A short story I’m writing really just to develop character and also develop Lunan’s past.
It’s not part of the book. But parts of it will be referenced later.
On the first Sunday of every month, Lunan and his parents would attend the service held in the old gothic steeple where he would often stare at the large domed ceiling and stained glass windows. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for church, but he was young and as any young child would, he grew bored. He had this little ritual of imagining a dragon breaking through the walls, shattering grey brick and stone, rubble falling everywhere. The dragon would motion with its great long neck for him to hop aboard. They would ride together over the pointy spires of the palace, the little thatched roofs of the village houses, the endless strips of forest and grassland that bordered the kingdom. For a while he’d daydream, and then church would be over and his father would take his hand and walk him back to the palace. He enjoyed church, because it meant leaving the castle for once, and seeing ordinary people. It was the only time he ever had any interaction with the world outside of his royalty. Although his young mind drifted and wandered the skies, he did like it. Seeing old woman wrapped in their little shaws and wearing thick brown boots. Seeing other little boys fiddling about as their fathers smacked them and whispered for them to behave themselves. So many people that looked so different, that looked so worn out.
When he got home, his friend Claus and he would rip off their nice shirts and itchy socks to run by the creek where they’d catch frogs and wriggly salamanders. At least they’d try. Lunan wasn’t so good at that, and he didn’t like the way they jumped out of his hands. One day they stood in the stream, knee deep, lunging down and grasping at the slippery creatures. He had planted his feet deep in the mud, bending down and scooping up his first catch. A fat, croaking bullfrog. Lunan’s eyes bulged and he stepped back, amazed to actually capture something. He looked over at Claus, who had not noticed. His muddy hands grasped around the stomach of the fat amphibian, shaking as he tried not to squeeze it to death but also gripped it hard enough that it could not escape. Claus was waving a long twig like thing in the water, poking at the floating leaves and moss that drifted by lazily. His pumpkin shorts puffed in the water, lavender now a wetter, darker shade of purple.
Lunan was struggling to keep his grip, plus, he hated the feeling of slime oozing through his fingers.
The river bank was grassy and also quite warm from the sun. Lunan thought about quickly tossing the frog in the grass and then diving after it. There would be no chance of him finding it again if he dropped it in the water.
He threw it in the grass and then sloshed through the water, dragging his heavy legs and jumping after it. Only then did Claus look up from his absentminded twig twirling.
Lunan had a mouthful of grass and dirt, and the bullfrog was quickly hopping out of sight. Peacefully, Claus waded through the stream and went to stand over the panting pink haired boy.
Lunan grumbled something, because he was embarrassed, and actually secretly a bit afraid of frogs. Claus extended a hand to help him up. Lunan took it, begrudgingly, and then looked around him quickly. He needed to find that frog before that frog found him…
“You know, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s okay if you don’t want to do this anymore. We can find somewhere else to play.”
Lunan released a sigh of relief. “Was is that obvious?”
“Yeah. Let’s go down to town and scare some of the little girls who play in the square.”
Lunan blinked at him, eyes owlish.
“A-are we allowed to do that? Father says not to leave the palace walls, and-”
“We’ll come back. There’s a broken chunk of walk near the Garden we can sneak back into if we need to. C’mon. Scaring girls is the best.”
“I don’t know-”
Claus placed a hand on his shoulder. Steadied him. Looked him in the eye.
“Lunan. You’re a prince. You can be in the palace all you want, for the rest of your life. We can stay here and lose all the bullfrogs, or we can go out and bother all the girls.”
“We’re best friends, right?”
Lunan gulped and nodded. Claus was his only friend outside of the maids, who didn’t really count.
“Please, let’s do this, just once. For fun?”
Lunan didn’t want to lose his only friend, and it made him happy to make other people happy.
“You know the way there?”
Claus nodded, grinned. “Oh yeah.”
And with that, the two boys slipped out of the castle from a gap in the garden wall and walked towards the village. Lunan kept looking behind him nervously. He was expecting his father to be there to scold him and pull him inside for a good beating. But he never appeared. Claus was relaxed as usual, his smile sunny and his posture straight and strong. He almost swayed as he walked. It was the most carefree kind of strut he had ever seen.
Lunan found himself falling behind. They zigzagged between crowds of people, Claus a natural navigator, Lunan a natural at getting lost. At one point Lunan had lost sight of his friend’s dark spiky head, until he felt someone tug him and pull him forward. It was Claus, who hissed in his ear for him to keep up. Again Lunan gulped. Nodded. Tried to quicken his pace and keep Claus’s frilly purple collar in sight. He felt his heart pulse spastically each time he bumped into an unknown adult. They all towered over him, like wrinkled, foreign trees. So many faces he had never seen before. They all bumped into him, washed over him, cursed at him when he didn’t watch where he was going. Again and again Claus had to pull him back into his view. It was getting to be quite a chore. Lunan wanted to go back home, to his parents, to the loving arms of his mother, the familiar marble floors and high arching ceilings…
Overstimulation. Sounds. Voices barking out the costs of fruits. Vendors and customers bickering, bartering, trading. Kids running around. Parents pulling them out of the way of other adults. Carriages rolling down on cobblestone. Horses whinnying, hoofs scraping and clopping on stone. Woman hushing their chattery husbands who seemed to have something against candy shops. Grumpy old men breathing out heavy breaths. So many breaths. So many heartbeats. Lunan felt as if he were about to faint.
“We’re almost there,” Claus assured him. “Almost.”
Lunan nodded weakly in response. Claus was still dragging him by the arm, holding onto him tightly so they wouldn’t get separated again. They came to the center square of the town. Here they saw many great things. A majestic stone fountain, featuring sculpted mermaids spouting water that gushed and collected around then in one pool of water. At the very edge of the fountain, a few young girls dipped their feet in timidly. They sat on the edge of the stone, shifting their little bodies back and forth, sometimes reaching fingers town to create ripples. They were giggling like forest fairies and swaying their bare feet over the edge of the stone. Claus released Lunan and looked over at the girls. He just stared at him. Surely he couldn’t be serious. They were so happy and innocent. Why would he want to scare them? And why did he want Lunan to help him do it? Claus motioned for him to follow. They snuck their way around the fountain, kneeling down in some nearby bushes to watch the girls from behind. Lunan was relieved to be out of the crowd, but an anxious tugging in his lungs disturbed his normally quiet breaths. He did not think this was right.
“This is mean-”
“We’re not hurting them. It’ll be funny,” Claus said. “Here.”
He handed him an odd looking animal mask. It appeared to be a deranged owl of sorts, feathers charcoal black and mud brown. It looked handmade.
“Where did you get this?”
Claus shrugged. “My dad’s an artist, remember? I found it in his studio and he let me have it.”
“What are you going to wear?”
He held up another mask, this one a bizarre bluejay. If bluejays were the masters of nightmares. There were ragged, horrid feathers and a twisting beak. The eye holes were slanted and lined with deeply furrowed feathered brows.
Claus smiled his clean smile. “Nice, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah. Nice art. But…”
“It’ll be fine.”
His tone was gentle, his eyes kind. Claus was not mean spirited to any extent. He was mischievous, and once he got an idea he often pulled others into it. But he didn’t mean to malicious. He just wanted to have fun. Fun, that was all it was. Still, Lunan’s lungs felt strained and his heart rate spastic. He watched his friend put on the mask, and then he slowly did the same. They slowly stood up from their positions, tiptoeing up behind the girls. Lunan didn’t make a sound, but Claus dramatically raised his arms and gave out a great bird like screech. Curly heads bobbed and spun around, one even toppled backwards into the fountain. Lunan’s hands rose to cover his mouth as he gasped. Claus continued to act, but Lunan ripped off his mask and helped the little girl up from the water. She glared at him, eyes brimmed red.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed out, holding out his hand. The girl studied him, with her hazel eyes and almost invisible blond eyebrows narrowing.
“It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He bent down a little more, attempting to appear as docile as possible. Smiling, eyes screaming apologies. She wrapped her fingers around his and let him pull her up. There was a splosh! And then water dropped down from her skirts.
“Are you okay?”
She just stared at him, blinking and squinting before looking away.
“My spectacles. Where are they?” She looked around frantically. “They’re expensive!”
“I’ll find them. We’ll find them.”
Lunan tried to calm her down. They weren’t anywhere on the ground, in the bluish gray gravel, so he assumed they must have slipped off when she fell into the fountain. Teetering over the edge, he peered into the water and saw them glimmering. They were far out of arm’s reach. The fair little girl looked up at him expectantly, carefully studying his actions. He went in, trudging in thigh high water, retrieving the wire glasses.
He was soaked to the skin. Claus had stopped to watch him. The girls were smacking him with their little bags and purses, yelling in his ears. The blonde girl noticed him then, gasping.
He froze, managed to wave awkwardly before wincing from another smack from a very heavy purse.
“You know him?” Lunan asked as he handed her the glasses. She took them, drying them off gingerly with her skirt while scowling.
She then looked down at her shoes sheepishly.
Lunan looked over at Claus for an explanation. He had managed to get away from the girls who had tromped off angrily after kicking him in the groin. He stood there, pained, trying not to cry. Looking mortified, really. This was his idea.
“Sh-she’s the storytellers daughter. Sometimes our parents work together… My dad illustrates and her dad writes.”
The little girl put on her glasses and blinked at him. “Why did you do that?” Her voice reminded Lunan of a dove cooing each word, soft and melodic. Her whole aura was very delicate, like a dove.
“I’m sorry. It was a wicked thing to do,” Lunan said. “Claus thought it would be fun.”
As soon as he said this Claus’s eyes grew. He let out a short breath.
“By the way, what’s your name?”
The girl had moved closer to Lunan, hiding from the now accused boy across from them. She hugged his waist, and he startled but carefully relaxed and held her protectively. This was new.
“Her name is Becky,” Claus said, sounding pained.
“Rebecca,” she whispered. She refused to look at him.
“Right,” Lunan looked at both of them. There was obviously some tension, but he sensed that it came from a deeper place than just this little incident. Had Claus known that she was going to be there, and purposely planned this? Or had it all been an accident? Why would he want to scare such a soft hearted girl?
“We’ll take you home, apologize for ruining your dress,” Lunan said. Again Claus’s eyes grew, bulging out of his skull like the eyes of the bullfrog Lunan had squeezed. He looked terrified at this prospect.
“It’s okay, Claus. I’ll do it.”
Rebecca still clung to him tightly. He tried to gently pry her hands from around his waist.
“Hey, you need to let go so you can show me where you live.”
She released him, but stayed by his side. She pointed down the block. Claus gulped, looked like he wanted to say something else.
“Bec-Rebecca. I didn’t mean to-”
She glared at him and he stopped mid sentence. Her hand fell to Lunan’s wrist.
“He’s very sorry,” Lunan said, realizing the substantial drop in his best friend’s demeanor. “You can forgive me, so can you forgive him too? Look how sad he looks. He probably thinks you hate him now.”
“I do hate him.” It was a whisper.
“But he said he was sorry, I don’t think he meant to hurt you-”
“Lunan- just go,” Claus said.
He nodded, taking Rebecca’s hand and guiding her down the cobblestone road. They passed by a row of twin houses, triangular, pointy roofs sticking up in shingled layers.
She pointed to a house at the very end of the row. His heart beat in his skull as he had to pass through the large crowd of people again. His first time going out into town without his parents and he was already guiding a girl home. In a place he really knew almost nothing about. He tried to keep his composure, for her sake, because she seemed to be even more frightened than he.
He led her down to the house where they stopped and knocked on the door. A woman answered and gasped upon seeing them. As Lunan was about to apologize and explain himself, the woman called her husband over and the two of them began to gush.
“Prince Lunan and our daughter in one place together!”
“I cannot believe this is happening!”
Lunan blinked. He was a prince… He often forgot how extraordinary this must have seemed to other people. He was just a person, and his title was something he forgot until situations like this. They bowed down to him, causing him to flush.
“No, no no please don’t do that… Please get up.”
They got up immediately. How embarrassing. He cleared his throat and looked at Rebecca who held his hand and did not react as her parents did.
“I apologize, my friend and I scared your daughter and caused her to fall into the fountain. I’m really sorry. She’s all wet and cold now…”
“It’s fine! Fine fine!” The woman said, rushing her daughter inside, catching herself as she tried to bow again.
“Thank you your majesty for bringing her back. We are forever in your debt.”
Lunan grew flustered. “No. It was all my fault in the first place.”
“Could you… Could you sign this portrait I have?”
The woman handed her a small painting of the royal family. A younger version of himself sat in the corner of the photo with his mother and father. He nodded, taking the ink and scratching out his signature. The woman was positively delighted, thanking him, stuttering, rambling on. Rebecca hid behind her mothers skirts and peered at him during the whole ordeal. She didn’t seem to be surprised that he was the prince, or be affected by it in any way. Perhaps that was why she had clung onto him so tightly. She saw him as some kind of figure or hero.
The attention was so strange and disgruntling. It made him want to hide away. Perhaps this was why his parents never let him leave the castle walls. He managed to leave their doorstep, waving goodbye to them, frantic to leave and find Claus.
He was sitting by the fountain, looking very un-Clauslike.
“Hey,” Lunan said, approaching him. He didn’t look up. “Hi.”
“It’s okay, we’re not in trouble. They just seemed amazed that I’m the prince. I kind of forgot it myself.”
Claus nodded, dragging a muddy boot in the gravel. The water spouted behind them in transparent sheets, gently misting their already damp skin.
“It was a bad idea. You were right. I didn’t think she would be here.”
“Yeah. It’s okay.”
Lunan hated seeing anyone upset, even if they had done something to deserve the feeling. He just wanted everyone to be at peace.
“So are you two like friends? Or enemies? And don’t you hate girls?”
Claus shrugged. “We’re …acquaintances? She used to come over and play with me while our parents worked. She’d paint me little sheep and foxes and things and I’d give her pretend tattoos with ink.”
“She likes trees a lot for some reason. So I would paint branches on her arms and down her fingers.”
Lunan looked at his friend curiously, a faint smile painting his lips in quiet amusement. He never knew about any of this.
“Do you… Like her or something?”
“No. She’s antisocial and overdramatic and annoyingly smart.”
Lunan didn’t really believe this but he nodded. “Well, she’s okay now so don’t worry. We should go back.”
Claus got up, picked up the dirty masks and led Lunan out of town