“That witch was sure as hell tripped out on something. Are you sure you want to go along with a twenty-plus-year-old prophecy that was probably just the delusional ravings of a mushroom-hopped senile old lady?” I settled back into our nest of crates in the dungeon-like room. “Then again. Don’t want to ruin a good thing going. Who knows, maybe the guy your mom married after your dad was just looking out for you and her and had all the best intentions.”
Rowan studied the splintered corners of the book. We had been sitting in the gloom for the better part of half an hour while he read and re-read that little manual of doom.
“And what does it mean: ‘will summon forth the revenge of the abyssal dragon?’ Y’all have dragons here bigger than that little labra-dragon-doodle? Are they like, world-shattering monsters?”
He laid the book down on the pile of clothing I had painstakingly folded. Rubbing his face, he leaned forward to amuse himself with a study of the chipped mortar between the flagstone. “The abyssal dragon is one of those may be a real thing, maybe a metaphor thing. Know what I mean?”
“Ah, either an actual fire-breathing creature, or you become this evil king that summons up massive armies of the undead to create mass chaos, thereby earning the title of ‘The Abyssal Dragon’, right?” I mused. “We’ve deviated from the point.”
“Are you going to go along with this whole prophecy, just because it’s written in some book? Give me a pen and a sheet of paper and I can write out a prophecy and you just wait, some hair-brained idiot will go and do the thing just because I said it was a prophecy and they see themselves in it.” I twisted a spell lock in a chest next to me and pulled out a saddle blanket to spread over myself.
“You are the epitome of the Skulldancer’s Heart. This is no soothsayer-from-the-slum’s words. What you have done since the moment I got you down back in those woods has been nothing but wizardry no one in this land has ever encountered.” Rowan pulled a blanket out for himself.
“Skulldancer’s Heart? What kind of a name is that?” I pulled my blanket up to my chin. It smelled of sheep wool and horse sweat. Not exactly pleasant, but it was either the smell or the damp cold.
“To be fair, you are currently using a slang word for steer balls as a name.” Rowan pulled a lantern out from the chest, lit it, and set it in a hook in the ceiling before letting the smouldering torch die out completely.
“Alright, alright, I’ll give a real name a thought.” I held up a hand to ward off more needling dialogue. A name? A real name? One that I wanted to be called? I had considered transitioning on numerous occasions, always promising myself I would when my career was over. When there would be money available. When I’d have a job with the healthcare to cover those types of medical bills. I had planned to become a vet tech when all was said and done. I had taken a dual degree in dance studies and vet tech specifically so I’d have a career to fall back on in case something unfortunate did happen.
I hated my name, and couldn’t imagine being called any other feminine name, but I had never really settled on a masculine name before. Not one that I wanted the world to call me by. I had always felt awkward at the thought of asking my family and friends to switch for me. It felt selfish, and like too much of a hassle. I was also afraid of the possible reactions I would receive.
Algae along the corner of the cell held my interest as I flipped through an index of possible normal names in my head. None of them sounded like me, the me I wanted to be, the me who wanted to hear the name said. “You called me Skulldancer. You talk about summoning a dragon’s rage. I’ve caught a glimpse of what I look like now. I ran across a name a long time ago in a book once. Tanwyn. It comes from the Welsh, a people who always put in w’s and y’s in their names in the oddest spots. I rather liked the way it looked and the way the audiobook reader said it. I think I’ll go with that. What do you think? Don’t tell me it’s a word for chickens fucking or something.”
“I can’t say I know of any word like it. Does it have a meaning to it?” Rowan pulled straw from the blanket and flicked it to the muck on the floor.
“White Fire, if I remember right.”
“That’s a pretty epic name then, Tanwyn.” He looked up at me and smiled.
“Your’s, does it have a meaning? From where I come from, it references a tree, so forgive my hope that our meeting doesn’t burn you.” I chuckled.
“It’s the name of the first star that appears in the evening and also a god of fortune from the Rugoshui, my parents’ people.” Rowan rose and offered me a hand up off the crates.
Folding and stowing the blankets, I regarded his presence for another minute. “So, what now, oh God of Fortune? Do we sneak away? Do we try to find if there is something to the king and queen’s marriage circumstances? And, is Prissy-pants going to rain hellfire down on us for missing her big bash?”
“She’s going to probably screech and cry at you for not being there, but she’s of an age that suitors have been called to the castle. I would hope she’d be getting over that selfish phase of hers.” He slipped the book into his doublet. Having put the chamber back into an order resembling what we had initially found, Rowan motioned me out and closed the door behind us. Flicking the tip of my ear he said, “Where do we hide now, Matchstick?”
That hurt more than I thought. Reaching up, I went to rub the sore spot and sank to the ground in confusion. “Ears. My ears.”
“What’s wrong?” Rowan twisted over to get a better look at me.
I traced the long spars of cartilage protruding away from my head by at least a hand length. The lobe connected down where my regular ears should have sat. A moment of thought and I found they could range from perked up to a baleful droop; I could even muster a pissed-off flattened thing. “What the hell am I, an elf?”
“An-Elf? What is An-Elf? Come on, I’m done with the damp down here. We can come back for other stuff. If we’re fast, we can still have you make it to Priscilla’s party and keep you from getting an earful for the rest of your long-lived life.” Rowan disappeared up the stairs.
“Oye! Wait for me.” I launched myself on the slick flagstone to follow him back up to the main floor.
“What’s up with the ear problem, Wal-Tanwyn. This is going to take me a few days. Bear with me while I get it right. Might want to go with Wallace in public for a little while if you want to not be seen as having lost your mind. I mean, you kind of did. Well, not you. Your body’s prior mind. You just gained a body, I guess.” Rowan pulled off his slouched beret and ran a hand through his hair to pull it back into a manageable shape before replacing the hat.
“We don’t have ears like this back home. In a way, we do. Stories, like legends or myths if you might. We call them fairytales, but we don’t have fairies.” I had to flick my ears again to feel them bounce.
“What are fairies?” Rowan walked me back to the doors of the grand hall, where there were now several guests milling about. The glares they threw Rowan were, in my opinion, odd.
“Tiny, winged, flying people that are either helpful or mischievous in a magical sense. Some have tails, some don’t. Fairytales, though, are stories of mythical impossible things that aren’t constructed around science. Why am I labelling everyone looking at you dickbag right now?” I shoved my hands where I thought I’d have pockets, only to be rudely reminded that jeans were not a thing here. Changes were going to have to be made.
“His Highness married a Rugoshui; that doesn’t mean the people aren’t still racist.” Rowan grumbled, pulling at his hat again.
“Then they shall be collectively known as a giant bag of dicks. Now, a more pressing question and another detour from having to go in there. Where is the bathroom?”
“What is a bathroom?” Rowan shifted his weight, hunching in on himself with the people staring.
“Toilet, lavatory, john, loo, the porcelain throne, the porcelain god,” I tried the other terms I knew. He blinked at me. I blinked back. “Ya’ll really don’t have a designated place? Outhouse? Oh, what was that word? Latrine? A latrine. Please don’t tell me ya’ll are still stuck with holes in the ground.” I stomped down the hall, aiming for the door Rowan had brought me through before in hopes of finding somewhere useful to my pressing needs.
“Ah, the bin!” Rowan caught up to my steps and steered me through an alcove to a door leading outside.
“Bin, like a trash can? You and I are talking the same language and yet not. This is going to be a headache.” I tripped over a dashing dog and sprawled across the packed dirt of the courtyard to be regarded by an angry rooster.
Escaping with my life, I fled to the far side of the courtyard with Rowan hot on my heels where he turned me once more.
“Old Ron just has it out for you.” He was failing to stifle a laugh.
“Old Ron is going to get turned into dinner.” I glared down the preening bird.
“Ron’s the dog. Sifgurd is the rooster. Sif hasn’t forgiven you since the time you pulled, well Wallace, pulled out a couple of his tail feathers to see if they would work for ink quills.” Rowan walked me to a back wall where the smell of fecal matter almost made me insta-retch.
“Found the bathroom.” I did not make it further than inside the building before my stomach contents entered the hole in the ground. Turning around, I walked back out and down to where the fresh air could pull the smell out of my nose and drew in a deep breath of barnyard and blacksmithy forges. “Alright. Right. Righty-o. So that’s the bathroom. Restroom. John. Bin. Oh, for the love of all that is holy, that was nasty. Ya’ll don’t lime your outhouses? Oh, gods.” My stomach decided to talk to me once again, this time into a prickly flower of some kind.
“You and I, we need a scroll of words, Tanwyn. What is lime?” Rowan leaned against the fortification wall while I collected myself after the second round.
“Still need to use the bathroom, but that was horrifying.” I brushed my doublet and sleeves back into a respectable position. “Lime, my good sir, is calcium oxide and is used for an incredible number of things such as steelwork and keeping drinking water clean. A white substance, the powder can be used to keep the smell down in manure piles. Also used in concrete mixes. Limewash is antibacterial in a way and is often used in barns and latrines for the sanitation aspect. At least that’s what’s coming to mind for what I remember it being used for. I might assume, if you have a blacksmith, you might have steel. If you have steel, you might have access to the stone that lime is derived from. I would highly suggest its use before I go anywhere near that hell hole again. Now, where is somewhere somewhat cleaner that I might be able to figure out how this body works in business mode?”
Rowan rubbed at his forehead and pointed me toward the gates out of the fortification wall that led back out to the forest. “Noting that I will be buying a scroll the next moment I get into the market. You say the most perplexing things.”
“And you do not?” I pressed us forward quicker. My lungs burned from the effort and a stitch formed in my side. “Wallace did not get exercise very often, did she?”
“No, not really. Was bedridden most of his childhood. It’s only been in the last year that he got out much at all.”
“I’m feeling that. So, the woods for me?” We entered into the cool shadow of the forest.
“If you don’t want the bin.” Rowan leaned up against a tree and waved me to go find a private place.
I traipsed further in for my own sense of modesty before finding a secluded stained glass-colored bush. Horror and I became best friends for the better part of a minute as I realized that my tights were quite literally sewn on. “What the hell is this?”
“What? What? Are you well? A snake?” Rowan called.
“I don’t exactly want to ask this, but how do these come off?” I had zipped myself, buttoned myself, and corset laced myself into enough costumes for shows to have an inkling of what was going on with these tights, but did it really require a full yard of cordage? I span myself around in search of the end of the tie.
“What are you doing, Tanywyn?” Rowan appeared at the edge of my spot.
“Having frustrations in understanding what it means to be in the correct gender for once in my life. Y’all ever heard of a zipper? Go away, I’ll figure out how to get out of these sooner or later.”
“The band is folded over on itself; the knot should be under that.” Rowan disappeared back into the glass forest.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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