The Legend of Isolde
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. Nothing too graphic (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 ...
If you like it, let me know. All comments except for nasty ones are welcome!
Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta readers Foreva Xena and Tragic Prose for taking valuable time out to read this. Quite frankly, I have no idea how they put up with me, and I really appreciate all their efforts.
Once upon a time, there was a prosperous Kingdom, surrounded by lush green fields, and chaotic, dense forest. The wealthy Kingdom was ruled over by a good and wise King. The Queen had long since died during childbirth, leaving the King a widower, with no heir to his throne. Then one day joy came into his life, in the form of a visiting Princess, a beautiful young woman, who came to love the King. Eventually they married, and she became Queen. Alas, she only able to provide the King with a single heir. Much to the good Kingís considerable grief, the childbirth did not go well and the young Queen died. The King was grief stricken.
The King named his young daughter Blair and raised her as best he could, bereft as he was of any gentle feminine influences. She was taught to ride, hunt, defend herself with all manner of arms. She slowly grew to adulthood, a very tall, strong, dark-haired woman of unusual beauty, with perfect sculpted features and bright, penetrating, intelligent blue eyes. As the years continued on, the King grew old and died, and Blair assumed the throne of the little Kingdom. There was much sadness and rejoicing amongst the people of the Kingdom; their King had been a well loved figure, and the new King Blair was equally well regarded. Blair continued to rule the Kingdom with her fatherís insight and justice. All was well for a time, but gradually the people began to murmur that it was time for her to find a companion.
Finally, her chief advisor reluctantly approached her as she was sitting on her ornate stone throne, after a long day of passing judgement on her subjectsí disputes.
"Sire," he began.
"What is it?" asked Blair, disgruntled, shifting uncomfortably on the throne. Despite its years of service, with royal behinds slowly wearing down the surface of the stone, it was still highly uncomfortable after long periods.
"The people are restless. They say it is time for you to find a companion," he gulped, as a black eyebrow twitched, bright sapphire eyes pinning him into place.
"Indeed," said Blair, eyebrow shooting up. She leant forward and cupped her chin in her hand, interested despite herself. "And where am I to find a Ďcompanioní?"
He was encouraged by her gentle tone. "In the top room of the tower, you will find an old mirror. If you gaze into it long enough, you will find the face of your beloved forming in it. Then you must find her."
Blairís other eyebrow shot up to find itís companion. "That I must see," she said doubtfully, leaning back in her throne thoughtfully.
"The door is locked sire. The key your father gave to you to wear around your neck will open the door to the room," said the chief advisor, palms sweating, wishing to end the uncomfortable conversation. Blair quickly glanced down at her chest, covered in costly robes of state.
Abruptly she stood. "I will go to the tower," she said shortly. She pulled off her royal robe and tossed it at one of her attendants. Underneath it were the brown leather breeches, jerkin and high boots of her comfortable brown armor she felt more at home in than the robes of state. Her ornate jewel encrusted crown was similarly disposed of, as she strode from the richly furnished room, up the stairs to the battlements, chief advisor rushing to catch up with her.
Once at the top, she crossed through the cold howling wind, her chief advisor trailing behind her, uncertain as he had not been dismissed by his King. He stood behind her as she fumbled the chain holding the large, heavy key from her neck, and fitted it into the well oiled lock of the heavy, weather stained wooden door. The key turned easily, and the large door swung open. Blair glanced up the steep, clean stone stairs, then turned back to her chief advisor.
"Wait for me out of the wind," she said, smiling slightly. "Iíll tell you what happened when itís all over."
"Yes, Your Majesty," said the chief advisor, grateful she didnít ask him to wait outside the door. Blair turned back and ran up the stairs, two at a time. The chief advisor clutched his long black robe around him, to hold off the cold wind, and made his way back across the battlements through the gusting wind to the warmth of the castle proper beyond.
Blair ran past cold torches spaced at even intervals along the walls of the spiral staircase. When she finally reached the top, all was in darkness, despite there still being sunlight left at the end of the wintersí day. As soon as she had stepped one booted foot into the room, torches all along the circular walls hissed and sizzled into bright, warm light. She blinked and stared all around her. The room was empty, barren, cobwebs hanging across the windows close to the top of the high ceiling chamber. The floor was totally empty, made of flat, gray stone, warn smooth from generations of royal feet. As she twisted, she caught a flash of off white from the corner of her eye, and whirled to catch it. It was an ancient once white cloth, covering a flat surface almost six feet in height, almost as tall as the King. Afraid of nothing, Blair crossed easily to it, and with one graceful tug pulled the cloth from the mirror.
A royal eyebrow shot up when she saw the mirror. It was slightly flaking, completely normal seeming, surrounded with ornate, tarnished scroll work. The legs of the mirror had long since snapped off, the reason why it was leaning against the tower wall. Blair looked deep into the reflective surface, and saw only what she was expecting to see, black hair, pale face, bright blue eyes. She sighed, and began to turn away. A change caught the corner of her eye, and she stared directly at it again, seeing that her reflection was beginning to fade. She quickly looked behind her, wanting to see if the torches around the walls were burning less brightly. They flickered just as merrily as before.
When she turned back to the mirror, she gasped. It had gone completely black. Transfixed, she stared closely at it, trying to see any further changes. Slowly, an image began to form. It was a woman, almost a head shorter than Blair, delicate of feature, pale of complexion, with luxurious long golden hair. She wore a long, finely crafted dress displaying her ample cleavage to good effect. Blair was already moved by this, but what really grabbed her heart strings and tugged at her soul were the shining emerald green eyes, filled with a gut wrenching sadness. Blair turned away, heart constricting with grief and longing. When she turned back, the image was fading, and Blair found herself venting a great cry of frustration.
Suddenly the mirror returned to normal and the torches guttered out. Blair lost no time barreling back across the room, and back down the stairs, heedless of their steepness, nerve endings awash with what she had just seen. She ran out the heavy old door which closed with a firm slam behind her, back across the battlements, and into the small antechamber where her chief advisor waited for her.
Breathing heavily, trying to calm her tumultuous emotions, she said simply, "It worked. I found someone."
The chief advisor beamed with relief. "Sire we were worried about you. You have been gone the whole night."
"But I was only in there for a few minutes," she said lamely, not really wanting to discuss time displacement.
"No, sire, you have been gone the whole night," the advisor said gently, firmly. "What did you see?"
"I saw the most beautiful woman, hair the colour of sunshine, and the saddest green eyes."
The advisor lost his smile and turned a little white. "Was she delicate and dressed in a white robe?"
"Yes," said Blair curiously. "Who is she? What do you know of her?"
"Isolde," said the advisor softly, shaking his head. He looked up to meet Blairís expectant gaze. "Sire, may we retire to your chambers? It is a long story," he said, and Blair nodded, waving him forward to lead the way.
Soon they found themselves sitting in the Kingís private chambers, fire cheerfully blazing away, feet propped up on comfortable foot stools, sipping hot tea.
"Tell me what you know of her," said Blair, settling herself back in her comfortable chair.
"Sire," said the advisor, shaking his head sadly. "It is a sad story. Five hundred years ago, there was a Kingdom a dayís ride from here. It was a lively Kingdom, and the King and Queen there were blessed with a single daughter, Princess Isolde. She was renowned the world over for her generous spirit, and her gentle, sweet nature. She well loved, far and wide by all who knew of her, and many a noble attempted to seek her hand in marriage. However, she refused them all. She was waiting for the one who would make her soul complete, so she said. On the whole, her refusals were so charmingly delivered that none took offence.
"However, one day the Black Knight of Calador attempted to petition for her hand in marriage, never thinking he would not be the one the Princess sought. Though he came bearing a magnificent array of jewels and precious, rare gifts, he was similarly refused, but did not take this with the same good grace the others had done. He vowed that if he could not have her, no man would, and forged a dark pact with an ugly and evil witch, Giselle, who had long since been driven out the Kingdom for practice of evil arts. They called forth the blackest powers of hell, and enacted a terrible revenge on Isolde. Calador and Giselle were both made immortal, and Isolde was imprisoned in the largest of the ruby gemstones that Calador had brought for her amusement. He had the gemstone fashioned into a necklace, to be worn by him close to his malignant heart. The price of their immortality was that they could only be slain by the man who could free Isolde from the gemstone. Once both were slain and the necklace removed from the last oneís body, the curse would be broken.
"When the King and Queen heard of this, they attempted to find a champion to rescue the Princess, but none could defeat Calador. Finally one man slew the Black Knight in a great and ferocious battle, but when he attempted to get the necklace from the slain Knight, Giselle appeared and slew him. It is said his bones still lie in the courtyard of Castle Calador. Giselle took the necklace from the Black Knight, and became sole custodian of the cursed gemstone, and can only be slain by the man who is the beloved of fair Isolde. Her wretched domain is a full seasonís ride from here.
"Sire, I do not know how you can help the poor, unfortunate Isolde. The Kingdom she is heiress to is gone, King, Queen and people long dead. Her one, true love is now also long gone. Giselle still lives, and is more powerful than ever."
The chief advisor finished, throat dry, and sipped at his now cold tea. He eyed Blair uncertainly, her sapphire eyes infinitely sad, spirit seemingly crushed. She was silent for a long while. Finally, she took a deep, shaky breath and spoke with her quiet, husky voice.
"I have lost my heart to a woman who could never love me in return, correct?" she said.
The chief advisor balked, but trusted in the fairness of his King when he responded. "Yes Sire," he said simply.
"I can never hope to defeat the witch, since the man who could free Isolde has already been slain, correct?"
"It would be suicidal for me even to try this, correct?"
"I thought so," said Blair sadly. She paused for a moment, considering her options.
"The problem is," said Blair softly, "now that Iíve seen her, I canít let her go. I have to at least try. How can I sit here, and just let her rot in that gemstone? I have to do something to try and help her or Iíll never forgive myself."
"Sire," said the chief advisor, expression soft and gentle. "I canít say that I agree with you, or that I want you to go, but if you must, then we will make the necessary preparations."
"I agree," said Blair.
So it was done.
Blair appointed the chief advisor as the temporary custodian of her Kingdom, and prepared herself for the journey. The castle library had some record of where the wicked witch Giselleís domain was, so Blair knew where to go. The details of the curse were no more apparent than the sketchy detail the advisor had given her, the splendor of Castle Calador well documented. Armed with almost no knowledge of what she was walking into, a vague direction she was supposed to travel in, and major emotional pain in rescuing a woman who would never love her, Blair set out on a sunny spring morning to go in search of her unrequited love.
She rode for several days along an old, almost disused road, ruts from the wheels of once remembered passing traffic almost obliterated through lack of use. The forest was thick, lush green; the sunlight passing through the overhead canopy, beams of gold lighting up little sections of the forest all around her. She was unable to feel the beauty of her surroundings, as she wandered down the forest road with a heavy heart. Dimly, she became aware of a series of low moans off to her left. She stopped her horse, and patted itís neck, as her keen hearing pinpointed the direction the noise was coming from. Her blue eyes tracked left, and she led her horse into the thick undergrowth. They thrashed their way through the thick, leafy ferns, and came to a clearing just out of sight of the road. There was a huge, wild black wolf in it, with itís paw caught in a wolf trap. When the wolf saw Blair coming, it sat back on itís haunches, bloody forepaw firmly stuck in the device, panting, turning itís feral yellow eyes upon her calculatingly.
"What do we have here?" murmured Blair to her horse, which snorted, and rolled itís eyes distrustfully at the wolf. The wolf, despite itís slightly mangy appearance, was beautiful, with itís thick silver fur and oddly intelligent gaze. It howled under her firm blue regard.
"King," said the wolf in a gravelly voice, deep and wild. "Will you release me?"
Blair raised an eyebrow at the wolf. "You can talk," she said, unsurprised despite herself.
"So it would seem," said the wolf gravely. "My paw is caught. Can you find it in your heart to free me from this trap?"
"If I do so, what guarantee do I have that you will not immediately devour me?"
"I know of your quest, King Blair," said the wolf evenly. "I was coming to see you to offer my humble services in fulfillment of your quest."
"And what quest would that be?" asked Blair curiously.
"You wish to free Isolde," said the wolf, wincing in pain from the cuts to itís paw.
"True," said Blair. "Do you have a name, wolf?"
"My name is Finneas," said the wolf.
"Well Finneas," said Blair, smiling, bowing her head slightly in greeting. "I will free you, and we can discuss this further."
Blair cautiously approached the wolf, and crouched to inspect the huge, rusty trap. She winced slightly at the odor coming from the wolfís hot breath, then stood to look around for a stick to lever the trap open with. Finding a suitable candidate in the undergrowth nearby, she slapped it against the palm of her hand experimentally. It sounded solid.
She bent down on the ground next to the wolf, uncomfortably aware of the proximity of his huge fangs, and pried the jaws of the trap open, well developed muscles straining. The wolf sighed with relief as the jaws of the trap released his leg, and he hopped a small way away, collapsing on the ground with a sigh, and began licking his paw. Blair released the stick, and the jaws shut again with a firm snap, neatly severing the wood.
She retrieved her water skin and medical kit from the saddlebags of the horse, and sat next to Finneas to clean his wound. Despite the strength of the trap, the leg, besides lots of blood and missing fur, didnít look to bad.
"That doesnít look too bad," she said. "How does it feel?"
"Much better now," said Finneas.
"Would you like to tell me some more about why you were coming to see me? What do you have to do with this?"
"Err, itís a long story. Suffice it to say that I was once a man and Giselle turned me into a wolf. I have a debt to pay to her."
"Alright," said Blair. "I would be pleased if you accompanied me." She pushed a the surge of jealousy and suspicion that the legend may have been wrong about the death of Isoldeís champion, and that this could have been the man who killed the Black Knight of Calador.
Finneas and Blair smiled at each other, and Blair rose to her feet. She made her way to her horse with the wolf at her side, and the horse shying when it smelt the wolf. Blair caught her easily, and gently whispered in her ear. The ear twitched, and the horse calmed considerably. She looked down at Finneas.
"Do you feel up to walking?" she asked.
The wolf looked at her and laughed. "I think I make your horse nervous enough at it is," he said.
Blair said nothing, but smiled, and pushed her horse back towards the forest road.
They traveled peacefully for the rest of the day, down the peaceful forest path. They did not see any other living soul during the entire journey, and passed the time playing word games. Blair tactfully questioned him, and though he would not tell her who he was when he was a man, she learned that he was not the man who slew the Black Knight of Calador, he had been a wolf long before then.
As the daylight began to dwindle towards dusk, they began to look for a place to pass the night. The wolf lifted his nose and sampled the air experimentally.
"Blair," he said. "I think we are in luck. Up ahead there is a house."
Blair looked around in the gathering gloom, but could see nothing. "Where?" she asked.
"Follow me," said the limping wolf. He began to run in a jagged uneven lope, and Blair pushed her horse into a trot behind him. They ran for a while, until Blair could faintly spot a line of smoke trailing upwards to the twilight sky. The wolf suddenly cut across through the undergrowth, Blair following, until they arrived in a clearing. There was a small cottage, in good repair, painted white, small garden neatly tended, with a riot of colourful flowers in the small bed near the front door.
Blair dismounted her horse and grinned at Finneas. With him trailing behind her, she went up the neatly kept path, and knocked on the front door. The smell of cooking food in the air was making both their mouths water. There was the loud sound of movement from inside the house, and a shouted "Come in, I will be out in a moment."
Blair tried the door, which was unlocked, pushed it open, and she and Finneas found themselves in a cheerful sitting room. There was a brightly burning fire, a chair pulled up close to the hearth. On the arm of the comfortable chair, rested a pipe, cold; the floor was a neatly swept wood, stone walls clean and straight. Thin light streamed from the doorway at the rear of the room, and shadows of a person danced on the walls. Blair exchanged a look with the wolf, and they made their way to the light.
In the neat, tidy kitchen was a dwarf. He was very old, with a long gray beard. His face was seamed, with bright, intelligent eyes. He was wearing a simple shirt and breeches, old but neatly mended and clean.
"What do we have here?" asked the Dwarf, hands on hips, abandoning his stirring of the huge black kettle hanging over the cheerfully burning fire.
"My name is Blair, and this is my friend Finneas," said Blair, gesturing at the wolf, who ducked his head in greeting. "We are travelling through the woods, and wondered if you could give us lodgings for the evening?"
The Dwarf nodded. "My name is Grimwald. I would be more than happy to oblige. First, let us eat! A day of mining makes one very hungry!"
"If itís alright with you, Iíd just like to tether my horse outside," said Blair.
"Of course!" said Grimwald. "You are more than welcome to put her out the back. There is plenty of food."
Blair nodded and followed the Dwarfís instructions.
She went outside, and took her horse to the rear of the cottage. The Dwarf had been right. There was a thick carpet of soft green grass, and Blair left her horse chewing contentedly, as she made her way back into the house.
After host and guests had eaten, conversation merry and animated, food excellent, Grimwald sat back with a sigh.
"So," he began. "What brings you to my humble home?"
Blair debated for a second, and decided she liked the Dwarf. She proceeded to tell him of her mission. When she had finished, Grimwald sat back looking pensive.
"I have heard that story. Of course, it was a long time before I was born, but the Black Knight of Caladorís escapades were legendary. If you donít mind, I would like to join you in your quest. I once had a mine rich in jewels and rare metals. It was stolen from me by Giselle, and I want it back."
Blair exchanged a glance with Finneas. Finneas grinned and nodded slightly.
"We would be more than happy to have you along," said Blair, and Grimwald nodded gratefully.
"Thankyou Highness," he said. They spoke late into the night, until all three were exchanging bone cracking yawns. Grimwald showed them to their sleeping quarters, where wolf and King slept deeply, and did not awake until dawn.
It took them only a small amount of time to get moving. Grimwald insisted on packing his pick and his shovel. When Blair questioned him on it, he raised his bushy gray eyebrows as stroked his beard with stubby, callused fingers and said, "I am a miner, and I cannot travel without my tools."
Blair didnít argue, and the extra gear didnít look too heavy, so she quietly packed them aboard the horse, and moved to give the Dwarf assistance to mount the anxious mare.
Grimwald shook his head and backed away. "No Blair, thatís fine - my feet have served me for more than a hundred years, and they will serve me for many more."
Blair nodded and climbed aboard the mare, and they set off.
They traveled together for several weeks, enjoying each otherís company, until they came to a cheerfully bubbling stream. Blair led her horse to it, to allow her to take her fill of the clean, clear water.
"Do not allow her to drink of the water," came a bubbly voice, blending in over the sound of the rushing water over the rocks.
"Who said that?" demanded Blair, as Finneas and Grimwald came over to the brook, having also heard the voice.
"I did," said the voice, again melding in with the water. Suddenly the water began to ripple, and gently form itself into a roughly human shape. Blair dropped the reins, staring in surprise.
"Who are you?" she asked the translucent figure.
"I am a water sprite," said the figure. "This is a sacred place. I am the guardian of the stream. It feeds into the River of Life."
"Oh dear," said Finneas. "We didnít know."
"If the dead are bathed in the stream, they are given new life. It is not for the living to sample. Like your horse, for example."
Blair quickly lunged forward, and grabbed the reins of her horse, just before she could drink. She sighed in relief.
"We will trouble you no more," said Blair, and backed away, Grimwald and Finneas close behind, while the water sprite watched them balefully.
They went back to their clearing, and ate their midday meal in silence.
Grimald, Finneas and Blair traveled for another week. They enjoyed one anotherís company immensely, and Blair found herself glad that she had accepted the offers of her companions to join her.
One day as they were travelling on the forest road, not having seen any living soul for many weeks, they spied a castle on a hill in the distance. They debated amongst themselves, and decided to investigate, as both Finneas and Grimwald were curious as to its occupants.
Blair reluctantly agreed to go and look with them, more anxious with her quest to find Isolde, as they were now close to Giselleís lair.
They rode towards the hill and soon found themselves at the castle. A faded inscription hung over the open gates: Calador. It was long abandoned, standards long since rotted, thick layer of dust covering the entire courtyard. There was a pile of bones, alone amongst the emptiness.
The wind echoed hollowly through the empty building, giving each of the travelers an uncomfortable feeling. The horse whinnied uneasily. Blair ignored the feeling, and leant down to inspect the bones. It was a pile of debris, no markings to indicate who it once was. No armor or arms lay close by.
"This must be the unfortunate who slew the Black Knight of Calador," she said softly.
"How do you know itís not Calador himself?" asked Finneas.
"According to the legend, the bones of the man who bested the Black Knight are in the courtyard of Castle Calador."
"Thatís not very persuasive. This happened five hundred years ago, and legends have been known to distort," said the wolf.
"If it were Calador, I would expect to see armor and a sword, definitely a signet close by. I see nothing," said Blair.
Her two companions eyed her doubtfully.
"Blair," said the wolf. "Why would the slayer of Calador be in his castle if he already had the gem and was able to free Isolde? Why werenít they headed as far away from here as they could get?"
"A very good question," said Grimwald. "And if the legend is incorrect and they fought in the courtyard, why donít we see two piles of bones?"
"I donít know," said Blair. "The only logical explanation is that the Black Knight of Calador didnít die. This could easily still be his challenger."
A bright spark of hope ignited deep in Blairís heart. If the defender had died, and Calador was still alive, then it meant that she still had a chance to win Isolde. "There is only one way to find out who this is," said Blair. "Letís go back to the River of Life."
Both Grimwald and Finneas sucked in deep breaths. "King Blair," said Finneas. "Donít you think thatís a little dangerous?"
"How so?" replied Blair. "If it is the defender, I have a chance of defeating him. If it is the Black Knight of Calador, he doesnít have the curse guaranteeing him immortality anymore, as Giselle holds the gemstone, so I still have a chance of killing him."
Neither one could argue with this, so they resigned themselves to Blairís obvious decision.
They traveled back to the River of Life, and Blair dropped the bones into the water. They were washed clean for a second. Blair, disappointed, stood and turned away. Then she heard the sharp intake of breath from her companions, and whirled to face what they saw.
Around the bones, a thin layer of sinew and muscle began to form. Before their startled eyes, veins circled muscle, red blood began to flow as a newly recreated heart began to beat. Soon, lying in the stream was an extraordinarily handsome, firery red haired man. When his eyes opened, Blair found herself looking into eyes almost as blue as her own.
He sucked in a deep breath, looking at her with the vacant, blue eyes. Apart from sit up, he did not move.
Blair leaned forward, to give him an arm to lever himself out of the water. He did not look at the arm, and he did not move. Blair waited for a second or so to see if he would orient himself. He did not move, and Blair gently took his arm and pulled him out of the water.
He stood easily, slack limbed, stark naked, and still did not move as he dripped water on the banks of the cheerfully bubbling stream. He was a magnificent sight, a head taller than Blair, very muscular and very handsome.
"Err, yes," said Finneas.
"Weíd better get some clothes on you laddy," said Grimwald, and grabbed the suddenly gaping Blair back over to her horse to dig through her saddlebags for something to cover him with. Finneas attempted to engage him in conversation, but he did not speak or acknowledge the existence of the wolf.
It took a semi amused King and a struggling dwarf to get him into a blanket they found. He remained silent and submissive during the entire endeavor.
When they had finished, it seemed easier to let him ride the horse, rather than go walking barefoot up the bumpy, uneven road. So Blair and the Dwarf heaved him into the saddle of the patiently standing (though reproachful) horse.
He sat there limp, not moving, unresponsive to any attempts to get him talking. Finally the three companions remarked upon it to each other.
"Well," said Blair finally, "Weíre none the wiser as to who he is."
"Yes, there certainly doesnít appear to be anyone in there," said Finneas, and Grimwald grimaced, not at all certain that the man could not understand or hear them. However, he did agree with their companions.
They continued on their long journey to the castle of the witch Giselle. The forest continued unabated, still lush and green; the sun continued to shine itís bright light through the filtering canopy of the trees. They never encountered another single living soul, to the continuing surprise of the travelers. The man they had resurrected was for all intents and purposes an empty husk of a human being. He could not speak, and never moved his limbs of his own volition. The companions tended to him, Blair secretly annoyed she now had to put up with a major handicap in the battle for Giselle.
Finally, one day as they traveled close to the borders of Giselleís land, or so Blairís map told them, they finally began to see and end to the lush greenery of the forest. The sounds of wildlife began to fade out, despite the rich environment, then became sparse. The life of the forest gave way to a barren field of rocks and dirt, stretching as far as the eye could see. When they finally left the forest, they found themselves in the direct hot sunlight, which did nothing to ease their tempers. They rode along in grim silence, struggling in the oppressive heat, Blair and the man sweating freely, dwarf muttering unkind comments about the sun and weather in general, wolf head down and tongue lolling from his huge jaws.
After trudging along for several hours, they saw a castle in the distance. It had enormous black battlements, twisting up to the heavens in geometric torture, somehow at direct odds with the bright blue sky. The walls met at corners, firm and upright, but somehow difficult for the eye to comfortably look at. Each of the walls seemed just a touch longer than they should have been, and met the ground at something that was almost but not quite an angle. It induced a sense of drunken nausea in the travelers, and none were able to look at it directly and keep their last meal down, with the sole exception of the man on the horse. He continued to stare straight ahead of him, showing no signs of discomfort, blue eyes vacant and unfocussed.
As they got closer to the castle, a womanís voice the sound of fingers being scraped down a chalkboard boomed out of the castle at them.
"HALT! COME NO FURTHER. I KNOW WHAT YOU SEEK, AND YOU WILL NEVER HAVE HER!"
Blair raised one black eyebrow. "I seek to free her, and if you release her I will not kill you."
The voice merely cackled, echoing eerily off the stone of the castle, sound fading in and out, waving around them and vibrating through each of them as they winced in disgust.
Suddenly the earth began to shake in great waves. The companions were all hurled to the ground in great heaps of bruised flesh, Grimwald and Finneas a huge pile of hair, teeth, hands and paws. Blair lost her grip on the reins of the horse as she was thrown on her behind onto the heaving ground. The horse stumbled and reared, throwing the man off the back, to land in the wolf and dwarf pile. Cries of "Ouch!", "Get off me!" and "Do you mind!" filled the air. As Blair rolled to escape her frantic horse, the horse took off in the opposite direction as fast as its legs would carry it.
Abruptly all was still, giving the tangled and bruised group a chance to separate from each othersí unwelcome embrace. Blair rose to her feet carefully, sampling the malignant air, and drawing her sword from the scabbard on her back, staring all around her with her piercing blue stare.
Slowly, she began to see the earth move, feeling more rocking through the soles of her feet. Sections of it channeled upwards all around them, to form crude bodies, with only rudimentary limbs. Blair found herself frantically pedaling backwards to grab prone man off the ground, as the shapes began to move their malformed legs in a grotesque parody of walking. Rocks began to roll slowly towards them as the earth continued its transformation into an army of living man sized soil. More crude man figures began to form and advance on the companions, as the rocks of all sizes began to roll towards them.
Dwarf and wolf both looked alarmed, seeking escape. Grimwald dealt one of the creatures a fearsome slap with one of his strong arms as it began to reach for him, cursing that he did not have his pick and his shovel. When his fist impacted it, a great chunk was torn from the crude figure, soil splattering them, but it was undeterred with the loss of matter, and continued to stalk them, levering out one of itís huge hand like protrusions to strangle the angry dwarf. King Blair swung her sword to sever the malformed limb, grabbed the manís hand and yelled "RUN!" just as one of the closer rocks barreled through the circle of earth figures.
Blindly they ran towards the castle, Blair swinging her sword to attempt to slow the figures down, Grimwald swinging at all the figures. Finneas snapped his strong jaws all around him, spitting and coughing with the soil that found itself in his mouth. He gagged and spat disorientatedly as the soil began to roil around in his jaws, seeking to join itís mates on the ground to reform and destroy them. When he staggered, Blair screamed a warning.
"Finneas! Look out! Behind you!"
But it was too late. The wolf was choking on the matter, as a medium sized rock bore down on him at a great speed, knocking him to the ground and taking great pleasure in rolling all over him like an insane rolling pin.
Grimwald came to his rescue, cursing and swearing at the revolting earth. He took a run off and slammed into the murderous rock, arms outstretched, so it was tossed off the semi conscious wolf. Without a thought, Grimwald quickly grabbed him and slung him over his powerful shoulders, as Blair raced ahead to the castle dodging rocks, swinging her sword and trying to keep the flaccid man safe.
Finally they found themselves ahead of the demented earth, on the semi rotted drawbridge of the castle. Blair ran up to the door, and pushed it mightily, but it remained firmly shut against the intruders. As Blair studied the door, Grimwald whirled around and eyed the advancing creatures and stone.
"Duck!" he yelled and launched himself off the drawbridge as Blair spun and cursed when she saw what was headed their way. A huge rock, bigger than Blair was rolling towards the drawbridge at an alarming rate. Blair quickly pushed her docile companion off the drawbridge, and followed him at the last second, landing on him with a solid smack, grateful he was useful for something.
The rock, unable to stop, crashed straight through the gate with a loud crack and splintering of wood. The dwarf covered the dazed wolf as best he could, while Blair looked away, as the slivers of wood washed all over them. There was a rumbling for a few seconds as they cautiously looked up, hearts racing, as the enormous boulder came rushing back out of the splintered gate, back down the drawbridge and hesitated for a second, then began rolling toward Blair and the man with grim intent.
Blair cursed virulently as she pulled the man to his feet, and threw him toward the drawbridge. With almost superhuman strength, she pulled herself up onto the cracked wood, and began to tug on the man as the boulder smashed into the clean stone of the wall she had stood before only seconds earlier, and cracked and split in half. The man appeared unfazed with his close brush with death. As the fragments began to quiver and rock, still intent on murdering the hapless people, the Dwarf joined Blair and pulled the man onto the drawbridge. The earth people were staggering and lurching towards them, often being crushed by an army of rolling, destructive rocks, speed only hampered by the uneven surface of the earth itself.
They hauled the man to his feet and ran into the castle, Finneas still perched on the stocky little manís broad shoulders.
"That way!" said Blair, as she pointed toward one of the corner towers of the neat courtyard, now littered with the wreckage of the castle gate. The Dwarf nodded, put his head down and ran as fast as his little legs would carry him, earth army hot on their heels. Blair barreled up the stairs, Dwarf not a second behind her as another large boulder crashed into the foot of the stairs, effectively sealing the entrance. Blair stopped about halfway up the stairs, the rumbling of the crash felt through their feet as the castle appeared to rock on itís geometrically disastrous foundations.
"That should hold them for a while," gasped Grimwald as they watched the army clawing futilely at the thoroughly wedged rock, soil littering the ground as their limbs splattered when they hit the stone.
"Uh oh," said Blair, as they felt the stairs shiver under their feet. "RUN!"
She led the charge upwards as the stairs behind them began to collapse. Up and up they ran, until they had reached the upper chambers of the castle, the stairs having collapsed halfway down behind them.
Blair led them up a neat, deserted passage, blindly following luck to get to the source of the voice they had heard.
Finneas was finally able to stand on wobbly legs, and they made their way slowly along desolate, cheerless passages, dimly lit by the bright light outside. Grimwald looked around him in alarm when he began to notice the mortar between the stones quiver and shake.
"Blair," he said warningly.
"I see it," said Blair, scanning the rocks around them. "Letís get out of here!"
They ran up the passage, wolf moaning the whole way, as the rocks quivered uncertainly, struggling to free themselves of their mortar prison. Blair knew they had stumbled onto the right direction, when the walls began to shake violently, attempting to crush them.
The temperature dropped as they ran from the commotion.
They continued to run down the long passage, headed straight for an ordinary wooden door at the end. Blair ran up to it pulled the latch, door opening easily, as the Dwarf and groggy wolf brought up the rear. Through the open door, Blair could see a figure hunched over a bubbling cauldron. The room was dimly lit, all torches around the walls of the huge circular chamber long cold ash, weapons of previous adventurers gruesome trophies all over the walls. The air was icy cold, the companions seeing their breath frost in the air in front of them. Blair wrinkled her nose in disgust at the stench of rotting fish mixed with sulphur and pestilence emanating from the room. It was too much for Finneas, and he was neatly and tidily sick outside.
The din was getting worse as the rocks finally shook themselves free from the walls, and began to roll towards them, gathering momentum and murderous force as they went. Blair was transfixed by the smell and the sights before her, so did not feel the rock that came up behind her and pushed her knees out from behind her. She fell into the room, the dwarf, wolf and man close behind. The door shut behind them with a snap, and they began to shiver in the chill.
"Ah King Blair," came the hideously mock courteous cackle from the clearly female figure at the cauldron. "Welcome."
Blair snarled, and took a step towards the witch Giselle. She promptly overbalanced and slid several feet. The floor of the room was coated in ice, and the second Blairís body came in contact with the cold surface, she began to freeze solid. Grimwald took a step towards her, and while he was luckier and did not slip and slide across the ice, he also began to freeze solid.
Giselle burst out laughing and got up from her seat at the bubbling cauldron, as Finneas stealthily grabbed the manís hand and pulled him back into a deep shadowed corner of the room, unaffected by the layer of ice.
Giselle walked easily on the slippery surface of ice, feet crunching and cracking through the slick surface, leaving a hissing, bubbling series of footsteps behind her. The wolf gasped in horror as she slipped through the shadow, now and then becoming clearly visible. He could sense Blairís round, helpless, furious eyes as the witch approached her. She stopped in full light close to the regent.
A hideous woman, she was no more than 4 feet in height, and looked like nothing at all like old woman. Here skin was a mottled dark gray, deeply wrinkled; features all but completely eaten away by rot, greenish blood and yellow pus oozing out of each blemish. Her eyes were a glowing furnace of red, totally evil, straight from the blackest pits of hell. Her teeth were crooked yellow tusks, unnamed insects crawling busily out of her mouth, winding through her teeth. Her body was mercifully covered, hands nothing but withered claws, yellow fingernails hanging in some places by mere wisp of skin, one of the thin digits firmly housing a huge gaudy ring, itís vibrant shine in hideous juxtaposition to the rotting flesh it held together.
"I have been waiting for you," she said as she squatted close to the prone, helpless King. "I know you want Isolde, and as you can see, she is always close to my heart." She drew back the neck of her plain black dress, hideous, and tapped the huge red gemstone with one long, pestilent digit.
"I am going to kill you," she said conversationally, elongating a finger into a sharp point, dangling it a hairs breadth from the open, crystalline blue eye of the beautiful King. "But first Iím going to make you suffer." Her touch turned to a caress down the helpless Kingís face. Blairís eyes shone with fury and revulsion.
The witch burst out laughing again at her helpless guest. "This is going to be fun."
Finneas unfroze from his position in the corner. He raced around the side of the room in eerie silence, positioning himself just outside the circle of ice behind the cauldron. As soon as he had moved, Giselle looked up, shocking expression of hatred on her face. "Who is there?" she demanded. It was then that Finneas realised she was blind, unable to see him and reacted with cocky self assurance he did not feel.
"Remember me?" he asked.
"Finneas," she snarled, getting to her feet and zeroing in on the sound of his voice.
"Yes, itís me," he said happily, and ran and slid across the ice, freezing as he went. He had enough momentum and size, that when he slid across the magical ice he began to freeze, but did not immediately slow down. He crashed into one of the stubby stumps of the tripod, unsettling the cauldron and moving the liquid from side to side. It gained momentum as Giselle lunged toward it, and just before she reached it, it toppled and coated her in the obnoxious, foul smelling brew. For a second she stared in shock as the liquid dripped from her face and body, then suddenly she began to scream.
It was an agonised, high mewling sound, seemingly endless as she began to smoke and bubble. Where the liquid touched her, her flesh began to melt and sizzle off her bones in great wet streams, revealing her still functioning internal organs, which also began to liquefy and splatter to the ground. Finally the sound stopped as her vocal cords were seared from her body, and her bones collapsed as the sinew and muscle holding her upright fell in great rotten strips from her body.
The liquid burnt away the ice in huge clouds of wet, rotten steam. Blair moaned as the enchantment left her
body, and dwarf, wolf and human struggled to back away from the tumultuous substances heaving in the room.
Finally it was done. Blair sat back against the wall and heaved a great sigh. "That was very nice work," she said to the ailing wolf.
"Thankyou Blair," the wolf said sadly.
Abruptly, Blair stared at him. "Youíre still a wolf. Why didnít the enchantment lift when she was killed?"
"She put a spell on me, and alas did not live to reverse it. Not to worry - being a wolf is not so bad. Iím quite used to it these days," he said forlornly.
"Blair," said Grimwald. "Are you unharmed?"
"Yes," said Blair, and stretched experimentally. "And yourself?"
"So far so good," said the dwarf, flexing his muscles. "What are you waiting for? Donít you have a maiden to rescue?"
"I most certainly do," said Blair, eyes burning with hope. She got to her feet, grimacing, and hurried to the bloody pile of rags in the center of the floor. She nudged them with her boot, pulling the sodden cloth back with a toe, exposing the gemstone.
Nothing could have stopped her as she knelt and with infinite tenderness pulled the necklace away from the bloody bone. The second the necklace had left the sopping remains, a cloud began to form around it. She quickly placed it on the floor, and sat back on her haunches to see what would happen. The mist began to swirl gray, cleared to a white outline of figure, about a head shorter than Blair. Transfixed, she watched it gain in solidity, the ripe figure of a beautiful young woman forming in front of her.
The reflection she has seen scarcely did Isolde justice. Her features were delicate and well formed, hair was a bright golden colour. Blair found herself transfixed by the shining joy in the gentle green eyes. She felt something inside her give, as she cast her fate to the winds with the unknown Princess Isolde, finding herself wanting to please her, and make her happy.
"Itís you," were the first words Isolde said as she looked down at King Blair. "Youíre the one Iíve been waiting for." She slowly knelt down to the transfixed Blair, unable and unwilling to break the shining, intense blue gaze. She knelt directly in front of Blair, and before either was really sure what was happening, she leant forward, slipping her arms around Blairís neck, and kissed her gently on the lips. The contact was electrifying for them both, and Blair slipped her arms around the Isoldeís waist, kneeling up, pulling her in close so their bodies touched, craving the contact, passion almost overcoming them as the kiss of pure love deepened.
Unseen to the lovers and the uncomfortably watching audience, a dark cloud swirled around the room, and coalesced around the slack body of the man. Suddenly his blue eyes sharpened. He took a deep breath and flexed his muscles, grimacing when he saw the grimy covering over his body. Suddenly his eyes shot to the spectacle on the floor, and the pretty blue eyes narrowed with hatred.
"And what do we have here?" he asked, melodious beauty of his voice spoiled by his petulant, sulky tone. "Isolde what are you doing with this woman?"
Blair broke the kiss, and shot to her feet still holding Isolde. She whirled, not breaking contact, as Isolde gasped in horror beside her. "No Fabian, not you," Isolde moaned.
"Who?" asked Blair, staring at the man in shock, dazed wits not able to keep up with events.
"Itís Sir Fabian of Calador, otherwise known as the Black Knight of Calador," said Isolde sadly, keeping a firm grip on Blair. She slowly moved around so she was directly in front of the King, while Fabian continued to advance on them. "Why arenít you dead?"
"I was. Giselle killed my body and imprisoned my soul with her black arts, and took you for herself. These people resurrected me. Youíre mine Isolde, you know it," he said, reaching for her. Finneas and Grimwald gasped when they realised how wrong the legend had been, while Blair was stone faced, hiding her dismay.
Abruptly her reactions cut in, and she pulled Isolde gently and firmly out of the way placing herself in front of Isolde, Isolde peeking out behind her broad back.
"Sheís not yours," said Blair. Isolde ached with the love she held for her beautiful rescuer.
"And who might you be, little woman?" asked Fabian patronizingly.
Blairís temper ignited. "I am King Blair," she said coldly, at her most regal, hands on her hips. Fabian now stood directly in front of her, and lunged for her. She took a step back, but bumped into Isolde, and was off balance for no more than a second. It was enough for Fabian to grab her sword from the scabbard strapped to her back. She put an arm up to stop him as her frozen companions found their legs and rushed in to help her. Isolde frantically backed out of the fray. Blair pushed him backward with all her might, and he tripped over Finneas, who was directly behind him. He crashed to the floor in an ungainly heap, as King, Dwarf and wolf advanced towards his prone body. He slithered backward, and got easily to his feet, dancing out of the way of the grim companions. He darted over to a wall, grabbing a hanging sword.
Blair soon found herself locking steel with Fabian, as Isolde, Grimwald and Finneas looked on, itching to join the fray, looking for an opening. They lunged, parried and stabbed at each other, neither one able to gain the upper hand. Finally, Blair dealt him a vicious overhand blow, and the sword fell from his grasp. Uncomprehendingly, he stared at his empty hand for a second, as Blair pushed the advantage and with one blow of her enraged fist, smashed him to the ground, senseless.
"Iíve been waiting to do that for quite some time," she muttered, then more loudly said, "letís get out of here." She turned gracefully and started toward the relieved Isolde.
"Arenít you going to finish him off?" asked Finneas.
"But I canít just finish him off now, heís defenseless," argued Blair. "Itís just not done. Look, we can tie him up and take him to my Kingdom. Iíll just throw him into the castle dungeons for the rest of his natural life."
"Alright," sighed Grimwald, knowing it was useless to argue with the King once her mind was made up.
"Blair, behind you!" yelled Isolde. As she spoke, Fabian had picked up the sword, and hurled it, unseen by the three arguing companions. Blairís eyes widened in shock as the cold sword pierced her back and traveled through her body, through her heart and out of her chest. Oddly enough, very little blood seeped out of the wound, as a surge of black blood dribbled out of her mouth. Isolde screamed as she sank to her knees, mouthing "Isolde I love you with all my heart and soul." As she pitched forward, the sword point hit the ground, cutting further into her body, and she pitched sideways, dead.
"No Blair! I love you! Please donít leave me," sobbed Isolde, rushing to the fallen King, cradling her with desperate arms.
Fabian shouted in triumph, and ran towards the rags that had once been Giselle, as Isolde clutched Blair, a flood of tears flowing down her face. Grimwald and Finneas reacted first and ran to the fallen body of Blair. Fabian rooted frantically through the soggy and slippery remains, howling in triumph as he picked up the huge, ugly ring Giselle had worn. Wasting no time, he ran to Isolde and viciously punched her so her screams abruptly stopped as she lost consciousness.
"Now, now my precious," he said. "Canít have you all upset now."
"You beast," said Grimwald furiously, as he hovered over the corpse of the beautiful woman. "You will pay for this with your life."
"You have to catch me first. Start with Calador," he said jauntily, as he closed his eyes and gripped Giselleís magic ring tightly. Slowly their bodies became translucent, then disappeared into a swirl of shimmering air.
Finneas and Grimwald looked down at Blairís still body. "I really hate this bit," said the Dwarf, as he got a good grip on the sword, and tugged with all his might. The sword would not budge. "And I hate this bit even more," he grimaced.
"Very undignified," agreed the wolf with a wince.
He put a booted foot against the limp shoulder of the King, and pulled again with all his might. This time he stumbled back as the sword slid free of the body, and overbalanced, landing square on his back, sword hitting the ground next to him with a clang.
"Oh for goodness sake," muttered the Dwarf. "Does it really get any worse than that?" He got to his feet, and looked grimly at the wolf.
"To the stream?"
"To the stream," agreed Finneas.
Blairís body was certainly the worse for wear when Grimwald and Finneas finally reached the water. They had found the horse outside the castle, and tied her mistress to the saddle. By the time they had reached the stream, even the horse was wishing she was elsewhere.
"I think thatís it," said Grimwald as he gave a mighty heave, and the body rolled into the water. Finneas sighed, grateful that Blair wasnít there to see the sad spectacle.
After a moment or so of resting in the water, Blairís body began to twitch, and clean, unblemished skin showed through the tear in her armor where the sword had gotten through. Blair began to slowly sit up, taking a deep breath, looking at her hands and arms.
"What happened?" she asked as she slowly stood. "The last thing I remember is a pain in my back."
"Fabian skewered you with a sword," said Grimwald shortly.
"Whereís Isolde?" she asked as she pulled herself out of the water, and flopped down onto the bank, frowning, drained.
"Fabian has her," said Finneas.
"Iíve been quite an idiot, havenít I?" she asked sadly, shaking her head.
"Yes, Blair, you have," said Finneas and Grimwald together.
She stared at them both with her unnerving blue eyes. "You didnít have to agree quite so quickly," she said.
Not to be cowed, they chorused, "Yes, we do."
Blair sighed miserably. "Do we at least know where sheís been taken to?"
"Castle Calador," they said in unison.
"What, have the two of you been melded together?"
Grimwald and Finneas exchanged glances. They both shook their heads, and Blair sighed and rolled her eyes.
"There is one more thing," said Finneas. "Fabian has stolen Giselleís ring. Her magic ring."
"Great," said Blair exasperated. "Does it get any worse than this?"
Grimwald and Finneas exchanged glances, but said nothing.
As they sat around in a silent circle, a voice came from the rushing water.
"Blair," said the voice, and Blair looked up.
The water sprite was forming, as it had once before.
"Yes," she said.
"Dig in the sand on the bank of the stream."
Blair got up and began to dig as the water sprite directed. In the shallow, damp earth, she found a small, ornately carved wooden box. She began to open it when the water sprite stopped her.
"No, Blair, it is not for you."
"What is it?" she asked.
"We know of your quest for Isolde, and we know how it ended. We gave Sir Fabian of Calador life, and we choose to take back the gift we bestowed on him. Inside the box you will find a stone from this river. We have reversed itís magic, so it will lay waste to all that it touches. When you have used it, return it to us."
"If I canít touch it, how do I get it out of the box and into contact with him?"
"The box is for Sir Fabian. It will protect all others from the stone, but will not protect him."
"So I just have to find some way to get this in contact with him and he will die again?"
"Sounds easy enough," said Blair thoughtfully.
"Blair," chimed in Finneas and Grimwald.
"Have you learnt nothing?" asked Grimwald. "Fabian has Giselleís ring. This is going to be more than difficult."
The water sprite coughed, and all three turned back to it.
"Promise me you will return the stone," it asked.
"Yes, I will return it personally," replied Blair.
"Thankyou Blair," said the water sprite, losing definition, as the water flowed back down to join the brook. "Remember your promise."
The wet Blair turned to her companions.
"Well gentlemen? Do you have any suggestions on how to proceed? My first ideas would be to find out what has happened to Castle Calador."
The companions lay in the grass looking up at Castle Calador. It had been restored to itís full foppish glory, standing bright and clean in the sun. There were signs of movement all over the castle. Fabian had obviously wished for his defender to rejoin him, as there were now grotesquely animated empty suits of armor standing in keen watch over the castle.
"Great," said Grimwald. "How are we going to get through those?"
"I suggest a full frontal assault," grinned the King.
"Blair," said Finneas warningly.
"Relax, I know what Iím doing. Most of the troops are outside the castle. All we really have to do is get through them and into the castle, so we can close the gate. Just follow me," she said as Finneas and Grimald winced, as they followed her back into the thick woods.
Soon they found themselves in a clearing, Blair tying branches of saplings together to form a 15 foot pole. Blair slung it over a shoulder, and made her way back to the horse. She tied the wood over the mareís withers, and turned to her companions. "Grimwald youíre going to have to ride with me. Finneas, keep up," she said, every inch a King. Both her companions scrambled to obey.
Blair assisted Grimwald onto the horse, mounted behind him, and said "Ready?"
They both nodded, and Blair spurred her horse into action. She galloped straight towards the milling armor, Grimwald leaning forward and reinforcing the wood with his strong hands. The crashed through the middle of the disorganized soldiers, shattering them. As each soldier shattered, a puff of black smoke formed over the remains, swarmed, then was sucked back down into the armor to make a whole soldier again. For those soldiers who rushed in to the fray, Blair swung her sword back and forth, smacking armor, and splitting soldiers between the joins of their armor. Finneas tackled soldiers who stood in their path. Gauntlets reached from all sides to grab the companions, one soldier standing poised and grabbing the mareís reins as she thundered past.
Her head snapped back and she skidded around, Grimwald and Blair becoming unseated. Hampered by Grimwald, Blair was only able to reach the soldier with the end of her sword, unable to do more than deal him hard nudges, causing him to stagger backward. Finneas appeared out of nowhere, and launched himself at the figure, snarling and biting, grabbing the edge of the helmet. The figure crashed to the ground, head leaving the body, puff of smoke climbing out of the body. Blair spurred her horse on with a snarl, as they continued on their reckless assault of the castle. Enough of the invaders had reformed behind her to follow them close behind, a shining, creaking, clanking pack howling down the rear of the fast galloping horse.
Grimwald and Blair hung onto the horse, gamely trying to stay in the saddle as they were jarred on all sides
by armored figures. They shot up the drawbridge into the castle where Blair pulled the reins in hard. The horse skidded to a stop in the courtyard, Blair throwing herself off and dragging the disgruntled Grimwald with her.
"Finneas, hold them back, Grimwald help me with the door," she ordered, as Finneas snapped at the armor starting to pour through the doors. Gasping and heaving, Grimwald and Blair dragged the doors shut, heaving mightily against the weight of the pieces of metal crashing down on the wood outside. Grunting and straining Blair slid the long piece of wood into the loopholes behind the door, as the horde crashed against it.
The three armored figures who had managed to make it in began attacking them. The foremost figure, an officer judging by the look of the armor, swung a mace at Blair, who barely managed to avoid it. She ducked under his defenses, and neatly severed the arm at the join at the shoulder. The arm fell off, twitching and jerking in the sandy soil, as the other arm came around and tried to grab her by the neck. She began to tear it limb from limb, until the puff of black smoke appeared. She frantically grabbed the chestplate and heaved it up over the castle wall, and the smoke appeared to moan and disperse.
Grimwald was engaged in a fight with a soldier, and copied Blairís tactics, as she kept throwing armor back over the wall. Finneas was not so lucky, his attacker holding him firmly by the neck, and appeared to be attempting to unscrew his head. He howled in pain, as Blair leapt in with her sword, neatly severing the armored head from the rest of the body. It quivered and jerked, as Finneas pulled himself free, shaking and barking at the metal figure. Grimwald jumped in and made short work of the rest of the soldier, pieces quivering and finally laying to rest in the sand.
"There," she gasped. "That wasnít so bad, now was it?"
Grimwald and Finneas glared at her.
As soon as she had spoken, a voice they all recognised and loathed rang out over the courtyard. "Blair," came the disembodied voice of Fabian.
"Uh oh," said Finneas.
"Blair," came the voice again, and Blair winced at the lilting, mocking tone.
"Where is she?" she snarled.
"Oh, sheís up here with me, in the Tower," Fabian said airily. "All you have to do is get up here."
Grimwald held up a hand to silence Blair before she could speak.
"Let me guess," he said. "Sounds easy enough, right?"
Blair opened her mouth to say something, then gave up and shrugged. Grimwald sighed.
"Alright, lead the way then," he said, waving an arm indicating that she should go first. "Where would this tower be, then?"
"We have to get to the battlements," she said. "It will be one of the turrets."
"Do you have any idea how to get there?" asked Finneas.
"Simple," said Blair. "We take the stairs you see ahead of you, and we will end up at the battlements. After that, we just guess."
"I hate it when you say that," mumbled Finneas.
Blair ignored him, and began to cross the courtyard, to the opposite corner, Grimwald and Finneas close behind, horse standing and shivering nervously next to the still crashing door. As soon as they were halfway across the courtyard, Fabian laughed, a loud jubilant, spine tingling outpouring of mirth.
Blair gasped as she tried to lift her feet, which were starting to sink in the sand. They were held fast, and she twisted and turned frantically trying to stop herself from being drawn downwards. It was not to be, and all three companions twisted and turned as they were pulled downwards. Grimwald was the first to disappear, arms outstretched towards Blair, as he frantically blew the earth out of his mouth, small puffs of it disturbing the still air as his mouth was covered and his bulbous nose began to disappear.
Finneas was the worst. He howled, a spine chilling sound, as he was slowly drawn towards the earth. Blair was gripped by terror as she felt herself drawn downwards, unforgiving earth pressed tight against her body, crushing her stomach, forcing the air from her lungs, strangling her. Her panic overcame her as the earth traveled up her chin, but her limbs were held fast against her frantic thrashing as the earth covered her firmly closed mouth, lungs spasming and heaving as she sucked a shallow breath of dusty air in through her barely free nose. Mercifully, the sound of Finneasís terror was cut off as the earth covered her ears, and she passed out as her head was slowly crushed by the cruel earth.
Slowly Blair regained her senses. The first thing that she noticed was that the frightening, constricted, crushing feeling was gone. She sat up, chest sore, and looked around her. She couldnít see anything - the space was almost pitch black, sole source of blue light shining through a door at the end of a long passage to her right. Dimly in front of her, she could make out bars, and realised at once that they were in the castle dungeons.
"Grimwald? Finneas?" said softly.
There was an answering groan from Grimwald, and a smooth "Iím here," from Finneas.
"Are you both okay?" she asked.
"Other than being frightened out of my wits, Iím fine," said Finneas smoothly.
"I feel horrible," groaned Grimwald. "Iím too old for this."
Blair heard him shift on the ground near her, the crack of his bones as he stretched mightily. "Thatís a little better," he murmured. Blair slowly and experimentally got to her feet, stretching her long body. Apart from a little superficial pain, she actually felt rather good. Slowly and carefully, she inched forward toward the bars of the cell, hearing Finneas padding up beside her.
She experimentally put her hands on the gritty bars, and shook them. They moved slightly, and she took her hands off and sniffed them experimentally.
"Theyíre rusted through," she announced, as Grimwald joined her. "Help me."
She slowly felt her way along the bars, finding the door. She got a firm gripped on it, and said to Grimwald, "When I say pull, pull."
She felt him take up a position on the other side of her, and wrap his fingers around the deteriorating metal.
"Ready," he said, as Finneas backed out of the way.
The gave a mighty tug, and the door moved.
They pulled again, and the door moved again, this time with more give.
"Again!" This time they pulled, and did not let go. Muscles straining, the felt the door quiver, then spring off itís hinges. Blair was knocked off balance, but she quickly regained her footing and caught the door, muscles bulging.
"Grimwald, move," she said. "I canít hold it for much longer!"
Grimwald scrabbled out of the way, and Blair moved around to the side, the side of the door Grimwald had been holding coming down with a mightily hollow thump. Blair backed up as far as her long legs would allow, leaning forward, supporting the heavy door easily, then let it go. It hit the stone of the cell floor with a resounding crash, and all three looked up to see the shadows at the end of the passage move.
Blair moved out of the cell quickly, wolf and dwarf at her heels. She made her way up the passage reaching the odd light source.
The second she hit the edge of the light, the shadow of the open door at the end of the passageway abruptly grew some very solid hands and dealt her a mighty blow, so she was lifted off her feet and tossed several feet back down the passage. On the way, she collected Grimwald and Finneas. They collapsed in a bone jarring, bruised heap, and scrabbled to get off each other.
"Oof, watch your elbow lass," said the Dwarf.
"Ouch, thatís my tail!"
"What is my hand on?!"
"Is that you?" asked Blair archly.
Blair leapt to her feet with superhuman speed, as did Dwarf and wolf.
"This is really getting old," sighed Blair. "Okay, lets try that again."
She strode purposefully as close to the light as she could. As soon as she approached the edge of the blue light, the shadow began to move again, and Blair hurriedly took a step back. The shadow stopped moving.
She peered into the room, and saw a lantern sitting on the floor, alone in the dust, blue flame dancing. "I think I can break that light," she said, looking around for something to throw. The stone of the floor was clear of any objects, and the door was too heavy to throw. She didnít want to lose the sword that was still strapped to her back, so she checked her boots to see if she still had the dagger she had tucked away there securely at the start of her travels. She pulled it out, tested itís weight. She experimentally flipped it, enjoying the feel of the well balanced weapon.
She aimed carefully, and threw with all her might. Her knife cleanly slipped between the shadow hands that tried to catch it, closing around empty air that had cradled the knife a mere second before, and writhed in discontent when they realised they had not caught it. Her aim was true, and the dagger smashed into the glass covering the lantern and it toppled over, candle guttering, but did not go out. Abruptly the shadows moaned, pain without a trace of humanity, and shifted around the doorway, as the candle rolled in the fragments of glass.
"Okay," muttered Blair as the ruckus subsided. "Weíll just have to try this another way." She unstrapped her sword and began to remove her leather jerkin.
"Hold on a moment, lass," said the Dwarf hurriedly, holding up his hands in protest.
"Címon," said Blair impatiently. "I have something on underneath it. After all weíve been through, youíre afraid of a little skin?" Blair, a soldier as well as a King, was not known for her modesty.
"Uh," said Grimwald, seeing the thin undershirt, showing her muscular, shapely body to good effect. He gaped, but his voice wasnít working, so couldnít say anything else.
Blair wadded it up into a tight ball, aimed carefully, and threw it at the guttering candle. She made it first go, and abruptly the room was plunged into darkness. They ran through the doorway, as the shadow moaned loudly in pain again. Abruptly, the room was bathed in a thin glow of blue light as the leather jerkin caught fire from the flame. The shadow screamed in triumph, and long arms began to grow out of the doorway and snake towards them.
Blair jumped out of the way, clutching her sword, and ran blindly towards the only other door in the room. A whisker behind them, the translucent arms followed them, and Blair hurled herself through the unlocked door, up the stairs beyond, just out of reach of the edge of the shadow formed by the light from the doorway behind them. Grimwald and Finneas followed closely behind her, and Finneas yelped when the shadow pulled a chunk of hair out of his bushy tail.
The shadow fingers snapped open and closed behind them, seeking them, thwarted by the edge of clean shadow. Finally they moaned again, and waspishly withdrew.
"That stupid flame really was designed to burn through anything," she muttered, displeased, as she eyed her white undergarment and strapped her sword on her back. "Lets get out of here." Finneas and Grimwald nodded.
They followed the slippery stairs up a landing, and hit a trapdoor. Blair pushed it, and it opened a whisker, but would go no further.
"Let me guess," said Grimwald, grinning, raising a hand, before she could say anything more. " ĎGrimwald, can you please help me with this?í "
Blair laughed, despite herself. "Would you?"
"Of course Blair."
He positioned himself beside her, and they both pushed upwards as hard as they could. Abruptly the obstruction cleared and the door shot open with a bang. They could see nothing in the darkness of the room they climbed into, but by the smell of ancient rotted food, Blair guessed they had hit the castle cellars.
"What an odd place for the door to the dungeon," said Finneas.
"From my studies of the Black Knight of Calador, that dungeon wasnít a dungeon. It was once used for other practices you donít want to know about."
"Err, oh yes, yuck," said Finneas with distaste.
Through their relief of having escaped from the dungeon and closing the trapdoor, they had failed to notice the soft scraping sound all around them. As they took stock of where they stood, Grimwald began to notice the sound, and said, "Whatís that?"
Eyes having adjusted to the dimness once more, Blair looked around herself frantically. "RATS!" she yelled.
"Letís get out of here!" yelled Finneas as the vanguard of rodent invaders reached them, clawing and chewing all in their path.
"OUCH!" yelled Blair as a rat sank itís sharp teeth into her leg. Finneas grabbed the rat and twisted as Blair yelled again when a chunk of flesh came out with itís teeth as it abruptly left her body.
"Sorry," he mumbled and began snapping the roiling, surging creatures as well as he could with his teeth.
They struggled over to the stairs of the cellar, rats surging and leaping at them, one grabbing good hold of Grimwaldís beard, another biting sharply into Blairís left arm. Grunting and heaving, they staggered up the stairs, Finneas close behind, disposing of as many of the stampeding creatures as he could. Charging up the stairs, Blair slammed the kitchen door open, allowing her friends through, then slammed it shut and held it closed with her back as she screamed in pain, the rat burrowing into her arm. Finneas made short work of it, blood splattering out of her arm and onto the floor. Grimwald gave a mighty tug with his arm and pulled the rat off his face, skin and hair coming with it. He took great delight in twisting itís neck and threw it on the ground scornfully, as it twitched and died. Blood leaking from a dozen cuts and scrapes, bleeding, bruised, the companions barricaded the door, shuddering at the sounds of the soft bodies thudding against the door, small clawed feet scrabbling against the wood. The sound turned to a scraping noise, and Blair knew they were busy chewing through the wood.
"We donít have much time," she gasped, clutching her arm, not at all concerned about her torn shirt.
They stood in an immense kitchen, huge fireplace unlit with a cold cooking pot hanging over the ashes. A huge preparation table was in front of them, rusty knives, meat cleavers and other cooking utensils lying discarded on itís dirty surface. Pots hung abandoned over the top of the table, long disused, cobwebby, filthy.
"I think I know whatís going to happen now," said Grimwald as the pots and carving knives began to shiver. At the other end of the room, a door stood invitingly open, waiting to lead them out into the short passage and into the dining hall.
Blair nodded, and began to run as objects flew at them from all directions. She grunted as a particularly large pot flew off itís hanger and crashed square into the middle of her back. She grunted and stumbled forward, onto her knees, as Grimwald and Finneas ran past her to the door. The made it out into the passage as she got to her feet, and twisted abruptly, just missing a huge wicked meat cleaver headed straight for her back. It flew with a dull whooshing sound past her nose and embedded itself quivering into the door the industrious rats were busily chewing.
More knives, forks and spoons flew at her, plus a large, heavy chopping block. She dodged most of the missiles, throwing herself flat to the ground, chopping block whizzing past her, missing by a mere matter of inches battering her head in.
As she stumblingly got to her feet and continued running, her friends shouted frantic warnings at her from both sides of the doorway where they took shelter. She did not understand them, so busy was she avoiding being diced, that one particularly rusty carving knife buried itself solidly in her shoulder blade. She moaned in pain, clutching her arm, and stumbled through the doorway, throwing herself flat as a mallet sailed over her prone body. Grimwald frantically dragged her out of the way as Finneas nosed the door shut.
Grimwald knelt over her prone body and grabbed the handle of the knife.
"This is going to hurt lass," he said.
"I know," she gasped.
"One, two, three, now!"
He pulled the knife from her body. It slid out easily, a gout of blood following it.
She rolled unsteadily onto her feet, face ashen. "By the Gods that hurt," she whispered, blue eyes bloodshot. "Letís get Isolde and get out of here."
Allowing Grimwald to lead, they went to the end of the passage, Blairís blood pattering on the stones beneath their feet. Soon they found themselves in the main hall of the castle, broken furniture littering the room, rotted tapestries of long gone Knights of Calador adorning the room.
The tapestries began to wave with an unfelt breeze.
"Oh for crying out loud," groaned Blair. "Not again. Itís such a long way to the other door."
"We canít help that, lass," said the Dwarf unenthusiastically, and Finneas grunted. "Weíre just going to have to run for it."
Blair took a deep breath to steady herself. She was weak from loss of blood, and knew she couldnít run that fast anymore. "Okay," she said gamely. "Letís go."
Head down, she bolted for the other side of the room, Finneas quickly overtaking her, Grimwald just behind her to make sure she made it. One by one the tapestries fell off the walls, flopping and flapping towards them like demented, grotesque amputees. They were huge and couldnít travel that fast, so the companions quickly outran them, but Grimwald tripped over one of the flapping decorations, unable to jump it as Blair had done. Quickly he found himself in the clutches of what seemed to be a huge material boa constrictor.
"Blair, lass!" he yelled, arms stuck by his sides, sound muffled by the moldy cloth. Blair whirled around, seeing a roll of roiling cloth, Dwarfís thick legs sticking out the end. It squeezed and tightened as Blair raced over. Ignoring the pain in her injured limb, she reached down and grabbed the end and tried to tug it apart. It tore easily, considering itís rotted condition. She quickly grabbed the groaning dwarf out of itís twitching folds, as more of the demon cloth came flopping and sliding towards them.
Blair let forth a string of curses in several languages as she tried to help the coughing, disoriented dwarf to his feet. They stumbled back to the door, Blair dragging the old Dwarf with her. At that moment, the faint sounds of scrabbling feet sounded in the distance, echoing in the huge room as the unusual acoustics brought the sound to them, and Blair knew the rats were trying to get through the other door of the kitchen.
Blair sighing with relief when they hit the other doorway, Grimwald straight behind.
The trip to the courtyard was a nightmare journey of hands from the walls, persistent tapestries, and the distant sounds of ravenous rats. Blair led the way back out into the courtyard, dreading the quicksand they had found themselves in at the start. There was no sign of Blairís horse, but she put it out of her head as a problem for another time, after they had gotten Isolde. She just hoped the horse was alright.
This time they did not cross the courtyard direct, the steadily weakening Blair leading them around the edges to the stairs leading to the battlements. They mounted the stairs, just in time to see the living tapestries follow them with great caterpillar like movements out into the courtyard. Grimwald was the only one who saw this, and didnít mention it to the others. He reasoned that they were far enough ahead of the demonic cloth so it would not catch up to them.
Finally they reached the battlements, and Blair stopped, leaning over and breathing hard.
"I wonder what next?" she asked of no one in particular.
"I am never going to another castle as long as I live," said Grimwald, sitting down and trying to still his frantically beating heart.
"I donít really want to know what comes next," mumbled Finneas. "Rats, knives, tapestries, rocks? What goes on in that manís mind?"
"I donít think any of us want to know that," said Blair. "If heís hurt her Ö"
She allowed the thought to trail off. Grimwald and Finneas didnít need reminders of what the angry, super competent King could do to the Black Knight of Calador.
As they caught their breath, Grimwald and Finneas eyed each of the corner turrets. One of them was surrounded by an unearthly white sheen, clearly the one where Fabian had Isolde hidden.
Blair followed them meekly as they led the way up the stairs to the tower.
When they reached the top, the door was open, and they sat back for a second, Blair breathing hard from exhaustion and loss of blood.
"Plan of attack?" questioned Finneas.
"Judging by how weíve been going so far, jump right on in and take our luck," said Grimwald before Blair could respond.
"Hmm, I thought so," said Finneas. "Any further comments, friend Blair?"
Blair glared at the two of them. "No, not really."
"Well," said Grimwald hurriedly. "We have a madman armed with a witchís ring, and no real defense except for Blairís sword. What else are we supposed to do?"
"I donít know," said Finneas airily. "How about at least taking a sneak peak through the doorway to try and find out whatís in there first?"
"Gentlemen," broke in Blair. "Isolde is in there, and I have to get her out - it will kill me if I donít. All we have to do is throw the water spriteís stone at Fabian, and it will kill him. How hard can it be?"
Grimwald and Finneas both stared at her.
"Okay, okay," said Blair, nodding her head and waving her hands at them in exasperation. "But if you have any better ideas, nowís the time." She stared at them expectantly.
Grimwald and Finneas both stared at her, not willing to admit that she was right.
"Itís settled then. Full frontal attack." Blair straightened and squared her shoulders, grimly setting her chin, and walked the rest of the way up the stairs, toward the pale white glow.
Once they reached the doorway, they hid outside and stared in. Blair carefully extracted the box from the waistband of her trousers, only dimly aware of a scrabbling sound coming up the stairs behind her.
The room was square, and empty except for cobwebs and dust. In the center floated a sphere, Isolde sitting rigidly cross-legged, hands on knees in the center. Her face was pale, too pale Blair could see from her vantage point just outside the door. Fabian was standing right in front of the sphere, dressed from head to toe in black, elegant hands gesturing, clearly attempting to engage her in conversation. His voice was too low to be heard. On either side of Fabian stood two huge dogs, the source of the unearthly glow, still as statues, fiery red eyes scanning for intruders. Abruptly one sniffed the air, zeroed in on the doorway, and growled. It was a loud, low sound, deep in timbre, and much more vicious than could ever have come from an ordinary animal.
Fabian wheeled around, handsome face exasperated, expression changing to a cold, calculating stare, lips curved in a cruel grin, wickedness shining forth clearly from his glacier blue eyes.
"Come in, come in," he said with gruesome joviality, waving them forward. Abruptly Blair felt something pulling her forward into the room, and all three were dragged, resisting, into the chamber before Fabian. As they were being pulled forward, the dogs began barking, deep, echoing, earsplitting sounds, bouncing off the walls of the chamber, threatening to shatter eardrums.
"Silence!" said Fabian in his impatient, petulant voice. Abruptly, the cries ceased.
"Blair? Is it really you?" came Isoldeís tremble voice from the sphere, taking in Blairís blood and state of near undress, and more importantly the fact that she was alive. Blair smiled encouragingly, despite herself, at the beautiful young princess, kneeling toward her in the sphere, face shining with joy and love.
"Isolde," said Blair, transfixed by the vision of her love. "Yes, itís really me my love."
"I hate to interrupt," interrupted Fabian with great displeasure. "As I told you before Blair, she is mine, and Iím going to kill you. Get her!"
Abruptly the demons sprang forth at their temporary masterís command, and leapt for the companions. One tackled Blair, and as she was knocked flat on her back, air whooshing out of her lungs, box thrown from her fingers, to roll to an uneven stop underneath the sphere. Finneas sprang to intercept the second who was just launching itself at Grimwald. They rolled around on the floor, in a blaze of snapping white teeth, growling and earsplitting barks.
Grimwald leapt into the fray with Blair, strong arms around the neck of the demon, struggling to keep itís snapping jaws from closing around Blairís soft, unprotected throat. Fabian and Isolde watched the struggles, one with patronizing triumph, the other with terror, as the scrabbling sounds that had been plaguing the companions increased in volume.
Blair was slowly being overcome by the demon, despite the assistance of Grimwald. She felt her quivering arm muscles slowly giving out, blood from the scrapes bestowed by raking claws weakening her, vision starting to go gray as her consciousness left her.
Abruptly the room was filled with a million roiling, charging bodies of rats. They swarmed all over the struggling companions, seeking soft flesh to devour. A dozen or so launched themselves as the disgusted Fabian, clawing and munching him all over. One bit directly into his hand, severing fingers, blood spurting in all directions. As the finger within the ring was torn from his body, the unrest ceased, and a thousand animals suddenly stopping their frantic forward charges, sitting on haunches, quivering expectantly. The demons struggling with Finneas, Grimwald and Blair abruptly left them and went to stand near the ring.
"Fabian, Black Knight of Calador," said a disembodied male voice, deep, full of raw power, and oddly gentle. Blair fuzzily realised the sound was coming from Giselleís ring.
Fabian moaned, and rolled around the floor clutching his disintegrated hand.
"I did what I was constrained to do by your will. Now you will pay for misusing my powers," continued the voice. "Grasp the box."
Unwillingly, sobbing and moaning, Fabian reached forward, sweating, for the box, discarded below the sphere. He began to scream denial and tried to stop his outstretched good hand from grabbing the box. Still struggling, his hands closed around the ornate object.
Nothing happened for a moment, then slowly he began to scream in terror and pain as a dozen weeping cracks opened all over his face. His clothes became wet and sticky with his blood as the cuts wept blood, puss and clear fluid. Suddenly he began to smoke, eyes becoming a full white as they boiled in his sockets. The air was filled with the smell of burning body as his flesh was slowly, so slowly cooked from within. He screamed and screamed and screamed, even as he turned black, red hair blackening in the heat. Finally his screams ceased as his vocal cords rotted away with the blistering attack, and his body became still as it darkened, then blackened. Finally, blue flame arose from the remains, which charred, then blew away on an unseen wind.
All adventurers pale and ill, were spellbound, fighting not to vomit at the vile smell of burnt flesh. Finally the ring spoke again.
"Finneas Flamebolt," said the ring. "Take me."
Finneas lurched forward on unsteady feet, and grasped the ring off the bloody, spongy mess that had once been fingers.
As soon as the brightly polished ring was in his mouth, his body began to bulge and roil out of shape. The clear yellow eyes lost their luster and glazed in death, to the cries of "No Finneas!" from Blair and Grimwald. The wolf keeled over to one side, still twitching, as his dull coat bulged and finally split in a dozen places.
A bloody hand peaked out of one of the huge tears which had formed, and fingered the air. An equally bloody, sodden arm followed it, questing to release itself, as Blair and Grimwald paddled backwards. Out of the sodden muck , a head followed, then finally the rest of the man, coated in distasteful fluids, grinning. Finneas Flameboltís voice sprang forward in a triumphant laugh.
"Grimwald! Blair! Itís me Finneas! The spell is undone!" he cried, leaping up and laughing, the remains of the wolf pelt snagged around his middle. He looked down at his hands, the ring safely encircling his ring finger.
"Now itís time to undo some of the wrong we have done," he said, handsome face becoming somber. First you, Isolde."
He turned to the sphere, which floated gently to the ground, then burst with a bang. Isolde looked around her, relishing her freedom, then ran to Blair who had slowly gotten to her feet. Isolde threw herself into the joyous Blairís arms, and kissed her resoundingly, whispering words of love, as Finneas laughed in joy.
"Begone," said Finneas to the rats and the demons. Suddenly the rats became rats again and scurried off to find dark resting places. The demons quivered and howled in fear, crawling towards Finneas on their bellies as they became translucent and finally disappeared as they began to lick his bloody feet.
"Finneas," said Grimwald shakily, finally able to find his vocal cords. "Who are you?"
"A thousand years ago, I was a great magician, very powerful, but very vain. I was complacent with my magic, and Giselle saw this. She tricked me and stole my ring, gaining my power and turning me into a wolf. I stayed that way until I could find someone who could battle Giselle and live. I traveled the world over, learning my lesson of humility, and heard of Calador and Isolde. I traveled in haste to attempt to regain my ring and assist Isolde, but was too late. I was forced to continue travelling until I found Isoldeís soulmate, the only one with the power to defeat Giselle. Thankyou friend Blair."
"No, thankyou," said Blair, finally able to draw her eyes away from Isolde, if regretfully. "Without your help I would never have found Isolde."
Finneas laughed, and saluted Blair.
Then Isolde pulled Blairís head down for yet another deep, heartfelt kiss, tears in eyes. "I thought Iíd lost you," she said softly when they broke for air, snuggling into Blairís chest, never wanting to let her go.
"You would have, were it not for Grimwald and Finneas," she said, loving the feel of Isolde in her arms, souls tightly entwined. "I love you with all my heart and soul Isolde. Will you be my Queen?"
"Yes Blair, I will be your Queen," said Isolde, holding onto her tightly, listening to the sound of Blairís strong, even heartbeat.
"Finneas why didnít your ring say anything when Giselle was killed?" asked Grimwald, trying to give the lovers some measure of privacy.
"The witch held it in thrall and harnessed itís powers - that was the brew you saw. I was disorientated after the ice held me in thrall, and Fabian beat me to it. Fabian used the ring, but it only did what he told it to, because it must obey the person wearing it. If they use it for good, all is well. If not Ö" Finneasí voice trailed off, not needing to remind the Dwarf of the consequences of misuse of magic.
Finneas healed Blairís wounds, and teleported them back to the stream, to fulfill their promise to return the stone to the water sprite. He then led them back to Blairís Kingdom, all citizens lining the streets, cheering with joy at their noble Kingís return with her young Queen. Grimwald and Finneas stayed for the celebration of the wedding, then they took their regretful leave of the blissfully happy couple to go and pursue the matter of Grimwaldís mine.
And they all lived happily ever after.
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