The Princess And The Flea – Part One

PrincessViola

“Your Highness, Your Highness, let down your hair!”

Leo looked up at the tower, searching for signs of life in the lone, lofty window just below the parapet. He half-hoped to find nobody at home, what with feeling a touch silly reciting such lines. Honestly, the ritualistic drivel one had to spout in the interests of heroism and adventure… Well, it beggared belief.

The window gazed down on him, unblinking. Behind him, Zephyr stamped fresh impatient hoofprints in the lawn.

Leo sighed. Here we go again. “Your Highness, Your Highness, let down your hair.”

Open sesame, he tossed in as an afterthought. No stir, no motion, no shadow above the sill.

Zephyr snorted. Leo fired the horse a sympathetic glance. “One more try, girl, and then we shall depart.”

He began to suspect the gravel-bearded fellow in the tavern had thrown him a false ball of yarn. The man had spun his tale with conviction and had gained nothing but the cost of an ale for his information. So if he were a confidence trickster, he was not in it for the money. The tower and gardens were just as he had described: clean, lichenless stone needling a tapestry of low cloud; shrubs and bushes pared back to allow the lawns breathing room and nothing overgrown. The man had confessed to having laboured here as gardener for a month or so. Now, Leo could’ve wished he had slackened off the job and left some helpful climbing plants clinging to the sides of the tower.

But no.

“Your Highness, Your Highness, let down your hair.”

There was another possibility, of course.

Leo De Lacey had encountered his share of princesses and more than several who liked to keep gentlemen waiting. Some barely deserved the title of Highness. At least this one, if she were real and in residence, earned herself that much from the altitude of her lodgings alone.

Leo counted to five, then walked over t take hold of Zephyr’s reins.

“Oh! Hello! Sorry, I was – !”

Leo halted. He patted his horse’s neck before about-facing and peering up at the window. Which was now occupied by a pretty head and shoulders. A head, he was quick to note, that sported a decidedly clipped coiffure. The lawn underfoot had not been mown more thoroughly.

Leo’s moustache twitched involuntarily. But with his Musketeer’s resolve, he demoted surprise to the rank and file and accorded the princess a bow, complete with a full doffing of his plumed hat.

“Your Highness.” He supposed in light of her shorn scalp he had best switch to an unscripted approach. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Leopold De Lacey, Captain of the Mayoral Musketeers of the city of Tortenschloss. And I am here to rescue you.”

“Me? Really?” The royal cheeks flushed a warm pink and she giggled. She massaged random patches of what little hair she possessed, as though suddenly self-conscious. “That’s very kind of you. But I’m afraid someone may have misled you slightly. Particularly on that bit about – what was it? – well, you know, all that funny stuff about letting down hair.”

Ah, so she had heard that well enough. Wonderful. “Forgive me, I was informed there was a princess here in this very tower, that she was blessed with the most glorious long hair and that she was in need of aid. I am, in addition to a soldier, an adventurer, you see, and it would not be in my nature to disregard such information.”

“Oh yes, yes, yes.” She shone a smile down on him. “I quite understand. But it’s Princess Viola you want. I’m only her maidservant.” The girl waved. “Tisha. Pleased to meet you< Leopold De Lacey.”

“And likewise, Miss Tisha.” Leo stroked his moustache. For reasons best known to itself, it still possessed an impulse to twitch. “And could Princess Viola be enticed to let down her hair then? Otherwise, I see little chance of my climbing to her aid.”

Tisha giggled. She clamped a hand over her mouth, settling her attack of the humours. “Oh no, I shouldn’t think so. No. She’s – she’s extremely precious about her – hair.”

“I – see.”

Leo scanned the grounds. He supposed he might amass sticks and shrubbery, pile them at the base of the tower. Perhaps hope to find hand holds higher up the tower wall. Given the smoothness of construction within eyeshot he would likely have to collect a lot of materials.

“Oh, don’t worry! I’ll think of something. Oh, yes, wait, I’ll let down some string. We have oodles of string.”

“Um?” said Leo, but the girl vanished from the window. Probably for the best, because he found he had a few too many questions.

The ensuing quiet stretched and stretched. To the extent that Leo wondered if it might solidify somehow and he might be able to climb that.

“Hello?” he called up.

“Sorry! Just making sure the knots are secure! There we are!”

Tisha’s face reappeared at the window and she tossed out a length of string. Followed swiftly by more and more. Most of it was colourful – gold, silvers, reds, pinks, yellows, greens. Fancy.

And firm. Leo tugged at the line as soon as it dangled within reach. Thick, fat rope would have filled him with greater confidence, but the line proved resistant to the heaviest of pulls. He shrugged and fired a potential farewell glance at Zephyr.

“If you must break,” he told the string of strings, “sooner would be best.”

Planting boot against wall, he started to climb.

Hand over hand, he could scarcely feel the slender string in his gloved grip, but the knots held fast. With effort of will, he demoted his unease back to the ranks alongside his earlier surprise and pressed on with his ascent. His sheathed sabre swung and batted the stone occasionally. He idly wondered to what the maid had anchored this line, but reasoned that, string willing, he would discover that soon enough.

Perhaps sooner than expected. When he eventually allowed himself to look up, he found he had only a few more feet to go. The window sill seemed to gesture like a broad beckoning hand, encouraging him to come on, come on.

A face leaned out over the edge. Watching his progress with wide, fascinated and slightly affronted eyes. Owlish ears, puffs of tawny and snowy fur, a tiny chocolate-orange button nose that helped complete an expression perfectly poised between inquisitive and indignant.

“Viola,” called Tisha, “come in from there.”

Turning, Princess Viola swished a bushy tail of black and tan and disappeared inside.

On this Highness, Leo had apparently failed to make a good first impression.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

 

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Conjured

harpypic

WHOOSH!

Light. Soaring blue. Splashes of green.

Wooded grove. Leaf-carpeted floor.

Spilled blood rains in all directions. Swords clang on breastplates. Murderous yells war with tortured screams.

This is the world that rushes to meet me. There in my first blink my vision is assaulted and overwhelmed. Senses reel like the sky above. It’s all a bit dizzy-making and yet, through the confusion, I understand my purpose.

Battle.

First things first: to tell allies from enemies. Friends from foes.

The ugly ones, I’m thinking, are the bad guys. Also, they smell bad. They snort and growl as they swing their axes and mist the forest with the stench of clogged drainpipes. Mulch and dead things lodged in their porcine nostrils or stuck between their gnarled ebony tusks.

I swoop like a winged bolt at their chieftain. At least, I presume his feather-and-mammoth-hair crested helmet signifies leadership status.

Unimportant. Details, details. Push them to the back of my mind as I dive at his squinty pig-eyes and dig in with my talons.

He squeals and stamps about, flails with his battleaxe and buries its blade in the shoulder of his nearest comrade.

I flap away, climb and spin. Seeking out my next target.

Below, my allies press their attack.

Their captain, a warrior, all cut and thrust and long black hair. His sword razors through the chaos of foes, unleashes a fountain of enemy blood on his black leathers and shiny breastplate. The spray shares itself freely. Left, speckling the gladiator. Bronze-skinned and bronze-helmed, he twirls a spear like a parade baton, casts a net and drives the speartip deep into his struggling catch. The spray splatters right too, showering the Merman, with his seaweed beard and fishscale armour. He lifts a flailing, squealing foe on the prongs of his trident.

Behind them, safe from the blood and gore, a purple-coated gentleman dances and reels and gambols. A bard, surprisingly spry for a man of such well-wintered hair, he pulls on the strings of his lute like many triggers on one gun, firing discordant musics into the enemy ranks. Disoriented, they swing their weapons to this anti-rhythm, their strikes missing by similar margins to the notes.

And there, to the very rear of this party of heroes, stands the druid. My master. I know him without knowing his name. There is a bond between us, invisible like the force between archer’s bow and loosed arrow. I am anchored somehow to this man’s will. Propelled on a wave of his thoughts. This unassuming mouse-haired youth with no colour to his cheeks and a chin that has sown some seeds of a beard.

There, he directs me. My next target.

I whirl. I dive. I screech. It is a shrill, drilling sound, strikes the enemy full in the faces like a storm of panic. So I do it again. To lesser effect this second time, but still enjoyable.

I rip into their midst. I am a rag in a violent wind, fringed with claws. I peck and snap and bite. Sink my fangs into an exposed snout. Taste fatty blood before I flap aside. My bite victim drops his axe to clasp two gauntleted paws over his bleeding proboscis. I leave him to his pains and my allies and flit to my next target.

“SLAY THAT THING!”

The order is a ferocious roar. I search about for the roarer, but it doesn’t occur that the ‘thing’ is me – until bolt after bolt whistles my way. Flocks of bolts, trying to stab and peck me out of the air. I dance and dip and dodge. To the disordered beat of the bard’s tuneless tune. I screech.

And dive into the attack.

At the crossbows. At the pig-visaged crossbowyers reloading their weapons.

My friends – my allies – chop and charge and forge their way through the front ranks. Carving a path through armoured meat. Fat fingers fumble at crossbows but two – three – swing weapons up and let fly. Here they come! Dip, dodge!

Screech!

A barbed bolt clips my right wing. My dive breaks into a spin. The world turns. Fast.

I fall. Tumble into the thick of the enemy. I scratch and claw. I lash out and dig in with talons. Blades and fists slash at me. I sink in a crush of enemies, all fighting for a final, fatal handhold around my throat.

Trident prongs jut through a nearby chest. The enemy buckles backwards, grasping uselessly. A net snares another two, drags them clear of me. A longsword chops at legs, fells two enemies like fat trees.

My friends, my allies. To my rescue.

I drop to the ground. Land on my feet.

I preen. Test my wounded wing with my tongue. It’s not mortal. I will live.

I look up, searching for my master.

I –

No green. No blue. Darkness.

 

***

“What in seven hells was that thing?” grouched Hamilkar. He couldn’t help it. His gravel-lined throat made his every utterance sound grouchy.

“An Imp-Eagle,” Eldermead the Druid informed his captain.

“Impeagle?” asked Mistlethwaite, perhaps wondering how to fit that into his ballad of this minor battle.

“Imp-Eagle,” repeated Eldermead with appropriate emphasis. “Very handy in a pinch.”

“Not bad. Bought us a distraction or two anyway.” Hamilkar snatched up a clump of grass and wiped his sword. He stooped to search the corpse of the Chieftain. “Anyway, chalk up another win for the good guys. One more dead tyrant.”

“Indeed,” said Eldermead.

Tyrants. Terrible sorts. Always using innocent creatures for their own gain.

Thank heavens, he thought, for us good guys. And wished he could clear his conscience as easily as Hamilkar cleaned his blade.

Next time he summoned an Imp-Eagle – or any creature – he promised himself he would at least give it a name.

 

SAF 2016