Lord Rutherford's Quest | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Fantasy Bookmark and Share

Lord Rutherford's Quest

LORD RUTHERFORD’S QUEST Dallas Releford Months after the fall of the evil Magician Gernald and his wicked knights on Iron Mountain, trouble came again to the Kingdom of Wineland. News of the fall of Gernald and his evil empire spread throughout the land like wildfire as well as the news about the wedding of King Conall Rutherford and Princess Sheela Valgarg. The talk of the peasants as well as the chatter of the well to do was mostly centered around how beautiful the princess was and how dashing King Conall Rutherford appeared. Lord Rutherford had not been officially declared King of Wineland until after the wedding. With several great events to celebrate, the ceremonies and jubilation continued for many days. Among their blessings—as pointed out many times by the new king—were the defeat of the Valkins, the rescue of the princess, restoration of a Rutherford to the throne and of course, the wedding of Lord Rutherford and Princess Valgarg. After months of peace, tranquility and happiness in the busy realm, things settled back into their mundane daily routine with one of the issues being discussed was the name of the kingdom. The castle, and the kingdom had been named Wineland because wild grapes grew in great abundance. King Rutherford thought that a more suitable name should be bestowed on the growing and prosperous land. Sitting on his throne one day in the great hall with Princess Valgarg, now Queen Sheela Rutherford beside him, he posed the question to his court and his advisors. Some wanted to call the kingdom, Rutherland while others made various suggestions, none of them tickled the kings fantasy and so the argument continued well into the afternoon. As voices filled the great hall, a knight with a worried look on his face entered the hall through the great wooden doors on the east side. Unnoticed, he approached Sir Anson Niall who was now Lord Anson Niall, one of the kings most trusted knights and close friend. “What is this news you bring,” he asked of the knight who was whispering nervously trying to make himself heard over the roar of chatter in the hall. “Speak up, man. I cannot hear a word you’re saying.” The knight stepped closer. His face was as pallid as a ghost on a cold frosty morning. “Trouble has come,” he said. “Gernald is back. News of his appearance has come from villages to the north where he leads a great army into our land from the west. They are gruesome creatures with wings and long sharp talons resembling those of an eagle. Their bodies are covered with hair and it is rumored that they look like the great apes we have heard travelers speak of.” “Nay,” Lord Niall said. “We killed him the night we attacked his castle on Iron Mountain. You were there and you saw the castle disappear when the lightning from the terrible storm Wizard Bien Kambell conjured up struck King Rutherford’s mighty sword that he had planted on top of Gernald’s wicked castle. The energy from the storm was too much for the evil forces that dwelled in the mountain so the castle and everything in it vanished. How can this be? Gernald is dead, believe me, and this is just a trick to haunt us, to trick us.” “The villagers and others have described him to my men,” the knight insisted. “If what they say is true, this is the same Gernald we thought perished in the castle.” “The king will have to be told,” Lord Niall said despondent because he didn’t want to interrupt his happiness with bad news. “Many have claimed that Gernald is not human at all,” he said as he walked toward the king and his queen. “Some say that he is not of this world.” His voice trailed off to a quiet whisper as his face became contorted with horror. “This cannot be true,” King Rutherford said as Lord Niall followed him into his chambers and closed the door behind them. This kind of news had to be kept secret for as long as possible. Having Gernald in the kingdom with an army was more than likely to induce panic. The last thing he needed was more trouble than he could handle. Most of his army was still in the south near Iron Mountain attempting to convince the wild tribes that lived there to join them and become part of Wineland. So far, their efforts had only been marginally successful. The villagers in the area saw an opportunity to enjoy their freedom and weren’t willing to give it up quickly. “Did the knight say exactly where this army is located? How close is it? How much time do we have to prepare?” Wearily, Lord Niall walked over to the window, rested his hands on the sill and stared out at the courtyard below. “Only about two days ride,” he said. “That means they’re in the northern villages and will be here in less than two days.” “Not much time,” Lord Rutherford replied with a worried look on his face as he walked up beside Lord Niall and gazed out the window at the meadows beyond. “We’ll have to recall knights from other parts of the kingdom leaving those villages virtually unprotected. We may be able to withstand a siege for a couple of months depending on how ferocious Gernald’s creatures are, but after that I have my doubts. We must begin preparations right away for our defense. You know what to do, Lord Niall. I’m depending on you. Meanwhile, I’ll try to come up with a solution. Tell the wizard I want to see him.” “You’re not going to listen to Old Bien Kambell again, are you, Your Majesty?” “We have little choice,” King Rutherford replied turning away from the window. Resting his strong frame on a thick wooden table, he rubbed his beard wondering what the wizard could do against another wizard that seemed invincible. “He did come up with a way to defeat him before. Maybe he can do it again?” “Possible,” Lord Niall replied. Walking over to a high back chair, he sat down and looked at the floor. “He does seem to enjoy a good challenge. The only thing that worries me is that he seems to be troubled these days and mumbles to himself. The only time I’ve seen him was at your wedding and he seemed as if something was bothering him. He hardly spoke to me.” “Perhaps he was thinking about a spell,” King Rutherford said. “His mind is always working. At least, we can say that about him.” “True,” Niall agreed. “Let’s hope he can come up with something. Well, I’ll deliver your message. Then, I’ll start preparations here for defending the castle.” “Excellent,” Lord Rutherford said. “I knew I could depend on you. I should send Queen Sheela away except I figure she will be safer here where I can protect her.” “That is true also,” Niall said. “Gernald would be happy if he could get his evil hands on her again. We would be at his mercy.” “That is indeed a good point,” King Rutherford said, “and a warning that must not be heeded lightly. Put extra guards around her at all times and take all precautions to see that she is protected. If things should get really bad, make arrangements to escape with her and a contingent of knights. Use the tunnels that run under the courtyard. Not many know of them and she will be safe if you can get to Seiner Castle on the other side of the mountains. King Lerne owes me a few favors and his is a powerful kingdom.” “I was already thinking the same thing myself,” Lord Niall said as he arose and left the room. Standing in the doorway, he said, “She will be safe. I’ll give my life to see that she is safe.” “Let’s hope it never comes to that. It is better to be prepared in any case.” Lord Niall left the room, closed the door and Lord Rutherford found himself alone to think and worry about his latest problem. It wasn’t long until a knock at the door disturbed his thoughts. “Come in,” he said loudly. The door opened and Old Bien Kambell stuck his head around the door. “I heard you needed me, Your Majesty,” he said. “Your face is grim and I can tell that your heart is heavy with worry. Niall had bad news. Bad news indeed and its name is Gernald.” “Yes, I’m afraid so,” Lord Rutherford said pacing back and forth from the window to the desk pausing occasionally to look out the window. A cool October wind washed his face and he turned away from the window shivering. “Did Lord Niall tell you all?” “Yes, most of it. I’m as puzzled as everyone else.” “How can Gernald be alive? What does he want?” “Gernald? He is a demon. No other explanation exists. He wants the kingdom to rule as his own and the hand of your queen. He would have thousands of humans to do his bidding and the wealth that you have accrued. He is pure evil, a devil from somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth that has been summoned forth to torture us. Defeating a demon such as he will not be easy, if it is possible at all.” King Rutherford turned to the old man and said, “Bien, we have no choice. If we are to survive, we must defeat him. Our very lives depend on being able to end his life now and forever. Where does he come from? What is he? How can we kill him? Those are the questions we must find answers to.” “Great questions,” Bien replied. “I have heard that he comes from the dark place and after he escaped from that castle, I now believe it. As for what he wants, I’ve already told you that. Killing him is probably impossible. There is another answer.” “What is that?” “I have heard for many years that an evil witch lives on Crystal Mountain in the Valley of the Magic Springs and that she knows magic that will send any demon from this world. They call her Hanibel Grein. Very few have ever seen her and those that have seen her went mad. If you can believe their senseless mumblings, she lives in a cave at the top of the mountain that is made of rock that looks like dark glass. There are trees, bushes and grass there, as I have heard, except the earth is as dark as her eyes. You cannot look into those eyes without going mad. Men who have seen her have said that and they all were mad.” “Mad? Mad men aren’t to be believed,” King Rutherford said. “What evil magic makes them mad?” “She has hair that looks like small green snakes and her eyes are the doorway to the dark place. Bleeding boils cover her body and worms crawl out of her mouth. Great clouds of poisonous vapor come from her mouth and nose when she breathes. Her touch is as cold as ice and to be touched by her causes freezing. She is a horrible person to look upon.” King Rutherford thought about what the wizard had said for a few minutes. “How can we enlist her aid if—” Before the king could finish talking loud screams from the great hall downstairs interrupted his thoughts and his words. “What is that?” “It’s coming from below,” the wizard said rushing to the door. When he opened it, the sounds of distress were louder. As he rushed down the tall stairs, the king followed him. At the bottom of the spiraling stairway, Bien Kambell stopped abruptly nearly causing the king to spill into him. The wizard looked in the direction from which the screams were coming. In front of them was the great hall extending in both directions. Across the hall was the Kings Room where King Rutherford held court, talked to his advisors and sat on his throne with Queen Sheela when they weren’t spending as much time together as possible. On the other side of the hall were the guard’s quarters, sleeping rooms for guests and the kitchen and dining room. The screams were coming from the Kings Room. Brushing past the old wizard, King Rutherford made his way through a crowd that had gathered in the hall outside the Kings Room. As they made way for him, he could hear several women screaming, men talking and the occasional yell of alarmed men. Another crowd, obviously members of his court were gathered around someone on the floor. Hether Dilsted, Queen Sheela’s servant rushed to the king wringing her hands and with a solemn look on her face when she saw him. “What goes on here?” he asked her as she stood in front of him, speechless. “What is wrong? Speak up.” Bowing her head, she pointed toward the crowd in front of the throne. “The Queen is dead, I fear,” she whispered. Before he could respond, she turned and ran toward the crowd. As the king approached with a heavy heart wondering if such a thing could really be true, the others stood back revealing Queen Sheela Rutherford lying on the cold stone floor with a white sheet over her body. Her face was uncovered and even from a distance he could see that her face was as pallid as the silk sheet. Kneeling beside her, he placed his hand on her throat and could not feel a pulse. Her eyes were wide open, her beautiful lips were pale and he could not hear or feel her breathing when he leaned next to her. It is true, he thought sadly, she is dead. Her sky blue eyes stared past him to the ceiling high above his head. With a heavy heart, he turned hoping the wizard would be nearby. Bien Kambell walked over and knelt beside him. King Rutherford could not meet is gaze. Instead, he looked at Lord Niall who had not left the castle to do as the king commanded. “Wizard, can she truly be dead?” he asked brushing his eyes with the back of his hand lest tears flow down his face. He had to be strong, he told himself. The kingdom depended on him now. The wizard went through the same motions as the king himself had done. Feeling of her arms for a pulse, touching her throat and feeling of her hands for a sign of life, he finally shook his head. “The advisor that handles such things said she is dead. I don’t know and won’t know until we have more information. What happened to her? How did this tragedy befall her?” Lord Niall took her hand in his and looked at the king and then at Bien Kambell. “I was just getting ready to leave after talking to two of my knights. I heard a disturbance at the window. Queen Sheela was sitting at the long table over there talking with her maids and servants giving them instructions for the ball tonight. As I turned around, I saw a great blackbird—a raven with shiny wings, beady little black eyes and a long beak—fly through the window. The bird landed on the table and began talking to the queen. She seemed tantalized by his ability to speak. Shocked, I began walking toward the table feeling a sense of urgency to kill the bird. Before I could get to her, the bird pecked at her and tore into her hand. The cut is still there where it left a slash on her hand. One of the other knights drew his sword and attacked the bird. It got away. The window was still open and it flew right through it.” “What happened next?” the king asked. “What did Queen Sheela do?” Lord Niall rubbed his beard and spoke as the others listened intently. “She screamed, jumped up from the table and before she took more than two steps, she collapsed onto the floor. We rushed to her and found her just as she is now.” “What did that bird say?” the wizard asked. “Nobody seems to have understood him, except the queen,” Lord Niall replied. “If indeed she did understand him, whatever he said must have frightened her.” “She screamed,” Bien Kambell said. “That is proof enough for me.” Without another word, he leaned forward and looked into her beautiful face. Looking into her glassy eyes, he touched her lips and then smiled. “She is not dead,” he declared to the spellbound audience. “The queen is sleeping.” “What? Impossible,” King Rutherford roared. “What sort of magic is this? She does not breathe, nor speak, so how can she be alive?” “A spell,” Bien Kambell declared. “The bird had poison on his beak. I can smell it on her. I have smelled this odor before.” “Who would do this?” Lord Niall asked. “Why would anyone do this to my queen, my love?” King Rutherford asked. “Gernald,” Bien Kambell said. “He poisoned the queen causing her to sleep. I would guess that you will be receiving one of his knights with a list of his demands soon.” The king hung his head as he realized the gravity of what the wizard had said. “How can you be sure she is only sleeping?” “I’ve seen the results of this poison before,” the wizard assured him. “Only the best of wizards and witches know how to use it. It only takes a drop of the poison to put a human or animal to sleep.” “Is there no cure?” King Rutherford placed his hand on Bien Kambells’s shoulder. “Tell me the truth, Wizard. Is there an antidote?” The wizard shook his head wondering if he should tell him or not. If he told him of the antidote, the king would ride into more danger than he had ever faced before. If he didn’t tell him then the queen had little chance of surviving without the antidote Gernald would be more than willing to give them, if they did as he demanded. “There is an antidote,” Kambell said. “It is not easy to acquire.” “I will give all the gold in my kingdom for the safe revival of my queen,” King Rutherford said. “Tell me what you desire. It is yours.” “I desire nothing, Your Majesty,” the wizard declared in a sad voice. “It is only that you must find the magic spring and bring some of the water back to give to the queen. Unfortunately, the evil witch Hanibel Grein guards the mountain and the valley. Anyone entering the magic valley is at her mercy.” “If it will bring my queen back to me, I’ll give her all the gold she wants,” he promised. “Gold will not buy the witch,” the wizard said. Desperate for an answer, King Rutherford raised his hand and formed a fist. “I will take a thousand knights, nay, ten thousand and slay the witch if she does not give me what I want.” “I doubt that ten thousand knights could overcome her magic,” the wizard warned. “This witch is more powerful than Grenald and myself combined. Her magic is indeed strong. She has small, evil creatures with very sharp arrows guarding the valley and her at all times. You will have a better chance with only a couple of companions. I choose to be one of those that accompany you. You will need my advice and incantations. Perhaps together, we can convince her to help us.” “Why should the old crone help us?” Lord Niall asked and the question seemed reasonable enough to the rest of them. “What have we got that we could trade for the life of the princess?” They all shook their heads as silence reigned in the Kings Room. None of them knew the answer to the perplexing question. “We shall have to ask her,” King Rutherford finally said. “Take the queen to her room and make her comfortable. Wizard, how long do we have to find this witch and bring back the magic water?” “Not more than three days,” he reckoned. “Gernald is sure to send a messenger to see you. That will take about two or three days. We must have the antidote and be back here before he arrives or Gernald will know we are up to something.” The king rubbed his beard as if in deep thought. Finally, he said, “Why doesn’t Gernald take the castle? Why does he have to hold the threat of death of the queen over our heads? If he is so powerful, why dither with the queen’s life?” “Why go to all that trouble of attacking our castle and our brave knights—risk his life—if he can do it so easily?” The wizard looked at King Rutherford with a questioning expression on his old face. “I guess you are right,” King Rutherford admitted. “He obviously likes to do things dramatically, or the easy way. Well, let’s get ready to head out. I’ll take you and Lord Niall with me, Wizard. We will have to leave Sir Guane in charge while we are gone. Lord Niall, bring ten of your best knights with us. We may need them.” “That I will do,” Lord Niall said grateful that he would be accompanying his king. “Would it be wise to send a small force to keep an eye on Gernald, Your Majesty?” “That would be wise,” King Rutherford agreed. “We must know what he is doing. Will he move his forces toward us before he finds out if we agree to his terms or not? That information will be useful. Keep an eye on them, but take no action unless attacked. We don’t want him to know what we’re planning.” Lord Niall nodded his head in agreement and proceeded down the hallway to make arrangements for the trip and to obey the kings other commands. * * * King Rutherford followed them as they carried the queen to her bedroom. While servants made her as comfortable as possible, he stood over her watching for any sign of life. Not seeing any, he leaned over and kissed her lips silently praying she would be all right. Knowing that time was important, he caressed her forehead, ran his fingers through her long, silky blonde hair and whispered words of encouragement to her. His words held notes of sadness in them and he tried to refrain from crying as tears formed in the corners of his eyes. Seeing the normally energetic queen so close to death disheartened him. It was as if a fiery sword had been plunged into his very heart. Despite his emotional trauma, he kept telling himself that he had to be strong, that he must do everything to save his queen and that he must defeat the wicked Gernald once and for all time. Gernald must be driven back to where he came from never to return again. Confident that his words to his queen had reached her ears and that his words of love were now solidly in her mind, he made sure that guards had been adequately placed around the palace and around her bedroom before walking out into the courtyard where Lord Niall and the others waited for him. Dressed in chain mail, a shiny suit of armor that covered most of his body and endowed in a red tunic with his coat of arms displayed proudly over the armor, he mounted his horse and led the procession across the courtyard, through the great castle gate and toward a land he wasn’t sure they would return from, if they found it. The wizard rode on one side of him and Lord Niall on his right side as he always did. The knights followed in two columns. With red banners fluttering in the cool breeze, they made a spectacle that many villagers along the way stopped to watch. As the castle and village disappeared over the horizon behind them, King Rutherford turned his thoughts to what lay ahead of them. “Bien, this Valley of the Magic Springs you spoke of, how do we get to it?” “Your Majesty,” Bien Kambell said urging his horse closer to him so he could be heard above the noise of hoofs pounding against stone, “we go north to the river and follow it northeast until the valley widens. Then, we travel toward the Glacion Mountains. Somewhere there before we get to the mountains, we will find the river that will lead to the Valley of the Magic Springs. The Crystal Mountain is somewhere in that valley supposedly close to the springs. Some say the springs are on the side of that mountain and are guarded by the witch.” “Have you never been there?” Lord Niall asked glancing at the wizard. “Have you gotten these directions from strangers?” Before the wizard could answer a dark cloud appeared ahead of them and hung just above the horizon. A great roar nearly deafened them as the cloud came in their direction. “What is this?” King Rutherford asked pulling his sword and holding it high above his head pushing it up toward the sky. “Wizard, what is it we see?” “Trickery,” the wizard answered. “The witch or maybe Gernald knows we are coming. Those are bees.” Pulling a golden wand from his bag on the back of the horse, he waved it before them while chanting words that seemed to dissipate almost as soon as he said them. As he spoke the enchanting language, the cloud grew closer until they could see the bees. Lord Rutherford raised his shield hoping to protect himself from their fury. The horses became nervous and fidgety. “Hold. Do not run from them,” the wizard warned. “They will vanish in a few minutes.” “By that time, I fear we may be stung to death,” Lord Niall yelled as the bees flew around them. “Already, I can feel them on my face and see their stingers searching for my skin.” “Quit being such a wimp,” the wizard advised him. “They’ll be gone as soon as your head clears. It isn’t real at all. The witch is just sending us a warning message letting us know that she is aware of us.” “Does she greet all her friends that way?” Lord Niall asked as the bees began to disappear as if they had never been there. “Am I to believe that she hopes to scare us away?” King Rutherford asked. “If so, I do not scare that easy.” The wizard looked across the wide green valley that was just feeling the first cold days of October and grinned. Soon, the grass that was already turning brown in places would be covered with snow. In the mountains, he knew, snow could come early and they must complete their quest and head back home. “A warning,” he said. “When she really gets serious, you will be more than scared as will we all.” Saying nothing more, the king rode down the trail into the valley with the others following him. The trail followed the contour of several hills until it finally dropped down into the valley floor where a mighty river rushed from mountains in the distance past them. They followed the river for a long time before finally coming to another mountain that rose high into the sky. “Is this it?” the king asked as he halted his mount and sat looking at the tall mountain that sloped gently upward until its peak was lost in fluffy white clouds. A forest covered the side of the mountain and seemed to end about halfway up the side of the towering mass. “Could be,” the wizard declared shielding his eyes from the sun that was shining brightly overhead. As he spoke dark clouds covered the sun and droplets of rain fell on them. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed so loudly it shook the very earth their mounts stood on. “The witch is at it again,” he added. “Is this the best she can do? A little rain and wind never hurt anybody.” Lord Niall grinned as the rain fell harder. “Well, we might get wet.” Another great roar sounding like a great rushing wind was heard from behind them. As they twisted their tired bodies around to see what was causing the clamor, they were horrified to see a great dark beast coming up the valley toward them. “Nay, that is the best she can do,” the wizard yelled trying to make himself heard above the thunder and wind that was almost deafening. None of them had ever seen such a horrifying creature in all their lives. Fire-breathing dragons, stinging scorpions the size of horses or a snake with six heads had never been as frightening as the beast they now faced. Resembling a lizard that walked on its hind legs, it had a large head with an enormous mouth, giant sharp teeth and its long arms ended in hands that had claws that looked as sharp as a sword blade. It had three long tails that ended in sharp stingers. The tails swirled around and cut through the air as it ran toward them as if searching for soft flesh. Its beady eyes were small and four long tendrils grew from its forehead. They flailed about with their vicious stingers as if they each were a separate entity searching for a body into which they would inject its poison. As it ran, they could see others of its kind behind it through the thick sheet of rain. King Rutherford drew his sword and attempted to prepare his mind to do battle. The other knights formed a circle around him and the king urged his horse out of the protective circle and made ready for the attack. “Well, Wizard,” Lord Niall yelled, “how long will it take for you to make this one vanish before our eyes?” “Never,” the wizard shouted. “This one is for real. It’s not something you see that isn’t there to see.” “What? What can we do? We cannot hope to defeat that thing.” Lord Niall yelled back at him. “Do something.” “That’s not all of our worries,” Bien Kambell said pointing down the valley toward the river. As he spoke and shuddered at what he saw, large creatures were crawling out of the river. They had long slimy bodies and large, long mouths with sharp teeth. Their legs were long and they were fast. “Up the hill, into the forest,” the wizard shouted above the eerie screeching calls of the creatures coming at them from the river. From the other side of them they could hear the mighty roar of the creatures with stingers in their tails. King Rutherford was thinking almost as fast as his heart was beating, a feat that he thought he could not accomplish while so terrified that his blood felt as if it were as cold as ice. Finally, he made his mind up. They were trapped between two dangerous foes that could annihilate them without any problem at all. Ready to fight for his queen, he wanted to charge right at the large beasts and destroy them except he knew they didn’t have a chance of defeating death from two directions at once. “Into the trees,” he said loud enough for all to hear him. “Maybe we can either escape them or use the trees as cover.” As they turned their horses toward the mountain and the welcoming shelter of the trees, their hope vanished as quickly as it had been created. Riding from out of the shelter of the trees, galloping down the slope were hordes of naked women riding giant beasts similar to their own horses except they had large horns sticking out of their foreheads and flames blazed from their nostrils. Their mounts had long, large heads with sharp uneven teeth that appeared as if they could rip through armor like a sword cutting mud. Seeing the danger in front of them, the knights turned their horses around and stopped abruptly once they were reminded that they were completely surrounded by death. King Rutherford and Lord Niall sat spellbound as they watched the women with flaming swords in their hands. “This cannot be,” Lord Rutherford said. “What kind of magic is this?” The wizard rode up beside him looking at the approaching female army. His eyes widened when he saw what had paralyzed the king. “Do not believe what you see,” he told the king although he was not sure of his own words. “That cannot be. You know that the queen is back in your own castle. She cannot be here.” “Yet she is,” he declared. “This is not possible.” With their world ending all around them, they sat on their mounts looking at dozens of naked women that were the exact facsimile of Queen Sheela Rutherford. “Perhaps you are right,” King Rutherford finally admitted. “Wizard, what can we do now? Can you do nothing?” “Nothing can I do,” he said. “This magic is much too powerful for me. We are doomed.” “Great Wizard? Bah,” Lord Niall said. “You said it wouldn’t be easy. You said nothing about it being impossible.” The wizard said nothing. “There is something,” he said. “Something that we might do.” “What is that? Have you a plan?” King Rutherford asked. “Attack. Fight,” the wizard replied. “Just do as I say. Attack the monsters to our flank first. Try to get to their soft bellies. Kill the first one, the largest one. He is clearly the leader.” “What? You want us to attack when we’re outnumbered a hundred to one?” Lord Niall said as he fought to keep his mount under control. The lighting and the smell of death in the air frightened all the animals. “Well, if I must die for my love then let it be here,” King Rutherford yelled as he kicked his mount in the sides and rushed forward. The others pulled their swords and followed with a mighty yell that was heard even above the thunder, the screams of the women warriors, the creatures from the river and the beasts from the hills. As rain fell making the ground muddy and slick, King Rutherford galloped ahead of the others with his mighty sword held out in front of him. He knew he was not going to have a chance and that he was going to die, except that he hoped to at least kill one of the mighty creatures. Before he realized what happened, the fierce beast loomed in front of him with the horrible snakelike tendrils searching for him. Trying to avoid the creature’s sharp teeth, he aimed his sword at the first of the tendrils and swung. He missed and one of the tails swung toward him sinking into the soft belly of his horse. The animal shuddered and before it could make another sound, it fell to the ground tossing the king under the dangerous beast. Stunned, he lay there between two massive legs that could crush him if the creature wished to do so. Shaking his head, trying to clear the pain from it, he watched helplessly as strong jaws clamped down on the dying animal. The head of the beast picked up the horse as if it were a pillow and ripped its body in two parts. Horrified as blood, guts and bone fell to the ground in front of him, he knew what he had to do before the beast turned its attention to him. Grabbing his sword from the ground where he had dropped it, he shoved the blade into the soft belly of the creature. The creature dropped the upper torso of his mount on the ground and a great scream erupted from the creature’s mouth as its body quivered. King Rutherford withdrew the sword and shoved it in again this time working it around, twisting it and trying to do as much damage as he could. He thought he might faint from the horrible smell of guts and blood that erupted from the wounds he had inflicted on the creature. Something grabbed him by his arm and pulled him away from the creature taking his sword with him. He was done for, he thought. The vicious tail had him and was dragging him from under the animal so it could sting him to death. Saying a silent prayer, he hoped his death would be quick. “He’s done for,” Lord Niall yelled as he pulled the king from under the creature just as it crashed to the ground and lay there in one trembling mass. Lord Rutherford looked at the knight and felt relieved. “We got one of the others, except there must be a hundred of them. We lost five knights just trying to kill these two. What chance do we have now?” “Not much of a chance,” the king admitted sadly. “We may as well try to slay the rest of them.” “Nay,” the wizard yelled as he approached them with a sword in his hand. “Look,” he said pointing at the other beasts that were now falling to the ground all around them. “All we had to do was to slay their master and the rest will die. They all are exact duplicates of the leader.” King Rutherford looked at the dying creatures and stood in awe as they slowly disappeared. “Will this trick work with the others?” “We can only try,” the wizard said. “The quicker we find out the better it will be.” “Which do we attack first?” Lord Niall said. “The women are almost upon us and the other creatures come up the valley and will soon be at our feet.” “Draw your bows,” the king ordered. “Kill as many of the women as we can and then we’ll attack with our swords.” The five remaining knights were the best archers in the kingdom as were the five that had been killed. Dismounting, stringing their bows, they carefully loosed volley after deadly volley at the female warriors as they attacked from the shelter of the forest. The first volley hit their marks and the women fell from their beasts and did not move. King Rutherford felt his heart throb each time one of the women was killed. He knew that none of them was his queen, and yet, they looked so much like her that he found himself believing that he was indeed watching her die a thousand deaths. Tortured by what he was seeing, he finally dropped his head and turned away. He could not watch what was happening. Finally when all the arrows were gone, King Rutherford turned his attention to the remaining army of women. Despite the fact they had killed dozens of them, they were still dozens of them riding toward them with the same evil intent they had before as if nothing had happened to their companions. “Well, Wizard, what would you have us do next, make love to them?” King Rutherford was riding one of the spare horses they had brought with them. Wizard Bien Kambell sat silently studying the advancing army of pale white flesh. “If we could get close to them without losing our heads that might not be such a bad thought,” he said. “The only thing we can do is ride out and meet them, slay as many as we can and then head for the creatures coming up from the river.” “What do we do when we get there? If we survive the wrath of the women, then we still have to face those beasts down there.” “That’s what I’m saying,” the wizard replied. “We kill as many of the women as we can and then retreat as quickly as we can.” “They’ll follow us,” King Rutherford said. “We still have to face the river creatures and we’ll have those women right behind us.” “That’s the plan,” the wizard said with a sly grin on his face. “Okay,” King Rutherford said. “I hope your plan is a good plan. Let’s see if we can kill a few of them before they slaughter us.” King Rutherford led the charge with the sound of terrified horses all around him, the sounds of sword striking sword and the deadly clank of sharp metal on armor. The terrifying sound of dying men, animals and women were all around them. As he passed the first of the women, he hesitated when he realized he would have to kill his own queen. That hesitation was enough for the fierce warrior to slice his arm with her fiery sword. He screamed as the hot blade cut through his chain mail and shoulder armor. Feeling warm blood running down his arm, he knew he was done for if he didn’t do something very quickly. Almost dropping his sword, he managed to turn his horse around and charge at the female warrior just as she turned her horse. Summoning up courage and strength he didn’t know he had left, he plunged his long sword into her chest. Yanking his sword out of her twitching body, he turned around to meet the next adversary he heard approaching from behind him. He leaned forward as a flaming sword passed harmlessly over his head. Thrusting his sword forward once more, he plunged it into her belly. His body trembled and his stomach quivered. The woman fell to the ground and remained still. He was sure he had killed his own queen. Shaking his head, trying to clear it of such thoughts, he wondered if one of the women he had killed was really Queen Sheela Rutherford. Turning his horse around in a circle searching for the nearest foe, he felt his heart jump as his mind raced. His heart pounded against his chest and he thought he might indeed fall from his own horse when he saw that only the wizard and Niall were still alive. Racing toward them, knocking as many of the women as he could from their horses, killing others, miraculously evading death, he finally reached them. The wizard was wielding his sword with amazing precision slashing first in one direction and then in the other. King Rutherford had never visualized that the wizard was also a great swordsman but then again, the wizard had amazed him on several occasions. Lord Niall was fighting for his life. As the rain fell in torrents making the ground beneath them slick and treacherous, they slashed and cut their way through the ranks of flaming swords, ferocious animals and soon were riding over the hill toward the river with the women warriors in hot pursuit. King Rutherford didn’t know what the wizard had in mind except he hoped he had a plan that would produce a miracle. That was what it would take to save their lives now, a miracle. The king could hear the sound of pounding hoofs, screaming female warriors and roaring wind behind them as they progressed down the hill. He was more worried about what was in front of them. The river creatures had advanced far from the river and were only a few hundred feet from them. In seconds, the creatures would surround them with long rows of sharp teeth in a long intimidating mouth. He had little doubt that they would be torn to shreds along with their mounts before they rode ten yards into their midst which was what the wizard had said they should do. “Faster,” the wizard yelled urging them on. As they neared the river creatures, the wizard sped in front of them leading the charge with his sword held high. With seconds to spare before he encountered the first of the creatures, he aimed his sword at the beast and its head flew into the air as its body dropped to the soggy ground. King Rutherford and Lord Niall dropped two more without slowing their mounts. The creatures surrounded them and there was nowhere to go. “It appears as if the wizard was wrong this time,” Lord Niall yelled as he dispatched another creature to wherever dead creatures went. “This is it. We can’t kill them all.” The wizard swung his sword right and then left whacking off the heads of as many of the beasts as he could. However, being the proud wizard that he was, he could not ignore the comments of Lord Niall. “Look behind you,” he said with a gleeful look in his tired, old eyes. “Ye speak too soon.” King Rutherford turned his head just as Lord Niall spun his mount around to see what the wizard was talking about. The king gasped when he saw what was happening. The river creatures were turning their attention to the naked women warriors and a battle had erupted between the two magical forces. “How can this happen?” he asked the wizard who was still busy slashing as many reptilian heads as was possible. “Why are they fighting each other?” “Natural,” the wizard said. “The witch created one creature to be the model and all the rest are just replicas. I realized that when I saw the other creatures following their leader, the big brute that I told you to attack. They will attack anything that looks like a threat to them and anything that looks tasty. I guess those beautiful, naked women meet both of those requirements.” “Let us not hang around here pondering about what is happening,” the king advised, “let’s get out of their midst and let them have at it.” In the cover of the trees a few miles up the mountain, they dared to stop long enough to care for their wounds and let the horses rest. Down below they could still hear the screams of death, the cries of victory and the clang of steel against bone. “What will they do now?” King Rutherford asked as he sat under a giant oak tree where the wizard tended to his wounds. Lord Niall sat nearby taking care of a few scratches on his face, arms and hands. The wizard had not been touched by blade, knife or fire. “They will fight until there are none left,” the wizard assured them. “That was what I was hoping for. I must say that it was a long shot and it worked. It is unfortunate we lost all those brave men.” “Yea, it was,” the king replied gritting his teeth as the wizard sewed his wound together and applied a magic salve he carried with him. “Now we must find that witch and get back to the castle. I feel as if I have killed the queen. I fear greatly for her life.” “Fear not,” the wizard said. “The queen is safe in the castle. The witch merely read your thoughts and sent your most dreaded nightmares against us. There are other matters to consider now, Your Majesty.” “What are you speaking of now, Wizard?” “I have been reluctant to tell you the full story of the witch and Gernald for fear you might not believe me. Now, I think you will.” Picking up a piece of flat, black shiny stone from the ground, he handed it to the king. “This is proof that we have truly come to the Glass Mountain and the Magic Springs.” The king took the stone and turned it over in his trembling hands. “Looks like glass,” he said handing it to Lord Niall who had become curious enough to move closer to them. “It is stone,” the wizard said, “stone that was belched from the bowels of the earth when this mountain was young and the world was ancient. Scholars, wise men of old have recorded that the mountain erupted and molten rock flowed down its sides causing great destruction. The glass you now see that is so common on this mountain is nothing more than that rock. It is hard and it is sharp. Soldiers of old used it to make spear heads and arrows.” “It is hard but maybe brittle,” Lord Niall said. “It would be sharp when formed just right.” “Yes,” the wizard replied. “That is only part of the story recorded by the ancient ones. According to what they recorded and from tales I have heard, the rock wasn’t the only thing that came from the bottomless pit that was left in the top of the mountain when it quit belching fire and hot rock.” “What else was there?” Lord Niall asked tossing the stone on the ground. “Don’t tell us that water came from the mouth of the mountain.” “Yea,” the wizard said with a gleam in his eye as he moved closer to them so he could speak softly. “Water flowed from a spring on the side of the mountain and formed a small lake on a plateau about halfway up the mountain. That plateau is more than five miles wide and extends around the entire mountain. It is on that plateau that the witch lives, near the spring. The ancient scholars said the spring comes directly from out of the mountain and that it is magical. It heals those of a good heart and kills those that are evil.” “Too bad Gernald didn’t bathe in it,” Lord Niall said. “We wouldn’t be here if he had.” “True words ye speak,” the wizard said. “According to the legends, the mountain created the witch and seven demons that were released upon the earth to do their evil.” “What ye say now, Wizard?” Lord Niall asked. “How could the mountain give birth to such as those?” “These demons came from the deep tunnel of the mountain, from a place that is so deep in the bowels of the earth that it would take weeks to travel there, if we could. The old ones said that the witch and seven demons came from the throat of the mountain. Gernald was one of the demons that escaped from the dark place. The others have names too, Deimlos, Satanlos, Terminus, Daedelous and I forget the others names, but they are around doing their evil. The only way to destroy Gernald—for he is a mighty and evil demon, powerful beyond anything you can imagine—is to get him into the magic water or bind him and throw him down the throat of the mountain.” “Sometimes your riddles make sense,” Lord Niall said. “How are we going to do either of those things?” King Rutherford, even though the pain from his wounds was great, had been listening. “The first thing we have to do is to find that witch and see if we can convince her to help us.” “That seems like a lot,” Lord Niall said. “Do you have any more suggestions, Wizard?” “None,” the wizard said. “We had best be moving on as soon as the king is ready to travel. Darkness will come soon and with this rain, we cannot travel without light from the heavens to guide us.” “I’m ready now,” the king insisted. “Help me to my mount.” With a heavy heart as he thought of Queen Sheela and her condition, the king led them up the mountain taking their time to avoid falling on the slick rocks that covered the ground everywhere they looked. Reaching the plateau they sat on their weary horses wondering which direction they should travel to reach the witch known as Hanibel Grein. “Her hut is where the ravens gather and the forest is the thickest,” Bien Kambell declared. “Oh Great Wizard,” Lord Niall said bowing to him, “and how do we find those things?” “Over that way,” he said pointing toward the west. From halfway up the mountain they could see for miles around them. The long valley extended as far as they could see and the plateau on which they rode seemed endless. Even though they were above the forest on the mountain they could still see a dense forest in the distance that extended further up the tall mountainside. The rain stopped and the sun sunk closer to dark clouds on the horizon as they neared the woods. After an hour traveling through the forest, they came to a dirt path that appeared as if the rain had not found it. Turning right, they followed the path. “How do we know we are going the right way?” Lord Niall asked as he trailed along on the narrow path behind the wizard who followed the king. “My instincts tell me it is the right way,” the wizard answered growing tired of Lord Niall asking his many questions. “If you like, you can go in the other direction. When you find the witch you can ride back and let us know.” Lord Niall said nothing. The last thing he wanted to do was leave the wounded king with the wizard for any reason. “You lead, Wizard,” he said glumly. “I’ll follow.” They found the witch’s hut under tall oak trees with spreading limbs that seemed to reach out as if to protect the house from invaders. The ground around the old gray hut was bare. Blue smoke swirled up from a stone chimney on the far side of the house. As they neared the house, King Rutherford felt his body tremble uncontrollably. “We’ll wait on the horses,” King Rutherford said to Lord Niall. “Wizard, since you know this witch and her powers better than we do, you approach and see if anyone is home. We’ll protect you from anything she might conjure up.” Ignoring any protests he might have thought of, he dismounted and walked upon the old rotting wooden porch. Knocking at the door, he steeled himself for anything that might happen. When the door finally opened and the woman poked her head out and stared at them, he almost collapsed on the porch. He had never seen anyone like her in his entire life. With beautiful, long, straw-colored blonde hair, tantalizing blue eyes the color of a spring sky and skin as creamy white as milk, she wasn’t anything like the wizard expected. “You can not be Hanibel Grein,” he said. “You are beautiful.” “Who did you expect, an old hag?” She opened the door and stepped out on the porch. The wizard backed away a few steps just in case his eyes deceived him. “Hanibel Grein is who ye seek and Hanibel Grein is who ye find,” she said. Knowing he could not show any weakness to the witch despite his fear, he quickly recovered. “Yonder is King Rutherford of Wineland and Lord Niall. They wish to speak with you.” “I know of your coming,” she said bluntly stepping off the porch into the yard ignoring the wizard as if he didn’t exist. Her beautiful blonde hair sparkled in the radiance of sunbeams that managed to find their way through the trees. “Those who come to this mountain must perish,” she added. “Ye are the first to escape the guardians of the magic waters.” King Rutherford and Lord Niall dismounted and approached her. “I’m King Rutherford,” he said. “We were not so fortunate. We lost many men to your guardians. However, we did not come here to take from you or to harm you. Lord Gernald, the evil demon from the mountain put my Queen under a spell. She sleeps as if she is dead. I understand that your magic spring water is the only antidote that can cure her. I am willing to pay you for some of the water, just enough to bring her back to me.” “Yea, Lord Gernald is still doing his evil,” she said. “The water is not for sale.” “Please,” the king pleaded. “What is it you want for it? You must have a price that I’m willing and able to pay. We want so little and you have so much.” “Get rid of Gernald,” she said. “He bothers me greatly. We have been enemies since he came to this place. You rid me of him and the water is yours, all you want.” With a renewed hope, the King pondered her strange request for a while. Pacing back and forth, he finally stopped and faced the beautiful witch. “We have been trying to destroy him. We have been fighting him a long time, for generations and I too am weary of his evil. How can this great thing be brought about?” “The water,” she said with a grim smile on her face. “You must get him to drink the water or bathe in it.” “I have a thought about how to do this,” Bien Kambell said stepping forward to face the king. “Not another one,” Lord Niall replied. “Do not you ever give up?” The wizard ignored him. “It will work. First, I’d like to ask the lady a question.” Hanibel Grein looked at the old man and smiled. “I think I already know what you will ask,” she said. “Ask all that you want. I will try to answer. It has been a long time since I have had company. Maybe companionship is not such a bad thing.” “You could always come and live in the castle,” King Rutherford said. “I’m sure the queen will be so grateful that she will make your stay pleasant.” “I shall think about it,” she said. “Ask what you must, Wizard.” “Why do you keep those that need your magic water away from the mountain?” “That is easy, Wizard. You see, after we left the place below, Gernald found the magic water and claimed it. With the forces I was able to conjure up, I took it back. Gernald was expelled from the mountain, but I knew I could not keep him away forever so I created an army of beasts to keep everyone away from the mountain hoping I would find a way to end Gernalds threat forever. Once I was rid of him, I intended to allow good people to use the springs. Now, you have to help me find a way to get rid of him. I also created the thoughts in everyone’s mind that I was cruel, ugly and evil as well. The plan worked, until now.” “That’s all I wanted to know,” he said. “You are welcome at the castle. I have many things that I would like to show you and for you to show me.” “Done,” the witch said. “Allow me to get a few things and to get my horse. I will take you to the springs where you can get all the water you want. I will leave my army here to protect the springs while I am gone.” They followed her as she rode toward the magic springs. King Rutherford could not believe that she was so beautiful, almost as beautiful as his own queen who he loved dearly. Despite the pain in his arm, the pain in his heart hurt him more than he could have ever thought. * * * Their journey home ended at the castle gate without mishap. King Rutherford was led to his room where his wound was better cared for while the wizard prepared the queen for the magic spring water that would end her long sleep. As soon as he was able, the king went to see her just as she was being revived. Taking her in his arms even though the pain was almost unbearable, he kissed her and told her how much he loved her. He hoped he would never have to tell her that he had killed women that resembled her. Not seeing any use for such silliness, he dismissed the thought from his mind. Even though she was dazed and exhausted from too much sleep, lack of sustenance and not enough exercise, she was happy to see him. Before he met his knights in conference, he introduced the witch, Hanibel Grien to Queen Sheela and told her that she was responsible for saving her life. Leaving the two women to talk, he walked with Lord Niall and Wizard Bien Kambell to the great hall where a conference of war was scheduled. The biggest problem they had was exactly how they were going to kill Lord Gernald. It would not be an easy task. Gernald had sent a servant with a message for the king only a few hours before he arrived back at the castle. The servant was still waiting for an answer in one of the guest rooms on the first room, under heavy guard. As they gathered around a large table in a room adjoining the great hall, the king cleared his throat and spoke. “You know the problem and I think I have a solution.” “What is it?” the wizard asked impatiently. “We are going to hold a wine festival and invite Gernald to discuss surrender terms.” “What?” Lord Niall could not believe him. “Is the King all right?” he inquired. “Yea,” King Rutherford replied. “Except for the pain in my shoulder and the numbness in my arm, I am fine. We’ll drink a toast to the new King of Wineland. We’ll even give him some of our finest wines.” “King Rutherford,” the wizard said, “are you suggesting that we make wine from the waters of the magic lake?” “We can give him wine or we can give him a bath in what little water we have,” the king told them with an amused look on his face. “Which shall it be?” “Make the wine,” Lord Niall said. “I’ll get the wine makers to make new wine. This wine will have to be the best we have ever made.” King Rutherford stood on the green in the cool autumn air with Lord Gernald and many of his knights standing nearby. He was surprised that Gernald had accepted the invitation except he had insisted that they should talk before making any decisions. Gernald had finally accepted after several exchanges of messages. King Rutherford knew that Gernald was suspicious of the festival and everything else that was happening around him. He kept glancing at the beautiful maidens that King Rutherford had drafted from the surrounding villages. Flowers were abundant everywhere. King Rutherford wanted to present as pleasant an atmosphere as was possible. Lord Gernald had brought enough knights and his special bodyguard with him to defend himself. After an archery contest, a wrestling match and several other bawdy events, they were invited to sit around large tables placed on the green for that purpose. Under large oak trees with scattering limbs, the King made sure that the wine offered to Gernald and his men was the same wine everyone else was drinking. He did not want Gernald to become suspicious of the wine or the food. Gernald insisted on a food and wine taster to try the food before he touched it. When the tester survived, he apologized to the king and thanked him. The witch Hanible Grien was kept out of site in one of the upper rooms so Gernald wouldn’t know she was present. Satisfied that the plan was working, King Rutherford tried to drink less wine than Gernald. He found that to not be a problem. Gernald and his men stuffed themselves with wild turkey, various fruits and deer meat. They seemed quite happy to wash it down with wine. “Enjoy your meal and the women, Gernald,” King Rutherford said, “and then we will talk when the darkness comes and the night birds sing. Tomorrow may see our two kingdoms be as one.” Lord Gernald threw his head back and laughed. His stomach was warm with the strong wine and his head felt as light as a feather. After dinner, he would take a walk in the forest with one of the maidens. For now, he was enjoying himself too much to worry about stately matters or what was going to happen to King Rutherford and his clan once he had control. Lord Gernald would soon be King Gernald and master of most of the country. With that thought making his heart beat faster and his body become even warmer, he ate more meat and drank more wine. Lord Niall leaned closer to King Rutherford so Gernald wouldn’t notice and asked, “How much longer will it be until the water works?” “Any time now,” King Rutherford said. “Be ready.” The wizard sat on the opposite side of the table near Gernald. Sworn enemies, they now shared the same table. “More wine,” he called out to a passing servant. The servant hastened away to get the wine. “Perhaps your strategy is to get me drunk so you can trick me,” Gernald suggested. “If so, Lord Gernald,” King Rutherford said, “then I have made myself drunk also. Isn’t this the best wine you have ever tasted?” “Of course, I believe it is,” Gernald agreed. “If a man must die, then this is the way to go.” Before King Rutherford could answer, or make a comment, Lord Gernald’s eyes grew wide, his face turned dark and he clutched his throat without saying a word. As they watched, his body turned black as the feathers of a raven and began rising from the table like a dark cloud. His body became elongated, stretched out like a snake with a big head and flew up into the air above their heads. As an eerie scream erupted from where the dark shape was, the form that once had been Lord Gernald—evil demon from a fiery mountain—plunged into the ground and vanished. While King Rutherford and the others watched horrified, Lord Gernald’s soldiers and knights disappeared as if they had never existed. * * * With Queen Sheela feeling much better, Gernald gone forever and everything else going well for the kingdom, the king announced to his subjects that the kingdom would forever be known as Greinland in honor of Witch Hanibel Grein who had saved them from slavery and death. The king appointed her to serve on his royal staff as an advisor and Queen Sheela cheered when she heard the news. She would be forever grateful for what Witch Grien had done for her. Holding Queen Sheela’s hand in his as the festival went on into the night, he led her into the castle and up the stairs to their royal bedroom. “It is good to be back with you again,” he whispered to her as they entered the bedroom. “It is good,” Queen Sheela said as they closed the door behind them. “I dreamed that I was in a strange place and I was naked riding a horse and holding a flaming sword. Can you imagine me naked and riding a horse with a flaming sword in my hand? Why would I do that?” “You might be surprised at what I can imagine,” he said smiling at her. “Maybe you were trying to drive all the women away from me.” Slapping him gently on his rear, she pushed him on the bed and jumped in with him. “I will teach thee to make fun of my dreams,” she said. He smiled as she hugged and kissed him. Somewhere deep inside something troubled him about her dream. Kissing her soft, warm lips, he pushed the thought out of his mind as her hands found the parts of him that made him glad she was his queen. The End
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