Niara's Rescuers

Started by Jubal, August 27, 2015, 04:24:55 PM

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Niara's Rescuers

There spread a rumour once, in the lands of the far south and east where the wind blows hot and the rivers run cool, that a great quest was afoot. A mighty sorcerer (so the story went), had imprisoned his daughter, Niara the Fair, in an enchanted tower, and decreed that only those able to free her would be worthy of his daughter's hand.

And so the heroes of Prester John's court, the greatest and finest in all those lands, heard this story, and many of them took it upon themselves to try the quest.

The trials to get to the tower were three great enchantments. Firstly, there was the wide lake around the tower, which was wreathed in a perpetual storm that would drown any who attempted to cross. Then the island itself was encircled in thorns, with rain falling down all the time. And then – last of all – the sorcerer had summoned a great beast, a lion with a hide so tough no arrow or blade could pierce it, a guardian for the tower itself in which the sorceror's daughter was said to reside. So the story went; and so it was heard by the seventy-two nobles of Prester John's court and all their men at arms and retinues.

The first knight to take up the challenge was Mambur. Mambur the strong, they called him, with shoulders wide as an ox, who always carried a sack said to contain a hundred different weapons, who was so strong he could have wrestled a giant (and indeed he once did, though that is a different story).

He came to the lake – so tempestuous that even he could not swim across it – and there, in the water, there appeared a great fish. "I am the first task," said the fish. "I can carry you across the water, if you can persuade me why I should. Many have tried and failed!"

Mambur knew one and one only method of persuasion. He took a great trident from his sack, and told the fish that its life was forefeit it if it would not carry him. The fish, thoroughly afraid, agreed at once to carry him across.

He tore his way across the island, through the thorns, ripping them up by the roots and breaking great and tangled brambles with his hands alone. Though the rain lashed upon his back, he was able to swiftly break through to the heart of the storm, where the tower stood, his great strength letting him break past all obstacles.

Coming to the tower, he roared a challenge to the lion – and the lion roared back. The two grappled, hand to hand, for no weapon could pierce the lion's hide, and they wrestled hour upon hour until at last the lion, exhausted, crawled off into the undergrowth.

The three challenges had been completed! Mambur came to the tower's door, and smote his fist upon it; it swung open, smoothly and slowly.

And Mambur the Strong looked into the door, and there she was – Niara, the fair, Niara, the wise, Niara, the beautiful. And he thought "this, here, is my prize." He walked up to her, and moved to sweep her up in his powerful arms...

And suddenly – in a flash of light – he found himself back on the shore of the lake, as if the adventure had never begun. Confused and angered, he walked away, wondering what trickery or illusion had robbed him at the last moment. But the quest remained unfulfilled.

The next great knight to take up the challenge was Ianthos, the Cunning – he who had first spoken the true name of the eagle, who had travelled the whole of the silk road, who knew half the marvels of the world. He rode up to the lake, dismounted from his white horse, and waited.

As had happened for Mambur, the fish surfaced, and introduced itself as the first task. "Can you persuade me? I am the only way to cross the water. Many have tried and failed!"

Ianthos had studied deeply in the ways of many fish and fowl and animal, and he knew exactly what to do. "By your true name I call you, O denizen of the lake. By it you are forced to obey my command!" He spoke the true name of the fish, and it dipped its head in recognition "I cannot deny you, master," it said, and carried him over the water.

Ianthos had prepared well, too for the thorns and the rain, and carried with him a great cloak that shielded him from both. And so he made his way slowly across the island, enduring it all, as the rain beat down and the thorns curled around him, until he got to the great tower.

Then Ianthos the Cunning came to the lion. "O Great Lion!" he cried. "you are far mightier than I – but if you will let me live I have much to tell you."
The lion paused before pouncing.

"In the thorns not far from here there is a herd of deer – I saw them on my way across the island. But you must hurry, for they will be gone soon. If you stop to eat me now then they will all have gone before you get there. See, they were over that way."

He pointed back the way he had come: the lion was taken in by his trickery, and headed off into the thorny undergrowth.

And Ianthos the Cunning looked into the door, and there she was – Niara, the fair, Niara, the wise, Niara, the beautiful. And he thought "this, here, is my prize." He walked up to her, and moved to sweep an arm around her waist...

And suddenly – in a flash of light – he found himself back on the shore of the lake, as if the adventure had never begun. Confused and angered, he walked away, wondering how on earth fortune had robbed him at the last moment. And still the quest remained unfulfilled.

Third, there came Tammin. He came with little fame and he came with few titles, but he had heard of the challenges and prepared himself as best he could. He slung a sack over his shoulder and went to the edge of the lake.

The fish swam up out of the water. "I am the first task, your only way to cross this lake. What words have you to persuade me to let you cross? Many have tried and failed!"

"O noble fish, honoured friend," said Tammin. "I cannot compel you to carry me by magic or by strength, nor have I any great wealth to bribe you. But this lake is your home, and as such I ask you to listen to the call of hospitality, and let me cross as a mark of friendship." And the fish laughed (which is a rather surprising sound if you've never heard it before). "That is well!" it said, "and if only more of your kind had such courtesy." And it carried him across the water.

And then Tammin went through the thorns and the rain. He had no great artifice to make a cloak, he had no great strength to speed the journey. He endured as ordinary folk so often must endure; step by step, counting his blessings, and singing as he went along. He took hours to pick his way through the sharp thorns, and he was soaked by the rain, but that was his way, and eventually he came to the heart of the island.

At last he met the lion, which stood there, terrifying in the dim light, its mane tossed by the wind, its claws sharp and its eyes bright.

"O great lion, king of beasts," said Tammin. "I cannot fight you; your fame surpasses that of all the other beasts, and your might is rightly renowned. I ask you to let me pass not as a challenger, but as one paying homage to your kingship of the animals, and a gift I bring to you in token of that." At last he opened the sack he had brought with him through the other trials; he had filled it with meat. And the lion roared its thanks, and – well pleased with the gift – settled down to eat and let Tammin be.

And Tammin looked into the door, and there she was – Niara, the fair, Niara, the wise, Niara, the beautiful. And he thought how terrible it must have been, to be trapped in that tower for so long. And he opened the door and said "would you like to leave?" And she smiled and accepted his offer, and the island suddenly changed, and a path opened up for them as they left that place together.

For you see, the Sorceror had not been entirely blind after all – and had granted Niara one enchantment, a fourth enchantment, for herself. Whilst the other heroes had defeated all the sorceror's challenges, nobody could have taken Niara from that island who saw her as merely a prize.

Tellers' Notes
This story emanates from my continual annoyance with plotlines where the hero just walks in and rescues the princess and snogs her without even asking first (eagle-eyed users of 1980s adventure games will notice that the whole plot has a strong King's Quest II reference running through it with the nature of the challenges). It's a nice story to tell - the one time I told it I did it in a slightly less formal style than some Tammin stories, which worked well.
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