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Heroines Synopsis Read Chapter 1 Marelda POV

Heroines - The Story Begins (Chapter 1)
The following excerpt from Heroines - The Story Begins, by John Humenik, is copyrighted © 2013 by John Humenik. All rights are reserved. Any or all of the following excerpt may not be duplicated in any format, online or offline, without the written permission of the copyright owner.

An Excerpt From: Heroines - The Story Begins
by author John Humenik

Chapter 1 - Her Majesty

     With terror pounding in her heart, a young girl hastily tries to get away. Unable to run, she hobbles towards and tumbles over a fallen oak. Winded and unable to breathe, she hits the ground gasping painfully for air.
     It was a few weeks ago that she witnessed her parents’ brutal execution. Moments ago, her aunt and uncle fell to the same fate.
     The noise gets the attention of her pursuers. The men rush through the underbrush directly at her, their heavy armor rattling louder and louder, branches and bushes snapping under their boots.
     She forces herself up with trembling arms and flees into the nearby high grass. Her wails reach all the way to heaven as her tears fall down to the earth.
     The men instinctively follow the bent grass. Though small, she proves easy for them to pursue.
     Reaching the hill floor, she collapses to the ground in complete exhaustion. Her lungs are burning and each small breath is both fire and life. Looking up and through her tears, the bright sun burns her pale blue eyes. Her bloodshot vision makes the men look like horrible vague forms crashing down on her.
     There are four of them. They murmur to one another. Snarling, they easily pin her down with their strong rough hands. Now still, they take stock of their prize, each marveling at the beauty of their prisoner. Their drool hangs down from their rotten teeth as their flesh hungers for her.
     The group’s leader forcefully lifts her head from the ground by her golden locks while the others look on. He angrily spits in her face and shoves her head back to the hard ground. The dirt and grit draws blood from her soft cheek. The men laugh madly, unmoved by the girl’s cries of pain.
     Her tears fall to the earth and mix with her blood and sweat. Unable to fight back, she whispers for help between strained breaths. The men are still laughing mercilessly, as the leader scoops her up and tosses her over his shoulder like a sack of grain.
     The man retraces his path. The others clears the way for their leader and his limp, quivering captive. They return after a short walk to the same place where her parents, her aunt and uncle fell to the sword. When the girl realizes where they have taken her, her last remaining hopes are dashed and her eyes have no more tears to give.
     The superstitious men decide to consult fate for the girl’s future. One of them extracts a pair of dice from his pocket and rolls them on a clear patch of ground. Still holding her, the leader leans over to look down at the dice. The dice have made his choice for him. It will not be death for her today, nor slavery or prison.
     With her spirit broken, he knows she will not resist and he will take her innocent body. With just a glance, the other three men leave howling like wild dogs, quickly returning with some hay. They set it up near a scorching fire. Covering the hay with a soiled cloak, they craft a makeshift bed for their little virgin.

     Her purity, her sanctity will be purged…forever.

     With no regard for cloth, flesh or bone, the bandits raucously rip her clothes from her skin. Seeing her garments being torn away, the innocent girl thrashes desperately under the heavy weight and excited grip of her attackers. The struggle only hurts her more, reinforcing her growing feeling of despair and helplessness.
     Before completely undressing her, one of the men snatches her wrists. He pulls her arms so hard and straight above her head that he nearly dislocates her shoulders. They pop when he slams her hands to the ground pinning them in place. The other men pick a side and seize one ankle. Trying to kick them away, her willingness to keep fighting enthralls them even more. Overpowering both her weak and normal leg, they position her for their leader.
     Ready to pounce on his prey, the leader stands up and starts to undress. She hears every sound he makes. The slow unclasping of his belt, his gritty hands unbuttoning his shirt and even the metal coins stored in his pants striking the ground.
     Still partially clothed, she turns away from him. Daydreaming, she starts to think about her father walking towards her. Darker than the clear sky, she sees his outline approaching. Reaching past her lightly colored blonde hair and her perfectly white outfit, she can almost touch his strong chin that extends out towards her. She sees him come into focus with her gentle blue eyes.
     She snaps her head. Piercing sounds of steel hitting stone cuts through the dream. She looks back to see her father. He’s gone. Alone again, her heart races faster and faster. In all the horror, she feels like an empty vessel about to be shattered into pieces.
     The leader yells at the man holding her arms. Following his leader’s commands, the man grabs her face. She can feel the calluses on his palm covering her mouth. He forces her head back and opens her eyes. Some dirt from his fingers falls into her eyes and unable to blink, her eyes tear up.
     Seeing a silhouette of the leader standing over her with the sun to his back, her vision darkens as he approaches. He leans over her.
     Not louder than a whisper, a faint rush of air interrupts the scene. A bright beam of sunlight covers her face. The warmth melts away the tears. The rays make her soft skin glow. The brightness causes her to torque her head a little, allowing her to refocus her eyes. Blanketing her entire body, the sunlight pierces the darkness.

     The girl wonders, “What just happened?”

     A shadow reappears! Her eyes struggle to focus on it. Squinting so hard that her temples hurt, she sees the pack leader standing between her and the sun.
     The shadow’s shape gives way to the true form of the pack leader. Unable to look away, she fixes her gaze upon him. Once again the bright sunlight strikes her.
     Gathering herself one more time, she realizes the sun's rays are shining through a gaping hole in his chest! The pack leader’s head and chin dip straight down. His face hits the ground before any other part of his lifeless body. He never touched her.
     The other three abruptly stand up. Their eyes witness their impending doom. A great battle cry rocks them to the core. Not from a man, but from a woman.
     Before the girl can turn her head to see what transpires, the men lie dead in the street. A battle maiden approaches her. Overwhelmed by the scene, fear overcomes her. Her muscles seize and tense up. Now sitting, she curls into a small ball and begins to rocks back and forth.
     She closes her eyes as tight as she can. Almost tight enough to burst a few veins in her face. She tries to block out all the sounds, all the pain and the horror. The end of her life approaches.
     The stillness washes over her. Her mind eases. Her spirits lift up because the pain will finally stop. What remains of her tears dry up and her heart calms down. Finally her breathing slows to a deep pulsating motion.
     A gentle breeze flows through her blonde hair. No longer engorged with tears, she slowly opens up her eyes. Her entire body enters a state of calm.
     She glances to her left seeing only the road. Turning to her right, the sight startles her. A little shell-shocked by the scene, her heartbeat somehow finds a way to stay constant.
     Her body begins to purge the deep, penetrating fear from her soul. Entering a state of calm, she sees the woman placing new clothes on her. Her soft, gentle hands caresses her aching muscles. The silk top presses up tightly against her skin, cooling it down. Never before has she felt the unbelievable touch of silk.
     With the new top on, the woman places new shoes on the girl’s feet. Like the silk top, the girl has never worn any type of shoes. They feel like giant pillows beneath her blistered and worn out feet. They massage her toes relieving all the years of pain and suffering her feet experienced.
     Her guardian comes into focus. She stands taller than the women of this time. The girl affixes her gaze on her guardian’s eyes. The protector’s eyes are dark but not one color. Rather they are a hybrid of rich and dark colors accentuating one another. Emanating from her pupils, her black eye color fades into a deep brown that complements her hair.
     Her dark auburn hair flows halfway down her chest. Shining brightly in the sun, the red hues are especially prevalent while they reflect the sun’s rays.
     The woman reaches out her hand. The girl notices her vibrant olive skin. Glowing in the sun, her radiant tan stands out.
     The region spends most of its days under the clouds. Sunny days are an uncommon sight for the people. Individuals with tans are even more uncommon.
     The battle maiden places her arm underneath the girl’s arm and behind her back. She carefully helps the girl to her feet. The young girl’s muscles and bones creak into place. The girl smiles at her protector.
     The deliverer pierces the silence, “My dear, tell me your name?” Hesitant to talk to strangers, the girl doesn’t answer her. The lady reaches out with her other hand. The girl places her hand in the lady’s palm. The warmth of her grip takes the girl by surprise.
     She can feel her ice cold fingers heating up. The girl looks at the embrace and then back at her deliverer’s face.
     With the fear purged, she feels safe and answers, “My parents called me sweetheart for many years.” She weeps. Her memory returns knowing she will never see her beloved parents again.
     “Because of their loss, your heart weighs heavy with grief.” The woman embraces her further, holding her head close to her heart.
     The lady cries along with the girl, sharing in the great sorrow. The young girl squeezes her. She lets out a loud wail. Her knees buckle from the painful memories. Rather than hold her up, the lady gradually bends down. The anguish of the girl’s heart moves the woman.
     They both fall to their knees and continue to cry. The girl feels the hard stones rubbing against her knees. The sobs of the young girl continue uninterrupted for a few minutes.
     The woman reaches into her pouch and removes a cloth made of gold threads. She hands it to the girl. Taking it, she relieves months of pain by blowing her nose into it.
     She opens her eyes looking at the cloth. Startled by its brilliance, the young girl fears she has ruined this wonderful gift and tries to correct it.
     The lady assures her, “Child, don’t be afraid to shed your tears and sorrows into the cloth. It will help you during times of great despair.” She stops for a moment and continues, “So your parents called you sweetheart. What a beautiful gesture from them. Were you known by another name?”
     “My friends call me Adelpha.”
     “How wonderful, do you know what it means?”
     The girl nods her head no.
     “It means beloved sister! Do you have any siblings?”
     “No, I was an only child. My mom tells me that during my birth something bad happened to her. She couldn’t have any more kids.”
     “I’m sorry to hear that. Growing up without siblings can be lonely. At the same time there are bright spots. You had the love of your parents all to yourself. I can tell that it filled you every day and night.”
     “It did. My dad would pray with me each night, just him and I. It was special because I was so close to him. My mom would read me stories from the Bible after dinner. I would hear great tales of women like Ruth. I would never get tired of her story.”
     “Ruth was an amazing woman. There are so many stories of great men and fantastic women in the Bible. I remember when I first met Mary Magdalene. Her eyes began to dim because of her old age. Even still, her beauty was unmatched.”
     The young girl thinks for a moment. She remarks, “Mary Magdalene lived during the time of Christ around 33 AD. We live in the year 897. That would make you…”
     The lady interrupts, “A lot older than you.”
     Adelpha remarks, “But you look so young! It looks like you haven’t aged since you were 20.”
     “If you want to be exact, when I was 25 years old God blessed me. I stopped aging, thus death or disease has no hold over me. Speaking of age, how old are you?”
     “I’m 18.”
     “Eighteen!” The lady grabs Adelpha’s left hand, then the right. “You aren’t wearing a ring. How can someone as gorgeous as you be single? You are the most beautiful girl I have ever met!”
     “Thank you ma’am. That must be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. All my friends were married in their early teens. Most of them have families already. The people in my village live to around 35 years. So we have to get started early to have a chance at seeing any grandchildren.
     I guess the boys in my village didn’t see me that way. They all chose their wives. When the dust settled, all the bachelors got engaged. The village didn’t have any single men left. So I missed out on having a husband and any children.”
     “Don’t fret! You are still young. I have a feeling you will fall in love. Something tells me when the right one comes along, he’ll see how lovely you are on the inside and on the outside. Come, little one, let’s go back to the castle.” The lady leads Adelpha away from the unforgettable scene.
     “You live in a castle?” While walking back, they pass a large drawing. In big letters it says, “Her Majesty the newly crowned Queen!” A portrait of the Queen adorns the banner. Adelpha can’t believe her eyes. She looks to the lady and says, “Your majesty!”
     The Queen gently looks at her. “Please don’t call me that! Use my real name.”
     “Your real name?”
     “Yes Adelpha, call me Marelda!”
     The Queen takes the young girl over to her horse. Adelpha approaches it. Overcome by its beauty, she stops. The Queen looks at her. Adelpha says, “Your majesty! Can this be your horse? I have never seen a horse adorned like this.”
     Adelpha walks up to the horse and places her hand on his mane. She caresses the great steed. The mighty horse acknowledges the gesture. The horse towers over the two ladies.
     Adelpha asks Marelda, “What happened to this horse? Look at all the white hair. It looks and feels magnificent!” Adelpha examines the horse and sees blonde hair highlighting the more prevalent white coat.
     Marelda answers, “He was born an albino. Like you, I found him stranded. His parents were killed by a poacher.
     I rescued him before the poacher found him. I came to appreciate him because he was the runt of the family. After a year, his blonde hair appeared. It started to grow in accentuating his white coat.
     His strong muscles continue to grow, bulging through his coat. Now it seems he will never stop getting bigger. We have been together ever since I saved him.”
     Marelda mounts the horse with ease. She reaches down to the young girl. Adelpha takes her hand and the Queen pulls her up. Adelpha yells, “Whoa!” as Marelda lifts her onto the back of the horse. The two return to the castle.
     Upon reaching the gray foothills of the castle, Marelda remarks on its ongoing construction. “When I first came here, this castle had a sanctuary to a false god. The temple had many brazen images of idols. I was disgusted at these sights. Even before being crowned Queen, I swore to tear them all down.”
     Adelpha notices the new construction on the east side of the towering castle. Marelda continues, “These awesome workers are building a new annex. It will become a holy church. While I can’t make it big enough to hold everyone at one time, I hope to hold many worship services to the only true and living God.”
     Adelpha says, “Are you a follower of Jesus the Christ? My parents spoke often about Him. They were fervent believers. Is this an offshoot of the Holy Roman Church?”
     “I welcome the Pope anytime he wishes to come here. A great man in name and in practice, although I fear his reign will be short. The church will not become a part of the Catholic Church. Regardless, Christians can come here to worship, especially those who have not found Christ. All sinners are welcome in the house of the Lord.”
     They continue along the ascending road. Adelpha looks up in awe. The castle goes by another name, the Citadel. Its high walls rise higher than anything she has ever seen. The brilliance of the masonry can only be experienced firsthand, while the sun lights up the Citadel’s beautiful soft gray and white marble like stones. When the clouds are low, the towers reach deep into their hearts.
     They finally reach the top. Stopping at the edge of the adjacent cliff leading down into a crystal clear moat, Marelda signals to lower the oak bridge. Nothing happens. She signals again. Still nothing occurs.
     Shortly a man walks up to the front wall over the main bridge. He says, “By order of the great General Sairvus, you are no longer permitted on castle grounds. Your false claim to the throne has been overruled. We know how you came to power.
     Leave now and you will be pardoned for your actions. Unfortunately you will be banished from the kingdom…”
     Like a lioness protecting her cubs, Marelda roars at the man. Frightened by the sound, he leaps back against the barricade. Fear pins him like an ornament on the stone wall.
     After looking around to make sure no one sees him, the soldier gathers enough courage to run away. After he leaves, the servants of the Queen disobey the general’s orders by letting down the bridge. Marelda and Adelpha ride into the castle.
     Being Sunday, the first service ends as they approach. The worshippers begin to leave the partially built church. Seeing Marelda and Adelpha, many of the senators’ murmur amongst themselves.
     “Does she think she can change all of our rules?”
     “She keeps the Sabbath holy by riding out and bringing back the trash from the poor?”
     “God will surely smite her for sinning today.”
     Marelda sees and feels jealousy emanating from the men. Many of them lobbied for the throne, before the legendary king passed away. Instead he gave it to a foreign woman. Even more, blue-blood doesn’t flow through her veins.
     Upset, she tells Adelpha to get down from the stallion. The two enter the great chamber of the idols. She calls the court to follow her into the large hall. Everyone quickly gathers.
     Surrounded by friends and hidden foes, Marelda announces to the court, “Not too long ago, this child lost her parents. Today her guardians were killed by marauders. By royal degree, I claim the right to adopt her. You will respect her as if she was my daughter. Today she becomes your Princess. You will serve her and she will serve you.”
     Overwhelmed by the gesture, Adelpha begins to cry tears of joy. The men, who already loathe the new Queen, fiercely dissent. They mock the Princess. Some begin to call her out by saying her tears are fake, a rouse to stir the people’s hearts.
     Hurt by their actions, Adelpha walks up and embraces Marelda. The new mom wraps her gentle arms around her daughter. The gesture lifts her body and spirit. Seeing the leader of the rebellion approaching, she shields Adelpha’s face.
     General Gaius Sairvus enters the fray. The most feared and respected leader of the military, the undefeated general never encountered an equal on the battlefield. A giant both in stature and by actions, he towers over the nearly six foot tall Queen.
     He walks behind Marelda and Adelpha. Like a predator stalking its prey, he encircles them. Without seeing the General, his armor sounds exactly like the marauders. This causes Adelpha’s heart to swell up in fear and trepidation.
     Marelda senses her daughter’s anguish. A fire ignites deep in her spirit. Sensing her mom’s zeal, the new found strength overwhelms Adelpha’s dread. With it purged from her mind, she gathers the strength to stare down her mother’s archenemy.
     Baiting the General into position, Marelda waits till the general steps between her and the outside wall. A large support pillar, made up of large dark gray boulders from a local quarry, rises up from behind Gaius.
     The stone column holds up the entire outer wall of the immoral sanctuary. Adorned with many unholy sacrifices that make Marelda sick to her stomach, she can’t bear to look at some of them.
     Just as General Sairvus positions himself, Marelda senses great evil possessing him. Before he can accuse her, Marelda does a spin kick. Striking the general right in the middle of his chest, Marelda smashes him through the pillar, then the wall!

     The force of attack blows out the entire side of the sanctuary!

     Shock overcomes everyone in the room. The remaining boulders that made up the outer walls of the false church crumple to the ground below.
     In the background the boulders continue to rain down when she starts to speak, “I’ve always wanted to redecorate. These abominations are no more. Take the remaining idols and destroy them. Get them out of my sight forever!”
     Sucking in the air from the outside, the wind howls through the opening. The survival instincts kick in the people who opposed Marelda and they flee. The remaining regiments follow the Queen unequivocally.
     The remaining boulders that made up the outer walls of the false church crumple to the ground below. They continue to rain down when she starts to speak, “I’ve always wanted to redecorate. These abominations are no more. Take the remaining idols and destroy them. Get them out of my sight forever!”
     Sucking in the air from the outside, the wind howls through the opening.
     She walks up to her civil engineers. Overlooking the scene, she commands the engineers to reinforce the new balcony. “Make it known to the people of God’s kingdom that I serve the Lord our God, Creator of all that lives. Extend His grace onto this place. The new balcony will turn out to be the high point of the kingdom.
     It will allow all the people to come up and enjoy the view of the great city below. No one shall be stopped from coming here. All shall see the glory of God rise in the east and set in the west!”
     Marelda leaves the engineers to their work. Adelpha follows her. The Queen and her Princess leave. A prominent sun rises over the mountain tops. It illuminates the entire balcony enabling the men to see everything they need to do in order to fulfill the Queen’s wishes.
     Marelda and Adelpha return to her chamber room. The two walk in. Adelpha stops at the front door in awe of everything she sees.
     A mighty gold chandelier hangs over an even larger oak round table. The considerable weight of the chandelier required additional structural support. Built with five rings, the chandelier has three that line up horizontally. Two smaller rings descend down from the center one.
     Multiple oil lamps dot the rings. They are quite large, requiring minimal refills. Hanging down from each ring are larger crystals of every color, shape and size. The crystals act like prisms while the candles are lit. They sparkle and equally distribute the light across the dinner table. A functional and beautiful work of art.
     The chairs that line the table are perfectly stained oak masterpieces. Some are taller than Adelpha. The inspiring craftsmanship of the furniture catches everyone by surprise. The intricate and decorative designs cover every inch of wood on the chairs and the center table. Adelpha takes a while to walk past the long table that seats twenty people.
     The surrounding walls are made of ancient stones. Etched by hand, they were all meticulously crafted directly out of their quarries. While most of the stone blocks are the traditional gray color, some of the newer additions around the Citadel are lighter, more marble like in their appearance.
     Towering paintings of deceased men hang from these walls. The canvas’ tapestry shows they were carefully woven works of art without the paint. The amazing frames draw everyone’s attention away from the paintings.
     Adelpha asks, “Who are these men in the paintings? They look nothing like you.”
     “These men are the kings that preceded me. Many of them were great men, others tyrants.”
     The two walk over to the newest painting. By far the largest, it hangs in the center of the room taking a prominent position above the red marble fireplace.
     Marelda points to it, “The last great king nominated me to succeed him. His time on this earth was cut short by an assassin. While no one knows this, he was poisoned.
     Somehow the word got out that the king died of old age. I had no part in the cover-up. I knew the king well, he was my friend.
     While I’m saddened that he died, I never expected him to nominate me Queen of his kingdom. He had many people who were fit to sit on the throne." Looking back towards where the senators accused her, she remarks, “Something tells me those people did not deserve to lead, much less be king. I will not pass judgment on them.
     Now they all despise me. I wonder if they will try to exact revenge, in an attempt to claim the throne as their own.”
     Marelda continues the back story. Soon a court appointed messenger barges into the room. The interruption catches Adelpha by surprise. Who would have the courage to interrupt the Queen during a meeting? He says, “My Queen, my Queen! A small village on the outskirts of town was attacked last night.”
     “Several local farmers lost their entire flock of cattle. They were devoured alive. Only bones and some skins remain. The townsfolk fear last night’s slaughter came at the hands of the beasts.”
     Adelpha asks, “What beasts?”
     The man continues, “No one has ever seen a beast and lived. We assume they must be a large pack of oversized wolves. I placed my boot in one of its tracks. It was so much larger than my own. Later on the local hunters confirmed our theory. They are just a larger version of their smaller cousin. My Queen, should I notify the military?”
     “No, I will take Adelpha and my new General Cayden.”
     “Do you mean Colonel Cayden, the same man who single handily put down the revolt in the town square?”
     “Yes, his military record stands for itself. His exploits on the battlefield are well known through the entire region. Coupled with his gifted fighting ability, he brings a thoughtful analysis to every situation. Because of this I want him to be my new general.
     Everywhere he goes, the people adore him. Cayden’s selfless acts of valor have endeared him to so many. After returning from a long tour away from home, he stopped to help an old lady carry water back to her house. The simple gesture took him half a day to finish. To top it off, he had already passed her home. He doubled back to help out a poor citizen in a time of need.
     Cayden embodies the meaning of his name, spirit of a great warrior. Now with Gaius gone, Cayden’s our greatest military fighter. I won’t need any other support.”
     “Your majesty, Adelpha must be still shaken from her ordeal. Let her stay at the castle where she’ll be safe.”
     “I respect your honesty. The only safe place for her will be at my side.”
     “What if the hounds attack your contingent?”
     “Then it will be their last gesture on this earth!”
     Marelda takes her leave with Adelpha. The messenger leaves and summons the new general. Honored by the request, Cayden meets up with the Queen at the front gate. Marelda introduces the new Princess to the new general.
     After the introductions Cayden asks, “My Queen, what honor have you bestowed upon me?”
     “General Cayden, the promotion was long overdue. I have heard from many colonels in my army that you were the most beloved man in the military. You were a great leader of your battalion. Now you are a head of the legion.”
     Astonished by Cayden’s height, Adelpha sees he towers over most of the men at the Citadel. His blonde hair, dark green eyes coupled with his lightly tanned skin makes him stand out in a crowd. Most of the people have brown or black hair with a much lighter skin tone.
     Marelda directs, “Ride with us, we leave for Simonia immediately!”
     The three ride down the Citadel’s doorsteps. The three move like lightning on their thoroughbreds. Normally the ride to Simonia from the castle would take over three hours. The three make it in just less than twenty minutes.
     Adelpha surprises herself how well she rode. The time for personal satisfaction passes when they reach the front gate of the town.
     The gate was completely destroyed. The two guard towers flanking the gate are no more. Their foundations were torn from the ground.
     The wooden walls are nothing more than splinters scattered across the land. The scene looks more like a battleground of a recent war than a majesty entrance to their city. Marelda charges over the broken wood towards the center of town.
     There the people have gathered around the local governor. The townsfolk are paralyzed, overcome with fear. Somehow their spirits rise up from their tombs when the Citadel’s Queen arrives. Even as Simonia’s monarchs remain behind secured doors, many are let down that she came with little support.
     The governor asks, “Your majesty, we are glad you are here.” Looking for more troops, he sees none. Continuing, “Have you not brought your army? What if the animals return and attack the village?”
     Marelda responds, “The spirit of the Living God rests upon the people of Simonia. Death claimed your livestock, not your children. Fear not, the power of Christ shall protect you during these burdensome times.” The Queen carries on with her speech.
     Behind her something has caught Adelpha’s attention. Swiftly she unmounts and walks over to a pile of steer remains. She kneels down at the entrance to the pen that held them.
     The indescribable scene would normally terrorize Adelpha. Today something’s changed. Looking past the large amounts of gore, animal remains and blood, a thought quietly creeps into her mind.
     Her eyes begin to tingle. Willfully accepting these sensations, she doesn’t fight them, she accepts them. Looking around, flashes of light enchantingly appear on the ground. Pulsating in an out, she bears down, concentrating on their vivid imagery.
     Struggling to hold her focus, she finds her mind racing through all the emotions of fear and courage, confusion and clarity, the unknown and faith.
     In one last attempt, her mind clears itself. Like clouds parting in midday, a powerful gift emerges! Amazingly the wolf tracks light up. They glow like the morning sun.
     She can see the movements of the beasts. They all appear as ghostly visions. She can see them attacking and devouring their prey. Passing through the town their taste for meat and blood overwhelms them. Howling at the moonlight, they mercilessly pursue their prey.
     Moments pass and all the animals are devoured. The largest wolf, the alpha male, howls one last time. Directing the pack away, Adelpha sees the beasts entering the forest. Until now with so many tracks, the people have been unable to determine where they went.
     That unknown has caused great angst among the tribesmen. They worry that unless they know where the beasts headed, another attack may come without notice.
     She moves away from the town center following the radiant paw prints. Making her way through the town, Adelpha reaches the cliff edge overlooking a formidable forest. The view leads down into the canopy of trees.
     “Are you looking for something?” The general startles the young maiden. “My apologies my Princess. You aren’t safe standing on the edge of the forest. Something might emerge from behind the trees.”
     “I understand.” She stops to look again into the forest. Her senses sharpen allowing her to see and smell the scent of the beasts moving away from the town. Their tracks run deep into the woodlands.
     Marelda tries to calm down the townsfolk. Adelpha interrupts her, “The feral animals have left the vicinity. Their tracks lead westward deep into the chasm of the woods. The animals’ scent has grown old. They will not return today.”
     One of the elders speak up, “How do you know such things? Our great hunters have been unable to find their escape path. Tracks lead away from the town in all directions. What makes you so sure of your hypothesis?”
     “The tracks you see leading away are actually the beasts hunting down fleeing prey. The bulk of the movement leads down the cliffs. It leads away from the city, towards the great river below.”
     The crude man tries to interrupt Adelpha when the general speaks up, “I have seen the tracks that Adelpha discovered.
     Her statements are correct. They lead away from the town. If they plan on returning, it will not be today. The richer hunting grounds await them in the great city of Riverstorm. If they wanted to kill the Simonia’s people, they would have last night.
     Being alpha hunters, they will seek out the greatest prey. Right now, they have affixed their eyes on the legendary Riverstorm swine farms.”
     An elder stateswoman asks the general, “How do you know this?”
     “Because if I was a bloodthirsty feral beast, I would want them after having my fill of beef.”
     Most of the town’s people disperse, leaving the governor and his wife to talk with Marelda. Turning to Adelpha, Marelda gently asks, “My child, what did you see?”
     “When I went over to the fallen steer, I could see visions of the savage wolves entering the town.
     They moved so quickly with eyes filled with blood. Their teeth were long and numerous. Even their drool felt evil as it fell to the earth.”
     The governor concurs, “I could see the beasts moving throughout the town. All I could see was their red eyes. It was obvious to me that no matter how much they ate, they could never reach their fill.”
     Adelpha continues her story, “I’m unable to get an accurate count. Clearly there were many. Based upon these tracks...” She walks over to the central water pool. “…they converged here.” The five look into the pool filled with blood.
     She continues, “They drank from this fount. After washing down their appetizers, they feasted on their dinner.” Adelpha makes her way over to the larger cow fields. Goats, horses and other grazing animals used to roam here.
     “They decimated the flock until there was no more.” She points to some horse tracks leading away from the town. “You see there? Some horses fled, but were overtaken.” Looking to her right, “They left town here, descending down the cliff into the abyss.”
     The five look towards the abyss. A mighty howl of a powerful wolf shatters the silence. Marelda comments, “The alpha male calls his brethren home.”
     She turns to the governor and his wife, “Tell the town folk to start rebuilding. Pray to the Lord Christ for He will deliver this town from the plague that has stricken it.” She asks for a document to write a letter.
     She transcribes a note to the chief farmer at the castle. She requests, “Governor, have this letter delivered to the castle. A summons for supplies and cattle, it should be enough to restock your provisions and allow you the time to rebuild.”
     The action astonishes the governor. She looks at him. “Governor, why do you look at me like this?”
     “Your majesty, no one has ever taken notice of us. We have pleaded with many dignitaries for aid. I assumed they never carried the message to the late high king. Until today, we have never received anything. Thank you so much!”
     “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord God. He delivers you today. I’m the servant.”
     The three remount their horses and depart down the cliff. Marelda attempts to head off the wolves before they reach Riverstorm. They hope that the beasts only travel at night to keep the sun from zapping their energy.
     The forest canopy drapes the cliff wall. Unfazed by the steep hillside, Marelda charges down headfirst with great speed. In an attempt not be left behind, the general and Adelpha follow her every step. Adelpha instructs Marelda where to go next.
     Her directions are impeccable.
     Soon they pass through the great forest and reach the valley floor. They come to a wide open field flanked by large hills on both sides.
     The cooler air higher up allows many apple trees to flourish along the top of the valley. Their crisp red color fills the trees. Many branches droop downward from the weight.
     Down the slope from the apple trees, the valley has a large ring of cherry trees. Some bear their trademark blossoms others have yielded their fruit.
     Below the cherry blossoms, more fruit trees and aromatic flowers adorn the valley. The scent fills the entire basin.
     The three ride slowly. Adelpha unmounts her horse. She runs over to a peach tree.
     She climbs up into the tree with ease. The general and Marelda take notice. She picks a few handfuls of the tree’s juicy fruit. From the top of the tree Adelpha leaps down, landing quite gracefully.
     The peaches are dark red. She hands a bunch to Marelda and another bunch to the general. She leaves some for herself. Hungry because she hasn’t had any breakfast or lunch, it doesn’t take long for Adelpha to eat her portion. All the peaches are enjoyed on this bright sunny day.
     Marelda asks, “Adelpha, I’m assuming you know where the beasts have gone. Otherwise you wouldn’t have stopped for such a wonderful meal.”
     With peach juice running from her lips and down her chin Adelpha answers, “Yes, the tracks lead up into the hills. They entered the caves last night and haven’t left. We will find them in there.” Wiping her mouth, she points to all the open caves.
     Marelda says, “All of them.”
     “Yes, all of them.”
     The general says, “Well then, we should return with more forces. I have a lot of confidence in you my Queen. Unfortunately there are over a hundred caves up there. I know these hills. They have many interconnected tunnels to the adjacent ranges. They feed into many parts of the kingdom and surrounding cities.”
     Marelda says, “Those are the caves of the fallen ones. Accursed beings may have taken the wolves and turned them into feral beasts. If they have made this their resting place, we have an opportunity to put an end to their reign of terror.
     We cannot wait. If we return with more troops, it will be much later in the day. The beasts may move from this location, leaving us in their wake!”
     The general asks her, “Your majesty I have seen you in battle. Many have fallen by your swords. You go into battle without armor and you return unscathed. You and I have fought side by side in many skirmishes.
     Yet this fair maiden has just lost her parents and guardians. She may be an amazing Tracker, but we can’t fight them and protect her at the same time.”
     Filled with faith, Marelda answers, “Sir Cayden, the Lord protects her now. Trust me when I say this. We do not need to fear for her life.”
     Marelda turns her horse up to the caves. She wants to head up into the hills and finish them.
     The general intercedes, “My Queen if I may. If you speak the truth and I have no doubt that you do, then these beasts are on their own turf. Attacking them would put us in an unfavorable position.
     They obviously have chosen this location for a reason. Mainly because it will be hard to summit and even harder to descend from above. If you want to move on them, let’s draw them out.
     When they leave their refuge, they will become vulnerable. Whenever they reach the lower half of the hill and the valley floor below, we can charge through their ranks crisscrossing them. It will be nearly impossible for them to defend their sides. Their momentum will pull them down leaving them exposed.”
     The sound strategy convinces Marelda not to pursue them. Marelda says, “Well then, how should we go about this?”
     Adelpha volunteers, “I’ll do it. I’ll ride up into the caves and draw them out. Upon seeing me they will go into a frenzy. They will fix their gaze upon me. They will never see you both coming.”
     With confidence in Adelpha, General Cayden instructs, “You will have no room for error. If you lead your horse down the wrong path, he will either stop or falter. We will be too far away to save you. Be careful going up and down the hillside.”
     Adelpha nods. She looks up the hill. Her amazing Tracking skills begin to shine forth. She sees all the various paths that lead up to the caves.
     Taking a moment, she notices an untouched path. One clear walkway was unused by the wolves. It goes straight up. All the tracks lead away from it.
     She will take this route. If the wolves follow her down it, they will be on unfamiliar ground.
     Marelda and the general move back into the forest canopy. They trek up the hillside waiting for them to emerge. He remarks, “I’m not sure what amazes me more, your faith in her or your faith in me?”
     Adelpha walks over and grabs another peach from the tree. She eats it like it will be her last meal.
     She remounts. Walking ever so carefully up the hill, she instructs her horse where to go. She talks to him letting him know which steps are safe. He learns quickly. She tells him what rocks to use for the race down.
     Approaching the cave, she steps off her horse. Her heart races and palms start to sweat. She can hear the howling noise of the wind rushing through the tunnel system. She wonders why she volunteered.
     She looks around for something to protect herself against the beasts. Not that she would be able to fend one off if a wolf surprised her. If anything it would give her the courage to continue.
     Another bone chilling howl rips through the ice cold air. Adelpha begins to shake. She trips and falls to the ground, making a lot of noise. While lying motionless on the ground, nothing approaches. She turns back to see what she tripped over.
     A torch! Her luck turns for the better. She scrambles on the ground towards it. Adelpha hears another giant howl right behind her!
     She snaps her head back.
     Nobody attacks.
     Adelpha grabs the torch. She realizes she has no way to light it. Either way, she takes it and moves down into the black abyss.
     Keeping the wind to her face, Adelpha makes her way deep into the cave. Soon she comes upon the first beasts. They are huge. Their shoulders tower over Adelpha. Much larger than their wolf pack cousins, they reach over fifteen feet from head to tail. She tries to get a closer look.
     Not paying attention to her footing, she slips on a wet rock. Fortunately no rocks fall below. Regrettably she lets off a yelp. The oversized male senses an intruder. Being upwind from her, he can’t smell her. He snaps his head around frantically searching for her.
     Adelpha moves along the rock edge, near the ceiling, to an adjacent room. Along the wall edge runs a narrow path downward to the cave floor. It’s only wide enough for her to walk down.
     She doesn’t see many tracks in the room. She thinks, “If I’m able to draw them into this room, I can run on this narrow path, retreating up and out of the cave. It may be tight. The time I gain from them entering and leaving the room might be enough for me to escape.”
     The Princess makes her way to the floor. Courage builds with each step, growing more confident with her plan. Searching around for any other unexpected surprises, she stealthily reviews the scene.
     Unaware of her surroundings, she peers out and around the side of the wall. Naively thinking her plan might work, she unexpectedly comes face to face with the Alpha Wolf!
     Adelpha screams! With no time to think, she frantically runs back to her escape route scaling the wall along the narrow edge.
     The monstrous beast gains on her position. His ravenous jaws are about to clamp down on her when he runs out of room. Her escape route worked as planned.
     Moving hastily through the cave, her hair flows horizontally to the ground. She pumps her arms with all of her might.
     The beast readjusts his attack. Immediately the other wolves follow their leader. The chase begins! The wolves howl with great hunger.
     Adelpha makes her way up to the entrance. She looks behind her. Seeing them closing in on her, Adelpha’s legs find greater speed.
     The beasts are just about to pounce on her, when the hard charging Alpha Wolf leaps over them. He slams on the ground right at her feet, just missing his prey.
     The terrified Princess emerges from the cave and screams, “Marelda!” The great Heroine hears her cry. She prays to the Living Christ to give Adelpha the courage she needs. Christ looks down upon them. He sets His gaze upon Adelpha.
     Unluckily, Adelpha emerged from the wrong exit! Standing at the cliff edge with nowhere to go, Adelpha sees the alpha male regaining his footing. She runs for her life by darting back into the cave. She moves down a side corridor away from the beast.
     Unaware of her whereabouts, Adelpha runs directly into the heart of the cavern. The glow of the footprints disappear no longer lighting the way. When she turns the corner, total darkness blankets her.
     Scared, she brings the torch close to her face. At the most opportune time, a new gift emerges. Unfortunately it catches her by surprise.

     Amazingly, her hand lights on fire!

     She screams! Hastily waving her hand back and forth trying to put out the fire, the flames roll off her fingers igniting the entire torch. With the torch lit, the fire no longer engulfs her hand. Reacting fearfully to what just happened, she drops the torch.
     Seeing the torch fall down in slow motion, it reveals that she stands on the precipice of a huge cliff. The torch tumbles along the side of the indoor cliff, echoing with each strike on the wall. At the end, the torch strikes a pool of water extinguishing itself.
     Darkness fills the room.
     Overcome with fear, she screams again. Unbeknownst to Adelpha, the monsters have absurdly good night vision. Oblivious where her next step will lead her, she stands still. The beasts below begin to make their way up to her.
     The beasts charge. She can hear their breath coming closer and closer.
     Without knowing where to go next, she decides to flee using faith as her guide. She moves down into the pit. Another beast moves upon her position. His sloppy approach causes him to leap too high and slam head first into the stone face. The uber-wolf falls to the ground unconscious from the blow to the head.
     Out of nowhere, Adelpha regains the tracks. She sees another path which may lead to an escape route. Promptly following the path, she runs through the cave. Leaving a strong scent of fear behind, many wolves pick it up. Frenzied by their prey’s smell, their mouths drip blood from their ferocious fangs.
     The Princess moves through the network of caves. Along windy paths littered with jagged stones and the bones of the wolves’ victims, Adelpha senses more wolves gaining ground. Approaching the surface, she can hear them. They sound like they are right behind her.
     Gathering the courage to look back, she sees them appearing right on her heels! More appear and with every revelation, the anxiety and horror overcomes her will to run. With no place to hide, her thoughts begin to deceive her.
     Some even say to lie down and put an end to it all. “End it quickly. Your suffering doesn’t need to continue.” She tries to shake off the fears.
     Even outside, the general can hear her screams. He remarks, “At this pace, she will grab the attention of every wolf that has ever set foot in those caves!”
     Soon Adelpha’s memory fails her. She runs face first into a dead end. A wrong turn led her to this predicament. By now, nearly all of the nearby wolves have picked up her trail. Following her tracks, a large group comes upon her, surrounding her…completely. All paths have been cut off.
     All the hairs on her body stand tall as more and more wild beasts appear. Turning their eyes blood red, they brace for the final attack.
     Crouching in trepidation, Adelpha’s heartbeats pound through her chest. The sound of her blooding coursing through her veins drives the animals over the edge.

     They launch their attack!

     During the commotion, Christ has not stopped watching her. He announces to the world, “Fear not my beloved sister! I am with you today and always!” He leans forward. He blows a mighty wind towards her. A gigantic force emerges within her spirit.
     Unlike before, both her hands get warm, very warm. They start to convulse. She clenches her fists trying to stop the movement. After closing them, her hands start to burn up.
     Immediately her hands explode open exposing her palms. Two brilliant flashes of light ignite on top her palms. She doesn’t know what to do.
     Suddenly two fireballs appear in her hands. Upon seeing this, the wolves halt their advance.
     The flames burn red. Soon they adapt and turn orange. Just as quickly, they turn yellow. The two fireballs continue to morph and grow larger and larger as the Spirit of the Living God fills her body and soul. She lets out another scream as the flames ignite into Apocalyptic FIRE!
     Their white brilliance explodes blinding the beasts. Adelpha seizes the opportunity. Using the light from the FIRE! she makes her way up the correct path. When she sees the light of day, she shakes her hands. The flames retreat enabling her to mount her horse.
     The horse jumps up and roars like a great stallion. They two make their way down the hillside. Shortly after they started their descent, the first beasts emerge.
     Seeing their prey fleeing, their chase instinct kicks in and they pursue Adelpha with great purpose.
     Marelda and the general see her emerge. Marelda yells out to the surrounding wilderness summoning the great lions of old. Still thriving in the forest, but hidden from man’s eyes, lay multiple prides of European lions. Nestled away in the hills of central Europe, they resurface again.
     The forest’s undergrowth parts exposing the first few lionesses. They emerge with the sun’s light radiantly reflecting against their razor sharp claws. Their dark golden coats, almost brown in color, dance delicately in the wind.
     The remaining alpha females enter the fray. Behind them, the colossal males softly walk along the grasses. Like silent assassins they make no noise.
     The great battle maiden Marelda yells, “Charge!” Hearing their commander’s call, they spring into action.
     From above, Adelpha has moved rapidly down the hill.
     Almost at the valley floor, she knows behind her hundreds of wolves have awakened and give chase. From the east, Marelda and the general leave the protection of the forest.
     A contingent of lions heads straight for Adelpha. They have come out of the hills to the south and charge northward.
     Marelda screams to Adelpha, “Keep going south! The lions will take the fight to the wolves head on!” Adelpha gathers the strength to continue.
     She reaches the valley floor. The feral wolves have made up all the ground and begin to swipe at the horse’s tail with their front paws.
     The general seeing this says, “We need more time!”
     Marelda and Cayden look at the lions. They have made it to the valley floor. Now they need to cross the entire basin.
     Adelpha knows that they won’t make it on time. She pulls back on the reigns coming to an immediate stop. All the nearby wolves that have taken various angles to cut off her retreat charge right past her. They tumble and fall to the ground trying to stop their advances.
     During the commotion, Marelda and the general smash the eastern flank. At the same time the lions pounce on the wolves in the plains. The legendary roars of lions and wolves resonates throughout the mountains. While the lions are formidable, the wolves are easily their equal.
     Marelda extracts her two brilliant swords. They shine in the daylight like beams of lightning. She rides straight across the hillside taking out wolf after wolf. Cayden follows her every move. Using his mighty spear and the momentum of his horse, he pierces the heart of the beasts. The two begin to clean out the pestilence.
     The wolves turn their attention away from Adelpha to the more serious lion threat. She makes her getaway. Galloping towards Marelda, she carefully navigates the colossal battlefield.
     Marelda charges upward, directly into the line of fire. Cayden continues on his trajectory killing wolf after wolf.
     Adelpha escapes the main battle. She summits the nearby hill to watch the fight unfold. She notices the large male that she first encountered in the cave didn’t emerge onto the battlefield. Because of this development, the wolves are uncoordinated. Soon the battle turns in the favor of Marelda and her troops.
     Although the numbers are similar on both sides, Marelda’s ability to slay beasts with one blow turns the tide. The lions claw their way into gaining the upper hand.
     Just as victory seems upon them, another huge wave of wolves appear from within the caves. Even more come charging over the hill tops. The Alpha Wolf has summoned more of his brethren to the battle.
     The sounds of the new beasts startle Adelpha’s horse. He leaps into the air. She tries to hold on. The force bucks Adelpha off her saddle. She tumbles away from the fight down the backside of the hill. She rolls down the rock face coming up to a nearby precipice. Seeing the ground disappear, she grabs a hold of a nearby tree root.
     Dangling from the crest of the cliff, she tries to gain a foothold. If she finds a place for one foot, she can climb back up.
     She struggles kicking free a few rocks. They tumble to the ground below. She stops to listen.
     No sound.
     Finally they hit the ground making a faint noise. She surmises the fall to be over a thousand feet.
     When the rocks crash into the ground, the nearby caves carry the sound through the tunnels and awaken an even greater beast. Gathering himself, the beast follows the echoes to their source. He emerges from the haven.
     Significantly larger, the gray haired wolf springs out of his cave. His claws penetrate the earth, the rocks effortlessly. His leg muscles have torn and scarred parts of his skin from being so large. His oversized jaw drips blood from the thousand lives lost.
     He looks around with his eyes, black as the night sky. Seeing the dirt falling from above, he looks up, seeing Adelpha hanging on for her life.
     The sheer cliff walls are smooth making it impossible for him to climb them. It doesn’t stop him from trying. For Adelpha’s sake he fails.
     Although petite, her size begins to weigh heavily on her grip. The vertical walls prevent her feet from locking into a fixed position. She tries to pull herself up. Every attempt fails, making her weaker and weaker.
     Her hands start to slip. When the wolf sees this, he lets off a spine chilling growl. Adelpha turns around. Seeing nothing, she looks down. Her heart stops. She sees the monster wolf waiting for her to fall!
     She begins to cry. She knows that she can’t pull herself up. With her grip failing, it will only be a matter of time before she falls.
     Adelpha wails louder and louder, exciting the beast below. She begins to kick at the cliff wall, frantically trying to climb up. Calling for Marelda, she loses her grip!
     She tumbles downward. In the middle of the cliff, various rocks jettison outward from the sheer sides. Falling on them, her body smacks cruelly against the side wall. Unable to grab a hold of any of the rocks, she falls all the way to the floor. After a thousand feet, she crashes right next to the creature.
     Amazingly the Princess survives the fall. Barely conscious and in no position to fight, the giant male walks over to her. His hot breath heartlessly warms her bloodied face. She can smell the scent of death on him.
     He begins to relish in the moment. He lops up her blood with his coarse tongue. After cleaning her face, he uses his snout to pick her up. When she sits up, he growls at her. He ferociously bites down on her left shoulder and chest.
     Striking multiple arteries in her neck and chest, her blood rushes into his mouth. Unable to contain himself, he starts to drink it like a hungry predator. He bites down deeper hoping to strike her heart.
     She struggles against the beast. She regains herself enough to look up and sees herself rising from the ground. The beast shakes her body from side to side. When she loses feeling in her left arm, she realizes he wants to eat her alive. Her body grows cold even though the sunny summer day should be warming her.
     The beast continues to raise her, knowing her warm blood will flow easier down his throat if he elevates her.
     After a minute, her blood flow begins to wane. He clamps down on her chest harder trying to strike more red gold. His ancient teeth dig deeper into her flesh. The taste of her body intoxicates the beast.
     With her right hand, she tries to pry open the wolf’s mouth. His jaws are far too strong for her. Clamping down, the bite collapses her left lung. She lets off a faint cry. The noise emboldens the monster even more. Engorged by the thrill of the kill, his next bite begins to crush her bones.
     First her shoulder pops, then her collarbone, followed by her ribs. The beast can taste her bone marrow oozing from her chest. His tongue plunges through her torn skin. He tries to scrape her muscles right from her shattered bones.
     When he does this, bolts of great pain shoot through the rest of her body. Most of her left side goes completely numb. She stares right into the beast’s blackened eyes. In the reflection, she sees a sharp rock coming out of the cliff face.
     She struggles. Reaching for the shard, she grabs it. Holding on for dear life, Adelpha tries to break it off. Sensing some life left in his prey, the excited wolf shakes her. In the same motion, his teeth bear down further. They meet in the center of her chest.
     Adelpha feels her left chest and arm being torn away. Defeated, Adelpha’s head drops to her right side. Dazed from the attack, she notices through her dizzied vision that the rock has broken off in her hand. With all her strength, she swings her arm up. Aiming for the beast’s eye, she plunges the rock blade into his skull. The blade stops just short of his brain, almost killing the beast with a single blow!
     Infuriated, the beast lashes out, tossing Adelpha at the cliff wall. She smashes deep into the wall, crushing the rock behind her back. She slides to the ground with her left chest still attached.
     The beast thrashes about. He screams with great fury and pain. He tries to paw the rock out of his eye. Every stroke only causes him more pain.
     Seeing an opportunity for her salvation and even though she has only one lung left, Adelpha musters one last scream. Marelda turns her head around in the direction of Adelpha’s cry for help.

     Right in the middle of the Princess’ scream, it comes to a hauntingly abrupt end.