Sarai, Alatar, and Tiana left the small village near her farm. Alatar chose the road, telling them he had heard a legend of how the people might once again be united and peace return to the country. Tales spoke of three symbols of the old king that must be found and brought back to his castle.
First was his crown, simple yet distinct. It was beautiful in its own way, lacking any jewels but ornately carved by loving subjects who worked the metal to a fine polish.
Next was the king's scepter. When he pronounced judgements, he always carried it to remind him of the weight he must bear in deciding justly. It was made not of fine metals but of wrought iron. Even so, it had been delicately forged especially for him to serve him as he ruled the land.
Lastly was his throne. Unlike those of other kings and princes, the old king did not sit upon a high-backed golden chair with lofty arms and plush velvet. Instead, he sat upon a simple sturdy oak chair draped with a pair of coarse blankets. He would have been content with dull grey or beige, but others had insisted on dying the cloth in brilliant reds and blues to match the country's flag - a red swan swimming on a rippling blue lake.
Alatar told them all this as they walked and Sarai could only listen in wonder at the simple desires of the king, so different from the lords she heard of now.
"And where can we find all of these? Where do we start?" she wondered.
"That, sadly, is unknown to me," Alatar replied sadly. "And there is one more hurdle. The very location of the castle the three symbols of the king must be brought to has been lost to time."
They walked on in silence for a time as Sarai considered the task before her. She was lost in thought as the crested the last ridge and found themselves overlooking a town larger than the village she knew.
As they approached, they saw many people bustling about but few spoke to one another let alone the new arrivals. Surprised at this, they walked through the town to the large market square. Despite its size, it was mostly empty.
Tiana shook her head sadly. "There were once many merchants here, but so few remain," she lamented. "Soldiers have been coming here from the nearby castle to take what they want, when they want without payment or any thanks. The people live in fear and barely have enough left to care for themselves."
As she finished, they heard a clatter of hooves on the cobblestones and people began rushing all around them. Everyone quickly gathered whatever they could in their hands and began running in all directions at once.
Before Sarai could turn to see who was approaching, Alatar and Tiana had ushered her into a back alleyway. She peered around the corner and saw six mounted soldiers riding slowly up the road, laughing loudly. One leaned casually to the side to scoop up a few apples from a cart. He took a large bite of one and threw the others to his companions.
Sarai found her face growing hot with anger. She pulled out her slingshot, grabbed a stone from the ground and let it fly. It hit the soldier square on the helmet and he flew backwards off his horse. He landed squarely on his head, bounced back to his feet and sat down heavily in a large mud puddle. He swayed slowly for a moment and the fell on the ground fast asleep.
The other soldiers were stunned just for a moment, giving Sarai enough time to let loose another stone. This one landed true on another's breastplate, knocking him clean off his horse and into a large bowl of pudding for sale in another merchant's cart.
The remaining soldiers were quick to turn toward Sarai and charged at her, yelling out in anger. She fumbled for another stone but couldn't find one. They were almost on top of her when Tiana threw a pair of daggers with startling accuracy at the two in front. Although their armor was thick, the daggers knocked them backwards into the other two behind them and they all fell in a jumble.
Alatar sprung to action, waving his staff high in the air with both arms. A length of rope flew out of a basket to one side of the road and quickly tied all the soldiers together.
A surprised silence fell over the square, but broke suddenly as the townsfolk all cheered as one for their new found saviors. Windows long shut flew open, smiles appeared on faces long accustomed to only frowning. They declared a feast and parade to celebrate.
There were jugglers, acrobats, and clowns. Dancers and music filled one side of the square, while a rich buffet of the best they had to offer was spread out at the other end . Sarai celebrated with her new friends and companions, but knew that many more trials lay ahead.
Elie's Commentary: Why did she have a slingshot?
My reply: Well, you see - hmm. Some people use them to hunt. Like for food?
Elie: I guess that's okay.
Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.