Interesting title? Actually, it's the title of another one of my old stories, this one not set in the same world as the others I've posted so far, but another light romp featuring a hardcore girl warrior possessed of a different attitude and a creature that... well, read on to find out!
THE HORSE SEDUCER
Two sets of iron-shod hooves drummed against packed soil, breaking the silence of the little-used road. "What's wrong with you, Sir Kyle?" Ann asked from the saddle of her old bay steed. "You've barely talked to me!"
The veteran knight looked back at his petite teenage charge and sighed. "It's not you. I don't usually talk that much while traveling. You didn't have to come along with me, you know. You could have just stayed in the castle."
"And done what? Dress up? Do my hair? Paint my nails?" The blonde princess of Perfia scowled. "That might be fun for a little bit, but it'd get boring fast. I'd rather be out here, in nature's company. Besides, if you get to follow me around and annoy me all the time, why can't I do the same to you?"
"I'm your bodyguard, not the other way around."
"Yeah, well, you may be my bodyguard, but you're not my master. You can't tell me what to do."
And he obviously hadn't, though he wished he could have. "You should have at least brought a different horse. I don't think that farm animal of yours is used to traveling through the wilderness. He's in quite a poor mood, and as you don't know how to care for a horse, I'm the one who has to deal with it."
Ann looked down at her humble mount, a far cry from the white warhorse she normally rode. "Well, I wasn't going to bring my Snowwind. Not when we're going after horse thieves."
With many reports of horses disappearing on the frontier near the Tallpony tribe lands in recent weeks, Kyle had taken it upon himself to investigate. Of course, he hadn't expected Ann, who had been recovering from an arrow wound to her lung, to follow him. Unfortunately, the intrepid princess had found out about his mission and, against her physicians' advice, promptly joined him.
Though she could very often be annoying, Kyle had to admit he somewhat liked the girl. She had slain Baron Toorick last year, preventing the lustful noble from raping an innocent woman, without hesitating over the political fallout of the killing. There needed to be more people who acted with such pure intent.
Kyle had already questioned the Perfian settlers nearby, who suspected the Tallponies of the horse thievery, and now intended to speak with the tribespeople themselves. As he and Ann approached the cliff which marked the end of Perfian dominion, an arrow flashed through the air past the princess' horse. The bay steed reared, kicking, and threw its rider from its back. Then it turned and bolted away.
"Shit!" Ann said. "I hate archers!"
Well, her horse certainly wasn't trained to hold steady against them. Kyle got a glimpse of a slim form among the bushes and said, "Show yourself!"
Another arrow flew, and a clear, crisp voice replied, "That was your last warning!"
Behind him, Kyle heard Ann yelp in pain. "Warning?! You shot me!" His glance back revealed her plucking an arrow from her shoulder.
The archer's voice grew nervous, as if he had not intended to hit her. "U-um, the next shot will kill you then!"
Glimpsing the archer once more, Kyle charged his position. For a moment, he stood his ground, aiming his shortbow. Then he turned to run, but the knight was almost upon him. Catching the back of the man's deerskin cloak, Kyle grabbed his bow away and turned him around. He was little more than a boy, perhaps fifteen. Of middling height, the toned youth looked taller with his long, graceful limbs. Right now, though, his bronzed skin had grown paler with fright.
"No, I'm sorry!" he said. "I didn't mean to hit her!"
Ann advanced, sword in hand. "Let me at him."
"Don't kill me, please don't kill me."
Kyle held the irate princess back. "I think he's telling the truth about not meaning to hit you. And I don't want the blood of a child on my hands." He turned a sharp glare upon the boy. "But I am going to make sure your father gives you the discipline you need."
"My father will not punish me! I will be lauded for standing up to you horse thieves!"
"Horse thieves?!" Ann growled. "I'm the Princess of Perfia!"
Kyle added, "We came here looking to see who has been stealing our people's horses, actually. We thought it might have been your friends."
"And we thought you were the ones who were stealing our horses," the archer sighed. "Wait, how do I know you aren't just saying that to take suspicion off yourselves?"
"If we were the thieves, why would we be so merciful to a man who tried to kill us?" Ann snapped.
"I didn't try to kill you! But I suppose I believe you."
Kyle gave the youth back his bow. "Yes, and we could ask the same question of you. But I believe you too."
The knight shrugged. "Maybe if you could show us where the horses were taken, it would help in tracking down these thieves."
"I do not know every place, but I do remember the most recent one. The thieves have already taken eighteen of our best stallions--they must be stopped soon!"
"Wait, only stallions?"
"Yes, only males."
Kyle was certain this fact held some significance, though he didn't know what yet. "And do the horses' tracks mysteriously stop after a distance as well?"
"Yes." So they probably were the same thieves.
"So what's your name, boy?"
"Ikkogaidrihal--or you can call me, Reed Flies-In-The-Wind."
"All right, Reed. Let's go thief hunting."
Ann grunted. "Oh no, you don't. First, we find my missing horse, and then we can look for thieves."
"You really need a horse that threw you and ran away?"
"If I come home without him, my father will think it was my fault. I don't want him to be mad."
"It is your fault, for bringing a mount with inadequate training."
Ann frowned. "Whatever. I'm still going after him." She turned away, beginning to scan the ground for the horse's tracks, and Kyle knew he was beaten. He had to stay with her, to keep her safe.
"Change of plans, Reed. Let's find that horse."
They had been walking for a while when Reed said, "Hey, it smells like a mare in heat."
Ann gave a dubious frown. "You can recognize the smell of a mare in heat?"
"My people are very close to horses. I think your mount has found a friend."
"Out here?" Kyle asked.
"There are wild horses. We have surely almost caught up to your horse by now; his tracks have indicated a walking pace for some time now. Let's hurry up."
They quickened their pace, and were nearly on top of Ann's horse when a fearful whinnying filled the air. The panicked equine burst from the forest, running faster than Kyle had thought possible for the sluggish animal. A long, flexible length of white flesh as thick as a man's waist shot out from the trees after it, clamping the circular maw at its end onto the horse's lower thigh.
"What the hell is that?!" Ann cried.
Kyle ran at the strange limb and hacked at it with his sword, denting the resilient flesh but making little more than a scratch on the tough hide. The thing released Ann's horse and swung towards him, snapping at him with its jaws. Then, the rest of the creature walked into view. The snakelike appendage was a neck, attached to shoulders which towered seven feet in the air. The barrel-like torso below them walked on all fours like an ape, ambling forth on long great-knuckled arms and stumpy legs. Though it looked clumsy, Kyle knew such a body was capable of frightening speed.
The snakelike neck darted at the knight's face, and its impact against his shield knocked him to the ground. An arrow from Reed's shortbow sprouted just behind the frightful maw, but seemed barely to penetrate the hide. Kyle tried to thrust at the snapping mouth, but it bit down on his sword and tore it away. Scrambling up, he backpedaled away. The creature bit at his shield again, and to his shock tore the metal boss away. Several of Reed's arrows protruded from its neck and torso, but they had little visible effect.
Ann had not moved, though her sword was drawn, and Kyle realized she was scared. He'd thought her afraid of nothing. "Princess!" he yelled as he drew his humble dagger. "Fight, damnit!"
Still moving hesitantly, Ann tried to sneak in at the beast from the side. She took a deep breath that seemed to strengthen her resolve and chopped at the joint of its shoulder and neck. The flesh was not so flexible here as on its neck, and the wound she made bled freely. But the monster retaliated with a terrible blow from its great fist, and the princess was sent flying to land in a heap. The fanged maw broke off its assault on Kyle, turning towards the vulnerable girl. Swooping down, it clamped down on her shoulder, arm, and upper chest. She began to scream.
Shrieking in agony, Ann still managed to stab repeatedly at the bottom of the neck as it pulled her up and into the air. But the blows were barely penetrating, weakened as she was with pain. Blood rained to the ground, and Kyle feared for her life. Dropping his shield, he picked his sword up in a two-handed grip. He charged, swinging the blade up overhead and slashing down with all his strength. It bit deeper than any previous blow, and blood sprayed. Still not enough. The maw reared high to face Kyle and released Ann, dropping her on top of him.
Kyle barely lowered his sword in time to avoid impaling her, and her falling body knocked him to the ground. He almost made some scathing remark, only for his breath to catch in his throat as he saw how badly she was hurt. The bite wound ran in a semicircle from her trapezius muscle to her lower bicep; the wicked teeth had ripped open her left breast.
Pushing her off himself, Kyle stood and met each snap of the great maw with a hacking blow of his sword. "Get away from her, you beast! You won't have her, or me!"
Ann stood to aid him, though her shirt was soaked through with blood and her left arm hung limp. Her sword blows carried little force now, but she kept trying. The monster's neck was a pincushion of shortbow arrows, and Kyle wondered how many arrows Reed had left. He doubted they would be enough.
"This isn't working!" the Tallpony said.
The great neck swung, batting Ann to the ground. She tried to raise herself up on her good arm, but the earth was covered in her blood and she had little strength left. The maw swooped down, but Kyle thrust his sword diagonally past the teeth and stabbed into the side of the inner mouth. Throwing all his weight against his sword, he pinned the maw to the ground. "Trying shooting into it!"
Reed crouched to aim into the open mouth, but at that moment it snapped shut, biting down on and breaking Kyle's sword. It rose again into the air, triumphant. Invincible.
Ann pushed herself up from the ground with a scream of pain, thrusting up into the roof of the monstrous mouth. "Hurry!" she gasped as she wedged the crossguard of her sword between two teeth.
Reed's arrow flew past the girl's sword and down the mighty neck, hitting with a wet smack somewhere deep inside. The monster retraced its mouth towards its torso, hands reaching up to clutch at its neck. A dull moaning issued from its maw.
Ann drew her dagger, looked at it, and shook her head. "My sword..."
"Take mine," Reed said as he pressed a slender blade into her hands. Obviously, he had no intentions of getting close to the monster even in its wounded state.
Kyle strode up to the cringing beast and slashed at its chest, making a small cut. It backhanded him, with much less power than before but enough to knock him down. Ann lurched in, stabbing below its armpit. It hugged itself, but stumbled into her and trampled her as she fell so that she lay writhing in pain. Kyle chopped into the base of its neck, and it staggered. He hit it again, and it could not muster the effort to strike back. Instead it tried to limp away, far too slowly to have a chance at escape. Even so, it took nearly a minute of attacking before it fell, and another two to make it still.
"So that was the horse thief?!" the knight asked as he began to stitch Ann's enormous wound. She had lost a ridiculous amount of blood, broken her collarbone and two ribs, and looked white as a sheet.
"It must have been a demon," Reed said in a bewildered tone, "a demon that eats male stallions."
"I hope that was the only one of those things," Ann whispered.
Kyle shook his head, frowning. "I doubt it, unless it really was a solitary demon summoned to eat our horses. Even a thing like that probably wouldn't have eaten so many horses in such a short time. But we'll be ready next time."
"Better bring a ballista."
"Well, that's what I'm thinking. That was... damn!"
"Do you need a place to rest?" Reed asked.
"Ann can rest. I'm going back to Perfia to report--and get help!"
"But you're my bodyguard," the princess said. "You've got to stay at my side and protect me."
Before Kyle could reply, the bay horse walked into view. It had hidden during the battle, and finally showed itself now that the monster was dead. "Look, at least we got your horse back. So Ann... can you ride?"
"Of course," the proud girl said.
"Then you can come back with me to Perfia, and rest in the castle there."
"Hey... you tricked me!" But Kyle knew she wouldn't take back the assertion of her strength.
"Still think following me here was a good idea, princess?"
"You would be dead if I hadn't been here."
"Maybe. I wouldn't have been tracking down your horse if you weren't here." The knight smiled. "But you did well."
Ann returned his smile. "To answer your question, of course I still think it was a good idea. Well, let's get going. It was good fighting with you, Reed!"
The Tallpony waved them goodbye as they mounted their steeds. "Farewell, friends! Your names will be remembered as demonslaying heroes by my people! Kyle and Ant, right?"
Kyle smiled as the princess corrected Reed. It had been a hell of a day, and he felt beyond exhausted. But nothing really bad had happened, and he was alive. It was enough for him.
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