The Twelve Dancers
Worn-out shoes. That’s what it came down to. He was risking his life for worn-out shoes. He shifted back on his heels in the mud, and raised his fingers to the place where a thorn had torn a sticky gash in his neck. He’d had far worse, but it was all of a piece with this whole night.
The thing had stank from the beginning. Find the secret in three nights or be put to death? What sort of offer was that? But the king was a father and fathers got desperate. He hadn’t been far from desperate himself — out of a job, out of money, about to exhaust his options. No one seemed to want his nicked and battered sword or equally battered self.
So he’d offered himself up, and things had only gotten worse. The princesses’ quarters had given him a bad feeling of the kind he hadn’t had in years, not since that disastrous campaign that still hurled him out of sleep in a sweat at night. The girls’ faces. The bars on the windows, the poisoned spikes. Were they meant to keep people out or in? He couldn’t have slept there for the throne itself. Dumping the drugged wine and following them out of that hellhole had been something out of a dream or a nightmare, he wasn’t sure which.
And here he crouched behind the brambles in a cavern where no brambles should grow, watching the princesses dance. There was an eerie beauty to it, but it wasn’t the grace but the sense of purpose that riveted him. He had one more night. From the way the power was building, he wouldn’t need it. When tomorrow night came, the king would have other things to worry about.
He looked up again, and found the oldest princess’ eye on him, finding him again and again through the whirl of the dance. He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded gravely and turned back toward the castle path.
This week I’m combining prompts for the first time: Write on Edge‘s Write at the Merge challenge gave us a Degas dancer and an Ayn Rand quote about slaves and masters, and Trifecta Writing Challenge gave us the word EXHAUST (verb):
I was pretty convinced slavery and dancers were going to stump me, but then another fairy tale happened. Thanks for reading!