What if Sherlock Holmes were a peasant girl in a medieval fantasy setting
This was a story I wrote some time ago. A long while back it used to be a story you got for free when signing up for my newsletter but hasn’t been published anywhere else. Well, here it is now. I kind of like the character, and have considered writing a full YA novel using her. One day, maybe.
"I am Princess Angeline," said a young lady wearing a dress covered in mud, flourishing her words with a wave of her hands. Her dirty blonde hair was quite unruly and she didn't look very regal in her current state. "If I am not mistaken, no one here has met me before, so no one can confirm that I am Princess Angeline by looking at me. But I assure you that I am her."
The guard at the gate looked her over carefully and then stared at the tall woman with close-cropped dark hair standing behind the princess and wearing a much plainer and less muddy dress. "Uh... okay. What happened to you?" the guard asked.
"My carriage caught a wheel in some mud and toppled over, and I fell out, ruining the dress," the muddy princess explained. "Then I had to walk here, further damaging it. But I assure you, before all the mud and damage, it was a dress befitting someone of my station and would not have aroused suspicion."
The guard scratched his head. "Sorry about your dress, then. Where is the rest of your retinue?"
"Well, my maidservant, Myrle, and I are fast walkers, so the others fell behind. They'll be here soon. But they are coming, a group of people you would expect to accompany a princess." Princess Angeline snapped her fingers, and the tall woman behind her handed her a leather bag. She reached in and pulled out a piece of parchment. "Here is some documentation — bearing the proper official stamps — proving that I am who I say I am."
"I didn't doubt you, milady," said the guard.
"Oh... so I can go in?" She sounded a little surprised but quickly straightened herself and firmly announced, "Of course I can. I am Princess Angeline. Good work, guard, but keep your eyes open." She smiled. "I suspect there's trouble afoot."
* * * *
Glenda sat in the ballroom, watching the nobles glide about in their fancy clothes. It was a bit thrilling; she had never been anywhere this grand or around anyone this important. Of course, she felt a bit out of place in her ruined dress, but a ruined fancy dress was all she had. And, after all, it had been good enough to get her through the door while impersonating a princess.
"I'm bored," Myrle grumbled. "When do we get started?"
"Patience," Glenda said. "Now is the time to watch and observe. We wait for the moment to act to come to us."
Myrle played with her dress. "You'd better be right about this. I was only able to fit a short sword under this thing, which hardly seems sufficient to fight one's way out of a castle. If things go wrong, you're on your own."
"And if things go right," Glenda said, "won't you be glad you're with me?"
A regal-looking man and woman approached Glenda. She recognized them as King Ervin and Queen Margaret. "Princess Angeline."
Glenda stood up. "Yes, sire, that is I. It is so lovely to finally meet you, my aunt and uncle, for what I'm assured is the first time."
"Indeed," said the queen. "Princess Lynette will be so happy to hear you were able to make it for her birthday celebration. I'm sorry about your dress."
"'Tis a minor thing," Glenda said. "What's important is that I am here."
The queen stared at her for a moment. "And it is good to finally meet you. You're twelve, correct? You look nearly a woman grown."
Glenda nodded. "It's the mud. It adds a few years."
"There's a family matter we need to discuss before the festivities," the king said, "but we can give you some time to change first."
"Thank you, but my other clothes have been misplaced," Glenda said. "But please don't delay things on my account. May I bring my maidservant, Myrle?"
The king and queen glanced warily at the tall woman standing next to Glenda. "I suppose," the king said.
Glenda smiled. All right then! Let's get to this!
* * * *
Glenda sat at a table in one of the castle's smaller banquet rooms with Myrle standing behind her. Also at the table, along with the king and queen, was their daughter Princess Lynette, who was quite a beautiful young woman; the elderly Duke of Halverson, the king's uncle; and the king's nephew, Prince Reginald, a passably handsome young man. Glenda could hardly believe she was sitting with such royalty. Of course, it was only a minor kingdom, but it was still pretty neat.
"So who is the mud-spattered, grinning idiot?" Princess Lynette asked, gazing disdainfully at Glenda.
"That's your cousin, Princess Angeline," the king told her. "She had an accident on the way here. Anyway, I wish to discuss the matter of my brother. I know it's a rather dire subject, but I think it best to do this now, with all of his relatives gathered. As you know, he was murdered a few days ago. The identity of the perpetrator is unknown, but I have already announced a reward for whoever delivers us the murderer."
"One hundred gold coins," Glenda said, tapping her fingertips together.
"Yes," Reginald uttered, anger in his eyes, "and I hope the sum will lead to the capture of my father's murderer quite soon so the fiend can face justice."
"I hope we get answers," the king said. "The circumstances of his death were quite odd."
"For instance, most of his blood was drained," Glenda added.
"Like a vampire attacked him?" asked Princess Lynette.
"Oh no, not a vampire," Glenda said, trying to stifle her smile as she explained. "Nothing so simple. From the reports I heard, no incisions were found on his body, not even bite marks. It's as if the blood were drained from him through a magical force."
The duke raised an eyebrow. "You seem to know a lot about this for someone who has just traveled from a distant kingdom."
Glenda nodded and stood up. "I'm afraid I'm using a bit of subterfuge. I am not Princess Angeline."
"Wait a second!" Princess Lynette exclaimed. "I recognize that dress. I had it thrown out the other day because I spilled wine on it!"
"Where is Princess Angeline, and who are you, young lady?" the queen demanded.
"The princess is fine," Glenda said. "With the help of my assistant here, Myrle, I diverted her carriage. We used a drug on the horses, which panicked them and sent them racing away in the wrong direction. The horses were a bit more panicked, and faster, than I thought they would be, but I'm sure she's fine." Glenda thought about it for a moment. "They ran off toward Grandshire. That's not where there have been orc sightings lately, is it? Well, don't worry; she's probably fine. In any case, I assure you she's in much less danger than you all are."
"Are you threatening us, girl?" the king growled.
Glenda frantically waved her hands in the air. "Oh! No no no! That came out all wrong. What I meant to say is that you were already in grave danger, but I have come to rescue you."
"Rescue us from what?" asked the king.
"From what killed your brother," Glenda said, "because now, I assure you, it is after you all as well."
"You still haven't said who you are," the duke said sternly.
Glenda smiled. "I will tell you. I am—" She jumped up onto the banquet table and spread her arms wide. "GLENDA DRAGONFIRE! ADVENTURER AND CONQUEROR OF EVIL!"
The group stared up at the girl in the mud-splattered dress standing on the table, while Myrle put her head in her hands.
"I've never heard of the Dragonfires," the king said.
"Well, I made the name up myself," Glenda explained. "I wanted it to be memorable. 'Glenda from Lunket' doesn't have quite the same ring to it."
"You're from Lunket?" the queen said. "You're just some commoner girl who snuck in here?"
Glenda laughed. "There is nothing common about me, I assure you. If anything, I'm an extraordinary-er. For I am a genius tactician and strategist, well-versed in myriad subjects, from history to the arcane. And I'm an...." She hesitated a moment, then continued, "...an adequate swordswoman, but I'm working on that. I'm also an unlicensed sorceress." She flicked her hands, but nothing happened. She flicked them again, and once again there was nothing. The third time, however, a small flame appeared for a brief moment. "Ha! If the Magic League hears I did that without being registered, they'll write me a stern letter." Glenda put her hands on her hips. "Which I will be able to read, because I'm literate. I'm also an amateur alchemist. I haven't turned lead into gold yet, but I've turned it into other things. Well, an explosion, which isn't anything like gold but is still pretty neat in its own way."
"And is the tall woman with you similarly... accomplished?" the duke asked.
"Oh, that's Myrle, my assistant," Glenda said. "I decided it was a good idea to have someone around to provide muscle when needed, but when I traveled with a man, people would assume things, none of them true." Glenda frowned. "No matter what Gareth said. Anyway, Myrle is from an all-female warrior tribe and can wield a sword when needed."
"She's an Amazon?" the queen gasped.
"No, a Zaleen," Myrle said. "We're a completely different tribe than the Amazons."
"How many tribes of warrior women are there?" asked Prince Reginald.
"One!" Myrle asserted. "Well, one good one. And then there are a bunch of posers who might as well prance around in frilly dresses looking for husbands. Which reminds me." She grabbed at her skirt. "Can I get out of this dress? I feel like an idiot."
"No, keep your clothes on," Glenda answered.
"I don't mind if she undresses," the duke said.
"Why exactly are we supposed to care about any of this nonsense?" asked the exasperated princess.
Glenda, still standing atop the table, straightened her spine. "Because I, Glenda Dragonfire, am the only thing between all of you and what is plotting to kill you: an evil undead lick."
Everyone looked confused. "What's a lick?" asked the king.
"A very powerful creature of great evil," Glenda explained. "An undead fiend that has been feeding on your family for centuries."
"Do you mean a 'lich'?" asked Prince Reginald.
"Undead sorcerer, spelled L-I-C-H, right? It's pronounced litch," the prince explained.
"I told you," Myrle grumbled.
Glenda shrugged. "Yes. Lich. That's what I meant. Anyway, I'm well-versed in... liches. I've even read a whole book on them and should be quite capable of handling this threat."
"But you didn't even know how to pronounce it," the king said.
"Well, the book didn't mention how to pronounce it," Glenda explained. "But I assure you that the key to defeating an evil creature that has lived for hundreds of years won't be saying its name correctly."
"Father," Princess Lynette said to the king, "are you going to go ahead and throw her and her Amazon into the dungeon now, or has the Ramsey madness overtaken you?"
"I already explained, I'm not an Amazon!" Myrle insisted.
Glenda climbed down from the table while Myrle tensed and readied herself for action. "No no no no!" Glenda cried out to the king. "You don't want to do that! I assure you, by the end of this day, you'll be saying, 'Oh boy, we're sure glad Glenda was here. Glenda saved us all. Here's the hundred-gold-coin reward for her plus extra for being so great.'"
"Dear girl, you have snuck in here," the queen said through gritted teeth, "lying to us and impersonating a princess. And we're not even sure what's happened to Angeline."
"She's probably fine," Glenda repeated.
"And exposing us to some crazed warrior woman," the queen continued.
"What exactly am I doing right now that looks crazed?" Myrle demanded to know.
The queen ignored her. "And all that you have offered us," she continued, "is some nonsense about a lich."
"She must have heard stories about the Hansbridge Lich," the duke said, "and got over-excited. She seems like the over-excitable type."
"It's not just stories," Glenda insisted. "I'm certain of that. And certain that he is getting ready to kill you all. And it's really clever how I put it all together. You'll be very impressed."
"She does seem resourceful for a peasant girl," mused the king. "I suppose we can give her a minute to make her case before we lock her away."
"Thank you, sire," Glenda said. "You're very wise — that's why you're king." She paused for a moment to think and muttered to herself, "Actually, I guess it doesn't have anything to do with that, it's just about the circumstances of your birth unrelated to any relevant skills." Glenda then said more loudly, "But I'm getting off-topic. We were talking about a lich."
Princess Lynette sighed. "This is not how I wanted my birthday to go."
"The reason I know we're dealing with a lich," Glenda continued, "is the madness known to affect the royalty of Hansbridge, which the princess referred to earlier — the change in personality that people notice in the kings in their later years."
"But my husband and the duke have had no such problem," the queen remarked.
Glenda smiled. "Exactly. That's how I know you all are now in danger. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, we need to note—"
A guard burst into the room.
"You said I had a few minutes!" Glenda yelled as Myrle began pulling up the hem of her dress to reach for her sword. "I wasn't done!"
The guard paid her no attention and addressed the king. "Sorcerer Griswold is dead. We found him slain in his study."
Glenda squealed and clapped her hands. "This proves it, doesn't it? The lich is about to make his move, so the first thing he does is take out anyone who would have any power to stop him!"
The king looked at Glenda with annoyance. "Our castle's wizard, who has been with us for ages, was just murdered. Could you not be so gleeful?"
"Oh, sorry," Glenda said, calming down. "But now I have your attention." She turned to the guard. "How was the wizard killed?"
The guard looked quizzically at the girl in the muddy dress. "It appears that his throat was slit."
Glenda raised an eyebrow, then smiled. "Yes. Exactly. That's exactly how I would have expected him to be killed. I am not surprised by that."
"Might I mention that the number-one suspect should be this crazy girl who broke into our palace," Prince Reginald said, pointing at Glenda.
"She broke in here?" the now-confused guard asked.
"No, no, I couldn't have done it," Glenda said. "A guard saw me come in through the front entrance not that long ago. It would be impossible for me to be the murderer." Glenda thought for a second. "Unless... unless I first had snuck into the—"
"Are you arguing how you could be the murderer?" Myrle interrupted.
Glenda snapped herself out of her thought process. "Yes, sorry, I got a bit distracted. It was an interesting problem to try to solve, but not relevant here. It was definitely the lich that had the wizard killed. Definitely. Probably definitely."
Princess Lynette sighed. "Can someone lock her up before she commits another murder or talks more?"
"Maybe it is best that we send her and her companion away while we get this sorted out," agreed the king.
"But I didn't even get to how I know the lich is resorting to desperate measures!" Glenda pleaded. "It involves things like how the duke is sterile as a mule."
The duke went red. "Excuse me?"
"I think I have more evidence for you all," Myrle said, and pointed out a window.
Outside a reddish, swirling mist completely surrounded the castle.
"What dark magic is this?" the king demanded.
"It's a lich's dark magic!" Glenda exclaimed, almost giddy with excitement. "This proves it! He's trapping us in here so we can't escape his dark rite!" She turned to Myrle and whispered, "I have to admit, for a second there I was beginning to worry."
Myrle frowned. "Before we started this, you said you were a hundred percent certain."
"Well, sometimes I get a little overexcited and arrive at one hundred percent certainty a bit prematurely," Glenda admitted. "But not this time! It's definitely a lich! I'm so going to take on a lich!" She turned to everyone else. "So let me explain how I knew it was a lich and that he was going to strike tonight. First off—"
The king interrupted her. "We believe you about the lich now, girl."
"But I really need to tell you how I figured this out," Glenda said. "It's very clever."
"We're moving on to how to defeat the lich, Glenda," Myrle reminded her.
"Fine. Give me my satchel. I must prepare." Glenda took the leather bag from Myrle, then looked at the others. "First, we have to find him, and I know he's a master shape-shifter, so he could be anyone." She thought for a moment. "But he doesn't have to take the form of a person. Could take the form of an object, like a chair." She nodded. "Anyway, don't trust anyone. Or sit on anything."
"You've handled situations like this before, girl?" the duke asked.
Glenda nodded. "Oh yes. I've been in many dangerous situations and came out ahead. Like when I sort of scared off the bandits that were plaguing Bingleton. And took on the pirates of Torbid Bay, very nearly sinking their ship. And there was that giant troll I defeated. Well, I guess it was the sun that defeated him, but I was partially responsible."
"Partially responsible for the sun?" the queen asked exasperatedly.
"Okay, I haven't really had a challenge yet that was up to my skill level," Glenda admitted. "But this lich about to kill you all is exactly the sort of problem for me to solve, for I am...." She jumped up on the table again. "GLENDA DRAGONFIRE!"
Myrle groaned under her breath. "Do you really have to do that every time you say your name?"
Glenda climbed back down. "I can only make a name for myself if people remember me."
"What is that?!" shouted the prince suddenly. They all turned to see that a white figure was floating in the air near the corner of the room. It was only vaguely human-looking and stared at them with empty eyes. Two more just like it appeared, passing through the walls as if they weren't there.
Glenda marveled at them. "Ooh. Specters. That's something new."
One of the white figures dived at the guard, who fell on his back screaming as he uselessly swung his sword.
"Goddess protect us!" Myrle yelled and drew her sword.
"Don't make them angry with your weird religion!" Glenda warned.
Myrle ignored her, and this time it was she who jumped onto the table, swinging her sword at one of the specters. The blade passed through it, without it even seeming to notice.
"Swords are useless against them!" cried Prince Reginald, who had backed up into the corner with the king, queen, princess, and duke.
Glenda rolled her eyes. "Well, obviously. Who ever heard of cutting a ghost?"
Myrle backed away and jumped down from the table to join the group. "I need to get this stupid dress off!"
"A change of clothes isn't going to enable you to stab a ghost," Glenda remarked drily.
The princess ran out the door of the banquet room. "Why'd this have to happen on my birthday?" she cried.
"Wait!" shouted the king as he went after her. The rest of the group followed.
"We can't just go running off!" Glenda called out as she ran down the hall after them. "I'm working on a plan to draw out the lick!"
"Lich!" Myrle corrected, bringing up the rear.
More specters flew through the hallway and all around them as the nobles ducked and screamed. The panicked princess ran into another room at the end of the hallway and everyone followed. It was the castle's vast library, and there appeared to be no other exit. But now the hallway was swarming with the specters, and as soon as Myrle was in the room, she slammed the doors shut.
"That's not going to hold them, you know," Glenda said, "because they're ghosts."
"Is the lich controlling these ghosts?" the king asked.
"Well, being an undead sorcerer," Glenda said, "he can most likely—"
"A passageway!" the princess exclaimed, pointing to a bookcase that had been slid to the side, revealing a spiral staircase leading down.
"Everyone is always interrupting me while I'm explaining things!" Glenda fumed.
"It could be a way out," the duke said excitedly. "There are numerous secret passageways in this castle. I don't think anyone knows them all."
"Let's go," the king said as he began to lead the way down.
"We can't just keep running around," Glenda called out to them. "We need to find the lich and...." They all ignored her and continued down the passageway. She turned to Myrle. "No one is listening to me!"
"Maybe you should tell them your made-up name again," Myrle suggested with a sigh as she followed after the others.
Glenda ran after them down the spiral staircase. Though no torches were lit, the passageway glowed with a strange, eerie blue light. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she found the others standing in a dungeon-like area with walls of smooth stone and the same blue light seeping in between the bricks.
Glenda ran to the front of the group to catch up with the king. "Something is not right here, and I don't think I even need to list the obvious reasons why."
The king looked around. "I would say so. I do not know what this place is."
"I found a way out!" shouted Princess Lynette excitedly, pointing to a doorway in the corner. "Come on!"
The princess ran through the doorway, and the others followed close behind.
"We don't want out, though," Glenda tried to convince the king as she kept pace with him. "We need to use this opportunity to stop the lich!" He ignored her and strode ahead.
When they emerged on the other side of the doorway after the princess, what they saw didn't look like a way out at all. Instead, it was a large, round room with what appeared to be an altar at the center and something draped in cloth at the far end, which seemed to be the source of the eerie blue glow that permeated the room. They had all run in except for Myrle when a stone door slammed shut in the doorway behind them.