Back in March, I created myself a sort of “cheat sheet” with different prompts for every day of the month. Some were keywords I had to put together in a short story, a particular setting, a phrase of dialogue to start with, or a random object as symbolism. I only shared a few but I actually found it pretty helpful for when I was stuck or needed to do a little prewriting warm-up in my journal. I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to story prompts and I keep collecting the further I go along. (Brianna’s Story Prompts Board) <– You can click on the link if you’d like to check the board out. I skipped April but wanted to try something similar for May. I was thinking something along the lines of sharing a #PromptPost every few days and linking to where the prompt came from. Here’s my first shot…
This particular prompt was found at : Promptuarium’s Site
I remember the first time I set eyes on the castle walls of Critheann. Barely a day over fourteen years and shy of every man and woman who came within five feet of me, I watched from atop my horse and observed all I could of my new home. As we made our way toward the gate, wagons of vegetables and wildflowers were unloaded outside the walls and small children weaved in and out of carts of hay and oats. The bleached rock of the castle walls shone bright in the midday sun, the glare of armored guards atop towers and at the entry bouncing back into my eyes. Aspen trees, the ones for which the castle was named, stood stark and white against the banks of the brook along the south edge of the glade. Their trembling leaves quaked and buzzed with a ferocity which spawned goose bumps along my spine; the quickening onslaught of winter almost palpable between myself and their dancing. My gelding shifted uncomfortably under my thighs at dogs running too close to his hind legs, all of them free between the sellers, their wares, and the road. Various mutts yipped excitedly at my heels and I thought sorrowfully of the hounds I’d left a week prior at my family home. Ragnor and Finn had been my constant companions for the past ten years, running fields and jumping fences with me through my whole early childhood. They’d comforted me in my father’s death, the only creatures bothering to console my silent sobs as I lay locked in my bedroom. I’d cried the same way the whole ride away from them the morning I’d been evicted, their collars tightly rigged to the garden fence as they whined with my stepfather watching on. Grey whiskers dotted both their wiry chins and I knew in my heart they wouldn’t survive many more winters especially with only my newly acquired patriarch to care for them.
“Rhona,” Innis murmured next to me, “darling girl. We will make it through this, you and I.”
I glanced across to my lady-in-waiting and forced as courageous a smile as I could muster. Her own cheeks dimpled but her eyes stayed locked on mine with determination. Innis had chosen to come with me even when she had been presented the opportunity to stay with my mother and keep her position. At the young age of thirty, she’d turned her back on running a household which provided a steady wage and instead packed her trunks hurriedly the same night I had. Her back was ramrod straight in the buggy seat and her honey light hair neatly piled on top of her head. At fourteen, I envied everything about her: her beauty, her confidence, her patience, her elegance, and her willpower. She was a force to be reckoned with, one of which neither my mother nor stepfather could break. Innis had been my most loyal protector since I was a babe and she a new maid servant in our home. Fourteen years had proved she was more of a mother than my own biological matron.
Innis in turn had grown up at Critheann, all of her family gone by the time we were banished there fourteen years later but still as familiar to her as her own hands. I watched her in the buggy swallow heavily, her eyes glazed over with something I could only think of as nostalgia. Her tiny hands gripped the front of her cobalt dress until her knuckles turned white, she would then release the fabric, smooth it over, and repeat the nervous twitch again and again.
“Innis, you’re ruining your dress,” I said. Reaching out, I placed my own hand onto her shoulder and felt the warmth of her under my fingertips. Her twitching ceased and I swore I saw her chin raise a fraction of an inch. I had never seen her nervous before in my life and it did little to settle my own queasy stomach.
Critheann loomed closer with each stomp of hooves and puff of dust and the life I’d known vanished at my back.
Four Years Later
Sliding out of the saddle, I stretched the aches along the small of my back and smiled at the young boy reaching for the reins.
“Oh no,” I laughed, “trust me, little one. You don’t want to clean this man up. He would sooner eat your ears than let anyone touch him other than myself. If you want to bribe him for just a minuscule amount of affection, however, go ask Ms. McNally for a couple of the sugar cubes she keeps hidden in the kitchen.”
The boy sprinted off, mud flying from the bottoms of his boots and his shaggy black hair blowing away from his eyes. I hadn’t yet learnt his name though I had tried relentlessly; the child never spoke to anyone. He communicated with a mixture of grunts and hand signs, ever so often enunciating his needs in as few words as possible. We had no idea if he’d been beaten into not talking or simply hadn’t ever been educated but I continued my efforts to weasel in his liking.
Walking further into the stable, the warmth of equine bodies and sun-soaked wooden floors soothed my senses from the brisk run. Menias stomped heavily into his stall, arrogance and masculinity rolling off him in waves. His buckskin coat was wet with sweat, darkening him to a color almost like heated caramel. Cooling him down always proved to be a time consuming, rigorous process as he was an attention-addicted bastard. He preferred to be soaked and watered by only myself, the needy brute. Several stable boys had bite scars and bruised feet to prove this notion.
Menias had been my seventeenth birthday present from the castle guard’s Captain, a man who had grown fond of me in the three years I’d come to live at Critheann. The Captain was old enough to have been my father, with no children of his own but a disposition meant for it. A friendship had been forged when I’d discovered he’d fought with my own father for many years and I proved myself to be a worthy secret keeper. He’d told me stories of my father in his teenage years and I’d listened for gossip in the kitchens and the like, warning him of oncoming sloughs of melodrama or royal indiscretion concerning his guards. He’d shown me how to wield a knife in a close knit space and I’d been his very own matchmaker, presenting all his wonderful qualities in the hopes Innis would take notice. Although I wasn’t particularly successful at the latter, his company proved to fill a gap I didn’t realize had been missing since my own father had died. Captain, the only name I was allowed to call him, had surprised me with Menias when he’d clandestinely discovered I was a better horseman than most of his trained guards. I had been the subject of much gossip and envy when presented the buckskin gift, rumors of the Captain and I being lovers all the way down to me being nothing more than a hired lay. I’d scoffed at the gossip mongers and instead dedicated all my time to the most beautiful beast I’d ever laid eyes on.
Menias had entered Critheann with a banner waving reputation of a brooding monster; the draft stood at seventeen hands tall, a mane and tail of coal black, and a mouth of angry teeth. He’d arrived from a royal breeder four villages over and tales of his delivery gave the men who’d assisted in his travels cold-sweat shivers. He was to be nothing more than a stud gift before the Captain discovered him and marked him as my own personal steed.
Everyone had doubted our relationship in the beginning, Menias and I. The day I met Menias, the Captain had shaken me from sleep in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of the castle residents had awakened. He’d laid his hand over my mouth and signaled me to dress quietly and swiftly. Innis was hovering at the door, a dressing gown around her shoulders and small circles of sleep still clinging under her eyes. She’d smiled, however, when I rose to dress.
“He’s quite handsome,” she’d ruminated while I’d dressed in a pair of boy’s pants and an oversize shirt. She’d twirled her gold hair around one finger in an absent gesture I’d never seen her do before and my heart had given a tiny squeeze of satisfaction. “Why have you never mentioned that particular fact to me before?”
Shaking my head at her blushing, I’d fled my room and flew down the steps of the castle faster than a barn cat before coming to a screeching halt in the rocks. He stood completely alone a few feet in front of me, no man risking holding his bridle at such close range. The Captain rounded the corner, carrying a saddle I’d never seen before – a man’s saddle only smaller, no side horn or pommel.
“Don’t act like you expected a side-saddle,” he’d mumbled at my questioning glance, tossing the newly built saddle onto Menias’s back. “You wear those boy’s clothes all the time anyway. You need a man’s saddle for a man’s horse. Although as far as I can tell, no man can get close to him. His name is Menias.”
Squealing, I’d thrown myself in the Captain’s arms and squeezed him tight around the ribs. Several of the guards let out tiny whispers of astonishment as the Captain laid his hand gently on the back of my head and hugged back. At first I’d thought it was because of the inappropriateness of my gesture toward the Captain however I quickly realized it was more out of fear I’d spook the stud and have my head kicked off.
Menias only answered their hushed intakes of breath by staring me down with boredom.
“You and this giant of a horse will get along. Don’t ask me how I know it, I just know it. Something tells me it’s got to do with similar personalities: stubborn, cocky, show offs-”
Cutting him off, I kissed his cheek fervidly and was pleased when the initial shock shut the Captain up instantly. A day’s old beard tickled the edge of my face but I didn’t miss the rare unchecked smile I received.
“Thank you,” I stated, turning to face Menias. “He’s the most stunning creature I’ve ever seen.”
I slowly approached the draft, feeling the blow out of his breath on my hands and his imposing height. For the first time in three years since I’d been forced to leave my home, I felt the connection of an animal on a primal level. His dark eyes took in my every movement, his massive neck turning to follow my hands as they traced down his back and down to his hooves.
“Dark feet,” I smiled, stroking the soft patch of hair along his cannon bone. “Tough feet.”
“Aye,” the Captain replied, coming to stand alongside Menias and I. The stud didn’t seem to mind the Captain, although an almost imperceptible stiffening shot down his backbone. “No rides today though, I’m afraid. Your birthday responsibilities are calling but I thought you deserved to wake up to this instead of Ms. McNally’s incessant screaming about the floors needing to be swept.”
Laughing, I nodded as I swallowed the bitter taste of disappointment like metal in my mouth. Patting my back softly in understanding, the Captain signaled for the closest guard to come retrieve Menias from my grasp. In the single moment of hesitance where the Captain’s back was turned and the guard was too slow to act, I bolted onto the back of the draft and kicked in with both my heels.
Looking back, the closest guards all probably had a fair chance at grabbing me as I passed but I don’t think any of them dared getting in Menias’s war path. Once we were far enough away and the adrenaline had worn off the smallest bit, atop Menias, I felt the abrupt realization he was completely different than the stable mares I’d been on for the past three years. I knew my legs would ache from the further stretch of muscles I needed to encompass his back and the height distance was altogether a little more foreign. We eased into a walk that held a rhythm I was unaccustomed to but immediately fell in love with. The way he shifted felt like something stretched taunt, ready to be rocketed into the sky. He was all muscle and clout and heavy-stated dominance yet soft mouthed and willing to let me lead. He was responsive to my seat, leaning easily into my cues and guidance.
We rode for hours, my heart succeeding in ignoring the fact I’d be in a wagon load of trouble when I returned back to Critheann. I needed the time alone with Menias as much as I needed time away from the castle. Three birthdays had now passed since I’d last seen my mother and sister. No sign of Hugh, my stepfather, or his son Roian. No letters, no gifts, not even a single clue as to whether everyone was alive or well. I could only guess my mother and stepfather chose for it to be that way – cutting off any communication between Isobel and myself. They wanted my silence and my distance from my elder sister. They wanted to move on with their lives and pretend I’d never witnessed the horrors I had against her.
One day they would have to face it though, I promised myself as much every single morning I woke. Three years I’d spent in that castle, waiting for the opportunity to arise when I could strike like a rattler hidden in the grass. Then my stepfather and mother would see just how weak I was and Isobel would finally receive the justice she deserved.
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou