The Lucciola moved arrow-swift along the gloomy forest trail as the exhausted stallion struggled to follow. Ralph’s skin tingled, and he glanced behind him. He saw nothing except the dust kicked up from flying hooves, but his gut told him they were being followed. The dawn’s growing brightness provided no comfort for him and he worried about seeing the Lucciola in the daylight. The panting and lathered horse began to slow.
“We’re killing him,” Ralph thought then he noticed amber orb had slowed as well.
The glow veered to the left of the trail and stopped. In the stillness, Ralph heard a faint hum emanating from their guiding light.
“Are we lost?”
They bounced in the air, synchronized with the beat of his voice, then they moved further into the woods. The stallion leaped backward, turning his head right, he stepped toward the road. Ralph slid from the animal’s back and coaxed him in the opposite direction. His nervousness wasn’t calming the horse. There was no trail here, no signs anyone had ever passed this way. The Lucciola beckoned, inching deeper into the forest.
“Come on, boy.”
Ralph’s voice shook and his shoulders drooped as he pulled the stallion’s reins. He responded by tossing his mane, neighing his defiance his eyes rolled, and he backpedaled. Ralph grabbed the bridle.
“Ah, please,” he said trying to soothe himself as much as the horse. Ralph wondered if the sound pounding in his ears belonged to his beating heart or their unseen pursuers.
In the forest’s stillness, tree limbs swayed, the grasses whispered, and a brisk wind swept across the road pushing them towards their fate. Committed, they picked their way over uneven ground, around brambles, and under branches, trusting Sirona’s enchantments. The broken terrain transformed, becoming a thin line, an almost discernible footpath.
The prince moaned dragging Ralph’s attention away from the light they followed. A heavy gray mist, shrouded the small party, cutting them off from any return.
“Forward then,” Ralph said as if he had another choice.
Their journey twisted, winding back and forth, as they navigated a decent. Ralph swore he heard rushing water. They spiraled upward, the path curling through an ancient stand of gnarled pines. The ground turned to stone, and they climbed into the silent haze.
The stallion’s hooves clicked on granite steps as he bounded higher and the prince groaned with each jarring movement. They continued the winding ascent up the hillside.
“How much further?” Ralph asked, surveying the damp rock walls. Moisture dripped from the vegetation clinging in the cracks, but the Lucciola had disappeared.
“You’ve got to be kidding. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We can’t even turn to go back. You’re supposed to help me save him,” Ralph shouted. The dank air downed his words and he leaned against the wall.
“Damn it.” Ralph beat his fists against the rough surface.
The horse nudged him, pushing him off balance, he stumbled up the next step.
“All right,” Ralph yanked the reins, pulling the horse’s head as he regained his footing. They stared, each eyeing the other for a moment.
“Yes. You’re correct,” he said stroking its muzzle, “It’s not like we have options.”
A few yards ahead the stairs ended in a flat circular space. A solid wooden door, which appeared to be part of the stone, greeted them. Ralph dropped the reins and walked to it. Grabbing the wrought-iron handle, he pulled, then he pushed, jamming his shoulder against it with all his weight. It didn’t budge. Shaking his head, he tapped three times.
They waited. The stallion pranced in the tiny courtyard, blowing air through his nose. Ralph stood on one foot then the other.
He knocked again. Harder this time.
Ralph surveyed the enclosure. Overhead, an outcrop protected them from the elements. They could pitch a camp here, rest for a while and try to make the prince comfortable. He moved to the prince’s side, ready to slide him from his seat when he heard the sound of grating metal. He turned to face the unknown. Someone was releasing the bolt. Shuddering, the heavy door tore free from its seal, the hinges screeched, and it opened inward revealing a blinding light.
The stallion shied, moving back a pace while Ralph raised his hand, blocking the glare to see what lay inside. The sweet aroma of gardenia wafted into the courtyard. A figure obscured the brightness and stepped onto the stone floor.
Iridescent emerald-colored robes floated before him. Flashes of shocking bright blue took his breath away. Shimmering rosy opals circled an alabaster pink neck and spilled down the front of her gown. Green tinted white hair tumbled in long strands that sparkled as she moved. Captured by her coal-black eyes, he stood unable to move, incapable of speech.
“Oh,” she said, smiling in a way that made Ralph’s heart race.
“Your Majesty,” she bowed her head and dropped into a deep curtsey. Ralph turned, looking at his friend who was still unconscious, his body draped across the horse’s back. The dark cloak proudly displayed the prince’s royal crest.
“Ahem, no. He is Prince Kennward, son of King Alaric of Otsolurra,” Ralph stuttered as he tried to imitate the herald’s announcements at court.
“Ah, Sirona sent us. Well, she enchanted the Lucciola…” he stopped when the woman lifted her face and blinked. He took a deep breath and began again.
“He has been poisoned by our enemies. She administered something… an elixir? She said D’ArtAnna could save him. Can you help him?”
“I am D’ArtAnna,” she stated as she rose, and brushed past Ralph. She raised the prince’s head, and prying his eyes open she gazed into them. Slender fingers with emerald green nails pressed into his neck.
“Hmm,” she muttered then picked up the reins, “You may have gotten here just in time. Follow me. We don’t have a minute to spare.”
She sprinted toward the entryway, her robes billowing behind her, she didn’t look back. Without another word, Ralph followed. In the distance, the portal banged shut, and he heard the bolt clang, locking into place.
Keep on writing.
Jo Hawk The Writer