The Princess and her KnightbyElenia26©
Hi, all. This is a bit cut from my November writing month submission, where I wrote 50K words in 30 days or less. The Princess has recovered from her curse and is working to restore her land, and while she does, she takes a single night to herself and her love. I tried to add some exposition so I hope it makes sense.
Nathan and I scurried for the docks. I was grateful that we had evaded the guard, but we needed to be on our way. We had found the last piece of the artifact we were looking for, and this was what was going to, if not restore me to my kingdom, at least help me cleanse the evil out of it. The former I would have to do on my own. Someday. Eventually. Soon.
I found that while I was anxious to get the job done, sometimes I thought it didn't matter how long it took, however, as long as Nathan and I were together. I had come to rely on him even more than I had when I was still a Princess and he my knight.
But then, he had more than proved his worth, had my Sir Borridan, and many times over. He had kept the dream of Aldain when even I had given up hope. In his mind I would always be his Princess and he would always be my knight – he had never stopped serving me, and was my silent guardian and protector. More than that, he was the man I unconsciously leaned on and looked to for guidance, both moral and otherwise.
Here we were, in the winter lands, evading the guards with the last piece of an artifact that I needed. The rich collector who owned it had refused to sell it or trade it or even consider such a thing. I had been surprised when Nathan himself had suggested we steal it, but then it was an artifact of a God, and I had been specifically instructed to recover it and gain this God's favor.
As agreed upon, the explosion – our distraction - had taken place down at the better end of the docks, and we made it to the poorer end easily. There, our other companions had left a small sailboat tied up for us to take. With just the two of us, we could not make sail easily on a larger boat, and plus this one would be quiet. I didn't intend to go far from shore, anyway.
We climbed in and made sail. Nathan had done some sailing in his time, and my family – the royal family - had had a yacht, so I had a little experience. Off we went. We didn't want to go far at night so we sailed out until we were well up the shore, and then lowered anchor to wait until morning. I slept first, wrapped in our blankets and cloaks, and then Nathan awoke me to get some sleep.
In the morning we had a small breakfast of our stores and began to continue up the coast. All went well, however, around midday, the clouds began to darken.
"There wasn't supposed to be a storm," I said, looking at them anxiously. "I supposed we'd better head for shore."
"I agree." We made for shore, but the wind began to pick up, and then the rain came. And oh my, did it come. It started as a drizzle, then built up to proper rain, then went right to a downpour, combined with sleet. I knew Nathan would have preferred me inside the little hold area, but he didn't say anything because there was no way he would have been able to sail the little boat by itself. We fought desperately, trying to maintain control. There was no chance ever of making it to shore; we fought just to stay aloft.
All for naught.
We sailed, hoping for the best, but it became dark, and we could hardly see our hands in front of our face. To our shock and horror, we realized we had no idea where we were.
Nathan was screaming something at me but I could hardly hear it, over the whipping of the winds and the rain. He pointed, and I looked, and saw what he was trying to tell me. The eddies had formed into a whirlpool, and we were already caught in the periphery.
We fought doubly now, trying to get out, but to no avail. We didn't even have a chance. I tried and tried, but suddenly, Nathan gripped me from behind. He pulled me against him and shouted right in my ear.
"The ship is going down!"
I looked at him, and then back at the water. Indeed, we were beginning that long, lazy spin that signified we were going down.
"We have to get in the hold, it's our only chance!"
"Won't we drown?"
"There's a chance! But less than getting flung off the boat!" And indeed, our spin was picking up speed.
He kept his arm around me and half-helped, half-carried me down into the hold, closing the door behind us. The boat was a good one and did not flood, and we huddled here, in each other's arms, feeling the boat spin. I began to feel nauseous, and barely managed to keep it down.
Faster and faster we went, and I suddenly lost my footing and went down with a scream. I hit my head. Everything went dark.
Consciousness came slowly. I shifted, and moaned – my body was sore and bruised all over. Obviously I had taken a thumping. I was warm, though, and very comfortable.
I opened my eyes, not sure what to expect. I found I was still in the hold of the little ship, It was upright, but I could sense we were not moving – not even the little movements it would make when tethered up to a dock.
Across from me there had been a fire made in the little metal stove, and it was casting a warm glow all over the room. I shifted, and realized I was wrapped in blankets, and my wounds had been tended to. And I was naked.
I sat up, carefully, keeping the blankets wrapped around me. I called out. "Nathan?"
I heard a noise outside, and then the hold door was opened. Cold air blew in, and Nathan climbed in quickly. He was wrapped in his parka and scarves, and as he climbed down he closed the door behind him. He came right over to me.
"Leila? How are you feeling?"
I looked at him, unsure. "Um. Other than being naked, I guess I'm fine."
He looked genuinely embarrassed and for a moment I caught a glimpse of the young man he might have once been. "I'm really sorry about that. Your clothes were soaked through and I didn't want you to catch cold. I didn't look, I promise."
I smiled. "It's all right, really. Thank you. So...we didn't drown?"
"Seems not. I think we're on an island somewhere, I don't really know. After you hit your head, the boat sprang a leak and I was kept busy bailing, but eventually we washed up on this rock. The boat's no good, and there's no wood to fix it – I already went out to look."
"And you? Are you hurt?"
"Minor cuts and bruises. Let me look at that head of yours. I wrapped it already, but it really knocked the sense out of you."
He checked my head again, and I was very conscious of my bare shoulder, the blanket slowly slipping down it. His eyes never strayed though, of course.
"You look all right. Are you hungry?"
I nodded, eagerly. "Starving."
"I made some stew with the supplies we had." He lifted a pot off the stove, and scooped some stew into a bowl. He also brought over a big chunk of bread. I took it, and ate it eagerly, struggling to keep the blankets wrapped around me while I ate. It was just average stew at best, but right now it was the best food I had ever tasted.
"Mm. Thank you. I feel so much better. Aren't you hungry?"
"I already ate. Do you want to get dressed?"
I nodded. "Then what?"
"There's a path through the ice. I figured we could follow it and find where it leads."
"Fair enough. I'll be out in a moment, then."
"I hung your clothes in this room; they should be just about dry by now. I'll be waiting outside. Call me if you need anything."
And he slipped back outside. I was loath to go out at the least but I knew we had to move on and try and figure out how to get off this island. I wrapped myself warmly and followed him out.
Indeed, we were on an icy island. Nathan had pitched a tent right outside the boat, and was squatting in the opening, keeping an eye out. Protecting me, as always. He stood when he saw me.
"Let me break camp, and then over there, by the ice wall, there's a deceptive entrance. You can't see it until you get right up to it."
"I'll help." Together we took down the tent and packed it away, in the boat for now, and packed what gear we could carry.
"All right, I'm ready," I said, and Nathan nodded. "Let's go then." Hesitantly, I took his gloved hand in my own. He looked it at but said nothing and just gripped my hand, We walked toward the ice wall, together, and he found the entrance easily enough. It led to a small narrow path, that wound between cliffs. We began to follow it down. "I didn't go very far down it. I thought I had better keep an eye on you."
"I'm hoping, though, that it opens up onto a clearing with at least a few trees, where we can collect some wood."
"Seriously. Do you know how to repair boats?"
"Not much. A little. And I am not sure where we are, either."
"Still, we have to try. I have the vase pieces with me, by the way."
He nodded. "Good."
We walked on, in silence. It was bitterly cold, but nothing attacked us on the way at least, and we just held hands as we went.
Soon the terrain began to become rougher and we soon realized we were ascending a slope. Sometimes we had to actually climb. It was hard in our furs, but we did so.
I became aware of something odd. I felt as though we were being drawn, but I didn't feel like it was a bad thing. Like something was calling me, with love and tenderness, and when Nathan suggested a break, I didn't want to stop.
"No, we should keep going. Don't you feel it?"
He shook his head. "No, feel what?"
"Like...a call. A song, maybe."
"I don't hear anything."
"Something wants us here."
"Is it dangerous?"
"I don't think so. Come on."
And we continued up.
By and by we came to a flat plateau, not huge, maybe about sixty feet wide, and we headed across it. When we came to the opposite side and looked down into a valley, we gasped.
Below us was a crystalline forest of utter beauty. Trees encased in ice, seeming to have been frozen in the full bloom of spring, boughs bent with their weight but not swaying, a river running through it, fully frozen. It was stunningly beautiful and yet very barren.
Just below us there was a path into the valley, iced over, but much easier than the path we had just trekked.
"Nathan, it's so beautiful."
"It is. I wonder what caused it?"
"Let's go find out." Holding his hand still, I began to make my way down the path. Occasionally my feet slipped, but Nathan's grip never wavered, and he caught me each time.
It was indeed much easier than coming up, and without much trouble, we reached the bottom.
We were in a glittering ice forest, and as I turned slowly, I pointed. "Nathan, look!" A little distance away there was a frozen deer, caught just in the act of raising its head. I went over and touched it with wonder – it looked so real and so lifelike, but it never moved.
Around another tree we found a badger, half poking out of its hole, and later, some squirrels, halfway up a tree. As you walked you could almost imagine them begin to chatter and run up the rest of the way up the tree.
We continued walking forward, hand in hand, seeing many other crystal animals, plants, trees. We soon came to the banks of the crystal river. I tried to walk on it, but it was much too slippery, and after nearly spilling three times, decided to walk on the bank again with Nathan.
We hardly talked; we were so entranced by the beauty of this silent forest. In the trees we even saw tiny birds, just frozen on the branches. We just followed the river instinctively.
Soon it began to open up into a clearing. In the center of it was a large ice tree, an oak, and in front of it was a pedestal.
"Be careful, Leila," said Nathan, as we came forward. But I felt no danger.
"I think it's safe here, Nathan."
I walked up to the pedestal and looked at it. On it was a series of drawings, and in the center, a round slot as if something belonged there. In the slot, standing improbably on end, was something I recognized immediately.
It was the last piece of my vase.
"Nathan! I told you we had been brought here. Look. Should I put the other pieces in?"
He was standing right by me now, hand on his sword hilt. "Are you sure it's safe?"
"I think so. I really do."
He hesitated, then nodded, once.
I withdrew the other pieces from my bag, and brought one forward. I turned it this way and that, pressing it against the other piece, until it suddenly snapped into place, and I do mean snapped. When I looked now I saw no hint of a seam.
"I see. It was waiting for us." Quickly I applied all of the rest of the pieces, and each one snapped into place just so. I held up the last one. "Ready, Nathan?"
I put the last piece into place, and it snapped home. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, there was a rumbling. I backed away from the pedestal, and Nathan pulled me behind him, drawing his sword.
The rumbling grew louder and louder, and suddenly there was a sound as though a thousand glasses were shattering at once. I screamed, and covered my ears, but it was already over, and above it all, I heard a high, tinkling, pleased laugh.
In front of us the oak began to shudder, and suddenly, I saw a splash of green – some of the leaves had broken out of their icy shell. More and more burst through, and it was almost like a wave of green spreading through the whole tree, then the trunk began to turn brown.
"Leila, look," said Nathan, and I looked where he was looking.
All around us the ice and glass was melting and shattering. Green was spreading, and even more so, growing. The grass began to grow up all around us, lush and vibrant, and I began to hear birds sing.
I reached out and put my hand on Nathan's sword arm, lowering it. I shook my head at him kindly, and he sheathed it. "We healed it, Nathan, it's coming back to life."
Off in the distance, we suddenly heard a roar. We both looked at each other.
"The river!" We said simultaneously. It was indeed the river, broken free of its bonds.
We heard that giggling laugh again, only it was much closer, and I turned back to the oak. To my utter shock, a small door opened at the bottom. Out stepped a young lady, and I was shocked to see she was completely naked. Oh, she wore a necklace, and some jewelry around her ankles and arms and on her hair was a lovely piece, seemingly made solely of vines and flowers, but beyond that she wore nothing.
I began to notice that it was indeed getting very warm here. I removed my hat and scarf, and smiled at the lady, who smiled back at me. She came forwards right to me, and to my embarrassment, put her arms around me and hugged me tightly.
She held me at arm's length, and spoke. "Welcome, daughter." Her voice was musical, maybe like some kind of birdsong, and it pleased me to hear it. Next to me I could even feel Nathan relax.
"I have been waiting for you a long time, child."
"I think I felt you, on the island."
She laughed again. "I have been waiting for you much longer than that. I have been waiting since your transformation. I have been hoping you would find the strength to combat the darkness that has fallen over your land, and it seems you have. Welcome to your other home, child."
I looked around. Now all was green and lush, and there was hardly a sign of that icy land. I opened my coat, feeling rather warm. "I'm sorry, I don't know where to begin. My home? You've been waiting for me? Who are you?"
She laughed, and raised her arms, and birds flew from all sides and landed on her arms. "I? Why, I am your goddess. You have been seeking me, have you not? I am the Lady Gaia, and I am the mother of all creation, and you accepted me as such when you brought the vase here."
"Lady Gaia?" I made to kneel. Lady Gaia was none other than the Earth Mother!
She stopped me. "There is no need for a daughter to kneel before her mother, child."
"I am grateful, Lady Gaia...mother."
"So you accept me, child? Will you take me to your people? I will champion them, and I will cleanse the taint in your temple. It is He that I was brought to fight, anyway. He is shadow, and the end of all things, and my opposite."
"Of course I will accept you, Mother, if you will help me."
"Your companion is wary but even you feel safe here, do you not, my son?"
Nathan bowed. "Forgive me, Mother, but the safety of our Princess is paramount."
She regarded him. "Yes, it is, above all. Have you taken care of her properly, Sir Knight?"
"I believe I have done so to the best of my ability."
She simply smiled at him and arched her eyebrow. "You have taken care of her physically, shared her burdens with her, let her lean on you, yes. But what of her heart?"
He wouldn't glance at me, and looked straight into the Mother's eyes. "I am sorry, I'm not sure what you mean."
Gaia looked back at me, and smiled, a secret, womanly smile, and I smiled back. "Well. That is for the two of you to determine."
She grew serious. "You must return, and take my favor with you. This you must place on the altar in your temple which will heal. Getting there will be a chore, but I will send you someone who can help you."
"Very well, Mother, when do we begin?"
She smiled. "I cannot give you much, yet, to help you, I send you on a task, and you are ready to lift up sword and go immediately. You will be my champion. There are a couple of things we need to do, however. First, aren't you warm?"
"Please, remove your warm things. It is warm here, the sun shines now, and all lives."
I did so, shucking my coat and my layers off. Underneath it all, I wore a simple dress. For the moment I just lay my things aside. And it was really warm, wonderfully warm.
"Now, my princess, there is one gift I can give you." She came forward and put her hands on my shoulders, and kissed my forehead. I felt a glow all through me.
"Now. Take off your shoes." I did so, and stepped out of them. As I put my foot down, I was startled to see a brief bloom of flowers under my feet. I put the other one down, and the same thing happened to me.
"You are now my avatar, child."
I walked a few steps, and wherever I walked, there was that brief bloom of flowers under my feet, which remained growing. The grass was already lush and I was adding to it. I turned and looked at her questioningly.
"This particular effect will only take place in two places – here, and once you heal your temple, there. However, once the temple is in place again, you will have the power to make plants and trees bloom at the touch of your hand. You will use this to restore your land." She looked sad for a moment. "You will need it."
I bowed to her. "Thank you, Mother."
"Now. There is one more thing. You should be getting back. But I can grant you something you have not had for a long time – a single night's rest, with good food and care. I think you both need it. I will inform your friends you are safe and will return shortly, and they will wait for you." She turned and sang a single, high clear note, and suddenly, through the woods, we saw a building appear.
"Go there, child. You will find everything you need to rest and recover for the journey ahead, your journey is still long." She embraced me again, kissed my forehead, and then turned and embraced Nathan as well, and kissed him on the forehead. I suppose I might have felt some jealousy, a beautiful naked woman kissing my knight, but I instinctively felt it was a motherly kiss. I gathered up my fallen things, and, taking Nathan's hand, I walked barefoot toward the house.
"That is a little odd," he muttered, softly, gesturing to my feet. I looked down, and it was still happening – flowers blooming under my feet.
"Are you ok with it?"
"Of course I am. Somehow I feel we've come to the right place, as you said, that she is kind and loves us."
We both looked back over her shoulders. She had seated herself on a mossy green chair that had somehow risen out of the ground, and was petting a deer. She glanced up at us and smiled.