Vinesickness

She did not remember going into the forest. She didn’t remember the thick, unseasonal fog that swirled around her feet, or the strange sense that she needed to go, despite the dangers. She did not remember the night she was stung, and in truth the night would always be a mystery to her.

But she remembered the pain. She would always remember the pain. Aching and sharp and blinding, she just barely remembered stumbling out of the woods and collapsing at the edge of the fog.

She drifted in and out of wakefulness, not sure what was real or what was dreams. She heard voices, whispering above her in concerned tones. She heard rain on a wooden roof. She saw creatures made of light that sang to her in the fog, and she saw a figure reaching towards her.

The first time she opened her eyes she did not recognize the sparsely furnished room, or the man who sat in the only chair. She should know him, she thought dimly. He is important somehow.

When her eyes drifted shut she felt pain radiating from the sting and knew it would consume her. What had begun as a thorn in her ankle now spread, burrowing into her veins, growing in place of her blood. Someone was trying to comfort her. Something cool was placed on her forehead, but still the vines grew within her. They crept up her leg, vicelike in their grip, and when they reached her spine she screamed, a wordless, primal wail of agony.

Someone was trying to hold her, but she kicked and thrashed, unable to tell where the vines stopped and the world began. The pain became too much, and she sank into darkness once more.

Uncounted time passed as she drifted in and out of agony, only able to rest in the rare moments that the vines stopped their journey beneath her skin. Someone cried in her ear, but she did not see them. Someone reached for her hand, but she could not feel them.

The searing pain had dulled to a white-hot ache when her fever finally broke. It was quiet, and the room was dark. Her mouth was dry and her lips were cracked even as sweat ran down her scalp. She could not lift her head. She could not lift her arm of her leg or twitch her fingers, and a cold fear washed over her. She had not been lucid enough to understand the enormity of her plight. The vines had taken her. The trees had called her and the mist pulled her, and now the vines would constrict around her from the inside. A broken sob escaped her, and she fell into darkness willingly.

Flashes from her journey plagued her dreams. Faceless in the fog, the figure she did not remember called her into the woods, arms outstretched towards her. He assured her that she would make it through the pain and emerge stronger, and just as her fingers reached his, the scene would fade away. She drifted through an unfamiliar wood, hearing barely audible whispers and feeling the vines within her straining against her skin. She opened her eyes, the dream fleeing from her mind as a sliver of daylight broke through the curtains.

She moaned, and the man who sat with her rushed to her side. Her mind finally clear, she remembered him. She tried to say his name, to lift herself toward him, but her body did not obey. He murmured calming words in her ear, gently taking her hand. He told her, in a strange echo of the figure in her dream, that she would be alright. She tried to believe, though she knew no one truly survived the vines.

He lifted her like a thing made of glass, carefully and reverently. He gave her food and water, which the vines drank greedily. When he tried to rub ointment on her greening limbs, she screamed with the vines as the medicine tried to burn them out of her skin. He threw out the medicine that same night.

When she begged for a true glimpse of sunlight, he hesitated. It would strengthen the vines, he warned her, and they were already so near her heart. The vines rippled under her skin, straining towards the covered window. Weakly, she reached for his hand. He did not relent.

For many days and nights he resisted her pleas, and she grew pale, ashen, and withered even as the vines within her continued to grow. When he could bear her suffering no longer, he carried her gently into the garden as the sun began to rise.

He had bundled her in blankets to ward off the cold, but when the warm rays caressed her face she reached out her arms like a babe for its mother. Color returned to her as he watched, amazed, and neither noticed when the vines found their place in her chest.

He relinquished his battle against the vines that same day, realizing that somehow, the plant that choked and strangled had made a peaceful place for themselves within her. She spent her days in the sun, face upturned to the skies and toes curled into the dark soil.

She recovered slowly, basking in the sun for hours at a time. The vines inside her sank into her skin, but he still saw the green of them as they settled in her veins. She rarely spoke, and only went where he bid her, a shell of the person she was. But as he watched, she began to return to herself, in small bits, until the only sign she had been changed was the green tinge of her skin where her blood had once turned it blue.

In the Shadow of the Forest

There is, some say, a door of sorts that opens in the woods. It is there when the sun has just set and any remaining light disappears before it reaches through the trees. It is never said which woods, and if pressed, many will admit that it could be any woods. In truth it is every woods. Every copse of trees thick enough to hide a piece of itself from the sun as it is up holds one of these entrances.

In one such copse of trees, just large enough to hold a single one of these doorways, wanders a man half-mad with purpose. He had made a promise, many sunsets ago, to find the doorway. But these entrances, as sometimes is the case, are far easier to find when one is not looking for them.

Still, he searches, first methodically, certain that with the right amount of clues he can piece together the location of the entrance. But shadows are hard to measure, and as days shorten and lengthen and clouds pass it is impossible to map where its darkest and most hidden part might lay. Then, insistently. If he walks every step of the woods, he will surely find that one step that will take him Elsewhere. But even a small gathering of trees is too much to keep track of. So his next steps are frantic, running through the trees, jumping into each shadow of every tree.

Then, desperate. He loses all sense of organization as he runs frantically through the now-familiar landscape. Then tired. His mind is blank and his only thought is to force himself onward.

He has made a promise, he says to himself with every trudging step. He cannot give up. His steps become mechanical, and he wears a path into the woods. He takes to muttering, about grids and cloud cover and the season’s effect on light.

After time uncounted, he thinks distantly that he has tried everything. He wonders if starting again in a different copse would raise or lower his chances.

“No,” he mutters, unaware that he is speaking aloud. “these are her woods.” It has to be here.

There is a night in which he finds his thoughts caught on a not-quite-familiar song. The tune makes its way to the back of his throat as a hum, then passes his lips as a whistle. He startles himself with the sound as it rings clear around the silent trees. His feet find their way off the path quite without him, stepping in a way almost rhythmic enough to call a dance.

At some point, the music stops coming from him and finds its origin in the woods. He finds himself in a part of the woods he does not recognize, and he wonders how he could not have seen it in all his time under these trees. The fact is, however, that a copse so small as this one would have to actively hide itself from the light of the sun.

He had asked, once, how one would be able to see in a place that hid itself from the sun. She had reminded him that the stars illuminated themselves, then admitted that even that explanation fell short, as she had not seen the stars in her time there.

“It is not the same sort of sight as we are used to.” she had said, a bit wistfully. “Nothing there is quite the same.”

And he found he agreed, for as the music led him through the doorway, the world drained of color and became a strange sort of fuzzy that felt clearer than his own sight. The entrance he has so longed to find leads him out of the woods and onto a dance floor full of silks twirling to the same music that had led him here.

He scanned the crowd of dancers and, in a panic, realized that after all the time that had passed, they might not be able to recognize one another.

But as the thought crossed his mind, the crowd parted for a figure that had been visiting his dreams for longer than she had been missing. The dancers knelt for her, and she made her way towards him, appearing such that he could only call radiant, even in a place where the word had no meaning. She stopped in front of him, and he sank to his knees, hand gently reaching for hers. He kissed her knuckles and muttered a single word.

Frost

Written Nov 26, 2021. Prompt: winter is on my tongue

It is dark. It is cold. A sliver of moon glows unexpectedly bright on the untouched layer of frost. There are no clouds in the sky, no lights in the windows. Everything is still.

The perfect stillness is broken only when a slight figure steps out from the shadows. He does not shiver, his breath does not fog the air, and his clothes are light and tattered. As he walks, the air grows still colder, and the frost grows thicker under his bare feet. He carries no pack, holds no staff or weapon. He is blank.

His eyes scan the homes, peering uninterested through the windows. He searches for the familiar pull of magic that has led him here, that will lead him to his goal. He begins to wonder if his journey will be longer still, until the pull strengthens, and unmistakably leads him to an unassuming home not a stone’s throw from where he was.

He enters the wind and flies through a crack in the door, past the sleeping mother, snoring father. The pull leads him to a boy, he does not know how old. Mortals age so quickly, but this one is clearly still growing. He leans in to the boy’s ear and whispers, winter on his tongue, “You are meant for more, my king. Make the journey. Take the Test. Become.”

No sooner have the words been uttered than the figure has disappeared into the night. The boy shivers in his sleep, and dreams of a castle covered in ice, of strange people who speak in frost, and of an empty throne. When he wakes, he will not remember the words or the dream, but he will find himself unbearably warm, and he will set off on his journey with not even a word to his family, or to the girl who thinks she loves him.

He will think himself cursed, and he will wander in desperation, sweat running down his forehead even as his fingers turn blue. He will ask, then demand answers from any who might know, and he will find his search leading him to the Frozen Folk, and to a castle covered in ice despite the sun. It is here that he will finally feel cold.

Forest Born (part 2)

The human mother awoke to the high-pitched wail of the abandoned baby, when the rays of the sun had just begun to stretch above the horizon. She pulled him from his cradle and rocked him, but still he cried and screamed. When she’d tried to feed him, he had bitten her, and when her husband entered to offer aid, he knew what had become of their child. Reading his expression, she laid the still-sobbing infant back in his bed, and began to sing.

She sang an old song, in an old language, that told of the wind and the forest and the spirits that dance under the light of the moon. The wailing ceased, and the child sniffled, and still she sang, until the only sound from the cradle was that of a light snore.

“What will we do?” her husband had asked. “We do not have anything to offer the Folk to make the trade.” he paced the small room, all the while the mother kept her gaze on the child.

Softly, she said, “We do nothing.”

He stopped to look at her, and saw the love for the child written plainly on her face. Placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, he let his gaze fall on the child. “This is not the child you bore.” he warned.

“Of course not. But the Folk have made their trade, and whatever they do with their price, they have left him in our care.”

He knelt beside her and sighed. “It will not be easy, my love.” was all he could say.

“I know that,” she said, “But he is ours now, as the other child is no longer.”

“As the town learned of the couple’s decision, the mother was shunned as callous and foolish, and the father was dubbed lacking in spine. But Mother knew more than she let on, and Father was determined to fill their son’s needs.

It was no simple task. Raising a child never is, and raising a child whose needs you do not fully understand does not lift the burden. Still, the couple took it in stride.

Mother sang almost nonstop, song after song in the Old Tongue, of forests and plains and mighty beasts. Every song of nature she could pull from memory was used to soothe the child. Father foraged almost too close to the FolkWood to gather food that might sate his endless appetite. And while the town scoffed at their efforts, many were secretly impressed by their success.

By the time the boy could walk and speak, the town had come to an uneasy acceptance of him. After all, his kind were charming without effort, and none in the town could resist the combined charm of a child and a faerie.

When Mother taught him to sing in the Old Tongue, the boy’s words drew the wind and leaves into his small bedroom, whirling and skipping across the shelves. He tried to apologize, but Mother stopped him.

“You need not apologize for what you did not intentionally cause. Just help me clean it up, and we’ll start again outside.”

Such was his childhood. The changeling was raised by patient and loving parents, and soon grew to be little more than a well-known local oddity.

When Mother deemed him old enough, she took him to the Market to help sell the textiles he’d helped her weave. Like many young boys, he ran up and down the square, shouting advertisement for his family’s stall. With his otherworldly charm, the boy drew a sizeable crowd to his mother’s table.

“What a charming young lad!” remarked an elder woman with an armful of yarn. “You are blessed to have him.”

The boy, sheltered by nature, interjected. “No blessing, grandmother. I am a changeling, kept and loved by my Mother and Father.”

Silence fell at the statement, the weight of it hanging in the air. Several patrons left, murmuring prayers and superstitions. Some insisted on buying items that he had crafted. Mother kept close watch on those that stayed among the sidelines, eyeing the boy with poorly concealed hatred.

When the sun grew low in the sky, the pair packed their remaining merchandise and readied to make the journey home. Mother hadn’t seen the suspicious patrons in over an hour, and had laxed in her vigilance. It was as her back was turned to her son that they leapt from the shadows, aiming to overpower the boy and tear him apart.

They did not reach him. He screamed at their approach, a primal, feral, musical sound that dropped them where they stood. Mother rushed to him, pulling him away from the slumped men and towards the cart.

“Mother, what was that?” he asked, eyes wide.

Her face was a blank mask, but he felt her fear and anger regardless. “Cowardly, hateful men who choose to believe that anything that cannot be explained is evil.” she said, ushering him into the cart. “We must go, my love. We can talk on the road.”

They sat in silence until they had left the market behind, then the town, and entered the forest. He waited patiently for his mother to speak.

“I am sorry, dearest. I should have prepared you.” she began.

“You needn’t apologize for what you did not intentionally cause.” he reminded her softly.

A small smile flashed across her face. “You are right. Still, I should have prepared you for such things. I had thought the market was close enough to the FolkWood to be safe…” she trailed off.

“They hate me.” he interpreted.

Tears filled her eyes as she clasped his hand in hers. “For no fault of your own, but yes. They hate the Folk, hate the magic they cannot possess or wield. They hate them for their cursed mothers, their ensorcelled girls, the tricks and carelessness some of the Folk represent.”

“For the stolen and replaced children.” he said, eyes lowered.

“It is not your fault.” she insisted harshly. “Men like that forget that humans are just as cruel to each other. They forget that changelings had no say in their fates.”

Mother grew silent, and as the moon rose, invisible above the canopy, he raised his voice in song. It was in the Old Tongue, but it was not one of the songs she had taught him. the night air stilled, and the forest fell silent in respect of his performance. From somewhere within the woods, clouds of fireflies stirred and danced along the road, lighting their way as the moon and stars could not. Mother gasped, and still he sang. He sang until the trees parted, and the light was no longer needed.

“When did you learn this?” Mother whispered in awe.

“I’ve been practicing in the garden at night.” he admitted. “I wanted to learn to control it.”

She clasped her son tightly in her embrace, warm tears on his shoulders. “You truly are a blessing, my son.” she whispered.

Search

Late into the night, so late that it is almost morning, a single soul lies awake, surrounded by books and loose papers covered in scrawled notes. She is searching. She has to find him. He’s lost. He’s in danger. She flips frantically through the pages.

Her eyes burn, her head pounds. She takes a shaky breath and pushes forward. He is not nearby. He is not far away. He is somewhere Other. She cannot reach him. He is somewhere she has not been, has not heard of. She is searching with a blindfold.

She has to keep going. The longer he is lost, the more he may be Changed. If he is Changed, she cannot fix him, cannot truly bring him back.

She pushes down her rising panic. Breathes in. Then out. Keep reading. Keep looking. Next page. Next chapter, next book. Has she slept? It doesn’t matter. She has to find him. She shoves the scattered books out of her way as she reaches for the next one. She doesn’t read the title. She scans the pages.

Not here. Not here.

There.

A hint. A fragment. But it’s something. She’d missed it before.

Digging through the discarded pages of notes and lays them on the floor in front of her. She has a point of focus now, and nothing else matters.

There. A name. A description.

More pages. More books. Light begins to stream through the window. She doesn’t notice.

A map. A doorway. She needs one more thing. Something to keep her from getting lost herself. What could possibly tether her here, when the only thing that is important is bringing him back? Finding him is all that matters.

She has it. She doesn’t stop to think. She doesn’t read the warnings. She just goes.

She is not prepared.

Song of the Island

Along the coast of the mainland sits a line of sleepy islands, home to generations of sailors and their wives. Every year before the sailors leave for the season, the Islanders row out onto the water and light candles in little bowls, one for each sailor. These are good luck charms, wishes from their families for the men to return home safely. There is a feast, a fire, and dances, and in the morning the men board their ships and bid farewell to stoic wives and sniffling children.
The women do not speak of the risks born of the sea. The do not dare whisper the names of the things that could cut through the boats like fins through the waves.

There is one, though, a wife alone in a cottage near the shore, who spends her time bent over bowls of water and murmuring to her garden. She does not merely pray for her husband’s return. She searches the waves beneath his ship and watches for the smallest threat.

She is only worrying herself sick, the old mothers whisper. There is nothing to be done for the men on the water, magic or no.

Some of the kinder women make gentle offers to distract her, but they only succeed for an hour or so and she is back to her work, staring unblinking into a mirror as she works her mending.

There are always casualties, the others tell her softly. We can do nothing for it.

Then the sirens came, news of their arrival on the rocky path home rippling through the town. The stoic masks falter, and whispers ride on the wind.

Her search now narrowed to a razor sharp focus, she abandons her chores and spends each day secluded in her home. The others do not know what to make of this, and eventually leave her to her oddities.

On a cloudy night that threatened rainfall, she emerges, running barefoot through the town, screaming words that the wind renders indecipherable. She gathers the women of the island, and tells them that they must follow her, they must listen, they must come. It takes several moments for the old mothers to make sense of her rambling, but when they do they follow her with determined steps.

She leads the march down to the docks and waist-deep in the water, and she sings. She sings a child’s skipping song, and then a wedding reel. She sings of home and family and as the women of the island join her, their voices rise on the once-uncaring wind. The many voices of the human women rise over the waves and out along the sea.

The song covers the ocean for days, and when the men sail past the sirens, the only spell that pulls them is towards home.

So it is that every year the women of the island make their way wordlessly to the water, opening their mouths only to sing, to drown out the sirens and bring their sailors home.

Musings 4: Too Many Ideas

It’s a common joke amongst writers, that we can’t focus on a single story concept without being distracted by several others. This often leads to dozens of started works and no finished products, which can be hard on a person’s sense of accomplishment. I had this problem bad. I had shelves filled with notebooks that had only a few pages of writing in them, and would simultaneously be thinking about yet another new story. I don’t do well at sitting down and planning out my ideas, I’d always prefer to just jump into the writing.

So I talked to a couple of friends, and eventually one told me to make what he called a “skeleton journal”. This was, he explained, where you wrote down all your ideas for your story in no particular order or format. Simply put, it’s where you infodump your ideas and worry about a set draft later. I took this idea and ran with it, and the best part was that it gave me a place to put my notes from all the research I would be doing for that story.

Now, I personally found through this method that I didn’t have as much of a story as I thought I did. A few chapters worth, at most. And for a while, it kind of stung. I wanted to be this decently famous novelist, who was well known for gripping reads and fun new takes on tired tropes. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even come up with a novel-length story. All my favorite pieces were only a few pages long and I had no intention of building on them.

And then I had an epiphany. I wasn’t having problems writing stories, I was having problems writing long stories. This was a relatively fixable issue, but more than that, short stories exist. That is a genre. One that I could, with some adjustments, fit my work into. Thus my focus shifted, and I finally filled a notebook. And then another. I had tangible proof that I was writing, and that I was making progress.

This eventually led to the blog you’re reading this on, actually. In school, I had wanted to publish a story of some kind before I graduated. For several complicated reasons, this never happened, but writing short stories freed me from that disappointment. I wasn’t leaving ideas unfinished, I was creating the foundations for something that I could come back and build on if I had the inspiration to do so, and if not, what existed already was enough. And then I realized that I could publish those short stories, if not on paper or in a bookstore.

I’m obviously not where I want to be yet. This blog is so small I can hardly call it a platform. But my writing is being seen, by infinitely more people than it would have been if I had kept it shut in my beloved and beat-up Walmart journals. So I want to suggest to anyone who has too many ideas and not enough brain space, consider starting with a short story or three, and move on to a skeleton journal. Or stop at the short story, if that’s what you want.

I find that being in a state of slight disorganization frees me from needing to have every detail planned out before I start writing. But that’s just me. All I want to do is to encourage you to try new methods if your current ones aren’t working.

The Wists

When the humans first started to fear us, they avoided our realm. When they realized that they could use our magic and our land, they began negotiating. Caravans of ambassadors and gifts swarmed our forests. They offered us food we did not eat, cloth we did not wear, and tools we did not use. They were flustered. They offered us their daughters, to be bound to our king in marriage. We have no king. We do not marry.

Then they were angry. We had offended them, denied their hospitality and goodwill, and so we were now their enemies. They flung themselves at us, and when they went through us, directed their anger at our homes. They cut down our trees, burned our hills, stole our herbs and our water.

They upset our Mothers. So we retaliated. For the first time in centuries, Wists pulled their forms in close, and we made ourselves sharp. We cut them down like they did our trees, burned their homes as they did ours. They did not stop, and their blood tainted our land.

It was a subtle change, at first. A shift in the soil, a vague scent in the air. But as the battle waged, we felt our homes reject it, and then reject us. So we ceased our raging and retreated into our most hidden homes, hoping that the humans would take what they wanted and leave, the target of their anger now gone.

But they did not leave. They sought us out, searching for ways to harm us further. Their failure to discover anything only fueled their fervor. Eventually, they found our source, and we fell.

We became good at hiding. So good that some of us began hiding from each other. The humans were convinced they knew our number, and so they believed that we were nearly eradicated. We hoped that after they were done hunting us, after their anger had settled, we could reemerge a safe distance from them, perhaps when their sons and daughters had forgotten us.

It was then that she came, singing in the language of the wind a ballad of one who approached a wounded animal caught in a hunter’s trap, entreating the creature to trust them enough to let them help. Many thought it a trap, as the humans were clever and without honor. But she continued her song for days, walking barefoot and unarmed through the trees.

When at last we approached her, she told us that she wished to help our kind, and that she had an idea that would prevent the other humans hunting us to extinction. She offered herself as a vessel, for us to use her body as our own and share her form. In a human body, our magic would be a lesser threat, and she would weave a story of how she tamed and conquered us, sharing the secret only to those we deemed worthy to continue her work. We would be tethered to the world as we had not been before, but we would be safer.

We were fearful, worried that we would need to shed her blood and taint ourselves once more. We spent many nights arguing how the bond would be forged, and who would forge it with her. The human waited patiently for our verdict.

When at last we had made our decision, we set about preparing her to hold our magic within herself. The biggest risk, we realized, was that entering her form would tear her apart and destroy both parties.

The time finally came, and she knelt before us as we gathered ourselves around her like armor. The chosen Wist began the forging of the bond, and we held her fast as her body loosened to accept the newcomer, pulled ourselves tighter to bring her back.

We had not known what to expect, but still we were shocked when, once finished, the two had fully intertwined into a single being, neither human nor Wist.

We asked who she was, and she said, “I am both and neither. The individuals are no more than memories. I am tethered.”

When she returned to the humans, their hunt for our extinction became a hunt for our power. We revealed ourselves only to those who sang her song. A strange new peace was reached, and though few humans truly understood us, it was a great deal more than there had been.

The tethered ones were claimed as human, and were hailed as wise and talented beings. The legend spread that these people had conquered us, and when those who were tethered would hear it, they would share a hidden smile. Best not to let the humans see how little they truly know.

The Prince’s Death (part 2)

The next night, I met Prince Oryn in the tack room, long after the stable hands had gone to sleep. He was cross-legged on the floor, braiding hay. Silently, I sat down in front of him.

He set the hay in his lap. “You said you’d make me look sick. How real is it?”

I smoothed out my skirt. ” You’ll be tired, but it won’t hurt. The herbs I intend to use will mimic a fever and drain your face of color. It won’t last after you stop taking it.” I explained.

“And how will you make me look dead?” he asked, fidgeting with the braid of hay. “Do you have an herb to stop my heart? My breathing?”

I scoffed. “None that you would wake up from, which rather contradicts my plan.”

“Then how?”

“A fetch.”

He looked at me, confused. “That’s fey magic. You’re not fey.”

“I spent enough time in Rêve to learn a little of their magic.”

He thought for a moment, tying off the braid and starting a new one. “Can the fetch not take my place the moment I fall ill?”

I shook my head. “I cannot keep the magic that long, and it could not impersonate you that exactly.” His shoulders sagged. “Not excited about being weak and frail?” I asked with a soft smile.

“It doesn’t seem comfortable, and I’m putting quite a lot of trust in you, seeing how you’ve hidden a large secret from me for so long.”

I winced. “You understand why I did that, don’t you?”

“Of course.” he said. “But I’m nervous. I didn’t actually expect a way out of my birthright.”

“You would make a fine king.” I said quietly.

“I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m selfish enough to value my freedom over it, which may contradict the thought.”

“You do want to do this, don’t you? I don’t want to force your hand.”

He laughed a little, then met my eyes. “I do. This is a miracle to me. A chance I never thought I’d have. When do we start?”

“Timing is the most important part. If you get sick out of nowhere, people might guess that you’re being poisoned. We need to wait until summer, when fever takes many unfortunate souls. I will begin collecting the herbs, and we will wait until the first bout of sickness strikes.”

“So I have about two months before we carry this through.”

“I nodded. “and if at any time you change your mind, I will honor that. It’s only final when they think you are dead.”

“Thank you, Eletta, but you can’t get rid of me so easily.” he said with a grin.

I smiled back at him. “Is that not precisely what I am doing, your majesty?”

He stood and offered his arm to help me up. “Eletta isn’t your real name, is it?” he asked.

“No.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you after you are buried.” I said, and we walked back inside in silence.

The Prince’s Death (part 1)

Prompt: When I was younger I used to pray to every falling star to make me a bastard, now I just hope to die before I’m forced to wear the crown.

“Your parents are expecting you, your majesty.” I told the prince, standing in the doorway to his chambers. He was sitting curled up on his bed, reading.

He stood with a sigh. “Must I go? Couldn’t you tell them I’ve fallen ill?”

“No, my lord. Your fiancée is here to see you, and you are already running late. Your parents will not be pleased.” I said, trying to straighten his jacket as he walked.

He shrugged off my efforts to tidy his appearance and set off at a brisk walk. “I can hear them now,” he adopted a deeper, nasally tone. “A king is to be punctual. It demonstrates reliability.” he dropped the tone and made a face. “As if a king has nothing more to worry about.” he turned to face me, walking backwards. “Tell me, Eletta, do you envy my position?”

“My answer has not changed, my prince. I want for nothing as it is.”

He grinned. “Not even a respite from your stubborn charge?” I shook my head, smiling.

“I do believe their majesties would like to see your face as you enter, not your back.” I said. He shrugged and turned back around.

“You know,” he began quietly. “I used to pray to every falling star, every known god, to make me a bastard. Now I just hope to die before the burden of the crown falls to me.”

I was silent for a moment. “Sire, I do not like to think of your death. If I may propose a slight alternative?” I whispered as we reached the entrance to the throne room.

He turned around again and hugged me. “Tonight.” he muttered in my ear before striding confidently through the doors. I announced his arrival and returned to my chores.

He found me after dinner, as he often did. He sat down patiently at a nearby table as I prepared the next day’s meal.

“Do you know what Eletta means in Whebosh?” I asked.

“Little elf.” he translated. “Why?” I smiled, and for the first time since coming to the palace, I pushed my hair behind my ear. He inhaled sharply. “I see. What is your plan?”

“You say you’d rather die than wear the crown. I believe you, but I’d prefer to see you live. I propose a compromise, of sorts.”

“How so?”

“Fake your own death.” I said. “It musn’t look like an assassination, but I can make it look like you’re falling ill. We would leave just before you are buried.”

“Will they not notice a missing body?” he asked.

“You underestimate my magic, Prince Oryn. There will be a body buried.”

“You won’t-“

“Kill anyone?” I looked up from my work to meet his gaze. “Rob a grave? Of course not. I prefer more delicate methods.”

“Then how?” he insisted.

“Later. Cook will be here soon. Meet me in the stables tomorrow night.” I tossed him an apple before he left. “Sleep well, my prince.” I said, covering my ear once more.

“Goodnight, Eletta.” he said, looking thoughtful.