by Liam Martin
Sir Herbert burst out of the darkness. His silver armor shimmered in the ebbing shadow. He held a spear and there was a jewel encrusted short-sword fastened to his belt. Behind him there was a stampeding hell beast. It was jet black, panther-like, with eyes of flame.
In an attempt to slow it down Herbert danced through a patch of jagged boulders.
The beast crashed into the boulders one-by-one sending shards of rock splintering through the air. It did not slow its pace though, if anything it was now faster.
It closed in on Herbert. He could hear the constant clatter of its heavy footfall behind him; he could feel the seething scorch of its breath on the back of his neck.
Then, the ground before him began to wither away and a crumbling cliff edge cut into the horizon.
With each step the rocky ledge seemed to lurch closer and closer.
Behind him the beast was now clawing at his ankles.
In a last ditch attempt to save his own life Herbert threw himself at a nearby boulder and pirouetted through the air.
As he landed several stones dislodged and tumbled over the edge of the cliff.
The hell beast dug its enormous paws into the earth and skidded to a stop.
Herbert scrambled to his feet and faced the beast. The tip of his spear just inches away from its red eyes.
The beast snarled, bearing yellow fangs.
He knew that if he thrust his spear into the beast, it would charge at him, and both of them would fall over the edge.
Instead he drove his spear down beside the beast and plunged it deep into the earth; using the force, he vaulted over the beast and landed behind it. Letting his spear clatter to the ground he unsheathed his sword and flashed it across the beast’s hind legs.
A thick yellow fluid gushed from the two incisions he had made.
The beast’s knees gave way and it thudded to the floor.
“That all a bit much isn’t it? It’s almost like your trying to impress someone. I’d have just gone with the old sand in the eyes, bash it’s head in with a big rock trick.”
Winfred, Sir Herbert’s squire, stepped out of the shadows. He wore a rusty set of ring mail and a plaid tunic. He had oily black hair, stubby features and two beady black eyes.
“Perhaps you can try that one out for yourself when you are having heroic battles of you own,” Herbert said.
A black arrow whizzed inches away from the tuft on Sir Herbert’s helmet. They turned to see a small army of hunched figures marching towards them.
They converged around Herbert and Winfred.
“Wizwog, help me through won’t you!”
“Very well my lord,” said an ogre that towered over the others. “Make way for the Supreme Overlord please.”
The crowd split down the middle and Wizwog ushered the Supreme Overlord through.
The Supreme Overlord was a short, round man with a pointy beard.
“I see you’ve been busy,” the Supreme Overlord snapped gesturing to the hell beast sprawled on the ground, “no matter”. He waved a hand at the hell beast corpse and it disintegrated into a smoldering pile of ash.
“Now, what shall we do with you two?” The Supreme Overlord pondered turning to Herbert and Winfred. Two black tendrils lashed from the Supreme Overlord’s hands and wrapped around them.
“I could squeeze you until you pop?”
The black tendrils clasped tighter.
“I could let my minions pull you limb from limb?”
The ravenous horde howled and clanged their weapons together.
“I could even just have Wizwog squish you and be done with it once and for all.”
“How about you let us go?” Winfred interrupted.
“Let both of you go? I’d have no prisoners then, would I?”
“What about if you just let one of us go?” Winfred asked. “You’d still have one prisoner then, and the person you let go could tell everyone else how scary it is down here.”
“Well it is pretty scary down here I’ll give you that, and I do really only need one prisoner to try out my new death magic spell on.”
One of the black beams faded and the Supreme Overlord stroked his goatee. “Very well then, who shall it be?”
Herbert and Winfred both exchanged glances before speaking. Herbert stoically said “Winfred,” and Winfred less stoically said “me.”
Winfred then quickly said, “but—but I need someone to show me the way.”
“There are no worries there, Wizwog can show you out.”
Wizwog’s enlarged features crackled into a toothy grin.
“With all due respect I don’t trust Wizwog.”
Wizwog’s face returned to a stony frown.
“Surely you don’t want to go with Hagwhittle, he’s terrible company.”
There was a hollow moan from somewhere in the crowd.
“No, no, I was thinking more of someone I know.”
The Supreme Overlord twiddled his moustache: “how about this fellow then?” He pointed towards Sir Herbert.
“But he’s your prisoner.”
“I’m sure he’ll come straight back.”
Herbert knelt down and vowed, “On my honor as a knight I will return.”
“Well that’s settled then,” the Supreme Overlord remarked.
The crowd dispersed and Herbert led Winfred out through the labyrinth of grey boulders and molten fissures.
When the two finally reached the path that led to the kingdom of Avalot, Sir Herbert dramatically turned around.
“You can’t possibly be thinking of going back.” Winfred asked.
Herbert gave him a solemn nod.
“After all that you’re just going to waltz back in there! That was my A-game you know, it doesn’t get better than that.”
“I gave him my word, and the word of a knight has to mean something.”
Winfred scowled at him. “You really are an over-zealous boob you know that,” he cursed. “Well, will you at least come say your goodbyes before you go get yourself killed?”
“I think my honor will permit me to do that.”
As they made their way into the grassy valleys of Avalot, Winfred murmured something.
“What was that you said?” Herbert asked.
“Nothing,” Winfred smiled.
When they finally arrived at Green Rock Castle a chorus of trumpets greeted them.
Inside, the court wizard Percival the Purple sat on a wooden stool eating a packet of sherbet flying saucers.
Noticing Sir Herbert and Winfred come into the castle he avoided all eye contact and shoved the remaining flying saucers into his mouth.
“Greetings Percival the Purple,” Herbert said.
Percival got up from his stool and bowed before them. He was a good few feet taller than both of them. He was dressed in a fine silk robe with a big, floppy purple hat, and carried a knobbly walking stick. There was an air of serene wisdom about him, a kind of quiet dignity some would say.
He brushed sherbet out of his long grey beard before greeting them.
“Good day Sir Herbert and his most noble squire, how goes the gallant crusade?”
“You did that on purpose didn’t you? Just so you wouldn’t have to share.” Winfred scoffed.
“Certainly not,” the paper bag in Percival’s hands burst into flame, “I—I just didn’t see you that’s all.” He threw the flaming paper bag on the floor and concealed it beneath his boot.
“Where could I find the King at this hour honorable hermit?” Herbert asked.
A smoke cloud rose up Percival’s leg.
“Both the King and Queen, along with other noble dignitaries, are in the royal party pavilion good sir.”
There were several princesses in the pavilion gossiping about Sir Lancelot going mad. “I think it makes him seem mysterious,” one of them said dreamily.
The Queen was sat on her throne knitting a sock, the King sat beside her searching through a crate of old crockery. The sound of clinking cups echoed through the halls.
“You’d never guess what this noble chap’s gone and done,” Winfred said.
The King tossed aside a dusty, bronze cup and continued his search.
The Queen looked up. “It’s no use dear, he’s been like this ever since he found out that his childhood friend at Camelot has found the Holy Grail.”
“Arthur,” the king grumbled scornfully, “I could tell you some stories about him that would make your hair curl.”
The Queen smiled.
“Go on dear, you can tell me, what has Sir Herbert done?”
“He’s only gone and agreed to sacrifice himself.”
“That’s very noble of him.” She said.
Some of the nosier princesses swooned.
Winfred’s face turned red. “But that isn’t all, just wait for this bit—.”
The King held up a silver cup that was lined with sapphires and looked at the Queen expectantly.
“If I remember rightly Prince Rodney of Wales sent us that for our twenty-sixth anniversary,” she told him.
The King threw it back in the crate and carried on rummaging through.
Herbert dropped to his knees and addressed the Queen. “My grace, what this man says is true, and I am to face an end befitting of any true knight.”
He turned to the King and laid his spear on the ground before him. “And to you my liege, I bestow upon you my spear, may it defend your righteous kingdom for generations to come.”
The Queen nudged the King.
“Thank you, thank you,” the King implored, “that is a very good spear indeed, you made it yourself you say? Just leave it here and on the way out my court wizard will give you three bob for it, how does that sound?”
“No my liege, I bestow upon you this spear freely, I seek no boon other that the hope that it may serve you well in my stead.”
“A fine bit of haggling there! Let’s say five bob shall we?”
Herbert looked up; the King was lost in a world of ornamental cups.
“Very well, but on my honor as a servant of the realm I shall not take any of your money.” He rose to his feet, “I shall now take my leave,” he announced.
“Goodbye dear,” the Queen said.
As they left the castle Winfred collected the five bob from Percival.
“So you’re really going through with this,” Winfred whimpered.
“I think I’m really going to miss you, you know that.”
“To give his life for his fellow man is the greatest honor a knight can ask for.”
“Now I think of it I don’t think I will miss you all that much after all.”
“I guess this is goodbye then,” Winfred sniffed.
Winfred watched as his shadow moved through the horizon and eventually disappeared into the distance.
Winfred wiped his eye.
Sir Herbert unsheathed his sword and proudly marched all the way to the Badlands.
The Black Fortress rose up like a sharp thorn that seemed to pierce the sky. Shadows swelled around it and red lightning gurgled beneath a blanket of black clouds.
Herbert thumped on the great door.
There was silence.
“I guess I’ll have to do it myself then.”
The sound of footsteps pattered through the halls.
“What fool put that all the way up there?”
Herbert looked up; there was a removable slit high up on the door frame.
It disappeared and then reappeared several inches lower. Out popped the Supreme Overlord’s round face.
“I have returned.
The Supreme Overlord eyed Sir Herbert, “you’d better come in then.”
Inside the Black Fortress there was a long spiral staircase that wound all the way up to the highest chamber.
“You’ve just caught us on a slow day that’s all,” the Supreme Overlord told Herbert, “normally these halls would be alive with the sound of screaming souls and that sort of thing.”
Once they were in the chamber the Supreme Overlord pointed to a spot beside a window. “Now you just stand over there. You won’t feel a thing.”
Sparks simmered around the Supreme Overlord as he gazed at Sir Herbert with intense concentration.
“Master!” Wizwog shouted.
The sparks fizzled away.
There was the hammer of giant footsteps running up the stairs.
Wizwog floundered into the room. “Master,” he panted, “I’ve checked the door and there’s nobody there”.
The Supreme Overlord scowled at Wizwog, “I did it myself! I don’t know why I even bothered having a slave in the first place! Just get out of my sight!”
The ogre’s enormous shoulders dropped and he shrank out of the chamber.
“Now where was I? Ahh yes.”
Sparks danced around the Supreme Overlord once again.
Sir Herbert found himself trapped in a cage of telekinetic energy.
Inside, the winds began to roar.
Sharp shards of ice whirled around Herbert.
Once Herbert was frozen solid the gale turned fiery and a scorching inferno raged.
Flames danced around the trapped knight until his entire body was trapped in a metallic shell.
And then it stopped.
The Supreme Overlord excitedly picked up a nearby crossbow and sent a bolt whistling towards Herbert.
It bounced off his left leg.
“I told you that you wouldn’t feel a thing,” he sniggered.
He put the crossbow down and pointed his finger at Herbert. A green light pinged out and floated towards the knight.
Sir Herbert shrank.
The Supreme Overlord pranced over and picked him up between his fore-finger and thumb. With one flimsy flick of arm he tossed Sir Herbert out of the window.
He landed on the shores of the river Whyx startling a family of otters.
The otter’s all eyed him suspiciously, until one of them nudged Herbert with its head pushing him into the tide.
The current carried him into the sea and, for generations Sir Herbert whooshed in the waters. He was carried to the far corners of the earth, to places yet undiscovered by humankind. He saw the many marvels of nature, the many wonders of this world.
Eventually though he found himself in a damp cardboard box at a car boot sale in Brighton.
Big Johnno was rummaging through the box.
Since his sudden growth spurt, he had reached a new found level of notoriety on the playgrounds of Saint Wallace’s junior school. It wasn’t often that a boy who collected whistles, and reads Wikipedia entries in his free time got to be this popular. He was even made second lieutenant in the school gang. As he scrutinized an ALF plus toy that smelled a bit of old cheese, he thought to himself, ‘could it get any better?’
“My mum says we can each have one toy to take home,” Sally the Butcher shouted.
He continued to search through the box of 99p toys.
Bulldozer Ben came over, “found anything yet Johnno?”
“This tin knight looks pretty cool,” Johnno said holding up Sir Herbert. He inspected the knight: the armor that had been forged in the shouldering smithies of Lancashire, the sword that had seen many a gallant battle and was still stained with hell beast blood. Then he said, “I prefer my hero’s a bit more heroic,” and picked up a slightly discoloured Optimus Prime action figure instead.