Her Serene Highness the Princess Suzette of Grenfell stood straight and graceful, hands folded on the hilts of the sword set upright before her, white gown and golden hair shining in the sunlight and fluttering in the gentle breeze, watching her knight ride down to battle. She looked like a picture out of a geste de romans (1) but the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact she was muttering to herself:

"Damned old axe....Sword of the Kings....good enough for the Goose Prince...good enough for Ernst of Hammerfell...but no, Feodor le Dragula must have that dirty black old axe!"

"Actually that's the finest Dwarfian black steel," Krystina said, shading her eyes and squinting as the two armored figures exchanged bows below. "The rough finish is an artistic convention of the Iron Hills Dwarfs - Oh damn!" She dug in a pocket, producing a pair of thick lensed spectacles and put them on - just in time to see Feodor and the Black knight charge at each other. She promptly shut her eyes.

"Ooh, nice stroke!" Suzette's eyes were wide open and she watched with an almost professional interest. "Good block too, I guess he was right about the length...Oh no!"

"What?" Krystina opened one eye.

"First blood," Suzette answered grimly. "And it's Feodor's."

Krystina peered anxiously down at the two fighters with both eyes. Unlike Suzette she didn't have the training to appreciate what was going on. To her the two seemed to be simply hacking away at each other along with a certain amount of ducking, spinning and jumping.

"He is slow," Suzette said clinically. "But he's got the advantage in reach, damn it."

Krystina gasped in horror as Feodor slipped, rolling clear of a savage downward stab just in the nick of time. The Demon knight aimed another blow. Feodor, still on his back, swung the axe, the two black blades met and the sword's was sheered through.

"Okay," Suzette said grudgingly. "The damned axe has its points."

The black armored knight dropped the hilt and staggered back a few steps, Feodor rolled to his feet - and dark smoke leaked from the broken edges coiled around itself and thickened...

"It's not the knight who's the demon it's the sword!" Krystina cried and ran downhill, groping for her wand.

----

Feodor took a precautionary step or two backwards, eyes fixed on the smoke which was slowly shaping and solidifying into a naked woman. Her skin gleamed purple-black, and snaky locks of insubstantial hair coiled lazily around her head. Long lids lifted to show two points of red fire in the place of eyes.

"You have defeated my champion," she purred. Bending she picked up the two ends of the sword and mated the broken edges which united in a flash of red. The demoness extended the mended blade hilt first towards Feodor. "Take me."

He took another step backward instead. "I don't think so."

"Take me!" she insisted, gliding closer like she was on wheels.

Feodor hefted his axe uncertainly but his eyes were beginning glaze over. Then Krystina was between them.

The demoness recoiled hissing and the witch snapped her wand like a whip. The evil beauty threw back her head and screamed, a high eldritch sound, as her shapely form crackled and hardened into a column of black ice.

Feodor, recovering, stepped forward and swung his axe. The ice shattered into a million tiny fragments that instantly melted and evaporated under the clean warmth the morning sun. A second sharp crack turned Krystina and Feodor's heads just in time to see the black armor encasing the knight crumble to dust around him.

A skinny young man with pencil arms and xylophone ribs stood there, stark naked, blinking at them with watery blue eyes. His skin was white, as if it hadn't seen sun in ages, and his ragged head of prematurely gray hair came level with Feodor's chin. He stared at them blankly for a long moment, then toppled like a tree. Krystina went to bend over him as Suzette arrived at Feodor's side.

"Who's that?" she demanded, staring at the young man.

"Your demon knight - or rather the Demon's tool," Krystina replied, gently slapping the sunken cheeks.

"Will he live?" Feodor asked quietly.

Krystina shook her head grimly as the sickly youth remained limp and unresponsive. "It doesn't look good, she's all but drained him."

----

"Explain to me again why I'm giving aid and shelter to the demon who kidnapped my daughter and held my entire kingdom captive?" King Roi demanded holding out his mug for a refill. He was sitting in the big carved oak chair at the head of the long table dominating Grenfell Castle's great hall, with his daughter at his left hand and Feodor at his right.

"The knight wasn't a demon at all," Suzette explained patiently, pouring from the big pewter pitcher. "He was possessed by the real demon that was in his sword."

"The young man isn't responsible for anything that's happened, sir," Feodor added, and smiled. "Besides, Mistress Rose has decided to save him and I don't think it would be wise to get in her way."

The King nodded emphatically and took a gulp of his ale. "Don't worry, son, I know better than to cross a Rose Witch!" He frowned. "You think she'll take it amiss if we go on with the feast?"

Suzette looked at Feodor. "I think she'll understand."

He nodded his agreement. "I doubt she'll care what we do as long as we don't disturb her patient.

----

Krystina heard but ignored the sounds of music and laughter and once of breaking crockery floating down the long passages to the tower room she'd commandeered. The former Demon Knight was tucked under several eiderdown quilts and a fug rug, medicinal fumes rose from the big copper and iron braziers set on either side of the bed and a third fire roared in the hearth. The temperature was tropical, Krystina had stripped down to her shift, but the knight's lips were blue and from time to time he shivered.

There was a soft knock then the door opened and Suzette peered around it. "How is he."

Krystina shrugged. "I've done all I can, it's up to him now."

Suzette came all the way in. She was wearing a silver gown that shimmered like moonlight on still waters and a tall crown glittering with yellow topaz on her high piled hair. "What do you mean, 'up to him'?"

"He's the one who decides whether to live or die," Krystina explained. "The patient always does, Su."

The princess frowned. "I thought we died when our hour struck."

"Oh we do, but it's us what decides which hour it'll be." She sighed and looked at her patient. "I don't know how long this lad's been under the Demon's spell but there doesn't seem to be enough of him left to clamber back to life."

Suzette went closer to the bed for a better look at the pinched and bluish face. "Poor thing. He looks so young, Krys, yet the Demon Knight's been up there for centuries they say."

The witch shrugged. "He may not be the original host, maybe she's had others. Or maybe she had the power to arrest his aging. We'll never know unless he recovers and tells us."

"I hope he does, poor boy." Suzette reached out a warm white hand and brushed fair hair off the colorless brow. Blue veined eyelids fluttered and opened. The patient looked up, faded eyes widening at the sight of the golden vision leaning over him. "Krys!"

Krystina overturned her stool getting up and hurried to the bed. She was in time to see a hint of pink push the blueish tint from his lips as they parted in a sigh of wonder. A crystal drop fell from Suzette's blue eyes onto a pallid cheek which flushed with a sudden rush of warm blood.

"Look's like he's made up his mind to live," Krystina said a little dryly.

Suzette's face was illuminated by a brilliant smile. "Oh, I'm so glad!"

The patient rolled his eyes upward and fainted from pure ecstasy.

"Hmmmm...." said Krystina.

------

NOTES

1. This does not mean 'Jokes of the Romans' but 'Tales of Romance' in the chivalric sense