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A MATTER OF THE HEART
A shadow stirred in the moonlight. Robert’s heart beat faster.
He drew his
sword and turned. The gargoyle towered over him. His heart
froze, his knees
turning to putty. The stone demon’s eyes glowed like pale
moongems out of
its slate-black face. Its fanged maw opened in a slathering grimace
as it lunged for him.
Battle-trained reflexes took over. He leapt aside, the
claws shattering a stone turret behind him. He dropped and rolled
shattered stone crashed to the flagstones of the castle’s battlements.
He sprang to his feet as the demon swung its massive arms around to attack
him again. Swinging his magically-enhanced sword with all his strength,
Robert roared in pain as enchanted steel met demonically animated stone.
The gargoyle’s arm shattered and fell to the flagstones with a stony thud.
The creature roared with a fury that shook the castle towers.
The monster lashed out with its remaining hand. Robert
dropped and rolled again, coming up on one knee and slashing from behind,
gargoyle’s leg at the knee joint. The monster roared and went
down on one
knee. Robert rolled, rose, turned and swung, putting out the
Steaming black pitch bled from the gutted eye sockets, eating through
flagstones like acid. The devil beast shrieked and lashed out
Robert leapt backward, the monster’s claw caught him by chance,
through his chainmail like a knife through cloth. He fell backwards,
stabbing pain in his shoulder. He groaned as his back struck
Struggling backward out of the gargoyle’s reach, he recovered
himself, got to his feet and raised his sword. He held its bright
blade high in the moonlight, marshaling his faltering courage. “For
you, my love!” he cried, charging blindly at the beast. He attacked
like a madman, striking without quarter. He shattered the gargoyle’s stone
claw, then its horned crown. He screamed as he smashed the devil
into a ruined pile of ebon masonry that no newcomer would take for the
castle guard it had been only moments before. Trembling and covered
with sweat, he breathed deeply, his breath white steam on the frosty night
air, his wound stinging in the breeze.
He’d barely caught his breath when he heard the rough, leathery
clattering armor of approaching goblins. “Search the battlements,
one of them growled. “You two, guard the entrance. Find
this thief and bring
him to me alive!” Looking quickly about, he saw the shadows of
their helmeted heads and spear tips against the castle turrets in the flickering
their torches. Raising the hood of his dark cloak to shield his
fair hair and
skin in the moonlight, he retreated into the shadows, pausing a moment
snatch up one of the gargoyle’s shattered fingers from the pile.
“He’s killed the gargoyle,” one of the goblins shouted as Robert
made his way
like a skulking shadow past the searchers, his breathing rapid, his
pounding. He covered his mouth with the fold of his hood and
labored breathing would not give him away. He paused in the shadow
turret near the entrance to the castle stairs. The two guards
stood there in his
path, their eyes like red-hot coals in the darkness. Testing
the weight of
the stone finger he held, he hurled it up and over the turret.
He heard the stone
digit clatter near the spot where he’d killed its former owner.
“He’s here!” one of the goblins shouted. Robert was elated
as the two guards
blocking his escape took the bait and left their post, running to join
the others. He had only seconds. Realizing this was his only
chance, he sprang from hiding and bounded across the battlements to the
open portal. “Behind you, you fools! Don’t let him escape!!”
Reaching the stairs, Robert swung the heavy, oak door on its massive, rusted
hinges, his face hot with exertion as he forced the door onto the stone
threshold. He could hear the screams and clanking metal of the fast-approaching
goblins as he struggled to lift the heavy oaken bolt across the door.
He prayed to God to grant him deliverance, even knowing the prayer might
be in vain.
The wooden beam fell into place with a dull thunk. Robert
fell back against
the stone wall along the stairs, lowering his hood and crossing himself
gratitude. He heard the goblins on the other side of the door
pounding against its iron shoddings and screaming for entry.
and shaking off his lingering numbness, he made his way carefully down
torchlit stairs, sword in hand, to the jailer’s quarters below.
The pot-bellied, scaly little jailer goblin squealed in fear as Robert
brought the edge of his sword against his throat. “The keys to the
tower room where theLady Miranda is held, you swine,” he said through clenched
teeth. “Or, add to
my collection of goblin heads!” The jailer obeyed, lifting his
iron ring of
keys from its hook and leading Robert through the torchlit passageway
iron door which he unlocked. The door creaked as it was pushed
Holding a torch to the portal, Robert saw a beautiful young woman in
green raiment in the cell beyond. She sat up suddenly from the crude
bed of straw on which she rested, her pretty green eyes squinting in the
sudden light falling on her long, curling tresses of reddish blonde hair.
“Lady Miranda of Tarclow, I presume,” he said with a slight bow.
“The same,” she replied. Robert struck the jailer goblin
over his bristly
head with the hilt of his sword, knocking him senseless and pushing
the cell. The Lady Miranda stood, straightening her clothing
with the dignity her caste demanded. She accepted Robert’s gentlemanly
hand, stepping over the body of her former captor as she left her cell.
“And who have I the honor of addressing, Sir Knight?”
“Sir Robert of Korbin, My Lady. I am here to rescue you.”
“The same Robert of Korbin my brother Darrin spoke of in his
“The same, lady,” he said with some apprehension, not sure how
receive him. “Your brother and I fought together under your father’s
in the war against the dark mage Zakur. But, come. We must
“Did my father send you,” she asked as he led her down the passageway.
“Nay, lady, he did not. For, though it pains me to tell
you this, my former
lord, your father, is now my mortal enemy.” Miranda paused mid-stride,
tightening her slender but strong hand on Robert’s. His heart
sank as three more goblins appeared in the torchlight of the passageway
ahead of them. His fear turned quickly to anger. He would not
be beaten now. “Stand behind me,
lady,” he cautioned as the largest of the three goblins, apparently
captain, came to stand a few paces from him, sword drawn, his two lackeys
behind him, likewise armed.
“What have we here,” the bloated ogre taunted. “An amorous,
come to rescue his lady fair?” As he laughed, his forked tongue
over his curved fangs, the iron ring in his piggish nose jangled a
bit. As Robert raised his sword, he felt something tug at the hilt
of the dagger on his belt. He glanced back to glimpse the Lady Miranda
draw the dagger expertly
back and hurl it. It flew past Robert and into one of the blazing
red eyes of
the goblin captain. The monster shrieked and collapsed as the
dagger pierced his brain.
Robert was shocked. Acting on pure instinct, he climbed
upon the fallen
goblin and launched himself at one of his two subordinates, who looked
agape. The goblin parried Robert’s thrust, but Robert threw his
against him, knocking him crashing into his fellow, who staggered back
The first goblin regained his footing and forced Robert backward.
dueled, Robert could hear the other goblin coming up behind him, and
moment was sure he was doomed.
The next he knew, the Lady Miranda had picked up the dead goblin’s
sword and was guarding Robert’s back. He and the woman stood back-to-back,
parrying thesword thrusts of the two goblins. Robert feigned to his
left, then cut
right, striking his enemy’s sword aside. Robert brought his sword
sharp blow to the goblin’s jaw, lopped off his sword hand and then
throat. As the goblin fell dead, Robert turned quickly to help
Miranda. He found her standing over her moribund opponent, bloodied
hand, the goblin’s severed head lying at her feet.
“You look surprised, Sir Robert,” she said haughtily, a bit winded
calm, brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes. “You think
it strange a woman
would know the use of a sword? My father thought the same.
But, I found
willing tutors and practiced in secret throughout my adolescence.”
“My compliments on your skill, M’lady,” he said with a most sincerely
respectful bow. “Now, please come. My steed is tethered
“I am in your debt for your help, Sir Robert,” she said, following
the passageway to the stairs beyond. “But, would it seem ungracious
of me to
request an explanation for what you have done? Why would you
risk your life
for a woman you do not know?”
The answer clenched on his heart with a dull, constricting pain.
“A matter of
the heart, dear lady,” he replied, fighting to keep his voice firm.
“Do you have any notion, Lady Miranda, what it is to love someone with
all your being, only to have the entire world stand between you?”
“Oh, indeed I do, Sir Knight,” she replied sympathetically.
“Indeed I do.”
“But, fair lady, I beseech you, do not enter the chapel!”
The aging castellan
of Tarclow stammered, retreating feebly in Miranda’s path as
she and Robert
forcefully advanced on the guarded doors of the castle chapel.
“Stand aside, old man,” Miranda barked. “The Lady of Tarclow
goes where she wills in her own manor!”
“But, lady, your father the baron has ordered that no one be
allowed into the
chapel until the ceremony is complete! Your brother, Sir Darrin
is as we
speak being married to her Ladyship Edwyna of Salston.”
Robert’s blood burned with anger. “Over my dead body!”
he shouted, striking the two guards aside and hurling the oaken doors wide.
He strode into the
chapel even as the venerable abbot began to read the ceremonial text.
bride and groom stood before him. A handsome knight with fine
and a maiden beautiful as a starry night, her long hair silken and
Robert shouted, his voice resounding through the crowded hall.
“I will not
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” the abbot demanded as
all the finely
garbed nobles and courtiers looked up and muttered in dismay.
The bride looked up, an expression of confusion on her lovely
transforming into joy. “My love!” she cried. “You have
come for me, as my
heart told me you would!” The Lady Edwyna ran from her betrothed’s
toward Robert. He had to scramble to get out of her way as she
ran past him
and into the waiting arms of the Lady Miranda. “My beloved,”
she sobbed as
Miranda embraced her. “I thought you lost to me.” As they
turned to the other knight, Darrin of Tarclow.
“Robert,” he cried, teary-eyed as he ran towards him. “My
you have not forsaken me!” Robert’s heart soared with joy as
Darrin’s strong arms embraced him, their two hearts beating fiercely against
each other as their lips pressed together. For the first time in
what seemed an eternity, he felt
“What is this outrage?!!” the Baron of Tarclow demanded in a
That familiar voice cracked through Robert’s spine, like the fear of
father’s lash when he was a boy. The tall, stern, gray-bearded
remembered so well from the battlefield strode toward the abbot.
sodomy in my very home?! What is my wayward daughter doing here,
against my strict orders? And you, Robert of Korbin ... what
is your role in this
The fierce anger in those dark eyes still smote fear into Robert’s
struggled to find his voice.
“This so-called marriage is the only blasphemy here,” the Lady
Edwyna cried, before Robert could utter a word. “I could never be
a true wife to Darrin of
Tarclow, as my heart belongs only to his sister, the Lady Miranda.”
assembled guests collectively gasped. “I consented to this travesty
only because the Baron of Tarclow held my beloved hostage in a goblin garrison
he had employed.”
“The lady speaks the truth,” Darrin proclaimed. “I would
never have wed her of my own will, as my heart belongs only to Robert of
Korbin.” Those words
were like a ray of warmth in Robert’s heart, cold and empty for so
“Robert, whose strong arms and sweet voice did sustain me through the
nights as we lay by the camp fires, and whose love fills me now.
this betrayal, sweet Robert,” he said, his strong hand softly caressing
Robert’s face. “But, I could not let my sister die.” Wiping
the tears from
his own eyes, Robert embraced and kissed him.
“Villain!” Miranda screamed at the baron, holding Edwyna close
“You knew mine was the one life neither Edwyna nor Darrin would risk.
knew likewise that this marriage would unite Tarclow with Salston and
increase your wealth and power. What monster are you in my father’s
shape?! You are not the man I remember!” she screamed with tears
running down her cheeks, Edwyna’s arms around her. “You are not the
man my mother loved. You are not my father!”
“Blaspheming daughter of Lillith!” the baron roared. “Better
you had died in
that goblin fortress than shame this house with your vile perversions.
you that corrupted your brother, this I know! I was right to
wicked shrew of a mother, for I know she had a hand in this as well!
to save all your souls, as any righteous man would! But, if God
this filth from my house, then I shall make my pact with one who can!”
abbot gaped and crossed himself as the baron produced a black-onyx
from beneath his robes.
Robert stared in horror as he recognized one of the demonic charms
black mage Zakur. He’d thought them all destroyed.
“No, father!” Darrin
screamed, walking towards the baron. But, it was too late.
The baron made
the hand gestures and spoke the unholy words that released the dark
power of the talisman. Swirling wraiths of hell-fire engulfed the
baron, entering and
mutating him. His body melted and reshaped itself like wax in
fire, his arms
and legs becoming tentacles, his face warping into a leathery mask
flaming red eyes, his head into a crown of horns. Miranda screamed
and the crowd trembled. The hair on the back of Robert’s neck stood
The baron reared up, a towering, serpentine apparition.
The monster’s long, leathery tentacles lashed out, one snatching up the
Lady Miranda. She
Screamed and flailed in mid-air, chopping at the monstrous limb with
“Miranda, my love!” Edwyna screamed as the crowd panicked and ran for
door. Fighting off a momentary numbness, Robert drew his sword
and charged the abomination. Another of its tentacles coiled around
his torso and crushed his ribs in its clammy, sucking embrace, lifting
him high into the air. Gasping for breath, he hacked furiously with
his sword, black blood spurting from the tentacle.
Suddenly, the monster’s eyes flared, its fanged mouth screaming
in rage, and
its tentacle released its grip, letting Robert fall. He landed
on the stone
floor with a crash, his knees aching. He looked up and saw that
impaled the creature through the back with a spear left behind by a
guardsman. As the Lady Edwyna pulled the fallen Miranda to safety,
forced his aching legs to move, bounding across the room to the hook
securing the rope which held the chandelier aloft. The monster
caught the brave Darrin in its tentacles and began to crush him.
Crying out in fear and anger, Robert cut through the rope with one stroke
of his sword, bringing the heavy
chandelier of burning candles crashing down on the demon.
The monster roared, releasing Darrin. The clever Lady Edwyna,
opportunity, picked up a flagon of wine from one of the tables and
threw it at
the still-burning candles. The monster shrieked as it was engulfed
its flaming tentacles whipping wildly about. As Robert pulled
safety, Edwyna and the now-recovered Miranda pulled a wide awning from
wall of the chapel and flung it over the burning monster to quash the
flames before they could spread to the timbers. As Darrin regained
his senses, he and
Robert seized weapons from their mountings on the walls, Darrin seizing
a large mace, Robert a battle-ax.
They pummeled the dying creature through the awning, striking
savagely again and again and again, until the unholy thing that had been
the Baron of Tarclow lay dead in a smoking, char-blackened heap.
Tossing their weapons aside, Robert and Darrin embraced as Miranda fell
sobbing into Edwyna’s arms.
As the chapel was sealed and consecrated, holy water sprinkled
upon the doors by exorcists, the shaken old abbot addressed the two knights
and two ladies who stood before him. “The church and his majesty
the king are grateful to all of you for the lives you have saved and the
evil you have driven from the realm this day.”
“Thank you, your eminence,” Robert said respectfully.
“However, given the confessions of sodomy you have all made this
day, in the presence of many witnesses ... you must all confess your sins
before a priest
and vow never to repeat your sins by laying with each other again as
A sudden coldness touched Robert’s heart. He looked at
Darrin. His lover’s
calm, angelic blue eyes banished every trace of doubt. “Never,”
softly to the abbot, taking Darrin’s hand in his own. Miranda
and Edwyna gave the same answer.
The abbot sighed and shook his head slowly. “Then, my children,
it is my sad
duty to excommunicate all of you and banish you from all Christian
forever after, under pain of death. May God forgive you.”
Robert’s heart turned to stone. He was numb as he turned
from the abbot to
go. “Perhaps it is meant to be, my love,” Darrin said softly,
his arm comfortingly around Robert’s shoulders as they walked from the
“Perhaps,” Robert sighed. “Nobility was always a bit stuffy
for my taste,
anyway.” As the sun rose over the mountains, his gloom was blasted
away by the chill morning air, and he was struck by a bright bolt of inspiration.
“What say you, beloved ... Shall we two away to the forest of the White
where our love will not be scorned, and where there are yet demons
to vanquish and monsters to destroy?”
“Yes, my love!” Darrin shouted, taking him by the shoulders.
“And, what say
you, Miranda, my sister? You are brave and skilled with a sword.
Will you and
your brave lady accompany us?”
Miranda’s eyes sparkled. She looked hopefully toward the
Lady Edwyna. “My heart is yours, dear Miranda,” Edwyna said with
a smile. “Where you go, I will follow.” With that, the four
of them mounted their steeds and rode into the wind. Robert’s heart
soared with what every warrior needed; the love of his life at his side
and a quest for justice ahead.
- END -
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