Damsel in Distress


Damsel in Distress
By
Morpheus

The princess has been captured by the evil sorcerer and only a humble under-squire can rescue her. This story was originally written and posted in 2001.

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The castle had been filled with confusion and worry for the last two days, making the eerie silence that filled the courtyard stand out even more. Everyone in the castle, from the lowest chambermaid up to the highest noble stood...waiting. Waiting for the reports of the knights and of the royal wizard Graydar. Waiting for information on the kidnapped Princess Dandell.

Brydon was no exception, leaning against a wall and sharpening Sir Kirkland's sword, wishing that there was something that he could do. Unfortunately though, Brydon was merely an under-squire, not even a full squire much less a knight of the realm. He had worked long and hard for the position he did have, training to a mastery of the sword that even some of the knights might envy. But still, Brydon knew well that there was no chance for him to ever become knighted since he was but a commoner and only nobles could be knighted.

For a moment, Brydon looked up towards the platform where King Bessand stood, looking worried for his daughter...and only heir. Brydon's heart went out for him, as well as to the whole kingdom.

Two days earlier, the evil sorcerer Darkoth kidnapped Princess Dandell, right out of the castle, but it hadn't been his first act against the kingdom. Darkoth had been one of the kingdom's biggest threats for as long as Brydon could remember...for much longer than he'd even been alive.

The mysterious Darkoth was responsible for many of the kingdom's ills. He had murdered the previous king, King Bessand's father. He had sent scores of monsters to attack throughout the kingdom, slaying many of the realm's knights. And to ensure that he could not be easily stopped, Darkoth had long ago laid a powerful curse on the only wizard in the kingdom capable of stopping him, trapping Graydar within the walls of the castle and therefor limiting what he was capable of doing. Graydar was nearly helpless to take direct action against Darkoth, leaving the sorcerer free to cause trouble from the safety of his own dark castle.

A moment later, Brydon once again started wishing that he could be one of the knights who had been sent to rescue Princess Dandell from the evil Darkoth. Every knight in the kingdom had been sent to lay siege to Darkoth's castle and get her back while Graydar remained with the king, still trapped and having to free himself before he could act to save the princess, and Brydon was left to continue with his daily duties.

As the knights started to return to report, Brydon's heart filled with envy. Envy that they could go out and fight for the honor of the kingdom. That they could slay the monsters that threatened the villagers and farmers in the farthest reaches. It wasn't the glory, fortune or even the adventure that he envied, it was their ability to do something. To do what he always dreamed of doing...making a difference. To help the people who needed it most.

"Alas." Brydon sighed, standing up and forgetting the sword at the moment. King Bessand had heard the knights then returned inside, leaving Graydar to make the announcements.

Brydon stared at the platform where Graydar stood, still a somewhat imposing figure in spite of his age. He was every inch the image of a powerful wizard, from the blue robes of his office to the long white hair and beard. Even to the gnarly staff that he frequently had clutched in his hand.

"Dear people..." Graydar started, his voice cracking with weariness, "I have grave news for all the kingdom." He paused dramatically, giving a look around the room and sending chills down Brydon's spine as he seemed to stop there for a moment. "I fear that Darkoth yet holds our crown princess as our courageous knights have yet been able to breach his defenses."

"Poor girl." Brydon whispered, feeling sorry for the princess, trapped with that evil monster. He grimaced, furious that such a thing could happen.

Brydon barely paid attention as Graydar continued, assuring the people that everything possible was being done and promising that the princess would soon be returned safely. All he could think of was the lovely princess, trapped with that...monster. The very thought burned inside of him like a hot ember.

Finally, Graydar finished his speech then left the platform. The crowd that filled the courtyard spent little time in breaking up and returning to their duties. Brydon sighed, then returned to his task of preparing Sir Kirkland's weapons. It wasn't much, but it was his part in helping to protect the kingdom...and freeing the princess.

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The room was small and cramped, with stone walls that held not the slightest decoration. However Princess Dandell's prison wasn't entirely free of civility, just nearly so. A small table and chair had been provided for her meals and a hard bed sat against the wall opposite the chamber pot.

There was one item which stood out from the stark practicality which had surrounded Princess Dandell since her capture...a mirror. Against the wall was an ornate mirror that stood even taller than she, made of the finest craftsmanship and gleaming with an absolutely perfect reflection, all of which Princess Dandell suspected was just another method of torture.

"Just look at me." she gasped, staring at her reflection in horror. Her fine dress was dirty having been worn for 3 days, since she had been captured. However, even so, the image was still that of a beautiful young woman, though the long golden hair that swirled around her angelic face did need washing. "How dare he treat a princess so."

With an unhappy frown, Dandell grabbed a brush off of the table and started to stroke it through her hair, cursing that evil monster with every stroke. She was a princess, so how DARE he kidnap her...forcing her to submit to such horror. To such...horrible conditions. With every stroke, Dandell silently promised a new torture for Darkoth once her father had rescued her.

Suddenly the image in the mirror changed and Dandell jumped back, staring at the mirror in terror...and hatred. The reflection was no longer her own, but that of another. Darkoth's. He was a tall man dressed all in black robes, his face covered with a dull gray metal mask. Dandell shuddered at that, remembering the stories of how he had been badly scarred in a fight against Graydar. She only wished that Graydar had finished the job, then silently promised to see the royal wizard sharing some of Darkoth's tortures for daring to let get kidnapped.

"Good morning...princess." the figure from the mirror spoke. That didn't frighten her as much as it had several days earlier when Darkoth had first spoken to her from the mirror. However, that had been the only way she had seen him since he had kidnapped her and locked her in his horrible tower. "How are you this morning?" His voice was rich with sarcasm.

"When my father rescues me..." Dandell started, using nearly the same words that she had used almost every time upon seeing Darkoth.

The dark clad figure snapped, "QUIET!" Dandell froze, stepping back in terror.

"Why do you do this to me?" Princess Dandell asked in a quieter, more nervous voice. "I am a princess..."

However, Darkoth's reflection didn't seem impressed, though it was nearly impossible for Dandell to tell with his face hidden behind the mask. "I know well who you are." Darkoth interrupted impatiently. "Though I have yet to decide your fate."

Dandell felt a glimmer of hope at that, then promised "My father will pay handsomely for my ransom."

"Perhaps..." the dark reflection answered slowly, then in an almost amused tone, he continued, "Or perhaps I shall turn you into a vile creature and set you free upon the kingdom, forcing your own father's knights to slay you."

With a horrified gasp, Dandell stepped back again, her body shivering with fright. Darkoth just laughed a soft but cruel laugh. Then, as Dandell watched, Darkoth's reflection faded from the mirror and her own returned.

For a moment, the princess just stared at the mirror in frustration, partly relieved that the slimy creature had gone...and partly furious that had ignored even the proper courtesy of asking her permission to take his leave. Then, she turned away from the mirror and stormed first to the heavy wooden door which was still locked, then to the other side of her tower prison, to look out the window to the ground far below. Much too distant to even consider jumping...even if such a thing wasn't improper for a royal princess.

"He shall pay for these indignities." Princess Dandell promised.

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Brydon crouched down low, creeping towards the target of his hunt ever so slowly, never once taking his eyes from the stag. Clutching his bow even tighter, Brydon began to carefully raise it to position, knowing that if he could get this kill, it would feed all the knights still watching Darkoth's castle for two or three days.

For a brief moment, Brydon allowed himself a faint smile, thankful that he was finally allowed to join the 4 remaining knights at Darkoth's castle, even if it was to do some of the tasks below the station of a knight, such as hunting for their meals.

It had been two days since Graydar had revealed that there was a nearly invisible wall that surrounded Darkoth's castle and most of the knights had pulled back, leaving only a few to remain in the dangerous area while the king and Graydar sought another way to free the princess.

At that, Brydon looked up, knowing that Darkoth's castle was just over the hill. Just barely out of sight...though he felt chills running down his spine at the proximity. Everyone avoided that part of the kingdom and he knew that it was a true honor that he had been allowed to join the knights, even if he was not expected to fight.

Suddenly, the stag started running and with only a moment of hesitation, Brydon was chasing after it, his earlier thoughts pushed out of his mind. Brydon followed the stag for several minutes, his heart racing as he struggled to keep up. In the distance, he could see a strange shimmering in the air, marking Darkoth's magical shield.

"I have you now." Brydon muttered, knowing that soon the stag would run into the wall and bounce off just as all of the knights had earlier...and then Brydon would move in for the kill. But even as he planned this, a slight pang of pity for the poor creature tugged at his heart, though that would not stop him from doing his duty.

A moment later, the stag shot into a large cluster of trees and it was all Brydon could do to keep up, especially when it darted down a hill slope. At one point, Brydon though that he'd lost the stag and started to silently curse, when he spotted the stag again...standing there almost motionless. Almost as if waiting for Brydon...as if daring him.

"Easy..." Brydon started, notching his bow again, only to have the stag start moving again. Brydon grimaced and followed the stag, down into a ravine that had been hidden among the trees.

Then, after several more minutes, something dawned on Brydon. As close as he was getting to Darkoth's castle, he knew that he should be running into the barrier at any time. He paused for a moment and looked around nervously, reminding himself that it was foolish to risk his life for a mere supper.

A second later, Brydon gasped out, "Dear Lord..." There was the shimmer in the air that marked the magical wall...but to his shock, it was up in the sky...behind him.

For a moment, Brydon just stood there, staring at the shimmer in the air, hardly able to believe it. And as he cautiously slipped just a little more forward, seeing Darkoth's castle walls between the trees, the truth dawned on him. The barrier had extended all the way around Darkoth's castle...but the ravine slipped right underneath the barrier.

"I must tell Sir Kirkland." Brydon whispered, not taking his eyes from the castle walls, all thoughts of the stag forgotten.

Then, Brydon crept to the edge of the trees and hid behind one of them, staring at the forbidding looking castle. It was all of a dark stone, seeming somewhat twisted, with two towers springing out from opposite corners. The very sight sent chills down Brydon's spine, though he refused to run just yet. But as close as he was, he could still not touch the walls, due to a dark moat which surrounded it. But it was well known that Darkoth's castle gate was always open...a sign of his arrogance as much as a dare for any to face him. It was there that one could gain entrance into the castle. Not through the back or over the walls, but through the front.

After several long and painful minutes, Brydon came to a decision, as terrifying as it was. He would try to save the princess, even though he was merely an under-squire. Fortune had led him to a way past the evil one's defenses, but he knew that he couldn't count on that weakness remaining long. Surely a sorcerer as powerful as Darkoth would soon detect his presence, then deal with both the weakness and the intruder. His only chance was to strike before Darkoth realized that he was there.

Quietly Brydon looked up and muttered a prayer, "Dear Lord be with me." He paused for a moment before adding, "For the good of the people." And with that, Brydon started forward, quickly and quietly, knowing that speed and stealth were his only true weapons.

Brydon made his way across the bridge and into the castle with surprising ease, though he doubted his luck would remain. As it was, he knew that it had only been the evil one's arrogance that had allowed him to slip inside, being too small to be worthy of the sorcerer's attention. Now, all he had to do was pray that his luck remained until he could safely locate and free Princess Dandell.

Drawing his sword, Brydon stepped into the main courtyard, suddenly freezing and gasping in horror. Crouched straight in the center of the courtyard was a huge white dragon, the size of four horses. Small as far as dragons went, but enough to terrify Brydon more than he had ever been in his life.

Grasping his sword tighter, he gasped, "Dear Lord...", knowing that he could never defeat such a creature with a mere sword.

However, after several seconds without the dragon making any motion, Brydon stepped closer, letting out a sigh of relief to realize that it wasn't truly a dragon. Instead, it was merely a statue, the centerpiece of a small courtyard fountain that he had nearly overlooked.

Brydon silently cursed himself for a coward, then steadied his nerves and quietly made his way through the castle, finding it surprisingly empty. Empty of monsters or demons as he would have expected, though he wondered if perhaps even an evil sorcerer might prefer to keep such out of his home. But at the same time, the very emptiness seemed...unnatural.

Refusing to focus on his fear, Brydon made his way through the castle halls, freezing suddenly at the sound of footsteps. He quickly dodged to the side, grasping his sword firmly and preparing to fight. A moment later, he carefully looked...seeing a figure dressed entirely in black, moving towards a heavy wooden door.

"Darkoth..." Brydon whispered in amazement, knowing that it had to be him. Then he bit down on his tongue, cursing himself for making a sound.

However, the dark clad figure showed no sign of noticing Brydon as he raised his hand to the door. He paused for a moment, then exclaimed, "Oervon." Then, to Brydon's amazement, the door opened on it's own, and the dark figure went inside.

Brydon waited for several minutes, barely even daring to breathe. Could that room be where the princess was being held? It had to be...he was sure of it. It was nearly torture for Brydon to wait...fighting back the urge to charge in recklessly. That might be what any courageous knight would do...but he knew that it wouldn't be wise. Not against someone like Darkoth...if that figure really was him.

Finally, after several long minutes, the door opened again and the dark figure stepped out. This time though, Brydon got a look at his face under the hood...or at least the gray metal mask. Now there was no doubt that this truly was the evil Darkoth. The realization sent a shudder down Brydon's spine.

Once Darkoth had gone down the hall and was out of sight, Brydon slowly made his way to the wooden door, staring at it for a moment. "Princess?" he whispered, trying to be loud enough to be heard inside but not loud enough to be heard down the hall. "Princess Dandell?"

There was a response from inside, though it was faint and muffled by the heavy door. Brydon let out a sigh, then pushed at the door, trying to open it, to no good. It was locked solid, though there was no sign of a lock...or even a handle to open it with.

"How do I open it?" Brydon asked himself, setting his sword against the door, within quick reach in case he was attacked. Then he remembered how Darkoth had opened the door, wondering for he could possibly open it the same way. Deciding that it wouldn't hurt to try, Brydon touched the door and nervously said, "Oervon."

Brydon was half surprised when the door opened a moment later. For a moment, he just stood there, then he cautiously stepped inside, ready with his sword...just in case. As soon as he was inside, Brydon looked around, seeing a very plain looking room, certainly no luxury but hardly the dungeon he would have expected.

Then he saw her...standing off to the side and staring at him with relief. At first, Brydon started to smile...for a split second. Until he realized that this wasn't the princess. This was no beautiful maid...but a matron, near the same age as his own mother. She had brown hair, streaked with gray and a rather plain though honest looking face.

"Who...?" Brydon started to ask who she was, then stopped in surprise, recognizing her as the princesses chambermaid. But Brydon was confused since no one had said anything about her being taken along with the princess...then felt slightly guilty that he himself had not considered what had happened to the princesses companions. "I....I come to free you." It was not strictly true...but Brydon refused to just leave her.

The woman gasped in surprise, tears of joy coming down her cheeks. "Thank you kind sir...I feared that I would never escape."

"I am but an under-squire." Brydon answered, feeling embarrassed. "The knights of the realm are yet outside of this castle."

She looked a little disappointed at that, though only for a second. "Tis the first hope I had young sir. The vile sorcerer just kept me locked up...leaving me to fear for my life." As they left the prison, she suddenly asked, "The princess....?"

Brydon nodded grimly. "Do you know where she is held?"

The chambermaid thought for a second, then quietly told Brydon that Darkoth had mentioned that she was locked in the tower. However, that didn't answer which one. But at the moment, he decided that his first priority was to get the chambermaid to safety...then he could continue his search for the princess.

"Come this way." Brydon directed, then started back the way he had come, preparing himself for anything.

They reached the courtyard without incident or any further sign of Darkoth, much to Brydon's relief. However, just as they started walking past the dragon fountain...a low growl suddenly erupted from the statue.

"What...?" Brydon gasped, jumping to the ready then gasping in horror as he realized that the statue was moving.

With a low growl, the white dragon statue shifted position, turning to stare down at Brydon and the Chambermaid. The chambermaid started to scream, and it was all Brydon could do just to ignore her. He knew that he'd need all of his concentration if he was going to have even half a chance with that beast. For a moment, the dragon just stared at them both with blood red eyes, then it stepped out of the center of the fountain and slowly moved towards Brydon and the chambermaid.

"Foul beast." Brydon muttered, clutching his sword tighter. He had never been taught to fight such a beast. That was the work of knights...not under-squires.

Brydon stepped back nervously, glancing first at the chambermaid and then towards the courtyard exit...and the bridge out of the castle, such a short distance away. If they ran...they could almost make it. Almost. However, he doubted that they could make it out of the castle without something to distract the dragon. Then, with a chill, he realized that there was a distraction. While the dragon dealt with one of them, the other could run.

"I must save the princess." Brydon told himself firmly, knowing that her life had to come before that of her chambermaid. All he had to do was push the chambermaid towards the dragon, then he could run, making it to either the gate or perhaps even the castle main. All he had to do was push her... "The kingdom first..."

However, with just a single glance at the chambermaid, Brydon knew that he couldn't do that. He could never sacrifice an innocent person's life to save his own, no matter what the rationalization.

"RUN!" Brydon yelled at her, suddenly charging towards the dragon. He had to give her a chance to escape...even if the cost was his life. "Run!" He didn't look back to see if she was following his orders. His full attention was on the monster.

The dragon roared loudly, slowly stepping forward, then jumping, snapping towards Brydon, who managed to dodge out of the way. Again the dragon snapped at him with it's monstrous jaws...a single bite from which would surely kill him, yet again Brydon avoided it, striking back with his sword...though it bounced harmlessly off the dragon's stonelike skin.

Brydon growled, "Get me beast...but I shall at least go down fighting."

After several more attacks from the dragon with both tooth and claw, barely avoided, Brydon realized that the dragon was playing with him. Like how a cat played with it's prey before the kill. That only served to make Brydon angrier.

Brydon gripped his sword tightly, readying himself for another attack. He didn't have to wait long though as the dragon reared up on it's hind legs, roaring loudly, the sudden change in it's demeanor convincing Brydon that it was through playing. The beast was coming in for the kill. Then...while Brydon's heard was most filled with terror and the dragon lunged, Brydon's eye caught something on the dragon's belly.

"DIE!" Brydon screamed, immediately lunging forward with his sword, the same time the dragon lunged at him. A moment later, Brydon collided with the dragon and both collapsed to the ground motionless.

After several seconds, Brydon slowly moved...then made it to his feet, staring down in amazement at the dragon. Specifically, where over half his sword was plunged into the dragon's belly...through the space where one of it's thick scales was missing. The dragon was dead.

"I would be happy to never see such a creature again." Brydon muttered, pulling his sword out, then not wasting any time in going back into the castle. If Darkoth didn't know about him now, he would soon.

Once Brydon was back inside the castle, he wasted no time in trying to find Princess Dandell, deciding that one of the towers would probably be the best option. He quickly made his way through the halls, wishing that he had taken the time to go back for the knights, though it was too late to do so now. Perhaps the chambermaid could tell them about the ravine since he had mentioned it to her before the dragon.

After several minutes, Brydon found himself walking into a large room, empty for anything save a large mirror that stood against one wall. It was just a litter taller than him, with some sort of pictures around the frame and trimmed with gold. However, what caught his attention the most was the clarity of the glass. There was not the slightest smudge or scratch upon it.

Curious, Brydon walked closer to the mirror, stopping just in front of it, staring at the somewhat average looking...and rather dirty young man that was reflected back. Then suddenly, as he bent forward, the reflection shimmered and changed. A moment later, Brydon saw something else within the mirror instead. It showed another room...and to Brydon's delight, the princess...sitting upon a bed.

"Princess..." Brydon whispered, staring at the mirror in awe. It now looked more like a door into another room than a mirror. "Princess Dandell." he called, this time loud enough to attract her attention.

Dandell looked up and stared at him, a surprised look on her face. For a moment, she just sat there, then she rushed to the mirror. "Who are you ?" she demanded. "Did the vile one send you to taunt me?" Her voice was filled with sarcasm.

"Oh no..." Brydon gasped in surprise, "I'm Brydon of Riverdale....a squire...under-squire, your highness."

After a brief look of surprise, Dandell demanded, "What are YOU doing here?" Before Brydon could answer, she continued, "Where are my father's knights? Has the evil one been killed yet?" She looked rather eager for the last.

"Um..." Brydon gulped nervously, never having spoken to royalty before. "I'm the only one here your highness. I have come to free you."

With a look of disdain, Dandell looked as if she was going to yell, but only demanded, "Get me out of here now under-squire." There was no mistaking the disgust in her voice.

"Your highness...." Brydon gasped, "I know not where you are yet."

"If you do not free me from here right this minute..." Dandell threatened, "my father will have your head." Then she held her hand to the mirror, the surface rippling just slightly upon her touch.

Brydon, for a second forgetting that he was facing a mirror rather than a door, reached out to grab her hand. The mirror felt strangely cold against his skin...and almost fluid, as if he was touching water. Suddenly, as Brydon's hand touched the spot the princesses hand lay, a strange shock shot through his body and mind.

"What...?" Brydon gasped, immediately yanking his hand back. However, as he did so, he realized that touching the mirror seemed to have broken it as his own reflection was once again staring back at him.

Suddenly Brydon froze, realizing that something was wrong. That feeling was amplified when his own reflection screamed in panic from the mirror, "Who are you?"

For a moment, all Brydon could do was stare at his reflection...which was not moving like he was. At the same time though, he realized that there were other things wrong as well. Too many of them...hitting all at once. Then, with a sinking feeling, Brydon looked down and gasped in horror. He...somehow he had traded places with the princess. He looked just like Princess Dandell....from the dress she was wearing, to her feminine hands....to the soft mounds that pushed out from his chest.

"Princess...?" Brydon asked hesitantly. "Your highness...?"

However, Brydon's reflection...whom he assumed to be the princess in his form was staring down at herself in amazement. "I feel...strong." she whispered. Then she looked back at Brydon with a calculating look. "I am no longer in the prison."

"We have to change back." Brydon gasped. "Please free me your highness." Brydon looked around the princesses prison cell in horror, then down at himself, shuddering as he did so. He felt so small. So weak. So...strange.

"I am not going back into that prison." Dandell gasped in horror, a faint smile creeping onto what had been Brydon's face a moment before. "I am free and I am going to remain that way. Fend for yourself peasant... " And with that, Dandell turned and left...her image vanishing from the mirror, leaving only the image of the princesses real body reflecting back at Brydon.

"NO!" Brydon called out. "Your Highness....." However, it was too late. Dandell was gone, leaving him trapped not only in her prison...but in her body as well.

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Princess Dandell barely gave a glance back towards the magic mirror as she ran from the room, desperate to escape. She didn't like the idea of leaving her beautiful body behind, but she wasn't about to risk her life for some stupid peasant. She'd already spent far too long in that prison as it was...and someone was going to suffer for it.

As Dandell made her way down the hall, nearly running towards the castle exit, she was amazed at just how different she felt. Her whole body felt strangely heavy...but extremely strong at the same time. She felt as though she could lift a horse, deciding that she did rather enjoy the feeling of strength, even though the heaviness and clumsiness she would much rather have done without.

As soon as she returned, Princess Dandell decided that she would order Graydar to transform her back to normal. To return her from being in such a clumsy male body...to being her normal beautiful self. Then with a faint smile, she wondered if it might be possible to keep her new strength at the same time. However, her smile only lasted a second...until she saw the exit from the main castle to the courtyard.

"You shall pay for this Darkoth." Dandell promised quietly, then promising that the guards at her castle would pay for their failure to protect her as well.

Running across the courtyard, Dandell saw some sort of creature, laying motionless on the ground, a small puddle of blood puddled around it. She shuddered, thinking that it had to be a powerful beast indeed, then wondering if perhaps that under-squire might have had more ability than she had believed, though on second thought, she doubted that he had anything to do with it's death.

Suddenly Dandell stopped, surprised to see a woman sprawled on the ground a short distance away. It took her a moment, then she recognized her. "Amelia." Dandell gasped, surprised to see her chambermaid out here. She knew that Amelia had been taken as well, but hadn't given another thought to the girl until that moment.

Amelia stood up, her face dirty and streaked with tears...as well as a look of fear. "Oh my..." she gasped, moving towards Dandell, "You've returned sir squire."

Princess Dandell was startled at first, until she realized that of course that fool would think that she was the under-squire. Amelia was far too dense to see her royal presence shining through her common...and temporary body.

Ignoring Amelia, or at least attempting to, the princess continued towards the castle exit...and her true escape, visible such a short distance ahead. Once she crossed the bridge over the moat, she knew that it would be a simple matter to return to her own castle.

"What about her highness?" Amelia asked in a worried voice. "Is she yet alive?"

Dandell frowned with impatience...then froze as a loud roar suddenly filled the air, coming from behind them. Snapping around, she was horrified to see the dead creature standing up...obviously not as dead as she had believed.

"A dragon." she whispered in horror, stepping backwards instinctively, while Amelia screamed in panic.

Without warning, the dragon started charging straight towards them. Dandell stared in horror, knowing somehow that it would not follow her past the gate should she make it that far. All she had to do was slow it down long enough for her to make it.

Then, with a growl, Dandell grabbed Amelia and threw her to the ground towards the dragon, glad that she had finally found a use for that horrible chambermaid. The princess wasted no further time, turning and running towards the fate as fast as she could, knowing that Amelia would make the beast a delightful snack.

However, glancing behind her quickly, Dandell screamed as she saw the dragon leap right over Amelia...and straight towards her, it's massive jaws wide open. One last scream was all that Princess Dandell was capable of before the dragon descended upon her.

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Brydon stared out from the tower window, the events in the courtyard with increasing horror. His fingers clutched at the window ledge, tight enough so that his fingers went white. That happened below was even worse than his own situation, though at least while the dragon was occupied with what was left of the princess...of his real body, the chambermaid made her escape from the castle and vanished from view.

After several more painful minutes, Brydon turned away; from the window, unable to watch any more. It was over he knew. Now there was no chance of regaining his rightful body...and far worse even...the princess was dead...and King Bessand had lost his only child...and only heir.

Then, Brydon returned to the mirror, staring at the princesses beautiful reflection for several minutes before doing something that he had not done since he was a child. He cried. For himself...for the princess...and for the realm.

Nearly fifteen minutes after Brydon had watched the horror from the window, he sat up on the bed, no longer crying though he was still doing so inside. Instead, he stared at his tiny hands and then the rest of his drastically changed body. It felt so much different than before, yet at the same time, much more alike than he would have expected. In fact, the greatest change wasn't the slight weight on his chest...or even the strange lack of something between his legs. It was the fact that he was so much thinner...so much lighter. He felt almost as if he could jump all the way to the clouds. Movement seemed amazingly smooth, filled not with power but with grace and ease.

Suddenly, Brydon noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Jumping up, he stared at the mirror which was rippling like the surface of a pond...then it calmed, showing Darkoth's reflection. He couldn't tell for certain due to the mask...but Brydon had a feeling that the sorcerer was smiling.

"Your would be rescuer has failed your highness." Darkoth announced, his voice filled with disdain. "Your chambermaid has escaped...but that hardly matters. I still have my prize."

"But..." Brydon gasped, caught by surprise. Darkoth obviously thought that he really was the princess and hadn't realized that they had traded forms.

The black clad sorcerer chuckled evilly. "Yes, your father will give me whatever I desire...including the life of my hated foe....Graydar." Darkoth spat out the wizards name. "Surely the life of the crown princess and only heir to the throne is worth more than that of an old man." Darkoth laughed again before stepping back and vanishing from the mirror.

For several seconds, Brydon could only stare at the mirror in shock. THAT was what Darkoth wanted? Revenge? However, finally knowing what Darkoth was truly after this time did little to soothe Brydon's worries.

Brydon paced around the room for the next hour, growing more and more frustrated. He had spent years mastering the sword, only to find himself a helpless prisoner, relying on the king's knights to rescue HIM. All he could do was hope that the chambermaid was able to warn them about the passage in...though he suspected that it would be useless now. Darkoth would have corrected his error now that it had been discovered.

Finally, Brydon stopped his pacing and looked down at himself for the thousandth time, still unable to believe that HE now looked like the princess. That he was trapped in the form of a beautiful maiden. Death and injury had long been risks that he knew he would face...though nothing had prepared him for THIS.

"No." Brydon exclaimed, glaring at the door furiously. "I will escape. I must."

With that, Brydon set to work, looking for a way to escape his prison. At first he tried the door, finding that it was sealed solid and would not budge. There was no way to open it from his side. Then he turned his attention to the window, staring out of it for several minutes as he considered his options. It was too far to jump and he could not climb down as the outer wall had nothing to grab onto.

"If I only had a rope." Brydon muttered, his new voice sounding strange to his ears. However, there was no rope in his prison, nor anything that could serve as a rope long enough.

Brydon cursed, then felt oddly embarrassed as he realized how that would sound coming from the princesses mouth, which anyone watching would assume it was. Trying to calm down, Brydon paced around the room once again, this time searching for anything that he could possibly use. Fate might have turned him into a damsel, but he would surely not wait for another to rescue him.

Then, as Brydon passed in front of the door again, he paused and examined it. Suddenly an idea came to him. "Impossible." he whispered, his eyes going wide. However, he wouldn't know until he tried it, so holding one hand against the door, Brydon announced, "Oervon." And with that word, the door started to creak open.

Pausing only to give silent thanks, Brydon rushed through the door and down the long and winding stairway, knowing that he had to escape the castle before Darkoth grew aware of him.

After reaching the bottom of the stairs and entering back into the main castle, Brydon allowed himself a faint smile, though only briefly before he continued on his way. He didn't dare let himself be distracted or congratulate himself to early. At least not if he wished to survive the day.

A short time after going through the castle, Brydon found himself in the main hall, lit all around by flaming torches. He stopped for a second, sneering towards the throne that sat one the far side and thinking how arrogant Darkoth must be. Then, he turned and looked at the colorful tapestries that covered the walls. He could scarcely believe that such would be within the halls of an evil sorcerer.

Suddenly Brydon froze, sensing that he was no longer alone. He turned slowly, gulping at the sight of the black robed sorcerer, standing such a short distance away.

"I see that you have escaped your room your highness." Darkoth said quietly. "I know not how you did such...but it shall not happen again." And with that, he muttered something quietly and a ball of blue light appeared within his hand.

"Stand down dark one!" Brydon demanded, feeling much less confident than he sounded.

But Darkoth merely laughed at that. "Come your highness...let us return you to your chambers. His voice was filled with sarcasm.

Brydon grimaced, refusing to just surrender now. With barely a thought, he grabbed a torch from the wall and charged straight at Darkoth, intent on using it as a club. Darkoth gasped in surprise and stepped back, apparently forgetting his half finished spell with what appeared to be a helpless princess...attacking him.

"Have at thee..." Brydon yelled, hitting Darkoth with the torch...wishing that he had a sword...as well as the strength to use one instead.

As soon Brydon hit Darkoth with the torch, the sorcerers robes caught fire. Brydon jumped back in surprise while Darkoth started to howl in pain. The whole robe was being consumed by flame while Darkoth stumbled about. A moment later, the sorcerer fell against the wall, spreading the flames to the tapestries.

"Dear Lord..." Brydon gasped as the flames shot up the wall. Taking one more glance at the still burning Darkoth, Brydon turned and started running, knowing that within minutes the whole hall would be aflame...and soon after, the castle.

Brydon dashed into the courtyard, half surprised to find the dragon lying on top of his true body's remains...and snoring loudly. He was extremely careful to make no noise or do anything to wake the beast as he moved towards the gate. A minute later, he was out and across the bridge.

Still running, Brydon saw the shimmering in the air ahead, indicating Darkoth's magic wall. However, as he watched, the shimmering vanished. Brydon stopped running then and turned, looking back towards the castle. It was all aflame...smoke billowing thickly from the burning roof.

"He is gone." Brydon whispered, relieved that the evil menace to the kingdom was no more. However, at the same time, he doubted that Darkoth would truly be destroyed so easily. That the evil one would return one day to again wreak havoc upon the realm. But that would be another day and one far away...if ever.

For several minutes Brydon remained where he was, vaguely aware that the knights were already coming. Coming to claim victory he knew, though that didn't matter much to him as he considered what was to come.

Would anyone believe that he was not Princess Dandell? He looked down at himself and saw no reason to doubt that he was not, much to his regret. She had been the sole heir to the throne, but was now lost. Brydon felt a wave of sadness at that, knowing that her father would be crushed. And, the kingdom would suffer for it. It would suffer the king's lack of attention...and even worse, a struggle for the throne.

"No." Brydon whispered as he imagined the country torn in battle as noble fought against noble for the throne. As they destroyed the countryside, taking innocent lives and ruining livelihoods. In the end, it would be the poor people...the peasants who would truly suffer. Brydon felt the heavy weight of that future settling on his shoulders. "No." he repeated again quietly, "I can not allow that."

Tears were coming down Brydon's cheeks as he realized what he had to do. He had no choice if he was to save the kingdom. To keep it from being torn asunder, Princess Dandell must live. It was the only way.

Then, as the knights approached and Sir Kirkland dismounted from his horse then bowed, Brydon stared at him for a moment then quietly announced, "I am Princess Dandell." It was the only way.

--------------------

In a dark room, a figure dressed all in black robes stood before a round mirror on the wall, intently watching the image of Brydon riding away with the knights, back towards the castle. The dark figure pulled his hood back, and with a slow movement, removed the metal mask that had been upon his face, revealing that of an old man with a long white beard. The face of the wizard Graydar.

"It has come to pass." Graydar said sadly, knowing that he had done that which needed done.

Long ago, Graydar had sworn to protect the kingdom and it's people from all threats. It had been long since he had realized that not all threats came from without. That the greatest ones often came from it's own rulership. Rulers who were fools or tyrants.

Graydar had long ago come to the realization that there where things that the royal wizard could not do for the kingdom. Things that needed done. So he had created Darkoth. A scapegoat for the wrongs of the country. A threat to unify the kingdom against and keep it unified. And more importantly, one to act where action would not be appropriate.

There were many nobles and knights who abused their positions. Who used their power to bully their peasants, all the while claiming noble rights. It was to these ones that Darkoth sent his monsters. Monsters created by magic to cause trouble, but ultimately destroy those who abused their power and harmed the people.

King Bessand's father had been a fool and a tyrant, taxing his people outrageously. The poor had gone hungry to feed the greedy king's appetite for wealth, and the whole country had suffered, though he cared not. It had taken Darkoth to pass the crown to a true king. A king who appreciated the people and their needs.

Then Graydar sighed sadly, turning away from the mirror. King Bessand was ill, though he kept it from his people. There was a growing sickness inside of Bessand that would consume him from within...killing him within a year. It was a sickness that not even Graydar's magic could cure...much to his sadness.

Graydar could not allow Princess Dandell to become queen. She was a vain and spoiled child who thought only of herself. Graydar dreaded what she would have done to the kingdom, knowing of her secret plans to declare war on a neighboring kingdom once she was able...for the sole purpose of claiming their royal jewels.

"Such a waste." Graydar sighed, turning his thoughts to Brydon.

Brydon had been such a bright and capable young man, caring a great deal for the kingdom and burning with a desire to help people. Graydar had not been able to help but noticing that, as well as the tragedy. That a lack of royal birth had condemned Brydon to be unable to use his gifts to their fullest ability.

The answer had seemed almost simple once Graydar had thought about it. He'd captured the princess and lured Brydon to him. Brydon had passed his test...a test of compassion, though sadly, but not unexpectedly, Dandell did not. If she had been able to overcome herself...Graydar foresaw that she still could have ended up on the throne...though as royal consort and king instead of as queen. But that was not to be. Her own selfishness had seen to that.

With a faint smile, Graydar muttered, "The realm shall be in good hands." Then with a quick glance towards the black cloak and metal mask which were set to the side, he added, "And Darkoth may not be needed for a great while to come." Sometimes, it was not easy to save the kingdom.

THE END



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