Eventually, weeping, Mirella fell into a troubled sleep.† She dreamt that she was naked and being pursued through the dark fields by moonlight. And that all the hunting hordes of Duke Edgar were galloping after her. Bloodthirsty hounds, foaming horses and the deafening sound of hunting horns. The riders were all grim and faceless as she ran nude before them. All except one: Gregory, his handsome visage distorted in an evil grin, led the surge of riders in an attempt to trample her.
As Mirella lay there on the cold stone floor Shelley lay beside her. The nude serving girl would quiver from time to time and sigh in distress at her dream. Thinking that she was cold Shelley did her best to warm her friend, taking the servant in her arms and drawing her close.
The princess was unable to sleep, for she knew that the situation was now more grim even than before.
'Poor, foolish Mirella,' The Princess thought to herself, tears forming in her light blue eyes. 'If only you'd kept away. I can't protect you from your fate. I'm still to marry Edgar, but the king may execute you for trying to help me.' The thought of this filled Shelley with immense grief and sorrow. She counted Mirella among her closest and most dear friends, even though her role was one of servant.
Tears streaming down her cheeks she prayed again, with all her will, for a divine release from this indenture for herself and her friend.
The pleas of one tiny mortal were not enough to rouse the god's interest. As the great stars swirled slowly about the sky the forlorn girls entreaty fell upon deaf ears, involved as the gods were in their own affairs of far greater importance. And so her prayers arched out into the night, fuelled by a sorrow and concern so great that they simply had to be answered. But not, it seemed, by the gods.
In the many shadows of a land bathed in moonlight nestled some less savoury spirits. Not close in stature to the gods they were, nonetheless, keenly intelligent and magical all the same.
Shadow was their shroud, their body, their substance. And any who encountered them in their various forms gave them different names. Shade, spectre, ghost, revenant, demon... devil.
One such creature on this night was lurking in the shadows of an old lightening-blasted tree. The tree was slowly dieing and it was this gradual decay that drew the shade to it. Neither male nor female, and having no realized form, it merely lurked, waiting patiently for someone to give it purpose.
It was this creature that first heard the prayers of the princess. That first realized that a task had been placed before it. Even without a countenance it smiled, then rose from the shadows about the tree born on angular wings. A large raven flew towards the castle, trailing a black mist faintly behind it, the bird's eyes gleaming almost of their own green light.
Princess Shelly was first aware of something amiss when she heard a rustle of silky wings from the window. A shadow briefly passed over the moonlight but by the time Shelly had looked there was nothing, only the full moon staring balefully at her.
Shelly could not tell why but suddenly she was scared. 'Don't be silly.' she thought to herself, 'there's nothing there.'
Just to be sure though she slowly sat up and rose to her feet, after carefully untangling herself from Mirella so as not to wake her. Noiselessly she padded over to the window that was set at the height of her own face.
'There it was again,' she thought, startled. It sounded like the rustling of wings.
She was but a breath away from the barred window when a large black shape suddenly landed on the sill outside. Shelley jumped and yelped in fright as the raven alighted, folding its wings and regarding her evenly. It did not seem remotely bothered by her shout.
Mirella, however, was woken.
"My lady?" groggily she sat up, hugging her arms around her pendulous breasts for warmth.
"Worry not Mirella," the princess replied. "Tis just a blackbird. It startled me."
The two girls regarded the raven with wide eyes, for they knew it was not a good omen for them. The raven regarded them back with its own cold, green eyes.
"I am Araelle." The voice was clear, angelic almost. And neither male nor female, but strangely both. When it spoke it did not move its beak, and although Shelly heard it as though it had been whispered into her ear, Mirella seemed not to notice.
Shelly stood there stunned. Slowly she backed away from the new arrival.
"My lady? What's wrong?"
"It-It spoke to me..."
"My lady?" A concerned look crossed Mirella's face.
"You seek release from your captivity. I am here to give you a means with which to escape." The bird fixed both eyes on Shelley, ignoring her servant.
"Who are you?" Shelley spoke aloud.†††
At the appearance of her mistress talking to the winged creature Mirella made a frantic holy gesture with her hands and backed away from the window, huddled in fright.
"My Lady? What is it? Surely this is not the time for jest."
The raven ignored the serving girl, fixing its cold hard stare on the beautiful princess.
"I am Araelle." The black bird repeated, its crystal like voice resonating inside Shelley's mind. "And I will provide you with assistance if you accept my price."
Immediately Shelley felt herself grow more afraid. She wanted to ward the bird away but doubted it would take heed of such efforts. She realized the danger of bargaining with a beast of seemingly dark origin, yet in her heart she wanted escape from her prison and freedom for her friend more than anything else.
Keeping her eyes on the window Shelley addressed the serving girl, who was still sitting on the floor staring in amazement at them both.
"He says his name is Araelle." Shelley said, even though she could not discern the beasts true nature. "And that he is here to set us free." Concern crept into her mind. "Can you not hear him speak?"
"N-nay mistress I cannot. And it fears me so to hear you speak thus." Dark omens, voices she could not hear, Mirella again made a superstitious warding gesture with her hands.
Shelley, however, was a little more steadfast.
"Name your price." Although she realized that she had little to offer.
"One lock of your fair hair," was the reply. The princess was almost certain that the dark avian seemed to be smiling. Perhaps it was just the shadows cast by the moon. Shelley informed Mirella as to what the bird requested.
"No my lady! Do not do it! It is evil and... and... you should not be giving things like that. Not to him. It is dark magic I say!" Mirella rose and dashed to her mistress, taking her hand.
Shelley turned and looked into Mirella's eyes and saw love and concern underneath a veil of fear. She said nothing in reply, only drawing the girl to her and embracing her. The princess felt the shivering, nude form of her closest friend against her own body and smiled, looking into the serving girls dark brown eyes.
"I would see myself in a pit of fire before I would marry Edgar." She almost spat the name of the Duke out as if it were venom from her soft lips. In her heart the fair princess realized that she would also sacrifice every freedom and pleasure she had if it meant saving her friend Mirella from torment.
"No! Mistress! Please!"
Gently Shelley leaned into her companion and placed a soft, yet loving kiss on her cheek. Immediately the servantís worry abated.
"Trust me Mirella. I know it sounds strange but I think my prayers have been answered."
Wide eyed, Mirella watched as Shelley broke from their embrace and walked again to the window. She did not understand why, but her heart was pounding so loudly in her chest that she was sure her lady could hear it. The touch of Shelley's lips to her cheek had stunned, yet pleased her. Confused at these feelings that welled up within her the naked girl merely stood still, arms at her sides, just watching.
Without hesitation Shelley reached up and gently plucked a single shimmering hair from her head. It shone with an eerie silver light as she reached through the bars of the window and presented it to the raven, who calmly took it into his beak.
Immediately the hair seemed to take a life of its own. It grew and thickened, rapidly turning into lengthy, yet thin, silvered rope. The bird dropped it as it transformed, knotting itself around the bars of the window and slithering down the outer wall of the tower. Shelley stared in amazement. Mirella gasped.
"But..." Shelley said, realization dawning. "I cannot pass between the bars! That is of no use to us. You said you would free us!"
"No. I said I would provide you with assistance. I have. If you request further aid than it too will come with a price."
"How will you help us this time?"
"I will alter your stature so that you may pass through the bars. You will return to your true form after a brief time. This too will come with a price."
Conflict raged within the princess. She realized that she must be careful, for the raven had not deceived her by telling untruths. She had deceived herself for not closely heeding what it had said to her.
"How long will I be smaller?"
"By the time the sun rises again in this land you will be returned to your natural form."
Shelley thought on this.
"Agreed," she finally said, reaching again for a lock of her hair with which to pay.
"No." Said Araelle, its voice impassive. "I stated not the price."
Shelley froze. 'No,' she thought, 'what have I agreed to?'
Slowly, starting from the lowest hem, Shelley's elegant blue dress began to unravel. The thread began to snake away from her across the floor, climbing the wall and spiraling out into the night sky. As it did Mirella watched in awe as the slender, beautiful girl was denuded by this strange magic.
Her dress slowly disappearing, the normally modest princess blushed as her feet were uncovered, she was only wearing soft brown leather slippers... then slowly her calves, the soft white skin gleaming in the moonlight. Away flew the thread, slowly shortening her silken garment. With a rustling noise her knees were exposed, and then inch by inch her slender yet well formed thighs. Gasping in surprise and shock Shelley could only stare as her dress evaporated, now in two separate threads.
Red-faced the princess placed both hands in front of the delta of her thighs. She felt the soft slithering under her hands as the dress crept up, now exposing all of her legs and her sole undergarment, a pale white loin cloth that covered very little indeed.
Instinctively she cried out. "No! Make it stop!" The great black raven ignored her, its eyes seeming to bore into her very flesh.
The dress was now coming away in five threads. Lace and stitch and ribbon all untied themselves and started pouring away from the girl's nubile body. So very slowly was the shy princessí belly exposed as the dress shortened, trim and supple was she. Mirella could not help but stare, feeling concerned for her mistressí safety, yet compelled to do nothing but watch.
With one hand Shelley grasped at the flying thread, the other remaining between her thighs in a feeble attempt to protect her modesty. Shocked as she was, she also felt confused, for her gradual de-clothing seemed as the gentle touch of a lover. Shelley could only imagine such things as she was still innocent in the ways of love, yet despite her embarrassment she felt a strange warmth within her body that she could not explain.
As though it were a blue line trailing a field of soft white skin the dress continued to dissipate, approaching the young girlís breasts. Shelly gasped again, hunching over, her knees trembling and locked together. She stopped grabbing at the fleeing thread and placed her free arm over her breasts as they too were slowly uncovered. The cool night air kissed and caressed the sensitive skin of her chest. The princess gasped at the cruel, yet titillating sensation.
Her face a deep shade of red, and tears forming in her eyes, Shelley was confused to feel the points of her nipples budding out from the rounded swells of her breasts.
"Please... no... don't... stop..." Her voice trailed off as the line of her dress rose up and split to uncover her shoulders, slightly rounded and firm. Now the threads were many. They flew down her arms exposing limbs that belayed a princess' gentleness. Shelley was an active young woman and while her body was slender it was certainly not weak.
The last of the thread flew away out the window. Shelley whimpered, having never felt more vulnerable and naked in her entire life. She felt her shoes fall to pieces, the stitching unraveling, the leather gliding swiftly across the floor, up the wall and out the window as if guided by and spectral hand.
Trembling, embarrassed and frightened, the beautiful princess was to receive one last shock.
There was a violent tug between Shelley's legs as her loincloth was wrenched painfully into the soft folds of flesh between her thighs. Shelley gasped in pain and grabbed at it with the hand covering her womanhood but it was to no avail. Briefly it cut painfully into her rear and then, with a loud tearing noise, flew swiftly out the window and into the darkness. Quickly Shelley replaced her hand in front of her, but not before her smooth hairless mound was exposed, gleaming in the cold light like a pale silver treasure.
Again Mirella's heart pounded. She was looking at her mistress from behind, and despite herself, could not stop staring at the princess's backside as she stood there hunched over. 'This is wrong,' she thought to herself, 'I've seen her naked before. Why have I never seen how... how... beautiful she is?' Mirella blushed, embarrassed and startled at her own thoughts. She wanted to hold the princess in her arms and keep her covered and warm. And although she did not realize it, she felt the first stirrings of a forbidden longing that she could not explain.
Shelley stood there for a moment. Trembling. Nude. And splendid. For it was not without good reason that she was considered the most fair of the king's daughters. She was an active girl who enjoyed riding and walking about the realm and it showed in her form, wonderfully slender and yet firm and well rounded were a woman should be. Her pale skin and long silver-gold hair seemed to shine starkly in the moonlight from the window. She was very much the vision of desire and innocence that poets write of, that bards sing of.
Slowly she straightened up, yet kept her hands in place, refusing to wipe away her tears. Almost defiantly her eyes met those of the glistening black bird.
"I-I've paid your price." Shelley's courage was slowly returning to her. "What is to happen now?"
Araelle simply replied, "Close your eyes child." The voice of the raven was impassive as always.
Shelley did so. Cold, nude and apprehensive, she had many regrets about agreeing to Araelle's price. But she would do anything to secure release for herself and Mirella. Bravely she stood still and firm, ready for whatever the hellish crow had in store for her next.†