The Princess and the Paladin (short fiction)

It’d been obvious from the day of her birth that the princess was a special soul. The sun started dawn an hour earlier in order to ensure it was there to greet her, and every bird in the land sang songs of her wondrousness. The mad dragon Belzanurkazah, which had spent six years terrorizing the countryside, appeared at the castle and upon setting eyes on the child had bowed her head and flown peacefully over the horizon, never to trouble the kingdom again. And the royal castle uprooted and planted itself atop a cloud, where it remained ever after, which was magical and wondrous, but also terribly inconvenient. Nobody had lived in it for years, but it was inspiring to see, floating up there.

The only hiccup in the charmed life of the princess was all the demons. Demons, like everyone else, weren’t a uniform force. Some wanted her to consume. Others sought her corruption. And others only wanted to destroy her, believing they could destroy the hope of the world with her. After years of close calls and desperate battles, the princess was hidden away to grow up in peace.

But she couldn’t stay hidden forever.

The demon lord Gurh stood at the head of his legion, having surrounded the quaint little monastery. “Are you sure she’s in there?”

His head scout nodded his twisted head. “Yes, sir. There were dozens of unicorns around the place and we spotted a maiden on the top tower, singing with the birds. And the birds sang back.”

Gurh said, “A good sign.”

“Also, we’ve seen the bushes in the topiary garden move when she walks through it. I’ve seen that elephant bush bow to her several times.”

“It doesn’t seem like much protection.”

“Well, there’s the monks, sir. They’re a warrior caste. Quite capable of defending themselves against most forces. And then there’s the paladin. They say he’s the most powerful knight in all the land and that he has pledged his life in her service.”

Gurh laughed. “Paladins? Please, I eat paladin souls like candy. Righteous fools.”

The demon lord put his horn to his lips and sounded the charge. His legion poured from the woods, a tide of wings, fangs, and steel. Gurh rode at the lead on his terrible hellbeast, a mountain on legs with slavering jaws and claws that could rend stone.

The warrior monks, despite their reputations, retreated behind their walls. Gurh smiled. This would be easier than he expected. Before he could give the order to tear the place and its inhabitants to pieces, the gates opened and a young woman stepped out to greet him.

She was no frail waif, having a lean, muscular build and a determined gait. She wore robes and carried a sword in her hand.

“Don’t harm these folks,” she said.

Gurh looked into her cool, gray eyes and felt his demon soul burn. He averted his gaze. “You’re the one I seek.”

“I am,” said the princess. “I’m here if you want me.”

“You surrender yourself then?”

“No. You still must take me.”

Gurh raised his sword, and several of his legion charged the girl. Her blade sliced through them in an efficient arc, cutting them all down without a wasted move. She wiped the purple demon blood from the weapon with her robe.

“Impressive girl, but you can’t stand against us all.”

She pointed her sword at him and holy rays poured forth, melting lesser demons into puddles and sending others scurrying away. Only the most powerful remained. They rushed her in hopes of overwhelming her.

The princess slaughtered them all. It took the better part of the afternoon.

Gurh lay defeated before her. “Finish it then.”

She lowered her weapon. “Tell the others. Leave good people alone, and you have nothing to fear from me. Otherwise . . . ”

She radiated hot righteousness, burning him into a withered pathetic thing who scampered helplessly away.

The princess and the paladin sheathed her demon-stained sword and walked back into the monastery while the birds sang her praises.

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