Sunday, 21 October 2012
THE LONELY PRINCESS
The broken road to Dumbarton Castle was all but in use and, if possible, overgrown. It followed the Dumbar River through a dusty and decaying forest. Which would, if it wasn't for all the dust, appear dark. Dark orange, and black-green, with dry roots going down into crumbling chalk and clay. Between the lurching trees a seductive and bewildering mass of undergrowth jumbled itself, laced by weeds, tangled weeds that hung from the rigid branches, and thin running weeds that shot across the balding earth.
"Come get lost in me." They tried together to convince, in a dry chorus. Though the trees were a little more hesitant in their approach.
The air never moved. That is to say it moved in a solid vertical manner like a limp and unwilling sail. Hardly something you would call moving, more like a sloth quiver or a shuffling crowd. And there were no birds to shake the branches. No foxes to chase the rabbits. And no rabbits to nibble the pale grass. The river was a mix of curdled rust and grey emerald and rotted chunks of trees tangled with venomously spiteful creepers. The bed possibly slowly writhing with eels.
The road was choked at points by those creepers' land based cousins; dead thorny brambles. Anyone who was foolhardy enough to take such a path soon regretted their decision.
Through this hoary scene Myrc shrugged and struggled. For moments it would ease in difficulty as if to let the shock wear off and allow the scratches and cuts their chance to irritated, and then, with every new and ever thicker barrier, insist on submission.
How he hacked at those brambles with his pock marked blade. The creases in his leathery hands felt like they would crack. They continuously stood by their complaint. How they grumbled in rash heat. The grimy sweat that worked between his fingers began gluing his hands to the handle. He could feel a bruise developing at the base of his right hand. He kept stern. He remained his mind rigid on the prize.
It was a grey stifled evening by the time he emerged from that jealous forest. Heart clanging like a cowbell. Glad to be free of their clinging clawing claws. He took his floppy hat from his baggy and pulled it down to his ears. Creeping forward he peered about. His skin was beginning to chill under his damp, badly mistreated clothes. All was boulders, rubble and bits of bone. He needed to be careful so not to slip as he crossed the ruin. A hazy sallow shape jutted out from one of the plugs about which the castle had once stood. A curious shape.
He clambered up towards it. Loosing sight of it a few times, each new sighting confirmed his suspicions. A tower. Standing unnatural amongst the surrounding desolation. Near the top of the structure there was a ring of small windows, hollow and empty. Beneath each window hung a dull looking shield, expect one, one of the window was missing a shield. As curious as all this appeared there was further curiosity; going up about four metres in a band around the base, the pale blocks of tower stone were burnished an off colour and were reeking.
"This doesn't look healthy." He thought. On closer inspection he could see tiny runes carved into the tower's stones. "The stories you could tell." He said. Here and there parts of the inscription had been worn off by scuff marks. He sat down with his back to the tower and looked out towards the muddy shoreline.
"Er, hello?" A vague and slightly wobbling voice floated down from the tower behind him. Or so he thought. He quickly got back up. Taking a step away from the tower he peered back at it in suspicion.
"Hello?" he returned at the now murky grey tower wall. "Was the tower speaking to me?"
"I'm up here. Can you see me?" Said the voice.
"No, I can't see...oh!" he began as a last and valiant beam of sunlight struggle through the dreary twilight and cast itself across the top of the tower just as he was mid sentence. "Oh there you are. Hello!"
"Yes here I am...oh." the voice answered as the same beam moved along one of the shields and reflected down onto Myrc. She was slightly annoyed, having just realised she hadn't thought to, nor had not time to, check her nails. Nothing she could really do about it now, she thought, as she hid her hands in her the thick folds of her dress. To clarify, the 'oh' was about the undignified image the man below was making.
It was a woman, not a magical speaking tower. By the sumptuous rustle of her dress and her curls Myrc could tell she was a princess of some type, though not of the very youthful, he thought.
"Would I be correct in saying you are a princess of some type?" he asked.
"What were you expecting?" answered the woman. "...In return, I would not be far wrong in assuming that you consider yourself of some standing, judging by the familiarity of your speech?" She continued after a pause.
"Err, actually, firstly, no... people? Oh and yes, excuse me, allow me to introduce myself. Prince Myrc of the Isle of Kant. At your service, madam...?" he said bowing in the darkness, a question creeping into both parts of his final sentence.
"A prince? By your straggly hair and pouchy cheeks I should never have guessed." she said, amused.
"Yes, well, never the less." he replied.
"What kind of prince are you?"
"The hunting and gathering kind."
"And by this you mean to explain your purpose of coming here?"
"Err... The fabled opportunity. I'll make no bones about."
"Erm, not the best I've heard."
"You're the fifteenth to come here (how long I waited), and probably the least charming." She said. "Fifteenth prince. In both speech and aspect. To think I got changed and dressed for this." She thought. "Fourteen princes came seeking my hand, looking for fame and glory. Some came sneaking, others with many men at arms... speaking of bones, you probably trampled what is left of theirs on your way across what is left of the castle. You know, I half thought you were some hoary old goat seeking out its deathbed by your stumblings. I have not seen humans in quite some time."
"It was a rough journey through the forest." Explained Myrc as his excuse.
"Yes, true, I myself avoid it as much as possible these days. Such a feat is a worthy tribute to your commitment." She conceded. "There used to be such a lovely tree that produced such lovely apples out there, in a hidden grove, but now it's all thorns and dry sticks."
"This feat, my feat, is it worthy of earning your name?" He asked.
"Err... You began your adventure without even knowing my name?" She asked.
"I would rather call it a venture myself, and yes, like I... I had no knowledge that any remained when I did set out on this venture."
"You irritate me with your emphasis of the word venture... What do you mean by it?"
"Well I came this way because I heard there was a great treasure. Guarded by a great beast, a dragon."
"You speak of my husband."
"You're married to a dragon?" queried Myrc.
"I guess it is a little unconventional. He just spoke so sweetly to me. And after he ate all the other princes it was very lonesome." After a pause she continued. "He used to curl himself about the base of my tower and would make such conversations."
"So you married yourself to a dragon?"
"The full story is a bit longer than that but yes. I'm sorry, your quest, venture, has most likely been in vain."
"Oh, we'll see about that. He may no longer wrap himself around my tower but he's still around, somewhere. I see him from time to time, wallowing in the river or slithering through the mud flats, down along the shore. He makes such a fool of himself sometimes."
"He has really made a mess of this place. It's a surprise your tower is in such decent condition aside from the stain and the missing shield..."
"It's magical. Do you see the runes? It's probably too dark now. If you touch the stones you should feel the grooves. Do you feel them? I doubt you can make any of them out but they're magic spells that bind and protect this tower." All this she risked quite quickly, with giddy intimacy.
"It does strike me as a cunning piece of work." he replied, careful to keep his answer free of emotion.
"My parents were powerful magicians. They imbued this tower with some of their most powerful spells."
"I didn't come here for you hand." He said abruptly.
"Yes. I think I've pick that up. You seem very un-interested in me."
"Yes and no. I came here for treasure." he replied. "Consider, local information could be of some use or advantage." he thought to himself.
"And, I am not that treasure? How boring."
"No. Sorry. I came for the real kind of treasure. Gold. There is supposed to be a lot of it around here somewhere."
"Well, honest, lovely."
They both stood silent in the now inky blackness for a moment. Thinking.
"If you're a princess..."
"If you're thinking..." They both said at once.
"Yes." said the princess.
"If you're the princess then I guess you will want your share of the profits?"
"That would be my prerogative. Yes. Money is at my command."
"Many years ago my parents were king and queen of this region. They came to king and queenship by their own means as someone always has to originally. Through much learning and many books. Through the same was our undoing, ironically. One day in all their summoning and alchemy they unwittingly meddled in some evil magic. They awoke an ancient curse. An ancient madness.
...Until then there had been such parties and royal occasions. The trade ships that used to sail into this harbour bringing such exotic ware. And there were none to challenge them. Their level of magic gave them great authority. I was just a young girl then. They seem like swirling times to me now, fulled with animation and colour. The forest parties were the best for me. The games we would play. But this curse. At first none could see it but things just started go wrong. Little things here and there. It was irritating. Nothing you could put your finger on. But we began to realise something was wrong when the black fire came. It burnt in the shadows at night, in the shadows of the castle and surrounding the township, hovels, and harbour. And the was a darkness that would move about. Even in the forest. The attitude of things started to change. Up to this point my mother and father had been over everything but this really worried them. They started going through their books looking for answers, for a reversal of some type. I think in the haste of their searching they stirred an even greater evil.
One of their dabblings opened up the earth and, and brought unwholesome things crawling out. It really got out of control. It was clear that the area was becoming unstable. Besides the everything being plagued by the things that had come up through the fissures, the earth itself started to roll and fold itself upon itself. If you think this place is messy now, you should have seen what it was like then. Along the shore a great hole opened up. A great gaping hole. Black and deep. It lead down into a bottomless darkness. I remember a shoreline tree's roots hanging down from the ceiling of the hole.
It was then that the animals started to go missing. We thought at first that the shifting of the earth was frightening them away or maybe they were falling down the cracks but after mother's stallion disappeared from the stables and father's favourite dogs followed the next night we began to listen to the servants' talk of a thing, a beast creeping up from the hole at night. When the carpenter's daughter went missing the king became quite distressed. He took most of his men and set up camp about the opening, assembling them in all their shining armour. By fire both day and night. Assuming that this was where the thing came up from to do its mischief. They had to burn fragrant green branches to be able to stomach the reek that now crept up the hole. Some also kept little burning pouches of incense about their necks. I think I heard his whisperings for the first time then. It was just like the servants said, he seemed to ask for me to come out to the woods of the forest. It was so delightfully secret. I pretended he was my secret prince then. I would sneak out the window and down the lattice. Run across the grass in the moonlight, barefoot. There were no thorns back then.
Imagine an twisted fallen tree, an elephant grey bloated worm laying across the open grass in the grey night light. That is how I first saw him. I could sense his heat even as I stepped into the glade.
"And who are you?" he said in a rich, knowing, and vicious voice. He knew I was already under his spell, indeed it had been his spell that had drawn me to the very glade. "I have gobbled down quite a few maidens but you seem unusually care-free." Well, he kept me then, not only is he sweet with his words but he's also awfully smart. He would call me his "free spirit".
I think it was Christmas when he came to visit the castle. In a fury. He was a lot larger than I remembered, and yes, as I now remember, black with fury. Storming the castle. He tore at the walls. Breathing fire into the windows, a burning mess, you should have seen the mess. A wreckage. I stood at my balcony, breathless. There were all types of spear and lance jutting from his hide. He snaked himself over the walls and parapets, coiling and uncoiling. Dust and smoke filled the air and added to the confusion. Nevertheless and stalwart the guards who had been left at the castle fought bravely, spiting the darkness. Captain Reyeeve, a Black River guard, held the courtyard gate. But all was to no avail. With the killed body of Reyeeve chewed through his jaws and sliding down his throat he squeezed through that gate, the building creaked and groaned. My mother was calling my name. She came running to me then and took me up with a fierce and panicked energy. She was so strong. As we ran along the walk way beside the courtyard, toward the tower, he looked across at us. I stopped. He seemed to be grinning so... stinging-ly at me. My mother's hand tightened about my wrist as she tried to drag me towards the tower. She turned to look at me and then across at the dragon. That was the moment that he chose to hold up something he had hidden in his claw. A sack or something by the way it swung. I could feel her hand slip from my arm. She feel to her knees. "Your father." She said. "Go to the tower." She drew a piece of chalk from her sleeve. I had never heard her voice so loose or weak or quite. I felt the ground beneath me tilt away as I realised that is was in fact the broken body of my father that hung from his crescent claw.
I found my legs running themselves towards the tower. As we ran I looked back. My mother, she was drawing a circle on the flagstones. I ran to the tower and I was safe. Not a moment too soon too. He began to billow and hiss something terrible, pouring out a sticky mass of flames. It had felt up to that point. It had felt right. But with the remains of my father's body hanging there before my eyes, there was a twist in my stomach, I got so angry. I left my mother on those stones defiantly scratching out her last magic spells. Hot tear leaking out from her blank eyes. She wasn't quick enough, I think, or perhaps there was no spell to combat that dragon. I don't know for sure. I pulled the door closed behind me, bolts snapping and sliding into place. I hid from the noise in a dark corner. This was quite a testing time for our relationship.
I stayed down there for days. Amongst the cobwebs, old sacks and wooden crates. Until there came a voice whispering down from over my head, down the steps that curled up the inner walls of the tower. "Sssssspi-rit? Sssssspi-rit? Are you there?" I wasn't ready to see him again, but it was dark down there, and his voice made me look up from my corner for the first time. I could see faint light coming from the opening at the top of the steps.
His voice leading me, I crept slowly up those steps.
My mother and father's protection of the tower had thwarted him, it seemed. I could see him below me, he was winding himself about the base of the tower in frustration. Attempting to wear his way through their markings. He stopped as soon as he realise I was there and pretended to do a waggly little dance to hide his frustration. "Ah there you are, when you're ready, I can wait, I've waited before." He said with a sulkiness in his voice as I peered down at him. As if nothing had happened. As if he hadn't taunted my mother and I with my father's body."
In the darkness Spirit moved some of her hair over to the left side of her head.
"He tried to wait me out but not only had my parents protected the tower, but but they had also kept it well stocked with food type of provisions. This, along with a good deal of treasures. The reason for his frustration below. He could sense the hidden treasure. There was also a second trick played my parents. As the store of food ran low and I began to consider my flight from the tower, there was a crate, now empty, I moved by chance and discovered a large metal ring set into the floor. There, in the floor, was a trapdoor.
After a great deal of trouble managed to pry the damp and heavy section open high enough to jam a piece of wood in to hold it open. Just enough to fit my head through.
In the darkness below I could hear the trickle of water. I took a candle and stuck my head through. The light was too weak to show much except a set of metal rails embedded into the smooth wall of the hole. A vault of sorts.
After a great deal of trouble I managed to get the door open wider and, having edged my way in, felt my way down the metal rails. A trickle of a stream runs along the floor of the vault. It goes all the way out into the forest, deep into the forest. That is how I outwitted the dragon. I would gather provisions from the forest. Though now that it has died I've had to eat other things, that live in the rot and mud. At least the vault's trickle of a stream provides me with fresh water."
"You didn't run away."
"At first, the creatures that came up through the fissures used to keep the forest. It was very dangerous, my magic is very weak. I think he's eaten them all now. And then later it became that if I had run and survived their gauntlet I was sure I would have only gone mad on my escape. I could feel he had his hooks in my heart. There's a claw around my mind. There's a curse in the forest. He cursed the forest. It was once my joy. The only things that survive there now are twisted and wicked."
"All this and yet you married him?"
"Ah... I waited. I waited for princes to come rescue me. And they came as I said. Every prince within the reach of our legend, every prince within the limits of the wandering minstrel's song. Valiantly through the wicked turned forest. Yet not one survived. Now about the marriage, after a long while the procession of princes dried up, nothing came moving through the forest looking to my rescue. I had been given up by mankind. I could no longer cry. He spoke to me then in a very romantic way. I wished to be married and have a husband and when he guessed this longing of mine, to be normal, as I was of the age of marriage, he proposed to me. I made my vows from that window over there. He made his from below me, on the same ground that you now sit or stand. I exchanged one of my window shields for a deviously carved orb as a symbol of our love and contract. I have not spoken to him since." Spirit stopped speaking.
Myrc had been slowly entranced by the lilt of her voice but now that she had finished her story something that had been flagged in the back of his mind made its way to his remembrance.
"You have treasur...gold? I only think of gold. At night I sleep and I dream on it. In my waking hours I arrange and care for it. I keep an ardent vigil, it has such a curious confusing movement. Do you have very much?" He asked.
"My husband has a great deal more than me, I can assure you of that, near all the splendour of this castle he hoarded, down in his cavern."
"I've taken from one quite feathery cockatrice's nest, did quite quite well by it, I'm here because I thought I'd try my will and my wit at a dragon and his gold..."
"Is that so?" Croaked a vacuous voice.
As they did spake, had the dragon been moving his head and neck along the ground between them, inch by inch, un-noticed, listening to all their revelations, having crept up silently, hidden in the darkness? Why didn't his heat give him away? Is there a confliction that causes Spirit to distract the dragon, enabling Myrc escape? When Myrc gets down to the shore and enters the endless cavern is he followed down by the dragon? In the maze below, does he come across Spirit's shield amongst the hoard? Is he, with Spirit's shield, able to defeat the dragon? Does Spirit sneak out of her tower and follow the dragon down? Does she, in madness, aid the dragon against Myrc? Is the shield destroyed?
Is there a purpose to the deviously carved orb that is nestled amongst the gold of the tower's treasure room? Is it some type of Trojan Horse?
Posted by David at 04:02