His magnificent form started cracking the moment the sun raced its first rays across the bay, towards the beach. Weathered bark broke his velvety black skin. Living, breathing pores clotted into wooden knots. And the sound of snapping twigs reverberated throughout his body.
The animal fought the curse with vigour, striking at his invisible enemy with his front legs, but there was no stopping the transformation. As the mage had foretold, the first light of day stifled his strength and supplanted it with a dead, deformed stem.
The princess clung crying to his neck. The noble beast had carried her within sight of the citadel perched atop the cliff across the bay. So close and yet so far.
In a hundred years the curse would momentarily lift. Perhaps her prince could break the spell then.
He would, the princess convinced herself, as her ear against the wooden chest assured her that inside the heart of a valiant knight still beat.
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