(Part One of Two)
By Michael M. Kelly
About the author
REFLECTION IN THE MIRROR stares back at him, tongue lolling like a panting
beast. Red-rimmed eyes glare at him with insane hatred, ears, nose and
chin elongated and pointed in a grotesque parody of the sharp features
of the Alvar race. No less disturbing is the long blade in his hand, covered
to the hilt and dripping with blood -- blood splashed up along the length
of his forearm, hairy and coarse in mockery of his Human heritage. Ranaur
knows that it is the accumulated blood of those he has slain in his violent
With a powerful shudder, Ranaur tears his eyes away from
the mirror. He turns his back on the distorted reflection and directs his
gaze to the top of the stair he is ascending. The elegantly wicked framework
of the mirror blends perfectly with the surrounding interior of the castle.
Arched and beautiful, the furnishings and artwork adorning the castle indicate
Alvarn tastes. However, the twisted subjects depicted in the decorative
carvings and the heavy tapestries point to a much darker sensibility.
As does the deep gloom of the place. A cloying, humid
heat draws beads of sweat along Ranaur's tanned, bared arms and across
his youthful brow, intensifying the malign atmosphere. Only partially recovered
from the shocking sight met in the mirror, Ranaur continues up the grand
stair. His expression is grave. Somehow this dark castle does not conform
to his idea of what the domain of a proper Alvar Lord should be. Determined,
he steps into the darkened hall at the top of the stair.
With a powerful shudder, Ranaur tears his eyes away from the mirror. He turns his back on the distorted reflection and directs his gaze to the top of the stair he is ascending. The elegantly wicked framework of the mirror blends perfectly with the surrounding interior of the castle. Arched and beautiful, the furnishings and artwork adorning the castle indicate Alvarn tastes. However, the twisted subjects depicted in the decorative carvings and the heavy tapestries point to a much darker sensibility.
As does the deep gloom of the place. A cloying, humid heat draws beads of sweat along Ranaur's tanned, bared arms and across his youthful brow, intensifying the malign atmosphere. Only partially recovered from the shocking sight met in the mirror, Ranaur continues up the grand stair. His expression is grave. Somehow this dark castle does not conform to his idea of what the domain of a proper Alvar Lord should be. Determined, he steps into the darkened hall at the top of the stair.
* * *
"Damn all True Rangers and their ilk," he murmurs out of the corner of grimly closed lips. Shielding his eyes from what little skylight there is, the clouds dark and turbulent above, he tries to detect movement behind the window set on the top floor of the powerful, squat tower. There is none.
With a frustrated curse, he makes his decision. The rough, uneven stone wall is climbable. It will not be easy, however, and may be long. Reaching into the wide leather pouch fastened to his waist, his nimble fingers search for something. Moments later he produces a white, chalky nugget, which he deftly crumbles and covers his fingers and palms with its powder. Satisfied, he strides towards the waiting wall, a humorless smirk forming. If this castle will not allow those not of Alvar blood to enter via normal means, he will try this more unorthodox method of entry.
* * *
Perhaps this is what causes him to hesitate before the ebony-stained mahogany door, or perhaps caution learned from the experience of countless dangerous situations. He examines the gold-plated knob and lock, and, deciding there is no hidden trap, pushes the left side of the double door open with a quick, strong thrust.
Inside the chamber it is brighter, a red-orange cast to the dim light. It is the master bedroom. The heavy scent of spice perfume and pungent incense wafts into the hall. Rising from the velvet covered bed is a figure -- no, figures. Three golden haired, amber-eyed Alvarn women capture his gaze.
"You are not our master," speaks the first woman, puzzled. She rises from the bed, and approaches him, alluring in her beauty. Her pointed chin and slanted, engulfing eyes, and slim, delicate body indicate pure Alvar heritage. Her voice is husky and low however, very unlike the clear voices of his mother's race. Ranaur stands enraptured by her beauty, the seductive sway of her perfectly curved hips. Her rich, nude skin glistens enticingly in the crimson light.
Behind her, a second woman, nearly identical in every way, shrugs and petulantly cozies back into the embrace of the third woman, who is equally identical. "Really, Farotha! Rising from our pleasures for a mere mortal?" she yawns with ennui. The third pulls this lazy one against her, a look of hatred and disgust directed at the stunned Ranaur, almost tangible in its raw malevolence.
"I find him fascinating," Farotha breathes, "not that you would care, Nolima." She raises a slim hand to touch his cheek. A keen wave of pleasure shoots through Ranaur. His breath chokes short.
Instinctively he brushes the hand aside, none too gently to his own surprise. A strong sense of duty -- the sad and gray face of the aged Earl appears to him -- quells the rising lust in him for a moment. "I have come for the Princess Silfa. Where is she?" he demands, hand tightening on the grip of his hand-and-a-half hilted blade, Herandil, the Sword of the True Rangers.
"And so dedicated," Farotha exclaims delightedly. "I must have him," she announces, apparently for the benefit of her two "sisters." The breathy passion in her voice overwhelms him.
"Begone, half-blood!" the third shrieks at him. Ranaur finds the "half-blood" insult particularly humiliating. "Our Lord returns soon, and he shall slice off your head and drink your spilt blood from it for daring to invade his domain!"
"Shush, Mohlama," Farotha fondly admonishes. "Come, Ranaur, and join us in our pleasures. Milord will be home soon, and he will be delighted that such a brave warrior has honored him with a visit. He so enjoys the company of mighty heroes." She takes hold of Ranaur's dangling left hand and, playfully carressing his fingers, draws hims towards the bed.
Nolima sighs elegantly, watching Ranaur and her sister approach with bored grace. Mohlama's body stiffens, face twisted with contempt, as Ranaur is led onto the scarlet covered bed.
He sits beside Farotha on the wide, sinfully comfortable mattress. Ranaur's eyes devour Farotha's every physical detail hungrily, as her hands roam up and down his long, well-muscled arms. "We are all sisters, you understand," Nolima looks on and explains in tired tones.
"Of course you might, being half-Alvarn yourself." Farotha's golden eyes flare with amusement as she snuggles closer to him, golden thigh pressing against his brown buckskin pant leg.
"How else could the likes of you have entered the castle?" Mohlama sneers from behind Nolima.
Ignoring her sister, Nolima continues, "Milord is often away -- he doesn't really care about us, you know -- so we while away the time enjoying each other's embraces." She sighs deeply, "Eternity can be so dull at times. Maybe you'll be more interesting than the others. I doubt it."
"Oh, no, Nolima, not this one," Farotha breathes as she admires Ranaur's body as hungrily as he does hers. Her slim hands caress his muscular chest lovingly. "This one is special. Aren't you, Ranaur True Ranger?" she pouts sexily, one hand leaving his chest and tangling through his long brown hair. "We shall be your sisters, too, or your mother, or even your sweet, delectable little daughters. We can be everything you ever dreamed of, and so much more!" With this last she pulls his eager mouth to her luscious, wet lips.
Something screams protest inside Ranaur. Perhaps it is thoughts of past lovers such as Laurela, whose lovemaking was always pure and giving as only the Alvar understand. What these sisters promise is a mockery of Alvarn culture, sullying his past relations, and is deeply wrong. And how did they know so much of him -- his name, his heritage? Or perhaps it is the word "daughter" which reminds him of a dying man whose long separated granddaughter is in this very castle. A princess he and Crowe have sworn to rescue.
He pulls away, roughly shoving Farotha towards a thoroughly startled Nolima. "No!" He stands straight, and looks down on the three, a perverse reflection of his own lusts, with angry disdain. "I don't know what you are, but you are not yedhela! Tell me where Princess Silfa is, or I'll run all three of you through right here and now!" His sword is dangerously poised over the smooth, flat stomach of the breathless, admiring Farotha. The blade trembles only slightly, gripped in both hands.
"He is magnificent!" Farotha exclaims, unmoving, as the two other women huddle at the far end of the bed, as far from the blade's reach as possible.
"Yes, a magnificent fool, Farotha," Mohlama growls accusingly, "as are you!" A twisted smile crosses her beautiful features. "Go ahead, get your little princess, peradan! Then our Lord will destroy you as surely as night ends each day!" She laughs a musical laugh, yet its utter evil shrinks the soul.
"You have surprised me, Ranger. I like that," Nolima smiles with distant amusement. "Therefore I will tell you that your princess is in the room at the far end of the hall. I must warn you, however, she's dreadfully uninteresting. I guess all of you, whether whole human or half, are hopelessly mediocre." She settles back into the arms of Mohlama, who seems none the less antagonistic towards Ranaur.
Filled with wild and conflicting desires, and afraid that if he does not leave this room now, he might never again, Ranaur turns and rapidly exits the room. Behind him, as he slams closed the door, he hears Farotha lunge after him desperately, "No! Do not leave me! You are so beautiful! Come back! I must possess you! I beg of you!" The thick door mercifully muffles the sounds of her frenzied pleading.
* * *
Crowe ignores these thoughts, and carefully continues to pull himself upward, hands searching for the next small crevice or slight ledge for a handhold. If it weren't for the climbing chalk on his hands, he'd be scraped and bleeding by now. As it is, several layers of skin are already gone from his fingertips, making each new hold agony. His pain reminds him to chalk his bare feet next time, as his right slips and dangles dangerously for a moment until he urgently finds solid purchase again. His soft-soled suede boots are shoved securely behind the leather belt about his wiry waist.
Crowe lets his body take control, a body trained by dozens of climbs like this one, and considers the real reason for putting himself through this rigor. Bitterly humored thoughts of damnable Rangers and one particular Ranger's Alvar blood -- which allowed Ranaur access where Crowe was refused by some kind of invisible, magical barrier -- are shoved aside. However, the impressive power of magic in this time -- which far surpassed the magic in his own future time -- reminds him of the mage Gavishaar.
Gavishaar -- who employed their skills as he destroyed the gods of this time and absorbed their power into himself -- had encouraged this expedition of theirs. Crowe could not discern any surface reason for doing so. There was no god here, they were merely aiding an old Earl in recovering his beloved granddaughter, imprisoned here by an Alvar lord, apparently to hold hostage and secure this Lord's holdings within the Earl's vast northlands. This did not jibe with Gavishaar's usual methods.
Of course, the mage always professed his destruction of the gods was for the benefit of all mortalkind. By aiding the Earl, he was benefiting a fellow, and highly influential, mortal. But Crowe -- whose own mind was as devious and cunning as the mage who held him in thrall with the promise that he'd return him and his young companion to their own time -- knew that Gavishaar must have a more self-serving agenda.
Crowe mentally shrugs, his breath hard and deep with the strain of the climb, and decides he couldn't care less. He is weary of this so-called "Age of Glory" -- there are too many other adventurers of his caliber to compete with, and the magic too uncomfortably powerful for a spell-less rogue like himself. He wants to return to the time he knew, and be a free man once again. He swears that he soon will be.
The dark window is much closer now. It would only be a short while until he reaches it, unless he fell first. However, the remainder of the climb seems no more difficult than what he has experienced so far. A spatter of rain strikes his upturned face and he curses. The gray clouds have turned black and the winds increase and become colder. This little princess he is to rescue best reward him well! Miserably, Crowe presses his face against the partially sheltering wall, and grimly presses on.
* * *
The mist growing dense about him reminds him keenly of the deadly green fog that surrounded he and Crowe on the day of their greatest victory. The day Ranaur was reunited with his father. The image of his father's face, sickly after having been long in a death-like trance, its health returning, is clear in his mind. That face had looked upon Ranaur with pride and love, only to be swept away from him by Gavishaar's spell. His weakened, wounded father had been left at the mercy of the powerful Dragon Queen of the Lacertilians. For years he had sought out his father, only to lose him again at the whim of a greedy mage.
All his life he was without a father -- and now is so again. And this castle mocks all that his mother is. He hates it -- and he who lords over it. He will kill that Lord once the Earl's granddaughter, Silfa, is free.
Two red-scaled, powerfully muscled hands, clawed and thick,
dripping with venom, lunge out of the mist. They grasp Ranaur's throat
and crush mercilessly before Ranaur can even lift his blade...
Click for Part 2
Table of Contents
To Rescue a Princess is copyright 1993, 2002 by Michael M. Kelly. It may
not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts
used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want
to read it!)