The Princess of Proxima The young Princess of the Kingdom Proxima brought the four of them together under

the glistening leaves in the open air outside of her palace. The overlook of the western mountains through which she and her party had to pass seemed daunting indeed, but she knew it was a task that was not entirely impossible on foot. “Welcome you four,” she said. “I am grateful that you have come to assist me in my journey. You see, my brother, the King of the Distal Nation, had his life cut short by an assassin’s arrow just a week ago. A messenger bird was sent to inform me that, as he was unmarried and had no heir, I am to go to take his place as ruler. “And in this I need your help. I called each of you for a reason. Tormunk, the barbarian. You I invited into my home because of your mighty feats in battle. Raleigh, though you are no older than I, I have been told that your abilities in advanced sorcery have grown exponentially since you took up your vagrant wizarding quest, and it is my hope that this journey will add even more to your skills. “I salute you especially, Donna, mighty Amazon warrior. I have seen you in combat in the past, and I know I am in safe hands when you are near. And I could never ignore the mindful skills of you, little Joan of the dwarves. Though you are only half my age, I am told that it is you who can guide us most safely over the mountains with the greatest of expedience.” The members of the party all looked upon one another with shock and some dismay. Donna looked upon Tormunk and saw not a mighty veteran of war, but a bony and withered old man who’s axe outweighed its owner. He, in turn, saw a woman who would surely fight and argue with him, vying for control in battle. Joan laughed aloud at the thought of Raleigh attempting to cast a magical spell when the need arose. He was pale and soft and had clearly never travelled in rough terrain without horse and carriage. Perhaps he thought this was the manner in which they would travel, but it was not the Princess’ intention. But the dwarf girl was judged most harshly. Too young, too impressionable, not ready to GREET the danger and despair of travel to the Distal Kingdom and potentially conflict with an assassin. # Soon they were on the road, led by Joan, with the Princess next in the file, followed then by Donna and Tormunk. Raleigh lagged behind, whining and limping with sore feet. They had not yet come upon the mountain pass, but treaded through tall grass, picking off ticks and jumping at grumbles and patters in the distance. Tormunk groaned, assuming some thief was following them in search of money and blood, but the Amazon grabbed his shoulder before he could wander off. “It’s just an elk. See?” She pointed to the creature and Tormunk, humiliated, drooped his head and fell back into line. Shock fell upon them when a band of travelers raised their arms to them. “Hail!” they shouted to the Princess and her group. “Hail!” they all replied with a sense of security implanted in their hearts. They were not alone, the Princess realized, and perhaps these people would join them in their travels. “Princess, look out!” cried Joan, who scurried back and leapt upon her, sending the Princess tumbling to the ground. An arrow whizzed over their heads. The travelers were brigands!

Soon a great skirmish broke out: Tormunk, with aching mucles, slowly hurling his axe into his enemies; Donna slashing her knives into flesh and bone; and Raleigh casting a spell of paralysis upon the surviving enemies. When the battle had come to an end, the Princess asked Raleigh to cast a truth-telling spell upon the bandits, whereupon she interrogated them, asking for the identity of their master. “I cannot tell,” one of the men said at first. But he could not resist for long and said, “It was some man from the Distal Kingdom. He beckoned us, saying that he knew you travelled on this road. He offered us a lifetime of gold to end your life, with one tenth of the payment made up front. We accepted it graciously.” “But what is your master’s name?” the Princess demanded. “I know not. I swear by the very spell that binds me, I do not know.” Donna threw her fist into the man’s face, sending him tumbling into the weedy grass. “Let us venture on, m’Lady, and see what awaits us in the mountains and the Distal Kingdom.” # From the top of the cold mountain peak, they could see both the kingdoms Proxima and Distal. Over this mountain pass there was a twist they had not expected, but one of which Joan assumed they all knew: A hidden tunnel of ice that would take them promptly to the fields below. “I’m not going into some icy cave,” groaned Raleigh. “I’m not on this journey to freeze to death.” “Exactly,” said Tormunk. “So shut your mouth and get in the hole, and we won’t have to abandon you down there, never to meet the warm glowing sun again.” Raleigh, terrified for his life, eagerly jumped into the tunnel, ahead of the group. # “It is hard to see in these tunnels, little madam,” said the Princess. “Do you have some skill you use to navigate in such darkness?” Joan removed her shoes. “Yes. When you feel lost and afraid, use your bare feet. It connects you with the ground. Close your eyes and hear the sounds around you. You must rely more on those senses you do not normally use to become accustomed to such darkness. Listen. Feel. Embrace the world around you without sight.” Using this method, the party managed to carefully creep around jagged rocks, mercilessly deep canyons, and paper thin ice traps that would lead to a murky, freezing demise. Joan knew fully of these dangers, but felt it was best to withhold from them the fact that they were in constant peril. Soon a sliver of light was visible and they scrambled towards it. The sliver became a large white circle, but as they drew nearer they saw a figure standing at the exit. It was an old man with a beard and the flat, floppy cap of a wizarding scholar. Raleigh stepped forward. “Master wizard. Why do you block our path?” “This kingdom is in danger from a most ominous force. I cannot allow any to enter so long as this shadow looms.” “But we must pass. We have in our charge the Princess of the Kingdom Proxima. What is it we can do that would permit us to cross this threshold?” For a long and quiet moment the old man thought, stroking his beard and scratching his

nose. “You may address this riddle, that perhaps you might understand the true dangers that await you.” “Give us your riddle, old man,” yelled Tormunk, his grizzly shout reverberating through the cavern, “that we might pass and be done with you.” “Very well: ‘It gives us life. ‘But in excess, it is a sign of death. ‘In times of strife ‘And signs of health ‘Its presence is clear ‘We share it with those closest to us ‘But would never dare ask others to share theirs. ‘We enter this world ‘And often exit it ‘And it is tailor made for us. ‘What is it?’” Without a second’s hesitation, the Princess snapped and replied, “Blood.” “Curse and confound you! Was it that simple?” “It’s a riddle I heard as a young child. One told to me by my…” She paused, not wanting to continue. “My brother told me that riddle when I was but a little girl.” “It shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose,” the man said. “Riddles travel fast these days. Pass through, and may the sun recieve you with rosy fingers.” # As they crossed the plain approaching the Distal Kingdom, the Princess spoke to the Amazon. “I find it strange, Donna, that riddle the old man told. Not only because it was a riddle that my late brother once told me, but also that it made mention of blood. Do you recall how he said, ‘We share it with those closest to us, but would never dare ask others to share theirs’?” Is there something to this journey of which we are unaware?” “Aye,” said Donna, “likely so, Princess. All things seem simple at first, but are rendered needlessly complicated. Blood and family make complex matters of all things. Do not permit fear to enter into your heart. Instead be brave and ready to take on the helm of the Distal Kingdom, for this is a mighty task.” “I suppose you are right,” she said, and they ventured on.” # They were properly greeted at the castle gates and met with great warmth, but also some somberness. “Welcome, great Princess,” said the chief guard. “It is my hope that your travels were safe and brief.” “Indeed they were.” “I must ask that your companions, however, stay outside of the palace after passing these walls. There is much turbulence therein, and to add more to the fervor would merely cause unnecessary conflict.” “But these people helped me, fought for me, risked their lives for me!”

“And we welcome them for it, in due time. But now is not that time. Please recognize this rule, however temporary.” Without struggle, the Princess’ party remained behind, travelling the streets of the kingdom as she entered the palace. After passing through the palace doors and being led to her chambers by servants, she changed her clothes (as she had become quite dirty in her expedition). She came out and was led to the foyer, whereupon she was to meet with her advisors and endure the ceremony of Queenship. She saw, though, that the throne was occupied. And upon it sat none other than her supposedly now deceased brother! He breathed and blood pumped through his veins, and he sat upright with a keen smile upon his face. “Brother! I thought you were killed!” “A mere ruse, my naïve and foolish sister. I have a hunger for great things, you see. And none before has ever been so great as I. I yearned to rule your kingdom, and knew that, as you are quite fit and skilled in many arts and have the protection of many mighty warriors, you would live long and not come to any sort of unfortunate accidents. However, if you were to, say, travel abroad outside of your kingdom, many risks would lie thus upon your path, and at least one of them ought to be fatal. “It seems you have survived, though. Survived the bandits and the treacherous mountains and the tunnel pass. It also appears the old man I paid was none too skilled as a wizard as he told me. No matter! When I have done away with you, I will become rightful ruler of the Kingdoms Proxima and Distal!” He let out a sinister laugh that echoed through he foyer. “Guards! Seize her!” The guards darted towards her, spears and swords unsheathed and aimed at her throat. “Take her to the dungeon and execute her! None must know!” Suddenly there was a whiz and a thud, and a straight-bladed knife became lodged in a guard’s chest. He fell back, dead. Then another knife, then an axe, then a stone came, knocking guards down with deadly accuracy. The last guard who stood near the Princess dropped his weapon and ran, terrified. “Princess!” came a cry from the foyer entrance. It was Tormunk, the old barbarian. Grimacing, he lifted a guard over his head and threw him against a wall. He and the other members of the party had come to save her! Donna ran, throwing her knives at the other guards who lined the room, and Raleigh began casting a spell on the King, who, in a panic, leapt from the throne and attempted to scurry away. “Sit!” shouted Raleigh, his spell taking hold on the King. “You do not even bid your guests welcome. How rude.” Donna ran towards the King, and spewing curses and wielding several throwing knives as she approached. “Now die!” “Donna, no!” shouted the Princess, just as the Amazon was about to hurl her blades. “This man, my blood brother, has done grievous harm. He has caused great injustice, and he must meet proper punishment for his crimes. His tyranny, his deception, and his madness must never harm anyone again, but this must be done the right way. # Within days, the Princess had reorganized the kingdom. She purged the palace of the

King’s supporters and reinstated new officials and administrators. Her brother, the wicked King, was imprisoned and awaited trial for baseless treason and attempted assassination. “I suppose we should be going,” said Raleigh when the travelers were all gathered before the Princess. “It’s the proper thing to do.” “Yes,” said Donna. “I have to return to my tribe and ensure that all is well.” Tormunk adjusted his loincloth by his thumbs. “I, too, must ensure that my fellow barbarians are feasting mightily in their travels.” “And I have to return to my caves, where it’s nice, safe, and dark.” “I am grateful to you all,” said the Princess. “For all you’ve done for me. You followed me, risked your lives, and saved mine—more than once. For your wit, your speed, your strength, and your patience, you are welcome within these palace walls any time.” They thanked her, bade her farewell, and parted. THE END

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