Stratagem

By @Gummy

Stratagem

By @Gummy

A boy wakes up in a fantasy world with no recollection of who he is or how he arrived in the first place. A noble lady named Daphne seems to have an idea, but can the boy really manage to meet her lofty expectations?

Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The Arrival

I don’t remember.

How I ended up under this tree, or what I was supposed to do under this tree is all beyond the point of my memory at the moment. With no other purpose in mind, I look to either side of me, both to ascertain my current condition and to look for a clue to answering the barrage of questions that have begun attacking my brain in waves like individual arrows.

“Where in the world…?” I mutter to myself as I examine the beautiful, flower-filled landscape. The smell of dew on crisp grass tickles my nose, while the trickling sound of running water entertained my ears in a similar fashion. “Is this a garden?”

I try to stand up from my spot under the tree, but a splitting pain ravages my lower back in the process. “I suppose that wasn’t the best position to lie down in, wasn’t it?” I groan to myself. I eventually manage to reincorporate myself, but I notice that my clothes have specks of dirt all over them. I brush off as much as I can from my shirt, all the while looking around to see if anybody was watching.

That’s when I first meet Daphne.

The moment our eyes met, a young lady in a blue, jewel-encrusted dress dashes towards me, with a huge smile plastered all over her rosy cheeks to serve as proof of her genuine excitement. “It’s you!” she cries out. “You’re really here!” she embraces me and hold on a little bit more tightly than I was originally expecting. She feigns ignorance to my wheezing. “I can’t believe you actually showed up!”

“I have no idea how, miss, but it appears I did show up…” I choke, prompting the young lady to release me from her vice-like grip. “Where exactly did I show up, and who in the world are you?” I ask her.

Her smile mellows down a bit while still clearly expressing happiness. “I’m sure you have many a question in your mind, but everything will be perfectly clear in a moment. For the moment, just know that I’m Daphne, and this is my home: Castle Blackthorn!” she finishes by making an extravagant gesture, raising both of her arms to the blue sky above us.

Okay, so this young lady is a noble of some rank, and I’ve suddenly appeared as a total amnesiac under a tree in one of its gardens. I think I can come to terms with this… little by little, hopefully. I wish I knew why and how I made it into this castle in the first place, but judging by the way things were going, I don’t think I’ll be getting an answer to that anytime soon…

“Come on, friend! Father will definitely be ecstatic when he sees you finally showed up!” Okay, can we stop saying I ‘showed up’ under this tree here? In no way does this present a reasonable answer to my question as to how I arrived here…

Daphne offers me her outstretched arm, expecting me to lock onto it like some sort of gentleman. Regardless of whether I have any experience in treating a noble lady like Daphne appropriately, I lock my arm in hers anyway. I don’t remember what social standing I possessed before I “showed up” in this castle, but this sweet little blonde lady was beautiful, so I found it in my best interest to at least stand on good terms with her.

The two of us walk down the castle hallways together, attracting the attention of a few of the knights that were patrolling said hallways. “Am I doing something wrong?” I ask Daphne. “All these knights are looking at me funny.”

She giggles cutely in response. “They’ve never seen me walk hand-in-hand with a boy my age before,” she whispers. “Since most of them have been around since before I was born, it’s kind of a big deal.”

I blush a bright red. This is embarrassing.

Daphne leads me up a staircase wide enough to fit an army of fully armored knights side-by-side, and we stop shortly after, at a set of intimidatingly large double doors, tall enough to fit an army of fully armored knights standing on top of each other’s shoulders. There are two guards in heavier armor than the patrolling knights standing in front of the double doors. I notice Daphne walking towards them, motioning for me to follow. “Hurry up! Father is waiting just beyond this door!”

I recoil, stunned. “What do you mean when you say he’s ‘waiting just beyond this door’!?” I exclaim. “Just what kind of man is your father…?”

“Didn’t I tell you?” a mischievous smile creeps its way up her cheeks. “I am the Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Blackthorn. My father, whom you’re about to meet, is the king! Wouldn’t it make sense to see him most often in a throne room?”

She says that like it’s some sort of fun fact. I never expected to meet a king today, much less wearing this hideous attire. Would I lose my head for showing up with a dirty shirt?

Daphne walks up to both of the guards and greets them with a courtly bow. The guards, in response, bow back to Her Highness and silently allow her passage. As she walks into the throne room, I hastily try to follow her inside, but I’m stopped square in my tracks by two spearheads poking dangerously close to my neck. “No unauthorized entry!”

they yell out at me.

“No, no, wait! He’s with me!” Daphne cries out, calling back her metaphorical dogs. The two flustered sentries huff and remove their weapons from my arteries.

I can breathe again. Thank you, Daphne… I really needed that.

Daphne locks her arm in mine and starts walking toward the black figure at the end of the room, the biggest smile on her face.

“Daughter.” The large older man in an extremely ornate suit of heavy, jet-black armor turns to Daphne. “Who is this dirty beggar you’ve dragged into my throne room?” He looks and acts like a total grouch. I get the feeling he didn’t even grin when Daphne was born.

Daphne chuckles nervously. “This isn’t a dirty beggar, Father. This is the hero of the prophecy! You know, the one I was supposed to summon?” Pardon? I didn’t receive the memo.

Suddenly, the king grew very angry. I could have sworn I felt the room shake at this point. “Do you take me for a fool, Daphne!? I’ve squires with less muscle than this sorry excuse of a summon!”

That must have hurt Daphne quite a bit. According to the king, the reason why I’m weak is because I was summoned by a shoddy… summoner. That should explain why I must have forgotten everything from my childhood. I’m from another world, aren’t I?

“Go back to your quarters, Daphne. You are to perform another summoning ritual under my supervision once I’m done with this failed byproduct.” He orders. “GUARDS!” Jeez, you didn’t have to yell like that, Your Majesty.

“Failed byproduct!? Father, you can’t do this!” Daphne cries out. “I might have failed in summoning him, but he’s a human being just like us, with a working heart and soul! You’re going to execute him because I failed to summon him correctly? At least let me send him back to the world where we came from…” Yes, please. I’d appreciate that, especially if you could restore my memories while you’re at it

“If you failed to bring an appropriate warrior back from another world, what makes you think it any easier to teleport him back to wherever he came from? I just hope you don’t attach yourself as much to whomever you end up summoning next time.”

Daphne begins to sob. “I’m sorry, boy. I have no way to repay the life I’ve ripped away from you…”

“What are you waiting for, you two ************** the king roars at his two guards. “Drive a spear through his skull!” In response, the obedient guards pick up their lances and start charging towards me.

I thrust out my bare palms towards my two “opponents” and yell out in apprehension. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold it, you two!” My intentions were to reduce the use of violence during this encounter…

…But by thrusting my palms towards the two guards like that, I managed to repel their charge with a powerful shockwave of energy… a superhuman maneuver that I obviously had no idea I could perform beforehand. Both of the men who were after my life are rocketed halfway across the throne room and roll for a moment or two before skidding against the carpeted floor, much to the shock of every other knight in the vicinity. I look back at the king and smile sheepishly. “I’m terribly sorry, Your Majesty! I can explain!”

Like hell I can!

He glares at me with a look of sheer enmity before turning to the two guards, which were quickly reincorporating themselves with a cacophony of slices of steel suits of armor, and awkwardly picking their spears back up, ready to charge at me once more.

They glance apprehensively at their sovereign ruler, as if asking him “Do you really want us to go at it again.

The King motions towards them by tilting the right side of his head upwards a bit. “Go on,” His Majesty’s body language implies.

The two knights look at each other in a display of disbelief. One of them, the shorter of the two, shrugs comically, while his taller companion nods in agreement to whatever proposition he was just offered. The two assume another fighting pose, an action which prompts me to raise my voice once again.

“Hey, time out! Don’t I get a say in this!? Didn’t I just prove my strength to you by knocking out those guys once already!?”

The two knights take the opportunity to charge in my direction while I’m not looking, and before I knew it, both Dumb and Dumber are too close for comfort. I gasp for air, clearly unable to activate my reflexes in time to understand that I have to dodge this attack or else I’m going to get skewered—

Oh, wait, I managed to step away somehow. Another buff from being summoned, I guess? At least my body recognizes I’m not supposed to be pulling these sorts of tricks.

Following the guards’ defeat, I stand in silence, taking heaving breaths. I look to either side and notice that neither of the two knights that I had just knocked out were still immobile. “What… what have I done?” I mutter as the wave of realization finally hits me. I know I lost my entire memories up to about an hour ago, but my muscle memory makes it clear as crystal that I’m not supposed to be able to perform what I just performed.

A slow clap rings throughout the room. I turn back and realize that a macabre smile had just snuck his way into the heart of the king. “I… I don’t get it.” I mumble. “Weren’t you gritting your teeth at me just a moment ago?”

“Daphne,” he turns to his astonished daughter. “I apologize for underestimating your abilities. You have done a fine job in summoning this talented young man.”

“You were testing me, weren’t you?” I bark at the king. “You knew far well that she’d summoned the right guy.”

“I have no intention of revealing my intentions to anyone, much less an uncouth, rebellious stain on society such as yourself.” Quit making me mad. I don’t want to add “Regicide” to my criminal record. “Let us make a deal, boy,” he announces. “I will pardon all of the crimes you have committed and provide you with a noble title if you can prove your loyalty to me.”

Humor me, your Majesty. “I’m interested,” I lie. I could hear Daphne’s breath grow dryer and faster.

“Your task is simple,” the king begins. “If you wish to prove my loyalty to you, you will pick one of the two knights you have just bested… and slice off his head.”

Gasp, shriek. I’ve gotten used to these plot twists already… unlike a certain young lady who’s been doing nothing but gasping and shrieking this whole time. “Father! Are you really ordering this boy to strike down a member of your royal guard while in a defenseless state!?”

Yeah, that’s exactly what he just said. The king hands me a silver sword. “Whenever you’re ready, child.” The king releases his grip from the sword, and a cool idea sparks inside my damaged brain. I swing the sword up and down, side to side. I’m testing its weight and durability. After making sure I can hold this thing up without much of an issue, I turn to the king, who’s squinting at me. I wonder if he’s suspicious…

Once I’ve gotten comfortable enough with this blade…

…I steal it! I bolt my way out of the throne room before the king could stop me. I mean, his guards are knocked out, after all. “Thanks for the sword, bub!”

The king yells out something so loudly, I couldn’t even make out if he said anything understandable in the first place. The words “Seize the boy!” could be heard echoing through the entire castle shortly afterwards, but by then I had already made it to the castle gates. I mean, I didn’t know I had superhuman speed, but I figured it should have come packaged with superhuman strength…

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