The air was knocked from his lungs as the mail-gloved fist slammed into his stomach. He struggled to get some air into him, but the fist slammed again.
"Enough!" the blonde woman on the throne barked. The armored women flung the man to the ground, where he lay gasping for breath, bare chest heaving. "Well, Nesmith?" the woman challenged. "Is thy tongue sufficiently loosened? Where art thy trio of knaves?"
Nesmith raised furious brown eyes to meet hers. "Nay," he gasped, still struggling for breath, "my queen... I shall... never... betray my friends..."
Queen Phyllis shook her head. "Very well," she sighed. "Loosen his..." An arrow whizzed by her face and lodged itself in the throne a half-inch above her ear. Startled, she raised her eyes to the catwalk as she slowly rose from the throne.
The blond archer notched another arrow and cried, "Release him!"
Queen Phyllis gasped as she saw the birthmark on the archer's lip. "The cursed one!" she gasped.
The curly-haired man with the thin mustache leaned on the heel of his sword and smiled slightly. "Tork missed thee by a hairs-breadth, milady. Refuse us, and that hairs-breadth shall cease to be."
The teenage boy with them demanded, "What is thy answer, Queen Phyllis?"
Minutes later, three horses galloped full-tilt away from the castle. Nesmith, wearing the leather vest his friends had brought, clutched Tork tightly around the waist to stay on his horse. "My thanks, Tork," he said.
Tork turned slightly, long blond hair slapping against his shoulders with every move the horse made. "Oh, come now!" he chided. "Didst thou verily think we had abandoned thee?"
"Nay, brother of my heart," came the answer, and the clutching turned -- very briefly-- into a hug. "I knew in my soul thou wouldst never abandon me. These sluggards, perhaps...." And his smile was audible in his voice. "But never thee."
"Aye, verily," the blond laughed. "For if I do not rescue thee, I shall have to endure Dolen's repasts." He gave an exaggerated shudder, to the tune of Nesmith's high-pitched laughter.
Suddenly the boy, Squire Joe, pulled his horse to a halt. He jabbed a finger to the sky, where a streak of bright light shot through the air. "Tork, Nesmith -- look! A fire from heaven!"
Nesmith's eyes widened. "It must be a sign! Let's be off -- find that fire!"
The four located where the fire had landed. Twin craters were carved into the ground. Dolen, the curly-haired one, dismounted and went to the lip of one crater. "Nesmith," he gasped, "tis no fire! Tis a man!"
Mike Nesmith, body glowing slightly, lay unconscious in the crater.
"A man?" Tork gasped.
"Here!" Squire Joe gasped, looking into the other crater. Micky Dolenz lay there, unconscious. His shirt was ripped open, and his left shoulder was dirty and bloodstained. A bloody rock lay under it, its jagged edge inside the wound. "Another!" Squire Joe called. "And he's injured!"
"Others?" Nesmith asked.
"Nay," Dolen replied, "just the twain."
Nesmith nodded. "Bring them to camp, and bind his wound. When they wake..."
"If they wake," Tork said under his breath.
Nesmith glared at him. "When they wake, we shall question them as to their identities. Also, we shall give them the hospitality of our camp. Come!"
Tari, the queen's chief adviser, strode into the throne room. Two armored women, each carrying an unconscious Monkee, came in behind her. "My lady!" Tari said. "We found these two at the forest's edge!"
Queen Phyllis walked over and brushed some hair from Davy Jones' forehead. "They sleep soundly."
"Too soundly," Tari agreed. "My lady..." she pointed at Peter Tork, "this one's garb is strange, his hair much shorter --- but he is the cursed one!"
Queen Phyllis whirled to face her. "The cursed one? Canst thou be sure?"
"Aye, lady." Tari took Peter's chin in her hand and turned his face full toward Queen Phyllis. "I can."
Seeing the birthmark, Queen Phyllis recoiled. "His lip!" she gasped. "Thou wert right! Lock them both away!"
Hours passed. Mike stirred and moaned. The glow that surrounded his body vanished as consciousness reasserted itself and he gained full control over his powers again. He groaned and sat up. He massaged his aching head, looked down at himself -- and yelled in surprise.
His clothes had been changed. Mike now wore black leather trousers and tan leather moccasin-like boots. He wore a white collarless leather jacket -- and no shirt.
"Micky..." he moaned, turning his head. He found that Micky, still unconscious, lay beside him. He was similarly attired, except where Mike wore a jacket, Micky wore a brown leather vest laced with leather thongs -- again, no shirt. Where Micky's watch had been, he wore a leather wristlet. His left shoulder was tightly bandaged.
Concern flared through Mike. If his watch had been removed as well, they were trapped in a dimension they were not born in! He checked his wrist and sighed in relief. His watch was still there. But on the other wrist was a leather wristlet.
A tall man with black hair spilling past his shoulders walked over. "Ah," he smiled, "thou art awake at last."
"Where are we?" Mike demanded. "What have you done with our clothes? Where are Peter and Davy?"
The man knelt and raised Micky's head. He fed the unconscious man some water. Mike noticed the man wore the same style leather wristlet as they did. "Thou art safe, strangers," the man said gently. "Thee and thy companion are in my camp. I am Nesmith."
Mike did a double take. Now he noticed the resemblance, but the English accent was a bit jarring. "We found merely the twain o'thee," Nesmith went on. "None others. As for thy clothing..." His features took on a sheepish cast. "Well, I fear my companions were a bit... over-zealous. Thy clothing became fire-fuel."
"Burned?!" Mike exploded. "All of it? Even my hat?"
Nesmith's gaze turned apologetic. "Aye. Even thy hat. All save thy strange wristlet, thy rings and the two boxes. We could not remove thy wristlet, and the boxes would not burn."
Mike heaved another sigh of relief -- their tracers were safe. "And our rings?"
"They are golden. Gold will not burn, so my companions did not attempt to remove them." Mike didn't have the heart to tell him the rings -- except for Mike's wedding ring -- were fake gold.
After Micky revived, they reclaimed their tracers. The six then gathered around the fire.
Squire Joe began, "We apologize for the destruction of thy clothes, strangers. Dolen thought t’were Demon Cloth."
"Demon cloth?" Mike gasped.
Dolen nodded and explained, "T'was of no ilk I had ever seen... t'was not wool... or silk... or leather! T'was slick as silk, but tough as wool! I still say t'was demon cloth!"
It was all Micky could do to keep from laughing. "T'wasn't...." He shook his head and this time did laugh slightly. "It wasn't demon cloth, Dolen. It's called polyester, and it's very common in the land we come from."
"Where be this land?" Squire Joe asked.
"Far over the sea, Squire. Where your vessels haven't been yet."
Tork's eyes widened. "Over the sea?" he exploded. "Thou camest by air! Thee and thy wool-topped companion..."
"Not since you burned my hat!" Mike groused.
"Fell from the sky!" Tork finished. "And thou wert injured!"
"Thank you for binding my shoulder," Micky said simply, startled by the onslaught of temper coming from one who was obviously Peter.
"Calm down, Tork," Mike said. "We were at that height by accident. The four of us have... magical abilities that we use for good. Micky -- the one with the hurt shoulder -- protected us from the worst of the fall ..." He dropped his voice and hissed to Micky, "And forgot he can fly..."
Micky shrugged and grinned.
"And I made the light you saw," Mike finished. "My name is... Robert. What's your situation here? Why are you hiding out in the forest?"
"Because of the queen," Nesmith said. "Aye.. thou art from another land. It began five years ago. I was a knight and Joseph here was my squire. When our good king, Arthur, went on a crusade, our queen, Guinevere, went mad. She killed a good many men and what lived, men and boys alike, all over England, became slaves. All but we four... knight and squire..."
Squire Joe took up the tale. "Tork, whose lip-mark makes people fear he is cursed, and Dolen. The puzzle. He is a savage, but..."
"Squire," Dolen growled, "thy mouth runneth far too long."
Davy paced the small cell he and Peter shared. He now wore a red-dyed leather shirt, but the black leather trousers and tan moccasins were driving him crazy. Peter wore the same clothes from the waist down, but he wore a green collarless leather jacket -- with no shirt. "Sit down," he ordered. "You're making me dizzy!"
"I don't get it!" Davy said. "They take our clothes, call you the cursed one, lock us up, and my tracer says the segment's on the queen!"
Peter touched his upper lip. "They took our clothes because they'd never seen polyester before. It seemed weird to them. They call me cursed because of my birthmark." He then gave a slight grin. "Could be worse."
"How could it be worse?"Davy asked, finally sitting down.
The grin broadened. "We could be reading a Susan Jacobs expose of our powers."
"You're right, it could be much worse," Davy sighed. "At least they've not ordered us killed."
Suddenly the door to their cell swung open and a female knight walked in.
"Come. Tis thy time."
"Time for what?" Peter demanded. "Where are you taking us?"
"Thou art bound for the Field of Honor of Kamlot. Where Queen Phyllis hast commanded thy execution."
"You and your big mouth," Peter grumbled to Davy as they were led out.
"There," Nesmith said, pointing. "Yonder is Castle Kamlot, where Queen Phyllis abideth."
Micky frowned. "I thought you said Guinevere was queen!"
"Aye, she wast," Nesmith nodded. "Till her death. Her daughter Phyllis took the throne and made the restrictions stricter."
The six snuck inside the castle and split into five teams -- Squire Joe would not leave Nesmith's side -- and began a reconnaissance. Mike heard voices and, keeping to the shadows, followed them. He rounded a corner to find two blonde women together. One turned, speaking to the other, and Mike's jaw slammed open so hard he would later swear he had dislocated it for a second.
He had seen the queen. She was a perfect duplicate of the Phyllis he had married and still loved. He tried to reconcile the sight of Phyllis with the images of the queen's doing such cruel things as he'd been told in graphic detail about.
The end result was too much to bear. Mike threw himself away from the wall and backtracked swiftly, careful to stay to the shadows. He made it as far as the entrance to the chambers before falling to his knees and violently losing what little food the rebels had fed him.
Eventually, Mike made his shaky way back to the other five -- unaware he was being followed. Tari, the other blonde, who was the queen's right hand woman, smiled as she followed them to their rendezvous point before slipping back through the corridors to find her queen.
Tari burst into the queen's chambers. "My queen! Tis the rebels! They are in thy castle! Two strangers are with them! Quite possibly, they are compatriots of thy prisoners! Thou must kill thy prisoners now!"
The queen's stood during this excited tirade. Her mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before she gasped, "Tari, I... cannot! True, they are men... yet the twain of them... seem sensitive... kind..." Her hands moved fruitlessly, as she tried to explain her feelings.
"Aye, milady," Tari said, "thy renowned empathy serves thee well." Suddenly Tari's hand flashed out and grabbed the queen around the throat, lifting her off the ground and bringing her face mere inches from Tari's. "But tis unsuited to my purposes!" she roared. "Thou hatest men... all men! Even the strangers... especially Nesmith!" She gave the queen a small shake. "Dost thou understand?"
Tears flowed from the queen's wide eyes. She tried to speak, but was muted by the grip on her throat. She had to settle for a nod as best she could.
Tari flung her away like a discarded doll and smiled a smile of triumph. "Then dry thy tears, milady, and let us away to the Field of Honor... and an execution!" Tari spun on her heel and left.
Queen Phyllis lay there for a moment, in awe that she was breathing. She pulled herself to her feet and moved to the mirror. Picking up a silk handkerchief , she began daubing her eyes. Blast this empathy, she thought. When I tortured Nesmith, I felt every hit, every stroke! T’was all I could do to stay detached!
At the thought of Nesmith, warmth spread through her. Then she shivered, forcing it to leave. But... twas only my natural empathy? Or... something else at work? The warmth spread again as she pictured Nesmith's face. She glared at her reflection, her spine stiffening in sudden resolve. And why do I suffer Tari to command me? Who is the queen? Tari? Or Phyllis? This has gone on too long.
Minutes later, at the Field of Honor, Peter's hands were bound and he was blindfolded. He was shoved against a wall. He heard a dulcet-toned voice call, "Ready... aim..."
Just as the voice called "Fire!" he felt something graze his nose. The blindfold fell away from him, leaving him blinking in shock. He spared a quick glance downward to see the blindfold pinned to the ground by a knife.
Peter grinned, his eyes glowing. The arrows headed his way froze in mid-air, then wheeled around and dove into the ground inches from his feet. Thanks, whoever did that! Peter thought. Freed my eyes -- let me use my telekinesis!
"Great shot, Dolen!" Mike called. He leaned over the wall and shot a laser at Peter's bonds, severing them. "Let's go, Monkees!" he shouted, dropping down neatly beside Peter.
"Michael!" Peter cheered. "Micky! Who're your friends?"
"Tork, Nesmith, Squire Joe, and Dolen!" Micky called from the wings.
Two knights looked around at the roll call. "A voice," one gasped, "but no body!"
"Tis a demon!" the other screamed. "An unseen..." The rest was lost in a frightened wail. They were lifted off the ground and then set back down, dizzy and light-headed. They grabbed at their heads, which seemed to be surrounded by an unseen globe. After a few heartbeats, they sagged, unconscious but unharmed.
"No, not an unseen demon," Micky grinned, shimmering into view. "An unseen Dolenz!"
Davy groaned at the pun and shook his head in amusement. "Only you, Mick -- only you." He looked at the female knights that held him by each arm. "I really hate to hit ladies." Davy shrank out of their grasp and then grew, tapping each one on top of the head and knocking them out. "But you are no ladies!"
Micky laughed at the old joke. "Only me, Davy?"
Queen Phyllis suddenly shot from her seat, arms raised commandingly. "Enough!" she bellowed, her strong voice carrying over the Field of Honor.
All action on the Field froze. All eyes turned to the Queen's box, where she slowly lowered her arms, trembling, her breath coming in short, angry gasps.
"My queen," Tari hissed, leaning over and taking her arm, "seat thyself! Let the knaves slay one another!" She laughed. "Tis more amusing than a mere execution!"
"Silence, Tari!" the queen barked, wrenching her arm from the other blonde woman's grasp with a backhand that landed Tari sprawled in her chair. "Thou hast not the right to command me!"
"What?" Tari gasped, sitting up slowly, blinking owlishly at the furious Queen.
On the field, things were moving again. "Man, it's great to see you again!" Micky said, hugging back as Peter hugged first Mike, then him.
Peter broke the embrace and looked critically at him. "Same here. What happened to your shoulder?"
Micky touched the bandages and shrugged. "Fell on a rock. Forgot I could fly."
Peter nodded, frowning. "I don't remember getting here. I guess I was unconscious when we fell. Hey, how'd we get separated, anyway? That didn't happen the first time!"
"I did it!" All eyes turned to Tari. Still reeling from the queen's slap and fury, she blurted, "I reached into the dimensional stream and pulled the four of you apart! I thought if the queen could kill you, I'd have her segment and take yours!"
"Thou foul carrion ---- Thou hast used me!" Phyllis snarled, readying for another slap. Tari waved her hand and Phyllis froze in her tracks.
Mike's eyes narrowed as everything fell into place. "You're Mara!" he growled, surging forward, every instinct saying 'protect your wife!' --- forgetting completely this Phyllis was not his wife.
Howling, Tari/Mara lurched to her feet and shot a bolt of energy at Mike. Micky shot in front of Mike, knocking him to the ground as he stood his. Micky formed a field and curved it like a U. Opening the ends, he caught her energy in one end and curved the other toward Mara.
Startled, Mara tried to dodge, but it was no use. Her own energy struck her. She writhed in it for a moment before she vanished from sight.
She did not even have time to scream.
After a few seconds of stunned silence, Queen Phyllis turned to her knights. "Bring the rebels and strangers to the throne room. No rough handling, just..." She looked back down at the Field of Honor, and her last words were whispered. "Bring them." Turning, she exited through the back of her box.
Mike's heart squeezed, watching her. He'd noticed the barely-suppressed trembling in her hands.
The four rebels and the Monkees were led into the throne room and stood under heavy guard. Tork and Squire Joe got their first good looks at the pair they'd helped rescue. They had managed to calm their nervous hearts upon seeing Mike and Micky by assuring themselves that there were not duplicates of themselves out there. Now, seeing the pair, they were nervous again -- Tork doubly so, as he had thought there was not another that bore a mark as his.
After an indeterminate time had passed, the queen walked in. Visibly shaken, she moved to her throne and sank down heavily on it. She lay her head in her hands and just sat for a moment, before sitting up and running one hand along an aching forehead.
The tense silence was broken by Dolen's curt "Art thou to slay us now, lady?"
Queen Phyllis looked at him, weariness in her eyes. "Nay," she said quietly. As she spoke on, her voice gained a bit of strength. "Not slay thee -- but to beg thy forgiveness. I know now t’was Tari who drove my mother mad. T’was Tari who controlled me... made me harm thee." Her eyes moved to Nesmith as she said this. "If there be aught that may be done to make right, merely tell me. It shall be done."
The rebels looked at each other, stunned. Nesmith then regarded the queen for a long moment, as if sizing her up. Her eyes never wavered from his. At last, Nesmith stepped forward. His every motion screamed wariness, but his voice was level and calm. "My queen, if thou art truly sincere, lift the restrictions thee and thy mother have imposed upon men."
Queen Phyllis stared into his eyes for another long, tension-filled moment. Then she addressed her knights without taking her gaze from Nesmith's eyes. "It is done. All restrictions art lifted. All." She turned to her knights, who were gaping at her in openmouthed shock. "Men shalt become knights again. Men shalt be equal with their wives once more, not subservient. Spread the news." The knights remained still. "Go!"
The knights scrambled to carry out her orders, leaving the queen alone with the eight men. She was now unprotected -- vulnerable to a sword or an arrow attack. Nesmith held out his hands warningly to Dolen and Tork, whose hands moved from their slight reach for weapons. "How do we know tis no trick?" Nesmith asked, eyes still on the queen.
Her eyes turned to him. "Tis no trick. I am free of control -- free to rule as I should have all along." She rose from the throne and walked down the steps to stand with the eight men, tilting her head up to meet Nesmith's steady gaze. "If thou wilt slay me.... now tis the time."
Nesmith regarded the queen, his face expressionless. His chocolate-colored eyes betrayed him, however, the intensity of his emotions visible there. He stared at the queen, flooded by memories of torture and brutality -- and then memories of happier times, before the nightmare had started. His chin lifted as his decision was made. "Nay, thou shalt not be slain --- but a certain condition must be met."
"Speak it," she commanded.
"Kings and queens never wert meant to rule alone," he said evenly, a hand sweeping out to take in all the palace. "This be too much for even the best of rulers to perform adequately. Thy dam ruled alone -- and wast vulnerable to Tari. Thou rulest alone -- and wert vulnerable. Rule alone no more."
Her eyes met his. "This condition shalt be met --- if thou wilt be the king."
"What?" Nesmith gasped, his mouth falling open.
She took his hands. "I wilt have none other to wed. None other to rule."
"Do it, Nesmith," Tork spoke up. "Rebel and royalty as one --- the kingdom shalt truly be united."
Nesmith looked at him, then back at the queen. The silence stretched, before he broke it with two simple words. "I shalt."
The queen hugged him tight, and after a moment, his arms closed around her as well. Mike smiled and nodded, watching them. This was as it should be -- 'Mike and Phyllis' together.
Nesmith broke the embrace. "As my first act as king, I wish to knight those who have stood by my side." He drew his sword and knighted Squire Joe, making him Sir Joseph.
But when he approached Tork, the blond held up his hand. "No, sir. I wish only for my name to be restored."
Queen Phyllis frowned. "Thy name?"
Tork nodded. "I desire to be called the cursed one no longer. I wast born thusly disfigured. The only curses I have art them that people give me for they believe I am touched by evil. My friends have shown me I am not." He bowed from the waist and took her hand gallantly. "I be the Duke Peter of the House of Halston." He rose. "I am called Tork by the sound my arrows make as they strike their targets."
Peter couldn't stifle the grin.
The queen was shaken. She looked at Nesmith, who smiled and nodded. "A duke," he said calmly. "Tork is of the royal house." He put an arm around the queen and chuckled at her startled and dismayed expression. "Dolen?"
The savage shook his head. "Just give me free reign in the forest, milord -- milady. Tis enough game to feed one, and I may come and go as I please."
Nesmith smiled. "Ah, thou didst ever prefer solitude. Tis why I appreciate even more thy steadfastness by my side these past years."
Dolen bowed his head alone. "Milord," was his only reply.
Nesmith then turned to the Monkees. "Thee and thy -- gifts -- aided us well in recent days. Save for thee, Tari wouldst still be amongst us. What can the throne offer thee, strangers?"
Mike stepped forward, extending the wand on his tracer. "We seek one thing only, Nesmith. With your permission, this will show us what we require."
"Thou mayest proceed," Phyllis and Nesmith chorused. They looked at each other and smiled.
Mike's tracer clicked louder and louder as he scanned the queen. "It's the tiara!" he exclaimed.
The queen slid the tiara out of her blonde curls and handed it to Mike. "Then take it... with our wishes for luck."
Mike bowed to her and the Monkees received permission to leave. They walked out of the throne room, throwing wishes for the reborn kingdom over their shoulders.
Queen Phyllis smiled up at Nesmith. "Now... what be our next task?"
Nesmith slid an arm around her shoulders and held out his other hand. Tork took it, and held out his other hand. Sir Joseph took it, and held out his other hand. Reluctantly, Dolen took it, and grasped the queen's hand. Nesmith smiled at his circle of friends. Then he told Queen Phyllis, "Now we change a kingdom!"
The Monkees walked out of the castle and back into the woods. There, Mike used his tracer to return the crown piece to its rightful form and send it to his Phyllis.
Micky grinned at Davy. "Bet that felt good."
"What?" Davy frowned.
"Not being the odd-man-out accent wise for a change."
Davy grinned. "Are you kidding? Those accents coming out of those faces?" He shook his head. "No, thank you -- I think I prefer LA and being the odd-man-out."
Mike triggered his watch and the woods were empty a moment later, the sounds of their laughter still ringing through the air.
END QUEST TWO. NEXT: THE RING
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