This is the second week of the four-part Terribleminds challenge. Part 1 is by Adrienne (her site here), Part 2 is my addition. I’ll provide a link for the 3rd and 4th parts if/when the next writers post them. It was untitled, so I just picked something, but whoever takes this one next can give it a proper title. Enjoy!
* * * Part 1 * * *
Rays from the rising sun illuminated our target ahead. The castle was small and in a state of disrepair, but the large army behind me knew better than to consider the day already won. The old Lord had a grizzled group of men guarding his walls, but they were battle tested many times over, while those around me looked hardly older than ten. We followed our leader because he promised food and a few coins, but I wasn’t in it for the glory. No, I had a bigger prize in mind. And I knew exactly where in that castle it was.
We crowded together on a single hilltop. No one spoke while they shuffled their feet nervously. The knight in charge sat astride the only horse large enough to carry his girth, and even then the poor beast struggled under the load. Foam dripped from his mouth as they paced before the rag-tag army. The man’s worn leather clothes stretched over his chest and legs. He had once worn armor over the leather, but has since outgrown the plate. The only piece he wore was his freshly shined helmet. A huge black plume adorned the top and fluttered in the breeze. He took one last gulp from a mug he carried and tossed it aside. Turning toward the castle, he reached around his huge middle and drew his sword and, bellowing a slurred battle cry, signaled the charge.
In an instant we were running down the hillside, pushing against each other as we screamed and held our makeshift weapons in the air. A young boy raced ahead of me, his small hands making the dagger he held look more like a short sword. His bare feet slid on the wet grass and he hit the ground, leaving those behind no choice but to trample him in our race toward the castle.
Just as I leaped over the boy, an arrow slammed into the man nearest me, taking him down instantly. I immediately raised my small shield over my head and continued running as arrows rained down. As we neared the gates, I slowed my pace, letting others run ahead and begin the assault on the castle. The castle’s guards focused on the group cutting through the ancient wooden gate, loosing arrows as fast as they could, while women in rags dropped stones and pots of hot oil. Men screamed as the oil splashed down, and a pile of bodies was beginning to hinder their efforts to break through. Finally, with a loud crash, the gate splintered and crumbled to the ground, and the roaring mass surged forward, clashing violently with a line of armored soldiers. The sound of metal-on-metal combat was deafening, but I didn’t pause to take part. I made my way through the gate and pushed my way around the angry mass just beyond.
I kept my head down to avoid any confrontations with the guards. I had to get to the top of the tower, and my odds of doing so were not great if I had to defend myself against a well-trained guard with nothing more than a small shield. Looking around, I spotted a mace half buried in the mud, just outside of the warring mob. I glanced around before making a dash for the discarded weapon and retreated back to my place along the wall. Mace in hand, I slowly crept my way closer to the keep.
Back at the gate, the immense Lord finally appeared and began slashing wildly from atop his horse, not caring whether his blade met friend or foe. He advanced slowly, cutting down everyone in his path. I cursed as I watched his progression toward the keep. I needed to get inside before he did, or all my efforts would be for nothing. I breathed deep, taking in the scent of dirt and blood so thick I could taste it. I bolted towards the keep door, swinging my mace at anyone who dared stand in my way. One guard fell with a hit to the shoulder, another by a solid hit to his knees, a third when the mace slammed into the side of his head, caving his helmet inward. They fell, one by one, and I left them behind without a backwards glance. Just as I reached the door, it swung open and a pair of guards ran out expecting to join the fray. The first didn’t even see me before I swung my weapon into his stomach. I slammed my shield against the second, pinning him against the stone keep. He reached for his sword, but the shield blocked his path. Dropping the mace, I ripped his knife from his belt and planted it firmly in his side. When I stepped back to retrieve the mace, he fell forward, making me side step to avoid his fall. When I glanced back, I saw my commanding knight was no longer atop his horse, but he was still hacking his way towards me. I ran into the keep and barred the door behind me. The prize this castle held was too precious to share.
I crossed the large hall, my feet crunching the old rushes as I ran to the wooden stairs beyond. I could hear shouts from above, and as I ascended the first step, another pair of guards rounded the corner. Two swords crashed onto my shield, cracking the wood down the center. We struggled for footing on the stairs, swinging our weapons and avoiding the blows until I landed one on a thigh. The man screamed and fell forward, narrowly missing me as he tumbled down the stairs. In my effort to avoid the falling guard, I stepped right into the path of a sword thrust. Blood poured from the hole in my shoulder as I stumbled down a step, giving the guard a chance to slice into my leg. With a roar, I jumped forward and knocked him down with my broken shield and slammed my mace down onto his helmet. I could hear the injured guard’s cries as he lay at the bottom of the stairs, but I didn’t look back. I ran up the stairs and around the corner, straight onto another wooden staircase, this one winding its way upward towards the top of the tower. I met no more resistance as I ran, taking the stairs two at a time. As I reached the door at the top, I could hear the bellowing rage of the huge knight coming from below. The door was unlocked. I pushed it open and stepped inside.
* * * Part 2 * * *
The room was sparsely decorated. A bed was the largest feature, a modest frame and mattress with a wooden chest lying at the foot. A tapestry of birds in flight hung on the wall between two windows. A woman in a tattered dress stood in the middle of the room holding a chair leg. The rest of the little chair was broken over the body of a young man at her feet. Blood seeped from a wound on his skull. She looked up at me through tear-filled eyes, dropped her weapon, and attempted a smile.
“I’ve waited so long. None of the others my father sent got through.”
I dropped my mace and ran forward. I reached out, grasping her shoulders and pulling her close.
“Where is it?”
Her smile disappeared, replaced by a look of deep concern. She tried to pull away as I flipped her locket necklace open. It was empty. A quick pat down of her dress produced nothing as well. She shrieked as I turned her around to see if she had dropped it down the back. I risked my life for this chance; it had to be here!
My shoulder ached as I threw the girl aside. The immense Lord huffed and wheezed his way up the tower stairs. It wouldn’t be long before he barged in and ruined everything. I kicked the chest over with my good leg. Nothing but a few changes of clothes. My dagger made quick work of the mattress, filling the room with hay and feathers.
My face flushed crimson at the thought of failing so spectacularly. I tore the tapestry down and inspected the back for some clue or map. All of my sources claimed this was the place. Of course, I’d threatened each of them at one point or another. They must have expected me to die in the battle. Fodder for the king and that massive fool’s war.
The woman stood with her back flattened against the stone wall behind me. She inched toward the door as I paced the tiny room. The door creaked open. She looked out, and I stole a glance over her shoulder. The large knight was nearly here. His shadow lurched up the stairs. He called out when he heard the door open.
“Dear Princess, fear not! I shall rescue you from this highest of dungeons!”
She slammed the door shut and whirled around as if to lock it with what little weight she had. She glanced around the room, but avoided looking at me. I narrowed my gaze. This Princess was hiding something. Perhaps my prize was not kept with her, but the old Lord must have shown it to her. One isn’t kept prisoner for nearly a decade without learning a few secrets. I grabbed her wrist, and pulled her away from the door.
“You know the thing I seek, don’t you?”
She refused to meet my stare, speaking instead to the floor.
“He’s gone. The Lord of this place. He took that… magic talisman… with him.” She paused to point out the growing pool of blood around the body on her floor. “His attendant thought to have his way with me in the Lord’s absence.”
“It’s not…” I caught myself before I said too much. Others would want my prize for their own. “Which way did he travel? When did he escape?”
She bit her lip, refusing to speak. I didn’t have time for coy and shy. I tugged her over to the window.
The Princess gasped. She glanced toward the door, winced, and looked up at me.
“Take me with you and I’ll tell you everything I know.”
“Lord Hegler is a cruel fiend who’s looked at me with hunger since I was a child. Take me with you and I will be forever in your debt.”
There was no time to mull my options. The massive Lord crashed through the door. His face was a swollen and sweaty beet. He pointed his longsword at me and growled. I cursed myself for dropping my mace upon entering. The King’s prize was the castle and its surrounding lands. The knight’s prize was the king’s daughter. And now, he was set to murder me for taking what was his.
Looking out the window, I surveyed the castle and the lands just beyond. A turret sloped a short distance down and away. Below that, the roof of the keep angled toward the forest. A good jump, and a fair dose of luck, would extend my life beyond the point of Lord Hegler’s blade. I gave the Princess a sideways whisper.
“Do you trust me?”
She shook her head no, but used my body to shield her from the large knight nonetheless. The Lord charged. I spun around, wrapping the Princess around my back while I still held her arm. I scrambled up into the window opening, hoping that I still had enough strength left. Hoping that I hadn’t already lost too much blood. I leapt for the turret as metal clanged against stone.
The wind whipped against my face. I extended my arm to grab the flag atop the turret. Anything to slow our descent. I watched as the turret roof stayed stubbornly out of reach. My jump hadn’t been enough.
The Princess clutched my chest as I freed my other hand. She screamed as we fell beneath the lip of the roof. Jagged stone scraped my fingers as we slid left of the small tower until they caught one of the narrow lancet windows. My wounded shoulder wrenched at the sudden stop. We swung back and forth. My arms felt like they would give out at any moment. The keep’s roof was a vast expanse that felt a world away from my dangling feet.
Lord Hegler shouted at him from the tower above. Inside the turret, one of our own lads stared wide-eyed at me. The immense knight ordered the boy to up and kill me already. Before he had a chance to parse the words, I took one last deep breath and let go of the window. The Princess and I tumbled down the roof in a screaming mass of dress and leather.
The world kept spinning, even after we hit the water. The moat was filthy, but deep. The Princess was thrown from my back by the impact. She flailed toward the outer shore just ahead of me. When we dragged ourselves up the muddy bank, there was barely a moment to catch our breath before the first arrows rained down. I gave one last choice gesture to the massive Lord as we ran for the treeline.