"Once upon a time in a land far far away there was a beautiful Princess. She had flame red hair and emerald green eyes. Her father was the King of a great nation and her mother a loving, kind woman with shinning golden hair that fell to her knees."
"Are you speaking of Princess Lillith, sis?" Interrupted the pail child.
"Yes, sis." Answered Iluska, her raven hair blowing wildly in the wind. "And one day the beautiful Princess Lillith called for the Ladies in her fiefs to come and become her ladies in waiting."
"Did she call me, sis?" Asked the child.
"No, she called me."
There was a moment of silence before the golden haired child began to shed a few tears. "And when does the Princess send the sisters back?"
Iluska sighed sadly, "when she gets married, I suppose."
The child forced a smile, "I understand. Go."
So Iluska found herself riding from her home. She looked back at the castle several times. Her mother had sent twelve knights and a hundred soldiers to escort her to Djibouti. They made an impressive trail behind her, all banners and shinning armor.
Iluska lead the way with her albino BeoWolf, a huge snow white animal with red eyes, trotting at her side. Bianca moved gracefully, her fur sparklingly clean, as always. She pranced prissily through the deeper areas of snow. Bianca could feel Iluska's nervesness and kept eyeing her curiously.
Iluska kept Swallow, her cloudy gray and black stallion, at a quick walk as one of the knights rode next to her. He was not much older than Iluska, but much taller with pale skin and baby blue eyes. "Marcus." Iluska greeted.
"You have done your little show, now slow down and get into formation. It is pointless for you to have guards if you insist on being in the front lines." Marcus scolded.
Iluska shot him a hard look. "If you weren't my champion."
Marcus shook his head impatiently, "but I am, and you will remain in your place." Bianca snarled at him, expressing Iluska's mood perfectly as she reined in Swallow, waiting for the knights to surround her protectively.
Marcus rode ahead, talking softly with his second in command. Then he slowed and checked on the wagons. Iluska smirked, "busy body," she mumbled.
Suddenly Bianca froze and a chilling growl rose from her throat. Iluska stopped Swallow next to her. "What is it girl?" Iluska began scanning the woods. Bianca's fur stood up and she lowered her head, her snarl could chill the blood of the bravest warrior.
Marcus trotted his dun gelding next to Iluska, "is there a probl." He froze upon seeing Iluska's 250 pound pet.
The sight of Bianca spooked made Marcus call a halt. A few moments passed in silence before Iluska smelled. something. Marcus loosened his sword in the sheath.
"What is it?" Iluska asked, "it smells like burnt."
"Flesh." Marcus filled in as he moved his gelding closer to Iluska, "human flesh."
Swallow pranced nervously and Iluska didn't bother to calm her. Appearing from the trees were pasty white human-like creatures. They moved slowly and methodically towards Iluska, going through the trees rather than around them.
For a long moment no one moved, the stillness was suddenly broken when Bianca moved forward a step. As though that was a signal for retreat, Iluska heard the sound of galloping hooves and saw soldiers, servants, pages and squires alike scattering in different directions.
Marcus began to shout, "rally to Iluska!" He looked around desperately, "to Iluska!"
Iluska watched as her people charged the growing walls of wraiths. And she watched them fall. Screams of terror filled the air, and horror gripped Iluska's heart. No one was escaping because they were surrounded. The number of wraths seamed to be growing until Iluska found herself in a clearing surrounded by a sea of transparent figures.
A handful of knights surrounded Iluska now, holding swords in trembling, white knuckled grips. One of them suddenly let out and animal like growl, "they will die at my hand as easily as anyone else!" He shouted and kicked his steed forward, holding his sword before him like a joist. Everyone watched as he rode forth, even Bianca turned her head to see him approach the enemy.
The knight moved until he was mere feet from the wraiths before he dismounted and braced himself. The creature before him continued to move in the slow glide, it did not even flinch as the knight swung his heavy two- handed sword. The transparent form of the creature blurred and misted as though the sword had swept through smoke before it reached out it's hand. Iluska gasped as she watched the creature pull at her knight. A mist seamed to come out of him and the creature solidified slightly as the knight screamed and fell limply to the forest flour.
"Steel cannot hurt them!" Someone shouted and suddenly all the remaining knights scattered. Only Marcus and Bianca remained with Iluska.
Screams filled the air as they met with the wraiths. Iluska turned cold, her body frozen with fear, when an urgent thread touched her through the bond. Iluska looked to Bianca, who was moving forward towards their enemy, looking back at Iluska encouragingly. So Iluska followed Bianca, moving with the same slow purpose that their enemies showed. Marcus rode next to Iluska.
Silence filled the air again as the last of the knights fell. The only sound was the hoof beats and Bianca's feral growls. The wall of wraiths was now mere feet away and Iluska could see their cold eyes, which seamed to glow with an internal flame. Their skin was torn, their bones showed in many places and the breeze smeared their forms. Tears began to flow down Iluska's cheeks as she sat stiffly on Swallow. Bianca took another step, and another, then suddenly a miracle happened. The wall of wraiths began to part for the BeoWolf. Slowly they gave way, turning as Bianca entered their midst. Iluska and Marcus followed, riding through the wall of creatures who glared furiously at their prey. One stepped closer and Bianca turned her red eyes on it, the creature shrunk back into it's sea of companions and the three continued forward.
Iluska trembled so violently that she could hardly remain mounted. She barely noticed Swallow's shivering and nervous stamping of hooves.
Suddenly they passed out of the sea of wraiths, Bianca turned on the creatures, snarling fiercely as Iluska and Marcus freed themselves of the creatures.
"Ride." Marcus whispered shakily.
"What?" Iluska mumbled.
"RIDE!" Marcus shouted.
Swallow needed no urging, she lept forward into a wild gallop. Iluska looked behind her and saw Bianca running behind them, the wraiths giving chase.
"RIDE!" Marcus shouted again and Iluska turned, leaning into Swallow she gave the mare her head. Iluska could feel Bianca following them, she could feel the bond, when suddenly it went cold as ice.
Iluska trembled, she knew bonded animals could not die so long as their mistresses survived, but she did not know what the icy feeling meant.
Iluska rode like a mad woman until Marcus stopped them. "We'll kill the horses." He explained as he dismounted. He took his bay by the reins and began jogging. Iluska followed suite, numbly. She put one foot in front of the other until she felt she would fall from exhaustion. Then Marcus let them mount again and trot the horses.
Swallow moved wearily and Marcus made Iluska dismount again after another mile or so. The sun was setting and soon Iluska found herself walking numbly through the darkness, leading Swallow who dragged slowly behind her.
Marcus urged her to move faster, but Iluska's prior terror had faded. Exhaustion, both physical and emotional replaced it. She limped and trembled, tears streaking her cheeks as Marcus tried to encourage her along.
Concerned, Marcus turned to her, "Do you need to ride?"
Iluska stared ahead, numb and silent, until Marcus urged her forward. Then Marcus allowed them to halt for an hour. He rested the horses and let them drink out of a stream.
Iluska dropped to the ground when they stopped, laying on the cold ground. Marcus sat next to her after he tied the horses. "Bianca?"
Iluska shook her head, "I don't know."
"I'm sorry." Marcus whispered.
"We should have gone the other way. We have to warn my family." Iluska whispered.
"Without Bianca we can't ride through the wraiths again. Even with her I would not risk it." Marcus swallowed hard and looked at Iluska, "regardless, they would have reached the castle hours ago." He added gently.
They sat in silence for an hour after that, before Marcus had them mount up. They rode at a slow trot. Dawn came and went with them riding and jogging alternately until dusk. Then Marcus had them bed down by a stream. All the blankets had been in the wagons, so Iluska used her saddle as a pillow as she laid down.
"They are gone, Marcus." Iluska mumbled as Marcus checked Swallow's legs.
"We don't know that!" Marcus snapped.
Iluska rolled on her back and stared up at the sky, "don't lie to me, Marcus. You are sworn to honest."
Marcus sighed and laid down a few feet from Iluska, "they probably fled."
"Do you think they lived?" Iluska demanded.
"I don't know." Marcus said firmly, "but I do know that, dead or alive, they would want you to continue!"