Melody stamped and whinnied, her breath coming in short gasps after our gallop. My father’s armor is a loose fit, but beholding the stone behemoths as they wade through the sea and the wooden ships sailing on the air, I am thankful for its protection. What would the king say about his only daughter going as ambassador to these strangers without consent? Would these outsiders accept my presence?
My heart begins the rhythm of retreat and the clattering of metal echoes as I fight to control my shaking body. When I again am still I become aware these impossible giants moved without sound! As my ears strain to detect even a trace of reverberation, I hear something. Melodic, whimsical strains swirl around me.
For a moment I think it is some ode to their homeland, but no, it is too complex for one song, too many levels for even my father’s musicians to comprehend. Suddenly I understand. The cadence and urgency behind their tones reminds me of my father’s cry to arms. High above me, beings I can’t see are speaking to one another. Calling out orders and readying for something, a battle?
A prayer flies from my heart. Our own army was badly wounded putting down the rebellion in the outer lands of Altrour. This new threat is far more than it had faced when whole. A war with these beings would end before it began, and my homeland would not be victorious—No! This can not happen. There has to be something to be done! My grip tightens on my father’s spear. If I am going to prove my ability to one day rule this kingdom I can’t back away in times of uncertainty. I will find some way for us to fight.
In the distance to the east is the kingdom of Naltra. A two day’s gallop away, and another three until I would return with reinforcements. Could our army hold them until then?
I turn Melody toward the setting sun and urge her into the forest of Pern. The air beneath the trees is thick with the steam of hidden springs and I fight to hold my position on her back as my vision begins to blur. The heat envelops me and radiates within the armor. I slow Melody to a trot and somehow manage to remove the helmet. I’m loathed to stop, but I halt her, extricating myself from the rest of the armor and hiding it. I’ll need more than the chainmail I wear for the battle that awaits my return.
For endless hours my ears are assaulted by the music of the enemy. Were it not for the forest landmarks I pass and the shifting of the moonlight, I’d think I’d not distanced myself from the shore at all. Are they following me? How could they have seen me? Am I drawing them away from Altrour? As I continue on I am certain their music is somehow becoming louder, but I’ve left my enemy behind.
When I leave the forest I stop at a stream and collapse into the shallow water as Melody takes a drink. The chill revives my spirit. I dare not give us more than an hour’s rest. I walk Melody to keep her muscles loose before allowing her to stop and graze while I search for the sweet crin berries my tutors have shown me to eat.
The rest of our journey is much of the same, my heart fearing the battle I know has begun when I hear the music stop. In the light of the setting sun I approach Clorn, the capital of Naltra. As Melody and I canter through the city’s cobblestone streets the colors of my father’s kingdom draw hatred. When I reach the castle the guards hail me.
“What business do you have here, princess?”
“I desire to speak with his highness.”
A guard pulls me to the ground, searching me for weapons before escorting me to the ornate inner chamber of the castle.
I curtsy with all the grace chain-mesh will allow. “Your highness.”
“Why,” a smile curves beneath his thick white mustache, “should I help you?”
“Beg pardon, majesty?”
“I desire honesty, princess. I am aware of the plight your people face. What will you give me for aid?” His eyes speak in silence.
“My father does not know I’m here.” My legs begin to shake. “I cannot consent to marriage without my king’s approval.” I square my shoulders and inwardly beg my father’s forgiveness. “If you will help my kingdom, my father will consent to your terms.”
His twisted teeth show in full, yellowed from years drinking. He comes to me with open arms and embraces me in the stench of the stren he imbibes to numb his mind. “If my son approves of you, my help you will have. Guard! Bring Harcue to us.”
A few moments later the prince strides in and his smile reveals the twisted teeth of his father. He carries two bottles of stren.
“In thanks for your majesty’s great gift.” He hands the king the bottles and bows.
“Ready our troops to aid Altrour!” The king nods to Harcue and leaves us alone, wandering off to enjoy his liquor.
The prince smiles. “I knew you would come.”
“If my kingdom requires aid, I will do what I must.”
“I counted on it, princess.” He caresses my cheek.
“My king will appreciate your aid.” I say, resisting the urge to recoil. “I’m sure he will approve of our marriage.” I feel my heart twist.
Harcue studies me. “Will you ever learn to love me, princess?”
“I will always be grateful for your help. Together we will bring peace to our lands.”
“My plan exactly, Leighahna.” His smile widens. “It’s a pity our fathers will not live to see our wedding.”
I frown, stepping back. “What do you mean?”
“I am the head of my father’s weapons research.” He bows deeply. “Who else, but Naltra, could orchestrate such a mighty attack?”
Thank you so much for reading! Is there anything you’d like to ask Princess Leighahna? If so, leave your question in a comment below and you might just get your question asked and answered in my next character interview!(UPDATE! Click the link at the very bottom to read my interview with Princess Leighahna!)
This story is one offering in this weeks selection of Blah Buster short stories on When Readers Write. This week’s theme is Moments of Courage. To read more, go to http://www.whenreaderswrite.com
I originally started this story in response to a story challenge posted on The Art of Writing. To see the post that started my journey into the world of fantasy writing, go to http://tobiasmastgrave.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/story-challenge-of-the-week-143/
Princess Leighahna’s interview: https://justinaluther.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/ten-questions-for-a-fictional-character-princess-leighahna-of-arising/