Tonight, We Will Not Die — Ralph and the Prince Part II

Back by popular demand is Part II of a story I wrote last week, “Into the Night”.
If you missed it, you can read it here.  Or read on.

Ralph had lost track of time. Every muscle in his body screamed. He struggled to maintain his precarious position on the horse’s back while keeping the Prince’s unconscious form from tumbling to the ground. The black stallion broke his pace and Ralph allowed him to have his head. They both needed the break.

The punishing ride slowed to a steady stride, and he shrugged his shoulders, allowing himself to relax. Stretching, he felt blood seep into hands numb from holding the reins in a death grip. The horse blew air through his nostrils and Ralph copied the animal’s actions. As his mind cleared, he counted. Three times they had completed a circuit. Moving at the fastest pace he dared, he alternated from a canter to a trot and a walk, conserving their strength.

Deciding he could use the exercise; he slid his right leg around and jumped to the ground. He landed hard on stiff legs, and stumbled, clinging to the saddle and the prince so he wouldn’t fall. He cursed, forcing his limbs to move.

“Where are we?” The Prince’s voice was groggy, muffled in the horse’s mane.

“We should be getting close,” Ralph lied.

The Prince lifted his head, turning it towards Ralph, but the movement made him heave the contents of his stomach. Ralph jumped to the side to avoid the worst of it. He dug into his pocket, retrieved a handkerchief and wiped the prince’s mouth.

“What happened to you?” Ralph asked.

The Prince shifted his position again, rising a little higher in the saddle.

“Sirona said they poisoned me…”

“Sirona was with you?”

“Yes, she gave me something,” he said fumbling at the pouch strapped to his side. It was clear the effort was too much from him and Ralph stepped closer.

“May, I?”

The Prince dropped his hand and nodded.

“The note,” he whispered. He slumped over the horse’s neck again and his eyes closed.

Ralph steadied him, then undid the pouch’s buckled closure and fished out the folded parchment. He could feel the seal as he turned it in his hand. He glanced at the prince who was once again unconscious and wondered if he should try to wake him. Sighing, Ralph figured given their circumstances he could beg for forgiveness later. If the prince lived.

His decision made, he squinted at the letter and almost dropped it. Glowing above the Prince’s wax seal was his name.

“Well, all right, then.”

He cracked it open and unfolded his message. As he pressed back the folds, glittering sparks escaped. They coalesced into a ball, hovering over the sheet of paper. Their amber glow provided enough illumination for him to read the delicate handwriting.

 

Ralph,

With luck, you have found the Prince. If he still lives, then the elixir I administered is slowing the poison, but his life hangs in the balance.  You must reach D’ArtAnna as quickly as possible. I have enchanted the Lucciola to guide you to her. I estimate he only has a few hours.  

Our enemies are strong, and they are everywhere. Sir Felton and Jean-Christophe were dead when I found the Prince. Trust no one, dearest Ralph.

Keep yourself alive and Save our beloved Prince,

Sirona

 

He refolded the message, and the Lucciola rose, floating forward to hover above the stallion’s head. With a trembling hand, he jammed the paper into his pocket and mounted.

Sir Felton and Jean-Christophe were the bravest fighters in the Kingdom and Ralph wasn’t a match for either man, even on his best day.

“Dead,” the Lucciola bounced in the air at the sound of his voice.

“Ok, you. Lead the way,” he said. Resuming his place behind the prince, he placed his hand on the royal black cloak.

“I promise you. Tonight, we will not die.”

The stallion shook, and with a prancing step, he followed the Lucciola. They proceed along the forest trail as dawn’s first tendrils filtered through the branches. Ralph urged the horse to move faster.

“Tonight, we should be fine. It’s tomorrow I’m not so sure about.”

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

 

Into the Night – Flash Fiction

Ralph’s legs burned. He clutched his ribcage and rubbed the twitching muscle which begged him to stop. The intercept lay two hundred yards ahead. Holding the flaming torch higher he inhaled, hardened his resolve and pushed himself forward.

His blood beat in his ears and he struggled to quiet his breathing. He slowed, as he approached the archway. Moving with caution, he allowed the flames to illuminate his surroundings and he checked the shadows. No one lurked, no sign of ambush. Beyond the opening was a solid wall, his choice was to turn north or south. His torch showed nothing but an empty corridor running in both directions.

“Am I too late?” he wondered.

Somewhere water dripped, creating a steady cadence that echoed in the dark tunnel. Ralph leaned forward. He twisted his head to the right, extended his left arm to push the sputtering light as far from his ears as he could manage. He strained to decipher the second sound hidden in the reverberations. It was almost imperceptible, but there was the sound of a slow plodding horse.

“We’re in a race against time. Why would he move so slowly? Was it someone else? A trap?”

The flame crackled and sputtered. It had served its purpose, and he extinguished it. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he listened again. It was difficult to figure the direction of travel, but the footfalls grew clearer, getting closer. If it was the prince, he would approach from the south. Ralph moved to the right side of the arch hidden from whoever approached but granting him an unobstructed view of the corridor.

He waited, as the steady trod advanced toward him.

A tall black stallion proceeded into the intersection, carrying a large dark bundle. Ralph stepped around the archway and peered into the darkness. Nothing and no one followed. He clicked softly.

“Whoa, boy,” he said. The horse snorted and stopped.

As he moved closer, he could tell it wasn’t a pack, but a man strapped to the horse’s back. Ralph made soothing sounds, reached for the bridle and led the stallion into the shadows. He patted its neck and turned his attention to the rider. The man’s black cloak bore the royal crest. He lifted his head twisting his face towards him.

“My Prince?”

His eyelids fluttered, and he struggled to focus.

“Ralph,” he said, “Ralph, we must hurry. No time to….”

He didn’t wait to hear more. He mounted, situating himself behind the slumped form, his feet found the stirrups and he grabbed the reins.

“Yah,” he called as he leaned over the prince’s body. The horse jolted forward, and they raced into the night.

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer