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He needed but a moment to rest before he ventured forth. He quietly chanted the magical words of Heal, and momentary relief came over his soul and coursed through his veins.
He had been through many dangerous trials thus far on his lonely quest. He marveled at the fact that he still lived. In dark places he had been, places of unspeakable evil, places that he had difficulty discussing with even King Lorik to record in the Imperial Scrolls of Honor. He had endured much pain, and faced many foes.
He was a brave soul, a descendant of Erdrick the Great, but many times had he been afraid. He had been afraid when delving deep into the bowels of the grave of Garinham with nothing but his sword and a torch to light his way. He had been afraid to face the mighty Golem after an arduous journey to the town of Cantlin. However, he had never been so afraid as he was now, for he knew that his imminent confrontation could well be his last.
He had never seen the princess Gwaelin, but her beauty was renowned throughout Alefgard. All that he knew of her is what the common folk of the towns had told him; for King Lorik would not speak of her. The warrior had difficulty admitting it to himself, but deep in his valiant heart he longed to see her. Just once. Now he sat a short distance before the gaping mouth of the cave in which she was said to be kept. With the dark-gray sky as its backdrop and the murky bog that lay before it, the cave loomed dark and ominous.
The warrior said a silent prayer to the good spirit Rubiss and rose to his feet. He withdrew his flamesword from the earth and donned his helmet. Cool rain water dripped from the helm down into his armor, cooling his skin, as if it were one last final comfort.
He started forward into the bog and whispered, "Gwaelin, in thy honor."
The poisonous water closed around the young man's legs, and seeped into the chinks of his armor. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth at the feeling of the muck against him. It bit at his skin as though it lived and had teeth, and the foul stench assaulted his nose. The bog itself emanated evil, and the pain intensified with each meager step the young man took.
He stared forlornly at the mouth of the cave. He felt as though his efforts were growing futile, that the cave seemed so far and he seemed so small compared to it. And the pain. The pain was agonizing. The young descendant of Erdrick stood still for a long period. There was no pain when he held still...
Gradually, something deep within him began to smolder. It grew hotter until it became a blaze within his soul. This raging fire inside did not hinder the young warrior, it urged him to keep going. He did not know what had sparked or kindled this heat, but it refused to allow him to give up. The rain beat down unrelentingly; spurring him on even more. The warrior took a deep breath, and his face twisted with determination. He advanced through the filthy mire as hastily as his armored legs would allow. With each great step taken, he felt the pain diminish, his hope amplified.
Before he was aware of it, he stood in the mouth of the abysmal cavern. The warrior gathered his wits and began to descend a staircase, wondering if he would ever again see the light of day or feel the cool rain upon his face.
The further down into the cave the man went, the colder and darker it became. He pulled his cloak tightly around his shoulders and blinked so that his eyes may better adjust to the thick darkness. At the foot of the staircase he could no longer see the light from the entrance; the only lighting present was that of the sword he held.
Spreading his fingers wide before him he conjured the spell of Radiant into his mind. Within an instant, a great light from an unseen source surrounded the warrior, illuminating the earthen walls around him and causing rats and spiders to skitter away.
The young man began trekking east in the cave, instead of going south which he had done once before when traveling to the town of Rimuldar. The air was dank and musty, and he could think of many places that he would much rather be at the present. Fear creeped upon him as he walked, but his face remained stern. There was not much upon the land of Alefgard that could break his stone determination now.
All of the sudden, a strange hissing sound echoed throughout the cave. The warrior stopped, cocked his head, and listened intently. For many long moments he heard nothing. He continued to walk slowly hearing only the drip of water off the cavern's ceiling and the tap of his own footsteps.
Hisssssss! There it was again. He stopped. This time he was able to identify the direction. It came from around a corner he was approaching. The young man waited, and upon the third time the noise was heard, he identified the sound. A Scorpion. Undeniably.
Thou art truly a foolish monster, he thought. He smiled to himself at the thought of a Scorpion attempting a sneaked assault. For that was indeed the Scorpion's intent; the young man knew these creatures well.
He considered his strategies of attack. He knew that if he waited too long, the Scorpion would surely grow impatient and stalk around the corner looking for him. The warrior was certain that if he drew too close to the edge of the corner, the Scorpion would see the bright magical light that currently surrounded him, giving his precise position away. But he was also aware that he had become considerably stronger and experienced in the past few weeks, not to mention wiser. A Scorpion no longer posed a great threat to him. The young warrior concluded that the most efficient way to dispose of the fiend would be to simply rush in and attack.
He slowly released his large shield from his back, put his left arm through it's leather straps and gripped the flamesword tightly in his right hand. The descendant of Erdrick took several deep breaths. He felt ready.
He dashed down the narrow corridor as swiftly as he possibly could. The clank of his armor was a loud contrast to the usual quiet eerieness of the cave.
As he rounded the sharp corner, the warrior swung his sword blindly out of sheer instinct. If he struck the Scorpion he was not aware that he did ö but as certain as a Wyvern's wing, his blade did not strike home. There was a Scorpion however. It recoiled itself just in time to avoid the human's clumsy swing.
As the warrior regained his composure, the Scorpion took advantage of the moment to assail. It reared back it's large stinger and brought it down with lightning force onto the intruder in front of it. Had the young hero not rolled nimbly out of the way, the force of the stinger would have decapitated him with ease.
The warrior cursed himself loudly for having made an attack so uncoordinated. It was too late to attempt a better strategy; in battle there were no second chances. He was now on the ground before the Scorpion, which is not a good position to be in during any battle. He looked up and saw the Scorpion's black, sinister eyes staring back. The flame of his sword reflected in the eyes making them appear more frightening than its Scorpion relatives the young man had fought many times before on the fields of Alefgard.
Neither of the two moved for many moments. Then, without warning, the Scorpion screeched an earsplitting cry into the man's face that echoed throughout the large cave. It was as though it were some call or warning. Or perhaps it was a challenge to the young man. Nevertheless, the fierce sound made him draw back. The Scorpion reacted by lashing out with a large red claw that the warrior scarcely deflected with his shield.
He quickly counterstruck by severing the creature's claw with a crafty swipe of his sword. Observing its own appendage twitching spasmodically on the floor, the Scorpion hissed in pain. Now it retaliated with its opposite claw by knocking the intruder backwards into the corridor wall.
The warrior crashed hard against the earth-packed surface, then crumpled to the floor. The half-plate armor maintained his life -- the impact would have crushed every bone in his body had he not been wearing it. He looked up and observed that two more Scorpions were approaching on his right and left!
This was not like them, he thought. These Scorpions of the caves must be more intelligent than those of the fields, for never before had he seen one call upon reinforcements. The young man vowed never to underestimate his enemies ever again--ever.
It was vital he think of something hastily in that he was enclosed by the encroaching Scorpions in all three narrow passages.
He scrambled to his feet and withdrew a torch from his belt. Igniting it with the magical fire from his flamesword, he hurled it in the direction of the Scorpion on his right. The fiery projectile was well aimed; it found it's mark in the eyes of the Scorpion. Its hisses of pain were drowned out by the sound of its eyeballs sizzling into liquid from the intense heat. The blinded monster flailed about wildly smashing into the walls of the dark corridor. The creature was not slain but that would suffice for now.
The Scorpion in front of the young hero lunged forward with amazing agility that surprised him. But he was prepared. With the blink of an eye, he rolled backwards so that he lay flat on his back and the charging Scorpion soared over him. The warrior thrust the flamesword up at the white underside of his already-wounded foe. The enflamed blade drove deep into the monster, so deep that the sword's magical fire burst through it's backside.
The hero was out from underneath the dead Scorpion but without his flamesword. Before he knew it, the Scorpion from the left corridor was upon him. He attempted to run down the corridor straight ahead, but his escape was blocked by the Scorpion's great oncoming limb. It swatted him down upon the floor. Blood dripped off of the warrior's nose and mouth as the Scorpion picked him up in its great claw. He fought to break free of the sharp grip but his effort was useless; the claw was locked into place and held fast. The Scorpion held him tightly and raised it's barbed stinger high, preparing to pierce the man's chest cavity.
The last thing the warrior expected was the Scorpion to release him from its firm grip. However the young man fell to the floor of the cavern, face down. When he looked up, he was taken aback with what he saw.
The blinded Scorpion whose eyes he had singed now had its stinger buried in the back of the Scorpion that had held him but a moment ago. In its violent uproar, the blind beast had unintentionally struck its own kin. The eyeless Scorpion no longer showed any sign of struggle for it too had a stinger in its back ö killed by the reflex of its victim cousin.
A dead silence shrouded the area. The young man heard nothing save the sound of his own heaving breaths and the dripping echo of the cave.
He watched the Scorpions poised in their death poses for many long minutes until he was certain enough that it was safe to recover his flamesword.
He noted that the once bright light around him had become dimmer, as the potency of the Radiant spell was growing weaker. He prepared to recast but thought the better of it when he considered that he may need all of the magical ability he can muster for the danger that lied ahead.
Reaching into a small sash on his belt, the warrior removed a scented herb and ground it up in the palm of his gloved hand. He sprinkled the powder of the herb into his mouth, let it linger there for a moment, then swallowed it slowly. Taking in the medicinal herb caused his wounds to close up and his pain to ease.
He imagined the giant bird Ramia appearing before him with its wings spanned wide. He envisioned himself mounting the bird, as it was said that Erdrick once had, and flying away from this land that no longer knew peace.
He imagined riding on the noble birdās back into battle with dragons. He had not yet seen a dragon, but they were now the scourge of the land. He had heard only childrenās tales about them. It was said that dragons sent even the bravest of men fleeing for their lives. And it was the dragons that had sacked Tantegal castle and stolen the Ball of Light, the very foundation of prosperity in Alefgard.
He continued walking lost in thought until a strange warm draft blew gently over his face. He stopped for a moment and looked about to consider its source. Not knowing, he continued to advance and found the corridor felt warmer the farther he went.
He traveled until he came upon a wall with a narrow passageway in it. The wall was very warm, and the young man removed his glove to feel it, to make certain it was not just his nervous body heat that was causing the warm sensation. Without question, the source was not himself.
He poked his head inside the passageway and saw a dim light at the end of it. The passage itself was completely in darkness, with exception to the Radiant light that lit the walls around him. Seeing there was not much else to do, the young hero stepped in and traversed ever more narrow passage. He observed that he approached a low rumbling noise.
It did not take long for the hero to guess that the low rumbling noise must be that of a dragon. But why would it make such a sound? Perhaps it was asleep? There was but one way to find out.
As the warrior drew closer to the dim light, a hot gust of vapor rushed down the corridor into his face, carrying with it a stench that caused him to reel in revulsion. If ever there was the smell of burnt death, the young man now knew it. He put his hand to his nose and stopped for a moment to prevent himself from vomiting. After calming his stomach, the adventurer walked on cautiously until he came to the end of the passage and the source of the dim light. He set foot in a wide chamber that was dimly-lit by a single torch.
He took a few steps forward as his eyes, adjusting to the dim light, quickly scanned the chamber. When his eyes had fully adjusted, he wished they had not for what he now saw was sickening.
Pieces of armor and assorted bones were strewn about the floor. There were charred skeletons in the corners. A trivial amount of gold and other shiny objects lay on the ground throughout the room. And there, to his left in front of a silver door, lay a massive Green Dragon. It lay coiled like a snake, sleeping, with its tail curled around and its head laid against its muscular body.
The warrior dismissed the putrid conditions as he saw a dragon for the first time. He focused his eyes in strange fascination at the beast that was several times his size. How beautiful it appeared with its shimmering green scales and its hulking body writhing up and down with each deep breath it took. Its splendor left the hero dumbfounded.
The dragon made a guttural rumbling noise, and hot vapor discharged from its nostrils. As though coming out of a trance, the young manās brief fascination shifted to terror at the sight of the dragonās blood-stained talons and sharp, protruding teeth. He crouched low and scurried to the far right corner of the room in fear that the dragon was waking.
The young man noticed that the glow of Radiant around him made him stand out considerably in the dim, hot room. He wished there was some way that he could snuff out the magical light, but his magical skills were not yet that advanced. Sweat streamed down his face and settled in his armor. He pondered the thought of removing the uncomfortable metal but another look at the charred skeletons made him decide otherwise.
Now that he was inside the room, he scanned it more thoroughly. There was not much else except his eyes fell upon a silver door on the wall just beyond the dragon.
Gwaelin must be within, he thought. If he moved with stealth, he may be able to recover Gwaelin from within the room without awaking the Green Dragon.
The warrior took a step back against the wall when he felt something hard nudge him from behind. He turned and found himself standing toe to toe with a knight in full-plate armor. The knightās inanimate body leaned lifelessly against the wall, and there was no face that stared back at the warrior. Instead, there was a burned, black skull affixed in a silent scream from within the knightās helm.
Consequent to seeing the grim figure, the warrior panicked and he stumbled backwards onto the chamber floor, knocking the knightās armor to the floor with a metallic crash. The sound was loud enough to have awakened the dead, but the young man was not that fortunate. Instead, the sleeping Green Dragon stirred. And awoke.
Not moving from a coiled position, the dragon opened one pupiless eye. Then the other and with astounding grace, craned its neck. The dragon regarded its domain in search of the source of the disturbing clatter.
The dragonās eyes had not yet reached the young warrior, although it would be mere moments before they had. Another foolās mistake. Thatās two life-threatening mistakes he had made in one day -- quite unusual for him. A frightening sensation grew inside of him, but he fought this down with all of his internal might. He knew full well that only he or this dragon would live to see another day, and it would certainly not be him if he allowed himself to be afraid.
The young hero closed his eyes for an instantās peace to summon all of the strength and courage within him. He gripped the flamesword tightly in his sweating palm, tightened the straps of his shield, and held his head up high. Long ago Erdrick drove these vile creatures from the land. Now he must try.
The Green Dragonās gaze fell upon a small human with a painfully bright light about him. It squinted its eyes. Then, the dragon spoke in a voice so mighty and penetrating, that the human could feel the ground beneath him rumble.
"Who dost dare disturb with this imposing light the slumber of Kirash, Great Green, loyal vassal of his undisputed highness the Dragonlord, and incinerator of---"
"Spare me of thy absurd titles," the warrior interceded to the astonishment of the dragon. "I have come forth to take the princess Gwaelin so that I may see that she is safely returned to her home of Tantegal castle."
Kirash threw its head back in a fit of roaring laughter, brandishing its horrible teeth---both rows of them.
"And under what grounds dost thou make such a statement?" The dragon mused.
Kirash was cold blooded and often did not reveal its emotions, but it found the humor in the small human difficult to ignore.
The warrior looked rigidly into the dragonās white eyes and spoke, "Under the grounds that I shall allow thee a safe return to the Isle of Dragons from whence thou came, so that ye may tell thy lord that thou hast spoken to the descendant of Erdrick the Great. And he says that if thy lord does not relinquish his grip on this land and return the Ball of Light to Tantegal castle, I shall personally cleave every scale from his body. Should ye refuse to do this, I will smite thee dead as my ancestor Erdrick did to your kind long ago." The words came strong from the young man, for he meant every one of them.
Kirash was not amused this time. And for once, the Green Dragonās anger became apparent. Its tail uncoiled from around it, and it stood up on its four tree trunk legs. The dragon narrowed its eyes and took a few steps toward the confident man in an attempt to overwhelm his confidence.
Kirash boomed, "Thou speaks boldly like many of the others before thee. And also like the others before thee, thou shalt perish in my flames. I hope that thou art anxious to meet thy murderous ancestor, for I shall now send thee to meet him!"
Kirash reared back on its hind legs and the fins on either side of its head spread wide open. The man knew instantly that it intended to breathe fire upon him. Closing his eyes tightly, the young hero crouched as low as possible behind his large shield just before the Green Dragon exhaled. A roaring sound shook the chamber as the dragon spewed a violent blaze onto its victim. The room became bright for several moments while its unrelenting flames tried to lick the man behind the shield.
The warriorās own sweat began to scald him as it poured down his face. When the flames cleared, he leaped to his right without thought. The young man landed in a clutter of bones, then immediately sat up in a crouching position with the flamesword in two hands, his hot shield on his arm, facing Kirash.
The dragon, still on its hind legs, rotated its head in his direction. The man observed that the Green Dragonās tan underside appeared soft, no tougher than leather. The dragon expanded its head fins and shot a short blast of fire in the humanās direction.
The attack shocked Kirash, for never before had it seen such cunning in a human. In an attempt to crush its opponent, the Green Dragon dropped a taloned forepaw down at him.
The man reacted to this strike by driving his blade into the middle of the oncoming palm. The flamesword slid through the rough flesh to the hilt, causing Kirash to rip its bleeding claw away. The dragon swung its tail in an aggravated counter assault with the impact of a thunderbolt. The human was sent soaring across the room, until he met head on with the opposite wall, the collision knocking him momentarily senseless.
The warrior regained consciousness quickly and found that he was staring face up at the chamberās ceiling. He looked to his left through blood-clouded eyes and saw the dragon in the opposite corner lapping at its bleeding paw then the crescent-shaped wound in its belly. The young hero tried as he might to get up and finish the wounded dragon, but alas, he could not move. His insides felt shattered and broken.
He closed his eyes and softly muttered the words of Heal; a blue illumination worked its way into him replacing pain and damage with new lifeforce. The blood left his eyes, and he sat up in a sitting position, feeling only somewhat rejuvenated. He looked to the Green Dragon, which in turn looked at him.
"How dare thee·." Kirash said. There was a pause and then the dragon spoke again, "Fortune smiles upon thee this day ye impertinent insect, for never before has any of your accursed kind resisted my fire." The dragon grinned even in its pain.
The warrior painfully rose to his feet clutching his side.
"Vile serpent. I hate to be the root of thy disappointment," he said in bitter sarcasm, "but thou art not the first creature to breathe fire upon me. Thy arrogance is thy weakness, and it shall be thy demise."
The Green Dragon sneered, "Insolent worm! How dare thou speaks to Kirash with such slander! Thou hast had a mere stroke of luck, nothing more!"
"Indeed?" The young man said. "Allow me to leave with the princess now and thou shalt escape the agony of death by my hand." The young descendant of Erdrick spoke calmly, letting each word sink in.
Kirashās throat rumbled with an inner laugh, for now it saw something in the human that it had not seen before. His deep concern for this woman.
Typical of these warm blooded creatures to risk themselves for those that they loved. How vulnerable it made them, The Green Dragon thought.
"The princess does not wish to leave with thee," Kirash grinned. The warriorās calm expression turned to one of bewilderment. As he opened his mouth in question, Kirash spoke again, "She -- Gwaelin is her name? -- She has· over time· developed a passion for me."
The human stood still, his mouth open, not knowing what to make of what the Green Dragon was now saying.
"Yes··.," it said. "She has learned to love me." The young warrior began to shake his head slowly.
How could this be? He thought.
"Thou speaks lies·" he said softly.
"I speak truth!" The dragon let its forked tongue slither out of its mouth slowly, then added, "Her presence has brought me··great pleasure in many ways."
The unknown fire deep within the warrior that had burned earlier now sparked again deep down inside of him. It raged.
"Thou disgusts me!" He shot. "Come now loathsome bastard! Meet thy fate!"
With a cry, the hero dashed toward Kirash with his sword raised high in both hands aimed to cleave the creature into two neat, smoldering pieces.
The dragon had been expecting this. It had mentally broken its opponent, making the human more vulnerable. With a sharp flick of its forepaw, Kirash pummeled the charging human backwards, his flamesword falling out of his hand.
Within a blink of an eye, the dragon stuck a sharp talon down into the young manās shoulder, piercing through his armor and flesh. Kirash had the warrior pinned under its claw as a playful cat pins a mouse.
The young man did not feel any pain; his adrenaline surged through every portion of his body.
Kirash laughed and drew its head close to the young manās face. "Now dost thou speak so bravely against the Great Green Kirash?"
The warrior said nothing. He struggled as his face contorted in ferocious anger. He began to feel the pain.
"Oh? Thou hast no more valiant words? Just as I thought ye would not," Kirash said grinning, bearing its dagger-like teeth.
The warrior ceased struggling. He had been preparing for this moment for a long time. He knew from the start of his quest that there was a great risk of him losing his life. He closed his eyes and prayed to Rubiss that perhaps he may die a quick death and that perhaps a healer with the strength to revive him may recover his body from this hot, wreaking hell.
"Kill·..kill me now foul one!" He said. "But may the gash I cut in thy belly bleed eternally!" And just as he nearly lost all hope and gave in to death, something came to him. He closed his eyes and concentrated.
"Insulting twit!" The Green Dragon boomed. "Even near thy death, thou insults the mighty Kirash! Hast thou not observed that I am greater than my relatives?! I crush all discourteous insects as·."
"AAARRRGGHHH!!" The dragon flinched as the freshly-cast spell of Radiant suddenly filled the chamber. The young man seized the moment to reach and grasp the flamesword that lay nearby.
Within an instant, he thrust the flaming sword up entering Kirashās head where the neck meets the jaw. He drove the blade deep into the monsterās corrupt brain and then leapt away as the dragon collapsed in a violent tremor that shook the entire chamber. Its body heaved with one last exchange of vile air.
The young descendant of Erdrick lay for many moments, whispering a thanks to Rubiss. With the evil Kirash slain in a crumpled mass on the cavern floor beside him, a peaceful feeling came over him while the fire within him tamed.
He got to his feet and applied pressure with a gloved hand to the bleeding hole in his shoulder. The talon had not gone all the way through, fortunately. The warrior limped to his flamesword and withdrew it from the dragonās hideous skull.
He sheathed the sword then picked up a small amount of gold pieces on the floor and added them to his purse. He made his way across the chamber to the large silver door, and pulled on the great brass handle.
Locked. No matter, he had the sense to bring some magical keys with him capable of unlocking any door. The warrior slid one of the magic keys into the key hole, turned it, and carefully pulled the door open. The long unoiled hinges protested by generating a disturbing screech that broke the silence of the cavern.
The light of Radiant filled a room even more dim than the dragonās. A single candle on a rotting wood table in the center of the cubicle was the only light source. The room was filthy and cluttered with debris. Amid the squalor, curled in a corner, was a young woman in a yellow, torn, satin dress. Upon the warriorās entry, the young woman looked up at him and their eyes met.
The young man put a hand to his chest when the shimmering blue eyes gazed into his. His heart melted and now he knew she to be the source of fire within him öthe fire that had sustained him so many occasions.
The woman slowly stood, her golden-brown hair cascading around her shoulders. Though her fair skin was covered with smudges of dirt, her face was as porcelain. Both she and he were silent for what seemed like an eternity, looking into one another. They knew they both felt the same. Finally the warrior remembered he was among royalty. He spoke bowing down on one knee, "My·. my lady."
The woman drew close and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Thou art brave indeed to rescue me. I am Gwaelin, daughter of Lorik," she said slowly.
The man rose to his feet, standing slightly taller than Gwaelin.
She immediately saw the bloody gash from the dragonās talon in his shoulder and put her hand to her mouth at the sight.
The hero looked to his wound then back to her, "āTis not painful," he fibbed.
Without hesitation, Gwaelin reached down and tore a strip of yellow satin from her dress. She wrapped the strip around his pierced shoulder and tied it tightly.
"I thank thee·" the young man whispered· and upon uttering the words, released the first smile he had known in months. Gwaelin returned the expression.
Then a dark thought crossed his visage. The warrior fumbled to clear it, "My lady -- the dragon -- it said· er, that thou· well, that thou and it..."
"I heard all of what was said," Gwaelin acknowledged.
"Is it true?" The man looked away after asking so bold a thing.
"Never. I would die before I would be touched by it." The princess spoke firmly. The warrior looked back to Gwaelin and knew this to be true.
Both of them regarded one another, speechless. Both held back the emotion within them as best they could.
"At last, my lady, I have slain the Green Dragon; thou art now free." The young man said abruptly, starting to turn away. Gwaelin stopped him.
"Please, ease thyself for a moment. Thou art weary," she said. The princess examined the young manās creased, tired face.
This man is my strength, so brave, so strong, and he has come for me.
"I can see through many trials thou hast been. Through these, ye remained strong and did not lose heart. Now thou hast come down here to this evil place·.for me." Gwaelin smiled at the man sweetly, then pronounced, "My heart belongs to thee."
She put a soft, pale hand to the manās weathered face.
"I cannot allow this lady Gwaelin. I value thy honor," he said pulling away suddenly. "Thou art of royal blood, and thy father, Lorik, would be outraged if thou were to·.feel this way about me."
Gwaelin shook her head. "No, brave one. My father has told me for as long as I can remember that I will love the man that proves himself worthy. Thou hast proven thyself so. Please, accept my love."
The young man opened his mouth to protest once more, but the princess put a finger to his lips.
"Hush," she whispered. Gwaelin leaned up and gently kissed his lower lip.
He could not hold back his feelings any longer. The young warrior put an arm around Gwaelinās lithe body and pressed it close to his. He returned her gentle kiss firmly. The princess quivered, feeling the sudden strong flow of emotion from the kiss. They embraced for what seemed like forever.
"I long to see my home and the light of day." Gwaelin whispered at last. "Will thou take me to the castle?"
The young man held the princess of Tantegal and replied, "Certainly, lady Gwaelin. For far too long hast thou been here."
A tear of joy flowed down Gwaelinās cheek. "I'm so happy!"
And with that, the man picked her up in his arms to carry her away.
* * *
Brilliant rays of sun offered a warm greeting as the pair emerged from the cavern mouth. In the distance, a rainbow could be seen arching over Tantegal Castle.
Quite an unusual sight for these times, the warrior observed.
"It has been long since I last saw the sun." Gwaelin squinted. "It is so beautiful to me now."
"Indeed. But to see its light upon thy face is even more beautiful, dear princess." The warrior grinned. "Hast thou ever flown as a Wyvern does, lady?"
Gwaelin looked at the young man in puzzlement.
Still grinning, he withdrew a pair of leathery, dark-blue wings with white feathers from his belt. He put his finger through the ring at the base of the wings that clipped them together, then held them above his head.
Immediately, the wings expanded to several times their size above him.
"Hold tightly to me princess, and do not let go."
The wings beat rapidly and Gwaelin clasped her arms tightly around her heroās neck. They rose into the air, the noxious swamp shrinking below them. The princess of Tantegal giggled with childish delight. Soon, the wings had carried them so high that they could see all of Alefgard spread below them.
The warrior had used the Wings of the Wyvern many times before, but the experience now with Gwaelin was somehow new, exciting. The wings bore them west in the direction of Tantegal Castle.
The princess pointed out the castle and the tiny town of Brecconary below them which appeared to be small scale models from this height. Her face lit up with delight at seeing her home castle once again. The Wings of the Wyvern descended slowly on the air currents until they landed the young man and woman gently in the Plains of Tantegal. The magical wings then evaporated.
The sunlight shone on the rain drops, causing the grasses of the plains to glisten around the warrior and princess. The man carried Gwaelin in his arms to the castle, while a soft breeze blew the sweet smell of new fallen rain -- and new found love.
"Welcome home sweet princess," he said affectionately.
They entered the castle together and were greeted by all. Children clapped for them. Merchants, guards and common folk welcomed Gwaelin and cheered the warrior for his bravery. And for a time, the people forgot the desolate condition of their land.
The hero approached the stairs that led to the throne room of King Lorik. He strode up the stairs, bearing the princess.
"Father," Gwaelin whispered.
There the king sat, his head leaning against his fist. The old kingās face drained of emotion and lacking of sleep. He looked as though he had spent many sleepless nights in despair, pondering his country and the loss of his daughter.
Gwaelin leaped from the warriorās arms and ran toward Lorik. "Father!" she cried out.
The kingās face lifted, then brightened. He embraced his daughter muttering words of thanks. "Oh thank all that is good that thou art safe."
"Father, this brave man ventured into the dungeon in which I was kept and he slew the dreadful Green Dragon that kept me," Gwaelin gestured toward the hero who was bowing in respect.
"And dost thou deem this man worthy of thy love?"
"Indeed I do father." The princess nodded assuringly. The king sat back on his throne then spoke, "Rise now descendant of Erdrick the Great."
The young warrior did as he was told.
Lorik continued, "Forever shall I be grateful for the gift of my daughter returned. Accept my thanks."
The man nodded humbly.
"Now, Gwaelin, come to my side." Princess Gwaelin sat down in the throne beside her father.
"Will thou now tell me of thy deeds so they will not be forgotten?" King Lorik asked. "Yes my lord," the warrior replied. And he recalled the tale of his journey ö offering complete descriptions of his actions, thoughts and emotions. He dwelled especially on the battle with the vile dragon Kirash.
The king wrote hastily with a quill on a long, rolled scroll.
"I know that my quest is far from complete my lord," the young man said, "I must depart now."
King Lorik nodded in admiration to the young man. "Good bye now. Take care and tempt not the Fates."
He turned to walk away when Gwaelin called after him. "Wait a moment, please," she said.
"I would give a present to thee." She scrambled toward him to where he stood, then pressed a gold trinket shaped like a heart and compass into his palm.
"Please accept my love. Even when we two are parted by great distances, I shall be with thee."
Gwaelin smiled, then said, "Farewell. I love thee."
After she kissed him she returned to her fatherās side at the throne.
The young warrior sighed deeply, descended the steps of the throne room, and left Tantegal castle.
* * *
The descendant of Erdrick faced the edge of a high cliff overlooking the dark Charlock Castle on the Isle of Dragons. The dark clouds had returned and moved quickly across the sky. A fierce wind blew from the direction of the isle, causing the tail of his helm and his cloak to whip wildly behind him. He looked down at the gold trinket, Gwaelinās Love, in his hand then clutched it tightly. She was the root of his strength.
His thoughts sunk deep. The man thought about his dragon quest, his conquest of Kirash, and realized his sole victory was now small in relation to the pending battle that approached by the day. He thought how Kirash might have easily prevailed ö had only the beast not been so arrogant. The Green Dragon brought about its own downfall, as it was with the Scorpions that struck one another. The young warrior slipped Gwaelinās Love into his glove and stood, ready to continue his long journey.
Pride, be gone! He thought. Evil will claim what succumbs to its power.
There is hope yet for an age of peace.
Copyright 1998, Nick Marcotte (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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