Welcome back to Tuesday Tales! This weeks prompt is Beat.
And I’m back with my little short story fantasy series. This week I’m going to return to the princesses most favored handmaiden, Zathe. Zathe has the unique trait of orange eyes, which are common in the royalty of the neighboring land, Ustrington, though Zathe is not of that lineage. Also, her ability to detect and nullify poisons makes her the top handmaiden in the castle.
Today she is going to see her brother, Dryn, off on his quest to gather this years plentiful crop of prapples from the hag. And so we meet Dryn through his sister’s eyes:
Zathe rushed through the corridors and down the stairs fast as she dared. To behave improperly would draw the ire of the Queen herself. Though Zathe herself might be safe from personal punishment due to her vital role in the safety of the princess, her family was not free from the impact of her actions.
After they’d had their morning meal, Zathe had been granted leave to see her brother off on his quest for the prapples. As the quest had never been undertaken by anyone she knew, she was curious what it would entail. All she did know was at best he would return with enough prapples to last a year.
At worst, his memory of the event would be wiped and he’d be injured. Such things had happened to men sent to the task, and she couldn’t help but fear for her brother.
She knew her mother would be granted no such leave to see off her son, so Zathe took the task ahead of her seriously. Perhaps on her way back into the castle she would slip through the kitchens to tell the all-too-brief tale of Dryn’s departure.
Zathe stepped into the bright sunlight of the courtyard, relishing in the warmth of the day after the cool halls of stone inside. She and her brother had always preferred the outdoors, though her life hadn’t lent to it, Dryn was blessed enough to work outside the castle.
Though he had no magic, his skill with horses had left him in charge of the stables at a young age. As such, he was more well-fed and clothed than a normal stable boy. More than that, he was granted his own private cabin on the edge of the grounds, and a horse of his choosing.
Truth be told, Zathe was a smidgeon jealous of her brothers freedom to roam about the grounds. Zathe was sentenced to a life at the princess’s side at all times, and though her skill was with plants, Ani hardly left the castle walls.
Zathe approached the large cart in front of her brother’s cabin hesitantly. She saw no sign of her brother about, but two large beasts were hooked to the cart in place of horses. Xorns were ugly creatures with large horns that could gore a man, but made good beasts of burden for crops and large loads if you could control them.
The creatures had always frightened her, so she made a wide berth around the cart. “Dryn? Are you inside?”
“There you are!” The familiar voice startled her from behind. When she turned, she found the matching orange-hued eyes of her brother alit with mischief. “I knew you’d break free today to see me off, sister.”
“I was granted permission, I did no such thing as break free.” She grinned despite her chiding and embraced him. In the six months since she’d seen him last, he’d filled out even more until he was larger than any Estarian male she’d met. “You’d do best to remember that ‘free’ is something we are not.”
“One day we will be.”
“Hush. If you are heard, you know there would be consequences. Not for us, but they would beat our mother to make us suffer. We are not free.” Her smile disappeared as she spoke. While a small piece of her wished for such a thing, she didn’t carry the hope her brother did. She blamed his freedom outside the castle walls for his carelessness. “You spend too much time in the air. You’d do well to remember your place.”
“I’m sorry, sister.” He kissed her forehead and folded her into his arms. “I always forget how you gained all the worry that I did not in the womb, and I gained all the bravado you shunned and continue to hide from.”
“Because for myself bravado is dangerous. You need them to deal with such things as those ugly Xorns.”
“They hear you. You wouldn’t fear them so much if you saw beyond your fear.” He clasped her hand and dragged her around the front of the cart. “Stop squirming.”
She tried to do as he said when one of the Xorn fixed its wild yellow eye on her. With her fists clenched tight as her stomach she stood rigid beside her twin.
“Relax. Give me your hand.” Dryn lifted her arm. With one swipe of his palm, her fist opened to lie flat above the animals nose. “He won’t hurt you, though you hurt his feelings. Gently now, rest your hand here.”
Before she could offer any protest over the lump of fear in her throat, her palm was on the Xorns large, flat nose. She gasped in surprise at the smooth, velvety surface. “Goodness. I had no idea their fur was so soft. It’s softer than a horse.”
“And a horse is only soft on the nose, the rest of the fur is tough and scratchy. The Xorn are like silk strands of a spider web, but tougher still. See? They aren’t so bad, perhaps you should apologize to Norf.”
“Norf? You named him Norf?” She cast a sideways glance his direction, but he merely shrugged in response.
“It’s his name. I didn’t say I named him.”
Zathe turned back to the creature and sighed. “Well, then I am sorry, Norf. Please forgive me, and take care of Dryn on your journey. He worries me with his brashness, and I would like to see him again.”
The Xorn bowed its head low enough for her to see a star shaped patch of green fur between his horns before he straightened again.
“I’ll not upset the hag, Zathe. I will do nothing to leave this place until I can take you with me. I promise you that much.”
“Dryn, you promised.” She continued to pet the animal’s nose, but her gaze automatically scanned the area for fear of someone overhearing them.
“How is it you know I insulted him? He is an animal.”
“That is something you shouldn’t ask if you fear beatings for our kin, Zathe.” He kissed her temple. “Now I must go. My journey is long, and circuitous. I am to leave it to Norf and Hef to guide me, and they say we will be gone days.”
“You don’t even know where you’re going?”
“No. In fact I am to sleep for part of the journey and leave it to the Xorn.”
“Then I will ask the Goddess to keep you safe, and trust the Xorn to help you stay that way.” Zathe hugged him tight. “Be careful, Dryn. Please be kind to the hag should you see her.”
“I promise. I will do nothing to cause myself or our kin harm on my journey.”
“Thank you. When you return we will know when the ball shall be. You’ll attend, won’t you?”
“Why? I am no more destined for a match than yourself.” Their unique skills left them both cursed to a life without a match.
“Beautiful women in finery to dance with. They don’t know you will never be their match when you are in a mask.”
“You do know how to tempt me.”
“Plus, it gives us an excuse to be able to see each other again without having to wait six months this time.”
“And you have won this argument.”
She grinned. “Good. Be safe, Dryn.”
“You do the same.”
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