It was late evening when the older siblings of the other children showed up. The smaller ones protested, stating that they couldn’t leave until Princess Aife saved the kingdom. The older ones were puzzled but shook their heads, ushering out their siblings, giving cash to the storyteller. $5, $20, $10… The storyteller looked at this cash in their hands. They knew people who could use this money more than they did. They pocketed the money and went to get their own family ready for bed.
A few days later, one of the older teens walked up to the storyteller.
“So, my litter sister wants to know if Princess Aife saved the kingdom yet,” they said.
The storyteller blinked and shook their head.
“Naw, she ain’t do all that yet. I have been too busy to finish it. Why?”
“Well… She was talking to me about it,” he started, rubbing the back of his neck. “And like… I kinda wanna know what happens next, too…” he said, almost embarrassed. The storyteller started laughing, tears welling up in their eyes.
“Well, I mean… You’re welcome to come over tomorrow. We are all able to take a break them, yah? So come over tomorrow. Bring food and drink because I guess I’ll be telling stories all day.”
It was early afternoon when they had a knock on their door. When the storyteller opened the door, it seemed the entire building was at her door. They stared wide-eyed at everyone and looked out the window.
“It’s nice outside! Let’s go outside!”
They laid blankets under one of the still standing trees in the yard. The sun was just warm enough for everyone to be comfortable in the shade, the wind was slow and relaxing. The storyteller was suddenly nervous. This story was just supposed to be a story for their little sister. They looked over at her. She was front row center with Gorty and some of the other children. She still wore her birthday crown, even though that was almost a week ago. Gorty was a lot bigger than he was a week ago, too. He seemed to almost double in size.
The storyteller took a deep breath.
The Queen rode through the kingdom on horseback, dodging and jumping over things on fire. She tried to hurry her way to the castle, but the horse refused to move because of the spreading fires. She jumped off the horse, picking up her dress and running as quickly as she could through the burning doors of the castle. She covered her mouth with her cape and rushed upstairs, the smoke still choking and blinding her. She rushed to her room, throwing up the door. The fires hadn’t made it in here. She went to her desk, dipping a feather in ink and scribbling a note. She rolled it up and sealed it, her heart racing. As if they heard their silent screams, her friend showed up at the balcony door. They hooted loudly, pushing open the door.
“Oh, friend!” The queen cried, tears rolling down her face. She threw her arms on the bird’s neck, squeezing tightly. She wiped her face in their feathers, taking in the smell of earth, wind and freedom once more. She looked up at the bird’s face, rubbing their beak. She took a deep breath and made a motion with her arm. The bird nodded, lifting up a wing, showing a hidden satchel. The Queen placed the note into the bag and kissed the bird.
The bird nodded and turned away, taking off from the balcony in a hurry. The Queen watched them fly away, only to let out a shrill scream as a hail of arrows came from underneath the bird. Too big and too wide, the bird tried to move out the way but screamed across the kingdom as 2 arrows managed to make their eye a target. The bird kept flying, however, struggling to keep the course.
The Queen watched horrified, wishing she had just jumped on the bird’s back and flew away with them. Something to the east got her eye. A tiny brown dot rushed toward the castle. The Queen’s heart soared, her eyes welling up with both grief and joy. Her baby hadn’t died.
Aife watched the smoke from the castle, her eyes searching for her mother’s balcony in it. She saw her mother’s bright red dress against the light greys of the smoke. Aife’s heart started to pound.
“Please be faster!” she pleaded with her friend. The dog growled and took off in a sprint, their paws leaving burn marks in the grass. Aife kept her eyes on her mother, her mouth slowly opening to let out a noise that wouldn’t come. The rush of wind muted itself. All she could see was a figure come up behind her mother.
The Queen turned around and stared at the person in front of her.
“I knew it was you,” she said, before gasping. A knife made its way into her belly. She stared at the person as she stumbled back against the railing.
“You will fail,” she whispered before she leaned back and fell off the balcony.
Aife watched her fall into the trees. Her friend turned into that direction. They followed the river for miles before the dog slowly came to a stop. Aife jumped down, looking at the limp body of her mother. She threw up. She wiped her mouth on her sleep and walked over to the body.
The Queen was leaned up against a log, the current pushing against her. Her body was soaked, having been carried by the river a few miles. Her eyes were closed, her mouth slightly open. Aife slowly reached over, pushing a strand of hair from her mother’s face. Hot tears fell down her cheeks, little whimpers leaving her mouth finally. The Queen stirred slightly. Aife’s hands suddenly moved from the Queen.
“Sweet… Baby…” The Queen gasped. “I… Love…” She smiled at Aife, a hand slowly making her way to Aife’s cheek. “Pretty…”
Aife sobbed loudly when the Queen’s hand dropped.
The storyteller looked up. A good chunk of the listeners were crying. Their younger sibling was bawling.
They storyteller gave them a time to collect themselves, taking this time to drink water.
Aife sat with her mother for a while, humming the nothing songs that her mother would sing to her. She looked to her friend, who huffed and slowly made their way over. Gingerly, they pulled the Queen from the river and went off to start digging.
Aife gently cleaned up her mother with her own cape, taking her arms and crossing them down at her stomach. She stared at the knife. Her hands started to shake as she slowly pulled it out. Her tiny hands stared at the intricate ancient carvings on the blade, the rubies and obsidian in the handle. She set it aside, going back to preparing her mother. The dog came back and knelt down, allowing Aife to put her mother’s body on their back. Aife followed behind the dog, singing softly. She picked up flowers along the way, arranging them by color and size. The dog knelt down next to a grave. Aife moved her mother’s body into it.
“I hope to remember your face, always. Please visit me when you can. I love you.”
She placed her bouquet on her mother’s chest and backed up, letting the dog push the dirt into the hole.
Aife and her companion took off soon after, emerging from the forest when the sun made the sky match the embers of the castle.
The sun was starting to set when the storyteller decided to call it quits. Their throat was raw by this time. Everyone started to pack up, the older teens and adults coming over and thanking them for telling the story, some of the people handing the storyteller a few loose bills.
“Maybe you can do this every week,” one of them said, teasing. The storyteller nodded and smiled, actually thinking about it. They brought it up to their sibling at dinner.
“What if I told the whole neighborhood the story every week? Would that be okay?”
The younger sibling ate at her food, swinging her feet. Gorty slept under her chair.
“I don’t mind! I watched the people today and they were so into it! They really like how you do voices, too! You should… You should also write it out…”
The storyteller nodded.
The next day was the community meeting.
“Anyone else have anything to say?” one of the complex leaders asked. The storyteller stood up quickly and cleared their throat. All eyes were on them. Their hands felt clammy.
“I uh… Ahem… During our Free Day, I’ll be telling a story about Princess Aife and how she wins a kingdom.”
There were hushed whispers. The ones who were at the story yesterday cheered and clapped. One of the leaders tilted her head.
“Oh? Is this a book?”
“No, it’s a story I started telling my little sister for her birthday and it just kinda spread in our building over the week. So… If you wanted to listen in… We’re over at D.”
The people who weren’t in the know were brought up to speed with the people who were after the meeting. The storyteller went to go get their sister from the play area when one of the leaders hustled over to them.
“Hey there! I just wanted to thank you for doing your story. I’ve never seen the complex so excited about this. Is there anything you need? I can imagine that it’s rough on your throat. I’ve never heard you talk before but you sound hoarse,” he said, smiling at them.
The storyteller giggled bashfully.
“It’s no problem. Probably just water and maybe like… something for my throat to numb it, ahah… Oh! I have been getting donations for doing this. Is there anything the complex needs while I’m out? I can also give you some. I know repairs are expensive.”
The leader held up their hand, shaking their head.
“That is your money. We are doing just fine. Thank you however for your offer. Anyway… I can’t wait to listen to the story,” they said, patting the storyteller on the shoulder before taking off.
The storyteller smiled a bit.
“I have to buy a notebook,” they said to themselves.