Title: Moxie’s Problem (Book #1)
Author: Hank Quense
Princess Moxie paced her room like a wild animal in a cage. She had been kidnapped six months ago and still she languished in Count Cenwig's castle because King Smedley, her cursed father, had ignored all ransom demands until winter closed the roads. Now the roads were open again and Smedley had ignored another demand for payment.
She wore a ragged kirtle that had once been blue, but washing had faded the color until it was almost white.
Moxie hadn't been this bored since she left the rock and oak siege of the island. Cenwig's castle had no books or scrolls to read. Cenwig was the only noble-born creature in the castle; everyone else was base-born and mostly uneducated. No one knew how to play draughts or chess. Within a week of her kidnapping, she had refused to dine any more in the great hall with Cenwig and his men. Everyone's manners were disgusting, as was the conversation. Moxie preferred to eat her meals in her room. The two women who saw to her needs and brought her food never opened their mouths in Moxie's presence, even to answer questions.
One of the women knocked on the door, entered, placed a bowl of food on the table and fled. Moxie looked at the bowl's contents and made a face. She tasted a spoonful and made another face. She picked up the bowl and marched down to the great hall where Cenwig could always be found.
She charged up to the table where Cenwig and the two guard captains sat drinking ale.
"What is this?" Moxie held out the bowl. "It tastes like burnt cereal?"
"That's what it is." Cenwig rearranged his legs so Moxie couldn't kick his shins.
"What happened to the chef? Is he sick?"
"I had to let him go," Cenwig replied. "Along with a squad of swordsmen, another squad of archers and ten servants. It's your father's fault, I'm afraid."
Moxie blinked in confusion. "Why is it my father's fault?"
"Because of your father's unreasonable position, I'm on the verge of bankruptcy. I needed your ransom money to cover my expenses. I don't know what I'll do if Smedley doesn't stop ignoring my ransom demands. Really, he is most unprofessional about this affair."
"You could let me go." Moxie saw a hint of freedom.
"Can't be done, you see." Cenwig shook his head. "I'd get drummed out of the Kidnappers Guild. Never be able to show my face again. No, I'm afraid you're here until someone pays your ransom. If your father won't, I'll have to look elsewhere."
Moxie threw the bowl at Cenwig's head, missed and stomped out of the hall.
Back in her room, she pondered Cenwig's threat to get someone else to pay the ransom. That would amount to selling her into slavery. She could even be sold to someone who was base-born. That was not to be endured. She would have to escape. It was her only hope now that the winter was over. That meant traveling through the forest on her own. To survive, she needed weapons. She also had to learn how to use whatever weapons she acquired.
After a few minutes of deep thought, she smiled; she had a plan. Now, she could keep herself busy preparing for her escape.
Moxie walked along a castle corridor near her room. Further on, a swordsman flirted with a young, pretty kitchen maid. The soldier glanced at Moxie and went back to trying to feel up the woman.
Moxie looked at the sword the man wore on his left hip and an idea sprang into her mind.
Moxie strolled past the pair. As she did so, she reached back and grasped the hilt of the sword. With a quick move, she yanked it out of the scabbard and fled toward her room. The soldier swore, pushed the maid away and chased after Moxie. She reached her room, barged through the door, slammed it shut and threw the bolts to lock it.
She leaned her back against the door, breathing deeply and grinning. The soldier banged on the door and Moxie could feel the blows reverberate on her back. She giggled. Finally, the soldier stopped cursing at her and left.
Moxie wiggled the sword around a bit. It was heavier than she had expected. Nevertheless, she had taken the first step in her escape plan; she had a weapon.
Moxie opened the door and peeked out of her room. It was dark with the only light a feeble one coming from a torch at a distant staircase. She padded down the corridor to the steps and leaned over listening intently. She heard nothing. All the soldiers must be sleeping.
Moxie went down the stone steps, placing each foot carefully to make sure she didn't step on a loose stone. If she slipped and made a noise, it could ruin her plan. She paused outside the doors to the great hall and pushed one open slowly. Inside, two candles burned and they were near their nubs. The only sounds came from the snoring and farting of the soldiers who slept in the hall after drinking a gallon or two of ale.
Moxie walked past three slumbering soldiers lying on the floor. She glanced around looking for loose weapons, but didn't see any. In the middle of the hall, a soldier sat on a bench, his head cradled in his arms while he snored away. Underneath the bench she could make out a crossbow and a quiver of bolts. Moxie couldn't believe her luck and she almost gasped aloud at the prize. She bent over and carefully picked up the crossbow, hoping it wasn't loaded and ready to fire. It wasn't. She almost dropped it because of the weight. She next picked up the quiver and silently made her way back to her room.
In the morning, Cenwig would be furious with her. He had already threatened to add the cost of the stolen weapons to her ransom demands.
Moxie spent a week building her stamina by running up flights of stairs and along corridors. Whenever she left the room, she instructed her maids to stay inside to guard her weapons and supplies. The two women locked the door and wouldn't open it for anyone except herself.
Moxie's plan to escape from Cenwig and survive in the forest had moved closer to reality and she felt excited at the prospect of the adventure. Besides weapons, she had accumulated food supplies and had a rough idea of the terrain around the castle. Now she had to gain some expertise in using the weapons.
Moxie thought of herself as a young wolf soon to leave the pack and venture out on her own to start a new pack with herself as the leader.
After drawing a target circle on the door with charcoal, Moxie picked up a crossbow and walked to the other end of the room, thirty feet away. She thought back to seeing her father's soldiers load a crossbow. Moxie took an iron bolt and placed in it the groove of the weapon then turned the crank to cock it. Or, tried to turn the crank. It didn't budge no matter how hard she tried. Moxie sat down on her bed, secured a death grip on the weapon with one hand and tried again. The crank turned, slowly. Moxie couldn't believe the tension in the bowstring and how hard it was to move it. Finally, the bowstring stretched all the way and the weapon was loaded. Moxie gingerly placed it on the bed and wiped her sweaty hands and brow. She paced the room a few times to get her labored breathing back to normal.
Moxie picked up the crossbow and stood facing the circle on the door. She placed the weapon by her shoulder and sighted on the target. Taking a deep breath, Moxie pulled the trigger and screamed at the reaction of the weapon which almost jumped out of her hands and knocked her on her backside. Moxie climbed to her feet and looked at the door, but didn't see the bolt. Puzzled, she searched the floor and walls. Moxie finally found it embedded in a ceiling beam.
She pulled a face and stamped a foot. Obviously, she needed more practice — a lot more practice — before her escape plan could be implemented.
Undeterred, Moxie picked up a sword. She wished it wasn't so heavy. She took a stance like the soldiers did on the practice field. She waved the sword point in a move approximately like the one her father's soldiers used. Despite her best effort, the point always drooped towards the floor. After a few minutes of working with the sword, Moxie was drenched in sweat. Pain rippled through her hand, wrist, arm and shoulder.
She threw the sword to the floor. Using a large sword was too difficult. What she needed was a large knife or dagger. Something pointy that she could use to defend herself.
She balled up her fist, winced at the pain and swore nothing would her deter her from escaping. To accomplish that she needed a replacement for the sword. Another snatch-and-run raid would fix that problem.
He and his wife, Pat, usually vacation in another galaxy or parallel universe. They also time travel occasionally when Hank is searching for new story ideas.
Visit Hank's websites: Website and Strange Worlds Online
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