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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Three Kisses: Defenders of the Crystal Casket

Henry Szabranski lives in Buckinghamshire, UK, with his wife and two young sons. They all enjoy a good fairy tale.
The Prince tethered his white stallion near the base of the hill and climbed up the wooded slope. As he approached the summit, the clouds parted and the rays of the setting sun highlighted the gold and crystal casket nestled in the glade. It gleamed with a pure, blinding light: surely the mysterious glint he had spied from afar. Engraved runes glimmered on the casket but he could not make out their meaning.
Inside lay a young woman. Her face was deathly pale, her skin almost translucent, but there was no sign of decay. The Prince knelt down, struck by her beauty. Who was she? Who had built such a casket for her? He ran his fingers across one gilded edge, astonished by the craftsmanship. She must have been someone very important: royalty, no doubt, although he had heard no news of recent deaths in any of the courts he was familiar with. And why here, in the middle of this Godforsaken wilderness?
He lurched back in shock. Had she just moved, ever so slightly? She must still be alive: drugged or placed under some evil spell by whoever had trapped her here like some exotic insect in amber.
The Prince strained to lift the lid of the casket, but his probing fingers could find no chink beneath the crystal to gain leverage. He grunted in disgust, drew his sword and banged the pommel against the lid--away from that gorgeous face, of course--but although it rang out loudly, no mark or crack was left.
He leaned down to try to lift the entire casket, to tip it over, when he heard a rustle in the undergrowth behind him. He whirled around, sword in hand.
A creature stood only yards away. It spoke in a guttural, heavily accented voice. The Prince was surprised to hear it speak at all, for at first he thought it some woodland beast, perhaps a monstrous mole, or a rat or beaver from the stream nearby. Dressed in dirty furs, hair and beard matted and unkempt, its brown skin caked in dirt, it seemed to have emerged from out of the earth itself. As wide as it was tall, the brute still only came up to the Prince's waist; Its arms bulged with thick knots of muscle and it brandished what looked like a sharpened spade. Although the Prince could not make out the words the creature jabbered, their rough tone together with the stabbing motion of the spade made the creature's intent clear enough.
"No. I shan't move." The Prince stood straight. "Whoever is trapped inside is still alive and needs my help."
Another rough-looking creature stepped from out of the bushes. This one held a pickaxe. There were more rustles, and soon the Prince was surrounded by at least half a dozen of the stunted monsters.
"What do you want? Get away from me." The Prince's voice did not waver.
If the creatures heard or understood him they showed no sign of it, crowding closer with their weapons raised.
"Stay back, I say." He lifted his sword. "Any closer and you'll taste royal steel!"
The leader did not flinch, but ambled forward, spade held high. The Prince almost backed away--but the prospect of giving way to this sub-human was unconscionable: he was a Prince, by God, on his rite of passage through the world, and these brutes had no right to threaten him. No doubt they wanted to steal the casket for themselves, and who knew what feral intentions they harbored for the poor woman trapped inside. Only he stood between her and these lowbred beasts.
They crowded in all at once, and the Prince's sword licked out almost without thought. It bit into the leader's throat and bright red blood spilled out. All of a sudden the Prince found himself surrounded. Spades, axes, and cudgels rained down on him--but these were no trained fighters. He pirouetted, blade flashing hither and thither, slashing flesh and worn leather.
A pair of dwarves dodged passed him, out of reach of his outstretched blade. He expected them to turn back to attack from behind, but they seemed more interested in the casket; he was amazed to see them lift the casket between themselves despite its weight and their diminutive size. He tried to stop them, but the others were upon him. He stabbed out wildly, his blade flickering about him as never before. If only his grim-faced swordmaster could see him now! His muscles executed moves only ever used in the practice hall, his body faster than his mind: there was no time for thought as he dispatched the oncoming tangle of foul-smelling monsters.
All too soon the attackers were dealt with, their primitive implements no match for his royal steel. He turned back to the casket, blood dripping from his blade. The rogue pair had managed to haul it back a few yards. Their strength and determination must have been immense--but when they saw him bearing down they dropped the casket. It landed heavily, and at last the crystal cracked, partially sliding off the gilded base; the woman inside rolled free onto the grass. The Prince vaulted over her as he chased after the remaining creatures. He cut them down before they could lumber away and summon more of their kind.
Panting for breath, he allowed himself a grim smile as he surveyed the fallen bodies. Seven against one, but he had beaten the odds.
The pale girl moaned and stirred where she had fallen. The Prince's smile deepened; no doubt he would be returning to court with a most magnificent trophy. He imagined the gratitude she would display once she fully woke and learned of her rescue.
Not one to dally, he leaned down to kiss her cold but blood-red lips.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013


This story originated from a prompt which required the use of two words chosen from a random but limited selection. The words had to feature in the closing sentence of the story, and the object of the prompt was to create the final sentence first and then write the story leading up to it. In fact, all three sections of "Three Kisses" end with a sentence containing the pair of chosen words... "cold" and "lips." To find the full list of possible word choices in the prompt, and more, please visit henryszabranski.com.

- Henry Szabranski

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