I have finally found some time to write a Friday Flash on time. Okay, so technically I am one hour late, judging by my time zone, but that is why I love the time zones. I am allowed to not make it. Hah. So, this week I took the prompt from Tessa's Author Aerobics, which was giving cliches a new spin. My choice: damsel in distress. Enjoy.
by Harry markov
The owl hooted three times. It was the third night with a full moon. It was how the witch let the princess know, when a new prince would come to rescue her.
Every month for a hundred months, a warrior would come and stand against monsters and trickery. It was the princess’ punishment for aiming her sword at the witch. It was how the princess had become a princess and slept in the finest linen, in the finest bed, perched on the highest floor in the highest tower.
That night the princess didn’t sleep, like she always didn’t on the night the owl hooted. She remembered, when she slept under the skies, on the ground, in her armor and watched the sky lose the silver-lined darkness and blush in morning colors.
When the songbirds started singing, she heard the neighing. It was faint, but right as the witch had announced. The princess rose from her bed and stared from her window, sleeves in emerald silk billowing from the wind. There was no mistake, a lone figure rode from the forest and possessed the empty castle’s grounds like the ghost he’d soon be.
The princess sighed as the spell began its work. Her feet walked on their own from the window to her chest. Her hands undid buttons and straps, letting silk and linen pool at her feet. Her hands opened the chest and pulled out her armor. Her hands polished it until it shone like a star, then donned the armor. Then her feet took her to the room with the mirror and the weapons. She sat down and her mouth ate, even though her mouth tasted like rot.
“Another prince for your fair hand.” The mirror spoke with the witch’s voice.
The princess looked at her hand and it was fair. Long gone were the battle calluses and scars. Washed away with the witch’s balms and salves.
“Let us see what this warrior has. Will he live or will he die?” The mirror spoke and fell in silence as the surface blurred.
Instead of her face the princess saw the warrior as he entered through the gates. His face was hardened from previous battles. His sword cut the air, clearly dangerous in his hands. But it did not matter how many foes he had fought, how many wizards defeated. Each brick in the castle was magic and he would die, whenever the castle thought it was entertaining.
“Not trying to help?” The mirror asked and hummed. “You know ever secret. Every monster and you have every weapon.”
The princess kept silent as her body stood up and headed to the weapons lined on the walls. Her hand stopped on a battle axe, took it, swung for practice and headed to the staircase entry. It was true. She knew every spell. How to evade it, how to slay all the demons and ghouls and apparitions. She knew where the magic ran weakest, but she also knew what the price was for her rescue. For each blow she landed, a hundred lives would expire, slain by her hand. Such was the witch’s curse.
“No.” She said. “Be silent. Leave me mourn.”
The screams started. The castle had hungered since the last warrior to die at the orchards and had starved for torture. The warrior’s voice rung loud, carried by metal tubes, crawling on the walls of the castle. It was broken and thinned with pain. Through small grids on the steps the scent of blood wafted. The princess’ nostrils filled only with that and her muscles tensed. Her feet begged to leap down, swallowing three four steps at a time. The magic worked in her own veins, breeding memories of her past battles in her limbs, resurrecting that feeling in her heart and in her mind.
Weather through it. Her foot moved on the first step. She gritted her teeth and stopped. She was in control now. Had her limbs, her muscles. When she twitched, it was because she had willed it so. Do not walk down. She strained, body taught, at the verge of ligaments snapping. She pushed back at the bloodlust, blocked the berserk in her head.
“Oh, how good he is. He still lives and has climbed to the sixth flight of stairs. What strength and what fortitude. How noble.” The mirror cooed and marveled. Its voice felt like a finger rubbed in salt prodding a wound inside the princess’ chest.
The princess hissed. The prince was a fine warrior, climbing as fast as he did. His screams echoed with pain, but also singed with rage. They were a challenge, a dare and the princess shivered, imagining herself alongside him. Her sword trailing arcs, carving enemies. Indeed, the man was a noble warrior, who did not deserve to die for a fraud. For the witch’s glee and need for fresh hearts.
But each blow cost a hundred’s lives. It was a toll she could not pay. She refused to pay, even if these moments, when she stood bloodied and with raw from screaming throat, were what she was born to do. Even if it meant leaving death’s hands drag another warrior in the lands below. It hurt to breathe in these moments, when the battle reached its climax, when she knew that she could save the poor soul and the berserk voice grunted her to do so.
One breath. Two breaths. The screams stopped. The warrior had died. The axe dropped by her side and she climbed the stairs to her chamber, where she undid the armor and placed it back in the chest. She pulled on her clothes, lacing the linen and silk. Then she sat in front of the mirror, a comb in her hand. In her reflection tears ran down her cheeks as she combed her locks. Ninety months more, she counted and continued to comb, in her mind a hope that next month a prince would come, who needn’t help to slay the monsters.