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Lilith George MacDonald

A Battle Royal

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I threw myself on the bed, and began to turn over in my mind the tale she had told me. She had forgotten herself, and, by a single incautious word, removed one perplexity as to the condition in which I found her in the forest! The leopardess BOUNDED over; the princess lay prostrate on the bank: the running stream had dissolved her self-enchantment! Her own account of the object of her journey revealed the danger of the Little Ones then imminent: I had saved the life of their one fearful enemy!

I had but reached this conclusion when I fell asleep. The lovely wine may not have been quite innocent.

When I opened my eyes, it was night. A lamp, suspended from the ceiling, cast a clear, although soft light through the chamber. A delicious languor infolded me. I seemed floating, far from land, upon the bosom of a twilight sea. Existence was in itself pleasure. I had no pain. Surely I was dying!

No pain!--ah, what a shoot of mortal pain was that! what a sickening sting! It went right through my heart! Again! That was sharpness itself!--and so sickening! I could not move my hand to lay it on my heart; something kept it down!

The pain was dying away, but my whole body seemed paralysed. Some evil thing was upon me!--something hateful! I would have struggled, but could not reach a struggle. My will agonised, but in vain, to assert itself. I desisted, and lay passive. Then I became aware of a soft hand on my face, pressing my head into the pillow, and of a heavy weight lying across me.

I began to breathe more freely; the weight was gone from my chest; I opened my eyes.

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The princess was standing above me on the bed, looking out into the room, with the air of one who dreamed. Her great eyes were clear and calm. Her mouth wore a look of satisfied passion; she wiped from it a streak of red.

She caught my gaze, bent down, and struck me on the eyes with the handkerchief in her hand: it was like drawing the edge of a knife across them, and for a moment or two I was blind.

I heard a dull heavy sound, as of a large soft-footed animal alighting from a little jump. I opened my eyes, and saw the great swing of a long tail as it disappeared through the half-open doorway. I sprang after it.

The creature had vanished quite. I shot down the stair, and into the hall of alabaster. The moon was high, and the place like the inside of a faint, sun-blanched moon. The princess was not there. I must find her: in her presence I might protect myself; out of it I could not! I was a tame animal for her to feed upon; a human fountain for a thirst demoniac! She showed me favour the more easily to use me! My waking eyes did not fear her, but they would close, and she would come! Not seeing her, I felt her everywhere, for she might be anywhere--might even now be waiting me in some secret cavern of sleep! Only with my eyes upon her could I feel safe from her!

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