"There awaits your quest for my daughter's hand," beamed ancient King Elric to the young noble, Adalbert.
Adalbert gulped. From the tower's highest window, Elric's kingdom sprawled, assaulting the horizon.
Innumerable pursuants had failed this quest before him; no wonder. Forests bordered arid plains; a spiny river snaked between the dense trees; white-capped pikes and scree valleys punctuated all.
"This sack, containing sustenance, and this box, to open only upon reaching yonder tower, are all I can give you for your journey" Elric continued, highlighting a distant grey stack.
Adalbert nodded, dumbstruck.
Elric then signalled a discreet stairwell; this was it. Adalbert shouldered the sack, collected the surprisingly light box, and set forth.
"One last thing, noble," Elric warned, "Don't drop that box!"
Now, Adalbert wasn't as green as he was cabbage looking. The box was light now, but the tower was distant. The terrain would be treacherous, the box would grow burdensome.
In the forest, he wrapped the box in nets of many twines, meanwhile hoarding edible fruits, nuts and berries. He stored leaves that contained salves, as many dried branches as he'd sensibly manage, and drank conservatively from his muleskin.
From the dusty plains, he padded the box's nest with sand, soothed his skin with rehydrating leaves.
Down in the scree valleys, he collected sharp flints; upon the snowy pikes, he used them, burning his dry branches for warmth.
Upon the seventh day, he reached the tower, about which lay many skeletons. How many had perished beforehand, over how long?
Adalbert eventually found courage enough to open the box. Therein lay a fragile crystal key, still intact! Gently, he persuaded the lock; the door creaked open.
The princess lay sprawled over a chaise longue, like her pursuers, naught but a bag of bones.
Their evenings would be quiet.
Published in Issue #25