Little Moment: The Sorceress And the Knight
By Eric ‘Erico’ Lawson
Prologue: Her Name Was Bezel
Once Upon A Time, In an Age of Wonders…
The world of Terra existed on the fringe of the galaxy, and was avoided or ignored by almost all the other strange-looking travelers from the stars, who spoke with a thousand tongues and wore a thousand shapes. When they came, they almost always walked lightly, came with deference in their hearts, and usually left in a hurry. They had reason to be fearful. Terra was protected. The whole of the world was watched over by the vigilance of the guardians who hailed from the great, artificial continent of Atlantis, a flying, enspelled landmass that sailed through the world’s skies.
Terra was a world of magic, and Atlantis reigned as its guiding light.
That was what everyone said, but the dark-haired boy who sat in the park by the pond while his mother watched from nearby wondered about that. If Atlantis was really so wonderful, why was his mom always working? Why, when she had time to play with him, were they only able to visit places that were free? What was so wonderful when he could see the worry that always pinched at her eyes, that her smiles and distracting laugh never quite covered up? He glanced back at her for a second, and saw her slumped on the bench, her eyes closed. It made him feel worse, made him ignore the hunger in his belly for a little bit more. She was so tired. She lied about it to make him feel better, to keep him focused. But he was never focused. He wanted to make it right.
But he couldn’t. He was a child, as everybody who bothered to talk to him always said. Some said it in pity, others with scorn. And what could a child do to change anything?
“You okay?” A girl’s voice cut into his bitter fuming, and he jerked his head up in surprise, whirling around to the source. He froze when piercing green eyes, open with concern and honest curiosity, pinned him to the spot. It took him a second to remember to breathe.
It wasn’t until she frowned and poked at his forehead that he remembered how to move, scooting back away from her with a noise of surprise. “What are you doing?!” He yelped softly.
Back farther away from the girl with green eyes that sparkled like wet grass in the morning, he was able to pay attention to the rest of her. She had been crouched next to him, and her clothes were much finer than his; she was clearly of a higher caste. Was he even allowed to be next to her? Sure, the castes weren’t separated by law , but his mother had always warned him to not stare at those above their station. To not talk to them unless they spoke to you first.
Mostly, though, he stared at her plaited red hair that hung to her shoulders; red like a fire, not dull like the color of blood or rust. For a moment he wondered if it was soft as it looked, and he reached up into his own messy dark hair, clean but coarse.
The girl pouted and stood back up, dusting off her skirt. “You looked sad and angry.” She explained. “Why?”
He should have gone back to his mother then. He should have walked away from this crazy little girl with the big curious eyes. He didn’t.
“Just worried.” He muttered. “S’not fair.”
“What isn’t?” She pressed him, tilting her head to the side.
And what was a good answer to that question? What would sum it all up?
He waved a hand around them, encompassing the whole of his world, and let out a grunt.
Maybe she understood. More than likely, she didn’t.
She had a leather satchel on a strap over one shoulder, and it bounced lightly off of her waist. “Wanna help me feed the ducks?” She asked him brightly, and dug out a paper bag full of torn bread chunks, with a little clear window in the side that let him see them.
His stomach growled loudly at the sight of so much food, and he winced when he saw her blink in surprise. He turned away from her.
There was the sound of her digging through her satchel again, and then something cool touched his shoulder; an apple, he realized, when he turned to it. It was enormous , and cold, and so bright and crispy looking without a blemish on it.
“Here.” She said, smiling at him. “You can have it.” He stared between the fruit that was so much more delicious than anything he’d ever seen in his life and the girl with hair like fire and eyes like grass, and took it from her. Hunger won out, and he practically inhaled it .
It was only after he’d finished it down to the core and stem that she giggled that he remembered to feel embarrassed. “Thanks.” He said through his blush.
“You’re welcome.” She told him. “ Now you wanna help me feed the ducks?”
“Okay.” He said, because for as nice as she’d been to him, he probably owed her a favor. And feeding the animals that coasted out on the pond? Well, if that’s what she wanted…
They sat by the water’s edge with the bag between them, tossing out bread crusts and even pieces of the softer interior into the water. The fowl quacked and came in closer, out of reach but close enough to grab and tear at the nourishment they were being freely given. He snuck a piece for himself every so often as well, because even the apple hadn’t touched the bottomless pit of his stomach. She caught him doing it, but she never said a word. She just smiled at him. He felt the need to explain anyways.
“Doesn’t your daddy feed you enough?”
“I don’t have a dad.” He said. “But mom tries. She works a lot.”
“I don’t have a mom.” The girl looked away sadly. “Is she nice?”
“Yeah.” He plucked out another handful of bread chunks and stared at it for a moment before offering one to her. She got a squinty look in her eye, like she was trying to figure out if it was okay to eat it or not, but she finally gave in and popped it in her mouth. She seemed to get more enjoyment out of how naughty she thought it was than how it tasted. “I mean, I take care of myself a lot. And sometimes she sings for me. She would sing a lot when I was younger.” He gestured up behind them, and the girl gasped to see his mother sleeping on the park bench.
“She’s pretty!” The girl whispered, as if them talking in a normal voice might wake her up even at a distance. “Why is she sleeping?”
“She’s tired.” The boy said, and when the girl got confused, he explained. “She works all the time.” He shrugged, knowing that it was a part of life. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right, but…
But it was. And he couldn’t change it, no matter how mad he got. His mom was always telling him to stop getting so angry about the things he couldn’t change.
The lesson didn’t always stick.
“It’s not right.” The girl pouted. “What if she wanted to play with you? What if you wanted to play with her?”
He shrugged, but he didn’t look away from the girl, who was scowling now. He could see it in her eyes; she knew it wasn’t right, either. But there was something about her that burned at it. Like she thought it was wrong, sure, but that she could change it .
What could he say to her? She ended up picking up the bag of bread pieces and dumping the rest out onto the pond all at once, then she stood up and held out a hand to him. “I’ll play with you, then.”
He blinked. “You will? But...but I’m not…”
“You’re not what?”
He pulled at his faded shirt, then gestured to her much nicer clothes, made from nicer fabric, which didn’t look like it had been washed and reused and patched up over and over again. “We’re different.” He said, because even if she was just a girl , she should have understood this much about the world, that her kind didn’t associate with his.
But she didn’t understand it, or she didn’t care. She scowled again and grabbed at his hand, tugging ineffectively until he finally surrendered and stood up, balancing her so she didn’t fall backwards.
“We’re not different.” She insisted, with the weight of stubborn finality.
He blinked a few times, grinned. “Wanna play tag?”
It turned out she did, and they kept chasing after each other after that, laughing and screaming when one got close enough to the other to reach a hand out and smack them in the arm or on the back. And once, when he stopped running after that, she tried tickling him.
He proved to be a lot better at it, as she started shrieking with wild laughs, trying to squirm out of his grip and failing at it. She only stopped when a loud shouting voice got close enough to be heard, and then her face went shock white. He stopped tickling her, wondering what was wrong.
“Princess!” Along the path through the park came a middle-aged woman with worry lines streaking across her face. She’d seen them and was charging as fast as she could, and from behind, the boy winced when he heard his mother shouting his name as well.
The boy and the girl could do nothing but wait as the women came racing towards them, but while they separated, she kept hold of his hand and refused to let go. He didn’t know why, but he stayed put and managed to not be afraid. But his head was swimming.
The older woman came to a stop in front of them, panting and livid. “Princess Bezel, you cannot go running off like that!” She admonished the little girl, and at the sound of her name, the boy jerked his head to the side and stared at her in shock.
Merciful mana, he had been playing with the youngest daughter of the Mage King . They would punish him for this. They would hurt his mother. They would throw them in prison, or…
But Bezel, undaunted in the face of the woman, stepped in front of him protectively, never letting go of his hand. “I’m fine!” She snapped in her high voice. “We were just playing!”
The older woman scowled again, and looked past the children. The boy knew she was staring at his mother, because not a second later…
“Forgive us.” He shut his eyes, because he could hear her settle into the grass. She was kneeling . “My son, he was…”
“He should know better than to associate with one so high above his station.” The other woman growled.
“Why you gotta be so mean?!” Bezel snapped. “Stop it! He’s my friend! You’re just my Nanny, you don’t get to talk to them like that!”
He jerked a little at the title of friend , and looked at the girl who he’d never really known. Did he know her now? Or did nobody understand who she was, with a head and a heart full of fire?
The other woman looked like she’d been sucking on a lemon, but settled for a snap of her fingers. “Come, Princess.” She said in a crisp voice that would brook no argument. “We are leaving and going home.”
“But…” Bezel nibbled at her lip.
“ Now , Princess. And we will tell nobody about what happened here if you stop fighting me on this.”
“...He won’t be in trouble?” Bezel murmured, looking back at him in concern.
“No.” The nanny sighed. “Not if we leave right this instant. Agreed?”
“...Fine.” Bezel let go of his hand, and he missed it the second her fingers drifted away. There were tears in her eyes, but she looked between him and his mother and kept on smiling. “Thanks for playing with me. I had fun.” She gave an elaborate curtsy, then toddled over to her nanny, who turned her around and walked her off, never letting go of her arm. Not her hand, just her arm, clutched by the elbow.
Princess Bezel, the youngest daughter of the Mage King of Atlantis, looked over her shoulder as she was led away, and the boy couldn’t help but stare back at her.
It wasn’t fair, he said to himself again. She had only wanted to play, and…
His mother engulfed him in a warm hug a second later, killing his thought. “Are you all right?” She asked fearfully, pulling back and examining him. “I woke up and you were gone and…”
“I’m fine, mom.” He tried to keep her from panicking. “I’m fine, see? We were just playing.”
“Did you...Did you know …”
He looked down at the ground at that. Did he know he was playing with Princess Bezel? No. No, he hadn’t. He shook his head, and she sighed in relief.
“Was she friendly?” She asked him, when she was less scared and back to being herself again. Tired, but cheerful. He looked up at his mom and nodded with a smile. “So, what did you play?”
“Tag. And tickle fights.” He explained, giggling when his mom let out a choking gasp. “I won.”
She just sighed and ran a hand through his hair before hugging him tight. “Did you have fun today then?”
“Yeah, mom. I did.” And he meant it, and he wasn’t as hungry. He wondered if he’d ever taste anything as delicious as the apple Bezel had given him ever again. He wondered if he’d ever see Bezel again.
When his mother was walking him home, though, he got the feeling that he wouldn’t. It was an ache that wouldn’t go away.
That night, he learned he’d been right, as over a dinner with more food than usual, his mom tried not to cry while she told him that they would be moving. To the Below. To the lands beneath Atlantis. She tried to make it sound like an adventure; she had a new job there, and there would be more to eat. Probably.
He should have been sleeping. He knew that. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day, his mom had said. They would be packing up their belongings, leaving. He would be tired for most of it.
He didn’t care. His mother slept somehow, and he snuck past her, got outside, climbed up onto the roof and sat on top of their shack and stared up at the spires of the castle that stood at the heart of Atlantis, miles away. He stared at that castle and tried to think of Bezel, a Princess who had just wanted to be a normal girl for one afternoon.
He stared at the castle and wondered if she would even remember him.
He stared at the castle and remembered her green eyes and her fiery red hair and knew that he would never forget her.
He stared at the shacks and smelly huts all around him, and up at the castle, and remembered that it wasn’t fair .
Don’t get angry over the things you can’t change, my precious one. He heard his mother’s words echo in him, as they always did, his guide and his conscience both.
He had trouble listening to it now.
The anger that Bezel had shown, even for a flash of an instant…
That came so much easier.