• Published 13th May 2013
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Arthurian—The Black King - Wellspring



The origin of King Sombra as a squire, knight and king.

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Sir Sombra de Onyx: vii, viii and x

VII

In Which Sir Sombra Twice Saves the Queen

The defeat of the Sphinx did not entail celebration, for it had taken to its grave a total of seventy-eight knights, two hundred and twenty-two soldiers, one-hundred and seventeen mares, eighteen colts and seventeen fillies. At once that peace had returned, there was much mourning for the losses.

The news that it was the queen that had slain the Sphinx did little to appease the resentment of the crystal ponies. Rumors began that Queen Avalon had fled the Crystal Empire to save herself, and it was King Stonehoof who had stayed to fend for his subjects. Sir Sapphire Shield, nephew to Sir Emerald IV, was furious to discover that the queen had ventured while the knight who held her handkerchief defended the empire believing she was there.

“Alas! I could not see it as anything other than betrayal,” said Sir Sapphire Shield as he dined with his company. “For my uncle is now incapable after battling the Sphinx for thirty days and thirty nights, in defense of a queen who was not even within the castle. Do we not agree that Sir Emerald IV is one of the greatest knights of the empire, and now what of him? He could no longer fight, nor win, the Grand Tourney in Launcelot that he hath yearned for decades.”

“Aye, I agree!” said Lady Flask Water, who had returned to the Crystal Empire. She had later, by virtue of Sir Joyous Gard's disclosure, discovered to her shock that Queen Avalon was the milkmaid that she rebuked in Captain Backwater's keep. “She is a coward undeserving of his husband, King Stonehoof. She ought to be burnt at the stake for treason.”

“Dost thou doubt the account of Sir Joyous Gard,” said Sir Metal Ore, “one of our most honorable and honest knights, that it was the queen herself, with the aid of Sir Sombra and Sir Longtooth the Crimson, rest his ghost, who vanquished the Sphinx?”

“Nay,” replied Sir Sapphire Shield. “For his renown for truth is well earned. Still, hear the whispers of our maidens: if we were to have offered the queen to the Sphinx then we may not have suffered an unfortunate and irreplaceable loss.”

It was due to these conversations that Sir Sombra de Onyx approached Sir Emerald IV in his bedside, as was gravely wounded and thenceforth unable to do more than to lift his lance.

"I beg thy forgiveness, brave knight,” said Sir Sombra, “for it is her majesty’s wishes that I accompany the Knights of the Crystal Circle and she comes with me to give her the protection of my spears. If I were to have disclosed the truth sooner then thou would need not suffer.”

“I could not lie and state that I harbor no ill feelings for thee,” replied he, “but I am eternally glad the queen is safe, for that is all I ask. I am a knight still in service of our liege and I hold here with me the golden handkerchief of her majesty. I know no other knight to pass this honor than to thee, but not without recompense: go to Launcelot and win the Grand Tourney of the Princesses in my stead. Return to me and I shall give this handkerchief to thee that thou may rightfully serve the queen by her beside.”

“As you wish, great knight.”

The night before the day of his departure to Launceolt, Sir Sombra awaited below the tower of Queen Avalon and the two met in the garden where they have first spoken.

“My liege,” said he, “I am to depart to Launcelot for the Grand Tourney held by Princess Diana and Princess Helionis. I shall not return till I have won thee a prize, for the champion of the tournament may ask a gift from the princesses. Pray tell, what doth my queen wishes? For it is to thy honor that I endeavor this upcoming.”

“I want thee,” said she, “to return unharmed. I cannot forbear the thought of thou wounded for my sake. Thy safe return alone will plenty my heart.”

“I swear then, that I shall return unharmed and with a treasure most becoming of thee.”

At dawn, Queen Avalon returned to her castle and Sir Sombra ventured to Launcelot.

He arrived several weeks later and enlisted his name for the tournament, and there was much delight in the crowd as he was known for the songs attributed to him by the fifty-two mares he saved. Apart from the few inquiries to his origins, the ponies of Launcelot did not fear him as he would have thought.

The Grand Tourney of the Princesses was held only once every quarter of a century, and thus became the most sought tournament by knights and spectators alike. A total of three thousand one hundred and thirty-three knights participated and the audience reached to fifty-eight thousand and forty in number. The overall crowned victor was to be given a private audience with the princesses to ask for a gift their Grace may bestow upon the champion.

The tournament began after two days of Sir Sombra’s arrival. In a series of jousting battles, he had his first five victories as he felled three knights from Gawain, a knight from Pellinore and a knight from Launcelot. For the second day of the tournament he won five victories on sword sparring against two knights from Gawain, a knight from Gaheris, a knight from Lamerok and a knight from Launcelot. For the third day he won all five jousting battles against a knight from Percival and four knights from Launcelot. As Sir Sombra de Onyx advanced to the next stage of the tournament he has earned the cheer of the crowd for his outstanding performance.

Let us return in the meantime to the Crystal Empire where Queen Avalon was received with the least favorable repute among her subjects. But no creatures harbor more ill-hatred than the satyr heathens, a hatred matched only by the envy of Lady Flask Water, who heard of the fall of their god-Sphinx at the hooves of the queen. It was during the eventful day of the Grand Tournament that the heathens have plotted against the queen. Barbarians as they were, they made no attempt at an assassination, but instead have all charged headfirst into the Scabbard, trying to penetrate through the Crystal Empire. King Stonehoof was one against dismayed for the heavy loss his army took from the Sphinx could not match against the sheer numbers of the satyrs. Again he consulted his adviser Bluebeard.

“Perhaps, now, we have no choice,” said Bluebeard, “but to surrender the Queen to the satyrs and hope that the heathens will be satisfied. And of the Scabbard? I trust thy daughter, Princess Camelot, to be of age to bear the title of the Crystal Heart and protect the empire.”

Sir Joyous Gard, who was present during this council, immediately refuted thus: “Inconceivable! I speak for those knights who share the code of chivalry, that we cannot simply submit the queen as though she is a sacrificial lamb. Hast the queen not slayeth the Sphinx for her subjects?”

“Aye,” said Bluebeard. “And in so slaying the Sphinx she has incurred the wrath of a race of its worshipers. As we speak, the heathens knock on our wall with their scimitars and horns; from all over the globe they come to avenge their fallen idol. The shield will not hold, and it is only a matter of time before the empire is overrun.”

“Then we only need to hold longer,” replied he. “I shall ask Sir Windtrot the Wingedhoof to go to Launcelot and return with Sir Sombra de Onyx, for if he were here he would slay the heathens by the thousands as he did before.”

“Thou art hast ten days to return with Sir Sombra,” said King Stonehoof.

At once, Sir Joyous Gard approached Sir Windtrot and the knight galloped to Launcelot. Upon witnessing this turn of events, Lady Flask Water followed to the capital.

In the second round of the Grand Tournament the number of knights lessened to those few whose strength outmatches the majority. This was the chapter of the tourney in which the crowd cheers for individual knights rather than the city-state they represented. Sir Sombra was among the few who possessed the impressive score of being unbeaten, and many knights stroke his shield with the reverse edge of their lance[25] in the next few battles. The second chapter of the Grand Tourney lasted four days and, throughout this time, Sir Sombra felled all sixty-seven of his competitors and has once again invoked the good wishes of the crowd.

In the third round of the tournament, only a hundred and twenty-eight knights were left from the three thousand one hundred and thirty-three participants. Two combatants will spar with another until one of them yields or is incapacitated, the victor advances to the next battle and the defeated is eliminated. A knight will have to win seven battles to be crowned champion.

Sir Sombra’s first battle was against Sir Bulwark, a young knight who has proven himself capable in defense by the sheer size of his shield. Sir Sombra only need to tip the balance of the pavise with his blows to fell the young knight, who was then forced to yield.

The next battle was against a knight named Don Cadalbolg , who immediately yields to him, for the knight’s lady was one of the fifty-four mare whom Sir Sombra saved from the fort of Captain Backwater and wishes to repay kindness by the submission. However, Sir Sombra urged to combat Don Cadalbolg than win by default, which he regarded as discourteous. Don Cadalbolg gladly agreed and the two battled valiantly to the delight of the crowd and the princesses. When the dusk came, Don Cadalbolg submits to his injuries and finally yields to Sir Sombra.

The next day started and Sir Sombra’s third battle was against a knight of the Crystal Empire, Sir Scabbard the Holy, who possessed the strength of seven stallions. The two greeted each other before battle, and both pledged their victory in honor of the Crystal Heart they both served. The battle began, and the audience applauded for the display of power on both sides. Sir Sombra knew he could not match Sir Scabbard by sheer force and so waited until the knight is wearied before using his speed to topple him down and kick his sword away from his reach to force his surrender. Sir Sombra kept his word and credited his victory to the Crystal Empire. The two knights then rejoiced before Sir Sombra’s next fight.

The fourth battle astounded Sir Sombra’s serendipity. For he stood against a stallion in white armor he knows to be Sir Ironheart the White, still within the service of the filly Marelin. Before combat, the two knights greeted one another, glad that they are able to fight in their fullest strength. Sir Ironheart disclosed that he fights for the credit of his lady, Marelin.

“I wish my knight's victory,” said Marelin as she greeted Sir Sombra, “for I wish as a gift from the princess of sun a mirror from which I can bear witness the secrets world, both past and present, so that I may see the secrets of the future. And may I impart, Sir Sombra de Onyx, that thy deepest secret has not yet change for thou still wish for life in this world.”

Thus, Sir Ironheart and Sir Sombra battled one another, and after long combat Sir Sombra once again emerged as victor.

The three of them later left for the pavilion and was later accompanied by Sir Scabbard. Here Sir Sombra spoke of his mother, Ouroborors, the She-Serpent, and the means of how Marelin may obtain the mirror she sought.

The next day, Sir Sombra fought against an opponent he has never encountered before. For his enemy was indeed a knight but not a stallion. Sir Humbaba the Earthshaker was a mammoth with large tusks and in full armor, Princess Diana’s personal champion[26]. Sir Sombra battled ferociously, but his spears could do little against the bulk of his competitor. Sir Humbaba’s speed was not to be underestimated, for with a swing of his great axe he sent to the earth the ground shakes. Out of options, Sir Sombra used his magic and summoned large spikes of onyx that pierced the armor and flesh of his foe. The audience marveled in awe and in horror as the onyx shards circled and encased Sir Humbaba in a prison of mineral, forcing his surrender.

Before Sir Sombra retired from his victory, Princess Helionis flew down from her balcony and questioned the knight of his identity.

“Thy Grace, my name is Sir Sombra de Onyx of the Crystal Empire. I am the son of Ouroboros, the She-Serpent, and Sir Fenrir the Grey, rest his ghost. I fight in honor of the Crystal Heart.”

“And what gift would ask thee if thou emerges as champion?”

“That, I confess, I do not know. For I wield my spears only to obtain the handkerchief of one whom I wish to serve with utmost fortitude. And from thy Grace, perhaps, I may ask thee of a comb or mirror that she may enjoy.”

Satisfied, Princess Helionis returned to her balcony to watch the match of the following contestants.

It was later in the dead of the night, while Sir Sombra rested, that Sir Windtrot the Wingedhoof visited and brought the news of the terrible state of the Crystal Empire.

“Alas, that we have two days before the queen is offered!” cried Sir Sombra. “And how can one reach the Crystal Empire without the speed of one like thou, Sir Windtrot? I beg thee, return to the empire and save the queen in my stead till my return. For the dawn of the third day, there shall I be to rescue the queen. But till then, I can rely only on the virtue of chivalry of my fellow knights. Tell the queen that I have not abandoned my liege.”

With that, Sir Windtrot made haste back to the Crystal Empire. Sir Sombra remained in his place of retirement where he sat down and wept.

The semifinal of the tournament began at midday, and though Sir Sombra fought with all his strength, the opponent was the hardest he has faced so far: A pegasus lady-knight with golden coat and silver armor, wielding a bow and arrow in her hooves and a blade on each her wings. The most peculiar of her vestiture was the visor that covered her eyes makes her no more capable of sight than that of a blind[27]. The mare moved swiftly and fired arrows from afar. When Sir Sombra neared, the mare more than outmatched the knight with her wing blades. Sir Sombra used his onyx, but they were ineffective as the mare only need to fly higher than the crystal's reach. When dusk arrived, Sir Sombra is gravely injured and his opponent stood unscathed.

“Withdraw, Sir Sombra,” said the lady-knight, “there is no shame in this defeat. I honor thy resiliency. For a lesser knight would have yielded at such a disadvantage.”

“Nay,” replied he, “for I have cause to win this Grand Tourney, for in my victory rests the fate of my lady. Thus, I will not yield. Not even at the cost of my own life.”

The mare fired two arrows and both broke through each of Sir Sombra’s knees.

“Yield,” said she, “or succumb to thy wounds.”

Sir Sombra did not answer and the mare fired another two arrows that pierced Sir Sombra’s side. The crowd all cried in despair to urge the knight of onyx for his surrender.

“Yield,” said she, “or this last arrow shall strike thee between the eyes, and cleave the holy ghost from thy body.”

Sir Sombra again did not answer and the mare fired the arrow. This time, the arrow only slipped through Sir Sombra’s mane, to the surprise of everyone in the tournament.

The mare replaced her bow on to her back and said: “I acknowledge thy courage. Blind as I am, I see within thee that thou wield thy spears for a cause greater than I stretch my bow. Very well then, I yield to thy strength of character.”

Thus, Sir Sombra won his sixth battle and the crowd applauded both competitors for their display of chivalry. It was the lady-knight who assisted Sir Sombra back to his recluse, where Sir Ironheart, Sir Scabbard the Holy and Marelin all waited and congratulated him. Then she said: “Sir Sombra de Onyx, I hope I may once again fight thee in the field where neither of us is to be held aback by the worry of anything else but the sword of one’s opponent.”

“I hope for it as well,” replied Sir Sombra.

The lady-knight flew off and returned to her place of retirement.

It was in the middle of the night, while Sir Sombra was resting, that his tent opened to the entry of Lady Flask Water. There the maiden roused him awake and she tended to his wounds with herbs and holy water.

“My lord,” said she, “I offer myself to thee to-night. For thou knows of my love, and I ask thee to take it.”

“My lady, I cannot return or take thy love. I am in the service of a higher power to which I have given my life to.”

Lady Flask Water was enraged to hear this, for she knows that it was Queen Avalon that Sir Sombra so dearly fought for. She knew as well that if he were to win the Grand Tourney, he would ask the princesses a gift to save the life of the queen and win him her love. With such thoughts clouding her malevolent mind, Lady Flask Water poisoned Sir Sombra’s water to weaken him in the final fight.

The championship started the next day, where Sir Sombra was to fight a knight that carried in his banner Princess Helionis’s own handkerchief, Sir Excalibur the King[28], champion of the previous Grand Tourney. On his shield was the carved heraldry of Princess Helionis’s emblem.

“Sir Sombra de Onyx,” called Sir Excalibur, “I applaud thee for all we have witnessed. Know that my strength and skill may not equal thy previous combatant, but thou will not find me an easy opponent. As Princess Helionis is my witness, not once in my life have I yield, and that the first shall not happen to-day.”

“Sir Excalibur,” called Sir Sombra, “I am most honored to meet thee in the field of battle. And knowing that I, too, will not yield, this battle shall end with the death of either of us. I wish to say that if I were to fall, I am honored to be defeated by the blade of a knight as chivalrous as thee.”

The crowds cheered the good wishes of the two knights who have earned their place in the final match. Just before the battle starts, Sir Sombra drinks from his water and was greatly weakened. He was felled instantly in the first jousts and was felled again after two blows in sparring by the sword.

It was at this time in the Crystal Empire that what’s left of the knights were divided between those who want the queen surrendered to the satyr heathens, led by Sir Saphire Shield, and those who wished to protect her, led by Sir Joyous Gard. With King Stonehoof afraid to take sides, lest he incites the their displeasure, it was Queen Avalon who spoke:

“It breaks my heart,” said she, “to see the knights of the Crystal Empire quarrel. Let no more words sting each other, for each is thy brother in arms. I shall surrender myself to the mercy of the heathens, before the Scabbard crumbles and their number overtakes us.”

“My liege, I implore thee,” cried Sir Joyous Gard, “to wait until the return of Sir Sombra, who promises to return on the dawn of to-morrow where he will vanquish the satyrs by the thousands.”

Sir Sapphire Shield responded: “For how can he return from Launcelot to the empire within a day; and suppose he succeeds, he would be too wearied by the tourney and the travel to fight in his full strength.”

“That I do not know,” said Sir Joyous Gard. “Only I trust him to keep his word. This is why I refuse to submit her majesty to the heathens.” Then, turning to the king and queen, he said: “My liege, I beg thee not to answer to the heretics. I shall firsthoof charge and do battle against satyrs. For having pledge my loyalty to the Crystal Heart, I will not allow her highness to die before me.”

And so Sir Joyous Gard took up arms and charged against the satyrs. Among the twelve knights who battled by his side were Sir Cuirass, Sir Metal Ore and Sir Windtrot.

Thus, Sir Sapphire Shield exclaims: “Alas! Should we lose the ghost of thirteen good knights in place of the queen who once fled the empire under siege?”

Returning again to Launcelot where the Grand Tournament was held, Sir Sombra was felled time and time again with each strike of Sir Excalibur’s blade. The crowd, the knight and the princesses all took notice of Sir Sombra’s performance and the match was then called to a temporary halt. The physicians discovered poison in Sir Sombra’s blood and there they deemed him incapable of further battle. The victor was then announced to be Sir Excalibur.

“Alas!” the king announced, “there is no honor to be had, for it was not I who defeated Sir Sombra, but the treachery of a coward. I do not, therefore, claim myself to be the victor, nor him the vanquished. For her Grace knows that no knight may take credit in an unfair battle, it is my suggestion, thus, that the battle be continued to-morrow where we could fight in our full strength.”

But Sir Sombra declined and opted to continue. He explained that if he cannot win today, then there is no victory in any of the days thereafter. Sir Excalibur and the princesses were left with no choice, and the fighting continued.

Again and again, Sir Sombra was felled by Sir Excalibur and each time he refused to yield. Sir Excalibur, on the other hoof, by his good nature, refused to kill Sir Sombra as he esteemed that no honorable knight should perish under such circumstances. However, Sir Sombra’s fortitude surpasses his endurance and Sir Excalibur resolved to kill Sir Sombra by the blade rather than let him succumb to the slow death of his loss of blood. Thrusting his sword, the king pierced through the beating heart of Sir Sombra de Onyx.

Then all gasped at the most peculiar of enchantments. Sir Sombra’s eyes flared with green fire and a black smoke seeped from them. His body broke apart and melded with the shadows, as a snake would shed its skin; and from those shadows sprang a giant serpent made of umbrageous mists.

The crowds shook in terror, and many left. Sir Excalibur continued to battle against the snake, but found it futile for his attacks could not touch the shade. The serpent struck with its fang, then it swallowed Sir Excalibur in the mists of its body before spewing him out with shards of onyx erupting from his horn. Sir Excalibur succumbed to his injuries and fell unconscious. A few seconds later, the mist-snake condensed and formed the body of Sir Sombra, who similarly collapsed but remained conscious.

There were no cheering in the crowd, for most stared in horror and in awe. Sir Sombra was then announced to be the victor and crowned champion[29].

Hours later, Sir Sombra, still wounded, was granted audience with Princess Helionis and Princess Diana. Here he asked his gift with immediate haste.

“Thy Grace, I ask of thee to bring me and two thousand of what's left of thy finest knights to the north continent posthaste! There I shall lead them to a crusade against the satyrs; we shall not rest till we have cleansed thy holy land with the blood the heathens.”

“Sir Sombra de Onyx,” said the elder princess, “Two days agone, thou hast wished for a mirror or a comb for thy lady. Thou hast asked for something humble and beautiful, and I would have given thee regardless of the outcome of thy battles. But now, thou asks from me an army to spread bloodshed and commit genocide. Is this truly thy wish?”

“Nay,” replied he, “but this is what need to be done.”

“Very well,” said the younger princess, “but know that this campaign is fought in thy name, and not in our honor.”

“Aye, your Grace, all the blood shall be on my hooves.”

With their powerful enchantment, Princess Helionis and Princess Diana transported Sir Sombra de Onyx and an army of two thousand to the north. The knight of onyx then led the army to the Crystal Empire.

Sir Joyous Gard and five others fought against the endless horde until the sun had risen. And from the east they saw the silhouette of Sir Sombra de Onyx galloping from the distance, who led an army of two thousand knights. Sir Sombra charged and he and his army laid waste to the satyrs. The war broke out in full and the numbers of the heathens fell short against the skill and disciplines of the knights. When dusk came, the ground had run red with blood of knights and heathens, and the remaining satyrs had fled to every direction. Sir Sombra led his army in constant pursuit.

Sir Joyous Gard returned to the Crystal Empire with three of the twelve knights. These three knights are Sir Metal Ore, Sir Cuirass and Sir Halberd II. They went to assembly where King Stonehoof, Queen Avalon, Bluebeard, and the other knights waited, here they told in great detail the exploits of Sir Sombra. The king and his knights were overjoyed of the news, some more than others, but it was Queen Avalon who was still in distress.

“My lord,” asked she to Sir Joyous Gard in private, “what of Sir Sombra? When shall he return?”

“My liege, as we are told by another knight, Sir Sombra has won the Grand Tourney of her Grace and has wished for a crusade as his meed to rid the north of the heathens. He is to lead the army until he has retired or every last of the satyrs had fallen.”

The queen sat down and wept. “Alas, why would my lord promote such bloodshed?”

“Sir Sombra cannot forgive the satyrs for wishing harm upon thee.”

For days Queen Avalon stood on her balcony, looking afar to the tundra. On occasion she would see a small light of fire where the bodies of the enemies were burned, and upon seeing this she wept and wished for the return of Sir Sombra and the ceasing of his cruelty to the enemy.

In the twenty-first day since the crusade and since Sir Sombra victory at the Grand Tourney, the slander against the queen had lessened. Queen Avalon then hosted a celebration and a meal for his knights to win their confidence once more. Every knight who was invited attended the party and there was much merrymaking; the queen laid out a bountiful feast of bread, fruits and wine, she played her famed music from her golden flugelhorn, and Sir Joyous Gard spoke tales of Sir Sombra in artful rhetoric. Only Sir Sapphire Shield was ill-at-ease of the queen’s generosity, as it was he who was the loudest knight in denouncing her; and though he wished for their proper reconciliation, his timidity restrained him.

At this time, Lady Flask Water, who had returned from Launcelot a week ago, snuck inside the great hall where the knights feasted. Still unable to contain her envy and anger towards the queen, she initiated her plan. As with any subject in the castle, Lady Flask Water knew of Sir Sapphire Shield’s fondness for malti[30] and, before the wine was served, she began to poison it. However, in the middle of the fruit course, Sir Metal Ore, choking on an apple, grabbed the malti, drank it and died.

At once, all the knights rose in horror. But none of them were able to accuse to queen, except Sir Sapphire Shield.

“My liege, I cannot but held thee culpable of the murder of Sir Metal Ore, who had fought beside Sir Joyous Gard in trying to defend thee, and who so haply died. None in this room could deny that I am the object of thy assassination, for my partiality for malti is as known as my own condemnation of her majesty. No doubt that thou seeketh vengeance for my denouncement. I would have had sought thy apology if not for my timidity, but her Grace has proven me right. I now accuse her highness of high treason!”

And Sir Granite spoke up. “My liege, it is to my dismay but I am in agreement of the inculpation. Cousin as I am to Sir Metal Ore, I am bound by chivalry to avenge him. I held her majesty answerable to this murder.”

There was a growing hubbub in the hall. The queen was utterly shock and at loss for words that she fainted. It was Sir Joyous Gard who returned Queen Avalon to her room.

Meanwhile, Sir Sapphire Shield and Sir Granite were quick to inform King Stonehoof, who then retreated to the counsel of his adviser, Bluebeard.

“My friend,” said the king, “this turn of events is fortunate, for now we can have the queen removed and return the power to the rex. Shall I have her burnt at the stake?”

“Nay, my liege. To condemn her outright would arouse suspicion from the knights. To maintain the illusion of righteousness, I advise thee to hold the queen in high-esteem and ask a knight to champion her innocence.”

“And what if this champion wins?”

“Nay. For he who holds the queen’s golden handkerchief is Sir Emerald IV who, mighty a knight as he was, is now handicapped since his battles with the Sphinx and no doubt can be defeated by any knight.”

And so the king acted on Bluebeard’s advice and addressed the knights of the great hall. The date is set in two days and to be held in the public square where the decisive battle for the queen’s innocence was to be judged. If Sir Emerald IV lost then the Queen Avalon would be burned at once. When asked among the knights who would champion the queen’s guilt, it was Granite, bound by his chivalry and torn by his loyalty to the queen, who rose and raised his sword.

When the news was brought to Sir Emerald IV he responded by saying: “Alas! I believe that none of my brethren wisheth to accuse the queen of treason, for hath she not cradled us with her Scabbard and have we not fought for her? I feel that the knights are compelled to condemn her by lack of evidence. And only perhaps by means of evidence could the queen be proven innocent, for I cannot champion the queen in my handicapped state. But, pray tell, where is Sir Sombra, for no doubt he would champion the queen in my place?”

“Sir Sombra de Onyx leads a crusade against the satyr heathens. It was his request for winning the Grand Tournament” said Sir Cuirass.

“Then we must not waste time. Here, take the golden handkerchief of thy majesty and giveth this to him.”

Sir Cuirass grabbed the handkerchief and, without returning to his home to rest, traversed the north. He galloped for a day until he found Sir Sombra burning a refuge camp of the satyrs. There he spoke of what happened during the banquet; and Sir Sombra hastily galloped back to the Crystal Empire, thus ending his crusade.

It was dawn when the queen was escorted in the public square where she was tied to a pyre in the middle of the plaza. Those who stood beside her was King Stonehoof, Bluebeard and Sir Granite. The other knights remained on the sides, unwilling to participate in the burning of the queen. Lady Flask Water had melded herself among the growing crowd that similarly grows her with malicious anticipation.

When Sir Emerald IV was called upon, he appeared in the public square still in bandages. Sir Granite bowed before him. King Stonehoof noticed Sir Emerald’s lack of weapon and he is addressed.

“My knight,” said the king, “where is the green lance thou art famed for? Shall I ask a squire to fetch thee a weapon?”

“Nay, my liege. For I am not here to defend the queen’s innocence, for her Grace knows that I cannot be a judge to that which I am no witness. The honor of defending the queen belongs to another knight.”

“Trumpery!” cried the king. “Forsooth that thou refused to defend the queen proves her guilt. My knight, cast in the fire.”

The crowd of crystal ponies all cried in horror, but none of the knights, neither even Sir Sapphire Shield nor Sir Granite, instigated to the command. It was Bluebeard who grabbed the torch and proceeded to toss it into the fire–but as he did, a serpentine shadow-steed jumped from the crowd, cut off the foreleg of Bluebeard and rescued the queen from the pyre. To no surprise of anypony present, it was Sir Sombra de Onyx.

Bluebeard ran to the castle screaming. King Stonehoof fell back in horror, his mouth agape. Twenty-four knights of the Crystal Empire, including Sir Joyous Gard, all drew their swords as Sir Sombra flared both his spears.

“Alas! Sir Sombra,” said Sir Sapphire Shield, “will thou turn thy arms against the Crystal Empire as well? Will thou defend the traitor that no doubt has made an attempt to my life?”

“Aye. Though I am no witness to events, I cannot believe that the queen, she who hath given her life for the empire, would assassinate her own protectors.”

“And where is the token of thy majesty that thou ought to bear if thou wishest to champion her?”

Sir Sombra hesitated, for in his haste he was unable to obtain the golden handkerchief from Sir Cuirass. “I need no token to prove the queen’s innocence.”

“It is in the belief of these knights that the queen has betrayed us, and even by force of arms I shall prove it.”

“Beware, knave, for your challenge may be accepted.”

“Aye! And mighty a knight as thou art, Sir Sombra, I do not fear even thee. For I know that her Grace will have a strike in the righteousness and justice of my battle.”

“I, too, believe in the justice of my defense. Let her Grace then guide the blade of the victor and the right!”

And so Sir Sombra battled with Sir Sapphire Shield and the whole of the Crystal Empire bore witness. Both knights were steadfast and both held their ground. Sir Sombra lunged but his spears did little against Sir Sapphire Shield who is renowned for using his buckler for defense and control of the field. Thus, Sir Sombra redoubled his blows, each thrust empowered by hatred and shaking the posture of his enemy. Then with his other spear, he lunged and struck a blow against Sir Sapphire Shield’s helmet, felling him to the ground.

Then Sir Sombra addressed the knights and crowd. “Thou who wishest to prove the queen guilty step forward and test thy truth against mine with his blade.”

No other knights stepped forward and most sheathed their swords. But Sir Sapphire Shield has not yet been unconscious. He jumped and charged towards Sir Sombra with his sword. Sir Sombra deflected the blow with his spear and tossed the knight off balance. Pinned on the ground, Sir Sombra raised his spear against Sir Sapphire Shield’s heart.

“Mercy!” cried Queen Avalon.

But Sir Sombra feigned deafness and struck Sir Sapphire Shield dead.

The queen was then proven innocent and Sir Sapphire Shield was buried in the catacombs without further ado. All went home, and not even the queen celebrated the victory of her life.

It was eleven days later when Lady Pine Leaves, under orders of the queen, went to the home of Sir Sombra. There she asked him to go the garden where he and the queen first met. Sir Sombra agreed without hesitation

Beneath the moonlight, Sir Sombra and Queen Avalon found each other, and after an hour of silence it was the queen who first spoke.

“My lord, pray tell why did thou disobey me. I asked thee to spare Sir Sapphire Shield, who is but mistaken in his suspicions; and would have no doubt corrected himself when the truth of the tragedy is revealed.”

“My liege, that I cannot risk. Her Grace knows that I serve thee even against thy wishes, for I am thy knight. So condemn me and rebuke me, but until thou dispatch me of service I am thine to serve. Doth thou dispatch of me?”

“I said no such thing.” And Queen Avalon gave her golden handkerchief to Sir Sombra.

“My liege, I accept.”

“My lord, pray tell, would thou love me if I were not the queen.”

“My liege, I love thee with all the force of the heavens; as the earth loves the stars, and as the moon loves the sun. But this love is for me to keep and not to give, for all the queen’s love I would not have thee corrupted by all that is me–for all I am is my love for thee.”

“And I love thee as well, Sir Sombra de Onyx. I say this for thy knowing, for I know as well that even with all the force of the crystal heart in my chest, thou will never accept my love.”

And so Queen Avalon laid herself in Sir Sombra’s embrace where on his chest she wept.

It was at this time, however, that Bluebeard, secluded in the privacy of his chambers, discovered by means of enchantment that it was Lady Flask Water who was the cause of the tragedy of the banquet. But, instead of disclosing the secret, Bluebeard had formulated the lady into his plan.

VIII

In Which Sir Sombra is Tried and Judged

The following days were uneventful, Sir Sombra has followed Queen Avalon as her personal escort. Together the two circled the empire. The queen played music for her beloved subjects and Sir Sombra stood guard in constant and unyielding vigilance. Whenever a tourney was held by the king, no matter how grand its scale or profound its prize, Sir Sombra would win them all, and he would always credit his victory to the queen. But not once had Sir Sombra had the queen, nor done as much as enter her chambers. It was only at night, when the eye of Princess Diana was its highness, that both Queen Avalon and Sir Sombra snuck from their beds and meet in the moonlight of the castle garden, where on each other’s arm they lay still and silent until dawn.

Many in the Crystal Empire suspected them to be lovers, but none has grounds to hold them against such a claim. Even the king, as sovereign second only to the queen, feared to accuse her majesty and the mightiest knight in the kingdom of infidelity. Thus, he kept his anger and his suspicions to himself, disclosing it to none, even to his trusted adviser.

When Bluebeard reconciled with Lady Flask Water it was in the utmost privacy that not even King Stonehoof knew of it. Here, Bluebeard gave the lady a beautiful enchanted robe, and instructed her to give it to Queen Avalon as the king’s gift. For her price, Bluebeard would give her a potion that would make Sir Sombra fall in love in her.

Lady Flask Water grew excited and hurriedly made for the chamber of Queen Avalon. On her way she encountered Sir Sombra by the queen’s door, standing guard.

“Halt! What business dost thou have with her majesty?” said he.

“My love,” said Lady Flask Water, “I brought her majesty a gift that comes from the king himself: a beautiful robe. A means of their reconciliation after accusing her of the assassination from long ago.”

“The queen slumbers peacefully. Place it atop the table where she will later receive it.”

Lady Flask Water did so and once again turned to Sir Sombra. “My love, know that soon I will win thy heart, and never again will thou hold that golden handkerchief against thy chest.

Lady Flask Water left and Sir Sombra returned to his guarding duties.

Several hours later the queen and her daughter, Princess Camelot, both came out of their chamber and greeted Sir Sombra. The mare and filly saw the robe and were both enchanted by its beauty.

“My lord, pray tell where comes from this beautiful ensemble?” asked the Queen.

“Brought by Lady Flask Water, it is a gift from King Stonehoof,” answered the knight.

Though Sir Sombra scorns at the gift, Queen Avalon welcomed it with open hooves as with any present, great and small.

But it was the queen’s young daughter, with all the playful innocence of a child, who fancied the gift the most. She wore the robe and no sooner had she done so that she was caught in bright dragon flame, the filly burned in bright fire until nothing was left of her but ashes.

Queen Avalon fell to her knees and uttered a long wailing cry of despair that shook the heart of Sir Sombra.

With blind fury and the queen's cries clouding his better judgment, the stallion-serpent grabbed his spears and galloped to the throne room. Finding the king absent, he rushed to the king’s private chamber. There he found him asleep and there he killed him with a thrust of the spear to his heart.

When Sir Sombra returned to the queen he found her sick of grief from the loss of her daughter. With haste, he carried her to the court physicians to be treated.

The rest of the day was in an uproar when the chamberlain found the king assassinated in bed. Little search was necessary for, as soon as the well-being of the queen was established, Sir Sombra confessed to the assassination after disclosing the whole story.

With the queen unconscious, Bluebeard took power for the time being. His first issue of command was to have Sir Sombra detained to the dungeons. The knight recognized the authority of the adviser in light of the circumstances. He surrendered his weapons and was escorted to the dungeons where he awaited trial.

When night came, a lady attendant had delivered Sir Sombra his supper.

“My lady,” said he, “I cannot accept this meal. Half-serpent that I am, my stomach could not endure the sweet relief of fruits. Only the blood of birds or small mammals could satiate me. But I would not ask thee to deliver an animal to its doom, so, in lieu of this bounty, pray bring me water.”

And the lady did so.

“My lady, what news of the Crystal Empire?’

“My lord, the queen is all and well in health, but grief-stricken is she. When told of the death of his husband her sorrow grew, and even more so when she is told of thy imprisonment. She fainted and is now resting soaked in her tears. But of the empire–my lord!–the empire, with the queen’s sadness engulfing her heart, the Scabbard dwindles.”

Sir Sombra thanked the lady and returned to the corner of the dungeon where he struggled and prayed for sleep.

As soon as the light of dawn filled the small opening of the dungeon, the lady once again brought Sir Sombra his meal. But Sir Sombra consumed only water, and no more.

“What news of the Crystal Empire?” asked he.

“My lord, I have just been told, the assassin, Lady Flask Water, has made an attempt at Bluebeard’s life, and would have succeeded if not for the valiancy of the knights.”

What happened, in fact, was that the news of Lady Flask Water’s attempt at the queen’s life had quickly spread throughout the Crystal Empire. The lady, feeling cornered, sought refuge in his accomplice, Bluebeard. However, the court adviser had expected this and, as soon as Lady Flask Water entered his tower, his guards leapt from their ambush to quickly execute her.

“And what of the queen?” asked Sir Sombra.

“The queen still rests.”

Sir Sombra once again retired in the corner of the dungeon where he struggled to sleep.

The next morning, it was not the lady that visited him but Sir Granite and Sir Cuirass. They are, under orders, to lead Sir Sombra in chains to the courtroom. There stood Bluebeard with several other judges looking down upon him from an elevated pedestal. When the proceedings were over, it was Bluebeard who first spoke:

“Sir Sombra de Onyx, as thou hast been informed, Lady Flask Water, the failed assassin of Queen Avalon and the assassin of Princess Camelot, has been executed before more information could be pried from her. In our investigation, however, we found no trace of her involvement in the assassination of King Stonehoof, rest his ghost, as claimed thee. Lady Flask Water was, no doubt, found guilty but his liege remains unavenged. This council feels that thou fabricated the conspiracy to rid the queen of her husband. Therefore, we charge thee, Sir Sombra de Onyx, of high treason against the Crystal Empire! What doth thou say in thy defense?”

Sir Sombra said nothing.

“Very well, her majesty shall be the judge of thy punishment when she wakes. Until then, return to the dungeon.”

Sir Sombra was escorted to the dungeon.

The next day, the lady once again returned to Sir Sombra to deliver him his water.

“My lady,” asked he, “what news of the Crystal Empire?”

“My lord, the queen wakens and is eager to meet thee. However, she is yet to be in the condition for the encounter as the court’s doctors prevents her from leaving her bed.”

The next day, the lady returned once again to deliver Sir Sombra his water. This time, she brings with her a cage wrapped in fabric.

“My lady,” asked he, “what news of the Crystal Empire?”

“My lord, the queen is close to gaining her health but the grief takes a heavy toll in her heart. And when it became news that she would be thy judge, her majesty fainted of grief once more. But before she lost consciousness, I have had the pleasure of talking to her and I am inquired about thy condition. I told her so, and she commanded Sir Joyous Gard to hunt a raven for thou to feast on.”

The lady removed the cover of the cage, and there indeed was a raven as black as night.

“My lady,” said he, “I could never, for my life, ask the queen, Sir Joyous Gard, or thee to bear it in thy good conscience of delivering an innocent fowl to its doom. Perched by hunger as I am, I refuse this bounty.”

“My lord, forgive me but I shall not take it back.”

Once the lady left, Sir Sombra took the cage. He grabbed the raven and freed it out the window.

The next morning, Sir Joyous Gard accompanied the lady to the dungeon.

“My lord,” said Sir Joyous Gard, “I come bearing ill news. Bluebeard has rallied the crystal ponies, that they now all condemn thee of high treason. And rumors spread, undoubtedly by his instigation, that if the queen were to spare thee of execution then her majesty herself betrayed the Crystal Empire for thy love. I am here in lieu of the other knights to ask thee, art thou the queen’s lover?”

“Aye and nay. For I love the queen, and she loves me. But our love is for ours to keep, and not be given to the other.”

“Alas! I cannot help thee, for such an allegation would only fuel the slander against the queen. The crystal ponies hungers for justice for the death of King Stonehoof, and all finds thee answerable. Perhaps, even myself.”

So saying, Sir Joyous Gard and the lady both left.

Sir Sombra reposed exhausted and famished in the dungeon. The darkness had adapted itself to his eyes that even the moonlight was too bright for him. It was at this time of night, when Diana’s eye was at its highest, that the doors opened and in came Queen Avalon dressed as a milkmaid.

Sir Sombra leapt to his feet and arranged a posture proper to her highness. Queen Avalon opened the door of the prison and there she entered.

“My lord–oh, my lord!–what have they done unto thee?”

“Aught that is right. In their power and knowledge they have all ground to charge of me treason. It is true, all that was said and done, that it was I, clouded by thy heartbreaking sobs, that murdered thy husband in his sleep.”

“Damn the charges and damn the king!” cried Queen Avalon, “and what of thou, my lord? What would become of thee? The Crystal Empire hungers for justice, and it is with thy punishment they would see it satiated. They ask me–oh, they ask me–to send thee to the gallows. My lord, that I cannot do! I cannot have thy blood on my hooves, not for all the treasures of Equestria.”

“My queen, show the resolve as thou have shown ere. Do not look at me as Sir Sombra de Onyx, the knight who loves thee, but as an assassin and traitor to the empire. It is my purpose, since the day I came into being, that the blood coursing through my veins belongs to the snow of this land. If I were to give up the ghost to revive confidence to her majesty and protect the justice of the code of chivalry, I would regard it as an honor I could not have deserved. That is why, my queen, condemn me. Condemn me to the gallows.”

“My lord, I cannot.”

“For the Crystal Empire, for her majesty, for the Crystal Heart, for the code of chivalry... My queen, for our love, condemn me.”

At morningtide the queen has left and gone from the dungeon. As soon as noon has arrived, Sir Sombra was escorted by Sir Cuirass and Sir Granite to the public square where the trial was to be heard. Sir Sombra was put in chains, standing beside the queen who rested atop a raised pedestal. In front of them, hundreds of crystal ponies hissed at Sir Sombra’s name. Sir Sombra looked up, and found Queen Avalon impartial as she hammered the gavel.

“Silence!” said the queen, “to-day we shall determine the punishment of Sir Sombra de Onyx for the crime of treason against his majesty, King Stonehoof. The punishment shall be carried out on the morrow.”

There was a growing hubbub from the crowd: “Death for treason against our king!”, “Hang him!”, “To the gallows!”, “Burn the serpent’s bastard on the stake!”

Sir Sombra said nothing. His eyes remained fixed on the queen, who by now struggled to maintain her trembling and tears. The queen spoke again, more solemn this time.

“Hearken, my subjects, and pray consider whom we condemn. Though he is the bastard of Ouroboros, the She-Seprent, hath he not served and protected the Crystal Empire. Hath he not, many years agone, been the first to charge against the satyr to defend us? Hath he not ventured throughout Equestria to vanquish the dreaded Sphinx? Hath he not won the Grand Tourney of her Grace to bring glory to us? To, once again, save us from those invading heathens? Hath he not spilled more blood on this earth than all of us together? To protect us after we have rebuked him so, time and time again? Was not only by his clouded judgment that he hath slain the king? I ask all of thee, pray consider.”

There was a silence in the crowd for a moment, but the hubbub grew again and the cries returned: “Kill the serpent’s bastard!”, “He is an omen!”, “Save the empire from his coils!”

And upon hearing these proclamations from her subjects, the queen wept. She raised her hoof and the crowd was silenced.

“Very well,” said she, “I, Queen Avalon...”

There is a moment of pause and the crowd waits in total stillness–

“...sentence Sir Sombra de Onyx...”

–and silence.

“...to death.”

Sir Sombra was then escorted to the dungeon where he would await his execution to-morrow. There were no cheers or merrymaking that could be heard from anywhere of the empire. Neither even the birds chirped nor the wind whispered. The only sound heard was that of the queen sobbing inconsolably in her room, and it was a sound that lasted well in to the evenfall.

In the dead of night, when none was awake, Queen Avalon ran to the dungeons and there she wept to Sir Sombra's embrace, the two of them separated by the prison bars.

“My lord, forgive me!” cried she, “Forgive me for damning thee. My lord, my love, forgive me. For I could not forgive myself.”

“My queen,” said Sir Sombra, “dost be strong. Gather thy strength. Thou hast pronounced what is right.

“My lord, what is to become of me now? As the eye of Helionis rises, the scythe of the reaper descends. Our time is running short, I fear–oh, how I fear–the seconds and minutes passing by like the march of death nearing! Why should I lose thee, as I have lost my daughter? There is nothing for me left.”

“My love, thou must. Thou art the Crystal Heart. Protect and cradle in thy bosom the empire and its denizens. Be that which the crystal ponies pour and obtain their strength. My role is finish, but thou still hast much to fulfill. Death is here to take my ghost. Pray believe that the hours we have left is a blessing, that this moment is ours and ours alone.”

The two talked as lovers would, sharing each other’s love and consoling each other’s pain. At last, when dawn came, Queen Avalon bid Sir Sombra her final farewell, for she knew that they will never meet again.

Sir Sombra lay in his prison, waiting for his sentence to be delivered; but when the noon of the day of his sentence arrived, there was none who came in the dungeon. The day had turned into night, and still none came to lead him to the gallows.

The next day Sir Sombra waited again but none arrived. A day more and the lady came in the dungeon, bringing Sir Sombra his water.

“My lady,” asked Sir Sombra, “what news of the Crystal Empire? Why am I still imprisoned?”

But the lady did not answer.

A week has passed since the day of his supposed sentence, and none came but the lady. Each time Sir Sombra inquired of the news but the lady never answered except in the tears she shed.

On the tenth day, the lady came with Bluebeard beside him.

“What news of the Crystal Empire?” asked Sir Sombra to Bluebeard, “What of my sentence?”

“My lord,” said he, “thou art now free and proven innocent.”

“I demand explanation.”

“Aye,” answered Bluebeard. “It seems the lady hath yet to inform thee. Thou art now proven innocent, for the true culprit hath been revealed. Queen Avalon confessed to the assassination of the king, and she hath been executed ten days agone!”

X

In Which King Sombra is Felled[31]

From King Sombra’s eyes a mist has forever leaked.

He ruled the Crystal Empire for years, but not once had he addressed himself as king nor the crystal ponies as subjects. He spent his days alone in the castle tower where he feasted on ravens and rats. He owned nothing but the throne where he oversaw the empire. His first issue of command was to build the spire where he towers over all else. The next, and last, was the utmost fortification of the Crystal Empire.

The following were put to death: those who question his rule, those who do not labor and those who tried to escape. It is not known to us what became of the knights, the soldiers, the council or the aristocrats of the Crystal Empire. My records show no indication or mention of them thereafter.

But the tyranny did not go unnoticed. As the Crystal Empire was isolated from the rest of Equestria, the two princesses sent their emissaries for news from the northern border. When neither messengers nor soldiers returned, Princess Helionis saw to it to investigate the matter of the Crystal Empire herself. There she saw the enslaved ponies trembling in fear which no doubt gripped the princess’s heart with sympathy. In haste, Princess Helionis flew to the throne room and to her surprise, and eventual disappointment, found the knight she remember to be Sir Sombra de Onyx.

“King Sombra,” said Her Grace, “I beseech thee. End this tyranny and free the crystal ponies from oppression. We do not know what ill fate has befallen thy person, but no good would come of this pursuit. I once knew thee to be the great Sir Sombra de Onyx, whom maidens sing in praise and knights lower their lances[32], what hath become of thee that thou succumb to the dark arts. Have thou not given everything for the empire in the days of thy youth, then why this hate? King Sombra, if there is anything left of the knight, of the code of chivalry, of the blessing of the Crystal Heart inside thee, thou will abandon this rule. I pray thee, return to the crystal ponies their once joyous lives.”

We do not know whether at this time King Sombra was still capable of speech. We only know that Princess Helionis returned the day after with her sister, Princess Diana, both pleading to reason with the tyrant.

“King Sombra,” said Princess Diana, “To-day both princesses graces thy castle, but grace is not given where grace is not due. When I crossed thy streets, the equines thou enslaves all threw themselves to my hooves and begged me to save them from oppression. To their freedom, I gave my word. And a word of the princesses is not so easily broken.”

“Calm, sister,” said Princess Helionis. Then she addressed King Sombra, “I beg thee to use the light of reason. Without a Crystal Heart”–To this his attention was caught–“the cold of the north shall engulf the empire, and it is only a matter of time before the crystal ponies perish. And what of thy empire then?”

King Sombra said nothing.

“I am prepared to grant thy wishes,” said the elder princess. “If it is glory thou wishest then I shall write praises and songs of thee in the Dialogues. If it is gold then I shall open the royal vault and offer thee all treasures. If it is power then I will to give thee a portion of my soul.”

“My sister!” ejaculated Princess Diana, “Thou cannot possibly–”

“Silence, Selena![33]” interrupted Her Grace. “Not any empire in the world is worth the life of a single pony, and I know that King Sombra knows this as well.”

King Sombra still said nothing.

“I am appealing to thy good nature, to thy reason. I speak not to King Sombra but to Sir Sombra de Onyx, he who broke through death and fought to save this empire.” Princess Helionis bowed her head low. “I beg thee.”

“Sister, lift thyself from the ground,” said Princess Diana. “There is no compromise to be sought here. The king has lost his hearing but to the voices of clashing blades. King Sombra, we shall free the crystal ponies from thy tyranny. Be it by thy surrender or thy blood.”

“I beseech thee,” begged the elder princess, “do not force us into a position where we shall take up arms. Pray not that death be the final argument.”

In response, King Sombra threw his spear an inch from where the princess stood. Her Grace was unmoved.

“Very well.” Princess Helionis wept. “Prepare thyself, for to-morrow thou shall defend the empire from us.”

When the princesses left, they once again crossed the streets where the crystal ponies labored. There the ponies cried in unison: “saves us! save us!” and, to their cries, Princess Diana answered:

“Citizens of the Crystal Empire, I ask thee to endure a day more. For on the morrow we shall vanquish King Sombra, and his reign of tyranny.”

A quiet smile was seen from the faces of those who heard this address.

The next day the sun watched over the Crystal Empire. Princess Helionis made good of her word and appeared on the battlefield in her golden armor.She then flew to the throne room where she found him waiting.

“King Sombra,” said Princess Helionis, “I bring no force of arms but my own. Knowing that thou hast no army, I brought none. We shall settle the combat as knights have, in a duel where none intervenes. But I pray thee, surrender while thou still can. For the sake of the Crystal Heart and the Crystal Empire–”

The next words of her Grace were not uttered. King Sombra leapt from his throne, flaring his two spears, and charged towards Princess Helionis. Her Grace was quick to summon Solari[34] with her magic and, with it, deflected King Sombra’s attack in time.

The savagery of King Sombra’s attacks matched the discipline by which her Grace established her defense. He furiously lunged with his spears in blinding haste that Princess Helionis found no opportunity to return a blow. The sound of their steels echoed throughout the halls and antechambers. Her Grace slowly weakens with every strike she deflected and neither could she withdraw for the castle throne room did little space for her wings. Backed in to a corner, Princess Helionis resorted to her only option: locking swords and spear, she wrestled King Sombra, carefully manipulating his balance, and defenestrated herself and the king through the stained glass. Together they plummeted from the castle spire.

Princess Helionis broke the lock of her weapons and took to the air before the fall. King Sombra used his magic and summoned shards and slabs of onyx from the earth he used to skillfully make his landing. The crystal ponies that saw the commotion all ran in fear, cheering in their hearts for the victory of Princess Helionis. King Sombra paid them no mind; he returned his attention to the princess. Her Grace grew confident, feeling the air in her wings and thus the advantage of battling in the open air. She charged, slashing Solari about, forcing King Sombra on the defensive. Princess Helionis fought with her hooves a meter from the earth that her attack is empowered by both range and position. The advantage did little against King Sombra’s skill with his spears, which he used with such impunity. The blood of both has been spilt on the ground when King Sombra, growing impatient, once again used his magic to summon shards of onyx against the princess. Her Grace took to the air and dodged the gray crystals. King Sombra’s infuriation only made him cast his magic even more that onyx after onyx of gargantuan proportions erupted from the earth. The crystal ponies in the vicinity of the attack were not exempt from the jagged rocks, and many were injured. Seeing the damaged being done of King Sombra’s magic, Princess Helionis returned to the ground.

“Cease this attack!” she commanded, “this battle is between us. Let us fight where the innocents will be unharmed.”

But King Sombra only took advantage of the princess’s lower position, and once again used his onyx to pursue her. Princess Helionis lunged forward and thrust her sword to King Sombra’s side. In return, King Sombra thrust both his spears on the princess’s thigh. With their weapons locked on the other’s body, Princess Helinois drew her wings and propelled herself and King Sombra hastily forward, past the streets and houses of the empire, until they both broke through the the dwindling Scabbard and still farther they went. They tumbled out the snow, both gravely wounded.

In the midst of a fierce snow storm they resumed their battle, sword and spears met each other if not flesh. The fighting continued for a time impossible to measure, for Princess Helionis, in the flurry of combat, is unable to rest the sun. There it remained still as witness to their battle until the moon closed in on its path, rendering the land to the color of ember. Spent but still persevering, the two warriors took a moment to breath and it was at this time that Princess Helionis spoke:

“King Sombra,” said she, “I ask thee the cause by which thou bear arms. Surely it is not for wealth or power one would place himself to such reckless abandon. In what service dost thou wield thy spears? Tell me, I wish to know, for none hast fought so enduringly as thee, and none would fight as such without the righteousness and justice of one’s conviction. Pray tell what dost thou fight for!”

“Crystal... Heart...” muttered the king, “Must... protect... Crystal...”

“Alas! From whoso?”

But King Sombra did not answer. The green fire in his eyes burned even more as spiked and jagged onyx ruptured their battlefield. He charged again with more ferocity than he ever before displayed. Princess Helionis was forced on the extreme defensive, fighting for her life, unable even to spread her wings to lift herself from the assault. King Sombra redoubled his blows and, when her Grace’s defense was broken, thrust both spears to her chest. Princess Helionis fell on the pool of her blood. When King Sombra lifted his spears again to deliver the decisive blow a silver arrow struck his chest. He fell back as another arrow struck his leg.

From above and afar, Princess Diana took the rays of moonlight and fired it from her bow to King Sombra.

“My sister!” said the elder princess, “What hast thou done? Hast thou no sense of chivalry?”

“Nay,” said the younger princess, “I would lose such honor before I lose my sib. Let us both combat him, and together we shall win.”

“There is no such victory in this battle.”

Removing the arrows from his body, King Sombra spoke. “Accursed...Thou, too, wishest to covet the... Crystal Heart.”

Princess Diana paid him no mind and continued to fire the rays of the moon. King Sombra deflected many, but much still pierced his body.

“Sister,” cried Princess Helionis, “I beg thee, halt!”

King Sombra fell, his body littered with arrows. He picked himself up from the ground and yelled to the earth: “Mother, Ouroboros, the She-Serpent, I ask of thee! Swallow the Crystal Empire in thy belly, protect the Crystal Heart in my place, for here I shall fall before the twin of heaven.”

At once, the earth shook and the great Ouroboros reared her head from the earth and, with her maw, swallowed the Crystal Empire whole.

“By all that is holy!” exclaimed the elder princess, “Sombra, what hast thou done?”

“I shall... protect the... Crystal Heart... at... the cost of all...” so saying, King Sombra shed his mortal body and turned to the serpent-shadow.

He slithered not in one place but in several, as how a mist would engulf the air. Princess Diana fired a volley of her arrows but it did nothing against the miasma. The phantom snake reared his head and drew his fangs. He struck against both princesses who can do nothing against his form.

Princess Diana and Princess Helionis both took to the air but, to their surprise, King Sombra’s form easily followed them and there he struck them back on the ground. Both sisters were gravely injured by the attack.

“C-Crys... tals...” muttered the king.

Seeing their endangered state, Princess Helionis knew she had to cast her ultimatum even if it means risking her life. She casted her spell, taking energy from her own soul, and, from her horn, gave birth to a new young sun. It was no bigger than the size of a ball and it burned so bright that it lifted the shadows. With it, she pushed back King Sombra, whose dark being could not touch the illumination, down the icy chasms of the opened earth. There she threw the young sun with him and there she invoked a spell that moved the entire continent and sealed the opening. In so doing, Princess Helionis collapsed in exhaustion.

“Hast we won?” asked the younger princess.

“Aye.”

But it is not yet so, for an infinitesimal piece of King Sombra’s shadow was not sealed and it reformed to King Sombra’s corporeal equine body.

“Sister, look yonder! The bastard lives!” cried Princess Diana.

Though not to their knowledge, what they were seeing was not King Sombra himself but a small fragment of his existence that has come into being. A thousandth of its power but still carrying its will.

“Must... protect... Crystal... Heart...” it said. It lifted its bruised and bloody body from the ground, enduring its thousand wounds, shambling with savage perseverance, carrying in its mouth the jagged tip of a broken red spear.

Princess Diana could take out the apparition with a single arrow, but her injuries render her unable even to lift her bow.

“Protect... Crystal Heart...” it said again. Collapsing once more, dragging its body from the earth, it's blood dripping to leave a red trail on the snow, eager to spend the last of its breath for the cause it was sworn. “Crystal...”

At last, when it was near both the trembling princesses, it lifted its spear; but before it could deliver the fatal blow, the apparition collapsed, reduced to shadow, never to rise again.

Thus was the end of King Sombra and thus was the end of the Crystal Empire. What happened thereafter was what one would expect to follow in history’s natural course of events: Princess Helionis and Princess Diana both returned to Launcelot where they treated their wounds and rested. Several days then, they sent a party to search for the Crystal Empire but no results were returned. Thereafter, the history of the empire is lost and never mentioned again.

And though we have come to the end of our tale, I could not help but tendering the reader a serendipity which I have experienced. In my youth I have had the pleasure of encountering Sir Ironheart the White[35], whom I did not know in my innocence. He spoke to me that in his adventure with his wife, Lady Marelin, pursuing Ouroboros, the She-Serpent, they stood to the site where Princess Helionis and Princess Diana banished King Sombra and there they inscribed the following:

Li Restilis Sombra Furlium; Xros, Restin, Et Muertu[36]

Further, Sir Ironheart mentioned to me of a prophecy made by Lady Marelin. She spoke that in a thousand years, when the young sun dies out, King Sombra shall return; and Ouroboros, the She-Serpent, shall spue the Crystal Empire from her belly.

But for myself, I do not believe this prophecy. I would have King Sombra eternally buried peacefully and unstirred from his rest, where we could solemnly remember the memory, and legend, of what was once a great knight.


Annotations and Endnotes

[25]Any knight proposing combat in a tourney might, if he pleased, select a special antagonist among those of superior record to him by touching his shield. If they did so by the reverse of his lance, the two would joust in the manner called “arms of courtesy” in which the sharp end of their lance is fixed with a sharp board that no danger would arise from the competitors aside from the shock of impact. But if the shield was touched with the sharp end of their weapon then the jousting would be an “outrance” in which they would use sharpened lances as in actual combat.

[26]In Dialogues Vol. XXXIV, we are told that the princesses never had any knight champion for them in tourneys. Although in fiction, specifically in epics, this is never the case.

[27]The unnamed lady-knight that Sir Sombra fought in the sixth battle greatly resembles the heroine in the epic Ruritania by Sir Babel (856H.A.-120L.B.) Ruritania the Godslayer is a virgin pegasus mare who sold her sight to Discord in exchange for power in order to fight against what she believes to be the tyrannical rule of the princesses.

[28]In Equestrian mythology, Sir Excalibur, the King of the Round, is a unicorn stallion and the personal knight of Princess Helionis. He is often depicted as silver-coated and in blue-gold armor, wielding a flaming sword, and commanding a thousand and forty-four knights.

[29]It is an interesting coincidence that in Canterlot records, the 32nd champion of the Grand Tournament has been left blank. The reason for this is that the tournament at this time never occurred due to the Lunar Rebellion.

[30]Very spicy wine made of red pepper, dusk berries and dried tangerine leaves.

[31]The “missing” ninth chapter of Sir Sombra de Onyx was never written by Whisperwind. In Modern Hermeneutics (163L.B.) by Clover the Clever, in which he writes his encounters with various authors, Whisperwind is quoted saying to him: “I have not written the ninth chapter, for I have lost the material passed to me by Fountainhead. Furthermore, your teacher [Starswirl the Bearded] disclosed to me that there were none who bore witness, and thus recorded the events of this time.” (pg. 780)

[32]The gesture of knights lowering their lances was a sign of acknowledging chivalry; it does not necessarily entail respect, fear or recognition of strength.

[33]In Dialogues Vol. XV, we are told the Princess Diana’s previous name is Princess Selena.

[34]Solari is the previous name of Princess Helionis. In pre-L.B. usage, Solari is also the name of the sword of Princess Helionis. In Dialogues Vol. XIII, it is described as “glass aether that encases the fire that gave birth to the universe.” In Dialogues Vol. XXI, it is described as having “a handle of adamantum, the sheath of sunlight and a golden blade that incinerates all it wounds.”

[35]It is unlikely that Whisperwind refers to the literal Sir Ironheart the White whom she imagined in fiction. The closest possible explanation is that she could have invented such an encounter.

[36]Written in the ancient Morganlefeyan, trans: “Here Rests The Shadow Sombra; Squire, Knight and King.”