Website Provider: Outflux.net
URL: http://jnocook.net/texts/thorkle.htm

Let me, as his word editor, add a few lines to suggest, as John Barth has it, that there exists a core of stories which contain all other stories which can be written. This is one of these; compact, fast paced, with a surprise turn at the end. But then, anyone who recognizes the Wizard of Oz at the core of Conan the Barbarian, and identify him as Dorothy, would know that.


Thorkleweed Root and Magic

Suddenly King Vladius felt that he was not the only person in the darkened room. He turned his head to see his daughter standing by the open door.

"I did not hear you come in," stated the king, "I have told you before not to follow me to your mother's chamber; I wish to mourn her death alone." Princess Telamier closed the door behind her, and walked to her father in the darkness, "On her deathbed, Mother told me to look after you."

"You need not to worry yourself with me. You are 18, I am 70 years old. I will be dying soon, and..."

"No, Father!" Telamier interrupted as she yanked the drapes away from the window, letting the sunlight flood through the room.

"I will not have both of my parents die in the same year!" said Telamier as she glared at him through the sudden impact of the light.

"But you must be ready for my eventual death. When that happens, you will be Queen. You will need a husband," Vladius said as he lifted himself from his kneeling position at the foot of the bed.

"If you have found no knight worthy of me in this kingdom then I must go to find one myself," Telamier said in a more restrained voice.

"If that is what you wish to do, than you have my permission. I know that you will be an able Queen, but there are still more things for you to learn," answered Vladius. Lowering his voice, he continued, "You know I do not want my brother to come to power in any way. Meet me for breakfast tomorrow, and we shall talk about it."

"Yes, Father," answered Telamier. She turned to the door, opened it, and was startled to see the person they were talking about, the king's brother, standing in the doorway.

"Oh, good evening, Uncle Strato," she said quietly.

"Just passing by," Strato answered. He turned abruptly on one heel, and walked away down the stone hallway.

Strato strode arrogantly across the courtyard, entered the stable and yelled at the stable hand, "Get my horse. Now. Or I will tell the King to dock your pay, and you and your crippled mother will starve!"

"Yes sir," the stablehand Throm respond quickly, and ran to get Strato's horse from its stall.

Throm flung the gold-laced saddle on the horse and buckled the straps. Strato got on without help and then suddenly turned his white horse, forcing Throm to stumble backwards and fall into a pile of dirt and straw. Riding through the courtyard laughing, Strato yelled to the gatekeeper, "Lift the gate, fool! Lift the gate!"

"Curse you, Throm," Throm said to himself, as he brushed dirt off his poorly-made pants and shirt, "How can you let him insult your mother and kick you around like a dog? Why won't you do something?" He slumped onto a stool, and hung his head.

Princess Telamier, at her window, admired from afar the handsome Throm; she longed also for someone who would stand up for himself.

"To find a knight like that will be difficult," she said to herself. She walked back to her bed, lay down, and slowly passed the dark curtain of sleep. Unnoticed by her, or anyone else, the handle of the door to her room slowly turned.

King Vladius groaned as he hobbled into the banquet room for breakfast. He was seated by his servant.

"Telamier is not here?" Vladius asked as he looked down the long oak table.

"She is not, my Lord," answered the servant courteously.

"Have someone wake her," Vladius said, waving his hand.

A short time later a woman-servant rushed into the room exclaiming, "Princess Telamier is very sick! She will not respond to anything I say, your Highness!"

"No!" cursed Vladius, as he shoved back his chair and lunged out of the room. Running down the hall, with spells flashing through his mind, he recalled all the symptoms--fearing the worst. Vladius pushed through the crowd of servants that had gathered in front of Telamier's chamber, and crashed through the door that separated him from his daughter. As he surveyed her body, all of his nightmares came true. Of all the possible spells he had recalled, this was the worst. His daughter was slipping into death. Looking at her ghost-white face, he vowed to find a cure.

The servants watched King Vladius walk out of his daughter's chamber. He commanded grimly, "Do not touch her. And do not disturb me. I will be doing research in my father's spell books."

Among the servants stood young Throm. He could see Telamier lying motionless on her bed. How different she looked, her physical beauty still there, but no lively charm, no happy glint in her eyes; if only he had had the courage to talk to her just once of the many times she had passed the stables.

"But why would she have any interest in a lowly stable hand like me?" Throm thought to himself, "she is royalty." He walked sadly down the hall.

After hours of searching in the dusty library, Vladius found what he was looking for.

"Curse wizardry, there is only one location left where Thorkleweed still grows!" he said to himself. But he was not the only one who heard those words; Throm was listening, undetected, behind the library's carved door. He moved away quickly as Vladius slammed shut the Great Spell Book, and slid it back onto the shelf. Ignoring the cloud of dust he had made, Vladius rose from his chair quickly, headed through the library door and down the castle steps.

"My horse please, Throm," the King said as he entered the stables.

"Yes, your Highness," answered Throm happily, as he flung the royal saddle on the King's great steed, and buckled the straps.

"Isn't someone going to accompany you, your Highness?" asked Throm, as he held a stool for the King to mount his horse.

"No. I must go out by myself this time, young man," answered Vladius resolutely, as he took the reins from Throm. Watching King Vladius ride across the courtyard, Throm made a decision.

The following day at dusk, King Vladius dismounted from his horse with a tired but hurried air.

"This must be the place," he thought to himself, as he walked cautiously toward a dismal cave. An acrid wind blew from the opening. At the mouth of the cavern he lit a torch, brushed away the overhanging tree roots and stepped in. The air nearly choked him, but the King began a search of the cave's chambers.

"Just one, I only need one root to cure Telamier."

At the opening to a large chamber, Vladius stopped short. Before him he saw the destruction. Thorkleweed was strewn everywhere, but the roots had been removed. In dismay he searched, then found a pile of ashes in a corner. He knew instantly that the roots had been collected and incinerated.

"Who would do such a thing?" Vladius said to himself in utter horror. From behind a voice answered him, "I would, King." Before Vladius could turn around, he received a blow on the back of his head.

"I have failed you, Telamier," Vladius thought to himself as he fell into the dark pit of unconsciousness.

"I am alive," King Vladius groaned.

"You are skilled at stating the obvious, brother," retorted Strato.

"Why have you not killed me? You have me strapped down like a chicken ready to be slaughtered. I am an easy enough target," said Vladius.

"I did not kill you while you were unconscious, because I wanted the satisfaction of having you meet death with your eyes open. But I will not kill you outright. You have boasted your magical knowledge, so I will battle you magically. I have become much more powerful since our father stopped teaching us," Strato said as he strode around the cleared Thorkleweed chamber.

"I accept your challenge, Strato," answered Vladius angrily.

"I did not give you a choice!" screamed Strato, "But since you accepted, I will let you rest for an hour."

"An hour will make no difference to me. We will battle now," replied Vladius, defiantly.

"As you wish, brother," sneered Strato.

After being untied, Vladius, still on his knees, began to recite spells, as did Strato, standing some distance away.

The instant Vladius stood up, flashes of light and beams of magic scoured the cave, chunks of the walls crumbled to the ground, and bursts of energy exploded in the air. The two opposing forces clashed with a blinding array of colors.

As the battle raged on, Vladius slowly weakened and started using defensive spells. Falling to his knees finally, barely protecting himself from Strato's onslaught, Vladius realized that he had only seconds to live; he closed his eyes, waiting to die. Suddenly he heard a shriek of pain, and opening his eyes he saw Strato fall forward, clutching his chest and gasping breath for the last time.

As the echoes died away, Vladius got to his feet with great effort, amazed at being alive. He walked cautiously toward his fallen brother to see three throwing knives in Strato's back. Slowly, Throm stepped from the shadows, returning an un-thrown knife to it's pouch. Vladius bent down to unsheathe Strato's sword, and raising the blade, walked toward Throm.

"You had no right to interfere. Moreover you have killed royalty. By law, your actions demand your death," Vladius said as he brought the tip of the sword to Throm's throat.

Throm paused. The tip of the sword could easily pierce his neck and let loose his life-blood; he couldn't move. He swallowed hard. Vladius moved the sword to one side and paused. Vladius looked straight at him, "But you have saved my life. For this, I shall knight you."

In the early morning of the next day, Vladius sadly rode into the castle's courtyard, accompanied by Throm. Throm dismounted, and took the reins of the King's horse. Suddenly the doors to the castle burst open and a stream of servants poured out. In their midst was Telamier. She broke free from the crowd and ran to her father who was still on his horse.

"You're alive!" cried Vladius with surprise and joy, as he hastily dismounted.

"Yes father, I awoke yesterday," answered the equally joyous Telamier.

"That must have been the moment when Throm killed Strato," said Vladius as he embraced his daughter, "His spell must have died with him."

"Throm? You killed Strato?" asked Telamier astonished, as she turned to Throm.

"Yes," answered Throm, looking down at the horse's hooves.

"He saved my life," added Vladius, "and for protecting his King, he was knighted."

Blushing with pleasure, Telamier looked at Throm. Their eyes met.


Kees, ca 1992