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Alexander and Narcisa
The wheel of the cart churned through another puddle of noxious mud, splattering Ruth in the face. Wiping off the rancid slime, she began to reconsider, for the thousandth time, why she agreed to this foolish journey. However, seeing Alexander sitting gracefully at the front of the horse-drawn cart, sword gleaming as he applied polish to it, brought all those reasons back to her, beginning with one evening two weeks ago…
“I believe I would like to see more of the world,” said Alexander, as he and Ruth were sitting during a slow drive from the market. “Maybe I’ll find some horrid creature that will only bring fame to me with its death.” Ruth dismissed this, as always. Alexander, a young man her father hired to help harvest the wheat crop, was always going on about adventures. The boy was very handsome, with lovely blue-gray eyes and wavy blond hair, and Ruth was in love the moment she saw him. But when adding one and two requires an intelligent squint and use of fingers, it does not inspire the image of noble warrior. They continued on their journey, Ruth staring wistfully at his vacant face.
But, that night she learned the gravity of the situation. Listening at the doorway of the kitchen, Ruth heard him speaking to her father, saying,” I’m afraid I can no longer help you, sir. I am seeking an adventure to a far-off land.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that – we needed help this year. What are you planning to do for your little quest?”
Alexander looked nonplussed for a moment. “I’m not sure yet,” he said. “But I would like to slay something deadly and monstrous.”
By way of farewell, Ruth’s father advised Alexander to speak to the local oracle for guidance. Ruth stealthily followed him, and soon learned that Alexander was to kill Narcisa, the terrible snake goddess of the south. He was to first find some faithful companions. Ruth vaguely remembered Alexander being terrified of snakes, but this did not seem to register in the boy’s mind. One of the last questions Alexander spoke was whether the oracle knew of any local magic weapons.
“What, like a shop? Sorry, sir, but in order for the quest to go properly, you’ll have to find it by accident. Just the way it goes.”
Richard sighed. “Fine. So, how should I seek faithful companions? “
“Try going to town tomorrow and asking around. Maybe put an ad up for something. Put some mention of a reward – sidekicks are much more loyal when they got something in it for them.” There was a loud thump in another room, and the oracle rolled his eyelid-tattooed eyes. “Crystal ball’s on the fritz again. Good luck on your journey, sir.”
When it was obvious that Alexander was going home to rest for his exciting quest, Ruth snuck back to her home and back to her room, and began to pack a potato sack with clothes, food, and her journal. Grabbing a pair of her father’s old overalls and straw hat, she disguised herself as a young, slim boy. If anyone was going to protect Alexander from deadly monsters and poison ivy, it was going to be her.
At dawn, Ruth crept out of the house, but not before doing one last tour and leaving a note on the kitchen table. All she knew to write was that she was leaving to protect her beloved, and might never return. A few tears squeezed out of her eyes as she began to walk along the main road to town.
The smell of town reached Ruth’s nostrils two hours later, a lovely aroma of food, mud, and pack animals. Soon, the Town Square reached her eyes, a warm visage of scurrying peddlers and shoving customers, along with the occasional wagon swimming through the sea of capitalism. The figure of Alexander was soon visible, standing in a noble position, head tilted high, until a loaded cart ran over his foot. He cursed and limped to a bench, near a paper stating “CAP SIDE-KIK WONTED FOR AVENTER. REI $. SPEEK TO HERO”. Hesitantly, Ruth walked over to the seated boy, and coughed politely. His head snapped up and he asked, “Who’re you?”
Because of her failure to consider an alternate name, Ruth could only say the first one in her mind. “Um…F-Fife. Fife Blackwood.” Fife was the named of her beloved late dog.
“You wanna go on a dangerous journey? We’ll have to fight some snake gel.”
“Uh, sure. I’m looking for something to do.”
Alexander stared at her skeptically. “Well, welcome. You can come.”
“Thanks…what should we do now?”
Alexander rose and roughly handed her a bulky parcel. “Well, first you can hold this while we wait for someone else to come. Then we’ll buy a couple horses and a map and be on our way.”
Ruth/Fife nodded and adjusted the heavy burden, and they both sat on the bench again. Alexander zoned out once more, so Ruth began to observe the crowd and any possible companions. About twenty minutes later, a lanky young man approached them and asked if they were still looking. Alexander asked the same questions again, and the boy, named Glenn, joined the party. He and Ruth were sent to buy four horses. Glenn was quiet, but eventually told Ruth that he was new to the area and looking for something exciting to do. She gruffly responded with a similar answer, trying to maintain a look of masculinity.
They started their grand quest that afternoon, but not on separate horses. Due to lack of funds (which was due to Alexander’s ignorance of trade with wily peddlers), they could only rent a small cart with one ancient mule pulling it. They placed the luggage in the cart and, finding the mule could only handle so much weight, Alexander sat in the driver seat while Glenn and Ruth walked alongside, the former keeping a firm hold on the mule’s rein and occasionally tugging it forward.
The cave of Narcisa was not that far off, only about twenty miles to the south near the fringe of some lush forest. However, trouble soon arrived in the form of a lone horseman. The stranger quickly reached them and began to ride alongside, and Ruth was immediately suspicious. Glenn tightened his hold on the mare’s rein and also stared at the man. Of course, Alexander flashed a radiant smile and bellowed, “Welcome, my good sir! What prompts you to come out on such a fine day?”
Ruth saw a smile also flash on the man’s face, though it was rather menacing. “Just enjoying the scenery sir, though I admit I am rather low on supplies. Would you be so kind as to offer a pathetic waif some supplies?”
“Sorry sir, but we need all of this for our quest. It is to be most perilous.”
“Oh? But you are in peril already.” The man swung out a loaded crossbow and held it steadily, straight at Alexander’s head. “Now will you be so kind as to give me your things? Have the small lad give me the supplies.”
Alexander said nothing, his eyes wide open and beads of sweat sliding down his forehead. Glenn was immobile as well. At the robber’s command, Ruth walked slowly to the back of the cart and carried some things near his horse. A desperate hope began to form in her mind. A loud rustle disturbed the silence, and the masked man whirled around in his seat. Faster than she knew how, Ruth wildly swung a heavy sack against the man’s head, resulting in a large clang and him falling out of the saddle, lifeless. Utterly shocked, she stood still as a statue until Glenn patted her shoulder and smiled. “Good job. You just saved our lives.”
Alexander was still composing himself. “Yes, well, I was just thinking of doing just that, but you did alright. Now, please place the stuff back on so we can resume.”
They began their journey again.
The next day, the party was about three miles away from the dreaded cave when the scenery transformed. The hilly, green meadows, bursting with wildflowers, was now changing to ancient and looming trees and the puddle of mud that was now the road. Even in daylight, it was significantly darker and cooler. There was also a noticeable lack of fauna; no deer or rabbits scurried across the path. It was as silent as a tomb.
A weathered sign stood by the road, reading “Home of Narcisa. Leave or dye!”
Geez, can’t anyone write properly anymore? Ruth stared at the message as Alexander went on a safari expedition with Glenn. Their shouts were soon heard, and Ruth rushed to their voices. A large rock stood in a clearing, looking irritated and demanding someone pull “the idiot knife out.”
Alexander looked confused. “Why would someone stick a sword in a rock?”
“You see a talking rock and the sword is what’s confusing you?” Glenn replied, carefully circling the stone.
Ruth recognized it immediately from her childhood stories, “It’s a troll, but an injured one. We need to pull the sword out.”
Glenn approached the rock and pulled sharply, but he did not succeed. “Maybe it’s one of those hero things, like only the chosen one can pull it out and it’ll be some magical and deadly sword.”
Alexander theatrically clapped his hands together and said, “Right. Let’s get my magical weapon!” He placed both hands on the scarred hilt and pulled upward, to no avail. He glared at the weapon and tried again, but the only sound was a pop of his back, and Alexander hurriedly sat down. “It’s impossible. It practically fused inside the troll!”
“I’ll try. It’s worth a shot,” said Ruth, and she pulled abruptly up. The troll groaned as the blade slid out like butter. It was very heavy, and Ruth swayed to the side carrying it. Alexander immediately leaped up and grabbed it.
“Hey, that’s Fife’s sword!” Glenn glared at Alexander as the troll muttered his thanks and shuffled away.
“Well, I loosened it for him. And besides I’m the hero on this quest and the hero gets the magical sword!” Alexander smiled smugly and dragged the weapon back to the cart.
Glenn was still protesting, but Ruth only said, “S’alright. I can’t hold it upright anyway. Let’s just go,” although she was also irritated at their leader. Glenn sighed and followed Ruth back to the road.
The climax of the journey arrived that evening, when the cart sloshed through mud to the entrance of Narcisa’s lair. Another sign was visible, and said “THIS IS YER LAST CHANS!”
Maybe, if I survive this battle, I’ll become an English teacher. Alexander faltered a bit; apparently, misspelling disturbed him as well. But, he was able to take a theatrical breath and walk with his companions into the cave; the mule (now named Boonie) was tied to a nearby tree.
It was dark and damp in the tunnel, and their boots were soon soaked with muddy water. Every now and then, a rat would scurry by loudly and startle everyone, especially Alexander, who was holding the sword in front of him in an air of noble courage. Actually, it only caused loud thumps when he struck the walls during those little surprises. The path soon developed a downward slope, but there were no other pathways to be seen. It was completely silent, save for the clanging and scurrying, but everyone was becoming increasingly tense. A lightening of the air was soon apparent, and dim, gold light was splashing the corridor. The source was a white, wax candle burning steadily, and revealed the contents of the room, which also opened into other rooms. In a rough rocking chair sat a venerable, small woman, busily knitting and humming some ditty.
Alexander beamed and strode to the seated woman, but Ruth and Glenn stood back, skeptical of her.
“Hello lovies. What are you doing here?” She gave a wide smile, crinkling her eyes and wrinkling her face.
Alexander kneeled in front of her. “Hello, young lady. We are just wondering if you know any dreaded snake goddess named Narcisa. Do you know anyone with, say, scaly skin and fangs?”
“Well, why are you looking for her, dearie?” The woman placed her knitting away and stared at all of them in turn.
“Oh, we’re just looking to slay her and bring her corpse back to gain fame and fortune.”
The woman smiled and rose. “How nice. I’ll go fetch her right now.”
Alexander smiled smugly and turned back to Ruth and Glenn. “You two are always so paranoid. But now, all we have to do is wait for the snaky lassy and give her a quick stab!” Behind him, the woman was entirely covered in a white cloak and was growing exponentially.
“Um, Alexander, you might want to turn around…” Ruth could see the shadows of snakes against the cave wall. “Our hostess is…changing.”
Alexander whirled around, but the cloak was now off and Narcisa stood towering in front of them, snakes wiggling from her scalp, skin covered in scales, and yellow fangs protruding over her thin lips. Her slit eyes glittered malevolently as she slowly walked towards the three adventurers.
Alexander gave an unexpectedly feminine shriek and scampered behind Glenn.
“Fife?” he whispered.
“Yes?” Ruth was keeping her eyes on Narcisa, who was peering curiously at the sword.
“I just remembered. I’m uh, a bit terrified of s-snakes!” He whimpered as the snaky woman whirled her hideous head at him.
Ruth ignored the hero and hissed to Glenn,” Try and make a distraction. I’ll grab the sword.”
Glenn nodded and strode carefully to the right, Alexander cowering behind him with every step. Ruth went to the left, and noticed something about Narcisa. Although she had many moving snakes attached to her, only her actual head had eyes, and seemed to have all the control. Also, the monster could only focus on one thing at a time. Her eyes were constantly flickering between the two threats, and she was bewildered as a result of it.
Suddenly, Glenn shouted at Narcisa and gestured wildly. “Hey, snaky! Look over here, ya ugly streak of slime!” Narcisa’s extended neck whirled to this new development, and Ruth dove for the sword. Unable to completely raise it, she opted to hacked at the creature’s long tail. Narcisa gave a horrible shriek and struck Ruth with one swing of the maimed limb. She was lifted off the floor and into the wall. The sword clanked next to Glenn, and as Ruth blacked out, He held the sword high and…
“Fife? You alright?” Glenn was staring at her face, mopping her brow with a wet cloth.
Ruth sat erect, dazed and confused. They were back in the forest, near the cart. Glenn had a few scratches, but seemed all right. Alexander was not there. “Where’s Alexander? Did he get hurt or…” Ruth couldn’t finish the sentence.
“No, he’s fine. He’s just dragging Narcisa into the cart. You, however, got pretty beat up. How’s your head?” He wrung out the rag in the grass.
“It’s fine. So, are we done?”
“Yea, I think so. Alexander’s pretty shook up. I don’t think he’ll want to face something like Narcisa anytime soon. We’re going back to town when he returns.”
Ruth bit her lip, worried. She noticed the thick bandages wrapped around her torso. “What happened?” she asked.
“Well, you got hit against the wall, so I grabbed the sword and made a crazy swing against her head, and lopped it off pretty cleanly. She just collapsed after that. Then, I carried you out here and Alexander said he’d take care of Narcisa.” He gave Ruth a strange look. “Now, I think you need to tell me something.”
“Oh…so you noticed that I am a—“
“Very brave person? Yes, but foolish as well.” He spoke loudly; Alexander was just exiting the cave, dragging the creature’s feet with a disgusted expression. “I noticed when I had to bandage you,” he added sotto voce.
Ruth blushed, extremely embarrassed, but Glenn only helped her up and into the front of the cart. “You ready, Alexander?”
“Yea.” He paused, and looked perplexed at Ruth. “Why is he in the cart?”
Glenn gave him a cold look. “Because he is very hurt, and has helped much in you quest. Fife deserves it.”
Alexander just shrugged and they started walking out of the forest. Ruth was closest to Glenn, and softly said, “So…did you suspect me at all?”
He smiled slightly. “No, not really. But I wasn’t really surprised either. You tended to be very protective of him. Why?”
“Because I love him, of course.” Ruth was not very convincing though.
“Are you sure?” Glenn asked, giving her a very strange look.
She only shook her head. “I don’t know anymore. I suppose I’ll decide when we get home.”
“Good thing we heading that way.” Glenn flashed a quick grin, and she noticed that his eyes weren’t blue-gray like Alexander’s but a dark brown with bits of gold. She smiled and stared into the distance.
“Ow!” Alexander sucked at his splinter-filled thumb and glared, having just rubbed it against an old tree. And Ruth realized that he wasn’t that handsome anymore, but looked younger and weaker, especially with globs of green blob stuck in his hair.
Well, maybe he’ll get better when we get home, and want to settle down.
But she knew better.