by Svein Kåre Gunnarson
Morgath's knights had been easy to round up and take to Morion's castle. Most of them was aware of what had happened in the joust with the champion, and some had noticed Morgath's flight from the scene. A few wanted to go home, but were too weak to protest, while most of them for some reason seemed eager to get on their way to Morion.
After the knights had tended themselves and got a good meal, Morion gathered them in the great hall. Here she informed them of what had happened at the joust, about what Morgath had told her and about the fallen knight, his situation was very grave. She also told them about her suspicions about Morgath's castle being taken over by the demon he had made a deal with, and that she didn't doubt this was just the beginning.
"So," she said, hoping she sounded more secure than she felt, "I won't keep you here by force, but think of it; Morgath told me himself I shouldn't let anyone go back to his castle. The demon awaits you there and who knows what fate."
Disbelief showed in some of the knights' eyes. Whispering low between themselves, a few of them tried to ridicule what they just had heard, when the tallest of them, Furteros, loudly declared: "We all stay here!" Taking a couple of steps forward, he turned towards the knights and silenced some protests with his hands.
"Listen to me, we all know what has happened to us the last weeks. We prepared to the joust, training hard, having the best teachers in our realm, but how did we perform? Where did our strength go? We all know it, even if it's hard to accept.
The stranger that appeared with Morgath's side, the day before the joust he told us we all had to work towards one goal. We all sensed something was wrong, didn't we? But we were comforted by Morgath himself not to worry. The stranger raised his hands then, and what happened next neither of us remember. Just that when we came to again, we felt drained. Weak. All of us but... but our friend. We couldn't do much then, just did anything we were told.
It ain't right, I tell you. That stranger, it was no man. We never saw his face in his hood, did we? No, if we did, we wouldn't have seen a human, we would've seen a demon! I say, we're still too weak to have a chance in a fight against a man, let alone a demon. We must stay here and gain our strength again, then we can join forces and fight back."
Furteros stood silent for a while, then added: "If not, we're worse off than our friend upstairs."
As if this was a cue, a young servant girl came running into the hall.
"My lady, my Lady," she called. "I made all ready for you, so that you could start the healing process of the poor knight, but when I should fetch the crystal..." The sobs in her throat made it hard to hear. "When I should fetch the crystal, it was gone. No one has seen it, or knows where it is."
Morion stared at the servant girl with disbelief in her eyes, then remembered Morgath's words after his knight fell to the ground, and the conversation he had had with the man who had been in a hurry. "He'd got it," she thought. "What had he got? Her crystal? It had to be, considering Morgath's surprise later on."
"You don't have your... You couldn't do magic," she said to herself, staring darkly ahead.
"What?" The First Knight had come silently to her side, hearing the words. Morion turned quickly towards him.
"This must be Morgath's work, he had the crystal stolen and brought to the mountains. It might have been the Dragon Peaks - the stranger was heading south, and they're in Morgath's realm." Morion's voice was intense.
"Don't say more I'll go after it right away, maybe I can catch up with him before he reach that far," her knight interrupted. He started to move, but Morion stopped him.
"Wait," she said, concern evidently in her voice. "maybe there is a small chance you will find him, but he has many hours head start and will be far into Morgath's realm now, and if the demon has been present long, who knows what dangers are there."
"You're right," the knight admitted. "But if we wait long, the chance that it disappear is large. I know that you don't depend on the crystal to heal and perform your magic, but I'm afraid it might be used against you. If the demon should somehow get hold of it..."
He let the words hang in the air, before he continued: "I will prepare the journey by taking with me enough food and equipment, and also bring my squire. If the situation should become too dangerous for him, I will send him home to tell the news."
While the First knight went to find his squire and tell him about his decision to take him as company on his way to recover the crystal, Morion hurried to the dragon through the secret passage. The passage lead to some huge caves which no one had explored fully, hiding mostly unknown in the hills Morion's castle was built on.
"Greetings, my fair Lady," a voice boomed in the cave. Morion turned and looked at the dragon. She could hardly believe that he was brought to her when he was small, he had grown large in quite a short time, and while not fully grown yet, he was an impressive sight.
"Hello, dear friend," she said. "I'm afraid I have some bad news, and I would wish to ask a favour from you."
"So? Tell me everything, and how I can help." The dragon sat down and listened carefully to every word, without interrupting.
Morion told the dragon everything, from all that had happened at the tournament, the discoveries at the castle, to the First Knight's travel to retrieve the crystal. After she had finished telling, the dragon spoke again:
"I felt something was amiss, but couldn't figure out what was wrong. It seems our thief is able to hide his presence in magical ways, luckily your crystal is quite powerful, too. As far as I know your knight, he'll be able to sense it if it's not too far away, even if he doesn't know himself."
Morion seemed a bit surprised by this statement, but composed herself and brought forward her wish: "What I would like to ask you, dear friend, is if you could watch over him, and see that no harm befalls him." She swallowed. "Nor his squire, of course," she added quickly. The dragon smiled.
"Of course," he said, and added more gravely: "It's best to be very careful, and watch over our own. You should also get message to the rulers in your neighbouring realms. Tell them what we're facing, and make them your allies, before the evil does. If that happens..." He didn't finish the sentence, and the silence felt heavy.