Sometimes it takes a soft touch to save a king.
Photo credit: Dino Giordano
By Thoronit custom, royal birth dates spark three events. The birth day itself, although usually the baby and mother sleep through that one. Seven Day, seven years later, when the child is presented. And Seventy Day, a magnificent, if sadly rarer, celebration.
On his Seven Day, Raellanar stood before the head table. Trying not to fidget in his new silks, he stared at the fluffy confection piled high above him. He’d swiped a finger-full earlier. Honey-cream, his favorite. The divines droned on, praying to Celúturne, goddess of passages, lighting candles after each incantation.
A low rumbling surprised Raellanar. The table shook violently, throwing candles everywhere, knocking the confection onto him. Trapped under the heavy plate, he struggled, drowning. It seemed lifetimes before he was freed. He frantically wiped his face, coughing and crying.
Rumors of the bad omen spread. People worried for Raellanar, and feared him.
Raellanar changed. He became distraught when confronted with honey or candles. His parents hoped it would pass. Instead, he began avoiding more things, more social situations. When he inherited the throne, he could no longer hide. His bad days grew worse and more frequent.
Nobody said fear, not about a taen. Taens only have “unusual preferences.” The palace organized itself around these preferences.
An upcoming visit presented a crisis: Raellanar must ride alongside his guests. Horses terrified him, but he had no choice.
After weeks of cancellations, he finally visited the stables. The trainer was named Marza, a young kazatu woman, squat and practical. The horse seemed huge. Raellanar dreaded having to mount it. But Marza did not let him.
“Sit there, Taen. If you come too close, too fast, you’ll scare the horse. You need to be gentle. Patient. Watch me.”
Raellanar watched Marza. Watched her brush and clean, talk and feed, saddle and unsaddle. Two days later, she let him clean the horse. Three days after that, she let him get onto the horse. Not riding, only sitting. All the while, she coached him on staying calm, to not scare the horse.
He felt proud that he did not scare the horse.
Marza worked with Raellanar for months. Soft and slow, one lesson at a time. Eventually, his horse-fear faded.
One day, the two returned from a long ride. The taen looked at the horse trainer, her cheeks wind-reddened, her eyes bright, and wondered why he ever thought her plain. “Marza, would you ever… I mean, are you… That is, I am surprised to realize that I love you.”
Her smile filled his heart. “I am only surprised it took you this long to realize that.”
The city gurble-gabbled. The taen, marry a commoner? But his advisors had repeatedly failed at securing a noble match, and the commoners were thrilled.
On a garden bench, Raellanar’s eyes darted wildly. “Weddings are complicated. All those people. It’s… nerve-wracking.”
Marza caressed his arm. “You are sweet to think of me. But nobody knows protocol better than you. You can help me through it.”
And he did. They survived the week of celebrations and the wedding itself. That night, he curled up, shaking. He babbled about how Celúturne’s curse meant he couldn’t eat honey or have children. She listened, stroking his hair until he slept.
Under Marza’s care, Raellanar relaxed, accepting things he had avoided for years. Everyone was pleased. Yet one important problem remained.
Marza quietly consulted divines, witches, experts. She despaired. How could she fight a curse in her husband’s mind?
After much thought, she commissioned a bee-shaped charm and had it blessed. Then she served Raellanar a new spiced dessert. Not recognizing the flavor of honey after thirty years, he ate with great relish. At the bottom, he found the charm.
When Marza explained, he panicked. “What have you done? You’ve poisoned me!”
“No, darling. You ate the blessed honey and lived. The curse is vanquished!”
Raellanar was dubious, but the experts who examined him found no evidence of a curse. He must be cured.
Raellanar had clutched this burden for too long not to swoon at its absence. Marza led him to acceptance, step by step.
That night they feasted—honeyed pig, honeyed nuts, honeyed sweets. The more Raellanar ate, the lighter his heart.
Then they had dessert.
Next fall, Thoronit had another birth day celebration. As usual, the baby and the mother slept through it. But the father waved noise-makers on the palace balcony all night, singing with the cheering throng, his smile wide enough to take on the entire world.
Submitted for the Mutant 750 Challenge #52. Go to that link to see all the entries in this week’s contest. Happy birthday, Grammar Ghoul Press!
Prompts: the word “birth” and the picture below: