The Adashar

I heard from Carnivus the other day, which really warmed my heart. I got to thinking about him so much, that I wanted to run one of my favorite Carny stories. This was originally Hyperion Chronicle #294. Carnivus Kickassius, for those of you new here, is a great friend to us. Hell, Carny's last name is in the Institute's official Title! (The Hyperion Institute for Callimastian/Callipygian/Kickassian Studies) He's led a simply amazing life. And, oh yeah: he's a troll! Anyway, You can read selected Carny stories here. I hope you enjoy!

The Adashar

There once was a princess, in the Realm of Eldaratch. Her official name was “Graced by the Light, Flower of the Realm; Her Right Honorable Princess Guinevere Margharita Annalisia Coraline Vaida: may her beauty shine on us forever.” (I tell you the truth: having to write a name like that, it’s a wonder she ever got out of the first grade!) Almost everyone, though, called her Princess Gwen. Not her father, the King, who usually called her “Little One,” or her six brothers, who called her all sorts of horrid names, including—but not limited to—Piglet, Gwen-a-weird, Anteater (she had a very distinctive face, which her father called “Aquiline,” although she had her doubts), Shoe-Polish, Gwen-Hilda, and worst of all, Pirate’s Dream (because she was somewhat late in developing, and they said she had a ‘sunken chest’).

Despite the awful way they treated her, Princess Gwen did love her brothers (well, most of them), but she was horribly jealous. As boys, they got to learn how to hunt and fish and joust and duel and all sorts of really neat things forbidden to Gwen. Even worse, every year her father would take all the boys to the Metalid, where all the great men of the Tri-Kingdoms would come together to compete in contests of skill and bravery, and perform feats of derring-do.

Every year Princess Gwen would beg her father to let her go, and every year it seemed like he was just on the point of giving in when Gwen’s mother would step in and put her foot down.

“The Metalid is no place for a young lady.” The Queen would say primly. Gwen’s mother always called Gwen a ‘young lady’—which Gwen hated—and went on and on about ‘proper comportment.’

You see, while the boys got to train to be soldiers and adventurers (and one day, one of them, King), Gwen’s duty as the only daughter was to marry the Crown Prince of one of the other principle Realms.

This meant that Gwen had to learn all the ways of Court and proper behavior for a ‘Royal Lady’ in the new land she would one day go live in. So, while the boys got to hunt wild boars and beat each other silly with wooden clubs, Princess Gwen had to learn how to embroider, how to imply things without really saying them, and 137 ways to use her fan, and the meanings behind them. (I am not making that up. There are actually 137, although several of them are very similar, which makes getting them right all the more difficult). And instead of attending the Metalid and watching muscular (and handsome) men poke each other with sticks, Gwen had to listen to this traveling woman named Stratford (from Avon) explain the thousand shades of eye shadow and rouge.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that Gwen had a difficult life. She was a princess, after all. She did live in a world of luxury that most of you couldn’t imagine. She had the most beautiful clothes and servants all over the place just begging to be allowed to do her bidding. And, she was allowed to ride horses (the one strenuous activity her mother would permit). Gwen rode her favorite horse Quintero everywhere she could.

It’s just that being a princess is not all pretties and ponies. Besides all the ‘lady-like’ behavior Gwen was supposed to show, she was very lonely. A princess rarely has any true friends, who aren’t schemers or sycophants.

And of course, there was Gwen’s impending Marriage of State. When Gwen turned 11, she was formally promised to Prince Okafor from the land of Megg. It’s not that Gwen had anything against Prince Okafor, but she’d only seen him twice, and they’d never even spoken! For that matter, Gwen didn’t know anything about Meggers, except what her tutors taught her, and everyone knows you can’t get the whole truth in books. Several times Gwen had lobbied her father to allow her to leave Eldaratch and go to Megg to learn about these people she was one day to be a Queen of (at least it would get her out of the castle), but each time her mother would step in to say no.

“It just isn’t decent for a young lady.” Her mother would say. “When you are finally married, you will travel to Megg as a future Queen, in the style and manner that befits you.”

That day was soon arriving. The wedding was to be on her coming-of-age birthday. Crummy way to spend a birthday, if you asked Gwen. For months her mother had been planning the Big Day. The only participation the Princess was allowed was being forced to stand as a womannequin for several hours and be stuck with pins. She had to admit, though, the dress was pretty.

It was white and silver, and very shimmering and ethereal. Gwen used to sneak it out of her closet and put it on; careful not to get caught so her mother wouldn’t learn she liked pretty things. Gwen would put on the dress and sit in her windowsill and dream of someone coming to rescue her. He would be tall and handsome, and teach her to shoot a bow and gut a deer. Ah, the fantasies of a young princess!

The week before the wedding, Gwen was doing just that, sitting in her windowsill in her beautiful silver-white wedding gown. The next day the wedding party with Prince Okafor would arrive from Megg, and there would be feasting and tournaments of skill leading up to the wedding. Of course, Gwen would not be attending any of these tournaments, which had her all the more glum.

Gwen looked out from the window, across the fields to the royal horses getting their exercise. It was easy to recognize Quintero, a magnificent and beautiful purple horse; the only purple horse in all of Eldaratch. Around her neck Gwen had a small whistle, given to her by old Thorin the horse trainer. The whistle was made to call Quintero if Gwen ever needed him.

Gwen was suddenly seized with a mad impulse to ride away on Quintero. She knew everyone would be extremely worried and put out to have to look for her, but Gwen didn’t care. With her stomach suddenly filled with butterflies, Gwen blew her whistle sharply.

The sound carried out over the meadow, to where the horses were trotting around. Quintero raised his majestic head and shook his purple mane as the blast reached his ears. He immediately galloped toward the castle, jumping fences with ease, and stopped right below Gwen’s window.

It was a good drop, and Gwen didn’t have on riding clothes or boots (she had on her wedding gown, remember), and Quintero wasn’t properly saddled and her mother and father would be so upset and suddenly none of that mattered as Gwen jumped out of the window and landed perfectly on Quintero’s back. Even without the saddle the horse seemed to understand and took off at the slightest touch of Gwen’s slippered feet against his flanks.

The two rode hard away from the castle, and Gwen had never felt more alive! The wind was rushing through her hair and the moment was just perfect. Gwen veered away from anywhere there might be people; loyal subjects who would report back to the King and Queen.

Because of this choice, soon Gwen came to the edge of the Forest of the Forgotten Realm. Everyone knew to stay out of the Forest of the Forgotten Realm, which was a magical and dangerous place for anyone, let alone a young princess unescorted.

Maybe it was never getting to go anywhere, the upcoming wedding, or just not wanting to go home yet, but Gwen plunged Quintero into the forest without a second thought.

Gwen’s first few thoughts after penetrating the outer edge of the Forest of the Forgotten Realm was jut how beautiful it was. “I cannot believe this is the place we were so warned about.” Gwen thought to herself. “It’s more magical than I could have ever dreamed!”

Gwen slowed Quintero down to a walk, in part to soak in the beauty around her, and in part because she knew no one would ever think to look for her here. “I can come back any time I want,” she thought, “and stay as long as I want, and nobody will every find me!” Then Gwen remembered that in a few days she was to be married and journey to Megg. “All the more reason to stay here now.” Gwen thought fiercely.

Quintero led Gwen deeper into the forest. She felt calmed and relaxed; at peace with the world. Gone were the cares and worries of her life; they could be faced another day. Gwen felt serenity wash over her like an elixir. This Forest of the Forgotten Realm definitely had healing properties.

Perhaps it was because she was so peaceful that Gwen did not notice the abatement of natural forest sounds. Where there should be birds singing, insects chirping, and even leaves rustling, there was total silence, save the trod of Quintero’s gait.

The horse noticed it first, and gave a nervous shake of his mane. This pulled Gwen out of her reverie enough to notice the unnatural quiet. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” she said, half to herself, as she looked around for some sign of life.

An itch began to form between Gwen’s shoulder blades, and she couldn’t help but feel like someone—or something—was watching her. Quintero picked up on her unease, and started to prance a bit skittishly. Gwen soothed him with a pat on his neck and a comforting “Shhh.” But she decided the time had come to leave the Forest of the Forgotten Realm.

Turning Quintero around, Gwen made her way back at a steady trot. It had been a fine adventure to steal away like this, but the time had come to face her responsibilities. She was a princess, after all, and soon to be a Queen. (Gwen didn’t really believe this pep talk, but she was trying to keep her mind off of a forest that suddenly didn’t seem so magical.)
The problem Gwen found backtracking was that the path didn’t look the same. Gwen didn’t know a lot about woodcraft, but the trail seemed to bend and curve the wrong ways from whence they had come. Gwen was staring to get worried, when they came around the bend, and saw the Adashar.

For those of you not that educated, the Adashar is the most dangerous beast known in all the Realms. It is as large as a giant draft horse, and impossibly quick. Its back is covered in a reddish hide so tough that it is nearly impervious to slings and arrows. Its four legs are covered in matted red fur, and corded with muscle. Its paws each have four razor sharp talon-like retractable claws. Around its head is a crown of thorns, antlers thick and sharp for goring its prey (or whatever else happens by). Its mouth is a gaping maw, with teeth that can rip steel apart and a jaw strong enough to pulverize stone.

Perhaps scariest of all are its eyes. Pitch black with a blood-red core; they freeze its victims as fast as any toxin. And its scream…

Needless to say, the affect the Adashar had on Gwen and Quintero was stunning. Gwen looked into those eyes and felt her throat seize and close up; the equivalent of being strangled from within. Quintero, the Light bless him, was made of sterner stuff. He reared challengingly, which threw Gwen to the ground, and then bolted to the right of the great beast.

You might think that was instinctive or even cowardly on Quintero’s part, but it was heroic. Quintero was definitely a horse of a different color, and he knew that the one thing an Adashar can’t resist is fleeing prey. The monster took off after the horse like it was possessed.

So much had happened so quickly that Gwen was in a state of shock. Besides coming upon the most horrific and nightmarish of creatures, she had the wind knocked out of her and was sure her beloved horse was dead. Gwen didn’t have training for any of this, and a lesser girl would have frozen in terror until the Adashar returned to devour her at leisure.

But the royal blood flowed strong in the princess’s veins, and only a few seconds after both animals left the clearing, Gwen leapt up and tore off in the other direction. It was less than a minute later that she heard the terrified screams of Quintero, and a monstrous roar followed by ripping and tearing sounds too awful to detail. Gwen paused her flight long enough to retch violently, and then she was back to the same break-neck pace.

Wearing only palace slippers, Gwen was in no condition to run, and soon her feet became scraped and raw. She started thinking about finding a place to hide and rest. Gwen stopped for a moment and realized her heart was hammering and her sides ached like that time she ate cherries off the tree for three hours. In short; there was no way she could move another step.

At that moment, however, Gwen heard a howl that made her heart stop and her blood run cold. She was absolutely positive the Adashar had dispatched her poor horse and was now coming after her. Gwen ran.

Sore feet, aching sides; anything and everything was ignored as Gwen ran through the forest. Fear and adrenaline propelled her like gunpowder and flint to a bullet. A few minutes later, she heard the howl again, mixed with these demonic grunts, coming closer. Somehow, Gwen found another gear and ran faster.

The Adashar kept up its noise behind her, and somewhere in Gwen’s fear-soaked brain she realized the Adashar’s noises were meant to frighten its prey. It was doing a wonderful job.

Gwen fell in her slippers several times, but always came right back up, running almost blindly. She ran into a small clearing and had to skid to a stop, as she almost hit a wall. She was enclosed in a natural cul-de-sac, as all three sides were sheer rock.

Crying in frustration, Gwen spun around, determined to keep running no matter how tired she was. Before she could take her first step, the Adashar loped into view.

It was barely panting, but now that the creature saw it had Gwen cornered, it stopped to take a few breaths and stretch its tawny muscles. Gwen knew she was about to die, and with that realization, the fire in her heart died too. She slumped, waiting for the inevitable, as the Adashar paced back and forth, licking its chops, if you will.

It was at that moment, when all hope was lost, that a shadow fell across the ground from above. Gwen looked up to the top of the rock cliff, but could only see a shape, as the sun shadows blotted out the details.

Whatever it was jumped down—some forty feet—and landed between Gwen and the now snarling Adashar. It was a man, although something was not quite right about that, Gwen remembered thinking. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and carried a two-headed axe. Gwen couldn’t see his face, as he didn’t take his eyes off the Adashar, which was now hissing.

Both combatants—man and beast—circled each other warily, like sumo wrestlers before the violent clash. Gwen noticed that the circling had the effect of moving the fight away from her, although it was hard to tell if that was on purpose, since the axe-wielder had yet to look at her. In spite of her fear and the danger, Gwen stared at the stranger, trying to place what was different about him from normal men.

The warrior lifted his huge axe and started swinging it in an arc. The Adashar watched too, as if transfixed, and then out of nowhere sprung at the warrior; faster than thought.

But not faster than he. Somehow the stranger had avoided the charge, and when both faced each other again, blood dripped from the axe and from the haunches of the beast.

The wound was superficial, and served to enrage the Adashar more than hurt it. With a snarl it attacked again, like lightning, but once more the stranger avoided the creature and added a second cut with his axe.

This happened again and again, several times in rapid succession, each time with the warrior avoiding crippling thrusts and the Adashar receiving another small wound. On the last pass the beast came whisper close to getting its jaws on the warrior, and managed to pierce the stranger’s side with one of its horns. The combined toll of the wounds was starting to slow the Adashar a bit, but it smiled, as it sensed the end of the fight coming.

Gwen was so scared she could barely breathe, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the action. She too suspected this would be the end, and was thunder-struck when the wounded warrior suddenly flew at the Adashar! His axe was whirling and he bellowed a terrible cry as he came at the beast. The Adashar screamed and fought back, and Gwen couldn’t tell who was winning in all the tumult.

It felt like hours, but was only a few seconds later when the Adashar stumbled, blood gaping from a wound that split it from neck to entrails. The dying creature still snapped with its powerful jaws, but the stranger was undeterred, as he swung his axe and buried it in the creature’s skull. The Adashar twitched twice, and fell lifeless to the ground.

The warrior stared at the Adashar for a minute, as if to make sure the beast was truly dead. Satisfied this was the case, he turned towards Gwen and promptly collapsed.

Gwen rushed to him, and saw that his arms and torso were bleeding in several places. Gwen felt hot tears pour down her face. The stranger tried to smile at her. “I’m not that hurt, lass.” He said softly. “I just need some rest and maybe a drink of water. There is a stream on the other side of this rock. Do you think you could…?”

Unable to speak, Gwen nodded and helped her protector over to a large oak tree, which he sat down roughly against. Gwen could see that all the cuts save one were shallow, but he was still bleeding badly. Not having any other options and without a thought to modesty, Gwen ripped off a piece of her beautiful silver-white wedding gown, and tried to stop the bleeding as she could.

Convinced he would not die this second, Gwen ran in search of the stream, which she soon heard. Getting there she realized she had nothing to carry the water back in. Doing what had to be done, Gwen ripped off another sizable chunk of her wedding dress, and collected as much water as possible. The material of the dress didn’t leak, and Gwen was able to save most of the water on her way back. She cleaned the stranger’s wounds, and washed off the Adashar’s blood and gore.

Gwen went back to the stream to get her warrior something to drink, but she couldn’t get all the blood out of the dress. With a small sigh Gwen yet again ripped off a piece of her wedding gown, which was by now becoming alarmingly small. “No time to worry about that now,” Gwen thought.

She took the water back to the stranger, who drank like he was dying of thirst. After he finished he slumped over, his head falling in her lap. At first Gwen was worried, but her warrior was sleeping, breathing peacefully, and Gwen realized he was just exhausted.

The Right Honorable Princess Guinevere Margharita Annalisia Coraline Vaida (um, graceful and flowery, and forever in peace may she wave) had never been this close to anyone of the opposite sex. It both excited and unnerved her, mostly because of all the clothes she was not wearing.

But her warrior was sleeping, and this gave Gwen a chance to examine him, trying to figure out what made him different. She had just figured it out when he awoke, and stared up at her. Gwen was acutely aware of how close he was and how immodest she was attired. More than that, though, his gaze made her very aware that she was now a woman. Her face flushed scarlet up to her hairline, and her skin got all tingly. He slowly smiled, leaned up, and…

That’s probably a good place to end the story. After all, a gentletroll doesn’t kiss and tell.

April 6, 2004

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