The Adventures of Prince Woden
The young men had been friends since childhood and had wild streaks in them. Prince Woden was haughty and had an eye for the ladies. Knight Noise was boisterous, loud and loved adventure. They spent much time getting into trouble, going far afield to expend their overabundance of energy.
One afternoon they were watching fair aristocratic maidens and sweet young peasants' daughters parading along the sidewalk in front of their favorite outdoor cafe. Lord Noise said, "Let's go hunting. I'd love to bag a chimera or a griffin. With any luck, we might encounter a dragon or two."
"That's a fine idea, but what we really should do is go on a quest that will impress the young ladies."
"I'm sure bringing back the head of a dragon or a live chimera would impress them."
Woden thought for a moment. "Y'know, you're right. Come friend, we'll leave this very afternoon." Woden was nothing if not impulsive.
They donned light armor, retrieved weapons, packed camping equipment and rode into the wilds. Singing lustily as they traveled along a narrow road that wound through densely wooded areas, past bubbling mountain streams, near roaring waterfalls and next to awesome chasms. Although the sun was low in the sky, they had not spotted worthwhile prey, only deer and bear. They were after more exotic game.
Woden said, "We'd better find a place to camp. It'll be dark soon."
"There are caves on that ridge." Noise pointed to a sweeping switchback around the mountain.
"I see. There's a small cabin to the left of the caves. Perhaps we can prevail on the occupants to put us up for the night."
Two sisters, Wortisha and Circe, lived in the small cabin Woden had pointed out. They were young witches, each of whom specialized in her own type of magic. Wortisha was a mistress of illusion and an enchantress. Circe was a dark-eyed beauty with a volatile temper who performed transformations. A third sister, Latro, had lived with them, but she was not quite human. She had six arms and ate human males. After their boyfriends disappeared mysteriously, Wortisha and Circe forced her to live underground.
Prince Woden rapped on their cabin door. To his surprise and delight, a fair young maiden opened it. For several moments, the witch and the prince gazed into each other's eyes without speaking. Finally, Knight Noise peered over Woden's shoulder and said, "Miss, we're two weary travelers. We were wondering whether we could rent a room for the night."
Circe peered over Wortisha's shoulder and said, "Do you have silver?"
Meanwhile, Woden and Wortisha gazed into each other's eyes.
Noise said, "A bit. Shall we say two kopeks for a night's lodging."
Meanwhile, Woden and Wortisha gazed into each other's eyes.
"I don't know. We're two helpless women, and you're two armed men. You could do anything to us. For taking a big chance like that, I must ask at least five."
Meanwhile, Woden and Wortisha gazed into each other's eyes.
"We'll leave our swords and daggers outside. Two kopeks, three penicks."
Meanwhile, Woden and Wortisha gazed into each other's eyes.
"Four kopeks, not a penick less."
Meanwhile, Woden and Wortisha gazed into each other's eyes.
"Three kopecks, five penicks."
"Done. Remove your weapons and enter our humble home."
Noise removed his sword, dagger, crossbow and quiver. After a moments reflection, he removed Woden's. He placed the weapons in their saddlebags, squeezed past Woden and Wortisha, and bowed to Circe. "I'm Knight Noise. My friend is Prince Woden."
"A prince. No wonder Wortisha is taken with him." She curtsied. "I'm Circe. My sister is Wortisha."
Noise looked at the pair who seemed so enamored of each other. "How long do you think they'll stay like that?"
Circe shrugged. "Could be a while. This happens often when men call on Wortisha. She's an enchantress. What's unusual is that she's as mesmerized as he is. Let me show you where you'll sleep."
The hut was humble. Its stone floor was covered with straw; the walls were rough logs with mud filling the gaps. Chickens and a fat pig wandered about, and a bubbling cauldron in the fireplace emanated an awful stench.
Circe preceded Noise up a rickety ladder to a loft which contained a tiny window, a straw bed, a chamber pot, a bucket of water for washing and little else.
As Noise stuck his head up past the flooring, a large raven hopped about under his nose cawing loudly.
"Lenore," cried Circe. "Stop that. He's our guest. Shoo now. Go downstairs."
The raven flew past Noise with a great flutter of wings that almost made him lose his balance.
"Sorry about that. Lenore is Wortisha's pet, but she can be a nuisance."
Noise gazed at the accommodations. "This is where we're to sleep? For three and half kopeks?"
"Okay, okay. I'll throw in dinner and breakfast. But you're lucky to be able to stay here. We're the only people within ten leagues. Camping at night is mighty dangerous in these mountains."
Noise let himself back down the ladder. Woden and Wortisha were still gazing into each other's eyes. Circe started fussing around the fireplace and the kitchen table, preparing a pork stew. Noise made small talk with the raven, who was a witty conversationalist.
Noise helped Circe set the table. She tapped Wortisha on the shoulder. "Snap out of it, Sis. Dinner is served."
Wortisha slowly came out of her daze. "It is? We should invite these fine gentlemen to sup with us."
"Already have. I rented the upstairs room to them for the night."
"How nice." Wortisha beamed. "Please come in, uh ..."
"Prince Woden at your service, fair maiden." Woden made a sweeping bow, grabbed her hand and kissed it.
"Oh, you're a charmer. I'm Wortisha. My sister is Circe."
After Noise was introduced again, they sat down to the pork stew, including the raven who perched on the edge of the table and pecked at its bowl. While Wortisha and Woden gazed dreamily at each other across the table, Circe asked Noise, "So, what're you men doing out here?"
Noise puffed out his chest. "Hunting for big game. Chimeras, griffins, that sort of thing."
"Big game? Nothing as big as dragons, I suppose."
"Oh, dragons, definitely."
She nudged Wortisha. "Sis, did you hear that. These fellows are hunting dragons."
"Oh really? How brave of you, Prince."
Circe said, "Maybe you could do us a favor?"
"And what may that be?" asked Noise.
"Lately we've been pestered by dragons that live on Mount Dragon. Perhaps you could bag one or two. It might discourage their raiding our stock."
Woden turned to Noise. "Why this is exactly sort of thing we were talking about at the cafe. Going on a quest to please beautiful women."
Noise looked dubious. "How many dragons are we talking about?"
"What difference does it make? We'll kill them all. Wortisha and Circe, we make a sacred pledge to rid the area of dragons."
Since Prince Woden had given their pledge, Noise made no other comment. Soon everyone was yawning. A few minutes after the men climbed into the loft, they were snoring. Before the sisters retired for the night, Circe remarked to Wortisha, "You seem quite taken with this Prince Woden."
Wortisha got a dreamy look in her eyes. "I believe I've fallen for the bloke."
"He seems to be a charmer. I hope he doesn't break your heart."
A dark look crossed Wortisha's face. "He'd better not." She was not one to be trifled with.
Early in the morning, Wortisha and Circe waved farewell as Woden and Noise rode up the steep trail. The sisters had given the adventurers a good breakfast, cast an invulnerability spell on them and given them directions to Mount Dragon. After they left, Wortisha sighed. "I hope they come back safely."
Circe said nothing. She figured that they did not have a chance in hell of returning whole even with an invulnerability spell, which faded after a while.
After Woden and Noise had gone a short way up the mountain, Noise's steed reared, throwing him off the rear with a noise like a dozen pots and pans crashing. A strange-looking serpent with a cock's comb was crossing the road. Woden dismounted and covered Noise's eyes, twisted his head around so as not to gaze at the thing and yelled, "It's a cockatrice."
Their steeds, however, stared directly at the monster when the serpent raised its head to see what the commotion was. They dropped dead instantly.
Noise, grumbling at being unceremoniously set on his backside, got to his feet, covered his eyes with a silk cloth Circe had given him, picked up the cockatrice by its tail and flung it into the canyon below. He was saved from stepping over the side by Woden's quickly pulling him back.
"Bravo, Noise," yelled Woden. "You've saved our lives."
Noise and Woden donned their weapons and cached their supplies behind a rock. Before they continued on, Woden patted his fallen steed and sighed. His voice quivered with emotion as he said his last farewell. "Good-bye, old friend. It was a brave death. When I return home, I'll erect a monument in your honor."
Noise was not so sentimental. He simply shoved his dead horse off the cliff.
As the companions plodded onward, Noise remarked, "We must proceed with care. Cockatrices are not the only monsters in these hills."
That evening they camped far up the mountain. Nevertheless, they had a long way to go to reach the summit where the dragons resided. They took turns keeping watch while the other slept. Noise went first. Hours after Woden went to sleep, he heard a strange sound, part roar, part bleat and part hiss combined into a single weird call. Emerging from behind a rock, was Circe more beautiful than she had seemed at the cabin. Her black hair was longer, her dark eyes were more seductive, and her figure was more luscious in a tight, tight gown than he remembered. She smiled at him enticingly.
"Hello. What are you doing here?"
She bleated like an ewe, hissed like a serpent and roared like a lion.
"Something's not right. Circe wouldn't be making noises like that."
When Noise reached out to touch the woman, she tried to bite his head off, but roared, bleated and hissed with pain as fangs met the metal of his helmet. She metamorphosed into her real form, a chimera, a beast with the head of a lion, the body of a sheep and a reptilian tail. Noise ducked as flames shot from the creature's mouth. He drew his sword and ran the monster through. When he was sure that it was dead, he gutted and skinned it, flinging everything except the parts he wanted to save into the valley.
Early the next morning the men resumed their travels. Woden noticed a winged creature in the sky that was too large for a bird other than a roc. He drew Noise's attention to it. "Look, a dragon." He drew his sword.
Noise, whose eyes were sharper than Woden's, replied, "That's not a dragon. It's a griffin."
The griffin spiraled downward and landed twenty paces uphill. As the hunters approached, the griffin bowed. "What have we here? Two men in metal suits. I'll let you pass if one of you will consent to dine with me."
"Out of the way, Griffin," Woden shouted, "or you'll not live another hour." He twirled his broadsword around passing it from hand to hand expertly.
The griffin drew back at this display of swordsmanship. "Uh ... let's not be hasty. I can show you where to obtain a great treasure. I know a valley where money grows on trees."
"Begone, griffin," said Woden. "We know better than to believe one of your ilk. You're as trustworthy as a used unicorn salesman."
Noise advanced toward the creature with his sword held high. "We're not interested in treasure."
"All right, already." The griffin spread its wings and took off. Nonetheless, on its upward path it swerved, swooped down on Woden and tried to carry him away. It was a mistake. The moment Woden was touched by the creature's talons, Noise chopped its head off, and it crashed to the ground. They had another trophy to bring back to the witches.
Woden pounded Noise on the back, bruising his palms. "Friend, you're quite a fighter. This is the third time on this trip you've saved my life. You'll be well rewarded when I report this to my father."
The sun was setting by the time the duo completed the arduous climb to the summit of Mount Dragon. Noise peered over the edge of the steep cliff. The plateau at the summit was filled with dragons, large one, small ones, fire breathers, and sinewy ones with their tails wound around boulders. Some dragons were lying about; others teased each other in mock combat; and some practiced aerial ballets in the sky above. Noise ducked his head and whispered, "There's at least a hundred dragons up here. What should we do?"
"We vowed our sacred oath that we would stop these dragons from raiding those helpless women -- or die trying."
What a man will do for love or friendship, thought Noise. "We'll have no chance if we simply attack. Perhaps we can negotiate."
"It's a plan."
They crested the rise and sauntered towards the dragons, most of who had turned to stare at them. A harsh, booming voice said, "Welcome to Mount Dragon." The speaker, an ugly, sinister dragon with an evil crocodile grin, gave Woden an evil stare and hissed loudly, "Dragons, we have guests for dinner."
Surrounding Woden and Noise was a great a hissing and thumping. Dragons approached from every part of the summit. Some had heads the size of a big man; others were smaller, no larger than a horse. They fumed smoke and roared.
Woden drew his sword. "Come no closer, you slithering vipers. Who'll be the first to serve up his head?"
A saurian cackled, a hideous sound. "So little man, you'd fight us with a knitting needle. Shall we roast him first, gentledragons, or eat him raw."
"He's hardly worth the trouble," remarked a huge dragon, so large his body dangled over the cliff. "These two would not make a good mouthful."
"Let me eat them," replied a small dragon from between a large one's legs. "I haven't tasted human for quite a while."
The dragons crowded in on Woden and Noise a step at a time.
Noise said, "Wait. We didn't come here to fight or to be eaten. We want to negotiate."
"And what would these negotiations be about?" said a hoary old dragon.
"If you agree not to molest the women that live in the cottage below, we'll not harm you."
"Are you joking. How could you harm us? Nonetheless, we'll agree to leave you and those women alone if you tell us where there's a great treasure."
Noise wished that he had not killed the griffin before he told them where the money trees were. He thought and thought, but could not recall hearing about any great treasure.
"Well, we're waiting." The dragon approached menacingly, but stopped suddenly. "I smell an invulnerability spell. Ugh."
Two female dragons landed on the mountain and turned into Wortisha and Circe. "More chimeras," cried Noise.
Circe said, "No. It's really us."
"Ohmigosh," Wortisha screeched, "the invulnerability spell is almost depleted. You two are about to be roasted and eaten. Circe, even with your transformation powers, we're no match for so many dragons."
She clawed through her handbag, cursing as she threw item after item on the ground. Finally she pulled out a box of powder, opened it, took a pinch between her fingers and sprinkled it over herself, Circe, Woden and Noise.
Woden sneezed as she puffed the powder into his face. "Wortisha, this no time to apply makeup." Suddenly he was transformed into a dragon, as were the two women and Noise. The advancing serpents gazed with wonder at this metamorphosis. They looked at each other and muttered.
"What's going on?" hissed the largest dragon. "Are you human or dragon? What sorcery is this?"
Wortisha, in the form of a sexy, gorgeous lady dragon, replied in a seductive female serpent hiss, "Dragon of course, handsome. We were playing a little joke -- pretending to be humans." She giggled nervously.
The dragon guffawed loudly, sending out sonic booms. "Ha, ha. You sure had us fooled. You'll have to teach me that trick."
The other dragons laughed and frolicked. Some were so amused they rolled over on their sides in mirth, almost crushing the smaller saurians.
When the laughter faded, the spokesdragon asked, "What brings you here? Do you wish to join our flock? We've had good pickings in this area. The farmers hereabouts raise fine sheep, cattle and virgin daughters."
"I have a message from the Great Red Dragon who resides in the Nowhere Mountains," Wortisha replied. "He warns that this land is cursed by the demoness Demontia Praecox. He suggests that you move to a mountain north of here in the Land of Neerg."
"I've heard of such a curse," said a small dragon who was preening herself after being rolled on by a larger serpent. "But I thought we were part of the curse. I believe Demontia wanted us to harass the Retslueans. Nonetheless, if the Great Red Dragon wants us to move, I'd hesitate going against his orders."
Other dragons hissed their agreement.
The largest dragon asked suspiciously, "Wait. How do we know you really came from the Great Red Dragon? You jokers pulled one trick on us. This may be another."
"I have proof." Wortisha kept a saurian poker face as she carried on with the bluff. "Have your oldest member come here."
An old crusty dragon with a gray crest crept forward. "I'm an elder of this flock."
The dragon lady hooked her talons around a bottle of rejuvenating fluid. "Sip a little of this." Wortisha handed the bottle to the ancient one.
The elder downed the liquid in a gulp. He reared up straighter, his graying crest turned green and his scales took on new luster. "Why I feel like a youngster of a thousand years." He jumped up and clicked his back talons together.
"There's your proof. I've given him water from the Fountain of Youth, which you well know can only be obtained with permission from the Great Red Dragon."
"Then we must leave this mountain," the doubting dragon said. "The sooner, the better. Will you four join us?"
"We'd love to, but we have other missions to perform for the Great Red One."
"Farewell then." The huge dragon spread its wings and soared straight up into the sky. The other dragons followed in a great flurry of wings, creating a windstorm. The flock did a few loop-to-loops, formed a vee formation and flew north.
Circe transformed everybody back to their human forms. After the men thanked the ladies profusely for saving them with magic, Noise said, "It's too bad a couple of dragons didn't stay around for us to kill for you."
Circe replied, "That's all right. I'm not awfully fond of dragon meat."
"At least we have a griffin and a chimera skin to give you. Chimera hide, I understand, is quite the fashion these days."
Circe looked past him at Wortisha and Woden gazing into each others eyes again. "I don't believe Wortisha will need any Chimera hide to keep her warm."
The foursome strolled hand in hand back to the witch's cottage. That is, Wortisha' hand in Woden's and Circe's in Noises. On the way back, they picked up the creature skins and the men's supplies.
That night Wortisha snuggled up to Woden in the narrow bed she usually slept in with her sister. Circe, not to be unsociable, climbed into the loft with Noise.
At dawn's first light, Woden left the bed, climbed up to the loft and hissed at Noise. "Let's depart before the maidens awake."
Noise cautiously untangled himself from Circe and crept down the ladder. He whispered, "I thought you had fallen in love with Wortisha."
"I have. But, alas, I'm a prince. How would it look to have a peasant witch as my consort? My parents would be furious."
As the men were creeping out the door, Wortisha cried, "Where are you two going?"
Woden said, "I'm sorry, My Dear, but we have an important engagement."
"To me, it looked as though you were sneaking out. You cads! You just wanted to have your way with us and planned all along to desert us." She burst into uncontrollable sobs.
Circe's face peered down from the loft. "What've you done to my sister, you brutes?"
Two guilty faces looked up at her. "We ... uh ... needed to leave ... on an important ... uh ... mission ...," Noise stuttered, trying to think of a plausible lie. "We were coming back as soon as it was over. She misunderstood."
"Liar. You don't know who you're dealing with. You act like pigs, pigs shall you become." She waved her hand over the prince and the knight, turning them into swine.
Wortisha stopped her sobbing. "Circe, what've you done? I loved the one who said he was a prince. Change them back."
"Oh you foolish girl. Don't you understand that they were simply out for a good time. We should drop them down the well for Latro to eat."
"Nonetheless, change them back."
When Woden and Noise were back in their human form, Wortisha put a truth spell on Woden. "Prince Woden, do you love me?"
Wortisha smiled. "Had you planned to return to make me your wife?"
Her smile became a frown. She became furious. Through clenched teeth, she said, "I curse you, your prodigy and your kingdom. From this day forth, you and your children when you have them and all your subjects will have nothing but trouble. Furthermore, if any of them pass this way, we'll drop them into our well to become food for our sister. Now get out, before Circe turns you into the swine you are again."
The men beat a hasty retreat. They stopped halfway down to mountain to catch their breath. Noise asked, "Aren't you frightened by that witch's curse?"
"Not really. She said that myself, my progeny and my kingdom would have nothing but trouble." He laughed. "As for myself, I expect to have nothing but trouble anyway even if I have to cause it myself. And I don't have any prodigy or a kingdom."
"But you may some day."
"Sufficient is the evil that belongs to today. Let's not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow we may die."
"Well said. For the creation of such a homily, I'll treat you to a mug of ale."
But Circe had not completely lifted her spell. When Woden and Noise made their way back to civilization and entered the first tavern they found, they behaved in ways that were, to be frank, piggish. They ate hugely, burying their faces in their platters of bread and meat instead of using their daggers like men of noble rank; they drank even more, pouring ale down their throats so sloppily that their clothes became sodden and sticky. After drinking several -- hogsheads -- of ale, they began to grunt, oink and make other unseemly noises. When they were thrown out of the tavern, they rolled in the mud.
All these things they could ignore, of course -- rank hath its privileges, after all. The curly tails that were revealed when they arrived home and changed clothes, however...
Bio: 'Papa Joe' says: 'I am a technical writer retired from a major computer company and a voracious reader of all kinds of books, but especially science fiction and fantasy. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but have been living in a small town in upstate New York for many years. I am married with four children, ten grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. My hobbies, other than writing, are computer games and do-it-yourself projects. I have had many short stories published in internet E-zines such as The Fifth Dimension, SFF, Dark Moon Rising, Swords Edge, Aphelion (most recently The Mansion, April, 2005), Writer's Hood, Martian Wave, and Planet Magazine.
'My published novels are the Morgaine Saga series, which includes Morgaine and Michael, Morgaine and Melody, Morgaine and Raven, Morgaine and Gretchen, and Morgaine and Asmodeus. The series is available at Renaissance E-Books. In addition, Renaissance has published The Sands of Time, an anthology of my short stories, and The Star Tower, a science-fiction novel about the first voyage to the stars. These books are available from the publisher, http://www.renebooks.com and Amazon.com.
'Published in paperback by Delinger's Publishing Ltd. is my science-fiction novel about the process of building a humanoid robot, The Isaac Project. This book is available at the publisher's web site, http://www.thebookden.com and at Amazon.com.'
Website: The Fantastic World of Papa Joe
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