by Kelly F. Barr
Sir Tobias the Dragonheart rode through the woods upon his ebony warhorse. He followed the path to Redmont Castle. King Redmont’s soldiers had stormed the gates of Clayborne Castle a week before and had captured Princess Octavia. King Redmont now held the princess in a tower high above the Redmont castle walls, and Sir Tobias determined to rescue her.
Sir Fendril the Butcher and Sir Tancred the Hawk rode behind Sir Tobias. When Redmont Castle came into sight, Sir Tobias slowed his horse. Just inside the wooded boundary, he raised a hand, motioning the others to halt. He studied the layout of the castle, quickly spotting the tower that surely held Princess Octavia.
“I will hasten to the tower and use my grappling hook to gain access to the window. You two keep watch. Do your best to stop anyone from entering the tower room while I attempt to rescue the princess. Sir Tancred, use your hawk call to warn me of any impending danger.”
Both men nodded, and the three separated to take their places.
Sir Tobias undid the rope from his waist. He began to swing the rope in a circle over his head, letting more rope out with each rotation. When the rope appeared long enough to reach the window ledge, he gave a quick lasso-type throw, and sure enough, the hook landed, caught, and upon Sir Tobias’s tug, it held.
He paused to see if anyone had heard the clink of the hook landing and scraping into the window ledge. After a couple minutes of silence, he began his climb up the wall toward the tower. He climbed and climbed until his hands ached and his legs and arms burned. Finally, he reached the window ledge and heaved himself over its edge.
He landed on the stone floor with a clink of chain mail against stone. He heaved deep breaths in and out. The scent of lavender and roses floated on the air in the room. He looked up and noticed he was surrounded by Princess Octavia and twelve other women. How was he supposed to rescue the princess and ride off into the sunset now?
“Sir Tobias! You’ve come to save us.”
Sir Tobias rose to his feet. “Mi’lady, I have come to rescue you. I had no idea there were other women here. Who are all these ladies?”
“Apparently, King Redmont and his son have been capturing women and keeping them here for their own carnal pleasures.” Princess Octavia shivered.
Rage rose within Sir Tobias like a tornado. “They haven’t laid a hand upon you, have they?”
She shook her head. “Not yet. The prince wants to save me for himself. Claims he will make me his wife.”
She reached out and gripped Sir Tobias’s arm. “You have to get us all out of here. Some of these women have already been used and are ashamed. The rest cling to one another in fear every time we hear the key in the door lock.”
Sir Tobias began pacing back and forth. How could he rescue thirteen maidens with the help of just two knights and three horses? He moved to the window, looked down and spotted Sir Fendril with his bow, an arrow nocked and ready.
“Fendril!” Sir Tobias called down, and the knight looked up. “We need a wagon. Raid their barns and stables, and be quick about it.”
Fendril nodded and pressed his horse into a gallop around the left side of the castle.
Sir Tobias turned back to Princess Octavia. “How many come to take the ladies?”
“It is always three—one to lead the women, and two to follow.”
Tobias nodded. Those odds weren’t bad. He’d probably survive such a battle, but he still hoped to avoid a confrontation, if possible. Any battle would draw more unwanted attention.
Finally, the pounding of horses’ hooves and the rattling of wagon wheels reached Tobias’s ears. He peered out the window and took a deep breath. Fendril had succeeded in securing a wagon. Now the problem was how to get thirteen women down from the tower without getting caught.
Princess Octavia touched his shoulder and he turned toward her. “We can do it.”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
“We can make it down the side of the castle, if you can secure a rope around our waists to keep us from falling in case we lose our grip or footing.”
Sir Tobias frowned and his brow creased. The princess nodded at him. He looked around at the other women, who all nodded their agreement.
“Okay. Let’s give it a try. You will have to move as quickly as possible if we’re going to get all of you out of here undetected.”
The smallest woman stepped forward. “I will go first.”
Tobias quickly fastened a rope around her waist and clipped it to the grappling rope. The little woman climbed upon the window ledge, turned her back to the ground, placed her feet upon the edge of the ledge, held the rope in her hands, and began her backward descent.
When only the princess and one other woman remained, Sir Tancred released his hawk call and a chill ran through Tobias. Without wasting a minute, he tied a rope around both women’s waists and clipped them to the rope around his own waist. “The three of us must descend together.”
Tobias was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the two women adjusted to move as one with him. On the ground, he unclipped all of them and the women ran to climb into the wagon. As Tobias grasped his grappling rope to try to wrench it free, three heads appeared in the tower window. They began shouting.
Tobias released several curses under his breath as he let go his grappling rope and leaped upon his horse’s back. Fendril, his horse already hitched to the wagon, pushed the horse to gallop toward the road. Tobias and Tancred followed the wagon while watching over their shoulders for any trouble from behind.
As they raced through the gates of Clayborne Castle, Tobias shouted for the gatekeepers to shut and bar the gates quickly. The wagon and two horses came to a halt and curious Clayborne residents surrounded the wagon, staring at the women who clung to one another.
Princess Octavia stood up in the wagon and shouted, “Get back. Please. Haven’t you ever seen a group of women before?”
Sir Tobias grinned, dismounted his horse and strode to the back of the wagon. “Ladies, please follow me.” He helped the women down from the wagon, and Fendril and Tancred joined the group. Tobias led, and the rest followed him into the castle.
King Clayborne entered the large foyer and welcomed them, then sent the twelve women with several of the castle handmaids to be taken to rooms and settled for the night. Then he wrapped Princess Octavia in a warm embrace.
“Octavia, I’m so glad you are home. Are you … unscathed?”
“Wonderful. Join me in the dining hall, won’t you?”
Octavia flashed a look toward Tobias, then turned back to her father. “Give me a few minutes?”
Her father chuckled. “Of course.”
As her father walked toward the dining hall, Octavia turned toward Tobias.
“Thank you for coming to my rescue, and for taking on the job of rescuing so many more.” She smiled up at him.
“Of course, Mi’lady. No woman should be treated as farm stock.”
Octavia grinned at the big man, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed his cheek.
Heat crept into Tobias’s face. He looked around to see if anyone was near enough to have seen the princess giving him affection.
Octavia giggled and grasped one of his large hands in her delicate one. “Come on. Escort me to the dining hall. I’m sure my father has an offer you can’t refuse.”
Tobias raised an eyebrow.
She looked into his brown eyes. “Don’t play innocent with me. You do want to marry me, don’t you?”
“M-m-marry!” Tobias spluttered.
“Oh come now. You’ve been vying for my attention for over a year now. You’ve already won my heart. You might as well accept the rest of me.”
This time, when she raised upon her toes, she placed her soft lips against his. His heart thumped in his chest, making it clear there was no turning back now.