General Thorne was in the Great Hall with a group of soldiers gathered around him. The children were there also, gathered in a circle crying quietly. When Anna appeared with the young prince the soldiers gave a cheer. General Thorne approached her immediately and demanded to know where the King and Queen were. Anna took him away from the children and quickly told of all the events that led up to her meeting the King in the hall, and she told the General of the King’s new orders. The general was visibly shaken. He trusted the word of the young girl and knew he must obey the word of the King. At the same time he was driven to run to the rescue of the King, but he knew he must follow orders, for he was a soldier and a soldier must always obey orders. He did however, send the soldiers he had with him to assist the King. He told the nursemaid, Anna, to come with him and help with the children.
Anna turned and told the girls, "You children must be brave, Mama and Papa will join us later in the woods. We have to go with the general now to where we will meet them. Okay?"
Rochelle, the oldest of the girls, nodded and said, "we will be brave ma’am."
The other girls nodded and they all looked to the general, who was busy pushing a bookcase away from the wall. When the bookcase was moved several feet, an open doorway appeared from behind it. "Come this way ladies." Commanded the general as he handed a lantern to Rochelle. "Take this and lead the way princess."
The oldest girl took the lantern and led the group through the doorway as the general slid the bookcase back in place. They descended a dark, stone stairway that seemed to spiral downward forever. Finally, they arrived at a door, which led them to a part of the castle they had never seen before.
The young girls proceeded to walk through the doorway one at a time. They soon realized they were traveling through a long, dark hall with caged walls along both sides; a large wooden door stood at the far end of the hall. The general had fallen behind and was still descending the spiral stairway when the girls began to make their way up the hall, single file toward the other door. Suddenly, hands emerged all around them from between the bars, grabbing at the girls. Rochelle, who had been leading the way, dropped the lantern that was in her hands. The lantern smashed as it hit the floor and the fuel within spread across the floor and went ablaze, spreading light throughout the hall, revealing the true nature of the room they had entered. They were far below the castle in a place where madmen and worst criminals of the kingdom were kept locked away; they were in the dungeon. The girls all began to scream wildly as insane laughter filled the hall and hands pulled and grabbed them from every direction.
When Anna emerged from the stairway, Rochelle and Caterine were pinned against the iron walls screaming, held by filthy, blackened hands that reached out from every available opening from behind the bars. Little Lynne stood in the center of the room screaming. She was trapped, just out of reach of the arms that were swinging wildly for her little body. The room was a horrible mixture of the laughter of madmen intermingling with the screams of terrified children. Anna stepped back into the doorway and screamed for the general.
A shrill battle cry that would bring fear to the wildest of beasts roared from within the stairwell. In a flash, as quickly as they appeared, all the hands disappeared back into the caged cells. The thumping of the general’s feet soon echoed outward from the stairwell and, an instant later, General Thorne charged through the door with his sword raised high above his head. When the general arrived to the center of the hall, all he found were three sniveling children. He looked around dumbstruck, wanting, waiting for an enemy to strike down, but found none. The children huddled together in the center of the room crying.
He looked to Anna and demanded, "what’s going on here girl?"
"Behind the bars." She responded.
A slow, snickering chorus of laughter began to escape the cells.
Then the general realized what had happened and anger filled his heart. He raised his sword and struck wildly at the bars around him. Sparks flew as the steel of his sword made contact with the iron bars. The general ran up the hall slashing wildly with his sword, he seemed to dance a dance of rage up and down the hall, spinning and turning, while swinging his sword wildly, clashing it against the bars. He made his way up one side of the hall jabbing and slashing at the iron bars, and then, down the other side jabbing and slashing at the bars sparks flying all the way, until finally, he felt every one of the prisoners understood his message, and they were all cowering in the corners of their cells filled with the fear of death. When he was done there was no longer any signs of snickering laughter from behind the bars. It was very quiet in the hall, except the soft crying voices of three young girls and the heavy breathing of the general.
The general surveyed the room as he stood breathing heavily, when a voice from a cell next to where he stood startled him. "What’s going on sir? Where are the guards?" the voice asked. The general responded by jabbing his sword between the bars, the figure behind the bars jumped to the side barely avoiding being run through.
"Whoa sir, hold on," the man pleaded.
"You just be quiet and pray I don’t open the cell up and make minced meat of you, you dog," the general barked.
The man went on, ignoring the general’s rage. "Sir, you’ll have to excuse my ill mannered friends who I share quarters with here. We’ve not eaten today, for the guards seem to have forgotten their way to the dungeon, sir. They are nowhere to be found and the dregs of the kingdom become a bit surly when they don’t get their bread and water. What is going on sir, please do tell us?"
The general thought for a moment and then responded.
"The kingdom is under siege. The enemy struck the first blow from within the castle walls; evil surrounds us everywhere we turn. An army that secretly amassed in the southern part of the kingdom is charging the castle as we speak. I must make my escape with what remains of the royal family at once."
"Sir, I am Darien of the Northern Wood. I was imprisoned for attacking an officer of the guard who struck down my father with his horse. I am no criminal. Free me sir and I will fight for the King." Darien spoke bravely as the general carefully considered his words.
"Sir, before you answer no, hear me out. Unlock my cell door and I will stand back. On the other side of the door at the end of the hall is a huge wooden board that bars the door. It would take all of these madmen an hour to break down that door with a battering ram, I am sure you are already aware how sturdy the door is sir, after all, you had it built." The man checked the general’s expressionless face and continued.
"Once you have barred the door I will free these madmen. The only way for them to leave is from whence you came. If the enemy is following you they will have to pass through a hoard of madmen, and myself. Then, they will have to break down that door." He said pointing toward the end of the hall.
The general did not reply. He walked to the end of the hall and gathered the children outside the door, and then he stepped back inside. He grabbed a ring of keys that hung from a hook on the wall next to the door, walked back to Darien’s cell and tossed the keys inside. "Fight with honor and we will meet again one day, brave Darien of the Northern Wood," he said, and then left the room and barred the door.
It seemed as if the group traveled through a hundred darkened tunnels when finally, they came to a stairway. The general led them up the stairs where they found a door at the top. They went through the door and found yet another hallway on the other side, then they were on their way through another hundred darkened tunnels again. From time to time they heard voices echoing through the halls in the distance, only to fade away again as they twisted and turned through the corridors. When they saw the door with the torches burning on both sides, they felt freedom was finally at hand. They arrived at the door and the general spoke to them with a look of relief upon his face. "Through the door on the other side of the next room a carriage awaits us children. It will carry us to safety in the woods where your parents will meet with us before we journey to an army fortress in the Western Flatlands."
Anna knelt down in front of the girls with the baby in her arms and spoke to the three young girls. "Children, I fear they may not be there when we arrive." A look of fear gripped the children and the general scoffed at her with a look of anger, but she smiled at the children and ignored him, continuing on.
"Be brave and trust in me my darlings. I have been with you since I was a young girl myself. I was seven years old when my mother died and my father put me into royal service. I have been with all of you from the time you were born. I love all of you girls like you were my own sisters, so listen carefully to what I must tell you. There is a message I must give you before we take leave of the castle, I must tell you now incase anything should to happen to me. An old woman, I do not know her name, but I know she is a good woman, because she has kindness in her eyes. She has visited me in my dreams since I was a young girl and has told me of many things to come before they actually happened. She told me of the events that would happen tonight. I know what she has told me is true and I must tell you what you need to know. Do not fear though children, for your mamma and papa are safe now and may be with you again one day."
"She told me there is a long and dangerous journey ahead of the young princesses, while they guard their brother until his time has come. She has told me that one day the young prince will lead an army to do battle with a dark and evil man; an usurper who will rule our kingdom with a cruel and careless hand."
"The usurper will hunt for the young prince and try to destroy him. He will hunt for all of you, for he will one day want to be a true king. Only when he controls the royal bloodline can he be king. You must hide from him and never be captured. You must also protect the young prince. You will travel many roads and it will also be a journey of time you will travel. You will have to be brave and do things that other princesses have never done before."
"Rochelle you are the oldest and you must remember these words. Your sisters and brother may not understand what is going on and, after time, they may forget what has happened here tonight and what I am telling you now. You must remember these words and lead the others when the time comes. It is very important you protect your brother and make sure he does not fall into the hands of the dark forces that brought us our troubles here tonight. It is your and your sister’s responsibility to protect your brother and make sure he will one day lead an army into battle, into a battle they will fight to free our kingdom. Remember that men may be strong, but do not believe that girls cannot be brave and strong too. You must be crafty and no one must know who you are until the time is right. No one must know who it is that leads this fight. You will all take part in freeing our kingdom." Anna was cut off by the general slamming his fist against the wooden door.
"Enough of this, we must take our leave while we are still able." The general barked out.
Anna smiled and kissed each of the girls on the forehead and said, "it is time for us to go on to our destiny my darlings, be strong, be brave." then she rose and told the impatient soldier "yes general, it is time to take our leave."
Suddenly, an arrow slammed into the door next to the general’s head.
"Over here," came a booming voice that echoed through the hall. This was followed with a thunder of footsteps.
The general quickly rushed the group into the darkened room on the other side of the door and slammed it shut as a barrage of arrows hit it, leaving their razor sharp arrowheads poking out from the other side. He quickly dropped a heavy wooden plank into two iron hooks that protruded from the wall on both sides of the door, barring entrance from the other side. When he turned with his torch to light their way to freedom through the door on other end the room, the girls began to scream.
In front of them lay a sea of black snakes with glowing yellow eyes. The serpents rolled over top one another, hissing and slithering their way toward the group. Forked, tongues slipped out of fanged mouths and a chorus of hissing began to grow louder as a sea of serpents began to swell up around them. This swell of black slithery ocean threatened to swallow them up in a choking wave that not only would bring the pain of a thousand piercing fangs, but would carry poison in those fangs as well.
A roar of laughter echoed through the halls beyond the barred door and the children squealed again.
"I know that voice," growled the general.
"General!" Screamed Anna. "They’re getting too close!"
The general waved his torch down to the floor in an arc forcing the serpents back.
"I don’t know how long I can keep them back like this." He said as he scraped the torch across the floor singeing away the advancing wave of poisonous snakes.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash behind them. Then, another and another; the soldiers on the other side of the room were trying break down the door. The baby in Anna’s arms began to scream and laughter echoed from the hall beyond the door again. "Blast it, I know that voice," said the general again as he fought back the sea of snakes.
Then, there was silence for a moment and muffled voices could be heard from the outer hall. Footsteps could be heard thudding up the hall, then the voices grew louder and all of a sudden a tremendous crash shook the door. A second hit to the door caused the iron hooks to buckle and the crash shook the entire doorframe.
"Blast it! They’re using a battering ram," yelled the general. "It won’t be long before they break the door in!"
"That is if the snakes don’t get us first General," said Anna as she huddled the children against the wall. The general drew his sword with his free hand and readied for battle. He could not hide the look of concern on his face.
"I will take down as many as I can. I will not let them take these children. I don’t know how, but I will stop them." The general said with determination.
Suddenly, the door on the other side of the room swung open and a man stepped forward holding a lantern in front of him. Quickly, he doused the flame and the area around him dimmed to only moonlight spilling in from behind, leaving a darkened silhouette. He unhooked a latch on the side of the lantern, opened a small door and fuel began to spill from the lantern. Next, he reached back far behind him with the lantern gripped in one hand, and then launched over his head sending it across the room toward the group of people on the other side. It arced high in the air, spilling its contents of fuel across the room, and came crashing down at the general’s armored feet, splattering shards of glass all about him. The children, now forced to deal with a new fear, gathered in close to the two adults. It wasn’t long before three, four, five more lanterns came crashing down, shattering glass all about and sending more lantern oil streaking across the room. Suddenly, another round of pounding struck the door behind them. All was beginning to seem hopeless.
A very noticeable effect began to take place immediately though. The serpents, offended by the odor, began to move away from the spilled fuel oil, curiously opening an odd looking path between the snakes. Some snakes, didn’t seem to mind the stinky odor though, and remained in the path.
A voice came calling through the darkness from the other side of the room. "Sorry about that, it is just I General, Darien of the Northern Wood."
"Darien, the madman from the dungeon, is it really you?"
"Yes general, the madman from the dungeon," he responded with a laugh.
"Why are you throwing lanterns at me you fool?"
"General, you of all people should know that madmen do nothing but foolish things." He said as more laughter escaped from his belly.
The general began to scold himself and the madman. "I don’t believe I freed you, you blasted son of a flea bitten d..." but Darien cut him off.
"No, no, no General. Wait just a moment and do what I say. Take your torch and put it to the ground, quickly." He said as another great crash jarred the doorframe behind the group. "But be careful not to set yourself ablaze."
The general only hesitated for a second as another crash loosened one of the iron hooks that held the plank barring the door. As he did this, a whoosh of flames lit up in front of the frightened group and a line of fire burned its way across the room. The fire caused a great hissing sound as it divided the sea of poisonous serpents, singeing a trail across the room all the way up to the feet of Darien of the Northern Wood.
"Quickly now general, cross the path of fire before it burns away."
Another jarring crash racked the door behind them, spurring no hesitation on the general’s part this time. He at once put away his sword and grabbed hold of the smallest princess, picked her up high in the air and placed her atop his shoulders and said "hold tight little princess, we are going for a stroll." He scooped up the other two girls in his arms and said, "Now, girl, we run!" And both Anna and the general charged into the flames.
A second later the door behind them came crashing forward into the flames. A group of soldiers ran inside, but stopped straight away, as they were surprised to step into a wall of flames. They quickly stepped aside the flames and charged forward unknowing of what lay before them. Their screams were drowned out by the battle cry of the soldiers that followed them, who quickly found themselves in the same predicament as those before them.
Someone was yelling, "Water, Sergeant Niamest we need water!"
Then, a booming voice was barking orders. "I told you to await my order! Now look what’s happened. I told you Lord Argock had a surprise for them. No matter. Go after them now you cowards! Obey me or suffer later! Follow them into the flames! Now! Now!"
Some brave men complied and charged forward bellowing out a blood curdling battle cry as they ran up the burning trail. But, by this time the flames beyond the burning door were dying down as the fuel of the lantern burned away. When the men reached the center of the room, they found a wall of serpents had closed in before them, which quickly swelled up and covered the path from behind as well; they were trapped. Their terror filled screams were drowned out by Sergeant Niamest’s roar of anger as he heard the door on the other side of the room slam shut.
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