The girl crouched back against the wall, trembling, glaring at the king, her blue eyes blazing with hatred and fear. He smirked sadistically, strolling towards her slowly, reveling in her helplessness. She shrank away as he put a single finger under her chin, tilting her head back so she was forced to meet his eyes. She shuddered involuntarily as he lightly stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers, and he grinned evilly. She closed her eyes, shivering with horror, biting back a whimper.

"Shh, I won't hurt you," he whispered. "At least, not much..."

It was too much, she tore away, her face transfigured by fury. Pulling from his grasp, she ran to the door, tugging desperately but fruitlessly. The tyrant watched with callous amusement for a moment, before going over and lightly laying his hand in the middle of her back. She froze, terror etched on her face. He suddenly shoved her viciously against the door, crushing her to it. She whimpered slightly, gasping for breath, but he pressed inexorably.

"Let her go," an unexpected voice came from the direction of the window. She twisted her head painfully, noticing the king had also turned to look at the intruder, though he didn't slack his relentless pressure, continuing to crush her frail body to the hard wood.

"And why should I," her captor sneered. "She's mine, and I will do with her as I please."

The red-haired young man jumped lightly to the floor from the windowframe. "I shall fight you for her," he said evenly. "The first to disarm his opponent gets the girl."

The king measured him for a moment, then nodded once. "Agreed."

"No!" the maiden cried. "He'll kill-" She broke off as the king swiftly shifted his hand from her back to her mouth, making further speech impossible.

"Agreed," he repeated. "And so this wench won't interfere-" He clouted her roughly in the side of the jaw. She seized up for a moment before going limp and sliding down the door to lie in a crumpled heap upon the rich crimson carpeting.

The king slowly drew his double-handed broadsword, smirking wickedly. "I shall enjoy this very much."

The youth drew a dirk, slim and bright. "I am sure you will. But I intend fully to triumph."

Without further speech, the monarch attacked, sweeping towards his younger opponent. But the younger man was, surprisingly, if not more able, then at least a match for the dissipated tyrant. Leaping back upon the bed, he waited for the older man to follow, then swept his short weapon through the cords holding up the curtains. The king thrashed, entangled in the bed hangings. The boy leapt lightly down, waiting for the king to follow. Eyes narrowed, face red with rage, the older man threw off the wrappings encumbering him, and leapt down from the bed, raining blows upon the boy. Beleagured, the young man backed up until he ran into the ornate couch of carved wood and cushions. Reaching back, he broke off a piece of the filigreed top, and threw it into the tyrant's face. Startled, the king instinctively let go of his sword with one hand, reaching up to deflect the wood. With a swift twist, the boy disarmed his opponent.

Breathing hard, he leveled the dirk at the king's chest. "The maid was right. Had you won, you would have killed me. But I shall not do the same. Let me go with the girl, and I shall leave you unharmed."

The king smiled and made a small bow. "You have the makings of a good warrior. You are strong and brave, and keep your wits about you. Very well, you have earned her. Take her and go."

The boy bowed his head in return, sheathing his dirk and going over, scooping the girl up in his arms. He tensed as the king followed him, fearing a betrayal, but the man unlocked and opened the door. "T'will be easier to carry her down stairs than down a vine," he observed.

Bowing his head again, the young warrior left the room, carrying his living burden, the maiden he had rescued, the maiden he had earned.