Slowly, the young boy opened the door before him, his face long and his heart heavy, and with the softest of steps, entered the room and closed the door behind him. Standing tall, he breathed deep and carried his gaze about the room, and as he stared, he smiled. It was just as Gramps would’ve wanted it – a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Then, his eyes fell upon the portrait hanging upon the wall across from him and his smile began to fade. With soft feet, he made his way towards the painting, and reaching it, he sighed at the slender man staring back at him, a smile beneath a long, silvery, well-kempt beard, an unmistakeable twinkle in his eye.

“The hunt’s tomorrow, Gramps,” he said, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. “Still no word from your friends. I don’t know what to do, you know. Janet’s saying we should just go, just sell up like everybody keeps saying and go. But I can’t. And I can’t hunt that thing on my own either. So what am I supposed to do?”

Sniffling, the young boy wiped his nose as his eyes glistened. “I’m scared, Gramps. That thing hit another village today, killed more people. I’m scared I’m going to have to hunt it on my own. I won’t survive that, will I? But if I don’t, what kind of knight will I be then? I don’t know what to do.”

Just then, the door swung open once more, and sniffling, the young boy wiped his tears and spun to face the door, forcing a smile to his lips as he did so.

“Lewis…?” came a soft voice from the door as a little girl’s face came into view. “You in here?”

“Yeah,” Lewis replied, forcing his smile wider.

“Oh.” The little girl smiled. Then, she frowned. “You been crying?”

“Don’t be silly!”

Shaking her head, the little girl hurried to her brother. “You been crying, Lewis. What is it?”

“I’m not crying! You’re just imagining things.”

Reaching her brother, the little girl’s frown deepened. “They’re not coming, are they?”

“Of course, they’re coming!”

The little girl shook her head. “You’re lying.”

Shaking his head, the young boy sighed and stood tall.

“Janet,” he said, his voice firm, “I already told you. Their letter came this morning. They’ll meet me at the square tomorrow.”

“This the letter you managed to lose on the way home? Is it that one?”

“What? You calling me a liar?”

The little girl stared hard at her brother.

“I’m coming with you tomorrow, then,” she said at last.

“No, you’re not!”

“Yes, I am!”

“No, you’re not!”

“Yes I am!”


“Yes, I am! Yes, I am! Yes, I—”

“Janet!” Lewis thundered, silencing his sister. “You are not coming with me tomorrow.”


“They will come! Okay? They’ll come.”

The little girl pouted in response.

“And besides,” Lewis continued, “it’s not as if—”

“Why don’t we just go?” little Janet pleaded. “Gramps won’t hate us! He’s the one that was always saying we’re all that matter! Let’s just go, Lewis, please!”

Smiling, young Lewis shook his head. “If I run, what kind of knight will that make me?”

The little girl moved to speak, but said nary a word.

“Go on,” Lewis urged, “go back to bed.”

Little Janet remained unmoving, her face long as she stared on at her brother.

“Go on, Janet. Everything’ll be okay. I promise.”

The little girl stood unmoving a spell longer, then turned for the door, and in silence, the young boy watched her leave, but as the door closed, his smile faded and he turned to the portrait. Only, this time, his eyes drifted to the two young children standing on either side of the elderly man. A boy and a girl. Them.

Breathing deep, the young boy swallowed hard and turned once more to the elderly man in the painting, and with a heavy sigh, he turned for the door, his heart heavier now than when he’d entered.


Standing within the city square, young Lewis couldn’t help but marvel that the array of horses, arms and armaments before him. Everywhere he looked, he saw weapons being sharpened, armour being polished, and knights either praying or in light chatter, and the more he saw, the more he marvelled. But the more he marvelled, the more he worried. With such a force hunting the monster, what hope did he have of finding that which he sought?

“Lewis?” came a voice from behind the young boy, spinning him round.

“Your Highness,” he gasped before dropping to one knee.

“Oh, rise, Lewis, please!” The woman behind him grinned, her golden hair in a tight bun as the sun reflected off the gleaming armour adorning her. “After all the time we spent together, you needn’t be so formal.

Grinning sheepishly, the boy rose.

“Sorry,” he said. “I just thought…well, I thought since you hadn’t spoken to us since it all happened, you’d…”

Biting his lip, the young boy shook his head and bowed his head. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologise,” the woman said, her voice soft and her smile dimmed. “You’re right, I have been avoiding you.”

Shaking his head, Lewis shrugged and raised his head. “You didn’t have choice. That thing tried to kill your family.”

The princess’s smile warmed as she breathed deep. “Sometimes, I forget how mature you are for your age, Lewis.”

The young boy grinned in response.

“How’ve you been?” the princess continued. “You and Janet, I mean.”

Lewis’s grin faded. “I… I don’t know. I still can’t accept Gramps created that thing, let alone tried to kill your family!”

The warrior woman sighed and nodded. “I know what you mean.” Then, she glanced past the boy to her knights ‘as’ they prepared themselves for the hunt. “Even I’m having doubts about it all.”

“Yeah!” Lewis nodded. “Gramps loved your father! He’d never—”

“People saw him, though, Lewis,” the princess interjected, turning to the boy once more. “Too many people saw him with that thing.”

“I know, I just…”

Smiling once more, the knight princess stepped forth and placed an armoured hand upon the young boy’s shoulder.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this – there’s more to this story than we know, and after the hunt, I intend to keep digging.”

“But your father said—”

“Never mind what my father said. Your grandfather helped this kingdom in more ways than either of us will ever know, and we owe it to him to find out just what happened.”

Standing tall, the young boy breathed deep and nodded, a smile upon his lips. “Thank you.”

The princess nodded at the boy, then stood tall herself. “That doesn’t explain why you’re here, though, does it?”

“Ah, well, I—”

“You know we can’t take you along, right? You may have been a knight in training, but this thing is far beyond your skill.”

“Yeah, I know that.” The boy nodded. “I just…uhm…I mean I—”

“Or are you here for those mages from the Tower?”

At those words, an icy hand gripped Lewis’s heart and squeezed tight.

“They’re not coming, Lewis,” the princess continued. “Father refused their request to join the hunt.”

“What?”  the young boy gasped.

The princess nodded. “We protect our own. Having Tower mages here hunting that monster is an insult to Warringham pride.”

Slowly, the young boy crumpled into himself as his heart fell to pieces.

“Go home, Lewis,” the princes continued, placing a soft hand upon the boy’s shoulder. “You have my word, once the monster is dead, I’ll get to the bottom of what really happened.  But for now, you need to go home and look after your sister. Can you do that?”

The young boy remained unmoving, all blood drained from his face.

“Can you do that, Lewis?”

At last, the young boy raised his gaze to the woman, and as he did so, he nodded.

“Good.” The princess sighed. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’ll soon be time to head out.”

And with nothing left to say, the knight princess wandered towards her knights, her entourage close behind as a crestfallen Lewis watched her leave.

“Would you slow down?” the elven mage hissed at the elven woman hurrying before him. “The hunt hasn’t begun yet!”

“Stop telling me to slow down and hurry up!” the woman snapped in return. “You’re supposed to be younger than me!”

“What’s that supposed to bloody—”

“Pardon me,” the elven woman said, a smile upon her lips as she stopped to accost a passing knight, “but I am looking for Lewis Horsham. I was told he’s in the square somewhere.”

The knight stared hard at the elven woman, then at her companion, before turning and back to the woman. “And what’s your business with the little shite.”

“How is it a concern of yours?” the woman’s companion growled.

“Have you seen him, good sir?” the woman added quickly, her smile growing as she spoke.

The knight glared at the woman’s companion, then cleared his throat and turned.

“See that fountain over yonder?” he said, pointing.

“The one with the statue of a woman carrying a vase?” the woman replied, staring in the direction the knight pointed.

“Yes.” The knight nodded. “The little bastard’s near there. Princess Leah went over to talk to him a moment ago.

“Many thanks.” The elven woman said, then hurried towards the fountain, her companion in step behind her.

The pair hurried on in silence, darting between carts and horses, squires and their knights, till at last, the fountain came into full view.

“I…don’t…” the woman began.

“There!” her companion cried, pointing. “That woman there, the one in polished armour. Look at the insignia on her cape.”

“The royal insignia!” the elven woman gasped, then hurried towards the woman just as she marched forth, her entourage in tow, and as she went, the pair saw at last the young boy with which she was once speaking.

Then, they watched the boy step forth, his gaze upon the square’s outskirts.

“Lewis Horsham!” the woman cried as she increased her stride. “Lewis!”

The boy stopped and turned.

“Hello, there,” the elven woman added as she reached the boy at last.

“Do I know you?” said the frowning boy.

“Ah…” the woman began, glancing at her simple riding clothes before smiling at the boy. “Yes, well, I suppose we look at little nondescript in this attire.” Then, she stood tall. “I’m—”

“Archmage Ida Oakvalley,” came a voice from beside the party, drawing all gazes towards the knight princess as she approached, and though the smile upon her lips was welcoming, her gaze was devoid of warmth. “Welcome to Stoeford.”

“Ah, Princess Leah,” the Archmage said, bowing slightly to the woman. “I thank you for your kind welcome.” Then, she turned to her companion. “May I present—”

“What brings you to Stoeford, Archmage?” the princess interjected. “I believe your request to join the hunt was denied, was it not?”

“Join the…” young Lewis began, then gasped at the elven pair as his eyes went wide. “You’re from the Tower!”

“Yes.” The Archmage grinned, nodding at the boy.

“Except they shouldn’t be here,” the princess stressed, “should they?”

Smiling, the Archmage turned to the woman square. “Forgive me, Your Highness, but there seems to be a misunderstanding. We’re not here for the hunt—”

“You’re not?” Lewis interjected.

“No.” The Archmage shook her head at the boy before turning to the princess once more. “I’m merely here to pay my respects to an old friend, whereas Larnus here…”

The Archmage’s companion bowed slightly.

“…is merely accompanying me as a friend. Now, unless it is your opinion that the Shimmering Tower is no longer welcome in Warringham in any capacity, I do not see why we cannot simply come visit.”

The princess’s smile began to wane, the coldness of her gaze growing with each passing moment.

“You high-elves can be so tiresome sometimes,” she said at last.

“I beg your pardon?” The Archmage frowned.

“You act so smug and self-righteous, doing whatever you feel like and damn the consequences.”

“Are you threatening—”

“I’m in no mood for your silly little games, woman!” the princess snapped. “I know why you’re here, and your silly little speech does nothing to hide that from me…”

“I’m not hiding—”

“…but do you know what really gets me? You standing there, giving this boy false hope, knowing damn well my father’s not going to take this lightly. You know as well as I do, he’ll lodge a formal complaint with your Matriarch, and when this is all done with, you’ll piss off back to your precious little Tower and leave that boy to face the wrath of his king with no-one to help him.”

“Your Highness, forgive me, but it was never my intention to cause offence to—”

“Warringham may be small, but we can protect our own, mage! We don’t need Tower help to look after our own people, and it’ll take an absolute bloody fool to think you coming here will not cause offence. But what do you care, you’ll be safe and snug in your little hidey hole and out of harm’s way when the shite starts to roll.”

Then, she rounded on the boy. “If you know what’s good for you, Lewis, you’ll send these two packing. If they interfere, I can’t protect you from Father. No-one can. Do you understand?”

The young boy swallowed hard, then slowly shrugged. “If you were me, what would you do?”

The knight princess gritted her teeth and stared hard at the boy, then shook her head. “This is a bad idea, Lewis.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

Breathing deep, the princess stood tall and shook her head once more.

“Stupid brat,” she snarled, then spun on her heel and marched forth, her entourage hurrying after her.

“Charming…” the Archmage named Larnus growled.

“Come, Lewis,” Ida soothed, reaching out for the boy. “Is there somewhere we can talk in peace?”

Young Lewis tore his gaze from the receding knights and nodded.

“This way,” he said, then headed for the square’s outskirts.


“Janet!” Lewis cried as he barrelled the front door open. “Look! Told you they’d come!”

Pausing before the open door, the Archmages exchanged glances.

“The children live alone?” Larnus hissed.

“Evidently,” Ida replied, the worry in her voice mirroring her companion’s. But as Lewis’s face came into view once more, the pair smiled.

“Well, come in!” the boy said before stepping aside and opening the door wider.

Nodding as one, the pair entered, and as the young boy closed the door behind them, they turned forward, only to catch sight of a little human girl staring at them from an open doorway down the corridor within which they stood.

“Janet!” Lewis cried as he squeezed past the mages. “Don’t just stand there, come say hello! They’re here to help!”

The little girl’s face slowly retreated in response, just as the door behind her began to close.

Shaking his head, the young boy sighed.

“Sorry about that,” he said, turning to his guests. “She’s really shy.”

“Oh, it’s quite alright.” Ida grinned.

“Mh.” The young boy nodded, then gestured to the door nearest them. “This way.”

“Uhm, Lewis,” Ida began as the boy led them into a small but tidy dining room, “do you two live here…alone?”

“Yeah.” The boy nodded, gesturing at the four chairs about the dining table. Then, he smiled. “But don’t worry, Janet and I are quite safe.”


“Mh.” Lewis nodded. “Gramps placed some pretty powerful wards on the windows and the front door. If anyone but Janet and I try to open them, they’re in for a nasty surprise!”

“Ah,” Ida smiled, “I see.”

“What do you do for food, though?” Larnus pressed.

Young Lewis shrugged. “We manage.”

“You manage?”

“Mhm.” The boy nodded.

The mages exchanged glances and, clearing their throats, glided into a seat each.

“Well, then,” Ida said, gesturing to a seat, “why don’t you sit and tell us all that’s happened. From the beginning.”

With his face falling at last, young Lewis clambered into a chair and sighed.

“Well,” he began, “about two weeks ago, there was this royal luncheon thing, the king has them from time to time, just for his family, and Gramps is supposed to have tried to kill him and his family.”

“Mh.” Ida nodded. “We heard. He was supposed to have had some sort of beast in tow.”

“Yeah.” Lewis nodded. “A drake. Tall as a bloodhound, some say. Only, drakes don’t grow that big.”

“No,” Archmage Larnus shook his head, “they most certainly do not.”

“Yeah. But everyone swore blind it was really big, charging through the gates and breathing fire and—”

“Hold, what?” Ida cried.

“Breathing fire?” Larnus added.

“Yeah.” Lewis nodded. “Everyone said it was breathing fire and burning everything. They said Gramps was herding it, commanding it to kill everyone. They said the guards tried to stop them, but the drake just swatted them away with its tail, then it ran straight for the king, Gramps running behind it. But then, there was supposed to have been this big explosion, threw everyone all over the place, and when people started pulling themselves together, Gramps was… Gramps was dead and the drake was gone.”

“What caused this explosion?” Ida asked.

The young boy shook his head and shrugged. “Nobody knows. There was nothing on the grounds that could’ve made a bang that big, at least Leah didn’t find any.”

“Leah?” Larnus frowned. “You mean Princess Leah Aversham? The woman by the fountain?”

“Yeah.” Lewis nodded.

“You call her Leah?”

The young boy smiled. “She’s a friend of Gramps. She comes by a lot…came by a lot. She was training me to be a knight before…”

As the Lewis’s face fell once more, Ida reached out and squeezed the boy’s hand.

“I take it Leah led the investigation into the incident, then?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Lewis nodded.

“What did she find?”

Breathing deep, the young boy let out a ragged sigh. “She… said the drake wasn’t natural, that it had to have come from someone using alchemy and bad magic.”

“And, let me guess,” Larnus added, “she said it had to have been your Gramps.”

“No.” Lewis shook his head. “But everyone else did. Even the king.”

“I see.”

“Has there been any sighting of this drake since?”

The young boy nodded. “It’s been attacking people and villages along the river west of town. That was till this morning.”

“What happened this morning?”

“It went into Taniston. It’s a small village, but it’s not near the river or anything. Killed some people there. Don’t know how many, or how bad it was, but it was bad.”

“Hrm,” Ida muttered, her gaze in the ether. Then, she turned to the boy. “Your note said you needed us to aid you in finding the beast and with it, clear Michael’s name. How do you intend to do that?”

The young boy sighed. “Gramps does alchemy, he’s been doing it since forever, and he was always saying every alchemist has their own way of doing things, so I thought…I don’t know, if we get a piece of that thing, maybe you can work out who actually did…whatever was done to it, and use that to clear Gramps.”

“That’s a tall reach, boy,” Larnus growled.

“But I know Gramps didn’t do this. He’d never do anything bad to an animal. Never.”

The Archmage named Larnus sighed and turned to his friend. “What do you think?”

“I think the boy is right,” the Archmage replied. “The Michael I remember would never seek to end his king’s life. The man was loyal to a fault, he’d rather leave the kingdom than shed his king’s blood.”

“Yeah!” Lewis cried. “Exactly!”

“Why do you call him Michael?” came a voice from the door, drawing all gazes to the little girl standing by the open door.

Ida smiled. “Because that’s his name.”

“How do you know it?”

“Because he and I were friends once. Of sorts.”

With her brow furrowed deep, the little girl cocked her head to the side. “How come he never mentioned you?”

Frowning, the mages exchanged glances.

“Your missive asked for Ida by name,” Larnus said at last, turning to young Lewis. “If your Gramps never mentioned her, how’d you know her name.”

“He had a note in his study,” the boy replied, “showed it to us from time to time. He told us if anything were to happen to him, we should do what’s written inside.” Then, he turned to Ida. “Your name was in there, and how to reach you.”

“Are you going to clear Gramps’s name?” the little girl asked.

Ida smiled once more. “We’ll do our utter damnedest.”

“It’s not nice to swear.”

The Archmage’s smile grew. “Forgive me, then.”

Pouting, the little girl nodded, her gaze drifting to her feet.

“But you’re right, Lewis,” Ida continued, turning to the boy. “If we can acquire a piece of the beast, we can ascertain what alchemical compounds were used upon it. And if luck is with us, we may find those compounds are not available anywhere near this place. It won’t be enough to fully clear Michael’s name, but it should be more than enough to pour doubt onto things.”

Then, she rose. “Come, let’s head for this Taniston village, see it for ourselves.”

“Are you sure about this, Ida?” Larnus said.

The standing Archmage nodded. “I owe him, Larnus. I must do this.”

The seated Archmage stared at his friend a spell, then sighed.

“Well,” he said as he rose, “if we’re heading out, we’d best hurry. From the armaments those knights were preparing, I doubt there’d be much left of the drake should they get to it first.”

“Right.” Ida nodded, then spun about.

As her gaze fell upon the little girl, however, she paused, her smile returned.

“One way or the other, we’ll clear your Gramps’s name. You have my word.”

The little girl smiled at last, and as the Archmage’s smile grew in response, she glided past the child and marched for the front door.


Leah Aversham was a warrior through and through, a fierce maiden who learnt the dance of blades while others leant the dance of a summer ball. But though the princess of the Aversham kingdom had faced the ravages of war before, as she stood at the edge of the devastated village that was Taniston, the young princess felt her blood run cold as she witnessed the carnage before her.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she whispered, her tone reverent as she swept her gaze about the shorn limbs and strewn entrails scattered about her.

“Your Highness?”

Startled, she turned to her royal guards, her lips drawn to a thin line.

“Nevermind,” she said, shaking her head and turning to the slaughter once more.

“How many do you think fell here?” she said, the steel returned to her tone.

“I’d say two, maybe three men,” said the guard closest to her.

“Five!” called another further away. “Found two more heads!”

“But no bodies?” Leah called back.

“No, Your Highness,” the guard called back. “Just their heads.”


“Poor bastards,” gasped another of Leah’s guard. “Facing that monster with only pitchforks and torches.”

“They gave their lives to protect their village, Simon,” Leah replied. “They deserve our respect, not our pity.”

“Of course, Your Highness.”

“Your Highness!” came a cry in the distance, drawing the woman’s stare

“What is it, Horace?” she called back.


With eyes wide, the knight princess sheathed her blades and hurried forth, taking great pains to respect the dead as she made her way towards the village, only to then break into a light jog once past the butchery.

“Where?” she said as she neared Horace.

“This way,” the knight named Horace replied before spinning on his heel and hurrying forth.

Gritting her teeth, the princess fell in step behind her knight, her ever faithful guards close behind, and before long, they reached a mound on the outskirts of the village, and as they rounded it, a small wooden door came into view, standing ajar, with villagers seated before it.

“Some of women and children hid in the village granary when the drake attacked,” Horace explained as they slowed. “Didn’t realise it was anything more than a simple dirt mound till I started hearing a baby crying.”

As he spoke, the princess carried her gaze about the villagers, and what she saw in their eyes broke her heart.

“Came out of nowhere, it did,” uttered one of the villagers, a young mother suckling her baby as she stared into the ether, her face ashen. “Just ran straight for us.”

“Old Jeff Turner saw it first,” added another. “Screamed for us to get away.”

“Jeff Turner?” Leah frowned.

“Our sheriff,” said a third, smiling, but her smile swiftly faded as her eyes glistened and her lips quivered. “Oh gods…”

“What happened to him?”

“He fought back the thing while we all ran,” said the suckling mother, who then closed her eyes and shook her head as she began rocking to and fro, “then he began to scream.”

“Some of the men-folk went to help him,” said the second woman to have spoken, “others grabbed their families and headed for the woods. Mary and I grabbed whoever we could and brought them here.”


“Me, Your Highness,” said the third woman who’d spoken as she gave as short curtsey.

“Ah.” Leah smiled at the woman. “You will be commended for your bravery, Mary.” Then, she turned to the second woman. “And you.”

Nodding, the woman curtsied, her eyes glistening as she sniffled and bowed her head.

“Your Highness!” came a cry from beyond the granary.

“Excuse me.” Leah smiled, then hurried back the way she’d come.

“What is it?” She frowned at the knight awaiting her.

“You need to see this,” the knight replied, then hurried back.

“What now,” the knight princess growled, and hurried after her knight, returning the way she’d come.

As the far edges of the village came into view, the noble knight slowed to a crawl as her blood began to boil.

“What in the hells is she doing here?” she spat.

“I don’t know, Your Highness,” the knight that had called her replied. “She just showed up not long after Sir Horace called you.”

“That’s all we bloody need,” Leah growled before storming forth, her gaze fixed upon the elven mage in the distance whose back was to her.

“What the bloody hells are you doing here, mage?” she spat as she reached the elven woman.

“Nice to see you too,” the woman replied, turning to face Leah square.

“What part of we don’t need you didn’t get through to you? Hunh? Or do you want…”

The princess’s words were cut short by figures at the edge of her vision, one of which was growing rapidly, and as she turned, her gaze fell upon the second of the mages and little Lewis, with the young boy racing towards them.

“No!” she cried. “Lewis, wait!”

But it was too late, the boy had reached the bloodied carnage, and as his gaze fell upon the slaughter, Leah could only watch as the young boy staggered back and spun about, then fall to his knees and begin to retch.

“Bloody…” Leah seethed and hurried forth, picking her way carefully past the body parts till she reached the kneeling child.

“It’s okay,” she soothed, going on her knees beside the boy, a soft hand caressing his back. “Just breathe. Okay? Breathe. Breathe through your mouth, the smell isn’t so bad that way.”

“Forgive me,” came a soft voice from behind the pair as the Archmage named Ida reached them. “I didn’t think—”

“No, you bloody didn’t!” Leah snapped. “What the hells were you thinking bringing a child to a place like this?”

“He insisted on coming,” growled the second mage as he reached them.

“Oh, did he?” the kneeling princess spat. “Remind me, then, my darling mage, is he the adult, or are you?”

“Alright, alright,” Ida replied. “You’ve made your feelings clear, you needn’t—”

“I’m alright, Leah,” Lewis gasped, wiping his lips upon his sleeve and turning to smile at the princess. “Honest.”

The princess’s steely gaze softened as she turned to the boy. “Are you sure? That was a lot for a young knight to take in.”

The young boy nodded as his smile widened, but the pallor of his cheeks said otherwise.

Leah moved to speak, but bit back her words and rose to her feet to round on the mages.

“I’m done being nice to you two. You need to leave. Now. I don’t want your help, and I don’t need your help. Leave. Now.”

“We’re merely here because Lewis—” Ida began.

“I don’t care, woman!” the princess thundered. “I am the authority here, not Lewis, and I say leave! Now!”

“Why are you so set on sending us away?” the Archmage named Larnus said. “Is there something you wish to hide from us?”

“Are you accusing me of something?” Leah replied, her tone soft, but her eyes ablaze.

“Well, if—” Larnus began.

“Forgive him, Princess,” Ida interjected, hurrying between the pair.

“Forgive him, truly,” she added, throwing a caustic glare at her companion. “He meant no harm. We’ll be on our way.”

“But—” Larnus began.

Now,” Ida hissed, then hurried past her companion and their little guide.

Both elf and child exchanged glances, then hurried after her.

“Lewis!” Leah called out after a spell, bringing the boy to a halt.

“Yeah?” he replied, turning to her.

“Didn’t mean to call you a brat earlier. Friends?”

The young boy grinned.

“Always!” he replied, then raced after the mages.

Leah smiled at the boy, but as her smile faded, she gestured to the nearest of her guards.

“Have someone shadow them,” she said, reaching into her pocket and pulling free a smooth stone before handing it to the knight guard. “I want to know everything they do and everywhere they go.”

“You think trouble?” the guard asked as he took the offered stone.

Leah shook her head. “Not quite. But that woman gave up a little too quickly.” Then, she turned to the knight guard. “See it done.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” The guard bowed, then hurried forth to do his princess’s bidding.


“For goodness sake, Ida, slow down!” Larnus snapped. “They can’t hear us from this distance!”

Stopping at last, the elven mage spun about, but as she locked gazes with her companion, she snarled.

“Just what’s gotten into you, Larnus?” she spat. “What were you thinking, accusing her to her bloody face!”

“Oh, come now, Ida!” Larnus threw back. “Don’t tell me it doesn’t bother you how eagerly she’s been trying to get rid of us?”

“Of course, it bothers me!” Ida roared. “But I know better than to play my hand right in front of her, and you should too!”

“Wait…” Lewis began, glancing from one mage to the other. “What do you mean?”

The mages exchanged glances.

“Your friend’s been a little too forceful in her attempts to be rid of us, Lewis.” Ida replied at last.

“Far too forceful,” Larnus added. “She’s supposed to be the most diplomatic of King Aversham’s children, but thus far, she’s acting like a brash, spoilt child.”

Lewis stared hard at the mage, his brow furrowed deep.

“I don’t understand,” he said at last, shaking his head as he spoke.

“She knows something, Lewis,” Ida replied. “Something she’s determined to hide from us.”

“What, Leah?”

The mages nodded.


“Yes, boy,” Larnus replied.

“She’s hiding something,” Ida added.

“Not Leah,” Lewis replied, shaking his head. “She gave me her word. A knight’s word is their bond.”

“Well, then, she lied to you,” Larnus said.

“A knight never lies!” Lewis threw back.

Everybody lies, Lewis,” Ida replied. “Even knights.”

“Not Leah! Not to me!”

The two mages exchanged glances and shrugged.

“Be that as it may,” Ida sighed, “what did you find?”

“Well,” Larnus sighed, “the blood trail we saw was definitely human, but was too badly faded for us to follow it overly far.”


“Hrm, quite. You?”

“Well,” Ida sighed, her brow furrowed deep, “it seems the drake attacked some people, bit off their limbs and heads, then carted their bodies off.”

“Wait, what?” Lewis gasped.

“Hm.” Ida nodded.

“That would explain the blood trail…” Larnus muttered.

“It took their bodies away?” Lewis cried.

“Yes.” Ida nodded.


“That, my dear, is the question. Why not simply eat its fill and leave?”

“Hrm,” Larnus muttered. “Why indeed.”

An odd silence fell on the three as the mages pondered all that had been said.

“Is there a body of water near here?” Larnus asked at last.

“Why?” Ida frowned. “What’re you thinking?”

Well, marsh drakes tend to take their kill and store in their larder and—”

“Their what?” Lewis frowned.

“Larder, Lewis,” Ida replied. “Rocks, crevices and suchlike that they can cram their kill into to keep it underwater and let the water soften the flesh.”

“I think I’m going to be sick again…”

Grinning, Ida turned to Larnus. “I thought about that, but if that’s what we’re dealing with, why remove the head and limbs? Why not drag a body away whole? From the size of the bites, it could easily cart at least two of those bodies away.”

“Hrm, fair point,” Larnus mused. “Marsh drakes store their kills whole.”

“Precisely,” Ida replied. “And both forest and river drakes feed on their kill there and then before moving on, but this one did neither so—”

“Oh dear gods!” Larnus gasped, slowly standing tall as all colour drained from his cheeks.

“What?” Ida frowned.

“What is it?” Lewis added.

Larnus stared at each in turn.

“There’s a breed of river drakes found in Irunai lands that are known to rend off parts of their kill that have the biggest or most bones, then drag the rest of the carcass back to their nest.”

“What in the hells for?”

“So their young have something succulent to feed on when they hatch.”

A brief silence fell upon the three as Larnus’s words hung heavy about them till, as one, Lewis and Ida gasped at the man.

“Woah!” Lewis cried.

“Hold, you don’t mean…” Ida added.

“Yeah.” Larnus nodded. “The drake has laid eggs, and they will be hatching soon.”

“But how though?” Lewis asked. “It’s only one. Don’t you need a boy and girl drake to make eggs?”

Ida shook her head. “In times of great need, lone marsh drakes are known to birth fertile eggs. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.”

“If that the case,” Larnus continued, “our need just grew tenfold. We must find that beast and quickly!”

“But how?” Lewis said. “We lost the blood trail, remember?”

“Its nest must be nearby,” Larnus replied. “It wouldn’t have wanted to risk leaving its eggs undefended for too long.”

“True!” Ida cried, then turned to Lewis. “It’ll likely be nesting near slow moving water—”

“Or still water,” Larnus added.

“Right, right.” Ida nodded. “Well?”

“Well, uh…” Lewis replied, searching his thoughts. “There’s two…three near here. I think.”

“Hrm,” Ida muttered. “We’ll have to split up, then. Larnus, you go check two, Lewis and I’ll go check one. Let’s seek to each other as we go.”

“Wait,” Lewis said.

“Right.” Larnus nodded and moved to leave.

“No, wait!”

“Hrm?” the mage replied as Ida frowned at the boy.

“We can check one each, can’t we? It’ll be faster that way.”

The two mages exchanged glances before turning to the boy.

“That’s far too dangerous, Lewis,” Ida replied.

“Yeah,” Larnus added. “You’re nothing more than a light snack for that thing.”

“But if it’s going to have babies soon, we don’t have much time, do we? Or you want more people getting eaten?”

“What I don’t want is to risk you getting eaten, Lewis,” Ida replied. “No.”

“I’m not a baby, okay!” Lewis snapped. “I know this place better than you! Better than that thing, even! You tell me what to look for and if I find it, I’ll come find you! I swear!”

The mages turned to each other.

“If those things hatch and disperse into the woodlands, it’ll take an age to find them all,” Larnus said at last.

Gritting her teeth, Ida nodded.

“Yeah, it would,” she growled, then sighed. “Let him have your seeking stone, then.”

“Right,” Larnus replied, reaching into his pocket.

“Listen close, then, Lewis. This is what you must look for.”

As the mage began giving the youth as clear instructions as she could, none noticed the man in the shadows behind them, one who slithered deeper into the shadows as he pulled free a smooth stone from his pocket before gripping it tight, his eyes upon the three throughout.


With his heart in his throat, Lewis inched his way towards the brook that was his destination, his ears pricked to hurting as he breathed deep with each step. Larnus had spoken a simple truth – he truly was little more than a snack for the beast they hunted, and that, along with memories of the carnage at Taniston, were more than enough to ensure the young boy took every precaution as he made his way forward.

Stopping for the hundredth time, Lewis breathed deep and carried his gaze about him, searching for the tell-tale signs Ida shared with him to warn him of the creature’s presence, and for the hundredth time, he breathed a sigh of relief and moved to inch further forward. As he did so, however, a flash of steel and gold at the edge of his vision stopped him, and dropping to the earth, the pensive child turned to the figure in the distance picking its way through the mud and dead leaves towards the slow-moving waters of the brook.

“Leah?” The boy frowned.

And, indeed, it was the princess. Her blades drawn, her jaw set and her gaze fierce, she picked her way forward with the cat-like grace she was known for, her eyes darting from what lay underfoot to the great mound near the source of the brook, a mound, Lewis was sure, was not there the last time he visited. A part of the child wished for him to rise, to signal to her that they approach the mound together. But there was something about her gaze that had put the young boy on edge, the hairs on the back of his neck standing tall as the words uttered earlier by the two mages echoed in his ears. Why was she there? What was she up to? And, for that matter, where were her guards?

Biting his lip, the young boy lowered himself into the soft earth and watched the princess approach, and with bated breath, he watched her make her way past him.

Follow her.

It was a simple thought, but one that filled him with such revulsion. He couldn’t possibly do that! She was his friend! How could he call her his friend and not trust her?

If she’s your friend, she’ll have nothing to hide. Follow her. Now!

The young boy gritted his teeth, his fingers digging deep into the mossy earth beneath him, and with a shake if his head, he rose and carefully made his way after her.

The moments that followed felt like an eternity. More than once, the princess stopped and spun about, forcing young Lewis to dive to the earth as his heart beat loudly in his ears, but each time, he remained undiscovered, till at last, the princess reached the edge of the mound.

Resting upon a nearby tree, Lewis peered round its side at the princess, and as he held his breath, he watched her approach, then stop as her foot hit something made of steel.

Then, Lewis watched the princess sheathe her blades then bend low and pick up a mangled helmet before carefully wiping off some of the mud caked on it.

“Guess I was right,” he heard her say, “the blasted thing did eat it.”

Then, she turned to the mound, only to gasp as what she saw. “Gods, how many?”

Curious, Lewis leant forward, taking a slow step forth as he strained to see what it was that had the woman before him stunned, but in his eagerness to know more, he did not see the twig on which he was about to put his foot on.

The snapping of the twig was ear-splitting, freezing the young boy in place as the princess spun about, her eyes ablaze.

“Lewis?” she gasped.

“Hello, Leah,” Lewis replied with a sheepish smile, but his smile swiftly faded as he was the terror in his friend’s eyes.

“You cannot be here!” Leah cried as she hurried towards him. “That monster can return at any moment! What were you thinking? Why didn’t you say something?”

“Well…” Lewis began, his mind searching for an apt response but as he wracked his brain, his gaze drifted to the helmet, and what the saw brought him slowly standing tall.

“How come that helmet’s got your insignia on it?” he asked, turning to his friend. “Is it yours?”

The princess moved to speak, but no words came.

“I thought you said you lost it. Why is it here?”

“Stop asking me questions!” Leah snapped, shoving the boy. “Go! I don’t want you here when it returns!”

The young boy stumbled backwards, but did not run, for his mind had already answered the question he’d posed, and it was an answer that had left him rooted to the spot.

“Why’s your helmet here, Leah?” Lewis repeated, his voice soft.

“There’s no time for this! Go! Before it—”

“But why’s it here.”

“Gods damn it, Lewis, just ru—”

 “I don’t think you’ll like the answer, boy.”

Startled, young Lewis spun about as the princess turned to the utterer. It was her royal guards.

“What are you all doing here?” She frowned. “I ordered you to shadow the mages!”

“Yes.” Nodded the knight at the fore, then he shook his head. “But we don’t take orders from you anymore.”


“The eggs, Leah,” a second man replied. “We’re here for them.”

“What’re you—”

“They’ll be worth a king’s ransom once hatched,” interjected the first knight. “Or at least, more than enough to not have to put up with a worthless little wastrel like you.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Leah said. “You are a knight of Aversham, Simon, and I expect—”

Expect!” Sir Simon scoffed. “As if you have any rights to expect anything from anyone, you’re the reason his grandfather’s dead!”

“What?” Lewis gasped, spinning to the princess.

“Go on, ask her, boy,” the knight continued. “Ask her how her helmet got here. Let’s see if she’ll give you an answer.”

The young boy faced his princess square. “Leah?”

Swallowing hard, Leah shook her head. “It’s not what you think.”

“Oh, isn’t it?” Sir Simon smirked.

The princess glared at her former guard, before turning the boy before her, squirming where she stood.

“It really isn’t what you think,” she said at last. “I had good reason to do what I did, and—”

“Good reason!” Sir Simon cried. “You killed his grandfather!”

“No, I didn’t!” Leah yelled. “It was the monster who took his life. He bled to death, I didn’t kill him!”

A slow smile parted the man’s lips. “And how was he injured?”

The princess fell silent, swallowing hard as she squirmed where she stood.

“Much as I’d love to continue this discussion, we really must hurry. Oh, and it’s Sir Simon, girl, Sir Simon. I’ve sent more men, women, and children to the gods in defence of this kingdom than you’ve had hot meals, we all have, and you refusing to grant us even that little acknowledgement shows you’re not fit to call yourself anything other than a waste of a life”.

“But—” Leah began.

“Sir Howard?”

“But I was—”

The princess’s words were cut short by the bolt that plunged deep into her shoulder, startling her as it staggered her.

“Leah!” Lewis shrieked as he lunged at her.

A second bolt impaled the woman, catching her in her stomach and all but doubling her over.

“No, Leah!” Lewis yelled as he caught hold of his friend’s arm and fought to keep her on her feet.

“Oh, don’t forget about the boy, Sir Howard.”

“No!” Leah gasped, blood flowing from her lips, and with the last of her strength, she pulled Lewis close and spun about just as another bolt flew forth, impaling the woman in the back.

“Run before they kill you,” Leah groaned, shoving Lewis with what little strength she had left.

The young boy stared wide-eyed at his friend.

Then, another bolt struck the woman.

“Run!” the princess shrieked, and stumbling, she spun about and charged at her former guards, her blades pulled free.

It was then that young Lewis’s terror finally broke free, and without pause for thought, the young boy spun on his heel and fled, his heart beating hard against his chest.


Quivering from head to toe, young Lewis lay silent as he hid behind a large hedge, every single one of his senses pricked and alert. But even as he lay utterly still, his mind was in turmoil.


That one word echoed in his mind over and over, and with each echo, he felt his blood run cold all over again. In all the years he’d known her, never had he heard such terror in her voice before, but the terror was for him, not her. And yet, all he could do was run and hide.

“I have to go back,” he said at last, shaking his head. “I shouldn’t have run, I should’ve stayed.”

But his legs thought differently, refusing his command to raise him from the dirt.

“Get up!” the boy hissed through gritted teeth. “She could be dying!”

Yet still, his limbs refused him.

Digging deep, the young boy found at last the courage to rise, and with the tightness of his chest becoming unbearable, he made his way back the way he’d come.

Before long, the mound came into view, and slowing, he sank into a couch and listened.


As he moved to rise, the sound of a soft cough reached him, freezing the blood in his veins and turning him to stone, and as a cold sweat ran down his back, he scanned the woodland in the direction of the cough. But he saw nothing.

The cough came again, drawing his gaze once more, and this time, he beheld a shock of golden hair, matted and dirtied.

“Leah!” Lewis gasped and rose.

Scanning his surroundings with each step, the young boy hurried towards the shock of hair, and as he reached the tree from behind which it appeared, he darted about it and fell to his knees. He was not prepared for what he saw.

“Gods, Leah!” the child gasped, his eyes wide.

And indeed, it was Leah, but she lay before him bloodied and broken, rivulets of blood flowing from either side of her lips as her breath came in snatches, her whole frame pinned against the tree she rested against by her own blades.

“Oh gods,” Lewis whimpered. “What did they do to you?”

The dying princess smiled.

“It’s okay,” she gasped. “It’s okay…Lewis. It’s…alright.”

“No.” Lewis shook his head, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“I’m…sorry, Lewis. Simon was…Simon was right, your Gramps died…because of…me. I’m so sorry.”

“No,” Lewis sniffled as he shook he head and reached for one of the blades. “No, I’m going to get you out of here, get you help.”

Smiling once more, the dying princess reached for her young friend’s hand, shaking her head. “No.”

“You can’t die here!” Lewis shrieked, pulling his hand free of Leah’s grip and reaching for the blades anew. “You can’t!”

“If you pull them free…I die.”

Young Lewis’s hands froze on the blades’ hilts.

“I didn’t mean for…Master Horsham…to die,” Leah continued. “You have to b…believe me.”

“Stop talking, please,” Lewis pleaded. “Save your strength.”

“No.” Leah shook her head. “I have to…say this. Please. Just…listen.”

Shaking his head, the young boy’s tears returned, his features twisted by his pain.

Smiling once more, the dying woman rested her head against the tree. “I’m the…eldest, Lewis. Firstborn.” Then, she shook her head at Lewis. “But I’ll never be queen. I’ll never be…anything,”

“You are something!” Lewis replied. “You’re a knight! Knight Commander, even!”


“Why do you want to be queen?”

Once more, the dying woman smiled. “Why shouldn’t I be? I’m smarter than…my brothers, more…loved. Why shouldn’t I be?”

“I…I don’t understand.”

The dying princess’s smile widened as tears ran down her cheeks. “I wanted to be queen, Lewis, no matter what it…took. Even if…even if it meant my whole family had to…had to die.”

“What?” Lewis said, his voice soft.

“I asked your father to make…that monster, Lewis. I was going to use it to…kill my family.”

“No,” Lewis said with a vehement shake of his head. “Gramps would never agree to—”

“He didn’t know. I told him it was a present for…for Father, for his men…menagerie. Took me years, but…convinced him in the…end, and I was going to let him take the…take the blame. The knight training, it was…payment…for the beast. I’m sorry, Lewis, I was…using all of you. I’m really sorry.”

Shaking his head, Lewis sniffled. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I was horrible, evil even. And I’m so…sorry.”

Forcing a smile, young Lewis wiped the dying woman’s tears and shrugged. “It’s okay.”

Shaking her head, Leah smiled, but it was fleeting.

“You have to leave…Lewis,” she said.

Sniffling, the boy shook his head. “I’m not leaving you.”

“Yes, you…yes, you are. Simon’s going to blame you for my…for my death. Those bolts, he’ll claim they came from…from the crossbow I gifted you last month.”

“I don’t care, I’m not leaving you.”

“You must. Father will…Father will hunt you. Go, take Janet, find the m…mages. Claim sanctuary. Go, Lewis. Please.”

Sniffling still, young Lewis shook his head.

“Gods, Lewis, don’t be so…stubborn, just…just go…”

The princess closed her eyes at last, and with a sigh, her head fell forward and she was still.

With his pain growing rapidly, the young boy’s tears fell anew, and clenching his fists, he beat them against his thighs as he fought against the wail forming deep within him. As he did so, however, his fist slammed against something round and hard in his pocket. It was the seeking stone Larnus had given him, and with a gasp, he scrambled for the stone and gripped it tight.

It was such a wondrous feeling, being at peace. Leah had longed for this ever since that fateful day when she snuck the drake onto castle grounds. The guilt that that day had placed upon her had been crushing, and now, finally, she was free. It was not the ending she’d wished for, for with her death, poor Lewis and his sister would now be hunted by her father, but she’d done all she could – the light beckoned, and it was time to leave her worldly woes behind.

“Move, child! Move!”

Leah paused at those words. The voice seemed familiar somehow, filling her heart with traces of that guilt. But the light beckoned. She’d tarried long enough, it was time to go.

“Larnus! Over here!”

Again, that same voice, and again, the stab of guilt in her heart. Perhaps she ought to listen a bit… No, it was done with, her life was over now. Time to rest.

“It’s not working! Why isn’t it working?”

That voice… Lewis? Was that him? No, it didn’t matter, nothing mattered. She needed to reach the light. The light was all that mattered.

“Stand back! Move!”

Yes, she must reach the light, embrace it, and—

Springing upright, the knight princess breathed deep, gasping as her eyes grew wide and wild, then promptly doubled over and began to retch, spewing clumps of blood and bile from her lungs and stomach.

“Easy girl,” said a soft voice as a gentle hand held her hair from her face. “Easy. Just let it all out. You’re alright now. You’re going to be alright.”

Stopping, the princess wiped her lips with her hand, then slowly sat upright, and as she did so, she locked gazes with a smiling Archmage.

“Well, hello there,” Ida said, gently running Leah’s hair behind her ear. “Cutting it rather fine, weren’t you? Eager to leave us, were you?”

“Hunh…? Wha…?”

“Can I turn around now?” came a voice from behind the Archmage, drawing Leah’s gaze to the pair standing against a nearby tree with their backs to her.

“Not yet!” Ida cried, and as Leah turned back to the woman, she watched as the Archmage removed her jerkin and offered it to Leah.

“Here,” she said, when Leah simply stared at the offered garb. “You need it.”

Tearing her gaze from the jerkin, Leah turned to her armour. Her arms and chest were bare.

“They were in the way,” Ida added.

Leah stared in silence at her bare flesh, before raising a hand to the scars where the bolts had pierced her. Then, biting back her tears, she sniffed and took the offered jerkin, putting it on and taking great pains to ensure its edge did not touch the muddied earth.

“Alright, turn around now,” Ida said once Leah was decent.

At those words, Leah turned to the pair, raising her head to lock gazes with young Lewis, and as she saw the redness of his eyes, her tears broke free as she smiled at her young friend.

“You have no idea how lucky you are to still draw breath,” Larnus said as the pair made their way to her side. “If Lewis had hesitated for even a sliver of a moment before seeking out to us, you’d be dead, without a doubt.”

“Yes,” Ida sighed, nodding, “that young lad saved your life, my dear.”

Fighting to keep hold of her composure, the knight princess reached out a hand to the young boy, who hurried over and knelt beside her before taking her hand in both of his and holding it firm against his chest.

“What happened, girl?” Larnus asked.

“I uh…” Leah began, sniffling as she wiped her tears, “I came here in search of the creature and uh… My men and I were searching—”

“The truth, Leah,” Ida interjected.

“What?” Leah frowned, turning to the woman.

“I told them what you told me,” Lewis added. “Not all of it, but enough.”

The knight princess slowly folded into herself as the weight of her guilt returned.

“What happened?” Ida continued. “From the beginning.”

“What happened?” Leah sighed, then shrugged. “I wanted to be queen, that’s what happened.”

Sighing once more, she raised her knees and sat cross-legged, then smiled at Lewis before turning to Ida. “What did he tell you?”

“You’re the reason Michael’s dead.”

The princess smiled. “Not even my father calls him by his first name.”

“So, what happened?” Larnus pressed. “What did you do? How did he die?”

Turning to the man, Leah’s jaw hardened. “I persuaded him to build me a new creature. A fire breathing drake.”

“Was the fire breathing your idea or his?”

“Mine.” The princess smiled. “It was a flight of fancy, but he took it as a challenge.”

“Just like that?” Ida demanded. “You asked and he agreed. Like that?”

Gritting her teeth once more, Leah turned to the woman. “No, it wasn’t just like that. I spent three good years trying to convince him, and each time he refused me outright. I tried everything – bribery, pleading, even threats, nothing worked. Then, one day, he sent me a note asking me to come over, and when I did, he said he’d do it.”

“He changed his mind?” Larnus asked while Ida frowned at the princess.

“Yeah,” Leah replied, nodding to Larnus.

“Did he say why?”

The princess shook her head. “And I never asked.”

“Did he say anything else?” Ida asked, her tone softer than before.

Nodding, the princess breathed deep and began rubbing her palms along her thighs. “He demanded I train Lewis as a knight. Personally.”

“It was Gramps’s idea?” Lewis gasped.

Smiling, Leah nodded at the boy.

“That’s it?” Ida asked.

Frowning, Leah turned to the Archmage. “You’re expecting something else.”

The elven woman shook her head. “No, nevermind. Continue.”

Leah stared at the woman a spell, then moved to speak.

“One thing I don’t understand in all this,” Larnus said before Leah could draw breath, “is why you need a beast fashioned in the first place. If you wished your family dead, there are a million simpler ways to see it done. Poison, a blade in the night, fire…all sorts of means. Why this?”

Once more, the princess shrugged. “Because of his reputation.”


Leah nodded. “Everyone knows he loves…loved experimenting on creatures, finding new ways to make them stronger, more resilient to plagues and illnesses. The stories amongst the people is he’s really experimenting to build the ultimate monster to wipe us all out with.”

“That doesn’t answer the question, girl.”

Sighing, Leah smiled at the man. “Fine. It’s because I’m a woman. If I’m to be queen and have arrogant fools like that Sir Simon bastard follow me without question, I had to accede on an act of bravery. My plan was to kill the beast just after everyone’s dead but make as big a spectacle of it as I could.”

“An act of bravery,” Ida said, the disgust in her voice unmistakable. “You would turn the world against Michael just to make yourself seem a hero.”

Lowering her gaze, the knight princess held her peace.

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“You can say I’m evil,” Leah replied. “Because I am.”

“How’d you know you could best that beast?” Larnus asked.

At those words, the princess sighed and gritted her teeth once more, closing her eyes as she shook her head.

“Well?” Ida demanded with no answer was offered.

“I was confident for two reasons,” Leah soon answered. “One, I’ve hunted drakes enough to know their weaknesses. River drakes mainly, but there can’t be much difference.”

“And the second?” Ida asked when silence returned.

“I… poisoned it.”

“Come again?”

The princess sighed. “It’s a local brew, quite common in fact. We lace meat with it and leave it on trails we know drakes like to travel. It makes them lethargic and easier to hunt.”

“I see.” Ida nodded. “You were going to slow the beast and make it easier to kill.”

“Yeah.” Leah nodded.

“But doesn’t that mean the guards would also have found it easier to kill?”

Leah smiled. “Those drunken laggards? Please.”

“What do you mean?”

“Father and my brothers aren’t the only ones who drink they’re guts out on those retreats, their guards do as well. It’s always been down to me and my knights to ensure their safety, and I made sure there were enough obstacles barring my knights entering the castle to ensure I had the time I needed.”

“Except things didn’t go to plan, did they?” Larnus added.

Sighing, Leah shook her head. “No, it didn’t.”

“What happened, then?”

“And start from the beginning,” Ida added. “Leave nothing out.”

The princess shook her head once more, closing her eyes briefly as she did so. Then, as she gazed into the ether, she began to speak.

“I’d given Master Horsham a cage for the drake, a place to keep it. Great big bloody thing with wheels. Cost me a fortune, and when the day came, I hitched it to a cart, covered it with lots of tarp and carted it out.”

“And Michael didn’t stop you?” Ida asked.

The princess shook her head at the woman, the sadness in her eyes plain for all to see.

“I drugged him,” she said. “He was asleep when I left.”

“And the drake,” Larnus asked. “Did it not make a sound?”

Leah shook her head. “I was ready to drug it too, but it just laid there, staring at me.”

“Then, what happened?” Ida asked.

“Well,” Leah sighed, turning to the ether once more, “I made it to Father’s summer retreat without incident. I was wearing commoner garbs over my armour, pretending to be delivering foodstuffs for the banquet. I carried a note I’d written beforehand granting me access, so getting in wasn’t difficult. Then when I got in, I waited till there was nobody around and pulled back the tarp.”

Breathing deep, the knight princess arched forward and shoved her hands between and beneath her thighs.

“I had some meat ready, had the poison practically dripping off it, and when I pulled back the tarp, I tossed it into the cage. Damn thing wolfed it down in one tick. Then, I waited for the poison to take effect.”

“How long did you wait?”

Leah smiled. “Not long?”

“And that’s funny why?” Larnus asked.

“The poison never took effect.”

“But you said—”

“Stupid thing pretended to be poisoned, stood there listing and hanging its head, so I opened the cage and hid, then watched it stumble out of the cage and head for the compound. After that, I climbed out and went back to the cart. I’d hidden my helmet and blades in a sack beneath the seat, and as I went to grab them, I heard this almighty hiss, and when I turned round, it was staring at me.”

“Woah!” Lewis gasped.

“Yeah.” Leah nodded. “Never seen anything like it.”

“The poison did nothing?”

“Absolutely nothing. Master Horsham must’ve made it resistant to poisons.”

“So, what did it do?”

“What’d you think? It tried to eat me.”


Smiling, Leah shook her head. “Damned thing came close too. Had my helmet in my hand when it charged, so I threw it at it and tried to vault over the cart, grabbing the sack as I went, but it slammed against the cart and spooked the horses. They just took off like a shot, sent me flying and the cage slamming right into its face. Left us both dazed. But I recovered first, and just raced out of there. Not long after, blasted thing came chasing after me.”

“Wait…” Lewis said. “You mean it wasn’t rampaging, it was chasing you?”

Lowering her gaze, the princess nodded. “Yeah. And anyone that got in its way was either flattened, slapped away, or just bit in half. Including the guards.” Then, she sighed. “It really wanted me dead.”

“So why aren’t you dead?” Larnus asked.

As the princess raised her head, tears began rolling down her cheeks, and swallowing hard, she shrugged. “Master Horsham.”

“What?” Ida frowned.

“He must’ve woken up some time after I’d stolen the drake, realised what I’d done and what I was planning, then raced after me. “Don’t even know how long he was chasing that drake and I for, but when the damned thing had me cornered and was ready to bite my head off, Master Horsham appeared out of nowhere and shove me aside, That’s when it bit him, bit his arm off…”

“No!” Lewis gasped.

“…then the next thing I knew, there was this almighty bang, the drake was sailing through the air and Master Horsham was just…lying there.”

Then, the princess turned to Lewis.

“I tried to help him,” she continued, her voice quivering. “You have to believe me, I really tried to help him, but his arm was just…gone! And there was just so much blood. No matter what I did, he just kept bleeding. He just wouldn’t stop bleeding, you know! But I tried, I really, really tried, and—”

“I know,” Lewis interjected, smiling at the princess. “I know you did.”

“So, he bled to death,” Ida said. “Is that what happened?”

Sniffling, Leah nodded and wiped her tears. “Yeah. Before he died, he asked me to take care of Lewis and Janet, and to finish off the drake before it was too late. I didn’t understand what that last part meant till my man overheard you talk about eggs—”

“Your man?” Larnus frowned.

Leah shrugged at the man. “I had you shadowed when you left Taniston.”

“You did what?”

“Well, I knew you knew something, and I couldn’t exactly ask you, now, could I?”

“So, what happened here, then?” Ida asked. “Why were you staked to a tree with your own swords.”

At those words, the princess’s gaze darkened. “My blasted guards turned on me, that’s what happened.”


“Coin, why else?”

“What do you—”

“They intend to hatch the eggs and sell the drakes.”

“What?” the mages cried in unison.

“Exactly. The bolts were so when my body was discovered, everyone would think it was Lewis who killed me.”

“Lewis?” Larnus frowned.

The princess nodded. “I gifted him a crossbow last month.”

“And your father would easily believe a young boy’s toy would be enough to pierce the armour of a knight commander? I thought your armour’s enchanted.”

“It is,” Ida replied. “And so were the bolts. Heavily so.”

“And her father would believe Lewis capable of casting those enchantments?” Larnus said, turning to his companion.

“You forget who his grandfather is.”


“And I’ll thank you not to sniff at my damn armour,” Leah snarled.” Its enchantments are why I survived for as long as I did.”

“Hold your tongue, child,” Ida replied, her voice brooking no insolence. “You’re not fit to use that tone on anyone.”

Leah moved to speak, to throw a rebuke of her own, but as she met the elven woman’s stare, her defiance faded almost at once, and gritting her teeth, she lowered her gaze.

“Where are they now?” Ida continued. “Your guards.”

“I don’t know.” Leah sighed. “One of them, Justin, was charged with leading a trail for the drake to follow, lure it back to Stoeford for the knights I posted there to kill.”

“How’s he going to lure it?”

“He grabbed ten of the eggs. He’s going to use their contents for the trail.”

“How many eggs in total?” Larnus asked.

The princess shrugged. “I lost count at thirty.”

“Good gods!”

“Not all of them will hatch, though,” Leah added. “There are always stillborn in every clutch.”

“Even so,” Ida replied, rising, “that’s a lot of eggs.”

“Yeah!” Larnus added.

“Where do you think the drake is?” Lewis asked.

“It’s already on the hunt,” Leah replied.

“You’re sure about that?” Ida asked.

The princess nodded. “It came by not long before Lewis returned. It took one look at its nest, did that blasted hiss and raced off.”

“And with luck, this Justin fellow will see his task done,” Ida muttered.

“Ida!” Larnus cried. “People will die facing that beast! You and I need to be there!”

“We can’t, Larnus. We’re not welcome here, remember? We show our faces, there’ll be hells to pay.”

“But we can’t just—”

“Our priority is those eggs. We need to find them, now. There’s no telling when they’ll hatch.”

The Archmage turned to the seated princess. “Where would they go to keep the eggs hidden?”

Leah shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Child, we don’t have—”

“I can think of at least five different places they can be,” Leah interjected, “and that’s just without putting much thought into it. I don’t know where they are because there are too many options for me to say for certain.”

“Then, you find Justin,” Ida replied. “Make him tell you.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?”

“You’re a knight commander, aren’t you? Doesn’t that make you better with blades than this Justin? Or is Knight Commander an empty title?”

“You expect me to fight in this?” Leah demanded, gesturing to the jerkin she wore.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s leather!”

“So what? It’ll afford you better protection than that plate you were wearing.”

“Oh, is that so?” the princess spat.

“Ida’s one of our premier enchantresses, girl,” Larnus replied. “If she says it’s better, believe her.”

The princess glanced at the jerkin and turned to Larnus, unsure what to say.

“Larnus, go with her,” Ida pleaded. “Aid her in retrieving her horse. It’ll most likely have fled after all this commotion.”

“Come, child,” Larnus said, offering Leah a hand as he stepped forth.

“Lewis, you’re with me,” Ida continued. “We’re going to scour the area for clues as to where those men went. Give her the seeking stone.”

“Oh, okay,” the child replied and reached into his pocket.

Through it all, the knight princess remained as she was, her brow furrowed deep.

“What is it?” Ida demanded, rounding on the woman.

Leah moved to speak, but no words came.

The Archmage took a step forth. “From your actions thus far, I sense a desire for redemption. If that is truly what you desire, this is how to attain it. Now, get moving.”

Leah stared hard at the woman, then sat tall. “My blades.”

“Over here,” Larnus replied before wandering over to a pile of wrangled steel and shredded clothing.

“Gods, is that my armour?” Leah cried, rising to her feet.

“You prefer we preserved your armour over your life?”

“No, of course not!”

“Didn’t think so.”

A deep snarl twisted the princess’s lips, but he held her peace

“Anything else?” Ida asked.

The standing princess shook her head at the woman.

“Then, get going.”

But Leah’s feet remained unmoving.

“You can do it, Leah,” Lewis said at last. “I believe in you.”

Those words seemed to spark a fire within the princess, and standing tall, she smiled at her young friend, then nodded at the elven woman before marching forth, taking her blades from Larnus as she passed him.

The two mages exchanged glances, and with a nod, Larnus hurried after the princess.

“I hope she’ll be okay,” Lewis said once they were alone.

“You and I both.” Ida sighed, then spun about. “Come, let’s begin our search. You start from down there, I start from near the nest. Hurry. And whatever you do, don’t look into the nest unless you wish to retch again.”


Riding hard, the princess fought to keep her calm as the foliage flew past, the weight of her quest crushing down on her. She was racing to battle a spear master, a man who on many occasions had left her in awe of his skill, but was now supposed to not only best him, but force him to tell where his companions were, and all the while a beast capable of biting her clean in two, a beast that was surely enraged by the theft of its eggs, was racing towards that self-same man. And somehow, she was supposed to survive.

“You can do this, Leah,” she said for the thousandth time. “You can do this! You know his weaknesses, you can beat him!”

But, as with all the other times, those words sounded hollow. She was riding to her death, and that was the plain truth. But what else could she do? This madness was of her own making. She had to try. She had to see this through.

But then, as will all the other times, a second thought formed, one that filled her with revulsion, and gripping her reigns tighter, she shook her head.

“I’m not running,” she snarled. “I’m not running!”

Even to save her life?

“I don’t care. I’m not running!”

But the voice pleaded, this time louder than the last.

“You’re not running, Leah, you hear me?” the princess spat. “You’re not…”

Frowning, the princess slowed, sitting up in her saddle as she turned to her left. Beside her was a sloping valley, and something down below had caught her eye, something her heart told her was of great import, and holding her peace, the princess scanned the valley for signs of whatever that was.

Then, she saw it. A flash of scales moving through the foliage below, and as she saw it, her heart raced up her throat. Could it be?

The flash came again as tall grass and young trees were flattened along a straight path.

“Gods, it must be!” she gasped. “But what the hells is it doing down there?”

Turning to the ether, the princess searched her thoughts, then scanned her surroundings. Soon, she beheld a small dollop of drake yolk smeared on the bark of a tree not far from her. Shaking her head, she turned to the valley once more. Why was the drake down there and not up where she was?

Then, with a gasp, she sat ramrod straight. “Of course, the other eggs! Gods!”

Staring into the ether once more, the princess wracked her brain. With the bearing of the drake there were only two places she knew of that her former guards could possibly hide so many drakes, neither of which were near any settlements of note, and that meant she could call the mages to her side! All she need do was ascertain which was the right one, and judging from the pace of the beast, she had a good chance of reaching both first, but she had to hurry.

“Then move, girl,” she said, settling into her saddle and gripping her reigns tight. “Move, move!”

And with that, the princess kicked her heels and her horse shot forth, their destination changed.

Smiling, the veteran shield master lifted his mug to his lips and drank deep as he surveyed their plunder. So many eggs, so much fortune.

“You drooling again, Simon?” said a voice behind the knight.

“Shut it, you,” Simon snarled, a smile upon his lips as the others within the large barn laughed.

“He’s probably wishing he was there to watch that daft cow bleed to death,” said another.

“Yeah,” Simon sighed, “would’ve loved to have seen that.”

“Want to know what I would’ve loved to have seen?” said a third. “That stupid brat hang.”

“Who, the boy?” asked the first.

“Yeah. Always prattling about being a knight, always badgering where Leah’d gone to. Drove me up the wall!”

“Well don’t you worry, Sir Stuart,” Simon said, nodding, “when the king’s done with him, he’ll get his and then some.”

“Yeah,” the man named Stuart nodded, a dark smile upon his lips, “he will and all.”

“How long are we going to be here for?” said a fourth man, his tone curt.

“Why?” Sir Simon frowning. “Something biting your arse here?”

“We’re exposed here,” the man growled. “I don’t like it.”

“He’s been moping since we got here,” muttered the first knight who’d spoken.

“He’s just mad you didn’t let him put a bolt through the little cow’s heart,” teased Sir Stuart.

But Simon knew the man too well. If he was concerned, there was good reason for it.

“People hardly come down here—”

Hardly isn’t the same as never” the man replied. “All it’ll take is one person to spot us, and we’re all buggered.”

“We just need to wait till Sir Justin returns with the drake handler, then we’ll be on our way.”

“And who knows how long that’ll take?”

“What do you suggest, then?”

“Well…the water tower out back, someone can climb up there and keep an eye out. If someone comes close, they give a signal.”

“You volunteering?” asked Sir Stuart.

The man shrugged. “Why not.”

“Go on, then,” Simon said.

“Okay.” The man nodded and reached for his bow.

“Oi!” the shield master barked. “What’re you doing?”

“What do you mean?” The man frowned.

“You said you’d give a signal!”

“And I will! Woodlarks don’t nest here, so listen out for that.”

“Okay then, why the bow?”

The man cocked his head to the side, his brow furrowed deep. “What am I supposed to do if they come right up to the barn? Let them walk on in?”

Simon stared at the man a spell.

“Okay, fine,” the said at last. “But only if they make us.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the man growled, then grabbed his bow and arrows and trundled towards the barn’s entrance.

Simon watched the man leave, then shook his head and sighed, and as his gaze drifted to the eggs, he smiled once more and lifted his mug to his lips.


Pulling hard on her reigns, Leah stood in her saddle and survey what lay before her. Lanniston farmland. It was the nearer of the two places, and if this was the place, the beast was not far behind. She had to hurry. Dismounting, she tied her horse to a nearby tree and made her way forth, a hand hovering near one of her swords. After a few paces, she sank to a knee and carried her gaze about the different buildings before her, from the large barn standing before her to the old water tower just behind it, and then to the house in the far distance. The barn would be the most likely place for the eggs to be, with her guards likely lounging in the house. She had to get to the barn without anyone at the house spotting her.

“But they’ll have someone on guard in the barn, though,” she muttered. “Can’t have them spotting me either.”

Nodding at last, the princess rose and made her way as soundless as she could towards the barn, darting from cover to cover, her path hiding her as best as she could from the house in the distance.

After darting to her third cover, she stopped as a woodlark’s call rang out, and with a frown, she scanned her surroundings once more.

“Woodlarks?” she muttered. “Here?”

Then, another woodlark call rang out, this time from the barn.

“But they don’t nest in bar…”

Slowly, all colour drained from the princess’s face as she realised at last that which she’d heard, and cowering beneath her cover, she reached into her pocket and pulled free the seeking stone within, then closed her eyes and gripped it tight.

“Yes?” came a voice in her ear.


The princess’s words were cut short by something thin and sharp slamming into her shoulder, crashing her against the tree stump that was her hiding spot, the seeking stone stumbling from her hand as a sharp pain shot down her arm.

With a cry, the princess lowered herself further, a hand reaching for her shoulder, but as she turned to see what hit her, her eyes went wide as her gaze fell upon the arrow lying behind her.

Then, from the corner of her eye, she watched as another arrow flew at her from the watch tower in the distance, hitting her square in the chest. But once again, the arrow merely fell to the floor, its metal tip bent slightly.

Tearing her gaze from the arrow, she turned to the watch tower, then felt her blood freeze as she watched Sir Howard aim another arrow at her. Without pause for thought, the princess leapt to her feet and raced forth, darting from one side to the other as arrow after arrow flew past her till she reached a nearby well, sliding past it and placing the well between her and the tower. But that meant she was now visible to the house.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it!” the princess spat, her gaze frantic as she sought new cover.

“So, you’re still alive!”

Upon hearing those words, the princess’s blood began to boil.

“Simon…” she seethed, and inching round the well, she stared at the barn’s entrance and watched as the vile knight and his companions stepped to the fore, weapons at the ready.

“You’ve got some tricks up your sleeve, girl, I’ll give you that,” Sir Simon continued. “But this is as far as you go.”

“She’s got some new magic on her!” came a cry from the tower. “My arrows won’t get through!”

“Is that right, girl?” Sir Simon said. “Those mages give you some new toy to come best us with, did they? Well, come on, then! Come show us what Master Horridge has been teaching you!”

Shaking her head, Leah fell back behind the well. Against one, she had some hope, but against eight of them, and with Sir Howard’s arrows plaguing her…

“Think, Leah, think!”

“Well?” Sir Simon called out after a spell. “Or you want us to come to you?”

Swallowing hard, Leah scanned her surroundings once more, but at that moment, an almighty crash rang out, then another, and then another, and turning, she watched as the rickety water tower shook violently, the man standing within looking down to something beneath it, his bow pointed straight down.

“Bloody hells…” she heard Sir Simon gasp.

Then, another crash came, and this time the watch tower buckled and crashed out of sight, its thunderous fall followed closely by the screams of a man gripped in the most violent of deaths.

A deathly silence fell upon the compound as all within, knight and princess alike, stared at the spot where the water tower once stood. Then, a drake stepped out into view, one far larger than any drake should ever grow, its back peppered with arrows and a dagger impaled in its side. It paused, turned to the knights, and hissed, a low, booming sound that sent waves of real and palpable dread flowing through some of the knights, then charged forth.

“Well, don’t just stand there, kill it!” Sir Simon cried, then hefted his shield and charged himself, a battle cry upon his lips.

Coming to life, the others gripped their arms tight and followed, Sir Simon’s cries echoing on their lips, and as they charged, the princess slowly rose. The eggs were unguarded, it would take no time at all to charge into the barn and smash every single one of them, then race away while the drake kept her former guards busy. But as the princess watched the men stand fast against the drake, she felt a sharp tug in her heart. It was a tug she’d felt many times in her life, but each time, she’d ignored it. Except this time, it tore at her with a fierceness she’d never felt before, and before even she knew what she was doing, she pulled free her blades and charged at the men, her eyes fixed on Sir William, the weakest of them all, and the knight at the rear, his greatsword at the ready.

Barrelling into the knight just as he turned to face her charge, the momentum of her charge slammed him against the barn wall and sent the pair clattering to the earth, with the princess falling upon the knight.

“Bloody get off me!” Sir William shrieked, reaching for a boot dagger.

As he reached, Leah gasped and scrambled for the dagger herself, pulling it free before the knight could claim a firm grip upon it and plunging it deep into his throat, his blood spraying into her face.

“You bloody bitch!” she heard another cry above the death gargles of the slain knight.

Rolling on pure instinct, the blinded princess felt something heavy and frighteningly sharp swing past her back and embed itself into the earth behind her, and scrambling to her feet, she bent low and lunged at the dim shape before her, only to have a plated knee crash into her face and send her clattering to the earth once more. Landing in a heap, the princess rolled into a ball as she reached for her nose, but a sharp grunt from the figure sent a freezing wave through her, and gritting her teeth, she rolled once more, the tip of a greataxe whistling past her ear as she rolled.

As her vision returned, Leah caught sight of a stone nearby, and grabbing it, she rolled to sitting, only for a sharp cry to escape her lips as she watched Sir Felix swing this greataxe for her neck. Dodging beneath the swing, she flung the stone at his face before scrambling to her feet and lunging forth. But the wily knight was prepared, catching the lunging princess in the stomach with the throat of his axe before flinging her towards the drake.

Landing hard, the princess rolled then slid on the grass before coming to rest, and wheezing, she scrambled to her feet. As she rose, she watched as the other knights slowly backed away from her, an act that called forth a deep frown, but it was the hiss from behind her that froze her where she stood, and as her self-control threatened to leave her, she turned about to stare deep into the eyes of the drake, its head lowered as blood flowed from the deep cuts about it sides. It was as if time stood still for the princess, her throat a desert as she stared at the maw that was sure to usher her into eternal slumber.

But then, the drake turned its gaze from her to the men before stepping forth to stand beside the princess.

“What the bloody hells…” Sir Simon gasped.

Waves of euphoric joy washed over the princess as she watched the drake stand fast beside her, and turning to the men, she snarled.

“Well?” she snarled. “Or you want us to come to you?”

The men stood in stunned silence for a spell, but that silence was short lived, for once more, the drake charged, a roaring Leah racing along beside it.

Then, once more, the battle was joined, the drake charging headlong at the shield master as Leah darted past him and the others, dodging the swing of Sir Felix’s axe to race for her discarded blades before then attacking the men from the rear, and what followed was the most frightful and desperate battle of the knight princess’s life, her jerkin saving her from countless fatal blows as she lunged and dodged, parried and dove, her blades seeking exposed flesh even the drake swung its vicious tail time and again at the knights, the hardened scales upon its back repelling a great many powerful strikes, till at last, only the shield master and the axe master remained.

But the cost had been high. Leah’s ankle was sprained, two fingers on her left hand were sliced off, and her right eye was gone, and as for the drake, it bled profusely from a great many gashes along its sides. It was not long for this world.

The knights were not spared either, however. Sir Simon’s shield was long shattered, his shield arm lying limp by his side, while Sir Felix stumbled where he stood, barely able to keep his greataxe aloft, blood gushing from his side and running down his armoured thigh.

“Surrender,” Leah said at last, “and perhaps I’ll let you live.”

Surrender?” Sir Simon gasped. “You kill my friends and ask me to surrender? Girl, I’m taking your head!”

Snarling, Leah gripped her blades tight.

“Come, then!” she panted. “Let’s see you try.”

Swallowing hard, the knight glanced at his companion, then turned to his foes as he made his way slowly towards the charred remains of Sir Andrew.

“Finish the beast, Sir Felix,” he said as he discarded his mace and picked up Sir Andrew’s sword, the blade that had taken Leah’s eye and fingers. “I’ll kill the bitch.”

Licking his lips, Sir Felix nodded and lumbered forth.

As if sensing his intent, the drake limped forth in turn, its gaze locked onto the greataxe in Sir Felix’s hands. As Sir Simon stepped to the side, Leah limped after him. The four stood silent a spell, taking the measure of their opponents. Then with a roar, the knights charged as one.

Once again, Leah charged forth, her lunges more laboured and her parries weaker, but for a mercy, her enemy was also spent. Yet, he was still a knight, one known to learn well from his mistakes, and began using his longer reach to keep Leah at bay while his every attack aimed for her throat. And thus did they dance the dance of death, their steps slow and sluggish, till at last, a sharp cry stopped the pair and pulled their gazes to the drake and its opponent, and as one, the pair gasped. Sir Felix’s axe was embedded in the side of the beast’s head, with the spikes on the drake’s tail pinning the knight against the barn. Neither moved.

At that sight, a blood rage Leah had not known for an age gripped her, and with a maddened cry, she swung her blades at the remaining knight, her blades a blur as they sought his flesh.

But her broken leg left her unstable, and with a sneer, the lone knight backed away from the princess forcing her to reach out further and further with each swing. Then, without warning, the knight named Simon ducked under yet another swing before barrelling into the princess, wrapping his good arm about her waist as he rammed a shoulder against her chest. Then, with a grunt, he lifted his former commander clean off her feet and brought her crashing down to the soft earth, a sharp cry falling from Leah’s lips as her blades flew from her grip.

But the knight was not done, and before Leah could draw breath, he wrenched his arm out from under her and scrambled atop her, then raised Sir Andrew’s blade aloft before bringing it down with its tip pointed at her throat.

Crying out once more, Leah flung her arms upwards and gripped the blade, squeezing tight as it cut her palms deep, her every strength going into averting its tip from her throat.

“To think a stupid little bitch like you would cause me so much grief,” Sir Simon growled, his teeth gritted hard as he forced the blade closer and closer to Leah’s throat. “To think that blasted thing would fight with you! Guess your father was right, you do have animal blood in your veins.”

Leah held her breath and fought with every ounce of strength she had left, her blood pouring through her fingers and running down the blade to drip on her throat. But the blade was getting slippery, her own blood betraying her grip, and it was only a matter of time before it ended her. She had to do something, anything! She had to…

But then a hiss rang out. It was weak yet distinct, and as Sir Simon slowly sat tall, he lowered the blade and turned. The drake was behind him, a thick trail of blood leading from it to slain Sir Felix and his axe, and as the knight turned to the beast, he shook his head.

“You have got to be bloody—”

That was all Sir Simon said, for the beast bit down, taking the knight’s head and showering Leah with his blood. Then, with a whimper, it staggered back and fell flat, its blood pooling rapidly about it.

Rising slowly, Leah pushed the carcass upon her off, then turned to the beast. Its eyes were slowly closing and its breathing was laboured, and as her heart broke, the princess crawled to the drake’s side. Sir Felix’s greataxe had done the greatest damage, the drake’s blood spurting from the axe’s wound, and biting back her tears, Leah sat beside the beast and placed her hands upon its wound, stem its bleeding as best she could.

In response, the beast raised its head and turned to her, then sighed and lowered its head before gently pushing her aside with its tail.

“You can’t give up,” the princess said. “Your babies! You came here for them, didn’t you? So, get up! Let’s go find your babies!”

The drake remained unmoving, its eyes closing slowly once more.

Shaking her head, the princes rose and hurried to the barn, and reaching its entrance, she scanned its inside frantically. As her eyes fell upon the piles of hay upon which the eggs rested, she gasped and limped towards them. As she reached them, she realised the hay was spread across several tarps, and falling on her behind, she gripped one and began to pull, gently and slowly pulling the eggs upon it towards the entrance, till at last, the eggs were in plain view of the drake.

“There!” Leah cried. “See? Your babies! You can’t give up, okay? Your babies are here!”

Then, she rose and headed back in for another tarp. As she reached the door with the second, she paused and smiled. The drake was nestled upon the first tarp, its blood colouring the hay as it gently nosed its eggs. As her smile turned to a grin, Leah limped towards it before falling beside it.

The drake groaned and huffed at the eggs, but the bleeding would not stop, and as Leah’s eyes glistened, the drake picked up one of the eggs in its maw, turned to the princess and placed it between her legs. Then, it placed another, and then another, till there were no more eggs upon the hay, and then, with one final hiss, it lay down its head, closed its eyes and was still. It was then at last that the princess’s heart broke, and as her tears ran free, she lay her head upon the still drake, closed her eyes, and began to weep for all the pain she’d caused.


“There! I see her!”

Raising her head, Leah turned in the direction the words had come from.


It was Lewis, racing towards her and waving madly, two other figures in the distance racing behind. Raising a hand, Leah waved back, but remained where she was.

At last, the three figures began to near, and as they drew nearer, they slowed, their eyes surveying the carnage about the princess.

Reaching the seated princess at last, the three exchanged glances and turned to the princess.

“Is that it, then?” Lewis asked, gesturing to the drake.

“Yeah.” Leah nodded, her voice soft.

“What happened here, girl?” Ida asked, her voice the same.

Breathing deep, Leah cast a slow eye about her, then turned to the mage. “Can you take them with you?”

“What?” Ida frowned. “The eggs?”

Leah nodded.

“You don’t want them destroyed?”

Leah turned to the drake. “All it wanted was its babies. It didn’t ask to be made, it didn’t ask for any of this. It just wanted its babies.”

“Leah…?” Lewis said

 “Where’s this coming from, child?” Larnus added.

The princess shrugged and turned to the eggs before cupping her hands about one of them.

“The Tower cannot home these things, girl,” Larnus said at last.

“Why not?” Leah replied, turning to the man. “You lot keep pets, don’t you?”

Familiars, not pets.”

“Same difference. You keep them, you train them, you fight with them. Having a bloody big drake that can breathe fire fighting by your side will do bloody well, won’t it?”

The Archmage shook his head. “They’re an affront to nature, girl. We simply can’t—”

“Can’t we?” Ida demanded, rounding on her friend.

“Ida!” Larnus cried.

“Well, why not? They’re not going to remain abominations forever. You and I both know nature will eventually suppress much of the changes Michael made, given enough generations.”

“They will forever be abominations, Ida.”

“They will also be excellent battle familiars.”

“The Matriarch would never agree to this.”

“Then I’ll take them.”


“Mhm.” Ida nodded.

“Take them where?”

Ida shrugged. “I’ll retire to my family’s estate in Cear’Ithin with them.”

“Retire as in leave the Tower?” Lewis asked.

Breathing deep, Ida nodded.


“Because she’s not thinking straight,” Larnus growled. “She’s still wallowing in self-pity over a grievance.”

“What grievance?” Leah asked.

“Tell them,” Larnus said, rounding on his companion

Slowly, Ida turned to the humans and, breathing deep, stood tall. “Michael was dying.”

“What?” Leah cried, turning to Lewis.

But the young boy stayed silent, his shoulders sagging as he blinked slowly at the elf.

“What, you knew?” Leah demanded.

Turning to the princess, Lewis shrugged. “It was the coughing that gave it away. That’s how Father went. First the coughing, then the hiding, then he was… Yeah, I knew.”

“Did Janet know?”

Lewis shook her head, then turned to Ida. “How did you know?”

“Michael sent me a note some time ago,” Ida replied, “asking for Tower aid to find a cure.” Then, she sighed. “But we refused him.”

“What? Why?” Lewis cried.

“Yeah! Why?” Leah added.

As her eyes glistened, Ida smiled. “His experiments. Larnus isn’t the only one who thinks they’re an abomination. He was supposed to have given it all up some decades ago, but our Matriarch still despised him for it, so—”

“Yes,” Larnus interjected, “she despised him, not you. She rejected him, not you.”

“But I could’ve sent something!”

“So, why didn’t you?” Lewis demanded.

Ida moved to speak, but no words came forth.

“Gods,” Leah gasped, “you think that’s why he agreed?”

Smiling, Ida nodded. “If I know him, you were his means of ensuring Lewis and Janet’s future when he was gone.”

The princess swallowed hard, words lost to her.

“You loved him,” Lewis soon said. “Didn’t you?”

Wiping her tears, Ida nodded.

“What happened?”

Once more, the mage shrugged, but as she moved to speak, her tears returned and instead she closed her eyes and shook her head.

“He was going to ask her to marry him,” Larnus replied in her stead, “but her mother feared she’d have to leave the Tower for it, Michael’s reputation and all that, so she paid a bar wench to seduce the man and arranged for Ida to wander in on them while the wench was about her task. Then, when Ida was distraught, she filled her head with talk of other phantom transgressions.”

The others turned to Ida, who shrugged once more. “She meant well.”

“You’d have left?” Leah asked.

Ida smiled. “In a heartbeat.”

“Even with his reputation?”

“I truly didn’t care.”

A slow smile parted the princess’s lips, one that spread to the Archmage, and sniffling, Ida wiped her tears and turned to her companion.

“We’re taking them, Larnus, and you’re going to help me convince Teidus. If we can convince him, we stand a much better chance.”

“Who’s Teidus?” Lewis asked.

“Master of the Pens,” Larnus replied.

“The Summoner Pens,” Ida added. “Where we keep our familiars.”

Larnus frowned at his friend a spell, then soon sighed and shrugged. “Very well. The sooner we see this done, the better.”

“Thank you.” Ida smiled.

The Archmage growled, then turned to Leah. “Do you remember where your fingers fell? I haven’t done much healing on humans, but I should be able to heal your—”

“No.” Leah shook her head, her voice firm. “I deserve this. Master Horsham may have been dying, but all of this, all the killing, all of it is on me. I can’t walk out of this unscathed.”

“Are you sure?” Lewis asked.

“You won’t be able to wield your swords properly with your hand missing two fingers,” Larnus added.

“Yeah,” Lewis continued. “And your eye. It’ll be harder to be a knight like this.”

Shaking her head, Leah smiled at the boy. “I’m done being a knight, Lewis.”


Leah nodded and carried her gaze about her. “These men were supposed to be the most pious of all our knights, and look what they did.” Then, she turned to the boy once more. “Then there’s me, the Knight Commander. After what I tried to do to my own family, do you really want me as a knight?”

Lewis moved to speak, but no words came forth.

“If you still want to be a knight,” Leah continued, “I’ll train you, but I’m done.”

“How about I heal your hand, but leave your eye be?” Larnus said. “Let your eye be your reminder.”

Leah turned to the man, a protest upon her lips, but the gentle gaze he held her with melted her words away, and with a smile, she nodded.

“What’re you going to do now, though?” Lewis pressed.

The princess moved to speak, then shook her head and sighed. “I don’t know.”

“You know,” Ida replied, “Michael sent me a note a decade or so ago, caught me by surprise. The first note I’d gotten from him in over a century, and—”

“A century?” Leah and Lewis cried as one.

“Gramps was that old?” Lewis added.

“Mhm.” Ida nodded.


“What did the note say?” Leah asked

“Well,” Ida continued, smiling at the princess, “he bid me write a Letter of Introduction to the Woodland King for a girl whose heart lay with the animals.”

“What the bloody hells?” Leah replied, her brow furrowed deep.

Ida’s smile widened. “Rangers, my dear. He wanted a Letter of Introduction for her to be trained as a ranger, and there’s no better ranger than a woodland ranger.”

Slowly, the seated princess sat tall.

“Yes.” Ida nodded. “He never gave a name, but I’m sure he meant you.”

The princess remained silent as she turned to the ether.

“Did you write it?” Lewis asked.

“No,” Ida shook her head, “but I think I will, now. For a princess and her two charges.”

“Father would never agree to it,” Leah said at last.

“Oh, I’m sure I can persuade him.” Ida grinned.

“Why, though?” Leah pressed. “After all I’ve done.”

Breathing deep, Ida’s smile dimmed. “You’re not the only one who’s guilt is drowning her, my dear, you’re not the only one seeking absolution.”

Then, the mage turned to her companion. “You heal her, I’ll gather the eggs.”

“There’s more in the barn,” Leah said.

“Ah,” Ida replied, turning to the barn’s entrance.

“Very well,” she added and stepped forth.

“Ida!” Leah called out as the mage stepped over the barn’s threshold.

“Hm?” Ida replied, turning.

Leah moved to speak, but no words came, but as the silence grew, the mage smiled.

“You’re welcome,” she said, drawing a smile to the princess’s lips.

“Oh!” Leah gasped, reaching for the jerkin, “I need to give—”

“No, keep it,” Ida replied, stilling Leah’s hand.

“Oh, and…” the mage soon added, reaching into her pocket to pull free a listening stone.

“I don’t think I’ll need this anymore,” she said, tossing the stone at Leah.

“What is it?” Leah asked as she caught it.

“Your confession.”


“What?” Ida grinned. “You didn’t think I’d let you ride off like that without some assurance, did you?”

The princess moved to speak, but soon sighed as a smile parted her lips.

“Precisely,” Ida added, then sauntered into the barn.

“Your fingers, my dear,” Larnus said. “Where?”

Leah turned to the man, then turned to what lay behind her. “Near the burnt body. A few steps to the left.”

Larnus turned to where Leah stared and nodded, then turned to Lewis.

“Stay with her,” he said. “Clean her hand as best you can.” Then, he turned to retrieve what was lost.

“Here,” Lewis said, going on his knees beside the princess, and as he took her hand, he smiled.

“Told you you could do it,” he said, his smile widening with each word.

The princess smiled and nodded.

“Yes, you did,” she said, and breathing deep, she raised her gaze to the heavens and closed her eyes, the weight of her guilt lifting at last.