The horse's hooves pounded deeply into the rich soil. Not far behind, angry shouts pierced the stillness of the night. The huge animal was magnificent. Its glossy black coat shinned in the moonlight, its long mane flowing like silk as it danced upon the rider's face. The rider, with his long black hood, turned around and glanced backwards, eager to be rid of the clearing. For in the forest, darkness was an ally, a friend. The horse slowed down to a canter, then a trot, its black tail flicked with annoyance, eager to be home.

The rider guided the powerful horse into a small hidden cave framed by the long purple tendrils of an ancient vine. The only thing that could be seen was the horse's glowing, red eyes. The rider finally visibly relaxed, a smile thrown across his garish features. His revenge on the King Merlon was now complete. A few moments later a group of royal soldiers came into view and slowed to a halt as they approached the dark cave, stopping just a few feet from the entrance. Though so close to the hidden cave, the soldiers remained unaware, for even the most brave were fixated on the dark forest that loomed so close to them. As with most dark and frightful forests, no one who entered the Great Forest ever returned. The General, a well built man with a grey tinged beard, turned his horse around so that he could face the others. His gentle, wise eyes looked sad. 'We may die if we enter the forest, but we must follow the King's orders, and we must not fail. There is more at stake here today then the life of an infant.'

At his words, the horses began to shift nervously and every soldier's face flickered with barely contained fear. Suddenly, a dark haired rider burst through the small group and halted before the General, his black eyes sparkling with intensity. He was a handsome man with unusual light grey eyes that seemed at odds with his olive skin and black hair. He was as beautiful as he was deadly. It could be seen in his eyes.

'Do you suppose we would willingly give up our lives for a child who is already lost?'
The General frowned. 'It is our duty Lord Salvador. And who is to say all is lost? It is not and will not be over until we retrieve the Princess. Our determination and honourable intention will be our protection and will lead to our triumph.'
Salvador grinned wildly and glanced up at the stars, 'General Forlyn... I regret to inform you that I will not obey your orders.' He turned to look at his fellow soldiers and spread his arms wide. 'If we are to enter this forest, not one of us will return alive. The great beasts and monsters of this forest will devour us. We will die slow and painful deaths. I would not wish such a death on my enemy, and most of you here are... my friends.' The young Lord announced his last words in a sad lilting voice, his face twisted in despair. He appeared to be pleading so desperately with the General that all who watched but the hidden rider felt their hearts stir with love for each other.
'You would defy my orders?' General Forlyn frowned, his eyes wearily watching a man known who his rash behaviour. He glanced around at his men and was surprised to see the change among them; their desire to live was stronger than their loyalty to the crown.

The General was too slow to see the flash of light, like a mirror in sunlight, which was to signal his end. There was a sickening thud on his chest that took his breath away. The old man's eyes widened as he fell to the ground. At that moment the General thought only of the woman he loved and how she had died before her children had grown. Would that perhaps have changed things? Without even the slightest pause, Lord Salvador slid off his horse, reached toward the General and retrieved his dagger. The old man groaned once then fell silent. Lord Salvador turned to the soldiers, a wide hollow smile playing on his lips. He was in charge now.

'The old man was losing touch, his mind clouded with sickness. The child is dead. There is nothing left for us here but death my noble friends. But please, if anyone feels otherwise?' Salvador watched the soldiers before him, noticing that most avoided his eyes. He smiled.
'That is what I thought... we are all among family here. Now, it is to be known that Forlyn died a heroic death while trying to save the young child. Against all odds, he was still alive when we found him. He told us all that we must retreat... least we too be taken by a beast. As loyal soldiers, we followed his orders but brought his body back so that he may be given the burial he deserved.' An eerie silence trailed Lord Salvador's words. Finally, a soldier on the rear called out awkwardly, 'Yes... may he rest in peace.' The rest of the men, taking his lead, repeated his words as they threw nervous glances at each other. Salvador remounted. He looked down at his father, his dark eyes laughing. After all these years he had finally won the battle.

All the while hidden safely in the darkness of the cave, the rider watched as the group of soldiers departed. After a few minutes the hooded rider emerged from the darkness, his arm crooked slightly as if holding something. With a swift kick from the rider, the horse and his master disappeared into the Great Forest, taking with them all the future of hopes of a kingdom and its King.

Nisibis: Thank you to everyone who has already submitted reviews, I really appreciate it!