Princess Aife and Her Dragon
By: Steve Carr

Tiernan circled and swooped in the moonlit sky above the plain as he scanned the countryside. Satisfied that there was no threat to Princess Aife and her entourage of faithful trolls, he slowly descended to the earth and joined them on the bank of the river.

From a mound of bright green grass, with her heavy sword held on her shoulder, Princess Aife watched the blue–gray, rapid currents of the Shannon River flowing south toward the ocean, carrying with it a raft on which her younger sister, Princess Aingeal, lay upon a pyre. As the flames rose high from the crackling twigs and logs beneath her sister's body, sending embers into the sky, Princess Aife laid her hand upon Tiernan's scaly, blue snout. "I'll avenge my sister's death," she said.

The dragon grunted approvingly.

Keegan, known for being the most sentimental among the group and who's nose was almost as large as his entire face, began to beat upon his bodhran, the end of the tipper tapping on the stretched skin, the beats reverberating across the landscape. He looked up at the pinpoints of light in the heavens as tears rolled down his ruddy cheeks. The gift of the bone bracelets around his wrist given to him by Princess Aingeal rattled as his hand twisted back and forth, producing the pulsating rhythmic beats that sounded like the gentle rumble of thunder.

Dermot, the oldest among them, with a long white beard, joined in, drawing his bow across the strings of his fiddle, followed by Galvyn, the wisest of them, with his flute. Leigh, the youngest, barely past the age of being a boy, which for a troll was still very old, and the last troll to join the group, waited several minutes before putting his tin whistle to his lips, closed his blue eyes, and increased the tempo of the trio's music. Osker, the strongest troll in all the land, blowing into his bagpipes, and Wynn, a troll who never took a bath, thumping on his bodhrán with the palm of his hand, stood beside their friends and behind the mourning Princess Aife, and added both sorrow and joy with their instruments in remembrance of Princess Aingeal's short life.

As the raft carrying Princess Aingeal's body became a single red and blue flame off in the distance, Tiernan nuzzled Princess Aife's side and said, "We have a dangerous journey ahead."

Princess Aife raised the sword, pointing its sharp tip toward the north, and said, "In the morning we begin."

The sword trembled and hummed.

#

As dawn broke through the early morning fog, Princess Aife opened her eyes and inhaled the aroma of wild onion and common ragwort. She sat up with her rabbit fur coverlet around her shoulders and listened to the sound of the Shannon's currents brushing the reeds along the bank near where she lay. The trolls were gone, but their bed rolls and musical instruments were still on the beds of smashed grass where they had slept. Tiernan was sitting on top of the mound from where they had watched Princess Aingeal's funeral raft. He had his head held high, sniffing the air.

Standing, Princess Aife picked up the sword and rested the blade on her shoulder and walked to the top of the mound. "I'm ashamed to have been the last to wake," she said, stopping alongside the dragon and placing her hand on the top of its large head.

"You tossed and turned and talked in your sleep all night," he said.

"What was I saying?"

"Mostly repeating your sister's name and that of Lord Blymore," he said. He gazed affectionately at the Princess's unhappy face. "When I was just a whelp and slept at the foot of your bed, I would lie awake and listen to you call out her name even though she was only in her crib, sound asleep in the castle nursery in the room next to yours."

"Before my parents were driven from Ainesmoore castle and killed in a village street by Lord Blymore's men, they made me promise I would take care of her," she said.

"Your sister was stubborn and a regional ruler in her own right," Tiernan said. "There's nothing you could have done."

The princess brushed wind–blown hair from her face. "Where are the trolls?"

"They left during the middle of the night to look for enemy campfires in the highlands. They should be returning soon."

Princess Aife stuck the sword into the ground and leaned on its hilt. "Not one of them carries a weapon of any kind other than slingshots" she said. "They put themselves in peril going off without you or I."

"For all the noise they make with their instruments, they move about with great stealth," Tiernan said.

"The use of stealth that you taught them," she said.

"Only after you and Princess Aingeal coaxed them from under their bridges when you were quite young," he replied.

She sat down, wrapped her arms around her knees, and leaned her shoulder against Tiernan's body. "I miss home," she said plaintively.

Tiernan turned and gazed into her eyes, broke into a toothy grin, and then licked her face with his sand–papery tongue.

"If anyone else did that I'd cut them in two," she said laughing as she wiped Tiernan's saliva from her nose and cheeks.

When Osker called out, Princess Aife and Tiernan turned to see him and the others coming through the grass.

"We've spotted a castle not far from here," Keegan said as the trolls arrived, breathless, where Princess Aife sat.

"Who does the castle belong to?" the princess asked as she stood.

"We have no idea. It was none like we've seen before," Keegan said. "It's small and built in a small valley surrounded on three sides by high cliff walls. We might have missed it altogether had Osker not chased the deer into the mouth of that valley."

"You saw no one guarding it?" Tiernan asked

"No, but I'm certain there was the music of flutes and tin whistles being played coming from behind its walls," Leigh said.

The others nodded in agreement.

"We must pay that castle a visit and see if they know anything about Lord Blymore's men or his castle," Princess Aife said. "It's been five days since we've seen any sign of Lord Blymore's men. They couldn't have vanished into thin air."

"Then it's off to that castle we just saw to track them," Wynn said.

"After Tiernan brings us back a deer for a breakfast of venison," the princess said.

"Yay," the trolls shouted

#

Leigh piped a Celtic hymn on his tin whistle mostly in the key of D as he led the group through the glen carpeted with white hare's foot clover and pink bindweed.

"This is where I first spotted the deer," Osker said.

"And in that valley lies the castle," Keegan said, pointing to the area bordered on both sides by steep craggy cliffs.

Princess Aife's sword, carried on her shoulder, began to vibrate, emitting a discordant hum. Walking through the lush grass leading to the castle the notes of Leigh's tin whistle echoed through the valley. As they reached the small moat surrounding the castle, the drawbridge lowered and the large wood doors swung open. Leigh lowered his instrument.

"Careful everyone," Princess Aife said, lifting the sword that whistled in a low, deep tone, holding it above her head.

Tiernan glided back and forth within feet above the group, letting out long guttural roars.

From inside the castle came the notes of a tin whistle. Leigh lifted his whistle and played along, matching note for note. The others lifted their instruments into position and joined in, and soon from within the castle the same notes and beats of a bodhrán, fiddle, bagpipe and flute were heard.

When six beautiful young women with fiery red hair stepped out onto the drawbridge, they paused only momentarily before they began to dance, the heels and toes of their shoes tapping to the rhythm of the music.

The music the men played increased in tempo as did the music from within the castle. The footwork of the women on the bridge sped up, the rapid tapping of their shoes filled the air. Then the trolls, still playing their instruments, began dancing onto the bridge, mimicking the footwork of the women.

The hilt of the sword began to glow.

"Stop!" Princess Aife shouted.

As the women began to dance backward into the castle, the men began to rise from the ground and followed. The bridge started to rise.

"They trolls are bewitched," Princess Aife said to Tiernan. She held the blade of the sword close to her lips and said, "Cut the chains of the drawbridge." The sword flew out of her hands, through the air, and sliced though the large iron links in the bridge. It fell back onto the ground with a resounding thud.

The sword quickly returned to Princess Aife. She took hold of the hilt and raised the tip of the sword to the sky. "Sing sword," she commanded.

The sword began to quiver, emitting at first a single bass note that quickly crescendoed to a high C note that it sustained while Tiernan went among the men pushing against them, nudging them back and off the bridge. One by one they dropped to the ground.

"What happened?" Keegan asked, shaking his head.

"They're witches and they cast a spell on you," the princess said. "We must leave this valley before the witches become more powerful than the sword. Lowering the sword, she began to run, with the men and Tiernan following behind. Once out of the valley, they collapsed in the grass.

"At last after being a bachelor my entire life I was wanted by a beautiful woman, but for what reason?" Dermot asked.

"The heads of some of Lord Blymore's men on poles I saw in the castle courtyard may be the answer," Tiernan said.

"They just wanted to see your gray beard atop a stick, Dermot, and Leigh's pretty blue eyes as well," Wynn said with a laugh.

"I'm surprised it took the sword and not the smell of you Wynn that broke their spell," Osker said, making everyone laugh.

Standing, and placing the blade of the sword on her shoulder. "At least now we know for certain that Lord Blymore came this way and is most likely most returning to his castle."

"None of us have seen it, but I'm certain his castle will be more fortified than the one we just left," Galvyn said.

"It will not stop me from avenging my sister's murder," the princess said.

"Nor us from being by your side," Wynn said.

"Just not too close to my side," Princess Aife said, wrinkling her nose in a comical fashion.

#

Princess Aife and her band crossed miles of open meadows thick with bright blue speed wells. Dermot and Leigh were at the lead, the music of their fiddle and tin whistle filling the valley.

"We need to be quieter," Tiernan said. "Playing those instruments will get us killed."

"Our music is why we live," Keegan said.

Just as Princess Aife said "perhaps Tiernan is right" she and the others heard Leigh cry out in pain. They ran to catch up, finding Dermot leaning in the wildflowers beside Leigh. There was an arrow sticking out of his shoulder.

"Blymore castle is straight ahead," Dermot said, pointing to a wide expanse of grass between two hills.

"I see nothing," Osker said.

"It's invisible," Dermot said. "It came into view only as the arrow was shot from the castle wall and then disappeared again."

Galvyn knelt down beside Leigh and pressed a cloth to the bleeding wound around the arrow. "We need to move him from here so that I can withdraw the arrow," he said to the princess.

"Osker and Dermot, carry Leigh back out of range of Blymore's arrows and take care of him," Princess Aife commanded. "I cannot expect any of you to give your lives for my cause. But I'm getting into that castle, invisible or not."

As Leigh was carried out of harms way, Keegan pulled his slingshot from his leather belt. "Your cause is our cause," he said.

Wynn and Galvyn pulled out their slingshots. "Agreed," they said in unison.

Princess Aife raised her sword, pointing it toward the direction of the invisible castle. The blade began to shudder and glow. With Tiernan at her side and the three trolls following close behind, they slowly walked toward the castle. Arrows began to fly their direction, each one deflected by the sword.

As the arrows shot from the castle, it came into view; a black stoned square structure with only one tower surrounded by the castle walls on which stood a dozen archers aiming their cross bows and shooting the direction of Princess Aife and her band. The front of the castle had two large closed wood doors.

"We'll never get inside there to get Lord Blymore," Keegan said.

"Then we must draw him out," Princess Aife said.

"How do you propose to do that?" Tiernan asked.

"Put your slingshots away and pick up your instruments," Princess Aife said to the men. "Use your bagpipes, bodhrán and flute to produce the possibility of an oncoming military. His inability to resist such a challenge is known throughout the land."

In a very short time the doors to the castle opened and hundreds of men carrying their swords rushed out riding astride dragons, followed by Lord Blymore, also on a dragon. He was a very large man with a thick black beard. He wore a metal breastplate adorned with an image of the sun and carried a large black sword. They came to a stop a short distance from where Princess Aife and her companions stood.

"There is hope,"Tiernan whispered to the princess. "These dragons don't breath fire."

"Who dares trespass on my lands?" Lord Blymore bellowed.

"I, the sister of Princess Aingeal, have come to avenge her," Princess Aife said.

Lord Blymore laughed. "You can lure me with musical instruments but you can't kill me with them."

"No, but I can with this," Princess Aife said, pointing the sword at him. She held the blade of the sword to her lips and said, "Kill."

The sword flew through the air and smashed into Blymore's breastplate without piercing it, bounced off, and fell to the ground.

"Fools!" Lord Blymore exclaimed. "I'm protected by Beli Mawr." He raised his fist and pointed at the sun and screamed the sun god's name. En masse, Blymore's men kicked the sides of their dragons and rushed toward the princess and the trolls.

"Protect her," Tiernan shouted to the trolls as he rose in the air and breathed a stream of flames at the oncoming horde, igniting the front row of men and dragons in balls of fire. Then he raised his talons and met dragons baring their sharp talons and teeth and men with their swords in one–to–one combat. Slashed and burned, his adversaries fell to the ground by the dozens.

Keegan, Wynn and Galvyn encircled the princess, and quickly reloading their slingshots, and with expert aim, took out the eyes of men and dragons alike, and shot the stones through the chests and into the hearts of their enemies.

"Sword, come to me," the princess yelled.

Its blade glowing red like an ember, the sword rose from the ground and flew into the princess's hand. It lifted her into the air where she drove the blade into the heads of dragons and beheaded one enemy after another, leaving their bodies to pile up on the blood soaked earth.

When at last only Lord Blymore sat alone on his dragon and holding his sword in readiness to fight, Princess Aife stood on the body of a dragon, put the blade of her sword to her lips, and whispered, "For Aingeal."

The sword began to violently shake, and then it shot from the princess's hand, tore through the air, and this time drove through Blymore's breastplate and into his heart.

As he began to slide off of his dragon's back, his last words before he died was, "Beli Mawr."

The sword pulled itself from Lord Blymore's body and returned to the princess.

"We've done it, Tiernan!" she exclaimed loudly. She looked around. "Tiernan?"

They found Tiernan's torn and bloody body under a mound of Lord Blymore's men and their dragons. Princess Aife lay across Tiernan's body and wept for two days until she had run out of tears.

#

Princess Aife walked down the corridor of Ainesmoore Castle. From the dining room came the sound of the trolls laughing. Behind her a dragon whelp followed behind, its long tail wagging and its tongue hanging out and dragging on the floor.

"Come along, Tiernan," the princess said, "the trolls have been anxious to meet you."

The End

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