Barely had Lisa got control of her mount when Rika screamed. Up ahead, the giant limped towards her, its foul face contorted with an ugly scowl. The beast was huge – even on horseback her eyes were level with its knees – and it was naked. Lisa could finally see it clearly – could see her clearly – could see the great bloody scars on her left leg where the knight’s silver sword had struck.
Lisa understood. She could see where to attack to bring the giant to its knees so she could finish her off and rid the world of the vile thing. The sword sung in her hand, exultant in its lust for blood and victory.
But Rika’s scream lingered in her thoughts, and she faltered, reining in her too-eager steed and turning him aside. The giant was injured, and her approach was slow. And Rika had screamed.
The white stallion resisted her attempt to turn him about. “If you don’t do as I say,” she growled at him, “l’ll walk back and leave you here.” She hadn’t expected the horse to react to that, but it yielded at last, and soon they were racing back through the trees.
Rika lay on the ground motionless. Alive or dead, Lisa could not tell. The silver knight stood next to her, his visor down again. Lisa was struck by how immaculate his armour was. The silver was untarnished, and free of any scratch or dent, despite the battering the knight had received from the giant.
“My horse,” he said, “and my sword. I will finish the beast since you lack the courage.”
“What happened to my friend?”
“She healed me, and I am grateful. My horse and sword, please. The beast approaches.” The giant roared her defiance in the distance, and the stallion reared up on its hind legs. Lisa was thrown from its back – but she had been thrown or fallen or jumped from horses often enough that she knew how to roll and absorb the inevitable impact with the ground.
Somehow she even maintained a grip on the sword, which was fortunate because the knight strode towards her, clearly intent on taking it. Reflexively she struck out, pushing the reaching arm away with the sharp of her blade. Sparks flew and the knight flinched away, out of reach, examining his arm.
The silver armour was burned and scarred where the silver sword had cut into it. Lisa checked the blade, but could see no dulling or other damage. It was an impressive weapon, well balanced and superbly crafted, and was as deadly against the knight’s armour as it had been against the giant’s flesh.
The knight lifted his arm so that a shaft of sunlight blazed against the wounded metal, healing it until the silver gleamed with its earlier perfection. “Your friend’s spell was more powerful than I think she realised,” he said. “This is no ordinary silver. It was quenched in the blood of a virgin maid. Yield, sir, and I will spare your life.”
Lisa kept the blade pointed unwaveringly at the knight’s heart. “Who are you?” she demanded. “I doubt it is the giant who started this fight.”
“I am Prince Ikkarian, heir to the throne of Delward that lies to the north between forest and sea. I know your king, Islander. Yield now, and I will speak well of you.”
Lisa nodded. “I know of Delward. We may welcome you now, but in the old tales your kingdom is known for its lies and sorcery.”
Something moved in the shadows behind her, and Lisa swivelled, sword at the ready, sure that the giant had somehow, impossibly, crept up on her. But it was only the horse.
Although not exactly the horse, for it had grown leathery wings that had opened wide and blocked the light, and its tail coiled behind it like a fearsome serpent of legend. Even its head was transforming, from equine nobility to reptilian brutality. It bared razor sharp teeth at her as it closed in, breathing hot sulfur and death.
Lisa did the only thing she could think to do. She stepped closer to the dragon and, as it opened its mouth to no doubt engulf her in flames, rammed her sword deep into its throat.
With a scream of agony it recoiled in shock, wrenching her sideways and tearing the sword from her grip, even as a silver-clad fist struck a glancing blow against her cheek. She stumbled away from him, and retreated, keeping half an eye on the screaming, lurching monster that had once been a horse, or perhaps had never really been a horse.
“Cower like a woman, and I will kill you like a woman,” the knight snarled as he pursued her. “Fight like a man, and I will let you die like a man.”
Lisa made no reply, but retreated backwards from him until she had circled back to the wheezing, whimpering dragon. She tore the sword from its mouth, the silver blade burning furiously red, and faced the knight. “I would rather live and fight as a woman,” she said, and as he charged at her screaming fury and hatred, she swung the bright, hot blade in a clean arc through silver and flesh.
She felt the giant’s arrival before she saw her. “I don’t want to fight you,” she said wearily, throwing the sword away. The handle’s heat was hurting her too much anyway.
The giant grumbled something, then turned away and lumbered off through the trees, to be swallowed up quickly by the darkness. The very tops of the trees were still lit by the sun, but little light now penetrated to the forest floor.
More by luck than skill, Lisa worked her way back to the tree where she and Rika had hid, and where she found now her pack with food and water and Rika’s mother’s book, but of Rika herself there was no sign.
“Rika!” she shouted to the dark forest. “Where are you?”
There was no reply.