Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure



 
 

To Rescue a Princess
(Part Two of Two)

By Michael M. Kelly
About the author


RANAUR GRASPS AT THE FORMIDABLE FOREARMS, desperately trying to pull himself free. His sword hits the floor with a metallic thud. A hideous, sneering head fills his blackening vision. It glares at him, breathing in great bestial rasps. In its red, rolling eyes is a reflection of his own rage, magnified a thousand times.

Unable to budge the massive arms as they push and twist, in an attempt to literally pull off his head and feed the demon's open, dripping mouth, Ranaur concentrates. He ignores the crushing, piercing pain of the stranglehold and reaches deep into himself and then outward. The pulsing, cool fire of Life around him, around the castle, is drawn to him, fills him, calming him. He focuses the power and a green, living glow emanates from his hands, surrounds the steel hard wrists of his assailant.

With a maddened cry, the demon releases his stranglehold, wrists sizzling with the wounds caused by Ranaur's magic. Ranaur gasps for air, yet maintains enough composure to scoop up his sword. He steps forward and whirls, slicing downward at an angle, shoulder to foot, a blow that could cut a normal man in twain.

The demon deflects the blow with a backhand slap. Ranaur barely manages to retain his sweating grip on the wide flung blade. The demon takes two steps forward with a furious roar; powerful, forked hooves emerge menacingly from the clinging, heated mist.

Ranaur steps back himself, trying to spot a weakness in the creature's red-scaled hide, but unable to see any in the swirling fog. It charges him. He sidesteps it and lands a blow on its sharp ridged back. Bouncing off its hide, his sword draws no blood -- or ichor for that matter -- from the demon's mass.

The demon swipes at him with hateful fury, but Ranaur's well-timed dodge prevents the blow from landing. Ranaur has never before encountered such a loathsome creature, and every fiber of his being cries out to attack it, to cut at it and stab at it with all his anger and hate, like a wild animal in desperate final battle.

From somewhere inside him a calming feeling grows. Perhaps Koiá, the Alvar goddess of life who provided him with his natural magics, is the source. He has felt his god more keenly and powerfully in this time than in his own. He lets emotion drain from him as he circles the suddenly quiescent demon warily. He goes beyond his anger at Gavishaar for taking him from his father. He goes beyond the lifelong anger that continually drives him, born of the lack of a guiding father figure. He goes beyond anger towards this as yet unmet Alvar lord who so perverts Alvarn values with his three succubi and this demon, rage. He is here to reunite a lost grandchild with an aching grandparent, simply that. With this knowledge, he strikes out.

His sword cuts a visible slice through the cloying mist, and nearly as easily cuts through the inhumanly thick neck of the demon, decapitating it. Its head separates from its massive shoulders. A sickening spray of red-black blood trails from the severed neck, a horrid crimson rainbow against the steamy white mist that fills the hall. Then the demon is gone, as is the hot blood that pours down the great length of his blade.

Grimly triumphant, Ranaur turns and opens the door as the hall slowly clears of mist. The first thing he notices is the fresh, cold air of this room, come through the open window in the opposite wall. The second is the young woman rising from the bed, eyes bleary with sleep and startlement. They are eyes that have cried much, but of late have ceased weeping at all. They are blue and blinking, the face puffy and pale from abuse and indulgence, but her features are genuinely lovely, once innocent. Brown-gold hair in disarray, she pulls woolen blanket closer around her bare pale shoulders goosepimpled by the cool of the room.

"Who are you?" her soft, broken voice is hurtful to hear. It speaks of horrors unimaginable endured.

The third thing he notices is the black and gray figure pulling himself in through the window with a strained curse.

"Ranaur! I see you have arrived before me." The welcome is an accusation, from one who has experienced great hardship to one who is assumed to have encountered very little.

"I see you have found a means of entry, old rogue," Ranaur smiles with obvious relief. "It may have to serve as our means of egress very soon." He turns to the woman, his voice respectful, "You are Princess Silfa?"

She nods dumbly.

"I am Ranaur, and this is my trusted companion, Crowe. We have come to return you to your grandfather."

Her face remains impassive. The barest hint of tears well in her pale blue eyes, but she dares not let them fall. She dares not hope at all. Silently, her slim shoulders shake with emotion.

Crowe, after gathering himself, including slipping on his boots, approaches her, a simple cloak in his hand, lifted from a chair beneath the window, and offers it to her. "Quickly, woman. The night approaches and this castle lord's power is said to be greatest then."

Automatically, she pulls on the cloak, revealing for a brief moment the beautiful body of a half-Alvarn woman, perfectly proportioned and slim, but with human fullness and strength. She is numb to the fact that two men are in the room with her.

"Crowe! I sense something! The lord has returned! His magic is so powerful," Ranaur turns to his smaller friend, genuine astonishment in his fiery brown eyes, "and evil. It -- hurts!"

Crowe has learned to trust his partner's magical senses, particularly in this time, when they are greatly amplified by strong magic. He draws a dirty but sturdy rope from behind him and underneath his cape. It is useless for climbing upward, the tower having no outcropping large enough to secure the rope to, but is ideal for climbing down. Securing it in the room, he casts it out the window.

"Who? Who has dared enter my abode?" A booming voice fills the room, loud all around them. It is musical, lovely to the ear, but laced with a deep cynicism and pure wickedness that makes the soul shudder.

"We must leave now!" Ranaur shouts. Never before has he felt such fear. The raw power of the being he senses, whom he knows is at this very moment ascending the same stair Ranaur ascended earlier, is awesome. This castle, and all its evil -- its demon, its succubi -- are just minor extensions of the power of its master. An Alvar lord gone bad, become one with the demons he has created. A demigod against whom neither he nor Crowe, nor even both combined, have a chance.

Crowe lets himself out by the rope. "Take the girl. I'll secure the rope at the bottom." He is gone.

Ranaur cannot resist the impulse. He must open the door. In the hall, nearly six feet in height, stands an elegant, handsome Alvar, in the stylish garb of a noble hunter. His sweet, sardonic smile is terrifying, repulsive, in its utter mockery of all that is Alvarn. Reactively, Ranaur strikes out, summoning the power of the Light of Koiá, Life itself, to his hand, and casting the blindingly bright green bolt straight at the chest of the dhaur, abomination. With a crack like thunder, the bolt strikes. The entire castle trembles with the Lord's insensate cry of rage and pain.

Ranaur slams the door shut, and seizes the stupified girl, throwing her over a strong shoulder. He reaches the window and, grabbing the rope, uncaring if it be secured or no, rappels down the wall of the castle.

Waiting below is the tense Crowe. As Ranaur's feet strike the wet, grassy ground, he bounds into a frenzied run, urging Crowe on behind him.

From inside the castle they hear a resounding shout of indignation, "What is this insult? Robbed by mere mortals!"

The black clouds above the castle coalesce, center above the castle. A tremendous funnel of air forms and turns downward, touching the castle.

"No! Not this! The pact! I never expected to be bested by mere mortals! I have lost -- everything!" The voice cries out in desperate anger as the air swirls around the tower, obscures it and then tears it apart with shattering force.

"Ye know not what ye have done this day! I shall be revenged upon ye, half-Alvarn fool and human thief!" the voice threatens viciously as it becomes distant, echoing. "Not e'en eternity will allow ye escape from my wrath!" Then the castle and its master are gone, sucked through the vortex in the swirling sky. Ranger and rogue don't stop to look back.

* * *

Dawn's gray slowly replaces the gloom of night. Ranaur and Crowe continue on, the exhausted young princess between them. The Earl's castle lies within a day's journey of the Alvarn lord's domain, and they are nearly there.

"So it seems Gavishaar did have us 'slay' another god," Crowe announces thoughtfully.

"I would not call him such," is Ranaur's contemptuous reply. He turns to the no longer dazed, but strangely introspective Silfa, sympathy and compassion softening his features. "No god would do this to a woman."

She looks up, searching his face with an infinite sadness in her eyes. Evidently she doesn't find what she's looking for, and she turns away, ashamed. Ranaur makes to speak to her, but finds he cannot find the proper words.

"He is gone now," she murmurs, a spiteful but tragic edge to her quiet voice. "I was the link that held him there. He maintained access to both this mortal realm and my grandfather's lands through me." Her head remains bowed.

"Through what unspeakable magicks, I'm sure Gavishaar will be glad to inform us, in gruesome detail," Crowe remarks bitterly. "Doubtless he has enacted such rituals himself," he adds sotto voce.

Ranaur finds this talk distasteful. "It is over now. Soon, Silfa, you will be with your grandfather again, and all will be well." He watches her, but her only response is a gentle gnawing at her lip, her eyes averted. As he gazes at her, he thinks how similar they are -- both children of two races, torn in two by the demands placed on them because of their mixed blood. If she were not half Alvarn, she would never have been subjected to the foul uses of the demonic Alvarn Lord. Her blood allowed her to abide in his malevolent castle. She is lovely, and a kind, gentle soul is revealed by her words, her actions. Given time, he could come to love this tortured woman.

Crowe's thoughts run along similar lines. He finds the girl attractive, and Crowe was ever one to pursue the finer pleasures offered by womanhood. But since their escape from the castle, she had been withdrawn, troubled, and kept herself distant from both men. Her responses to Crowe's flirtatious glances were full of fear and shame, not interest. On the other hand, her glances at Ranaur were adoring, hopeful, yet as soon as her eyes met his, she would bow her head and not respond. Crowe could only guess that the trauma she had experienced had left deep, hurtful wounds. Part of him mislikes her, as he had hoped an amorous reward for his rescue efforts on her, behalf. The other part decides to put her behind him. Obviously she has neither the will nor the want to be with him. It suits him fine. There are hundreds of other woman who do. Yet something of compassion touches even his hardened emotions. The girl is shattered inside.

This becomes evident as they reach the crest of a hill. The castle and surrounding city are visible in the lightening dawn. Ranaur picks up his stride, their goal at last in view. Silfa stops short however, and Crowe draws up quietly beside her, watching her thoughtfully. Ranaur turns in surprise, expectant. He begins to indicate the castle ahead, but his action is interrupted by her cry of anguish.

"No! I cannot!" A panicked look contorts her features. "I am befouled!" Tears well up in her burning eyes. "I can never go back!" With an anguished sob she turns and stumbles back down the hill, as if fleeing something -- fleeing herself.

Ranaur makes to follow, but Crowe places a deft, small hand before him. Ranaur stops short, anger crossing his brow. Crowe's voice is unusually gentle. "No, my friend. Let her go."

Crowe watches after her as she flees into a thinly wooded patch of trees. "She can't face her grandfather the Earl. She has too much to resolve within herself. Let her do so."

Ranaur watches after her, longing to follow, but the wisdom in his older friend's words makes sense to him. Crowe was right, she had faced too much horror.

Accepting that he will not chase after her, Crowe looks back towards the town. "Another little victory, eh, Gavishaar? A beloved granddaughter who dares not return to her only family. An old man's faith will be broken, his lands lost and you will be satisfied. What a cruel joke you make when you say you wish to benefit all mortals. This rescue you have arranged, which we have carried out for you, benefits neither Silfa nor the Earl. Only yourself!" He spits in disgust.

"If it were in my power, I'd have your head, mage!" Crowe growls, his voice barely above a murmur, but righteous anger flares in his dark eyes. "However, it seems fate has decreed that the only head that will be attained is godhead."

Ranaur hears his friend's bitter, disturbingly truthful words, but finds it hard to accept them. "Crowe, we have to help her."

"I'm afraid what she needs is time, Ranaur," comes the dry reply, "and time is the one commodity neither of us has to offer." He slowly draws his black hood over his head, eyes dark with bitter thought, and heads towards the Earl's keep.

Ranaur nods, but he watches the girl until she disappears over the rolling terrain. He continues to stare until his eyes begin to tear fitfully in the swirling wind. Only then does he run to catch up with his smaller friend with but a few long strides.

The End.



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To Rescue a Princess is copyright 1993, 2002, 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!)