a dangerous, potentially fatal quest, then she'd yelled at him, and now she was making fun of him.
"Well, it was a stupid mistake. Hurry up. We don't have time for you to investigate all the cupboards. You'll just have to take my word for it that they're safe."
And, before she could retort, she'd spun on her heel and left, assuming that he'd follow.
And, since she was after all a princess, Rong picked himself up, took one last accusing look at the cupboard, and trotted after her, longing to turn the other way and run.
The armoury was like nothing Sir Rong had ever seen. There were broadswords, axes, bows, pikes, daggers, maces, crossbows, spears, lances…every kind of weapon you could imagine, and hundreds that he'd never heard of. And all of them were in near perfect condition.
Sir Rong looked, ashamed, at his own sword, sadly rusted. He could never afford anything as find as these.
Helena had obviously been here before, because she wasn't amazed by the quantity and quality of the weapons. She simply took a sword from the wall and made a few passes with it, before putting it back, pursing her lips, and taking another.
Although Sir Rong had no intention of actually taking one of these weapons, he took a broadsword from its rack and weighed it in his hand. It was perfectly balanced, and had the best grip that he'd ever felt. It could have been made for him. He held it before him solemnly, keeping his face calm and emotionless, as he'd been trained. Then he lunged forwards, skewering imaginary ogres. He tried a backslash, imagining the feel of it connecting with something…
Not quite imaging it. In fact, he actually did manage to connect with something, even if it wasn't quite as grand as an ogre.
It was the shelf behind him.
With impossible slowness, the shelf toppled over backwards, sending an array of weapons skidding across the floor. It collided with the next shelf, sending that one over as well, and, as if set up in a giant's domino game, things began to knock into each other, and fall, sometimes shattering, to the floor.
Sir Rong jumped at the commotion, tried to turn around, but tripped over a lance that he'd already knocked over. For the third time within the hour, he found himself on the floor, seeing stars.
The final shelf clattered down, and a helmet rolled out of the pile of rubble, coming to a stop a few inches from Helena's foot.
There was a shell-shocked silence as Rong tried to clear his head, and Helena stared in disbelief at what had once been her father's armoury. Then, breaking the silence, a single torch bracket, weakened by the trembling of the walls, smashed to the floor beside Sir Rong.
That was all she needed. With a scream of rage, Helena grabbed the helmet from the ground and flung it at the prone knight's head. "You idiot! You bumbling—" she grabbed the hilt of a sword, snapped from the blade, and hurled it in his direction, "hamfisted—" the head of a spear came flying towards him, "clumsy, idiot!"
Sir Rong, having been hit in quick succession with the helmet and the sword hilt, tried to duck the spearhead. But, still very dizzy from having the shelves fall on his head, he backed into the wall and knocked over one of the remaining items still standing.
In a daze, he snatched it up to defend himself from any more missiles. But Helena was distracted by the object in his hands.
To Rong's immense relief, she dropped the heavy iron hammer she'd been about to heave towards him, and abruptly held out her hand to help him up.
This, Sir Rong thought, was the ultimate in mood swings. But he welcomed the change from her trying to cave his head in, so he took her hand gracefully. "Thank you, princess."
But she brushed him away.
"No, you idiot. Give me that for a second."
For the first time, he took a look at the thing in his hand. It was a long rod of metal, a kind he'd never seen before. At one end was a hilt, and at the other…well, Sir Rong wasn't sure what it was. It was circular, flat on the bottom, and about the size of a melon.
"Knight! Give it to me!"
"You don't have to be so rude, you know."
But, coward that he was, he didn't say it so she could hear. He just muttered it under his breath and handed the thing to her, picking himself off of the floor and trying to dislodge bits of metal from his dented armour.
Princess Helena was staring at the strange weapon with something like glee.
"Do you know what this is?"
"Urm…no. I know it's rather hard, though." And it was. It had fallen onto his head, and he could feel a lump growing.
Helena shot him a look of disgust. "You are wearing a helmet, you know."
"Yes, but these things have limited protection." Well, he thought, most of them are all right, but mine's a bit rusty.
She ignored this last comment, and held up the stick in both hands, looking intently at it. "This is my father's Black-Magic Detector."
He watched with mild interest as she turned it over in her hands, inspecting it. Finally, after almost a minute of standing quietly, he began to get impatient. "Princess, don't you think it's perhaps time to get going?"
"You have no idea what this means, do you?"
Under the circumstances, he thought it was better to be truthful. "Urm. No."
Another withering look. This time, though, there was something smoldering below the surface of her eyes. "Do you think that perhaps the kidnapping of my father's entire court, including the royal magician, might count as black magic?"
"Yes." It seemed like a safe answer. He didn't know where she was going with this, but he didn't want her to get angry again.
"If this shows us where we can find black, magic, and black magic's what we're looking for, this can lead us to my father!" It wasn't quite the shriek that she'd been using around him recently, but it was close.
"So what do we do, ride around the kingdom pointing this thing around, waiting for it to start…what, beeping or something?"
"No. I think it works on maps. And it doesn't beep; the jewel on the handle lights up. The darker the magic, the brighter the light."
Abruptly, she turned on her heel and strode out, calling over her shoulder, "come on! We need a map of the kingdom!"
Rong took one last longing look at the swords, now lying in an unordered heap on the floor, and followed her.