The Fairy Godmother

part 2

By J. Falconer

 

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle etc belong to MCA/Universal and Ren Pics, and anyone else who has an interest in Xena Warrior Princess, not me.

Copyright ã 2000: The characters in here belong to me. All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the author's express written consent. If you want to use them, all you have to do is ask Ö nicely.

Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Bit more graphic than usual (enter, stranger, at your riske Ė here there be icky bits), but readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

Love/Sex warning: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live - move along, move along, nothing for you here ...

Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta readers ForevaXena and Diamonddog for taking valuable time out to read this. This was a shocking ordeal, and I would never have made it without either one of you <G>


PART 2

Their adventures were far from over, however. Several days later, the forest they were riding through petered out, and they found themselves in a wide, grassy field, on the edge of a beautiful lake. It was full of crystal clear water, lilies gently resting on the surface, the delicate fragrance of the flowers wafting gently over to them on the soft breeze.

Taylor pulled up her horse, and sighed. She felt Jadon slip down behind her and followed. She turned to her companion, and had the breath knocked out of her lungs by the sight. Jadon was standing in front of the sun, with a corona of clear gold burning all around her. Only her slim outline was visible, elegantly shadowed in the glow, the vibrant green of the grass surrounding her in a riot of color. Taylor blushed and cleared her throat when she realized her gaze had gone longer than necessary.

"Itís very beautiful here, isnít it?" she asked to cover herself.

"Certainly is," responded Jadon cheerfully, not having noticed the lapse at all. "How about some lunch?"

"Excellent!" declared Taylor, flashing her white smile.

Frog leapt and barked all around them, infected by his mistressís good mood. Jadon looked around in the grass and found a discarded piece of wood, just the right size for the grinning dog. She threw it for Frog to fetch, while Taylor unpacked the knapsack.

"You ready for some food, ĎForest Deepí?" called the grinning Princess.

"Oh, yeah," replied Jadon, and bounced over to her companion and sat down.

Taylor handed her a plate groaning with food, and Jadon sat next to her, soaking in the beauty of the place, still throwing the stick for the persistent hound.

"Wow," said Jadon when she had finished eating. Absently, she grabbed the stick the dog had dropped at her feet, and hurled it with all her might towards the water. At Taylorís raised eyebrow, she responded defensively, "Well? Heís dirty. He needs a bath anyway."

Taylor grinned.

"What? Are you teasing me?" Jadonís eyes narrowed mock dangerously.

Taylorís grin increased, as she lay back with her head propped up on one hand.

"Thatís it! Now youíre in for it!" cried Jadon. With that bold declaration, she launched herself at the Princess and proceeded to tickle her with all her might. Taylor collapsed back on the grass, not really trying to keep her sisterís fiancéeís hands off her. Soon they were rolling around on the grass, laughing wildly.

Frog chose that moment to leap into the fray, dripping wet, clutching his stick in his soggy, panting mouth. There were cries of "Frog! Get off!" and "No! Good boy! Ooof! NO!" from both girls. In desperation, Taylor grabbed the stick and hurled it towards the water with all her might. Frog leapt up to attention, and howled off in hot pursuit.

Instead of landing in the water with a splash, there was a solid thunk, followed by an exclaimed, "Hey! Ouch! What did you do that for?"

Jadon and Taylor stared at each other, incredulous.

"What was that?" asked Jadon.

"Sounded like it hit something," said the Princess helpfully, corner of her mouth twitching, despite herself.

Jadon eyed the twinkling blue suspiciously. "I know that ĎPrincessí. I think I got that much."

"Arenít you going to apologize?" asked the croaky voice crossly.

"Err, certainly," said Jadon, getting to her knees, holding up a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. "As soon as I can find you," she muttered.

Taylor joined her on her knees, then with her keen eyes, spotted a largish extraordinarily ugly frog sitting by the water, huge lump on its head, stick lying discarded close by. Frog approached the frog and hastily retreated when it hissed menacingly at him. Taylorís nose wrinkled in disgust as she gently prodded Jadon and pointed in the direction of the hideous amphibian.

"Yuck," muttered Jadon, then carefully climbed to her feet, dragging Taylor over to the frog, which would have been tapping its foot in irritation if it had been able to.

"Err, um, I apologize," said Jadon, attempting to sound truly repentant, privately cursing Taylor for not having better aim. Then it hit her.

"What am I apologizing for?" she demanded, turning to glare at the smirking princess. "You were the one who hit it! Err, I mean, him, her, oh dear, I have no idea what I mean."

"Iím sorry for hitting you with the stick," cut in Taylor smoothly, flashing it her best grin, privately agreeing with Jadonís assessment of its strikingly unpleasant features.

"Iím a him," replied the frog disdainfully. "And your apology is not accepted."

Taylor and Jadon exchanged a surprised glance.

"Why?" asked Taylor.

"Iím really a handsome prince," responded the frog, ignoring Taylorís question.

"You could have fooled me," murmured Taylor to Jadon. Jadon elbowed her friend in the ribs.

Ignoring them both, the frog continued speaking. "Iíve been stuck out here just forever. Mummy is going to kill me if I donít get home soon."

"What do you mean?" asked Jadon, curiosity getting the better of her.

"I was cursed by an evil witch, and turned into a frog. All I have to do is get a beautiful young princess to kiss me to turn me into a man again," the frog replied haughtily.

"I think we can help you with that one," replied the soft hearted, gentle girl, unthinking. Taylorís smug look changed to one of alarm, and she began tugging on the back of Jadonís shirt with considerable force.

"What?" she asked.

"A word in your ear please," responded Taylor smoothly, flashing a quick pearly smile at the arrogant frog. His chin shot up in the air as he airily ignored them.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Taylor gently grabbed Jadonís arm. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Look, itís not that hard," said Jadon. "All we have to do is kiss him and heís back in human form."

"Really? And whoís going to kiss that thing?" demanded Taylor. "Have you seen the way he looks?"

Jadon turned to sneak a glance at the frog. Taylor was right Ė it was a gruesome sight.

"Oh boy," she muttered. "Well, are you going to kiss it?"

Taylor looked as though sheíd been asked to suck on a raw lemon. "Youíre joking, right?" she asked slowly. "Iím not kissing that bloody thing!"

"You have to," responded Jadon patiently, as realization forced a twitching grin to her lips.

"And how did you come to that conclusion?" asked Taylor, hands on hips, blue eyes flashing.

"He has to be kissed by a Princess. And Iím not even a noble, as youíre so fond of pointing out. It has to be you," Jadon tried to wipe the smirk off her face, but failed miserably.

Taylor eyed her. If Jadon had asked her to capture the moon, she would have tried it, just to see her smile. "Oh, alright then," she sighed, shoulders slumping in defeat. She threw up her hands. "Letís just give it a try then. And if I catch any diseases, youíre to blame!"

Jadon laughed and mock punched her in the shoulder. "I knew I could count on you ĎPrincessí," she grinned.

"Later for you, ĎForest Deepí," grinned Taylor, leading them back over to the frog.

When they joined him again, he stared at them expectantly, haughty air well hidden. "Well?" he asked.

"Alright," said Taylor. "Iím going to kiss you, and I better not catch any diseases."

The frog spluttered in outrage, as Taylor scooped up the slimy body. She was totally unable to stop the grimace appearing on her features. Steeling herself, reminding herself that it was all for Jadon, she brought the limp frog to her lips and gave it a brief peck before hurriedly depositing it on the ground, whirling around to paw at her lips and spit.

"YUCK!" she exclaimed. "That was revolting!"

Jadon eyed the both of them in concern, alternating between the doubled over and gagging Taylor and shimmering frog. Jadon did a double take Ė shimmering?

She patted Taylor on the back, eyes not leaving the stretching and opaque frog. Frog peeked out from behind his mistress and growled softly. Taylor felt the tension in the touch and inwardly vowed never to kiss another frog as long as she lived, then pulled herself upright to stare at the spectacle meeting Jadonís shocked eyes.

The frog was elongating and wavering in an eye-watering manner. This continued for several seconds, then there was a bang and a puff of gray smoke. Jadon and Taylor wiped their watering eyes, and peered through the thick smoke.

"Wow," was all Jadon could manage, feeling Taylor nod enthusiastically beside her, as the smoke began to clear, and the most handsome man either one had ever seen stood in front of them.

"Thank you," he sniffed. "That wasnít so hard, now was it?"

"Err, um, no," responded Taylor, seeing the gaping Jadon wasnít in any condition to phrase a suitable response.

"You must marry me," he said to Taylor, capturing her with his violet eyes.

She returned his gaze, looking deep into his eyes, and Jadon felt her heart sink. Taylor had obviously fallen for him, and who could blame her Ė he was handsome, wealthy, a Prince.

When Taylor looked at him, she saw an arrogant, shallow man. She knew her heart was lost to Jadon, the one person she could not have.

"Well," she said to the handsome Prince. "Weíll certainly talk about it."

"Oh good," he said happily, perfect lips forming a perfect smile. "Mummy will be so pleased. Youíll like Mummy, sheís so powerful and strong."

Taylor thought her teasing of Jadon was going to seriously backfire in the next thirty seconds or so if she didnít do something quickly.

"Mummy?" she asked, still gazing at him.

"Oh! Yes!" he responded enthusiastically, breaking the gaze to wave his hands around. "Sheís wonderful, truly precious. Sheís told me all about how a wife should be to her husband, looking after him, overseeing the servants in seeing to his comforts. How wonderful Iíve found someone as beautiful as yourself to look after me!"

"I think not," said Taylor, hurriedly cutting in before an outraged Jadon could hit him. "Iím engaged to this wonderful woman right here, arenít I?"

She slung an arm around Jadonís waist, wishing with all her heart it could be true, hoping that Jadon would play along. She felt Jadonís arm slip around her.

"Yes, thatís right," came Jadonís confident voice. "She most certainly is. Sorry to disappoint you. We have to be going now!"

Jadonís intense jealousy had passed as soon as the Prince had opened his mouth. Relishing in the feel of Taylorís strong arm around her waist, she wished it could be true Ė that Taylor could love her enough to stop her from being married to Faith. Heart heavy, knowing that the Princess was Ďnot the marrying kindí, she pulled the Princess away from the foppish Prince and steered her back towards the horse.

"Now hold on one moment," came the sulky voice from behind them, turning angry. "I won her fair and square."

Jadonís temper snapped, and she whirled to face the sulky prince, only to find the tip of his long, thin sword dimpling the skin of her throat.

"I won her," he repeated, pouting, sword point not budging one inch from Jadonís throat, eyes locked with the woodcutterís daughter.

An instant of panic cut straight to the heart of the Princess they were fighting over. She noiselessly drew her own sword, but the Prince saw her.

"Ah, ah ah," he said warningly. "Draw that sword and Iíll kill her. I promise I will!"

Glaring, Taylor pushed her sword back into its scabbard, sizing the Prince up. Jadon had locked gazes with him, and he dug the point of the sword into her neck, drawing a thin stream of blood.

"Put the sword down," said Jadon quietly. "Sheís not a piece of livestock, to be bartered by us. Sheís a beautiful and strong woman with a mind of her own, and she can certainly do better than you. Why donít you ask her yourself?"

"She wonít turn me down," replied the silly Prince confidently. "Sheís coming with me. Besides, if she doesnít agree to come with me, Iíll kill you."

Jadonís eyes narrowed in helpless fury.

Taylor sighed. "Itís alright Jadon," she said. "Iíll go with him."

"I wonít let you go Taylor," replied Jadon. "Iíll come after you."

"My hero," said Taylor with a ghost of a grin, and then turned to the Prince. "Well, what are you waiting for? Letís go."

The Prince seemingly relaxed at Taylorís words, and took the point of his sword from Jadonís throat. Taylor began to move towards the Prince, and suddenly he lashed out with his sword, directly toward Jadonís neck. Taylorís eyes widened, but she leapt in, heedless of the danger to herself, seeing only that the love of her life was about to get seriously hurt, and pushed her companion out of the way. Unable to remove herself in time from the danger, the Princeís sword lashed out and cut her deep across the chest.

Taylor looked down at the blood staining her clean white shirt, and then slowly sank to her knees.

Jadon, from her vantage point on the ground, stared at the same thing, heart in her mouth.

"If youíve hurt her," she began, green eyes blazing with fury, as she stumbled over to the Princess. The Prince smirked at the two women.

"If I canít have her Ė AHHH!" he yelled as the snarling Frog launched himself off the ground, straight for the Prince.

A dark stain appeared on the Princeís breeches, as Frogís strong jaws closed around the Princeís throat, pinning him to the ground, ever alert for the command from his mistress that would end the Prince.

Jadon hurriedly eyed Taylorís sword cut. It was bleeding freely, but did not appear to be fatal. Jadon quietly tried to still her hammering heart, and breathed a small sigh of relief that Taylor was still alive. She got up, and crossed to the soiled Prince, kneeling down to look directly into his terrified eyes.

"Frog could finish you off," she said slowly. "But I donít think Iím going to ask him to do that. Iím just going to walk away from here with my princess and youíre not going to try and stop us, agreed?"

The prone man was unable to speak or nod, but through the confusion and terror in his eyes, Jadon saw the yes. With a satisfied nod, she got to her feet and crossed back to the princess.

"Can you stand?" she asked softly, worried.

Taylor smiled gently. "Iím fine. Letís get out of here."

She gratefully accepted Jadonís assistance to her feet, and with Jadonís help, went back to Taylorís horse and mounted. Jadon didnít want to move her, but thought it would be better to leave the Prince so she could attend to her friend in the privacy of the forest.

Frog faithfully guarded their rear, while the flummoxed Prince, still gaping like a landed fish after Frogís outburst, lay on the ground staring after them.

Taylor spurred the horse on, and they left the grassy meadow to go back into the thick forest. They were silent for quite some time. They found a clearing, and Jadon made Taylor sit while she silently cleaned the wound, both deeply locked in their own thoughts. After it was firmly bandaged, they remounted and continued on.

"Did you mean what you said?" asked Taylor after some time.

Uh, oh, thought Jadon. "Which part?"

"That Iím a beautiful woman and can do better than him?"

"Oh yes," said Jadon emphatically, heartsick, but trying to find the right words to help her friend. "Youíre a wonderful, sweet, kind woman with an amazing sense of humor. Iím sure youíll find someone who will love you like you deserve."

There, sheíd said it. No matter how hard it was to let her go, Jadon vowed that she would do it. Taylor didnít look at her. She was upset. The only woman she had ever really wanted was sitting on her horse with her, and she wouldnít give Taylor a second glance.

"I hope youíre right," she said.

"Of course I am," said Jadon confidently, inwardly bleeding. She tightened her arms around the Princess, leaning into her back smiling gently, love shining bright in her eyes. She prayed that Taylor would not ask her anything about the rescue, knowing she could not keep from expressing her feelings, afraid of being rejected by the Princess.

Taylor didnít look at her, feeling her closeness, desperately in unrequited love. She did not want to ask about Jadon rescuing her, knowing it would be no more than not wanting her playmate to get hurt, not wanting to be rejected by the beautiful woodcutterís daughter.

They continued on their journey to find Jadonís Faith.

They traveled far and wide all over the Kingdom for quite some time. They found neither hide nor hair of the Dragon, only vague rumors, which they tracked to the north. Their friendship and undeclared love deepened day by day; they had so much fun traveling together, that they almost forgot their quest to find Jadonís betrothed. That abruptly changed one day with a simple farmerís words.

"Yes, the Dragon, I know about him," he said to the travel-stained noble on her horse with the young girl perched behind her. He leaned back on his hoe.

Jadon and Taylor exchanged swift glances.

"Where is it?" asked Jadon.

"If you keep traveling down this road, you will come to the blasted lands. In the middle you will find the castle of Mercedes, a scourge from the blackest pits of hell if ever there was one! Oops, sorry my Lady," he apologized to Jadon, bowing low. She nodded graciously, more than used to such talk by now. Taylor struggled not to smirk.

"Mercedes has him in her evil claws. She claims he stole something from her."

"Thank you," said Taylor, starting to push her horse forward.

"Wait," said the farmer, leaning on his hoe. "Thereís more. A day or so ago, a Knight was traveling along here and asked me the same questions. I sent him there as well."

"Thank you," said Jadon courteously as Taylor quietly swore, barely remembering to thank the man as she spurred her horse into a gallop.

"Taylor," said Jadon, bumping along behind her. "Whatís this all about?"

"We have a problem. We have to reach Faith before the knight does, otherwise she Ė and by extension father Ė will know that I didnít bring you straight home. Iím going to be in lots of trouble, and so are you!"

"Oh," said Jadon, heart sinking as she was jarringly reminded again that her time alone with Taylor was almost at an end.

On and on they galloped, Frog tirelessly keeping up with them, tongue lolling, panting, until they came to the edge of the forest. Taylor reined her horse in. In front of them, in the bright summer sunshine, were the blasted lands. Blasted, indeed, they were. As far as they eye could see was a barren field of sharp black stones. They glittered in the almost blinding light, black glass from the heat that had created them. Near blinded by the glare, Taylor cupped her hand over her eyes, Jadon doing the same when she unwisely peaked around the broad back to see what lay ahead of them.

"Blasted lands indeed," muttered Taylor, customary half smile-replaced by a piercing, hawk-like gaze. "Weíd better go on foot. My horse is going to get very hurt if we do this."

"So am I," muttered Jadon. Then, more loudly, "Okay."

"Whatís the matter ĎForest Deepí?" teased Taylor, eyes glinting with amusement as she gracefully slid off the horse and helped Jadon down. "Afraid of a bit of walking? Iíll just have to carry you if you get tired, wonít I?"

Jadon blushed, and slapped Taylorís shoulder. "That wonít be necessary, my big brave warrior. I think I can walk."

Taylor laughed and rubbed her shoulder in mock pain. "Oh goodness, you have gotten strong havenít you my Lady?"

"Taaaaylor," said Jadon rolling her eyes, slapping her companionís hard stomach, instantly regretting doing so since her fingers began stinging. "Later for you Princess." Taylor just laughed harder.

They began to walk across the large, hard stones, laughing together. Suddenly, Jadon stopped and looked behind her at the peacefully grazing horse. Frog stared at them from the edge of the forest.

"Come on Frog," called Jadon. Frog howled, a forlorn sound.

"Donít worry about him," said Taylor softly when it became apparent that Frog would resist all of Jadonís cajoling. "Heíll be fine." She gently touched Jadonís shoulder. "Heís not going anywhere."

Frog sat there and stared at them, transfixed, tracking them with his big forlorn eyes. Jadon sighed doubtfully, pulling her knapsack over her shoulder. "If you say so."

"Here, let me take that," said Taylor, gently taking the knapsack and slinging it over a broad shoulder.

Jadon gave her a small smile, and they began walking along in companionable silence. They walked along the field of stones for several hours, when Taylor called a break. Both were sweating freely, and Taylor grimaced when she pulled the shirt off her dripping body. Jadon leaned over, breathing hard.

"Itís almost going to be a relief when we hit the witchís castle," said Jadon, as Taylor collapsed on a nearby rock.

"Oh yeah," said Taylor. "Take a seat, you look beat." She patted the spot next to her on the large flat boulder she was comfortably perched on.

Jadon obliged, sitting herself comfortably down near her friend. The feelings she had been warring with over the past weeks suddenly boiled to the surface when she made the mistake of looking up into the sky blue eyes.

"Tell me again why weíre doing this," she said.

"You want to marry my sister, donít you?" asked Taylor, hoping the answer would be no. Her eyebrow raised, face not revealing any emotion.

"Of course," said Jadon, upset that Taylor had never treated her as any more than a playmate, and that she regarded this entire disaster as a game. Her heart ached with sadness that she couldnít have the youngest princess.

Taylorís heart sank. "Then thatís why weíre doing it," she said brightly. Inwardly she ached. She genuinely enjoyed Jadonís company and had rather hoped Ö but it was obvious that Jadon would never regard her as more than a playmate. "Hey, are you alright?" she asked, concerned about Jadonís suddenly pale demeanor.

"Iím fine," said Jadon shortly. "Letís get this over with, shall we?"

Taylor nodded, raising a black eyebrow, and got to her feet. She slung the knapsack over her shoulder again, and they set off. Finally, after several more hours of walking, they spied a large structure in the distance. They continued on to it, half glad the end was in sight.

They trudged on for several more minutes, then Taylor stopped for another breather to scope the old castle.

In the distance, they could see a huge structure, far larger than the castle Taylor was used to. It was painful for the eye to look directly at only partially because of its color, or rather, lack thereof. When viewed directly by both Jadon and Taylor, they feared they had gone blind, it was so lacking in feature, almost a void in the landscape. Only a vague outline could be made out, and then only by picking a spot in all the emptiness, following it up to the sky and tracing the outline when juxtaposed against the blue of the sky. Both were nauseated; they could only stand the sight for a mere second at a time.

"Whew," said Taylor, hand against her chin. "This is going to be a toughie."

She looked around for Jadon, and abruptly couldnít find her. "Jadon? Jadon, where are you?" She whirled, frantically eyeing the landscape all around her. "Oh no," she said, feeling her entire body tingling, looking down at herself, seeing she was becoming translucent. Gradually she faded out of existence, and all was quiet on the blasted lands once more.

 

Jadon opened her eyes slowly. The heat of the midday sun, combined with the shock of seeing herself fade had taken its toll, and sheíd fainted.

Now when she came back to her senses, she could feel water dripping on her face, and the surface she was resting on trembled. Noting the oddity of this, she opened her eyes, only to find herself staring directly into the swollen, teary eyes of Faith.

"I thought Iíd never see you again," sobbed the Princess.

"Iím not that easy to get rid of," said Jadon, still not tracking properly. "Where are we?"

"Weíre in the castle of the witch Mercedes," said the Princess, pulling Jadon up so she was sitting. Then she slowly slipped her arms around Jadonís neck and kissed her soundly. Before Jadon gave herself fully over to the pleasurable sensation of Faithís soft lips, trying her hardest to become lost, she felt a bolt of sadness, knowing the one she really loved would never pay any serious attention to her.

From behind them, Jadon was dimly aware of a low moan, then a throat hesitantly cleared itself. Jadon broke from the kiss, breathing heavily, Faithís eyes unfocussed, and turned to find the source of the cough. It was Taylor, sitting up behind them, staring at them both expressionlessly.

"Oh Taylor, youíre all right," said Jadon, leaping down to her, and engulfing her in a smothering hug.

Taylor slipped her arms around Jadon, holding her close, enjoying the feel of her friend in her arms, very jealous that Faith was the sole occupier of Jadonís attentions. "Yes, Iím fine. Where are we?"

"Taylor! What are you doing here?" asked Faith, sneaking up behind them to pull Jadon away, arms sneaking around Jadonís waist and nibbling her ear. Jadon had to stifle the urge to throw her off. "Weíre in the witchís castle."

"Whoís your friend?" asked Taylor, eyes hooded.

"Huh?" asked Jadon, staring at her curiously. She looked all around the cavern noting the inky blackness. She could dimly see a large bulk of white close by, flickering torches on the far walls casting no usable light. The ground under them felt smooth, and when Jadon tapped her foot, the muffled sound told her it was stone. Behind Faith, she could see dim flashes, and she put it down to her eyes playing tricks. Taylor was not confused, however.

"Come out and show yourself. Now, who are you?" she asked, hands on hips, imperious, commanding.

A knight in shiny armour stepped up directly behind the Princess. "I am Sir Lysander, Knight of the Lance," he said imperiously, sword held high over his head. "I have come to slay the Dragon!"

"Oh for goodnessí sake, will you please stop saying that," a deep, booming voice sounded from the white blob close by. "Iím starting to get very sick of it." Abruptly, a white head popped into view, red eyes fiery, as the Dragon got angry.

"You must be the dragon who kidnapped Faith," said Taylor, staring at its sinuous neck. "You want to tell me how you ended up here?"

"I was taking her away to my cave," said the Dragon defensively.

"No need to get upset," said Taylor placidly. "Now, how did you end up here in a black castle in the middle of nowhere? We heard mention about you stealing something from a witch?"

"Oh, all right," said the Dragon crossly, as Lysander waved his sword in the Dragonís face. "Will you please stop doing that," snarled the Dragon, snorting a thin stream of smoke into Lysanderís face, causing him to cough violently and drop his sword.

Taylor held up her hand at the Dragon and addressed the Knight. "Why on earth are you doing that? Thatís not very constructive in this situation. Besides, how do we know this isnít a ruse and you were the person really riding the Dragon?"

"Iím here to kill the Dragon," gasped out Lysander in fits and starts, still coughing. "There is a reward on this Dragonís head. Kill him and I get the Princess. What are you talking about, Ďriding the dragoní?"

Jadon laughed ruefully. "Sorry Lysander, this girlís taken Ö by me." She put an arm possessively around Faith, idly missing the feel of hard muscles.

"I keep telling him that," mumbled Faith, exasperated, stroking Jadonís arm. "By the way, I realized almost at once the dragon had an empty suit of armour on him."

Taylorís eyebrow shot skyward, while Jadon rolled her eyes at both the Dragon and the Knight.

"Oh dear, you mean youíre already spoken for?" asked the knight in a small voice, and collapsed to the ground with a dull metallic clang. Taylor shook her head.

"Good grief," she muttered. "Alright, Dragon, please continue. What did you take from the witch?"

"Nothing," said the Dragon, bending his head to glare at the annoyed Taylor. Faith shrank behind Jadon, clutching her as Taylor reached up and grabbed the Dragon by the ear twisting it, causing him to squeak painfully.

"Oooh, aaaah," he moaned. "Oh alright, Iíll tell you, just let go of my ear."

"No tricks," warned Taylor, wagging a finger at him. She let go, and he shook his head, trying to recover his shattered dignity.

"I am a dragon and have amassed a considerable fortune. Iíve done it by ransoming Princesses. I donít really like to kill anything, and eating poor innocent young girls has never done much for me," he hurried along as he saw Taylorís face darken. "To cut a long story short, I swindled the witch."

"You what?!?" thundered Jadon and Taylor together.

"Oh, man," said Jadon, shaking her head. "So weíre all in this mess because of you."

"Sorry," mumbled the Dragon, head hanging in shame.

"Donít worry," said Taylor, natural good spirits reasserting themselves. "Weíll get out of here."

"You really think so?" a voice floated back to them from the darkness in front.

"And just who are you?" demanded Taylor, bad mood reasserting itself, struggling not to look at Jadon being grasped by her older sister.

"Why, Iím the witch Mercedes," said the voice, cruel cackle crashing and ringing off the walls. "Iím going to kill you all."

"Over my dead body," Taylor yelled, instantly regretting her choice of words.

"If you insist," said the witch, and the air grew darkly expectant and began to crackle with electricity. A huge arc of pure hissing blue slammed down in the middle of the group, scattering them. Lysander yelped with pain as the backlash traveled through his entire armour. Faith and Jadon were flung to one side, and Jadon was dimly aware of a heavy body landing on her, protecting her from shards of splintered rock flying up from the impact.

"Are you alright?" she heard a soft, deep voice, Taylor, rumble in her ear.

"Yes, Iím much better now," Jadon softly responded, grinning. "Go get her, Taylor."

The weight abruptly vanished as Taylor sprang nimbly to her feet. "Dragon," she ordered. "Can you breathe some fire? I canít see a darn thing in here."

All around them arcing electricity hit the floor, causing them to duck and weave. The dragon also ducked and weaved, snorting flame, flickering tongues of fire lighting the way all the way to the end of the cavernous room. As he rolled and ducked his head, the light from his fire shifted uneasily, flickering off the putrid walls in a sickening manner. Struggling to control her bile, Taylor caught uneasy glimpses of a small figure at the end of the room, arms outstretched bolts of electricity streaming from the ends of its fingers.

Taylor drew her sword and began to run forward. Lysander was no coward, and was now quite upset and angry at the indignities visited on his noble person. He ran forward hot in her wake, waving his sword around madly, yelling out his battle call.

Jadon tore along behind them, not about to let Taylor have all the fun, dragging a reluctant Faith with her. Halfway up the huge enclosed space, they heard splintering and cracking sounds from all around them. Taylor and Lysander were still dodging the fatal arcs, but came to a relative standstill to try and gauge the direction of the sound. The Dragonís flame had given out at last, Taylor trying to pierce the dense blackness around them as the arcing electricity abruptly stopped.

"Now was not a good time for your fire to stop Dragon!" cried Taylor warningly from somewhere ahead of Jadon. Suddenly they heard deep heavy crashing, scraping and whooshing from all around them. Jadon dimly heard the dragon suck in a mighty breath and blow more jets of pure white flame, as the ground around them began to shake. In the sudden light created by the Dragonís flame, Jadon gasped and Faith screamed as they saw a huge mass of stone gargoyles pulling themselves out of their wall crevasses, lurching forward with grim intensity, killing their only purpose.

Faith screamed as a gargoyle pulled her cruelly off Jadon. Blood ran down its stone arms in rivers as her bones were crushed, pulping her into a bloody rag almost beyond recognition. Jadon backed away from the spectacle, frozen with shock as a gargoyle slammed a stone arm into her, breaking all her ribs and causing massive internal bleeding and excruciating pain. The blood trickled out of her mouth, as her vision swam in and out of focus. The Dragon screamed as a whole platoon of stone creatures flung themselves at it, a great river of blood leaching out of the body as his fire guttered out so he could nip at the bodies tearing him to pieces.

A dim light began behind Taylor and Lysander, backing together now, to face the gargoyles, snapping stone jaws greedily at them, flexing claws.

"NO!" screamed Taylor, seeing Jadonís dying body lying carelessly close to the base of a great pillar. As she started towards her injured friend, wordlessly screaming, Lysander abruptly whirled and swung his sword at her.

"No," whispered Jadon softly with her rapidly fading breath, knowing she was dying, sad that she had never told Taylor she loved her.

As though she had heard her, Taylor abruptly whirled around and found herself in a furious fight with Lysander. He screamed, "NO! I WONíT LET YOU HURT HER!" as he battled Taylor, swinging his sword with ever more strength and violence.

"No! Lysander! Itís me! Taylor!" screamed Taylor, trying to fend off the vicious attacks. They were steadily pushed forward by a ring of ravenous gargoyles, living stone clenching hands blindly, knowing no more than seeking and killing. The screams of agony from the Dragon and cries of denial from Taylor were punctuated by the witchís hideous cackling as she rocked back and forth on her haunches with glee.

Suddenly Lysander launched into a more violent and swift attack than ever before. He screamed wordlessly, sound escalating in volume and strength, until he smashed Taylorís sword from her agonized grasp, and rammed his sword into her, right up to the hilt. Taylor slowly dropped her sword, clutching aimlessly at the hilt in her stomach, blood dripping down the long length of the weapon impaling her. She sank so slowly to her knees before Jadonís horrified eyes, falling to the ground in a blood soaked heap.

"Good bye Jadon," Taylor whispered softly, blood rapidly pooling around her prostrate body. Her final thoughts were of the woodcutterís daughter, allowing herself to openly love her, deep regret that she had not been able to defend her beloved Jadon, and haunting relief that she would never see Jadon and Faith married.

Abruptly Lysander came to. When he saw what he had done, his screams turned to pure horror and torment. They did not last long as the ring of gargoyles went in for the kill, crushing and furious. Lysanderís cries turned to sheer agony, his blood mingling with Taylorís on the ancient stone.

"No," moaned Jadon softly, broken now that Taylor was gone. "No not Taylor Ö no Ö Esmerelda, I need you."

She futilely tried to drag her shattered body away from a ring of advancing invaders. Then a stray splinter of bone from her ribs pierced her aching and broken heart and she was no more.

A soft golden glow began to light up every corner of the cavern, disrupting the witchís cackles of pure glee. The ugly old crone rocked back and forth on her heels, glancing all about her suppurating, rancid person in sudden concern.

The glow brightened until it flowed to every corner of the cavern, lighting up all so it looked like the middle of a brilliant summerís day. The witch hissed and gibbered in fear, clawing at her eyes, light boring into every fissure of her pestilent body.

"What have you done, Mercedes?" boomed an old womanís voice, as a figure appeared in mid air, and began to walk down an imagined staircase towards her oldest nemesis.

"Esmerelda," fawned the hideous voice, causing all moving things, both dead and alive, to shudder with horror at the sound. "How nice of you to drop in."

"Itís not a social call you old crone," commanded the voice of Esmerelda, large, harsh, unforgiving. "You have harmed my dear, sweet Jadon." Esmereldaís eyes were no longer vague and unfocussed. The bright chips bored into Mercedes, paralyzing her, causing her to quake in fear. They traveled all around the room, noting the carnage, shredded skin and bone, the river of crimson blood. Finally they rested on Jadon, huddled as though in sleep at the base of a pillar. The only thing signaling her death was the hideously mutilated chest, crushed by the gargoyles.

"First," said Esmerelda coldly, "We will dispense with your toys."

She waved an arm all around her, and the gargoyles froze for an instant. Then they began screaming, high, keening cries, piercing shrieks as they began to dissolve. Great lumps of rock and dirt fell off their bodies as they disintegrated, bleeding soil, gushing chunks of gravel that suppurated, briefly smoked, giving off a sulfurous odor, then burst with tiny bangs. When the gargoyle carnage was done, Esmerelda turned her smoking gaze back onto Mercedes.

"Now you," she said, in a tone so cold it could not have come from a human being. Mercedes shrieked and gibbered in fear. Esmerelda pointed a finger at her, and Mercedes froze, whimper escaping her. Mercedes tried to rally, and closed her eyes and began chanting while Esmerelda glared at her, features carved in stone. Nothing happened for a second, then Mercedesí eyes flew open and she began to see smoke coming from the rags that swathed her. She pawed at her smoking clothes for a second, frantically swiping the little tongues of fire that followed. She screamed and clawed at her face, shredding skin, smoking wisps of hell fire appearing in the cracks and fissures of her disfigured features. She spun in a circle, trying to put out the flames engulfing her, shrieks of pain ripping through the cavern, bouncing off the walls in waves terrible to hear. Her screams turned to a high mewling sound of infinite agony as the human torch collapsed on the dais, hungry tongues of fire consuming all that they came in contact with.

Slowly the stone of the dais began liquefying under the onslaught of the superheated flame.

"Now, my young friends," she said, waving her hands in the air. The corpses were already starting to smoke from the onslaught of the violent sheets and jets of flame that were rapidly engulfing the cavern. Gently she floated with them out of the castle, very air itself burning, and took them back to the edge of the forest where both Lysanderís and Taylorís horses waited with the anxious Frog. Behind her, a roaring jet of flame of the purest blue hurled itself up towards the sky with such violence that all who saw it remarked upon it for years. Finally the column of superheated air wavered for a second, castle and foul miasma of air fully consumed. It guttered, then with untold violence shot towards the earth, sucking in air after it and disappeared with a deafening explosion. In the wake of the upheaval, the earth smoked peacefully, blasted black crater housing no living thing, and it never would.

Esmerelda peacefully laid the five out onto the grass, and closed her eyes. She chanted and waved her hands around over the figures, with short sharp movements. Gradually they grew toward soundness again, and cold lungs began to suck in great deep breaths of fresh air. She smiled, and slowly disappeared, becoming fainter and fainter, her smile being the last thing to disappear as the first pair of eyes Ė Taylorís Ė began to open.

"What happened?" she moaned as she tried to sit up, brief, lancing pain in her stomach stopping her dead in her tracks. "Ahh, that hurt."

"Same here," muttered Jadon, wincing as she clutched her ribs. She took one look at Taylor, and ignored all her pain, barreling over to her and slamming into her, holding on so hard it hurt, tears trickling out of her eyes. The breath was knocked from Taylorís lungs, and she grinned enormously.

"Nice to see youíre up an around again, my lady," she said softly.

"Iím never doing this again," moaned Lysander, sitting up, clutching his head, as Faith finally began to stir next to him. Jadon glanced around, seeing her, and regretfully let go of Taylor. She raced to Faithís side, and found herself in a smothering hug.

"I canít tell you how good it is to see you," said Jadon, stroking the silky hair. She felt Faith shift in her arms, look up at her, capturing her with clear gray eyes, then kiss her deeply and passionately.

"I knew youíd get us out of this," she said when they broke for air.

Jadon didnít correct this misconception, knowing it would be too hard to explain anyway. They kissed again, slowly and deeply, while Taylor and Lysander found other things to do. Jadon, quite frankly, was miserable.

Lysander limped over to the groaning dragon. "Look," he said. "Iím sorry. Thank you for trying to help me stay alive in there."

"Youíre welcome," said the Dragon slowly, and extended a fore claw, which the grinning knight happily shook. "I have to go. I have a treasure to protect you know. Thank you Taylor and Jadon for all you have done."

With that he picked himself up and flew off before the others had a chance to blink. Taylor was unable to look at the two lovers, being decidedly heartsick, so she checked her horse, preparing to take them back home. She felt a tug on her arm. She whirled around to find herself looking at Lysanderís gentle brown eyes.

"Listen," he said. "If itís okay with you, Iíd like to come back to the Kingdom for the wedding."

Taylor nodded and forced a smile. "Yes, of course, Please come with us," she said, squashing another surge of jealousy as Faith and Jadon continued their gentle exploration of each other.

"Err," she began, steeling herself to interrupt the happy couple. "I hate to disrupt the reunion, but we really should get going."

"Right," said Jadon. "Letís get moving." She was staring deep into Faithís eyes; disquiet very much there, a queer absence in her soul. She helped Faith get to her feet, quietly taking her arm and leading her to the two waiting soldiers. As they got closer, Jadon gently handed Faith over to the Lysander, and confidently stood beside Taylor. Normally cheerful countenance expressionless, Taylor mounted her horse, and gently pulled Jadon up into the saddle behind her, a worm of warmth creeping into her frozen heart when Jadonís arms slipped around her, sighing contentedly.

It was a quiet group who rode back to the palace. As they were in the presence of Faith and Lysander, Taylor and Jadon were unable to enjoy the easy relationship that had sprung up between the two of them on the way out. Indeed, Taylor was very quiet, and barely said two words to her companions the whole time, while Faith and Lysander often engaged in animated conversation. Jadon, for her part, was heartsick; knowing her friendship with the youngest Princess was beyond repair, now that she had found Faith. True, she and Faith often snuggled by the fire, and she enjoyed the feel of her betrothed in her arms, but she could not help wondering what Taylor was doing when she often slipped away from the campsite with Frog during the evening, not returning until long after the others had turned in.

Lysander would occasionally allow Jadon and Faith to share his horse, sitting on the back with Taylor, engaged in easy conversation with her, talking and laughing, while Jadon steadily grew more jealous that someone was able to draw Taylor out of the silent shell she had encased herself in.

By the time they had reached the castle, amid streets lined with cheering and celebrating people, relations between Jadon and Taylor were so strained that they were on the point of yelling at one another, air so thick it could have been cut with a long broadsword. Oddly enough, their two companions did not appear to notice, as Faith and Lysander spent most of their time with each other, almost ignoring their two companions.

When they actually saw the King and Queen, Jadon and Taylor were whisked away from one another, Jadon in preparation for her wedding to the good Princess Faith, Taylor to go try to find a way to ease her aching heart.

Finally the day of the wedding came. Jadon had spent the weeks leading up to the wedding, getting to know Faith, and realizing that she was not the one that Jadon was in love with. Every day, blue eyes would trouble her soul, consuming her, leaving her in aching misery that Taylor would no longer speak to her. She reasoned that now that Taylor had done her duty and brought them both back, it would be back to business as usual, and Taylor would spend most of her time out in the forest guarding the kingdom from invaders, tracking poachers and the other duties the youngest child of the royals had to attend to.

As yet, there had been no sign of her fairy godmother, and Jadon longed to speak to her, heartsick over Taylor, wanting to thank her for her reversal of what had happened in the castle.

"Esmerelda," she said softly, as the gentle glow of dawn flowed through the windows to her room. "I need you."

"Jadon," came the old womanís voice from behind her, soft, questioning. "What ails you? You have your beautiful young princess intact."

Jadon turned to find the old woman standing in the center of her bedchambers, clean old garments patched and worn.

"Esmerelda," she began, and then burst into tears.

In an instant, Esmereldaís arms were around her, and she found herself sitting on the bed, crying her heart out as the old woman rocked and soothed her, as though she were a small child.

"Thank you," Jadon sniffled, trying again to speak. "Thank you for rescuing me from the castle and all the other things you have done for me."

"Youíre welcome, child," said the fairy godmother. "But what ails you?"

"I realize how lucky I am, getting married to a beautiful young woman, and living a life of luxury, but your question of so long ago, whether I loved Faith or not has been answered. No, I donít Ė I love Taylor with all my heart and soul."

"I know that child," said Esmerelda.

Jadon pulled back to look straight into the eyes of her fairy godmother. "You knew that? Why am I still getting married to Faith?"

"I donít know," replied Esmerelda, smoothing the miserable young womanís hair. "Why are you still getting married to Faith?"

Fresh tears came to Jadonís eyes. "Because Taylor would never look at me twice," she sobbed. "And now our friendship is gone."

She pulled herself into her fairy godmotherís embrace, and cried anew.

"What if you could speak to her just one more time?"

"That will never happen. Sheís avoiding me. For all I know sheís gone back into the forest and Iíll never see her again."

"Dry your eyes," said Esmerelda, pulling back and staring into Jadonís eyes with a child-like expression. "Which princess do you think I was pointing you towards?"

With that, the fairy godmother began to fade out of existence, and Jadon threw herself down onto the bed again, sobbing bitterly, confused and hopeless, knowing only that Taylor was gone.

Finally it was time to get ready for the ceremony, and Jadon stood in her chamber, allowing her ladies in waiting to fuss over her, putting the final touches to her wedding gown. Pale faced and heartsick, she heard a soft knock on the door. She looked up, distracted, and gestured for a servant to open the door.

It was Taylor.

She absently signaled the servants to leave, and they silently rushed from the room.

Jadonís emerald green eyes locked on to the pure crystalline blue of Taylorís, and she felt herself drowning. Taylor nearly tripped over her own feet when she quietly walked towards the woodcutterís daughter. She had decided just that morning to see Jadon to say goodbye, but now realized that coming to see her had been a huge mistake. She loved Jadon with all her heart, and knew she had to leave.

"Hey Jadon," said Taylor, standing close.

"Hey Taylor," said Jadon, looking up at her friend.

"I came to wish you the best on your wedding day," said Taylor, heart aching, not able to keep her pain from showing.

"Thank you," said Jadon, lost in Taylorís regard, heartsick, knowing she was making a massive mistake with Faith, still afraid Taylor how she felt. "You going to stick around for the wedding?"

"Only for the wedding," said Taylor sadly. "I have to get back to the forest after that."

Jadon stared deep into Taylorís gentle blue eyes, drowning, then made her decision.

"You canít let me marry Faith, you idiot," Jadon finally said, arms slipping around Taylor of their own accord.

"Why not?" asked Taylor, confused.

"Because you know perfectly well Iím head over heels in love with you," said Jadon, not giving Taylor a chance to respond, pulling her head down for a deep and passionate kiss.

All the kisses she had shared with Faith seemed sisterly by comparison. She reeled, desperately clutching Taylor, not able to get enough of her soft lips and firm body. When they finally broke for air, both parties were breathing hard.

"Youíre right my Lady," said Taylor softly, gently stroking Jadonís hair from her face, eyes shining. "I canít possibly let you marry Faith. Iím head over heels for you as well."

"Why didnít you tell me? You knew I loved you," asked Jadon, searching the clear blue eyes.

"No, I thought you loved Faith. I thought Iíd never have a chance," said Taylor softly. "I thought you saw me as a playmate and nothing more."

"Youíve got to be joking," said Jadon, incredulous. "Didnít you feel anything the night we danced?"

"Yes, I did," said Taylor, gently planting tiny kisses on Jadonís face. "But I thought it was just me."

"My big brave warrior," said Jadon softly. "That is so untrue. What did I have to do to prove to you I was interested? Throw myself at you?"

"But all those little kisses you shared with Faith," she said. "What was I supposed to think?"

"Taylor, I barely know Faith," Jadon said, then grinned. "Besides, sheís really cute," she teased.

"Oh really?" said Taylor, nibbling her lips.

Jadon did not get a chance to respond, as Taylor was literally kissing her off her feet.

"Taylor," said Jadon breathlessly, some time later, delicately caressing the silky skin underneath her fingertips. "What are we going to tell Faith?"

"Tell her you donít want to marry her," said Taylor, kissing Jadon delicately along the rim of her ear, Jadon moaning softly. "I want you to marry me."

"Oh Taylor," moaned Jadon. "Of course I will."

Eventually the ecstatic couple disentangled themselves, and went hand in hand to find Faith. When they did, she was in her chambers in a quite unexpected embrace with Lysander.

Faith leaned back in misery as both Taylor and Jadon stared at her with shock, mouths hanging open, while Lysander frantically checked to make sure he was fully covered.

Jadon put up her hand to forestall any speech, as Taylor let out a huge sigh of relief.

"Faith," began Jadon. "I canít marry you."

"But I can explain everything," began Faith, leaning forward to stare at Jadon earnestly.

"Itís alright," cut in Jadon. "Iím in love with Taylor, and I want to marry her."

This time the huge sigh of relief was from Lysander and Faith.

"Thank goodness," said Faith. "I feel the same way about Lysander, and I want to marry him."

Lysander grinned and nodded, while Taylor slipped behind Jadon, putting her arms around the woodcutterís daughter.

"Well," said Taylor. "As thereís been quite a change of plans, I suggest we tell Mother and Father."

"Agreed," said Faith, nodding. "I donít suppose you could excuse us for a moment?"

"Of course," said Jadon, and allowed Taylor to steer her from the room.

In a few moments, Faith and Lysander emerged fully dressed, and they went to find the King and Queen and break the news to them. When they did, the monarchs simply sighed, knowing both daughters too well. A double wedding was celebrated that day, Jadonís parents and Esmerelda cheering them on enthusiastically. After the wedding, Taylor and Jadon joyfully thanked the blushing Fairy Godmother for finally bringing them together.

And they all lived happily ever after.

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