The last segment of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” saw Princess Terren the Fair left in the keeping of the Enchantress, there to stay until Prince Jaron’s successful return from three seemingly impossible tasks. Given how little cause we’ve been given to fully trust Jaron, what are the odds Terren will be stuck there forever?
Several minutes passed. Of course, since she was in the Enchanted Forest, it felt like hours to Terren. Couple that with her anxiety at being left alone with some strange Enchantress, and it felt even longer. At last, the Enchantress spoke.
“You are wondering how it came to pass that the King of Nikos is a horse,” she said.
Terren didn’t much like having her mind read by creepy Enchantresses, but whatcha gonna do? “I am,” she nodded.
“Eleven years ago,” the Enchantress began, “King Jakob came to me, the young Prince Jaron with him. He wanted me to tell him what lay in his son’s royal future.”
“What, art thou all-knowing or something?”
“Nah, I just get these random bursts of information. Anyhoo, after I had received payment for my services, I informed him that Jaron would never rule as king. This upset Jakob a bit, but it upset Jaron much, much more. He threw quite a tantrum about it; you know what five-year-olds are. I told him he’d best get control of himself, else something ill-fated happen to him, but of course he did not listen; you know how Jaron is. In his boisterousness, the young fool knocked over a bottle containing one of my curses.”
Terren frowned. “Who keeps curses in a bottle?”
“Uh, Enchantresses? Duh? May I finish my story, please?”
“Sorry, sorry, by all means.”
“I thank thee. So, Jaron breaks my bottle, and out pops the curse.”
“Um, begging your pardon, but what exactly does a curse look like?”
“Not unlike a pox,” said the Enchantress impatiently. “Do not interrupt me again. So the curse comes out and it incants:
Four hooves, flowing tail and mane,
A horse for all time you’ll remain,
And never human form regain.
Then it leapt at him, for to bring the curse to pass. But Jaron was a quick lad, and with his small dagger deflected the curse away from him. Curses are much akin to light in that you can turn them away with a reflective surface. Unfortunately – or not, depending of your point of view – Jaron set his dagger at such an angle that the curse bounced off of the dagger and onto the king. And so it was that King Jakob was changed into a horse; an immortal horse, but a horse nonetheless.”
“So who— Oh, sorry, were you finished?”
“More or less.”
“Oh, good. So who has been ruling over the kingdom of Nikos all these years if not King Jakob?”
“Why, Prince Jaron of course. And a fair job he’s been doing too, take it all ‘round.”
“But you said—!”
“I said he would never rule as king. Since King Jakob is not dead nor has he formally passed down the crown, Jaron can never officially be king. He will forever be a prince. So, I was right, ha-ha.”
If Terren hadn’t much liked having her mind read, she liked even less being ha-ha-ed. She determined to change the subject. “So, these things Jaron is to bring you… You were not in earnest about them, I hope? For how can one draw blood from a stone that hath no blood, or sweat from a pig, when swine sweateth not? As for the tears of a crocodile, surely ‘twould be a dangerous thing to attempt to gather them. What’s your angle, lady?”
“Tasks assigned by magical folk and spoken in riddles are always 100% doable,” the Enchantress said pompously. “Jaron is a moderately intelligent and very resourceful young man; he will find a way to do what I ask of him. Either that, or you can stay here with me forever. But I believe he will find a way.”
“One can hope and do no more,” Terren sighed.
Jaron reigned in his horse, a.k.a. his father, a.k.a. the King of Nikos. “Whoa, man,” he said. “This is as far as I will make you go. Do not move from this spot unless it is entirely necessary that you do so. I will return as quickly as I am able.”
Carrying nothing but his sword, the prince pushed forward alone. Before long he reached the foot of a relatively small mountain and began to climb. On and on he climbed. Roughly halfway up, a band of the mountain’s rock was soft. Here he stopped a moment, for to hew from the mountainside a fair-sized chunk of this soft rock. This chunk he carved with the tip of his sword until he had made it into the shape of a bowl. This bowl he placed upon his head like a helmet, and then he continued his ascent.
The nearer he came to the top of the mountain, the hotter the air and stone beneath him became. For this was no ordinary mountain. Very little in the Enchanted Forest was ordinary; most things in it were enchanted. (Huh, figure ye that). This mountain was a volcano, home to the deadly Fire Maiden.
Jaron knew all about the Fire Maiden, for there was a chapter on her in the required reading at Prince School. (Princes must be taught about these things, or how else are they to do their jobs properly in magic-infested society?). Jaron remembered every word from the Fire Maiden chapter – indeed, he remembered every word from every chapter from every book concerning uncanny and weird fairytale beings. How did he remember it all? Easily: He had a portrait memory. And so armed with this knowledge of the Fire Maiden did Jaron seek her out.
The Fire Maiden, sensing the heat of another creature, rose from her magma chamber to meet whatever this other creature was. When she saw it was a young man – and a prince, at that, if his noble bearing meant anything – she smiled a sultry smile. The Fire Maiden’s favorite prey was princes.
“Hey, you…” she called to him seductively. “Get over here, baby, and get in on some hot lovin’.”
This was the Fire Maiden’s allure. She was hot; in every sense of the word. Her long hair was blue flame, in her mouth was a tongue of fire, and her eyes smoldered like burning coals. Men found her simply too much to resist. And so she drew them to her… where they were devoured in her fiery passion.
“Come on…” she called again, and Jaron listened. The Fire Maiden assumed she had him, just as she had so many others before him. But little did she know, Jaron had the edge. First, his eyesight being what it was, the stunning spectacle that was the Fire Maiden was little more than a bright but blurry sort-of-woman-like shape. Second, he was wise to her tricks, and therefore better prepared to resist them. And third, he was on a quest, and a prince on a quest was not a thing easily sidetracked; especially if that prince was Jaron.
As Jaron drew closer, of course, it became more difficult to stay focused. Particularly because the Fire Maiden was coming more into focus the closer his nearsighted eyes came. Plus it was getting hotter by the second (which, in the Enchanted Forest, seem like years).
At last, Jaron and the Fire Maiden were but a hand’s-breadth away from each other. The light from the Fire Maiden’s burning eyes reflected in Jaron’s dark ones. Her breath caused the perspiration on his face to evaporate before it had a chance to dampen his brow.
“Kiss me,” she whispered, for if they kissed, all would be over for him.
But Jaron had only just the other night discovered in himself the power to resist a woman he really wanted if he made up his mind to do it. His mind was made up now. He did not hesitate, but plunged his sword into the Fire Maiden’s belly. With a hiss like steam, the Fire Maiden fell.
Now Jaron had to act quickly; for without the Fire Maiden to keep it at bay, the volcano would erupt. According to the book Jaron had memorized thanks to his portrait memory, he had ten minutes before the volcano blew. In an instant, he slit the Fire Maiden’s throat. Hot lava gushed out, for that was the blood that flowed in her veins. With the bowl-shaped rock he had cut out of the mountain, Jaron collected the lava as it poured out, filling his rock not quite up to the brim. That done, he high-tailed it down the side of the mountain like his life depended on it; for as we know, his life did depend on it.
Jaron’s feet had scarcely touched the foot of the volcano before it erupted. Not out of danger yet, he fairly flew to his horse (his father, the king…), leapt on, and cried, “Get outta here! Go! Go! Go!” They raced for almost an hour (which seemed like but a second) before the prince was satisfied that they were safe from harm; in volcanic form, at least.
Jaron checked his bowl to be sure that it had not been damaged. He was pleased to see that it had not broken, and the surface of the lava had cooled off and hardened into rock, sealing the still liquid lava inside.
“Score,” said Jaron, wiping the perspiration from his brow.
Ah, perspiration. That reminded him of his second task: To fetch the sweat of a pig.
“Where the heck,” Jaron muttered to himself, “am I going to get that?”
Jaron mulled over this for a minute or two (which felt like… oh, you know the drill). And then came the notorious gleam in his eye.
<<< End of Part 6 >>>