The Forgotten Captives
A short fanfic based on Sierra On-Line's King's Quest series
The pearly stone of the crystal tower shone with a blinding iridescence in the light of the low sun, its shimmering surface reflecting the strange landscape around it and distorting it into a wild swirl of colors. The tower stood on a small island, which in turn sat in a wide sea, which in turn resided in a world that would be considered strange, if not downright bizarre, by any people who came across it, as difficult as it was to reach this strange land.
The stubbly grass was a bright yellow, while the bark of the trees was a brilliant azure. The occasional stones and boulders were a typical gray in color, but the sand on the shores of the island was deep blue, the ocean that lapped up against them was a rich violet, and the sky was a bold orange-red.
The tall, shimmering tower had once been the prison of a young maiden, but no longer. The tower was now empty – utterly empty. A small path led through the golden grass to the foot of the crystal tower, and it was along this path that a man slowly walked. He was not walking to the tower, however: he was walking away from it, towards the sandy beach.
He was an older man that still possessed the strength of a younger one, yet his pace was slow and uneven, making him appear more aged and feeble than he truly was. He shuffled sluggishly down the path, finally reaching the shore of the strange island. He stopped. He did not gaze upon the purple sea or the red sky, or even look down at the blue sand at his feet. His attention was focused on what was currently coming out of the water, barely ten paces away from him.
It was a woman, middle-aged, but still stunningly beautiful. She was fully clothed, but dripping wet and slowly walking through the shallows, making her way towards dry land. The man gazed into her face as she moved toward him, just as the woman gazed into his. After what could have been five minutes or a half hour, she stood before him on the narrow beach.
For another indeterminable amount of time, they stared into each other's eyes. It was the woman who finally spoke:
"Yes, Coignice," Cedric replied. "It's me."
"She's gone, isn't she?"
Cedric nodded in response.
"Yes...yes, she is."
Coignice stared at Cedric. He was just as she had remembered him: his bushy, brownish-gold hair flecked with gray, growing in a wild, yet not unattractive way about his angular face, set off by two thick sideburns. His eyes were narrow, somewhat subduing their brilliant green color. His frame was muscular, yet not terribly large and hulking either. For a man his age, he was remarkably handsome, and in excellent health. Coignice found it deplorable that such a man had to fall victim to such evil and suffer as he had.
Cedric gazed quietly at Coignice. Those large, bright blue eyes, that long, auburn hair that had dulled with age, yet still shone with the color of fire, that figure that hadn't gone to seed like so many women's did once they reached her age…despite all that had happened, Coignice hadn't changed a whit. In fact, she seemed even more beautiful than before.
The two people became silent, looking into each other's eyes and contemplating all the events that had led up to this moment. How long had it been? Months? Years? It was so difficult to tell in this bizarre realm. After the first few weeks, they had both lost track of the time, and who could blame them?
They both thought back to that time all those years ago, when this entire mess started: their castle, the witch, the vampire…
…And their daughter. Valanice.
Valanice had been born in what had once been a proud castle on an island in the middle of one of Kolyma's largest lakes, which had once been full of pure, sparkling water, just like the rest of Kolyma's lakes, ponds and streams. She had grown into a beautiful, kind-hearted, intelligent young woman, and Coignice and Cedric were convinced that she would keep their kingdom safe and prosperous when their time was up…provided Valanice could find a decent man to rule with her. She was quite finicky when it came to suitors, though. She wanted to marry a man who was "strong of both body and mind," in her own words, and none of the young men who came seeking her hand seemed to meet those requirements.
Around the same time Coignice and Cedric were desperately trying to convince Valanice to be a little less picky about who she wished to marry, the witch showed up, as did that horrid vampire and several other smaller dark beings that were just as menacing. The two monstrosities and their minions began wrecking havoc on Kolyma's only town, killing anyone who opposed them and burning their houses to the ground. Only a few dwellings survived, though it was a miracle that anything escaped the creatures' wrath.
All of Cedric and Coignice's efforts did little to stop the fiends, and it wasn't long before the witch and the vampire were standing at the edge of the lake in which the Royal Island resided, demanding that the king and queen surrender. The couple naturally refused to give in, and in retaliation, the witch cast a horrid spell upon the lake, turning it into a poisonous body of water that would kill anyone who tried to swim it and eat through any boats that weren't protected from it in some way.
Still, Coignice and Cedric refused to surrender. Valanice kept asking her parents what they were going to do and how they were going to stop the two seemingly invincible invaders, and her troubled parents were unable to answer her. When the witch and the vampire turned all the land on the island into a barren wasteland and surrounded the path leading to the castle with brambles covered with poisonous thorns, Coignice began to grow hysterical, and it was all Cedric could do to calm her.
He spoke with Philomel, his chief wizard, trying to come up with a way to get rid of the brambles, but the only solution Philomel and his elderly yet capable wife could find was a magical powder that rendered the person who ingested it immune to the brambles' poison. Unfortunately, the wizard had a limited amount of the powder and no means of getting more, so after he had created several doses of the powder (mixing it with sugar and processing it into a cubed form to make it more palatable and portable), he entrusted the doses to the most valued horse in the entire kingdom – Pegasus, the winged horse.
Cedric had captured the wild creature in his younger days. The magic bridle that Pegasus always wore not only kept him tame enough to ride, but also protected him from any evil that might threaten to enslave him. It was to this bridle that the wizard fitted a small container filled with several of the precious cubes. Pegasus and one of the most loyal knights in Cedric's court had then set out to scour the surrounding land for survivors as well as those that could come to the king's aid, but apparently Cedric and Coignice had underestimated the power that the witch and the vampire had over creatures like Pegasus, for he and his rider had never returned. Shortly after that, Philomel and his wife had vanished as well.
Finally, the two fiends had forced their way into the castle, killing knights and guards right and left. Coignice had fled into one of the tower rooms, but Valanice had pleaded to stay behind to help her father. Cedric almost struck her down in his panic to keep her out of danger, and in the end, Valanice ran to her mother's side, trying to comfort her, though she was just as frightened as Coignice.
Cedric remembered little of his battle with the two demonic entities. All that he remembered was confronting them and demanding to know who they were, whereupon the witch introduced herself as Hagatha and the vampire introduced himself as Count Dracula. The king remembered nothing after that.
As for Coignice, she remembered the green-skinned crone and the pale-skinned undead creature entering the room where she and Valanice hid. She had pleaded with them to spare her and her daughter. Strangely, the witch had only smiled at this, and cackled, more to herself than Coignice:
"No, no. I don't think I'll kill this one either. I may find some use for her yet. As for the young one…I have a special plan in store for her."
Before Coignice could scream, her world went black. When she opened her eyes again, she was in an unfamiliar land, and Valanice and Cedric were nowhere to be seen. What had happened to them? What had happened to her?
Similar thoughts had been racing through Cedric's head after he regained consciousness. He soon found out the answer to all of those questions, as did Coignice – and the answer nearly drove them mad with anguish.
Hagatha visited them both and told them that their daughter had been imprisoned in the topmost room of a tall tower, and that until she was released from that prison, Cedric and Coignice would be trapped as well…
But what an odd form of entrapment it was for both of them.
Cedric paused and looked closely at his wife. She was quite tall and slender, and the dress she wore was the same one she had worn when Hagatha and Dracula and the dark beings that had sided with them stormed the castle: a long dress made out of golden silk, rippling like the waves of the sea behind her. Coignice stared back at her husband, taking in his wild mane of dark gold hair and the heavy bronze breastplate he wore, which had a roaring lion's head engraved upon it.
They both smiled as they contemplated the irony of what had happened to them. Coignice, who ran and hid at the first sign of danger, had been transformed into a large golden fish, darting about and hiding beneath the surface of this realm's strange ocean. Cedric, who had stayed and defended his family against Hagatha and Dracula, had been changed into a lion, chained outside the door to the room in which his daughter was imprisoned to guard her.
Being trapped in the form of an animal would have been appalling enough, but Hagatha refused to let this be the sole source of their suffering. She would visit both of them frequently, telling them what was happening to their kingdom and its inhabitants and what Count Dracula had done to their castle. She also told them how impossible she had made the task of rescuing Valanice, how she had created a portal to the realm they were in on the other side of a vast chasm she had created, and how the portal was barred by three magical locked doors, the keys to which were scattered throughout the land in places that she deemed impossible to reach.
Somehow, Coignice and Cedric were able to understand Hagatha's words, and they both fervently wished that they couldn't. Hearing what was happening to their homeland was awful enough, but Hagatha also told Cedric about what had happened to Coignice, and vice versa.
For Coignice, the knowledge that Cedric was now a lion chained at the top of the tower, where there was no way she could possibly reach or even see him, was almost unbearable. The news that his wife was a golden fish confined to the waters of the surrounding sea was no less horrible for Cedric either. The chain that bound him to the tower's wall was too short for him to look out the nearby window in the hopes of glimpsing Coignice.
All Cedric could do was roar with all his might, hoping that Coignice would hear him, while Coignice, who had a voice that was unfortunately too soft to be heard from a great distance, tried leaping out of the water and landing as noisily as she could in the hopes that her splashes were heard by Cedric. Neither the king or the queen had any way of knowing whether their noises had been overheard by the other, and it was the thin hope that they had been heard that kept them from going out of their minds with grief.
"Did…did you hear me?" Coignice trembled. Cedric smiled.
"Of course did," he said. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes," Coignice said, her eyes tearing. "I envied you so, Cedric. I could barely see the tower, let alone Valanice…but you were right outside her prison, were you not?"
"Yes," Cedric sighed sadly, "But she didn't know who I was, and I couldn't tell her who I was, either."
"Perhaps I was luckier than I thought, then," Coignice muttered.
As she looked at Cedric, she gasped as she noticed that his neck looked as if it had been injured. It had been rubbed raw in some places – in fact, an entire circle of redness circumscribed it.
"Hagatha – the witch – did she do this to you?" Coignice cried, drawing close to examine the injury.
"It's all right," Cedric reassured her, placing a hand against the side of his neck. "That's where my collar was. It doesn't hurt. I got used to it after a few weeks."
"I'd kill her with my bare hands for doing this to you," Coignice snarled. "For ruining our kingdom, for imprisoning our daughter…"
She stopped suddenly and looked questioningly into Cedric's eyes.
"Did you see where Valanice went?" she said softly.
"No," Cedric said. "When my spell was broken, I entered her room, but it was completely empty. She and the man who rescued her had gone without a trace."
Coignice was quiet for a moment. Then:
"The tiger's-eye amulet you gave Valanice all those years ago," said Coignice. "She must have used it to transport herself and her savior back to Kolyma."
"But why didn't she use it before?"
"Perhaps Hagatha stole it from her while she was bringing her here," Coignice hypothesized. "And the man who saved her must have found it somehow."
"Yes," Cedric nodded.
There was another heavy silence, broken only by the waves lapping up on the beach.
"So, you saw the man that rescued her?" Cedric asked.
Coignice smiled a little shamefacedly.
"Yes," she replied. "He arrived at the base of another island west of this one. He….caught me."
"Caught you?" Cedric asked in disbelief. "How, with a baited line on a pole?"
"No, with a net," Coignice said. "Hagatha must have left it there in the hopes that the man who, against all odds, made it through her three magic doors, would be so famished upon reaching this realm that he would…"
"Say no more," Cedric said quickly. "I understand. But what happened after he…caught you?"
"He threw me back."
"Why? Were you too small?"
"Oh, stop it," Coignice laughed, giving Cedric a playful nudge in the ribs. The emotional pain of their imprisonment was finally starting to lessen.
"So, what happened then?"
"After he released me, in return for his kindness, I carried him to this island."
"Carried him?" Cedric repeated.
"For some reason, Hagatha made me into a very large fish," Coignice shrugged. "You saw this man too, didn't you, Cedric?"
"Certainly," Cedric replied, a little uneasily.
"What did he do to get past you?" Coignice asked.
"He fed me."
Coignice almost burst out laughing.
"I'm sorry," she said. "But didn't Hagatha feed you while you were up there? I certainly had to eat while I was a fish…"
"She fed me just enough to keep me from starving," Cedric said dully. "In the hopes that I'd eat whoever made it to the tower. That meat that that man threw me was more than I'd eaten in…well, however long it's been since we were imprisoned. I think I fell asleep after that, and when I woke up…I was myself again. It was easy for me to slip out of that collar then."
The two rulers reflected on what they had just related to each other, and how it contrasted with their actions when Hagatha and Dracula had taken over their castle. Though Coignice had cowered when the castle was under siege, she had been the one who helped the young stranger who was seeking her daughter, and though Cedric had been the one who stood and fought, he proved to be merely a hindrance to the man. It was an odd change of roles for both of them.
"He certainly was handsome and able-bodied," Coignice mused.
"And he certainly must be brave and intelligent to have found a way into this realm," Cedric said.
They looked deep into each other's eyes, sharing the same thought. Coignice was the first to speak it out loud:
"I think Valanice has finally gotten that man 'strong of both body and mind' that she insisted upon having," she said.
Cedric didn't respond. Instead, he merely embraced his wife, holding her as closely and tightly as he could, even though she was still soaking wet. Coignice returned his hug, resting her sodden head on his shoulder. It was the first time they had been that close together for who could say how long.
When they finally pulled away from each other, they gazed at the surrounding landscape. The sun was beginning to set, and the crystal tower was turning purplish in the dying light.
"Now that we're no longer beasts…how can we escape this land?"
"I don't know…but if Hagatha returns here and finds Valanice gone, I'm afraid that she might do things to us much worse than changing us into a lion and a fish."
"I didn't think of that," Coignice gasped. "We've got to get out of this realm somehow!"
"Are there no other islands out there?" Cedric asked, waving his hand at the purple sea.
"I explored the entire ocean," Coignice sighed. "Aside from the island that that stranger appeared on and this island, there's nothing."
Cedric felt a hand of dread grip his heart. Though he and his wife were reunited, they were still prisoners, and there was nothing he could do about it.
As they gazed sadly at the darkening sky, however, a white speck suddenly appeared off in the distance. It grew larger and larger, approaching them at a rapid pace. For a moment, the king and queen thought it was a large white bird, but as it neared the island, they saw that it had four slender legs, a powerful body, a long flowing mane and a wispy tail, and it wore a familiar bridle.
"Pegasus!" Cedric cried excitedly.
The winged horse let out a shrill whinny of recognition and swooped so low over the water that its hooves briefly trailed in it. It then pumped its wings forcefully, quickening its speed as it neared the couple. Within a matter of seconds, it had reached the island's blue shoreline, coming to an abrupt landing and sliding forwards a few feet before stopping completely.
Coignice was so happy to see the creature again that she ran forward and threw her arms around its muscular neck.
"I'm sorry for not arriving sooner, your Majesties," Pegasus panted, sounding quite out of breath. "I knew where the portal to this land originally was, I just couldn't get through it for some time. Are you both well?"
"We're wonderful," Cedric said. "But Pegasus, I thought you had perished. What happened to you and the knight I sent out with you?"
The great horse let its silvery wings droop slightly and bowed its head.
"A rogue sorcerer who used to live in the town sided with Hagatha and the Count. He captured me and was able to strip me of my bridle. As for my rider…"
His head sagged even lower.
"Killed?" Coignice asked, her voice breaking.
"Transformed into a frog."
"Don't worry, though. He seems happy…at least, he did the last time I saw him. Anyway, the sorcerer changed me into a snake when I refused to serve him and he and Hagatha made me guard the hiding place of one of the keys to the three doors that led to this realm. One day, however, a young man released me from the enchantment – he had found my bridle, and somehow he had the presence of mind to throw it on me, breaking the spell."
"But how in the world would someone without any knowledge of you understand the importance of throwing a bridle on a snake?"
"He was an interesting one, that man. I gave him one of Philomel's sugar cubes in the hope that he would make it to the shores of the Royal Island. I watched him from a distance as he wandered through Kolyma, returning to the three doors with the third and final key, stepping through the portal into this realm, then returning to the Royal Island sometime later with your daughter."
"The Royal Island?" Cedric asked. "But that place is a deathtrap now! Hagatha told us that the castle was taken over by Count Dracula, and those brambles will kill anyone who isn't…"
"It isn't a place of evil any longer," Pegasus said with a low, equine chuckle. "The man who freed your daughter has also freed your castle. He destroyed Dracula, and the evil influence of both him and Hagatha is quickly fading from that place. The brambles have withered and died, the water had become pure, and green grass is starting to grow again. Soon, your island and castle will be restored to their original glory."
"Truly?" Coignice whispered.
"They were in fine condition when your daughter and her rescuer arrived at the castle's front gate," said Pegasus. "That was where they stayed while they were making preparations for the wedding."
"So when we return, we…"
Coignice trailed off suddenly. Her blue eyes became filled with tears.
"Coignice? What's wrong?" Cedric asked.
The queen let out a heartbroken sob and slumped against Cedric's chest.
"We've missed our little girl's wedding!" she wailed.
Cedric stroked her hair and spoke soothingly to her as she wept, though inside he felt a deep pang of sadness as well, not being able to meet his future son-in-law or congratulate Valanice on finally finding a man that met her somewhat rigid standards.
"There there, dear," Cedric said. "You shouldn't be crying. This is no time for sadness. Our daughter is happy, we are free, and our homeland is no longer under Evil's thumb. We shouldn't be moping like this when such wonderful events have just taken place."
Coignice grew a little quieter at this. She gazed into her husband's eyes, then turned to face Pegasus.
"Tell me, Pegasus: how was the wedding?"
"I didn't attend it myself," Pegasus confessed, "But from what I saw of it, it was a fantastic event. Everyone came, it seemed, and fortunately, Hagatha never showed her face."
"Are you saying that this man killed Dracula but let Hagatha live?" Cedric demanded.
"I'm afraid so," Pegasus sighed. "I can't explain why, but at least there is one less villain in your land to worry about."
Coignice sighed as well, but didn't lose the hopeful look on her face.
"Where did the ceremony take place?"
"The same place you two were married," Pegasus said. "The monastery."
Cedric and Coignice smiled at each other, vaguely remembering the day that they became man and wife.
"But this man," Coignice said. "Did you learn his name?"
"His name is Graham," the winged horse replied. "He is a young king who journeyed here from a faraway land just to free your daughter. He came here with few supplies, no companions, and no way of returning."
"Sounds like a hasty sort of lad," Cedric remarked. "But he must have a good head on his shoulders to have braved the dangers of Kolyma just to win our daughter's hand."
"'Graham?'" Coignice murmured. "What an odd name. You say this man came here with no way of returning home?"
"Then how do he and Valanice plan on leaving Kolyma?"
"They've already left," Pegasus said. "Time passes a little swifter within this realm. Philomel made some adjustments to Valanice's pendant so that speaking the word 'home' would take them to Graham's home, instead of…"
"Philomel is alive?" Cedric exclaimed.
"Very much so. When he and his wife disappeared, they didn't truly disappear – they just went into hiding."
"But what happened to them?" Coignice asked.
Pegasus cleared his throat.
"To make a long story short, Philomel had a brief but vivid vision shortly before Hagatha and Dracula arrived in Kolyma. He knew that you were going to lose the fight no matter what he did to help, but that you would not perish. He also knew that Valanice would eventually be freed, and he would be needed to assist her and her savior. He cast a protective spell over one of the few remaining buildings in the town – a small antique shop – and told his wife to hide there. He then managed to find and steal the bridle from the sorcerer who had taken it from me, and conceal it in a location that only he knew.
"He then made his way to the antique shop in secret and changed himself into a caged nightingale, a pure nightingale with no memory of its life as a human, effectively concealing him from any magic-workers that could see him for what he truly was. He left behind a small oil lamp and instructions for his wife, telling her to give the lamp to the first foreigner who visited her, and that she was to protect the nightingale with her life, and let it out of its cage only when Valanice and the foreigner returned – that was the key event which would break the spell once he was free of his cage, you see."
"My goodness," Coignice breathed. "What a plan…but to think that Philomel abandoned us…"
"If he had stayed with you, he would have ended up dead or a prisoner of the enemy. It was a difficult decision to make for him, but he decided that being in a position to help Valanice was better than fighting on a side destined to be defeated."
"I must admit that I agree with his reasoning. As long is our daughter is safe and happy, I don't care who deserted us in order to be of aid to her…This plan of his worked, I presume?"
"Yes – it went along quite smoothly except for when Hagatha stole Philomel from the shop – apparently his disguise wasn't as effective as he had hoped – but fortunately, Graham was able to rescue him and return him to his wife."
"That's my boy," Cedric said, wishing more than ever that he could have met his son-in-law as a man rather than a hungry-maddened lion. "So Philomel is now human again?"
"Yes, and he's been doing quite well since he stopped trying to preen himself. It was he that reopened the portal to this realm so that I could come and fetch you. He also plans to find the transformed knight and change him back, but that might take some time – there are a lot of frogs in Kolyma."
"That's reassuring," said Coignice. "But Pegasus…what will we do once we return to Kolyma? There was hardly anything left of it when Hagatha and Dracula took over our castle, and Hagatha has told us that Kolyma is nearly deserted now. What would be the point of returning to reign over a kingdom with no subjects?"
"You won't reign when you return to Kolyma," said Pegasus quietly. "Not for a while, anyway. There are still some people there who are loyal to you and wait for you to come back. When you return to their land, hope will return as well. There is still some darkness in Kolyma, but hopefully your presence will cast light across it – perhaps that might be enough to encourage your people to rise up against Hagatha and her minions. It may not be instantaneous or easy, but as long as you have faith that you will succeed this time, it will come to pass. Only when the shadows are dispelled will you be able to reclaim your positions and king and queen of Kolyma."
Coignice and Cedric looked questioningly at Pegasus, then at each other.
"Did Philomel tell you all this?" Cedric asked the winged steed.
"More or less," Pegasus confessed. "I suggested just telling you that your kingdom needed you, but he threatened to peck my eyes out if I didn't use his little speech."
Coignice smiled. "It sounds like we have a lot of work to do," she said.
"Indeed," said Pegasus, "But compared to what you've been through, it shouldn't be too taxing."
He turned around and lowered his front end, letting his shining wings lie limp beside him.
"Climb on," he said. "It's time I brought you home. The portal to Kolyma will still be open, and Philomel and his wife are waiting on the other side."
"Are you sure you can carry both of us?" Cedric asked.
Cedric straddled Pegasus' slender back. Coignice swung on behind him, sitting with as much dignity as she was able, considering the length of her dress. She and Cedric took one last look at the tall tower their daughter had been imprisoned in and the island on which the tower was built. The sun's light was nearly gone now, and a deep indigo night darkened the surrounding sea.
"Cedric?" Coignice whispered. "When all this business with restoring hope to our land and dealing with Hagatha is over…do you think we'll ever see our daughter again?"
Cedric was silent for a moment, gazing up at the pearly tower as a gentle breeze ruffled his hair. After a minute or two, he turned to face his wife.
"Valanice was always a very independent child," he said. "And once she has made up her mind on what she wants to be and how she wishes to live her life, it is difficult – nay, impossible – for another to make her change her mind. She has finally found the man she wanted, and she will no doubt be happy with him. She doesn't need us anymore.
"Still…perhaps one of these days, when Kolyma's people are well again and its future is secure…perhaps we will see her. And her husband."
"Even if we don't," Coignice said, tears welling in her eyes, "At least she is happy. As long as I know that, I wouldn't be sad, even if I was to die tomorrow."
"I agree," Cedric said. He put an arm around her and kissed her. Coignice held Cedric tightly, tears of bittersweet happiness running down her cheeks. It was a long time before they finally pulled apart. Cedric frowned and glanced at the fingers of the hand that he had been holding his wife with.
"You're still wet," he remarked. Coignice smiled sheepishly.
"I'll dry out soon," she said.
"Well, at least you didn't have to deal with fleas," Cedric muttered, impulsively scratching the back of his head. Coignice stifled a laugh.
Cedric shifted his weight on Pegasus' back, and gripped the reins of the creature's bridle firmly. The mighty horse pawed the ground and flexed his silvery wings, which glittered like diamonds in the purple twilight.
"Come, Pegasus," said the king. "Let's try to make it home before it gets any darker."
I've sometimes wondered what happened to Valanice's parents. She mentions their names in the King's Quest Companion (yes, Valanice's father has the same name as the owl in KQ5), but there's no mention of how or when they died. I had them die of grief in my early story "Valanice", but I decided to take a different and less harsh approach in this story. KQ2 may be a game full of completely random elements, but if you look hard enough and use your imagination, you can form logical connections between them. The Kolyma in this story is vastly different than the Kolyma in "Valanice" in many ways…and Philomel's name is an etymological in-joke as well as a mythological reference. ;)