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A Knight In Darkness
I, Princess Elaine McCloud, was born 420 A.D. I was the daughter of the illustrious Irish War-King, Aiden McCloud. It was he who planned to marry-off his discarded daughter, none other than me, to gain an alliance with another rival Irish clan.
On the eve of my marriage, I desperately wanted an escape from this life. I took my horse, Gambit, out on a midnight ride from my home, Castle Icarus, to the Kilbourne Road. It was here that I was attacked by Scottish knights. During the struggle, I fell from my horse and was trampled. The funeral for me was held the next day; my father and would-be groom buried my body in the Royal mausoleum; it has been 279 years since the accident…
My head is splitting with a migraine as I open and close my eyes waiting for the light to flood into them and allow me a peek of vision. I stretch my hand out, grasping for the ivory bell that sets upon my nightstand. Instead of the warm, wooden, handle of the summoning bell, my hand falls upon cold, stone wet with moss.
Where am I? How is it that I arrived in this stone box? Where are my father and my nurse? I can’t breathe!
My hands press against the heavy slate of rock that entombs me. I push with as much force as my fragile body allows, but the stone stays still, unmoved. I desperately beg the stone to fade or shatter. I focus all my thought into the slab, willing it to move. I again place my palms against the slab’s course flesh…and push.
The stone explodes outwardly with a surge of violent power. I wrench my hands back to my body, inspecting them, fearing that they had been ripped off in the brutal discharge of power. After examining them four times over, I set them down upon the lip of my stone coffin and hoist my body over the side of the casket. My body collapsed to the floor as I take a minute to assess my physical condition and to make an assumption as to where I currently lie.
The walls are a pale grey with moss stretching forth from cracks in the wall, making spiraling designs upon their monochromatic background. The floor is a multicolored stone, blanketed with a thick layer of dust and dirt. The ceilings, despite being vaulted, are low in height, while even the largest of cracks in the roof let in only the smallest bits of moonlight. I stood in a vast, circular chamber with one hallway, protruding from its right-hand side, and seems to stretch as far as the eye could see. I came to two realizations. First, I was not in my father’s castle; second, I had a long walk ahead of me.
I squatted before stretching my legs and torso. My body felt like it had been years since I had moved, yet it felt as if it had been only yesterday. I walked down the long hallway passes, niches, and dead-ended halls all forming from the path I now traveled upon. The farther I walked, the more I noticed the cement caskets; with each new casket I crossed my curiosity heighted. Finally, the hall seemed to narrow, and I drew close to a casket emblazoned by a shield adorned with an ivory, Celtic cross.
I warily approached the tomb. The words “Here lies the Guardian of Sleep,” followed by the final resting rites were inscribed upon its onyx-colored lid. I had heard that name before, perhaps in some story or a tale of my ancestors. It was not the words that worried me but how the cross seemed to pulse, as if it had its own heartbeat. Against all precaution advised as every sensory alarm went off inside my head, I touched two fingers to the center of the cross. The instant my fingers impacted the white stone, I was thrown from my feet and onto my back.
My head hit the floor with a sickening crack. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth, leaving the tang of rusted iron upon my tongue. The echoing twinge of pain left my ears ringing. As my senses refocused, I became aware of another entity in the room.
The man, if that is what I could call him, was attired in a garb of all black. He looked normal enough until his wings came into view. They were stretched out wide on each side of his silhouette. His body was lean and muscular, the body of a warrior. Strength rippled from his silhouette as he remained perched upon the tomb. Even more curious than he, was the sword that was plunged into the cement casket. It was gold-edged and tinted red. The hilt was an onyx black and attained the shape of a wing on each side of the cleft made by the sword tang. The counterweight followed the suit of black, but filed down into a cross at the end.
“WHO DARES TRESPASS UPON THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF THE GUARDIAN?” His voice resonated within the very walls of my head; yet his lips had not moved enough to make a whisper.
My lips trembled as he gazed at me with those eyes of black and blood-red. His lips curled back in a snarl exposing razor sharp fangs, and again his voice roared inside my head.
“WHO ARE YOU?”
His hand grasped the sword’s pommel, and he wrenched it free with little effort. The sword had begun pulsating, its gold colors running red down the length of the blade. His legs flexed, and he shot forward arching the blade toward my neck with a grace that made the movement seem artistic rather than lethal.
The epiphany of my impending fatality shocked my tongue out of immobility.
“I am Princess Elaine McCloud from King Aiden McCloud, heir to the throne of Kilbourne.”
His blade stopped against my throat, slicing only the first few layers of skin, releasing only a single drop of blood upon his blade. The bead ran down the sword to the hilt where it was absorbed into his pale skin, and his skin radiated with its presence. His body seemed to glow, albeit briefly, with intense power.
He retracted his blade, spinning it effortlessly, as he kneeled at my feet. His head bowed, he extended one of his pale fingers towards an opening in the crypt that I had not previously seen. I backed away from the still-kneeling shadow towards the door.
Once outside the sepulcher, I sprinted for the nearest cover. I still did not know who, or what, that entity of night was, but I was quite sure that if he wanted me dead, then dead is what I’d be. Still I hid behind a grave stone three rows over from the burial chamber.
I ran from the cemetery, my legs smashing against the gravel road beneath my feet; fire caused from the fatigue my body now felt roared within my feeble lungs. I ran as fast as I could, as far as I could, for as long as I could. When I had hit my threshold for stamina, I fell to the ground. The course, rough, stones scraping against my legs revealed their disapproval with the additional weight of my body by carving a long gash down my calf. I lay there in the dirt, catching my breath. Then I heard the howls of the wolves.
In the old days, we used to say that the wolves were the most dangerous animals. Their eyes could blind with the smallest of gazes, and they could shoot fire from their mouths. It was this fear that drove me on. I pushed up from the ground with all the strength I could muster. Again I ran, from Kilbourne Road to the Thrawn Plateau. It was here that my father’s castle rested. I hoped to find haven from the wolves inside its stone walls.
The Thrawn Plateau was a series of several steep stairs that began at the base of the Kilbourne Road and stretched upward towards the heavens. My legs pumped hard as I pressed myself beyond my limits. The adrenaline soared through my veins and throughout my body. While running, I turned my head to glance behind me. The pack of wolves, now numbering six, was gaining on me. If I had not chosen these steps I would have been food for the wolves long ago.
M vision centered on the direction of my path, as I lost my footing and toppled forward. My shoulder smashed into the rock face of the next stair, and I felt my shoulder dislodge. I quickly rolled to my feet, ignoring the pain in my arm.
My stumble had allowed the wolves to gain more ground on me, and now it would be a close race to the castle. The last few steps were much larger than the earlier steps; they had been designed to keep out enemy invaders who wished to pillage the castle. I drew near to the first of these steps and leaped over the three-foot hurdle. The next hurdle came quicker and was at least a foot taller; I dived onto it and scrabbled to regain my footing. I rushed towards the final stair, if I could just make it over this step, I would be free from the wolves. I jumped as high as my legs permitted, and my hands slid down against the rock face.
No. I need to make it over. The castle is just beyond this stair. Come on.
I urged myself forward, and again I slid down. I turned on my heel, heading back towards the wolves. I could see the hunger in their eyes as I closed the gap between us. I turned and bounded towards the wall. Just as I hit the stone side, I leaped with all my might; my hands found purchase upon the granite ledge. My arms flexed as I drew my body up towards the castle and out of the reach of the wolves. A snarl reached my ears, as a blinding pain seared across my leg. My eyes darted downward to see a large wolf sinking its teeth into my calf.
Ahhh! Get off me, you damn beast!
I kicked out at the wolf, landing a solid crack against its head. The wolf whimpered and dropped. Again I raised myself up, my arms wearied from the added weight of the beast, and rolled up onto the solid slab of stone.
My heartbeat slowed as I breathed the fire out of my lungs. Chills rippled through my spine as the cold stone iced my body, but I couldn’t stop, not now. If I did then the exhaustion would overcome me, and I would probably die out here, the unworthy prey, of some unforeseen beast or monster. I struggled to my feet, fighting the lethargy that wished to take control of my body and send it into a extensive slumber, my muscles screaming in protest of further use. I walked on, closing the distance between me and the castle’s sandstone walls.
As I drew up upon the castle I felt my strength waver, not because of my arduous trudge; the waver had formulated from the sight of my father’s castle that now lie in ruins.
My God. What has happened here? Where are the guards, the scouts, the torch fires? Why does my castle lay in ruins? Father…
My last question needed no answering. In the vast expanse of empty space, that had once housed a gate and a guard house, a skeleton was held aloft by a noose that was tied to the remnants of the ramparts. My father’s body was still garbed in the Royal attire, his crown still perched atop his skeletal head. I felt the tear wind its way through my body to be shed by my eye, I took a sword that lay near my feet and ran towards the stairs. Beyond exhaustion I dully noted that my body yearned for rest.
Atop the stairs, I cut my father’s lifeless body down from his resting place. I clutched what was left of his remains in my arms. It was then that the wolf’s cry sounded again. I looked down towards the gap, and there in front of the pack stood the pack leader.
His fur shone silver-white, in contrast to the charcoal-black of the wolf pack, a frightening indicator that the leader wolf could not be killed by any Scottish weapon.
I quickly made peace with my father’s death. I crossed his body and folded his arms across his chest. I set off down the staircase that wrapped around the castle’s westernmost tower. I had to get to the armory on the other side of the castle.
There were two wolves had followed me and were now pacing the floors, they had lost my scent and were looking for a trace of it to identify my position. I had slouched down behind a crumbling, inner wall; rocks littered my vicinity, and I had an idea formulating in my head. I reached down to pick up an arrowhead-shaped stone and pelted it towards a far corner more than fifty feet away.
The stone struck true, and the wolves descended upon its location. I sprang from my knee and rushed across the open platform that used to house the castle’s barracks. The wolves heard my footsteps and rebounded back upon my position. I tore up the stone-cobbled path as I ran, pumping all my power into my legs driving them hard into the ground. I reached the ledge of the upper level, which hung above the open courtyard, and dove off the ridge, reaching for the rope that lay limply in midair just as the wolves arrived at my heels.
One wolf gallantly bounded off the ledge after me, hoping desperately to find purchase in my heel again; fortunately, the same trick did not work twice on me, and I kicked out with my boot. The loud crack of my foot connecting with the head of the wolf echoed throughout the castle’s now crumbling walls.
I swung myself across the gap and flung myself forward into the corridor that led to the armory. I sped down the hallway, vividly aware of the wolf pack that trailed closely behind me.
My body slammed against the sturdy maple door that housed the weaponry I now desperately needed. The door opened with a vociferous creak , and I slammed it shut behind me. There in the armory, I took a moment to catch my breath and formulate a plan.