I take a drag off my smoke as I sit on the rocks and watch the new batch of idiots heading into Stonewood…It used to be this great, great forest, almost a small country really. In fact I used to live there as a boy. Then came the curse that turned everything in there to stone. Those of us who used to live there fled…except for one in the castle.
See the Cavalier family ruled those lands and the King had sent his great son a fabled warrior to slay the witch the Goblyn Queen who was a bane to all of us for so long. The prince who was a renowned hero went out and fought for his people. It was the kind of person he was…no matter how much it hurt him he did what he had to.
He put his people first…I remember that from being one of the stableman’s sons. Jonathan would ride through hours of a storm soaked to the skin to bring medicines to a sick family.
He hated to fight, but he went and fought for us all time after time after time.
He went to the castle in the crevice…He killed the witch, the Goblyn queen.
He returned hurt, so hurt, so wounded inside. But the kingdom had thought it had won. It thought it was over…until the night with no moon.
She had sisters and the appeared at the castle and they killed dozens of people with their Goblyns and other monsters. The demanded vengeance, they said a life for a life and then we would be allowed to leave. John stepped or rather limped forwards. “If you want a life then take mine…” There were tears in his eyes and I remember they looked so tired, so heavy. They said in unison “So be it we will take this life for a life and until the heart of the land is well and truly loved will this place be as cold and empty as the heart of the prince.” There were words of majik and a great dark flash and the clouds came, the clouds that remains over Stonewood to this day.
We fled, we fled taking nothing with us as the majik of the curse turned everything to slow like a slow dead tide. That was twenty years ago. The royals died out long ago, and their treasures and wealth remain at the castle. Many have come here to the valley pass where I live. They seek out, the treasures and the riches, others seek to break the curse and I’ve watched it so many times.
I had heard that years and years ago a knight said that he had gotten to the castle and seen the most beautiful princess there, that surely she was the heart of the land. He died just moments after the story was told. I was still young but it’s when I knew.
I knew the truth…I knew what had to be done. It’s when I left home here in the valley and left to fight as a mercenary, a soldier out in the world. I needed the skills.
I stamp out my smoke and shake my head as I watch all the idiots in their bright and shiny ride off to get killed.
I’ve never been happier, and I’ve never been sadder in my life. I was born cursed, I was born this thing I didn’t really wish to be. A stranger in my skin and honestly I hated my life. I hated being male…I’d watch my mother and it hurt…I wanted to be graceful and small and pretty. I wanted to be swept off my feet and just…
I never wanted to be a boy.
I never wanted to be a man.
I never wanted to be a prince.
I absolutely hated my life and yet I had the power, privilege, and means to care for my people. I did love my people. I loved my people and my family and I’d do my duty in every way I could…and hopefully it’d kill me while I was doing my duty before everyone would find out how wrong I was.
When I was asked to go and slay the Goblyn queen I agreed, I had survived too much life for myself by then anyway. I had killed to protect my people, killed when all my heart wanted was to be one of the ones that nourished life not take it.
But my people needed me.
I took twenty knights with me and we fought our way to her palace in the chasm. She took one look at me and knew. She told the men I fought with for years my deepest darkest secret and they turned on me, hated me and tried to kill me and broke my heart when the ones that didn’t left, disgusted with me. When that failed it was spells that hurt, burned me and broke bones. Ripped up parts of my heart I’d buried, then she tried her minions…we had attacked her and if I didn’t kill her then her vengeance would be great.
It’s the only reason why I didn’t die right there.
I don’t even know how I got home…my horse took me home.
I seen the young stableman’s son look right in my eyes and he…I still see those green gold off hazel eyes sometimes.
I never knew that she had sisters.
I knew we were doomed.
I wanted to die.
They said a life for a life and as my people and my family fled into the rapidly graying great forest they turned to me. One’s claw grasped my head hard enough to crush it, I felt other claws touch my heart…I heard them scream, and howl with this victorious hideous laughter…I felt them rip me apart, I felt them kill me.
They killed Prince Jonathan.
I woke up looking like the me that I have always wanted to be. I woke to being the woman my heart and soul had screamed for me to be for so, so long. Except for on place, I was still male there…Why?
I remember the sick smelling spittle on my softened cheek. “Because, Heart of this land, you will not be whole and neither will the land until ye are loved an we both know thus will not happen…” The left turning to toxic smoke and cackling with their evil….
They were right. Through their majiks I cannot leave the castle grounds. My diet has suffered since I cannot leave here, I’ve become a decent gardener but not as good as the one who worked for the castle kitchens. I've become a bit of a farmer too nothing has been able to leave here so for fifteen years? There's no trade for me so I’ve made due. It' very hard living here, lonely but there are some of those who get through the beasts and Goblyns of the witches to get to me. But they're rare, so very rare and I’m lonely so very, very lonely.
They’re good until they find out about…you know…they don’t see me. They leave, they get angry and they leave me. Some have tried even to kill me, hating me more than any Goblyn or witch. I had to kill them, I’m still the fighter I was…I still hate it as much or more than ever.
I can’t die though…I mean I can but after attempting to kill myself one night the witches came to me saying if I died then the land would never be free and my people forever homeless.
And as much as I could give up…I still love my people, my land and even though I’m more complete than ever. I’m tortured by the rest of it all for their sick and twisted amusement.
I sit and…I see the crows take flight as fresh meat comes to the Stonewood…I sit up on one of the turrets crying in a blanket and play my heartbreak out on my guitar.
I smile as another Goblyn bug eater goes to hell.
I’ve been doing this every night, for about a year, winnowing the numbers, killing them and exploring. I know where the castle is, I’m from there. I’m not interested in that. There’s too many ambushes set up there.
I can imagine the knights are dead and being feasted on by now.
They love their little game.
I look through the deep trees as the sounds of a haunting guitar melody lofts down from the heights. She’s playing again.
I reload my crossbows and take out my guitar and let my fingers reach out to then my sound answering to her sound and there’s the echo and return…we talk.
How, I know them.
There’s this military code that they use for signal mirrors or lanterns but that’ll never get through the mists. So after weeks at the first of this and hearing them play I came up with this. It took three weeks for use to figure it out…I can’t play for long because it attracts trouble. But I don’t care. I still come here into this godsforsaken place and hunt them. I still set up my bear traps and wolf traps and caltrops and crossbows.
I know…I know and I loved them before all of this started. I seen her even back then.
I hear her playing…~You’re here.~
~Yes.~ I play back to her.
~You mean so much to me.~
I stop playing and hear the screams as they hit my traps. I grab each crossbow and kill those that get through. I’ve got seven of them and two hand axes set up and pull my swords. I’m an ex-merc, not some fancy rich boy. I kill them like the merc I really am fast and as dirty as possible.
I’m a knight only because I can keep the bugeaters from raiding through the valley pass out of Stonewood. I’m knighted by several local lands for this, I charge them decent wages and they pay well. I’ve done a lot of nasty things because this is a hard place in here. My mission will be hard…but I’m not like those children who went in today with the paint still wet on their shields.
It’s over and I quickly pack up. There will be more. It’s nearly time to get out of here so on my way out I ride to another knoll and set up my waxed tarps to push, to reflect the sounds her way.
I…wait for nearly an hour…fighting the sick feeling of my knight out there.
Is he hurt?
Is he dead?
I love him so much, I shouldn’t I know it’s a false hope. I’m not something that could be loved.
I though I was going mad when I heard the guitar coming out of The Stonewood .
It was nice but kind of like this crazy thing…who was mad enough to come out here.
Then there was a pattern.
Then we started talking?
And suddenly I wasn’t alone.
And I’ve been living in and out of fear.
A few words a night.
The fear of never hearing his music on the wind again…throwing up scared, cold pit in my stomach fear.
The orgasmic joy of getting to hear him the next time.
Now, right now I’ve been plunged into fear again…He said…Gryphon…said they were coming.
He could be dead right now.
I’m waiting for the morning, for the crows.
They don’t eat Goblyns.
The sound of battle they know, they’ll flock to a kill at first light.
I’m scanning the dawn with tears streaming down my face.
Then I hear it….
~I love you.~
~I love you.~
~I love you.~
He made it!, he made it!
It’s been another few month’s.
The knights don’t quest in winter Gobyns can run on snow, they hate it, they hate the white stuff so It’s time.
My last notes are played as I enter The Stonewood.
~I’m coming for you.~
I didn’t hear Gryphon last eve.
My nerves began to scream at me all night long.
I cried freezing out on the walls wrapped up as tightly as I can. My tears falling off my face falling frozen to the stones.
Then at dawn I heard it…
~I’m coming for you…~
Hope might just kill me.
I’ve got these slippers over my boots that the natives in the great frozen wastes wear to walk over snow. I seen them in my younger merc days, I bought a pair to use myself. I’ve made my own over the years. I’ve given them away to my people.
Most think I’m a madman.
I’ve spent a fortune on weapons for this.
Balls of ceramic filled with lead shot and dragon powder an alchemists powder from the far eastern lands of the emperor of silks. I press a place where acid is in a fine glass ball and it’s heat makes the powder ignite. They call them grenades.
I’ve a dragon tube that is much the same but is packed with nails and shoots or blows forwards. I’ve spent a fortune.
I walk for two days and slept hoisted into the trees out of sight out of mind. I’m freezing cold up in those stone tree boughs.
I get to the crevice and descend into that hell hole.
No, I don’t go to the castle.
If I got there and they still lived then once they knew they were thwarted they’d make everything pay.
I’m going to kill them first…
It’s been too long.
He has to be.
It’s been a week without a note.
Have you ever hurt so bad inside that the very soul feels like it’s been ripped out of you?
I cannot eat.
I cannot sleep.
I cry…I cry for something…the only thing that I’ve ever had.
I’m not a nice person.
I move through the place as quiet as the death I bring.
To kill, to bring such violence to even these would stain the soul of most men.
It doesn’t touch me.
My soul is safe with her.
There are things here I can work with. The witches have raided all of the realms around The Stonewood for a long, long time.
Oil, lard, spirits become my friends.
With them and my grenades I light everything on fire.
It got hard getting to the witches.
I’m a very hard man.
They were not ready for me.
The witches went down hard.
The spells burned me, hurt me, shattered the bones in one hand. I took each of their heads and they screamed in pure rage.
Then it was over.
I had collapsed…after locking myself in the witches rooms.
The Goblyns that survived fled the burning keep and their caves and caverns.
Everything was flames and smoke then darkness…
It had been a week.
It had been a week since I heard anything…
I seen the smoke.
I know where it came from.
My heart shivers.
What evil are they making now?
I nearly freeze to death getting there.
Hurt, really hurt, it’s a long long walk.
I’d be dead if not for the heads of the two whore’s I’ve tied to the top of a spear.
Frozen they still look like themselves.
What Bugeaters that remained in the woods run once that they figure out who killed them.
I still nearly freeze to death getting there.
I said that before didn’t I?
Yeah I’m not in good shape, I’ve been dragging the packs I came with.
I fall outside the gates.
I smile…It take a supreme effort to take out my guitar from the wrappings. My hand is good and shattered. It takes so much, so much to force those broken and swollen fingers to press down on those strings.
~I love you.~
~I love you.~
~I love you.~
Then I try to play that same song I first played when she first started to play back to me nearly a year and a half ago. I play it for I’m not sure how long before playing again.
~I love you.~
~I love you.~
….I’m interrupted by a scream, a woman’s scream full of light, life, hope and a lot of disbelief… “GRYPHON!!!”
I though I was going mad once more. I lifted my head off the floor where I’d thrown myself crying in grief. I hurt, I hurt and my head swam from starving myself…
I haven’t been sleeping, just two or three hours every two days.
I haven’t played a note since his last ones…
I hear it and I think I’m going mad.
I haul my self to the window and look out, trying to hear it some more…I see blood on the snows. I hear him playing…I see him there…Lying on his packs, the red in the snow slowly growing and I run.
I run and I can’t help myself.
I run and I scream for him.
I run right through where I should have slammed into a wall of force, I fall at his side and I kiss him. I know I’m a horrible mess and we…I’ve never been kissed like this. Many of the knights that came here said they loved me kissed me. But not like this.
I’m bawling, then I get hysterical as I see the heads…I look at him.
I want to fall on a sword rather than tell him.
“Gryphon…I’m not what you think…”
He sits up and kisses me and pulls me onto his lap.
“Jonelle…I know, I know what you used to be, who were….I saw you then my beautiful Angel.”
“When you killed the first witch.”
“But then you…” I recognize in the man in that young boy from then. “Gryphon…Gryphon Summers” He smile and nods just a bit.
“I seen you…, I fell in love with my princess then and there. I’ve always seen you…”
He deeply kisses me and this wave of heat washes…through me, majik pure and strong.
He kisses me and my very different arousal tells me…I’m healed.
“I will always see you my love.”
“And that’s how the curse was broken and we lived happily ever after.” I smile at our little girl and stroke her hair.
“Mama!, your silly you were never a boy!”
I feel my husbands arms circle my waist.
“No, little love, your mother was never a boy, she was always the most beautiful thing in the world to me.”
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