This story has all the elements of a good bedtime story I think, except that it's more satirical and aimed at a slightly older audience. When I think of stories told to me as I tried to go to sleep, I think of fanciful and eccentric characters that can, even in my most tired state, make me laugh and make me care for them. It really is hard to define a bedtime story, so I've roughly done so myself for the sake of my story. I hope you enjoy. I hope it's not so bad that you fall over asleep on the keyboard as you read... I don't think that's a compliment, even in this genre. Heh.

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Three Knights and a Maiden
By Brent Barron

In the midst of a desert where nothing green could grow, a weathered tower stood tall against the endless, wasteland sky. It served as a strange landmark for the rare, nomadic wanderer that dared to travel the ancient paths that meandered through the treacherous landscape. More than one of these brave travelers told stories of a hauntingly beautiful voice that drifted out from it, carried by the wind as refreshing water for worn, thirsty drifters. However, it only quenched the heart, not the body. Most who ventured to the tower remained forever there, and over the years a congregation of bones had collected inside and around it, diligently listening for all eternity.

Still, the tower stood unaffected by the death it brought, and the mysterious voice continued to sing from its lofty height. As time waxed, far-fetched tales about the tower began to circulate throughout the land. Some said an evil witch dwelt in it, casting her spell on all who passed by. Others believed it was a Siren, plucked straight out of myth and placed there to lure men to their doom. But the most popular of theories was also the simplest-a maiden, waiting for her hero to come and whisk her away. Many tried, but none succeeded. Yet adventurers still dared to face the unknown perils of this enigmatic tower.

From the north, Sir Bastion rode speedily towards his destiny. Coming out of the west, Sir Norville walked on tired feet, but refused to surrender to the vengeful terrain. And, in the east, Sir Cody matched with unwavering determination. They were all headed to the same destination with the hopes of winning the same prize-a damsel with a voice to challenge the angels.

***

"Onward! Faster" Bastion pointed with his arm fully outstretched, "We must make haste!"

"But I'm tired. So very, very tired. I think I shall faint."

Bastion dismounted his faux-steed, "You're worthless. You can rest or go home for all I care, but I won't pay you a cent!"

"Fine." The hunch-backed man stretched out and shook off Bastion's presence, "And next time, get a real horse for God's sake. This journey was a bit too odd for me."

"Don't trust the dirty creatures." He admitted with a huff, "Thank you anyway. I can manage on my own from here."

"Tell me, Sir Bastion. Why have you come all this way to rescue a damsel in distress when you are so clearly..."

"So clearly what?" Bastion tilted his head to the side and flapped a limp wrist in the air.

"You know."

"No, I don't. Sorry. Good day."

Bastion continued on foot, leaving a distraught and bewildered man behind.

***

Sir Norville approached the tower with caution. His pockmarked face, mountainous nose, and hopelessly crossed-eyes had ensured him to be forever without a mate, and even his acute fear of nearly everything could not keep him from pursuing the woman that supposedly waited in the tower for someone, like himself, to rescue her. So he rattled on slowly, partly from dread, but mostly because of the heavy armor that overtaxed his weedy frame.

***

Finally, Sir Cody moved swiftly to claim his bride. His hulking body bulldozed through the sand and tore ruthlessly towards the tower. He was the first to arrive, and he stood at the tower's entrance believing he was quite alone.

"Oh great, someone already beat me here. Story of my life." Norville turned away and began to mope off when he bumped into Bastion. His armor clanged and shook him to the ground.

"Pardon me!" Bastion squeaked and offered Norville his hand.

"T-Thank you."

He pulled Norville to his feet and giggled with mirth, "You're so TINY, and to have made it all the way out here. I'm quite impressed!"

"We're both too late." Norville hung his head. Bastion turned to see the massive Sir Cody standing in the doorway.

"And you're..." Norville raised a hand to his mouth, "So... huge!" He cackled wildly.

All three knights were silent as they examined one another. At length, Cody spoke:

"First I was to venture here, but fear not knights for good news is near." Sir Cody spoke with an eloquence that did not fit his image, "A challenge is something I always seek, so you shall stay and maybe win if you are not weak."

Norville looked at Bastion and Bastion looked (and winked) at Norville.

"Time will not wait for us you know, so without hesitation we should go," Cody informed the other knights.

"Yes! May the best man win!" Bastion clapped his hands together and trotted up to the entrance. He took a long, thoughtful whiff of the air, "I can smell victory. Victory and rotting flesh." He puckered his face into a sour expression.

"Oh dear. Do you think there will be any traps? Like dragons...or snakes...or lava pits...or," Norville's eyes grew wide, "Or jesters!"

"Dangers within there must be! Wait for a moment, I have to pee."

So, they waited for Cody to empty his bladder before journeying onward, out from under the glare of the harsh sun and into the dank gloom of the tower. Their eyes so used to the light, the three knights could see nothing at first except a thick wall of blackness. Norville whimpered and someone wrapped an arm around him, but he felt more violated than comforted and removed the searching appendage, feeling worse than before.

"What perils lie ahead? Whatever they be, I feel no dread."

"I wish I was dead!" Norville continued Cody's rhyme, "And why do you WANT danger? Wouldn't it be just as nice if we didn't have any trouble?"

"Nay young knight. Without danger, no one will have to put up a fight. In order for me to win, you two must fail and fall at the hand's of Ren."

"Ren?" Bastion lit a makeshift torch to reveal the perplexed expression he wore, "What or who is this 'Ren' character? Do you know something you're not telling us? I demand to know!"

"Yeah. Fess up. Oh dear. I hope 'Ren' isn't a large, double-headed spider! Or, even worse-a jester!" Bastion cringed at the thought.

Cody laughed heartily, "I love to rhyme, and this is true. But just then, none came to me so I made one up out of the blue."

"So there's no such thing as a 'Ren'?" Bastion asked.

Cody shook his head.

"Thank goodness." Norville exclaimed in relief, but Bastion was harder to please. He walked up to Cody and looked up sternly at his face.

"Phony! You claim to be a poet-a bard-but you can't even think up good rhymes! Pathetic!" He tossed his hip out to the side and rested his hands on them, "I don't think the maiden will like such a poser. She wants a REAL man."

"Oh dear. I guess that leaves me straight out." Norville sighed.

"Not true, not true at all, I say. Pray tell young sir, are you gay?" Cody said in response to Bastion's flamboyant accusation.

Bastion gasped, sucking in a quick breath of air that chirped, "Let's just keep going! I've never!"

The three knights ventured on, climbing the stairs that seemed to spiral forever upwards. Their footsteps echoed loudly in the tiny oval chamber. The tower was not wide, but it was certainly tall.

"I'm so out of shape!" Bastion gasped for air.

"You'll never win this bout if a mere fifteen steps wears you out."

"I see a rat!" Norville cowered back. Instantly, Sir Cody drew his sword and stabbed repeatedly at the rodent. He huffed and heaved until the creature was no more than a bloody stain upon the stone floor.

"That's so cruel! What if YOU were a rat? Would you want someone doing that to you." Bastion knelt down by the rat's final resting place, "We could have set him free."

"If I were a rat, I would kill myself in a second flat."

Their debate was cut short as a voice drifted slowly down to them. It was her, their lady in waiting, and she was singing for them. Bastion pulled Cody backwards and slipped in front of him. Cody kneed him from behind and took the lead. Norville walked on top of Bastion and tapped Cody lightly on the shoulder.

"Can I please take the lead? I mean, you can easily find another woman, but this is my only chance."

Sir Cody thought for a moment, "N-No," he stuttered, looking distressed.

"Please?"

Panic flew across the large Sir Cody's face as he racked his brain for a rhyme.

"Pretty please with a cherry on top?"

"No!" Sir Cody bolted up the stairs, leaving his charms behind him. Norville frowned and began after him when Bastion pinned him against the wall.

"Do you know why I'm so eccentric? Do you?" He was eye to eye with Norville who was shaking in his loose-fitting armor, which jangled loudly.

"No."

"I have a secret to tell you."

"I think I already know."

"You do?" Bastion looked surprised.

"Yes. It's okay. I don't judge you." Norville glanced up, "But right now we had better go or else Sir Cody will win, and his ego doesn't need any more inflation."

"Right-o!" Bastion scampered on, stopped, then turned and came back, "One more thing."

"Yes?"

He conked Norville on the head, sending him slinking to the ground, then continued on his way.

Sir Cody's size hindered him as he ascended the tower. He could not run very fast nor could he easily fit in the narrow passageway, and his shoulders brushed both sides of the wall at all times. Bastion easily caught up to him, but standing behind Sir Cody was standing behind a wall. Norville recovered from his blow and ran to catch up, stopping now and then when a playful shadow made itself out to be some dangerous monster in his mind. Eventually, the three were neck and neck again.

"There hasn't been a single trap or danger yet. I'm kind of let down." Sir Cody admitted without the usual singsong in his words.

"There has to be something," Bastion said, kicking a withered skeleton out of his way, "All these people didn't just die at random."

Norville crinkled his nose at the sight of the decayed bones, "I'm betting on a dragon. It seems the most popular." Norville's teeth were chattering, making his speech hard to understand, "O-Or A-A-A J-Jes-ster-r!"

Bastion flashed Norville a dirty look, but with his attention turned backwards he didn't see Cody stop and bumped smack into him. They all clanked against one another, Bastion sandwiched in between the other two.

"Aha!" Sir Cody exclaimed, "We've reached the top."

"Already?" Bastion asked.

"Yes. What a let down." Cody hung his head, "I at least wanted a vicious guard dog or something. Perhaps carrying rabies."

"What do you think she'll be like?" Norville thought out loud.

"Tall, exotic, open-minded, and promiscuous!" Bastion said.

"Like an elephant: big, strong, and powerful!" Sir Cody said.

"I hope she's just a normal, everyday girl." Norville added.

"Normal? Everyday?" Bastion scoffed, "If that were the case, there would be no point in coming ALL the way out here. You can find normal anywhere. But a girl...in a tower! Now that is something special!"

Sir Cody lifted a finger to his lips, and when everyone had hushed, he opened the door. They all went inside.

Sitting on the bed was a raven-haired woman too beautiful for words to describe. She seemed to emit a light of her own, and her delicately pale skin looked delectable. When she smiled, all three knights nearly fainted with its brilliance.

"My heroes, come from afar to rescue me!" She rose to her feet, "I have waited long for this day to come."

"Fair maiden," Bastion took a step forward and claimed her petite hand, "You must choose between us three. We expected to be cut in our number before we arrived in your chamber, but there was nothing at all to stop us from entering. And yet, so many dead rest here. Can you tell us what was their demise?"

The woman shook her head, dark strands of hair tossing fitfully about, "I will tell you in due time. First, I must choose."

Sir Cody smiled at her and flexed his muscles, Bastion did an odd little jug, and poor Norville collapsed under the weight of his armor. When they removed it from him and had him conscious again, the men lined up against the wall by the maiden's orders.

"She's a saucy little thing." Bastion whispered to his competitors.

"All right," She sat on the edge of the bed, "I cannot decide. I must rely on my backup plan."

They waited for her to continue.

"Drop your knickers." She commanded.

No one moved, as if in disbelief.

"I SAID, DROP YOUR KNICKERS!"

Immediately, they did as told. She stood up and walked to each of them.

She began with bastion: "Too large!"

Then to Sir Cody: "MUCH too small."

Finally, she walked in front of Norville and examined him, "Just right!" A pause and she gasped, "No, not right at all!" She was staring right at his face.

"I can wear a mask!" He said in a sudden attempt to win her over.

"No! You're hideous." She turned back to the others, "And you," she pointed to Bastion, "Are strangely feminine."

"What about me?" Sir Cody waited apprehensively for an answer.

"Much too big. You would crush me. And your body is clearly overcompensating for the tiny thing 'twixt your legs."

In despair, the men pulled up their slacks.

"You promised to tell us what happened to the men here-how they died." Bastion reminded the not-so-fair maiden in a whiny tone.

"Oh," she chuckled, "I didn't find them suitable..."

Sir Cody, Norville, and Bastion waited with baited breath.

"So, I killed them." A sinister smile crept over her face and the door slammed behind with a loud THUD.

***

As twilight set on the world, the three knights stood back outside unscathed.

"I can't believe she was an evil hag who could transform into a giant spider. So clich├ęd." Sir Cody yawned.

"It was scary!" Norville pouted, staring down at the limp body of the once-fair maiden. He bent over her, "My one chance-gone! I might as well become a monk now."

"That was way too easy. No more of this adventure stuff for me." Cody said, nudging her with his foot.

"This is such a disappointing end to what might have been a thrilling tale. And we still do not know who is superior between the three of us. Although I'd venture to say you wouldn't win, Norville." Bastion announced sullenly.

"Gee, thanks." His eyes clouded up and his lips trembled.

"Oh don't cry little one! You did your best, and your journey has just begun!" Cody smiled gleefully. His rhythm had returned. He bid the others goodbye and set off on his own again with newfound purpose. He gradually vanished into the distance. Bastion and Norville were left alone.

"So," Norville gazed up at the tower, "You said you knew my secret. Why didn't it scare you then?"

"Scare me. Oh dear. A lot of things frighten me, sure, but I am not so closed-minded as to be afraid of your... alternative lifestyle."

"Oh." Norville sounded disappointed, "I was sure that you were afraid of jesters." He shrugged and donned his four-pronged hat with bells dangling from each tip.

"Oh my! I didn't know... you... were... a..." Norville didn't wait to finish his sentence before darting off across the sand, back in the direction he had come from. At least he thought it was. Miles and miles down the road he would come to realize he was hopelessly lost.

Alone, Bastion took the dead maiden's body for a trophy, slinging her over his shoulder, and tramped off. He took on last look at the tower, sighed, and left. No one quite understood him, and no one ever would.

So, the presence of the once famed tower grew dim in the minds of men. Anyone that saw it just passed by without much thought. Without a singing maiden, there was no reason to care. The popularity of rescuing beautiful women from dangerous locations become gradually unpopular, replaced by pubs and the wenches that served there. It was much easier to walk into a nearby bar and get hopelessly drunk and find a cheap fix than it was to risk your life in some far off dungeon, castle, or, worst of all, a tower.