by Robert Scoville
© 2007 Robert Scoville
A cool morning breeze brushed across Tania’s face, gently pulling a few strands of loose hair back behind her ears. Tugging her shawl around her, she pursed her lips and stared fixedly toward the eastern sky. In the distance, several birds, black against the lightening horizon, had taken flight. She watched them a moment, then looked down to her right hand where she held tightly to a note. The paper was worn and ragged, from being folded, wrinkled, and dampened a hundred times. Lifting the note up, Tania read it softly. “Princess Tania,” her eyes vaguely passed over the words as she repeated them. “Please excuse my absence and the quickness of my departure. Regretfully, I received word that the Princess of Evrain has been captured and my services are needed to accomplish her safe return. I would have given you this message in person, but the thought of disturbing the visage of your sleeping perfection was unbearable. I expect that I shall not be gone more than a week. You may look for me in the east on the seventh dawn. Yours Humbly, Fynn Kenley.”
The Princess of Evrain, She thought. Is she the one who keeps getting captured by witches or dragons? Or maybe she’s one of those sleeping beauties. If he thinks he can run around, kissing princesses! Her hands trembled as her face flushed. Slamming her hands down on the window sill, she let out an exasperated groan. Who does he think he is? Running off like that? If he ever hopes to marry me and live happily ever after, this saving of other women has to STOP! Looking down, she uncurled her fists and straightened the note again. I just wish he were back.
Princess. To Fynn, she already was one. No matter how many times she had told him she was a farmer’s daughter, he always came back to calling her that. Princess. Of course, she would be one when they were married. And she did look the part. Her face was perfectly smooth, almost defying age. She had silky mahogany colored hair and eyes like emeralds. Her posture was always perfect and she carried herself in a way that looked majestic, no matter what she wore. Today though, she wore a fine white silk dress with gold trim and a matching shawl. It was one of a score of dresses that had been made for her since her arrival.
The sun began to peek over the horizon. The pinks that had filled the sky gave way to oranges and yellows. Tania looked down and saw only clouds and stone, shining in the morning sun. From this window that was all she could ever see below her. The stones were almost as white as the clouds they sat on, stacked in neat arrangements and ornately carved. Beneath the clouds were miles of sky. Miles of sky! The distance struck her. She panicked. Backing away from the window, she struggled for breath. Dizziness swallowed her and she began to feel sick. She staggered for her bed, almost missing and hitting the bedposts. She lay there several minutes, waiting for the throbbing in her head to subside. Just breathe, just breath, just…
She wasn’t always afraid of heights. Or at least she didn’t think so. When she first arrived at Arella Castle she had longed for a sight of the ground. Some servants told her the best view of green earth was from the tallest towers on the west wing. So, one afternoon, she climbed the many stairs to the parapet of the tallest tower. After stepping out of the stairwell, she only remembered a brief glimpse of green, then blacking out and waking up in her bed with Fynn sitting worriedly over her. Though she begged, he refused to tell her what happened or how she’d gotten there. All he would say was “Promise me you won’t go up there alone ever again. Promise me… please.” And she did. Since then, she tried desperately not to think of heights, or hang too far out windows.
Her head and stomach began to settle. She sat up tentatively. Now I’ve probably missed him. The note! She ran to the window. Below there was a tiny white piece of paper, fluttering about as it fell. No! She watched it, willing the wind to bring it back. But it only fell further.
“How is my dulcet darling?”
She spun, eyes wide in shock. Then a smile washed across her face and she ran. “Oh, Fynn, Fynn, my darling!” She threw herself into him. He grunted softly as he caught her, but his muscular figure hardly shifted as he absorbed her into an embrace.
“Were you watching?” he asked.
“Yes, my dear. But I got sick and had to lay down.”
“You shouldn’t worry about how high we are sweetheart.” Fynn said gently. “Even if you fell from the window, and waited a whole minute to scream, Fleta would catch you before you came within a mile of the ground. She’s…”
“Please,” Tania interrupted, putting her forefinger to his lips to silence him. “Enough talk of heights. I can’t think about that right now.”
“As you wish, my honeysuckle.” He gave her a dashing smile, white teeth gleaming brilliantly in the reflected sunlight.
“So,” Tania hesitated. “Tell me of your adventures since you left me.”
Fynn gave her a pained look. “My sweet, I could never leave you. I carried with me a lock of your hair to keep me company. And each day was filled with longing for the hour where you would again fill my arms the way you fill my heart.”
She smiled pleasantly at him. “I’m glad you weren’t alone on your journey then. But, you haven’t told me what this journey was. What happened to Evrain’s princess?”
“Well,” he began. “The king’s eldest daughter was taken by a dragon.” He paused as she shivered visibly. “It was only a young green dragon, nothing like the ancient red one I saved you from, beloved. But it had flown far and it took half the week to get to its nest. Twas a pitiful creature though. It had little real fight in it. But the princess was quite grateful to be rescued.”
“She was, was she?” Tania’s eyes narrowed at him. “How did she go about showing it?”
“Oh, she. Uh… Well, you see… She…” Fynn cleared his throat and looked around.
“Yes?” Tania prompted.
“She, uh… Kind of… danced.” That last word he said almost to quietly to be heard.
“She – danced?” She gave him a quizzical look.
“Yes, it was quite a lovely dance too, though I imagine if you learned it, it would be lovelier.”
“Nice. And how did you appreciate this dancing?”
“Well, I found it, uh… Unexpected.” He pulled at his collar, as if to relieve pressure about his neck, but two buttons already lay undone.
“She couldn’t have expressed her thanks in terms of gold? Or maybe cattle?”
“Nonsense, my dear. We have no need for gold here. And cattle? Who would care for them?”
“Oh, never mind then. Is that what took you so long then? Her – dancing?”
He turned red. Or did the lighting just change? “Well, she only danced the one evening. The journey to the dragon’s nest and back is what took the week.”
“I see.” Her smile sweetened again. “Fynn, my dear. Isn’t there anyone else they can call when there’s trouble?”
“You know… Kings, princesses, damsels. The whole lot of them. Isn’t there another knight in shining armor that can come to the rescue?”
“I suppose there are others, but… Why? I’m quite good at it.”
“Yes you are, my dear, but – couldn’t you take some time off?”
“Well,” he thought a moment. “In the last month I’ve faced dragons, sorcerers, witches, evil stepmothers and broken several enchantments. That’s pretty much the whole assortment. Why, I even helped find a farm girl who’d lost a glass slipper. It should take at least another week for a crisis to come up.”
“Yes, well, I suppose you’re right. But – if something does come up?”
“I don’t know who else to send them too. Besides, my dear, why shouldn’t I help them?”
“Darling, we are to be married in only five weeks. There’s still so much to do and I’m only a farmer’s daughter. I don’t know what is expected or how to do it. Couldn’t you stay here and help me see to the arrangements for our wedding?”
“Yes my dear, I shall do my best. I’ll ask Linette to help you see to what I cannot.” He gave her another dashing smile. Tania hoped he didn’t give that dancing princess girl that same smile when she was “thanking” him.
“Thank you.” She said. “Well, you must be very hungry, battling dragons and such, won’t you have breakfast with me?”
“That would be delightful.” He turned to lead her out. His shoulder length blond hair tossed as he spun. Tania positively tingled from his beauty. He had to be the most handsome man she had ever seen. And in only five weeks, he’d be hers… That is, if he can stop saving women long enough to marry me.
He led her down the hallways from her bedchamber to the stairs that led to the dining hall. As they went, Tania began thinking of all the arrangements that had to be made for the wedding: Her dress still needed to be made, the guests needed to be invited, there was the feast to plan, the priest to hire, and on and on.
Tania shook herself. There was a commotion in the entrance corridor. “Lord Prince! Lord Prince!” was all she could make out, but there was a lot of shouting. Fynn hurried off to see what was the matter. Tania chased after him. They came to the doorway and were met by four men, one disheveled, battered and dirty, and three servants struggling to hold him.
“Lord Prince! Please. There is trouble in Niall. Ogres Lord. They came from the mountains.” His breath was loud and ragged, but he still managed to shake two of the servants off and take a step forward. The look in his eyes was one of desperation and terror. Guards came rushing around the corner, clubs and shields at the ready. “Lord, please! Help us!”
Fynn took a slight step forward and raised his hand, signaling his servants and guards to stand down. The one servant who managed to keep hold of the man released him and stepped back. “Tell me,” Fynn said. “Who are you? What is an ogre, and why do you need my help with them?”
Tania kept back, listening to the conversation. The man introduced himself as Boden, from some place she’d never heard of. She agonized as he told of twenty gigantic, hideous creatures wielding trees as clubs, smashing and burning villages, taking food and gold and leaving only death in their wake. He fled with his village, seeking refuge or help, and found neither. They finally took shelter in a cave, that had an opening too small for ogres. But the ogres set watch so they couldn’t leave to get provisions. This was when he volunteered to run off and seek help. The ogres almost caught him but he got lucky.
“This sounds a dire situation indeed.” Fynn said. “How long can your people survive before they need provisions?”
“I’m afraid we are out, my Lord. We’ve no food, no water. Each day that passes means the lives of my people.” Boden’s head was bowed and his voice was pleading. “Please lord, we cannot fight them.”
Fynn glanced at Tania. Her eyes begged him not to go. He looked pleadingly back at her. An eternity seemed to pass. Boden looked back and forth between them. Finally, she sighed. “Go,” she said quietly.
“Boden,” Fynn said.
“I will need an hour to make preparations to leave. You will lead me to this cave of your’s. There we will take care these… Ogres?”
“Yes, Lord. Thank you, my Lord. But Lord, how many will accompany us?” Boden asked.
“I will go alone with you as my guide,” was the response.
“But, Lord? There are twenty of them! They are mighty! I will be of little use.”
“That will not be a problem Boden.” Fynn smiled at him. The smile seemed to calm him. His breathing quieted for the first time. “Trust me. I have never been defeated.”
With that, Fynn marched off toward the stables. Tania followed after him. “Please, you only just arrived. We haven’t even had breakfast yet! Can’t this wait?”
“You heard his tale,” Fynn replied. “I’m sorry, love. I have to go. We’ll have dinner when I return.” Coming to the large door to the stables, Fynn opened it and went in.
“Oh! – I’m coming with you!” she cried.
“No!” Fynn called back. “I will not have you endanger yourself! What if you fell off the pegasus? What if an ogre got you? Or something worse?” He turned to face her. His eyes glistened. “No, Tania. I won’t have it.”
“I’m coming. And you can’t stop me.” She turned her face up in the smuggest expression she could manage. “Even if you lock me in my room, I’m still coming.”
“Dearest,” Fynn said soothingly. “You know I couldn’t do that. But if you insist on following me, I’ll have you locked out of the stables. No mount, no leaving – no danger.”
“That’s not fair!” she protested. “Why can’t I go? I promise to stay out of the way. I just want to see you.”
“We will see each other… when I get back. I won’t be long this time.” Fynn smiled again and began saddling a silver-dapple pegasus. Tania gave up arguing and returned to her room to sulk. An hour passed and Linette came to tell Tania the Prince was ready to depart.
“Oh, go away!” Tania sobbed.
“My Lady,” Linette said. “What is the matter? Are you afraid for Prince Fynn? You needn’t be. He is the strongest, brightest, quickest fighter in all the land.”
“That’s just it,” Tania cried. “He’s always proving that; running off and saving other people… Other women. We haven’t had two days together since I got here. And… Oh Linette! I love him!”
“Well, of course you do child.” Linette said . “You are going to marry him, aren’t you?”
“Am I? How can I marry him when we don’t even know each other?” Her eyes were glistening, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her voice was hoarse. “How can he marry me? Does he even love me?”
“Yes, child. He loves you. There, there. Don’t cry.”
“Then why does he keep running off? Why can’t he stay here? Why can’t I go with him? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!”
“My dear, what do you mean? Go with him? How is it supposed to be?”
“You know,” Tania said. “Like the story books. The beautiful girl or princess is taken by a horrible witch or dragon or spell or something and the knight in shining armor comes to the rescue and saves her. He takes her home to his castle and they live happily ever after.”
“Those must be wonderful stories,” Linette said. “I wish I could read so I could learn them.”
“Oh, Linette,” Tania said. “Don’t you understand? I’m that girl. I was carried off by a dragon and given up for dead. Then Prince Fynn came along. He slew the dragon and carried me home to his castle. Now, we’re to be married, just like the stories. But Linette, that’s where it all went wrong!”
“How do you mean, dear?” Linette asked.
“Well, the stories say the prince or knight in shining armor saves only the one girl. He loves only her. They live happily ever after, the end! But, Fynn keeps on saving girls! Where’s our ending? He’s kissed those sleeping beauties more times than he’s kissed me!”
“Oh dear, how awful!” Linette exclaimed. “But, Tania that’s just his job. It’s what he does.”
“How is it his job?” Tania said. “Don’t you think it’s strange that that Evrainian princess keeps getting captured by dragons? What if another prince saved her? Would they live happily ever after without her ever getting captured again? I think he’s getting in the way.”
“Now don’t be silly.”
“He’s just shopping around for a princess he likes better.” Fresh tears appeared in her eyes.
“Tania!” Linette eyes her sharply. “I was Fynn’s nurse-maid when he was a babe, and I’d say I still know him as well as anyone could. I’ve never seen him care about someone so much as he does for you.”
“Really?” Tania asked.
“Really. That’s why he doesn’t want you going with him. He wants you safe. And you would do well to not worry so much. Besides, Fynn’s not taking off this time to save a girl; he’s going to save a village. Don’t you think that’s different?”
“Well, I suppose.”
“Well, then. Shall we go down and give our fine prince a decent farewell?” Linette asked.
“Yes. I’ll be along in a minute.” Tania said. Linette got up to leave. Tania watched her walk out of the room. Then she pulled out a piece of paper scribbled some words quickly and sealed it. Tucking the letter in her dress she rushed to see Fynn before he left. After Fynn’s departure, she gave the letter to Linette with strict instruction to give it only to Fynn when he returned.
Standing again at her window, she looked out toward the eastern horizon. No hills broke the broad curve that divided earth from sky. Fynn left to the south-west, so she couldn’t see him in the distance, but she knew he was still close. Too early. Just wait a little longer. Some minutes passed and she decided it was time. Just breathe, just breathe, just… She closed her eyes and climbed onto the window sill. Deny me a mount, will you? Her breath caught and she hesitated. Nausea pulled at the edge of her mind. Fleta will… She moved her foot forward. Oh, what am I doing?
“My Lady? What are you…” It was Linette. Tania turned and saw her. As she opened her eyes, that nauseating sense of height overwhelmed her and she collapsed backward, out the window. “My Lady!” was all she heard.
Terror and nausea flooded her mind and she screamed. The air whipped by as she fell faster and faster. Her life flashed before her. They weren’t images exactly, more like words in a book. She flipped to the last page. “The End,” it said. No! Happily ever after! It can’t just say “The End!” She screamed more loudly.
She was still muttering something about “happily ever after” when her nausea subsided. Finding herself laying on something soft, she opened her eyes. Under her, she saw the pristine white mane of Fleta, the pegasus. Around her large feathery wings beat vigorously. Beneath them, still immeasurably far away, was the green landscape, full of countryside and forests. Fleta’s wings beat harder and they started to rise. Tania saw the castle above her, too small for words; she must have fallen a long ways. Fleta began heading back towards it when Tania felt another wave of nausea hit her.
“No, Fleta,” Tania said, fighting to keep her mind. “We can’t go back to the castle yet.” Fleta gave her a questioning glance, then tossed her head to give Tania the reins. “Good girl. Do you know which way the mountains are?” Fleta nodded her head to the side. “Okay. Let’s go then. Don’t worry. They know where I’m going. It’ll be okay.”
Fleta turned again and carried Tania away from Arella Castle toward the distant mountains. Tania squeezed her eyes shut and gripped the reins tightly the whole way, trying not to pass out.
Fynn was only gone for half a day this time. He returned to the frightened tales of Princess Tania’s fall from the window. Fleta was gone so they supposed she was safe, but she hadn’t returned. In the chaos, Linette forgot to give Fynn Tania’s letter. By the time she remembered Fleta had returned, alone. She only remembered then because she was washing her uniform from that day and found it in her pocket.
The letter was short, but Fynn read it several times. His eyes raced over the letters time and time again. “What does it say, my Lord?” Linette finally asked.
“It says ‘My Dear Prince Fynn, Our story needs its happily ever after. Since it didn’t work out right last time, I’m starting over. I’ll be in the mountains. I’m sure I’ll run into trouble since that’s where it all seems to come from. If you truly love me, as I love you, please come for me. Fleta will know where I am. Forever yours, Princess Tania.’”
Linette’s eyes were wide. “She’s gone to the mountains?”
“That’s what it says,” Fynn said. “What does she mean by ‘happily ever after?’”
“She said it’s like the story books.” Linette said. “You saved her from the dragon and now she wants to live happily ever after.”
“What? She’s not happy?” Fynn looked confused.
“No, well, yes. I mean, she is happy, my Lord, but she wants it to be like the stories.”
“But, this isn’t a story! What does she expect?”
“How can you be so sure? I think she expects you to save her again, marry her and stop saving other girls.”
“But if I don’t save them, who will?” he asked.
“Other princes. There must be as many princes out there as there are princesses.”
“But, what if they can’t save them?” he protested.
“Oh, you great fool! I beg your pardon my Lord, but you are a great fool! How often do you run off to save the same princess from the same distress? While, here you have the most beautiful woman at home, who loves you. You love her too, you know! You’ve done your part so stop running around with other women. Let some other prince save them. Maybe you’re just getting in the way. Maybe they keep getting in trouble so their prince can save them and they can live happily ever after like you were supposed to.”
Fynn looked at her. “You mean I was only supposed to save Tania?”
“I don’t know, but maybe, yeah.” Linette said. “Now you need to save her again and finally have your happily ever after.”
Fynn stared wordlessly at her for a moment, then turned and ran to Fleta. “Take me to Tania,” he said when he got there. Fleta flew him to the mountains. It was in an especially dark and misty area where Fleta set down. “You mean you brought her here?” Fleta only gave him a shrug with her wings.
Ahead of him, shadows moved. He heard shrieks, and growls. He drew his sword. It glowed brightly in the dank mist. “Hang on Tania. I’m coming.” Here it goes, he thought. He stepped forward. An enormous bear with bird-like wings and a beak sprang from the shadows, claws slashing and beak stabbing. Ready for it, Fynn dodged the attack and sliced with his blade. He connected and the bear-creature fell to the earth. He took another few steps and was attacked by a creature that was all bones and sinew. He hacked it to pieces, but it kept moving until he’d ground it into the mud.
Every few steps, he was attacked by some previously unheard of creature. He defeated every one of them. As he went, his love for Tania grew. Maybe this is just a story, he decided. Maybe this is just some “land far away” in a magical “once upon a time.” Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what year it is. This must be near the end of their story. Each turn of his blade dropped another foe, no matter how widely he swung it. Every step took him closer to Tania. And he would save her.
He came to a clearing. Tania was seated in the middle. Bound and gagged. Of course! He thought. They’re always bound and gagged or sleeping or something in stories. That makes it the hero’s job to untie or wake them… And I’m the hero! A pity she’s not sleeping. I would have liked to kiss her. He ran for her. Her eyes went wide. She jerked her head to the right. He looked. Stupid! He cursed himself. There’s always the master villain at the end! He turned his sword just in time. The creature had large bat-like wings, powerful lion’s feet, a dragon’s tail and three heads.
The creature attacked; each head striking from a different angle. Fynn deflected one with his sword and another with his shield. The third found his shoulder and bit down hard. He yelled in pain. Yes! He thought. The best endings always come at a price! “Ouch,” was an after thought. He swung his blade, now glowing incandescently, and lopped off the head that bit him. The creature staggered back; its turn for pain.
Extending its wings, the creature took to the sky, the eyes of the remaining heads glowing red. One of the heads began to spit fire. Fynn ran for shelter. Tania cowered where she sat. Tania! Fynn turned and whistled. Fleta was there in an instant. Fynn mounted her and they soared in pursuit of the creature. Fleta darted in and out of the monster’s fireballs, until they got close enough for Fynn to make another attack.
His blade shown as he swung it again at the creature. A wing dropped from its side, and the creature fell to the ground. Fleta followed, Fynn on her back. The creature was close to Tania. Tania! Fynn leaped from Fleta to the rear of the monster. Slicing again with his sword, the tail fell from the monster’s body. It turned to face him. The eyes were glowing red. My shield! Where is it?
A fireball flew at him and he caught it full in the chest. It burned through his clothing and he fell back to the ground. Why do I always have to lose my shield? Pulling himself to his feet, he saw the monster was now between him and his sword. My sword too, apparently. Now what do I do? The creature lunged and Fynn jumped, landing on its back. Turning around, he began strangling one of the remaining heads. The monster thrashed, bucking and beating him with its remaining wing.
The claw on the wing found his back and he fell off, writhing in pain from the fresh wound. The creature reared for another lunge. He saw a metallic glint beside him. Good – time for the climactic finish! The creature roared as it charged. “I HAVE NEVER BEEN DEFEATED!” Fynn yelled. Reaching out his hand, he grabbed the blade and swung.
The world went quiet. Both Fynn and the monster froze. Then the two heads fell to the ground, and their body slowly slumped in a heap. Fynn stood erect, bleeding from his back and shoulder and blackened in front. He dropped his sword and hurried to Tania. He untied her but her eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving. He could hear her breathing though, so he bent down and kissed her. She opened her eyes and smiled. “I knew you would come,” she said. “And I wasn’t sleeping.”
“Of course, I did. I’m your prince, after all.” He smiled back at her. That dashing, beautiful smile. “I understand now,” he said. “I’m sorry it took so long.” She melted in his arms and they embraced. Fynn winced as she squeezed his wounds too tightly. “Easy! Wounds still hurt in stories!” She let go and hugged him more gently, careful to avoid the burns too. After several minutes, Fleta started grunting and whickering. “Yes, well… She’s right. Let’s go home Tania.”
So, the Prince took Tania home to his castle in the clouds upon Fleta, the white pegasus…