WHO LISTENS TO FATE ANYWAY?
By: Meadhbh Dhommnail
Abigail wished sometimes that her parents hadn’t cared quite as much, hadn’t been nearly so certain that their child was destined for greatness. Maybe then, they wouldn’t have bothered with hiring the old witch to be there on the day of her birth, ready to pronounce blessings or announce destinies. It was, apparently, the thing to do if you were a family of means looking to social climb in those days. None of those parents seemed to realize how terrible it can be to know, beyond doubt, what your destiny will be.
Abigail was not destined for greatness. At best, she would only be greatness-adjacent. She wouldn’t be marrying any princes or saving any damsels or killing any dragons. She was doomed to be a sidekick.
And Abigail did not want to be a sidekick. She mostly wanted to be left alone. She refused to even try to make friends, lest she accidentally pull one of them into her destiny and doom them to a life of heroism or worse. No, it was better for her to avoid her destiny as best she could, and the best way to do that was to avoid everyone and be as grumpy and humorless about it as possible.
Fortunately, it wasn’t that difficult to be grumpy when you’re a teenage girl in self-imposed exile. Unfortunately, Fate has ways of intervening.
It was a normal day. Abby walked to the neighborhood school, where she sat in the back corner and did absolutely nothing to draw attention to herself. When one of the newer schoolboys smiled at her, she gave him the blankest look she could manage. Not a sneer, not a smile, only the most perfect, practiced non-expression would do.
The day went by without incident, though there were at least three opportunities for a sarcastic quip and one for a particularly good pun, all of which she carefully kept to herself. It was safer that way.
It happened on the way home. A normal day, spent in her normal occupation of ignoring everyone and pretending to be invisible, taking her normal path home from school.
She had tried. She had tried so hard. But now there was a dragon sitting in the middle of the road and she just couldn’t.
“No,” she said to the dragon.
The dragon huffed. “Well, it’s not like I wanted to be here either. I was just minding my own business, and next thing I know I’m sitting in the middle of a road I don’t know where. I just want to go back to my lair.”
The dragon stared at her. “Are you to be the damsel, then? You don’t look very damselish. You’re not slender, and your bosom doesn’t exactly heave, does it?”
Abby looked down at her plump, but decidedly bosomless, frame and sighed. “Not a damsel, not in distress. Can’t you just go home? The mountains are that way, your lair is probably in a cave there.”
The dragon looked in the direction she was pointing. “I suppose it is. I’ve never gotten lost while hassling sheep before. Thank you, miss.”
With that, the dragon flew off and Abby gave a sigh of relief. No hero around means the dragon had no one to fight and she was safe from her destiny of having to follow some lout around as he killed innocent creatures. It was a close call. She had barely avoided a joke about her lack of physical virtues.
Really, how was a girl to avoid becoming a sidekick when dragons just sit around in the middle of the road?
The dragon, it turned out, was just the beginning. A few days after the dragon, Abigail was waylaid by bandits on the way to school. She gave them her lunch basket and waved them away. A week later, her grandmother decided to entertain a handsome young man in shiny armor. Abigail hid in the hay barn until he and his white stallion had disappeared. She wouldn’t fall into that trap, she knew better.
But when she got to school the next day, Alyce was missing.
Abby was trying desperately to maintain her careful aura of detached disinterest, but Alyce was one of the least annoying people she knew from school. She was, however, prime damsel material. She was slender and delicate, with long flowing locks and a bosom that would probably heave if called upon to do so. She was even a princess – the daughter of the local king, sent to the town’s school to learn with the common folk as was tradition. It was almost inevitable. That handsome hero had been in town, and it activated Alyce’s destiny, and now she was stuck somewhere waiting for the hero to rescue her so that she could fall in love and marry him.
Abby thought that the hero had looked a bit of an idiot and wouldn’t wish that fate on her worst enemy. Poor girl.
Abby couldn’t stop thinking about it, and the more Abby thought about it the less she liked the thought of leaving Alyce to her fate. After a couple of days had passed without Alyce being rescued, Abby knew she had to do something. She grabbed the sword and buckler from above the mantle. It had belonged to her grandfather in some war in decades past, but was mostly there for decoration, now. Abby at least knew which end to swing, at least, having played with it as a child, and it would bruise, even if it didn’t have much of an edge anymore.
She had one clue of where to look. The dragon had to be where this started. She headed into the mountains where the dragon had flown.
The forest was easy enough, and Abby went largely unharnessed by beasts, with the exception of one dog sized spider that she threw a lump of jerky to, and which took to following her around until she left the shadow of the trees. She almost hated to leave her new pet behind, but the chill of the mountains wouldn’t be good for a spider.
The going was tougher in the foothills, but a lifetime of hiding in trees and on roofs had taught Abby to climb well. After a few days spent hiking left her muscles aching in places she had never ached before as the incline kept growing ever steeper and the path ever rockier, but nothing that she couldn’t manage when determined.
On the fifth night of Abby’s hike, she heard a roar and saw a flash of flame lighting a darker spot about halfway up the mountain: the dragon’s cavern. She was going the right way.
It took two days to get to the cavern, though the latter part of the last day had been easier than before. Instead of climbing, Abby was able to walk a pathway most of the way to where a large ledge was outside of the cavern entrance. She took a steadying breath and put her hand on her sword, but didn’t remove it from the scabbard. She’d had a conversation with this dragon. There was a chance it could be reasoned with, no bloodshed required. The dragon had, in fact, been quite polite.
If Abby were going to go against all of her natural instinct and do this heroing thing, she was going to do it her way.
The cave was homey, for a cave. The walls were lined with shelves filled with knicknacks and books and the floor was covered in soft rugs. A small fire crackled happily in a pit in the center of the room, around which the dragon lay, scales glistening green in the firelight. It was reading a book, one talon holding the page, a pair of enormous spectacles on its face. The lenses were at least as large as dinner plates.
“Um,” said Abby. The dragon startled so badly that it fell backwards, upsetting a pile of books, knocking its glasses askew on its snout.
“Oh,” the dragon adjusted its glasses and peered at Abby. Had it been able to, Abby suspected it would have been blushing. “It’s you.. So is there to be a slaying after all? Hero is right behind you, I suppose? Can we do it outside? I wouldn’t want to get blood on the books.”
“Nope,” Abby smiled. “No hero, just me. I’m looking for a friend. Her name’s Alyce. Blonde, buxom, princess, you know the drill.”
“Oh, well, I don’t have her. Only me here.”
Abby nodded. “It may be a rude question to ask, but you didn’t happen to maybe eat her?”
The dragon made a disgusted sort of huffing sound. “Eww, no. You humans don’t taste nearly as good as you think you do, whether you’re virgins or not. I much prefer mutton.”
Abby gestured around the cave. “Aren’t you supposed to have a hoard of treasure somewhere?”
“This is my treasure,” the dragon glared. “Not everyone likes gold. Useless stuff, really, and quite uncomfortable to sleep on.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose I should get back to rescuing the princess,” Abby said, backing away.
“Wait,” the dragon stepped forward. “Are you really going to try to be a hero even though you’re just a sidekick?”
“She’s a . . . Well, she’s a potential friend, and she may be in trouble. I feel like I should help her.”
“I always wanted to be a librarian,” the dragon sighed. A small tendril of smoke escaped from its snout toward the ceiling. “But, you know, dragon. I didn’t think it would be possible.”
“Hmm, maybe we can help each other out,” Abby said. “The king will owe me a favor or two, and your wings will get me places faster than my feet can. Wanna come?”
The dragon smiled a toothy and terrifying smile. “Let’s go! Destiny can go rot.”
The dragon stood and shook the sleep from her massive feet, blowing out the fire with a puff and making her way carefully out to the ledge.
“What’s your name, librarian?” Abby asked as she mounted the dragon just behind her wings.
“Abigail and Earline, the heroic team to beat them all!” Abby yelled as, with a great leap, the dragon took flight. “Also, WHEE!”
Clues were scarce, and the pair went from village to village, with Earline hiding carefully (sometimes disguised as a hillock), as Abigail questioned farmers and craftspeople about where Alyce could have gone. They found hints, here and there, enough to lead them to a village on the outskirts of the kingdom where an old woman remembered seeing a beautiful young blonde girl in the vicinity of the old Wizard’s Tower. The tower stood in the center of a particularly inhospitable bit of swampland.
Abby didn’t ask what the old woman would’ve been doing out there. It was probably better not to know. She left the village and headed toward the stand of trees where Earline was hiding and informed her companion of where they were going next.
“Eurgh,” Earline frowned. “I don’t like the sound of swamp. I barely fit under these trees and it is terribly uncomfortable even with dry land beneath me.”
“And that would be a problem,” Abby agreed, “if I were intending to walk through the swamp. We can fly over. You can drop me on the roof. If the tower is guarded, they’ll be guarding the entrance on the ground, they won’t be expecting someone to come in from above.”
Earline nudged Abby with her snout. “You’re smarter than the average hero.”
“Yeah, well, that’s not exactly difficult,” Abby pulled a map from her pack. “To get to the Dark Swamp, we have to traverse the Plains of Torment — and I am really glad we’re flying over those — and then take a left at the Crossroads of Epiphany, which is probably a good place to camp before heading into the swamp.”
“All of this flying makes for a dreadfully short adventure,” Earline said.
“But a safe one,” Abby smiled. “I think it’ll be all the rage in the future.”
Earline only uprooted one tree as she took off, with Abby more firmly mounted on her back (thanks to a modified saddle and a handful of leather straps they’d bartered for a few villages back). As they flew, a handful of farmers looked up at the sound of an occasional buoyant “WOOHOO”, but saw only clouds.
Earline landed on top of the Wizard’s tower with a quiet “oof” and then a rumbled “Well, that was anticlimactic.”
“This heroing thing is a lot easier than I had been led to expect,” Abby acknowledged. “Flying is the only way to travel.”
She pulled a length of rope from her pack and tied it around Earline’s right front foot. “I mean, it’s like they just go slashing and hacking everywhere and never even stop to think.”
Earline giggled, dislodging a couple of roof tiles. “I will pull you up when I feel you tug the rope three times. Good luck and go get your girl.”
Abby nodded, tied the rope around her waist, and climbed over the edge of the roof in the direction of one of the two windows they had seen as they flew over. Rappelling down, she slipped a couple of times, arms aching, carefully not looking down to the swamp below her. She liked to climb, but she had never been quite so high.
Fortunately, the window wasn’t too far down and she was able to climb inside and sit for a moment on the windowsill to catch her breath. The room beyond was comfortable, but not lavish. If it were a prison, it was a nice one, with a big bed and comfortable furnishings. At its center sat Alyce at an easel, painting what looked to be a herd of pastel unicorns.
“Alyce?” Abby said, once she’d rested a moment.
The girl turned, initial frown morphing into a smile as she recognized the person in her window. “Oh, Abby! It’s you!”
“You know my name?” Abby said, blushing.
“Of course I do, silly, we’ve gone to the same school for ten years. I was worried that you were someone else.”
“Your kidnapper?” Abby asked.
“No, a hero. There’s not a hero behind you is there?” Alyce looked toward the window with a frown.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” Abby huffed. “No hero, just me here to rescue you.”
“Oh thank the gods,” Alyce said. “Not that I need rescuing, I ran away. When I saw that hero in town I just knew I had to get out of there or I’d end up pledged to marry him. I don’t even like guys.”
“That’s almost worse than being destined to be a sidekick.”
“Both just as likely to get eaten by dragons,” Alyce said. “I knew you’d understand.”
Abby laughed. “Except, apparently virgins don’t taste as good as we think we do. You need to meet Earline. I think I have a solution to all of our problems.”
“This is all highly irregular,” the king sputtered, looking down at the plump young woman before him. “Everyone knows you’re a sidekick, not a hero.”
“I rescued the girl, your highness. I believe that makes me the very definition of a hero, doesn’t it?” Abby beamed up at him.
“But you did not kill the dragon,” the king said. “You . . . Brought it to Court.”
“The dragon, Earline, assisted me in my rescue. She was, in fact, how I was able to get there as fast as I did. You could say she was my sidekick and should be rewarded as such.”
Earline, who had snaked her head in through a large balcony window, grinned at the King, who looked as cowed as is appropriate in the company of that many teeth.
“And she wants to be Court Librarian does she?” he said. “We will have to expand the library to accommodate…and you are insisting on the traditional reward for yourself, then?”
Abby nodded. “The hand of the one I rescued.”
“Most irregular,” the king said. “But very well. You shall be wed at sunrise. Better you than that smarmy pillock who insisted I give him my best magic sword before he’d even set out to look for her.”
And with that, Abigail and Alyce were wed at dawnbreak the next day, though Abigail was no hero and Alyce no damsel in distress. They lived as happily as two people very much in love can live in a world such as theirs.
Earline oversaw the construction of a new castle library, one with enough room for her to maneuver, and became the best Court Librarian the kingdom had ever seen, only ever asking for payment in sheep. She, too, lived happily until such time as she was called upon, once again, to be a sidekick of a different sort.
© 2017 Meadhbh Dhommnail a/k/a Jennifer L. Davis. All Rights Reserved.