Flight with the Prince
The blizzard increased in intensity as Ogden trudged on through the snow. The wind blasted him in the face. He began to worry about the little bundle tied to his chest. He was carrying a baby wrapped in blankets and the child was now whimpering. The infant could not die of cold. Ogden had rescued him and fully intended to ransom him to the highest bidder.
In the distance, a light twinkled and he made for it. It was a case of any port in the storm. There were very few places to shelter in a storm in this remote part of Apherune, near the Monster Lands. As he drew nearer, he could see that it came from a small building made of uneven blocks of grey stone. He saw a wooden sign on the building with the faded letters "Needy Rogues Rest."
That seemed appropriate. He pushed open the heavy wooden door and stepped into a dingy salon, lit by flickering smoky candles. He went up to the bar. The hunched innkeeper was rubbing a clay mug with a dirty rag, making it steadily dirtier. "Hey! Rotten old goat!" said Ogden. "Pour me a drink of whatever alcoholic mouthwash you peddle. Now!"
After paying three rusty iron shards for a mug of flat liquor, Ogden wondered what, if anything, he should order for the baby.
A scrawny man with a scrubby grey beard sidled up to him. "I bet there's a story behind this. You being in a place like this with a babe in arms, looking as though the powers of darkness were on yer heels."
"What's it to you?" demanded Ogden.
"They call me the Scribe," said the beardy man. "I collect story ideas. If yer could tell me yer story I'll buy some blue milk for that baby."
"Oh, why not?" said Ogden. The Scribe went to the bar and came back with a mug of blue milk. He took the baby in his arms, making shushing noises as he let the milk trickle into his throat. Then the two men sat at a stained, scratched wooden table and the Scribe took out a sheaf of yellow parchment and a mouldy looking quill.
"They call me Ogden the Robber," said Ogden importantly, "I'm a thief and I only look out for number one. But these are strange times are they not? Who can say what's right any more, when the land has gone to Darkness?"
Scribe looked up. "Keep going. I'm jotting it all down."
Ogden continued: "You should already know that the Royals of the Celestial Vales have been overthrown by the necromancer, Xadan Bane. Bane has his undead army. The royal troops took one look at them and deserted. Bane would have executed every royal, but I stole the Prince. They royal heir. I will ransom him to the highest bidder."
The Scribe drew a low whistle between his teeth and chewed on his beard. "Yer play a dangerous game my friend."
"Long odds are the only ones worth playing," said Ogden, more confidently than he felt. What had he got himself into?
As he left the inn, the wind seemed to pick up. Lightning flashed and he could hear unholy laughter booming in the distance, back in the direction of the capital. Filled with fear, he hurried in the direction of the mountains that loomed over him.
Night fell and darkness lay claim to the snowy wastes as the moon rose. The mad chase from the benighted land had cost him more than he thought. He felt himself grow dizzy. He couldn't go on like this. And then, with a surge of horror, a terrible figure loomed over him. His head reeled at the sight. A giant, with a head wrapped in bandages! He cried and stumbled as he tried to turn, but the giant seized him in freezing hands with bright green fingers the size of cucumbers and dragged him up off the ground. Bright green creatures were poisonous weren't they, or was that just snakes? Ogden didn't know. Hot foul breath blasted down on him as he turned his head away. He struggled and kicked, and the giant turned him over easily in massive hands and spoke in a low-pitched, rumbling voice:
"It's OK. It's OK. Don't you worry. I won't hurt you."
A woman's voice, though low and rumbling. This giantess was swathed dressed in bits of ragged animal pelt.
"This storm is quite something, isn't it?" she said. "Let's get to shelter."
In her arms he couldn't move or struggle as she carried him and the baby up the mountain, taking huge strides that were like leaps and bounds. They came to a jagged slit in the side of the mountain and the giantess carried them through. There was a torch burning, flickering and giving off acrid smoke. There was also an animal carcass roasting on a spit. There was a wide tunnel in the back of the cave.
The giant woman placed them on the chair and began gathering up stinking pelts from different beasts. She draped them around Ogden and the prince and then let out a great sigh as she unwrapped the bandages from around her head.
Long, fiery red hair shook free. Ogden gave a little start as he saw her grotesque face. A distorted vision in bright green, long and misshapen, like the features were made of melted wax. Her nose was huge – almost the size of a trunk. It had been held down by the bandages, apparently, because now it pinged back into place as it was unwrapped. She eyed the baby, her features contorting as her brows drew together. "Aww. You have your little one. He's so sweet. Can I hold him?"
Did this creature intend to eat the baby or what? Ogden shuddered. Still, if it came to it, better the Prince than him. His heart was pounding and he felt weak. He knew he couldn't fight her.
"H-Hold him," he said.
Her thick, black lips twitched into a smile and she took the Prince in one of her massive green hands and picked up a silver fox fur from the table and swaddled him in it. "Ohhhh, poor little thing. It's too cold for you, isn't it darling?" Her features stretched as she puffed up her cheeks and blew on the baby, blasting him with her warm breath. "Awww… your tiny little head and hands… You're such a perfect little man," her blue eyes had a misty look. "You must be hungry."
She turned her head to Ogden and grinned, showing off alarmingly huge white teeth. "I'm Lylfy. Or Lyl will do. I'm very happy to meet you."
"Lil?" said Ogden. Sort of ironic when she was so huge.
Lyl held her grin, so Ogden hastened to introduce himself, but wondered how much he should tell. "I'm uh… it's cold in here."
"Aw, I know," said Lyl. "I'm sorry. I don't have clothes your size. I can hug you to warm you up. I like snuggling."
"No no." said Ogden hastily. Being smothered by this ugly creature was a horrifying idea.
Lyl looked a bit sad for a moment. "Well I've got more furs," she said, picking a ragged brown pelt off the rocky floor and draping it around him. "But we've got to get food inside you both."
She served Ogden a piece of charred goat meat on a clay platter. She also seemed to know how to feed the baby Prince. She dipped her massive finger in a bucket sized stone mug of milk and let it trickle from her finger into the baby's mouth. She must have an animal around to milk then. How come everyone seemed to know this except Ogden?
Lyl made alarming cooing noises. "Awwww, you're so hungry. Yes you are." The baby giggled. Ogden didn't think he'd find it a laughing matter with that face looming over him.
There was the sound of heavy footfalls and Ogden's heart sank as another green giantess strode into the cavern. This one had long black hair. She was much less ugly than Lyl, and her fur garments were better stitched together. Unlike Lyl, she wore a pair of massive boots.
"What is this?" she boomed. "Lyl, what have I told you about bringing moochers into the cave?"
"Auria! Where are your manners?" said Lyl indignantly. "These are tired travellers and they're very welcome."
"You have some nerve sneaking around here, cute little man," said Auria to Ogden. "Are you tricking Lyl? Or stealing stuff? One of us monsters might fancy a piece of you. How would you fare with a creature like one of us mounting you?"
Ogden felt faint.
"Auria! How dare you say such disgusting things!" snarled Lyl. She turned to Ogden. "Don't worry, she's just messing with you. We're not monsters. We just had bad luck. We were normal girls once and we worked in a cavern, excavating for a mine. But there was a place of bad magic in the deep caves and we got changed." She grimaced and touched the tip of her elongated, green nose. "Being stuck like this…" She sighed.
"You're trusting him with our story?" said Auria.
"I am," said Lyl. She turned to Ogden, her long green nose wobbling slightly. "And I trust you would never trick me."
And at that point, Ogden realised he dare not keep anything from Lyl. What if she realised and thought she had been tricked?
He cleared his throat and tried to speak without letting his voice quaver. "I must tell you my story."
"Goody! I like stories," said Lyl, sitting on a massive, carved stone seat, cradling the Prince in her oversized hand.
"If it's good, it will justify you being here," said Auria.
I'm Ogden the Robber, righter of wrongs…" he began. "You've heard how an evil dog, a practitioner of bad magic, has seized the kingdom. Well that there is the Prince. I saved him. But now I don't know what to do. Bane is surely after me."
The green women stared at him, wide eyed.
"Ohh…" said Lyl, her features moving weirdly as her mouth fell open. "You're a real hero then."
"You saved the Prince out of the goodness of your heart? Really?" said Auria, looking at him with narrowed dark eyes.
"Yes, and now I don't know what to do. I'm too weak to protect him," said Ogden sanctimoniously. "Who could take care of him in such a harsh world, with murderous madmen like Bane ruling our lives?"
Lyl was staring at him as if transfixed. She had wide, blue eyes. The only part of her that Ogden didn't find hideous. Now she looked down at the baby. "I will," she said huskily.
The baby gurgled.
"So help me…" said Lyl. "I already love him like he was mine."
"What?" said Auria. "You realise your baby could get us in a lot of trouble if Bane finds this place?"
"I don't care," said Lyl, peering down at the baby. "I'm sick of being an outcast. All I wanted was to love and be loved." He voice was quivering and her breath was wheezing through her overlong nose. The trunk was not only an eyesore – Ogden supposed it must make breathing a bit hard for her.
She gazed down at the baby in her hand and her blue eyes had a faraway look. "I'll be your mother, little one. "I have all the love in the world to give you. We'll be so happy."
"This is mad…" said Auria.
Ogden agreed, but he wanted out of there. "I'll be on my way… Now I know the Prince is in good hands. I absolutely have to go."
"As you like," said Lyl.
Lyl insisted on filling his pack with coarse black bread and a weird type of cured meat. "Cave eel meat," said Auria smirking. "The little buggers snap at us, so they may as well give back."
Lyl gently touched the top of Ogden's head with her freakishly long fingers. "Goodbye, Ogden. Dear little friend. Have safe travels. Would that this cruel world could be as kind as you."
"Hurry up!" said Auria irritably. Lyl had emotionally armtwisted her into escorting Ogden over the mountains to safety. Lyl would not be parted from her baby. The Prince was snug and safe in his mother's cave, shielded even from the searching eye of Xadan Bane, dread tyrant and necromancer.