“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Toth. She was strong and smart, and could easily beat most of the boys in town at arm-wrestling. However, she was cursed to prick her finger on a spindle, and die. And, like a total idiot, she did. And totally died. The only one who could raise her from her sleep-like death/death-like sleep, or, at least, she was supposed to…”
“Why do I always have to be the princess?”
“C’mon, Toth, we’ve talked about this. You’re the only girl and-“
“-And I’m easily the toughest out of all of you! I want to be a knight, too!”
“Then what would we be rescuing?”
This was a common conversation to hear in Nowhere, specifically, in a small desert farming town, with houses maybe a bit too close together, and crops a bit too withered for harvest. After the kids finished with their chores, they’d run off to play with each other, to forget their worries for a while. You might wonder what worries a 7 year old could have, but, let it be known that there’s a lot to unpack there, so we’re not going to do that. Regardless, their favorite game to play-at the moment, that is-is knights and princesses, where the brave knights, Jethro and Santi, have to save the fair princess, Toth, who was trapped in a tower made of a few left over hay bales, from the evil dragon, Null. However, it appears that they only just realized that there may be a problem with the casting.
“It’s boring to be the princess! All you do is sit around waiting for somebody else to help you when they can barely help themselves!”
“Wow Toth, that’s kind of mean. Didn’t your mama teach you to speak better than that?” Asked Jethro, who was about to be pelted with a rock, if it wasn’t for Null just giving her a dead-eye stare of disapproval.
“Well then, what about that girl over there?” Toth pointed to a girl with two red braids and overalls, who was sitting near the fence of what was assumed to be her pa’s farm, reading a book that looked like it weighed almost as much as her.
“Skout? She never wants to play with us. She’s always so busy.” Null told her, as it was Toth’s first time playing in the area,
“She doesn’t look too busy now. Maybe I’ll ask her.” Toth said, crossing her arms.
That reply was what got Toth mad, mad enough to actually walk over there, while Null snickered, but as she walked, she got the slightest bit nervous, playing with her bobbed hair, it was too late to turn around, as she would be branded a coward by the trio, and she was not a coward, but something about Skout made her nervous. She wasn’t sure what, obviously she wasn’t intimidated by her, she looked like she weighed as much as a flour sack and was at least half a foot shorter than her.
Maybe it was just because she was bad at talking to people, she wasn’t very polite, she could come across as mean, and she was just plain and simply blunt. Maybe they should’ve sent somebody else over, but all too late, Toth reached her, and stood in front of the studious girl, casting a shadow over the book she was reading, causing her to respond.
“Hello! What is it?” She said, her voice had a southern twang to it, and she had a gap in her teeth that Toth could see when she smiled. Toth began to fidget and pick at her fingers.
“M-my name is Toth, and I was wondering if you’d want to play with us?” Skout beamed.
“Of course! My name is Skout!” She bounced to her feet and grabbed Toth’s hand to drag her over to the rest of them, as if Toth was the one who had to be convinced to come out to play on that hot, hot, hot day.
“They said you were always too busy to play.”
“Oh, that’s because I’m helping out my pa! I’m just…Not very good at it. He got mad at me and decided to give me a break for the rest of the day because I messed up. I can never do anything right.” She had a weird sort of sad smile on her face, and Toth had no idea how to deal with this, but luckily, she didn’t have to, because Skout sprung to life a mere second later. “So! What are we playing?”
“Knights and princesses.”
“Oh cool! I’ve read a whole bunch of books on this kinda stuff! What am I? Who do I get to be?” And Toth almost felt bad about telling her that she was invited to play to just be the princess in the tower, she was pretty enough to be one of course, of course, but the role was just so boring. However, Skout didn’t seem to think so.
“What? I get to be the princess? Yes!”
“Oh, I thought you might like it. You seem like the type.” Toth sighed with relief.
“What does that mean?” Oh no, oh no, what if Toth said the wrong thing and she got mad? She never wanted to be the princess because it was boring to her, but what if the girl-Skout-thought the same thing and thought Toth was calling her boring? Toth didn’t have too many friends as is, she didn’t need to lose any!
“Uh, you’re pretty? And your hair looks soft.” Her tummy was doing weird things while she was saying these things, but Skout’s face seemed to light up, and she looked almost embarrassed, based on how red her face was, but still continued smiling.
“Thank you! You’re pretty too!!”
They talked a bit more while they walked back to the precarious hay bale tower and the rest of the boys, and introduced Skout to them.
“Does that mean we can finally play the game?” Asked Null, clearly bored and wanting to do the thing where he was an actually threatening creature, while he helped Skout reach her spot at the very top of the pile.
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Skout. She was smart and kind, but also seemed like the kind of person who would be too afraid to throw an apple in the trash can while somebody was talking, lest garner the attention of everyone in the room, but that’s kind of irrelevant to the whole princess thing, so it usually isn't mentioned. She was cursed to prick her finger on a spindle, and die. And, like a total idiot, she did. And totally died. The only one who could raise her from her sleep-like death/death-like sleep, nothing could break such a spell, except, true love’s kiss pressed upon her lips. For many years-“
“Skout, get up! I’m here to rescue you!” Said Toth, who was careful in the way she balanced herself as well as Skout on the hay tower.
“You do know I work hard on these narrations, right?” Santi yelled, very irritated. “And even then! We’re both knights! We’re supposed to scale the tower and save the princess together!”
“How would that even work? Do we just climb to the top and then carry her down together? That’s inefficient and terrible.” Skout had given up pretending to be asleep at this point, and was more worried about falling 10 or 20 feet than who should be the one to save her. Null took advantage of this confusion.
“Ha ha ha! Only a true hero can wake the princess!” He cackled.
“That’s me! I’m a true hero!” Toth declared.
“No, it’s supposed to be Jethro and Santi…?”
“But the three of us are all knights? That means we can both save the princess.”
“I guess we didn't give you a role after Skout joined as the princess, so I guess you can be a knight, but you're a lady knight, Santi or Jethro was supposed to be the princess's true love, and you were supposed to be the one to slay the dragon. I thought you'd like that.”
“This was poorly planned.” Jethro said, stating the obvious.
“Keep talking like that and you’ll be relegated from knight to knife.” Toth said, pointing a finger at Jethro.
“Look at what you’ve done! You’re my knife now, pretend I threw you at the dragon.” And at that, Jethro shrugged, because it had been a long day at that point, and this was supposed to be actually fun, so, Jethro took the little direction he had and made a stabbing motion towards Null.
“STAB! You're dead!”
“Nice try, but I deflected your knife, with MY KNIFE!” Null yelled, grabbing Santi as a knife, who seemed to have some objections.
“Why do you have a knife? You’re a dragon!” Santi asked, almost hysterically but mostly confused.
“It's a dangerous desert out there, everyone owns a knife!” Toth said, pulling out her own actual knife to show off, letting the blade gleam and glitter in the sun before tucking it back gently into her boot.
“I also have a knife.” Skout said, nodding. She mimed throwing a boomerang. “SLICE! Dragon's dead.”
“God, slice is such a better sound effect.”
“Nice try, but too bad!! I deflected your tiny princess knife! My dragon scales are tougher than steel!”
“You know, fighting will only bring pain and sorrow to each and every one of you who partakes in it for years, you’ll never be able to scrub that blood off your hands. Maybe we can resolve this without fighting-“ Santi began.
“Dude, shut up.”
“VIOLENCE SOLVES EVERYTHING!” Toth declared once more. “I’M MAKING A BETTER KNIFE OUT OF HAY! AND BY HAY I MEAN GOLDEN FLEECE OR SOMETHING.”
“Are you replacing me?” Asked Jethro.
“YEAH, MY BAD. SORRY.” Toth threw some hay down, which separated into little individual straws that floated like leaves on the wind. “SLICE! Dragon's dead.”
“Didn't you forget? I’m stronger than steel.”
“I didn’t, did you notice how my hay-golden fleece knife falls apart? That’s because it wasn’t one knife. IT WAS A LOT OF THEM!” Skout whispered in her ear. “WHICH ALSO EXPLODED!” The three boys looked at each other, and then blinked.
“Okay, okay, okay…I’ll concede to that, but only my elbow is injured, which means if anybody on Toth’s side touches it, I lose.” He said, and Jethro made a lunge at him, Santi did as well, and soon the three were running while Null ducked and dodged. Toth had him right where she wanted him, and made the motion to jump, but the tower jostled too much, leaving Skout looking a bit more pale than she already was, gripping tightly onto the top hay bale.
“Maybe I should…Rescue you first, Princess…While the…Other knights distract the dragon!” Toth said, trying to get the pre-established lore they had built up in order in her head. “I’ll rescue you!”
Skout giggled at that. “My hero.”
Toth’s face gets darker and she can feel her face getting hot, although she doesn’t know why. “Yeah! I’m your hero!” She declares, while she helps Skout to her feet while standing on top of the tower. It’s shaky, and Skout won’t stop looking down, but Toth holds her hands and keeps whispering, “it’s okay, it’s going to be fine.” Maybe to Skout, maybe to herself, nobody could really be sure.
“I’m scared.” Skout murmurs, quietly, probably to herself, but Toth cannot allow this. Toth releases one of Skout’s hands in order to swoop down and carry her in her arms like a bride. Her arms are shaky and she’s struggling to hold her up, but Skout seems enchanted and almost amused.
“You have no reason to be scared, because I will be here to protect you!” Toth smiles, her first genuine smile that day, and Skout smiles in turn.
“My hero, my knight, oh! I owe you my very life, how can I ever repay you?” Skout asks, throwing on the theatrics. She looked at her with such mirth and kindness on her face that Toth thought made her seem incredibly soft and delicate. She was not this, and although she would not wish to be like that, she could appreciate this in another, and felt a strong need to protect it. Protect her from the world she was slowly beginning to understand.
“Y-you can repay me..With a kis-“
And in that moment, the quivering tower finally gave way, causing Skout and Toth to topple over in a heap, and finally attract the attention of the boys, who were still running around, thanks to Null’s quick maneuvering skills.
“Okay, guys, let’s be honest. How fun actually was that?” Null asked, looking to the others for their thoughts on the matter.
“Although we may not value the time we’ve spent now, we will cherish these careless days of youth when we’re older and have been hardened by time and circumstance.” Santi proposed thoughtfully.
“You learning how to read was the biggest mistake anyone has ever made.”
“Sorry about letting you fall, I should’ve been more careful.” Said Toth, while she was walking Skout home at sunset after a long day of talking and playing after they removed themselves from the hay bale wreckage and the other boys decided to play elsewhere for the rest of the day.
“It’s okay! I’m fine, anyways.” Skout waved her hand, and then walked with Toth the rest of the distance in a contemplative kind of silence, it was pleasant, though Toth felt like she should have had more to say, but couldn’t think of anything before Skout arrived at her house.
“I suppose this is goodbye until, another day perhaps…” Toth said, beginning to turn back for her home in the opposite direction.
“Actually,” Skout began. “If it’s alright with my pa, I was wondering if you might like to stay for dinner?” Skout put her hand out for Toth to grab, so Skout could pull her inside and tell her family about her new friend, and she could eat and drink and talk and laugh with them inside their warmly lit house, and you better believe Toth grabbed her hand.