not for children
Once upon a time a knight was riding through a forest on his noble steed. It was a late afternoon of no particular consequence, save that our story begins in it. There were no wicked witches or vicious dragons to conquer. It was a beautiful day and the sun dappled through the branches of the forest as he sped through it enjoying the feel of the wind on his face.
All at once he heard a cry for help above the sounds of his horse’s hoof beats. He came upon a stag caught in a particularly dense bramble bush. Because he was a noble knight and had nothing particularly pressing to do (and was an avid vegetarian and animal rights activist), he took pity on the poor creature and guided it from the thick, spiked brambles. The poor stag had cut its breast on a thorn and bled profusely from its heart. The stag lost so much blood in fact that it lost consciousness and would have died if it wasn’t for the fact that our heroic knight was gifted in the art of woodland first aide. He quickly applied a poultice made of local flora, sewed the creature’s wounds shut with the fiber of his own tunic and brought the recuperating animal food and water. He also stayed with it through the night, protecting it from any savage (and salivating) beasts that might devour the hapless stag.
At dawn the next morning it awoke to find his noble protector sleeping. Fully recuperated from a near death experience after only a night’s rest, it sprang to its feet and almost leapt into the forest, before reflecting that it was in fact a magical deer with the capacity to grant wishes, exact favors for random acts of kindness from equally random human saviors, and speak English. He also realized that it would be ungratefully rude of him not to at least extend a token of appreciation for the knight’s selfless and thorough doctoring. The stag, therefore rested on the ground, mulled over the experience, tried to think of a way to calm his family down for not having come home the evening before and considered the sleeping forms of the knight, and the knight’s horse.
Presently, both the knight and his horse awoke, each with a great growling yawn. “What dost thou wish of me, good sir?” the stag asked of the good knight. “What reward might I bequeath unto thee to recompense thy labors?” The knight—having been a knight for some time now—had heard folk tales of talking, magical, gift-giving woodland creatures and thanked his lucky stars that he had found such a creature. However the horse, disturbed to his equine core by the abomination of nature presented him by an animal speaking to a human in King James English was overtaken with cold sweats, anxiety tremors and dry heaving and fled as fast as his horsey hooves would carry him into the morning mists. The man was of course momentarily perplexed by his horse abandoning him, but in the light of such a rare opportunity presented he quickly forgot about it and focused on the situation at hand.
He considered the stag’s offer in careful silence for a long time before voicing his choice. “Sweet creature, if in fact you may grant me my wish, this it is: I have witnessed your suffering and nursed you through the night. I wish no more to be troubled by this fragile and easily destroyed body. If thou canst, impart to me a new body that is not so easily torn apart. A body that is impervious to pain. A body that heals its own wounds and that never ages. Make me immortal.”
“Oh, good sir, “pleaded the stag “you know not what you ask of me. For though the brambles I fell into are indeed treacherous I warn you further to avoid them altogether in this life is far worse.”
“You only say this, creature, for I was here and have saved you even now. How quickly you have forgotten the pain of the brambles digging into your flesh. How quickly you have forgotten your near scrape with the hereafter. God save me from ever feeling them. I am a knight and as such it is my business saving others. But what good am I as a savior, I ask you, if I am as subject to the very perils from which I recue you? In this body it is only a matter of time before they, in turn capture me. Therefore, I demand that you grant my wish.”
The stag bowed his head in concession. “Come drink from the cool stream with me, man. If you do you will be protected from the brambles and any other force, save yourself, that would seek to tear you apart.”
The man followed the deer to a small glade with a gently rushing brook where he scooped the water with both hands to his lips and drank until he was no longer thirsty.
“There you have it, man,” the stag bade him farewell before dashing back into the cool of the woods.
The man waited, but felt no different.
“This stupid stag has tricked me,” he grumbled.
The man sat on the ground next to a boysenberry bush. He took a handful of boysenberries sulkily thinking only of how the deer had tricked him. It wasn’t until he tasted the iron of his own blood mixed with the sweet warm juices of the boysenberries that he realized the thorns from the bush had scraped his hands to bloodiness. Astonished, he looked at them. He felt no pain at all. Even more astonished was he, when before his eyes the shallow flesh wounds twisted themselves together instantly healed, leaving in their place only thin pale scars.
“Incredible,” he breathed admiring his new found power. He unsheathed his blade and drew it across the palm of his hand. The wound was deep, but he didn’t bat an eyelash in pain. As quickly as he had unzipped his hand, even before the first drop of blood splashed to the ground, the wound healed itself, like lips closing, leaving a scar this one thicker and paler than the first. He looked back at the boysenberry scars. They had disappeared beneath the surface of his skin, unseen. The same happened in a matter of seconds to the gash on his hand.
He stood in triumph and amazement at his new body! “Never again need I fear the dragon’s tooth, the witch’s claws or even the jungle of thorns surrounding my dear damsel! Never again will I feel pain! I am impervious to all wounds! I am invincible!” And he set forth towards the castle where his dear damsel was captured as often knight’s dear damsels are prone to be.
After traveling the length of the day, the sun crested the horizon spilling pink and orange light throughout the sky. The knight stood at the foot of the hill. Atop the hill, he knew was the darkly enchanted castle at the topmost tower of which his dear damsel was trapped. Springing from the base of the hill to the very entrance of the castle, obscuring it from view was a forest, a jungle, a veritable wall of twisted evil looking brambles. From the brambles grew thorns longer than double edged daggers and twice as sharp. The knight as well as everyone in the surrounding villages knew that the brambles were the magic curse of a wicked witch who had been vanquished long ago. Though the witch had been done away with, her curse had never released the dear damsel trapped forever until a hero could come and save her. Because of her famed beauty and virtue many brave, noble (and a couple very drunken) men had tried to slip through them, but none prevailed. As such not only was there a towering field of thorn brambles, but to add to the fear the brambles were ornamented with several pierced bodies, all in various stages of rank decay. Nary an inch of cracked dry ground grew with anything else. The hill stretched up. The brambles dared the knight to trespass. Night fell ever faster.
The knight drew up his sleeves and drew out his sword and ran into the monstrous mesh. He hacked and slashed a path through the brambles. His arms and legs were soon reduced to tatters. The knight could not move but for a few paces ahead. The magic brambles grew back almost immediately and in scores for every one of them he felled. They grew hydra-like behind him blocking his escape and his light, pushing him ever onward. The brambles snaked and coiled around his arms, his legs, his neck. His tunic and pants were soon heavy with his blood, however he felt nothing. Steadily he hacked and swiped nearer and nearer the castle, always toward his dear damsel, the vision of her face, her tears, her embrace kept his spirits up in the darkness. Always uphill he trekked forward, at times stopping to rest, but never long enough to allow the brambles to get a good grip on him.
And at last, at long last a glimpse of light shimmered through the vile forest of brambles. The last shimmering light of day flickered tantalizingly before him. With his last ounce of strength he forged ahead and broke through the wall of thorns at the entrance to the castle. The last two hydra-headed, thorny brambles sealed the path out behind him.
Out of breath and close to shock for blood loss, he collapsed upon the doorstep. It took a long time for the wounds to heal, but heal they did. His chest, his back, everywhere the knifish thorns had pierced him. Every single one as they had by the boysenberry bush magically healed, scarred and sank below the surface. The stag’s magic had done its work.
Heaving for breath slowly he regained his composure beneath the sky sunset; both he and the heavens were dyed incarnadine. He gathered the scraps of his garments torn asunder from the slicing, ripping thorns. He wiped the blood as best he could from his body, but quickly examining his arms and legs, his limbs were still ghastly. Leaving his sword upon the threshold he opened the great wooden doors.
He opened upon a great chamber— black-blue stone devoid of light or warmth. A great sweeping staircase led to an upstairs room. Presently as he made for the staircase, a white clad woman carrying a candelabra for the dark glided down the stairs.
The knight gazed upon her. To him, she was exquisitely beautiful. None of the legends surrounding her as thick as the vicious brambles did her glory justice. Her beauty was the unique balance of delicacy and sheer power that all women exude when a man falls madly in love with her, which of course is exactly what the knight did. His heart, still recovering from the treacherous trek leapt toward her as she descended.
She stopped at the midpoint and cupped her hand to reflect the light into the gloom. “Who is there?” she inquired of the darkness below. The knight stood straight and tall, trying to make a good first impression. He spoke back to her, his voice strange unto his own ears, “It is I, a strong and noble knight! I have besieged your vile prison and come to rescue you! Forsooth, my dear and darling damsel, from now on you have nothing to fear!”
“Oh, could it be after all these long years?” she whispered. The knight made for the stairs and as his battered form staggered from the shadows and was engulfed in the warm golden glow of the flame cast from her candelabra, the poor maiden screamed at the top of her lungs, turned tail and fled back up the stairs, barring the door at the top of the stairs behind her, leaving the knight flabbergasted and utterly alone in the darkness, halfway up the stairs.
The dear damsel, meanwhile was thoroughly frightened out of her wits. She shivered sobbing from behind the door, for the man that had claimed to be a knight was no knight. Knights were dashing, handsome heroes come bursting in to sweep her off her feet with gentlemanly ease. The creature that had lumbered forward was a deformed beast, barely even recognizable as a man at all, blood-soaked and hideous. And that face! That monster of a face! Her most depraved nightmares couldn’t have given birth to a more terrifying countenance. Lips peeled back to reveal a gaping jaw surrounded by bared teeth. Eyes devoid of lids, lashes or brows, hopelessly grey, like some undead bloated thing. It had no nose, no ears, no hair. A horrible façade of a freakish face. It looked as though it had been sliced to shards before being seamlessly woven together into a new and infinitely more horrid superhuman: something impervious to age and death and time, something impervious to love and hate and pain.
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|Reviewed by R.A. Knowlton
|Wonderful Story. Love the humor that is scattered about. A great tale!|