Princess Linden the Ever Lovely, Radiant Flower of Calvar, was terrified. The lovely little three summers old Child's enormous brown eyes were wide with fear and glistened with tears. Even through the thick Castle walls she could hear the unbelieving fearful protests of her beloved Unicorns and the defiant war crys of Calvar's valiant warriors as they bravely met their deaths. The memory of these dreadful sounds would go with her to her grave!
Her adored Father, King Amadar, was leading a last ditch defence of their Castle in the horror-filled night outside. Her Mother, the young and beautiful Queen Margo clutched the frightened Princess closely to her and tried to be brave, though the young Family's very world was dying horribly around them.
The huge Castle doors swept open and several trusted warriors of the elite King's Guard carried King Amadar in. The burly young King was covered from head to foot with the odorous gore of the many Monsters he had slain. His victories had not been without tragic loss. His Royal life's blood was spurting from the ragged bloody stump of one of his own legs.
Margo rushed to her Husband's side. She sat Linden on the table and bent to hold Amadar's head as the warriors laid down his bloody form and one of the warriors bound the leg in a futile attempt to stem the flow. Despite her fears, little Linden reached out to gently pat her dying Father's anguished face.
King Amadar returned his Child Bride's frantic kiss, and then he took his Daughter's tiny hand in his bloody gauntleted one and looked into her eyes. "Always remember, my Linden, I will love you until the end of time!"
He looked back to his Queen. "Margo, flee with her to Zuldar. Good Kinsman Wildar will protect you both as his own. Always remember I love..." The King's eyes rolled back in his head and he eerily moaned as the last breath of life escaped his lips.
Little Linden's grief overcame her as her Mother frantically picked her up. The Queen kissed Linden fervently then she urgently wrapped the Child in a favorite cloak of hers, which was near to hand.
She turned to look at Sir Klaron, a handsome young officer of the elite King's Guard, who had helped to carry in the dying King. He also was covered with the Monster's blood and his normally bright eyes were dull from having looked too closely and too long into the Face of Death. The look in his eyes alone was ample evidence he'd been in the thick of the savage and desperate fighting for their lives that had been going on for days.
Sir Klaron was the Son of Margo's closest Friend. He was one of the Kingdom's strongest and most heroic youths. Though still a youth he had already been knighted and otherwise decorated for inventing and mastering a deadly new form of fighting with two swords.
As the Queen thrust her precious burden at Sir Klaron she spoke, "You're the only one who could possibly penetrate through their lines to safety. I want you to carry her to King Wildar." She beseeched him.
The jaded warrior's head throbbed as his emotions twisted inside of him. He had been trained for instant obedience, but his adored Queen was asking the impossible of him. She wanted him to abandon her to certain death. "I cannot leave without you, your Majesty, King Amadar's last wish was that you flee with her!"
The young Queen stood Regally erect, she put her hands on her shapely hips, and her tears stopped as a look of fierce resolve came over her face. She gestured at King Amadar's mutilated body.
"My Husband is dead. Our evil enemy's horrid Monsters are even now breeching the Castle's last defenses. The murder of a Queen may amuse their foul minds long enough for you to carry our Princess through their lines to safety if you will only follow my wishes! Will you obey me, Klaron?"
Princess Linden realized she was being sent away. She reached for her Mother and cried desperately. "No, Mother, no, I want to stay with you!"
The warrior cradled the crying Child protectively in his arms and bowed deeply. Tears of devotion came into his eyes and his throat tightened as he spoke. "Would that I could stay to die beside you, my Queen. I vow to you your ultimate sacrifice will not be in vain. On my eternal soul I will succeed in carrying your dear Child to safety!"
Queen Margo grasped the young warrior's hand gratefully, her strained voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "Dear Klaron, she and you are the last hope of Calvar. I want you to live to see her come back to Calvar as its Queen. Go now!"
Sir Klaron carried the tiny Princess from the room as the Queen slowly walked towards the Castle doors and her terrible death. "Please, be still, Your Majesty." His voice was thick with more emotion than he had thought himself still capable of as he begged the crying Child. "You must be brave like your valiant Mother and Father!"
Princess Linden heard and she did her best to quell her bitter tears. She loved Sir Klaron and didn't want to displease him, but her heart ached so for her dear Father and Mother! Now only muffled heart broken sobs came from the thick folds of the cape.
Little Linden understood precisely what her Mother was doing. She had once seen a little dove fluttering at the base of a tree. She'd said, "Oh, look, Mother. The poor bird has broken its wing."
Margo had explained, "No, Dear, the bird is decoying a predator away from its nest." A wild cat had then pounced on the bird from the nearby grass and killed it. Linden had buried her face against her Mother's breasts and cried for the little bird as her Mother told her, "Sometimes in our world we have to make sacrifices for our loved ones. The bird died but because of its sacrifice its mate and their young may survive."
Klaron's sense of duty tore at him. His trained military mind knew he was one of the major reasons the Castle had held until now. If only he could lead a last desperate suicidal charge, perhaps they could regain the offensive and hold the Castle. But he had been ordered to flee and he told himself he had no other choice. Queen Margo was right; this was the only chance the Princess had to survive.
Despite his bone deep weariness, the Knight swiftly climbed a series of stairs to the rear of the Castle. He used the ones furthest from the breeched defenses of the front. He came out on a rampart about ten man-heights above the moat. Sir Klaron shielded the Child's face from the fearsome view of the malformed Ogres and Trolls who watched hungrily below.
The Monsters were massive, misshapen, ugly looking creatures. They had a natural antipathy toward humans that had been aggravated by the enemy Wizard's Powers until they were deadly to all.
A savage roar of triumph came from the front of the Castle; this was followed by the wails of a lost soul in mortal agony. Sir Klaron bowed his head for a moment as bitter tears slid from his face to fall to the dark, cold waters far below.
He'd witnessed the deaths of many others of his brave contingent at the hands of the brutal Monsters. He knew the triumphant cries of the Monsters signaled the hideous dismemberment of his brave Queen. He'd seen that the monster's prefered method of killing was to literally tear their victim limb from limb, flinging the still quivering and bleeding pieces around.
Sir Klaron resolved he would instantly kill the Child himself if they were cornered. A quick twist of her slim neck would spare her the agony her poor martyred Mother had just borne with so much dignity. He sent a silent prayer to the Stars for mercy for his poor tortured soul if he were forced to kill the beautiful Child.
The undisciplined watchers below heard the mad roars and the agonized shrieks of the dying. They looked around at the uneventful ground they occupied then they began to shamble around the moat toward the scene of all the slaughter.
The Knight's heart leaped with a desperate hope for Linden as he watched the Monsters moving away. Perhaps the Queen's awful sacrifice would serve the purpose she had so yearned for. He heard women and children screaming in agony within the Castle. The last defenders at the drawbridge must have lost their will at seeing their Queen's terrible death.
Sir Klaron put Linden down and uncovered her. He pulled his two blood encrusted swords and his dagger from their sheaths and wrapped them with the cape. He quickly tossed them to the ground beyond the moat and picked Linden back up. "Hear me, Your Majesty. I'm going to drop you into the moat, don't worry about swimming; I'll be right behind you. Just take a deep breath and hold it until I find you. I'll get you out."
Linden clenched her teeth and fists to keep from screaming when Klaron lifted her out over the parapet and dropped her. She tried to cling to Klaron but it was too late. Her whole little body tensed, as she seemed to fall endlessly. She hit the cold water and let her body stop sinking before beginning to frantically claw toward air.
Something far more cold than the surrounding water wrapped itself around the Child's thin ankle. Despite the spasm of stark terror that threatened to still her tiny heart she gritted her teeth and refused to panic. She fought on gamely for her life!
Klaron had jumped to one side to avoid striking her. He thought that as light as she was she would surely come up before him but she was nowhere to be seen when he surfaced. He peered intently around, and then he faintly heard bubbles just to the left of him. He frantically dove again.
Little Linden's lungs burned and ached desperately for a breath of air. Her feeble kicking and squirming seemed to have no effect on the cold, cruel Thing that was steadily drawing her to her death. She had to force herself not to use the air she had left in her lungs in screaming.
Something solid struck her arm and then grasped her. Sir Klaron pulled her to him; his frenzied strength proved to be greater than the grip of the Thing that held her. She felt the slimy grip slide from her ankle. Klaron thrust her head to the surface where she eagerly gasped for air.
The Knight floundered through the water to the moat's edge. He shoved Linden onto the bank where the grateful Child pulled herself to solid ground and stood. As he waded ashore she reached out a tiny hand to help him. Their eyes met just as their hands touched. He gave her his most determined and confident look. "I'll get you to safety somehow, Your Highness." He pledged.
The bestial crys and screams from the Castle chilled even the brave young warrior to the marrow as he found his weapons and sheathed them. He wrapped the trembling Child in the dry cape and crept away. They met several more of the shambling Monsters but he easily evaded them. All of the Monster's attentions were riveted to the gruesome slaughter going on in the Castle!
The fugitives ran on for hours. There were times when he let her run along beside him, for he knew he had to ration his strength wisely if it were to last. He also knew he had to assume that there would be a relentless pursuit as soon as any human enemy could gather and sort enough of the grisly remains of the fallen defenders to suspect that Princess Linden had escaped.
They won clear of the deserted townships in the immediate vicinity of the Castle. Klaron thanked the Stars that King Amadar had ordered the evacuation of these towns days ago when the armys of the Monsters were first sighted. Hopefully, most of the innocent subjects had survived.
Sir Klaron pressed on, he knew in his heart that if he were alone he would have given up and rested long ago, but his duty to the Child, the sole living remnant of his adored King and Queen, drove him on.
A little before dawn Linden became so utterly spent she fell and couldn't get up. "Couldn't we rest for just a little while, Sir Klaron?" She pitifully asked as he picked her up.
He heard the utter exhaustion in her voice and knew she'd have to rest soon or the small spark of her life might be extinguished. She couldn't really rest and he couldn't effectively run while he carried her in his arms.
He had an inspiration he thought might work. He stopped and took the large cape from around her; he tied the corners together then he placed her in the sack it made. He put the loop of the cape over his arm and head and found that her slight weight was supported comfortably by his shoulder.
His questioning, "Are you comfortable, Your Majesty?" was answered only by an exhausted sigh. Later, she didn't even stir when he lifted her improvised hammock off carefully and shifted it to his other side. They traveled like this through the morning.
Klaron stubbornly refused to give in to his bone-deep fatigue. He concentrated on his duty to carry her as far from danger as he could. It was his walking into a tree that penetrated through his fatigue to finally convince Klaron that he had to rest. At this rate he'd eventually blunder right into an enemy patrol.
He crept under the thick cover of the next cove of low brush he came to. He pulled his Princess protectively against his chest before falling into an oblivious sleep.
An aching hunger awoke Linden; she had never known true hunger before. Though the Princess had formed good eating habits and rarely indulged in sweets she had always before been able to ask for food at any hour and have her wishes indulged immediately.
Linden reached out and touched Sir Klaron tentatively, when he didn't stir, she realized she was being selfish. Sir Klaron had battled Monsters for days, then he had literally carried her half of the night and all of the morning. She wistfully sighed; she pillowed her head on her clasped hands and tried to go back to sleep.
She awoke again to find Klaron stirring. He turned to her and saw she was awake. It hurt him badly to see her tear-streaked, dirty little face. She saw the deep concern in his look. "I am alright, Sir Klaron. I'm just dreadfully hungry." She told him softly.
He looked carefully around their hideaway and then crawled from under the bushes. She rose and followed him out. He reached back into the bush they had slept under; he picked a berry and presented it to her with an elaborate bow. "Breakfast is served, Your Majesty." She managed a weak smile at his efforts to please her. She accepted the tart berry graciously, she thanked him, and then she turned to gather more.
They each gathered and ate several handfuls of the ripe berries, then he stopped her. "We won't fill up on these, eat just enough to take the edge off your hunger and thirst; their sweetness and moisture will help us manage until I can find some water. We'll scout around as we travel and see if we can find something else to eat."
She had to agree with Klaron; the tart berries did refresh her. She followed him closely as he moved furtively through the woods. He found a patch of edible mushrooms and asked her to keep a close watch while he picked a double handful. He gave her several large ones she quickly ate. A short while later, he found a nest of fresh bird eggs and shared them with her.
Klaron whispered to her. "You see, Princess. We'll never really feel well fed on these rations but I promise you we won't starve in these woods either."
Linden felt her strength returning as their walking loosened her muscles. Sir Klaron detoured toward a grove of willows. He cut two twigs off one tree and carefully stripped the leaves off of each one; he handed one to Linden.
"Chew on the bark of this twig. We call it the Warrior's Tree because a powerful Wizard put a Spell on them years ago to aid us. A Magical substance in the bark will help ease the pain from our scrapes and bruises. Part of the Spell is that these trees appear as a signal you're very near water. If I'm not mistaken, I remember a spring a short distance up ahead. I'll scout it carefully before we go in."
Linden's dreaded fear increased as they crept forward. She thought if she were to lose Sir Klaron, like she'd lost everyone else in her life, she would just lie down and die. Then she thought of her Mother and Father and of the sacrifices they had made to protect her. The tiny Child stubbornly resolved to live on for them at any cost.
Sir Klaron saw a landmark he thought he recognized, he signaled for the Child to slow down. They advanced cautiously from bush to bush for a distance then he motioned her to the ground. He waited and watched for a time more. Klaron was almost convinced the water hole was safe. Still, his honed warrior's instincts told him, if there were anyone pursueing them, they would be certain to know of their acute need for water.
The cautious Knight waited a while longer and he was seriously considering avoiding the water entirely. One glance at Linden with her chapped lips and strained look decided him. He knew the poor Child had literally cried so much her need for water would be acute soon. She must have fresh water or die.
He considered hiding her while he scouted closer on his own but then he ruled that out. He decided he'd better keep her close to him, she'd only die slowly of hunger and thirst if he were killed or crippled.
Klaron had made up his mind to try for the water. He began breathing slowly and deeply. It was a warrior's trick to prepare him for any need of exertion. When he felt he was ready he told her, "Walk closely behind me. We'll move nearer."
He'd barely risen and started forward when the impatient enemy charged! Two massive Trolls came lumbering out of the brush. Klaron caught Linden up and sprinted to the nearest stout tree, he put her in the highest branch he could reach. Little Linden nimbly climbed to the next branch, then she turned to helplessly watch the fight that she knew would determine whether or not she would live out the day.
Klaron met the Troll's charge head on. As the closest one grew near Linden saw Klaron draw both of his deadly swords. He sprang forward almost to the feet of the Troll. The Troll's huge club swung overhead and thudded heavily to the ground as Klaron ducked, rolled, then rose back to his feet.
One sharp sword sliced the Troll from crotch to throat as the other rent the Monster from side to side. The Troll toppled forward heavily and Klaron jumped aside. The other Troll had skirted the fray; it was busily pulling Linden's tree apart one limb after another.
Linden clung on for dear life and shrieked as the tree swung to and fro as if in a gale. Her frantic screams for him lent Klaron a desperate strength. He ran nearer and swung one of his heavy swords with all of his power, with one mighty blow he cleaved the Troll's ugly head from its monstrous shoulders.
Linden felt a shower of hot, stinking, viscous blood that sprayed on both her and Sir Klaron before the Troll fell. She clambered back down the tree and leaped into Klaron's arms. She was shuddering with fear. Klaron held the Child close and tried to calm her. "Poor Baby; poor Linden. I'm sorry I had to do that in front of you, Your Majesty. There was just no other way."
The Child collected herself. She looked up at him with a wiseness that belied her tender age. "Do not apologize, Sir Klaron. You need never apologize for having bravely done your duty to me.
The Knight's jaw dropped open in awe. "Thank you, Princess Linden." He was amazed at the Child's mature rationalization of the violence. If he could only keep her alive, he reflected, someday this brave one actually might be able to bring Calvar back to life!
The Princess asserted herself once again as she pulled her bloody robe away from her skin. "Do you think the spring is safe now? I'd like to get this stinking blood off me."
This time they approached the spring uneventfully; the spring looked cool and inviting to them. It came up from the ground and flowed down hill for a ways, forming a pool that someone had dug out and and lined with rocks, then it seeped back into the ground a few feet away. In any other circumstances than these, this would be a very pleasant place.
The Knight put Linden down; they both went prone on the ground and drank deeply and thankfully from the cool spring. When they had drunk their fill they sat back and Klaron looked in appraisal at Linden. He was wondering if the Child were capable of washing herself effectively or if he should offer her his assistance.
Linden deduced what he was considering. She drew herself to her full height and put her tiny hands on her skinny hips in an excellent imitation of her Mother, Queen Margo. "I am not a Baby. I'm three summers old, you know. If you will wait beyond those bushes over there, I will bathe and wash these filthy robes." Sir Klaron moved very rapidly for such an exhausted young man!
Linden walked into the shallow pool, she stripped and scrubbed herself with sand and soaked the blood from her gown and her Mother's cape. She sniffled at the thought of her martyred Parents then she resolved again to be as strong as the two of them had been.
She looked up at Sir Klaron for reassurance. She could see his broad back through the trees. She wrung out her wet gown and redonned it, then she wrung out the heavy cape and draped it from a convenient nearby branch to dry.
"Sir Klaron." Linden called. "You may bathe now, if you wish, the Stars know you've earned it. I'll take my turn at standing guard." Linden walked over to the same stand of brush Klaron had chosen to guard from. Of course, even with his body under water Klaron was nervous at being nude so near to his little Princess. In his agitated state it didn't take him long to clean himself and his clothing to his satisfaction.
"Alright, Princess." He called thankfully when he was dressed properly again. "Let's take a last drink from the spring, then we'll get away from here. Someone may be coming around to check on these guards."