“And then the mighty Paladin in his bright white shiny-whiny armor sweeps the beautiful maiden into his arms,” said the Fleuryn with silver hair. Soulful gray eyes sparkled in the morning light as his arms swung wide to either side of his plump, child-like body. Pale cheeks flushed with excitement. His spectacles slid down his browned nose. “He looks deep into her brown eyes and says -”
“Hold it there, Toadster,” Rhae said, her tail swishing sharply, “Since when was any female so helpless? And aren’t Paladins too busy defending the people against the beastmen hordes?”
Rhae sat on the dock, holding her fishing pole. Her long legs hung down to let her toes linger in the salt water. The breeze caressed her ruby hair and bronze skin. It rippled through her sleeveless shirt and carried the scent of the ocean and lemongrass. The morning was perfect, but it was hard to appreciate it with him prattling on about Paladins. She stretched her lithe, Lyran form and scowled as her cat-like ears laid flat. Stupid fairy tales.
“We don’t fight the beastie-weastie men all the time. Why would anyone else be any different?” Toadie pouted and tugged the pointy ears on the sides of his head. “Besides, don’t you have any sense of romancey-wancey?”
“Romance? That’s dumb.” Rhae reeled in a sardine. “I don’t have time for that.”
“Well, maybe some-dumb day romance will have timey-limey for you,” Toadie said and sprawled on the dock next to her.
“I doubt it.” She gutted, cleaned, and sliced the small fish.
“Prepping bait for the cliffs outside of town later today.”
Toadie unfolded a scrap of parchment from his pocket and began scribbling on it with his charcoal pencil.
“I’m thinking up a new song,” he said, not looking up, “but it needs to be just righty-whitey.”
“And you’re using that story of yours to do it?” She jammed a lugworm onto the hook.
“Nothing.” Rhae shrugged and cast the line. “What’s the song for?”
“Not what, but who.” Toadie tapped his chin.
“Well, who then?”
“Why not just use a net-set?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Rhae glared at him. “And who’s the song for?”
“A girl.” He blushed with a smile.
“You honestly believe she’ll like it?”
“No.” Rhae rapped the back of his head with her tail. “Write something real.”
Toadie rubbed the spot and studied his parchment. “Something really-deally?”
“Do I stutter?” She reeled in another sardine.
“Sing about how you feel instead.” She worked the sardine with her small knife. “Not pretend Paladins and maidens.” She tossed the slices in with the others. “Well, that’s enough bait. I’m headed out.”
“Okies,” He helped her gather up her fishing gear and slung his small harp across his back. “I’ll go too.”
“Pretty-kitty, you’re a girl. Like it or not, you think like one.”
“And you want my advice, is that it?”
He gave her a coy smile. “No.”
They walked past the fishing guild’s shack. Rhae nodded to fellow fishermen while Toadie waved with a cheery grin. A Lyran wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat over her long braids turned to wave back. Like Rhae, she wore a sleeveless top and a pair of leather knickers. She knelt in front of Toadie with her tail curling around her feet. Doing so angled her chest even with his face.
“Leaving us so soon?” She tapped his nose lightly with a finger. “You’re not out of bait, are you? I happen to have some come in fresh today.”
Toadie glanced up at Rhae and stepped back. “What do you think-wink?”
“We have plenty of bait today, Kora.” Rhae glared at her. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re fishing somewhere else.”
Kora stood up and smiled at Toadie. “Come back anytime, Song Tamer.”
Rhae stomped toward the street leading to the Market Square. Swindling bitch always targets Toadie. She remembered the last time he bought dead worms at twice the rate, never knowing the difference.
Toadie grabbed her tail in mid-swish. “I could’ve bought the baity-waity for you.”
“I like doing things myself.” She snatched her tail free from his little hands.
“Yea. I know.” He pressed his lips together.
It took him three steps to match her one as they walked into the Market Square. Toadie scurried across the street to greet the jeweler when the apples caught her eye. Rhae admired them but decided not to buy any for now. Maybe tomorrow.
“Well now, fancy finding you here, Rhae.” A baritone voice rolled over her shoulder and spiked her heart.
Rhae clenched her jaw and set the apple back with the others. Gareth. Hand on her hip, she turned to face the tall Lyran behind her. His white cape shone in the sunlight, matching his teeth. The breastplate strapped across his muscled chest had been polished to a brilliant sheen. Flicking his golden locks off his shoulder, Gareth reached over her to pluck an apple. Her stomach curled as he bit into the fruit.
“What do you want?” Rhae glared at him.
Resting his hip against the apple cart, Gareth leaned toward her. “There’s a gala tonight.”
“Fuck off, find someone else.” Rhae shoved his shoulder and walked away.
Tossing the merchant a coin, he hurried to grab her arm. “You’ll regret not going with me.”
“You’re the one that found someone new.” She jerked her arm free.
Toadie ran to Rhae’s side, his brow furrowed. “What’s the trouble-wouble?”
“Nothing to worry your little head about,” Gareth said, patting Toadie on the head.
Shaking her fist, Rhae growled and stomped a foot between them. “This two-bit Paladin thinks he can make me go to the gala with him tonight.”
Toadie’s gray eyes grew dark as they narrowed and his mouth twisted into a grim line across his face. He brought his hands up in front of his chest with his fingers crackling with energy. “You heard the lady-wady. She’s not interested.”
“You two are unbelievable.” Gareth chuckled, stepped back, and bowed. “It’s just a gala.”
“And you’re just an asshole.” Rhae gripped her fishing tackle and glared at Gareth as he sauntered down the road.
Brushing his fingers over his belly, Toadie blinked at Rhae. “You really-wheelie don’t want to go to the gala?”
“Why the fuck would I want to go to that stupid thing?” She shook her head and turned toward the city gate.
On their way out of the Market Square, Rhae fumed over Gareth ruining an otherwise perfect day, but she was grateful her friend convinced him to leave. She found it funny that Toadie told stories about heroic Paladins yet she had to be rescued from one. That’s Gareth for you. When they reached the small crowd at the city gate, Rhae stopped to examine her friend. She found Toadie lagging behind in silence with his hands in his pockets.
“You’re not yourself today,” she said.
Toadie twiddled his thumbs, drooping his shoulders. Rhae remembered earlier his plans for a song.
“You want to ask a certain someone to the gala tonight.” She ruffled his hair, causing him to squeal.
He brushed her hand away to fix his bright green ribbon. “Maybe. . .”
“Well, if it means that much to you, maybe I can help.” Rhae scratched her neck.
He covered his face. “You don’t understand.”
“Well, who’s the lucky girl?” Rhae sighed.
His face turned crimson as he frantically searched the crowd. “Her,” he said with a sudden point.
Her eyes scanned the area in that direction. She frowned as she saw a small sea of Fleuryns. Each one of them had a child-like body, pointy ears, and pale skin with a brown nose just like Toadie. Blondes, brunettes, green hair, blue hair – a walking, talking poetic army that reminded Rhae of a chaotic garden. How the hell do these guys tell themselves apart? One, slightly taller than her silver-haired friend, caught her attention. Judging from the soft silk robes and red hair swept up in a circlet decorated with flowers, Rhae guessed she had to be the one.
“Her?” Rhae pointed to the redhead as Toadie ducked behind her, covering his eyes with her tail.
“What? Oh.” Toadie peeked. “Yes, her.”
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t know,” he wailed, clutching her tail.
Rhae yanked her tail from him, knocking Toadie over. “You don’t even know her name?”
Toadie laid there, shaking his head with his eyes squeezed shut.
“Well, before you do anything,” Rhae said, as she helped him to his feet. “You need to go find out.”
He paled. “I can’t. Don’t make me.”
“You’re the one that asked for my help,” Rhae said, kneeling to brush him off and straighten his doublet.
“Rhae,” he said, teary-eyed. “Don’t Rhae. Me. Fa. So. La.”
“Stop singing and listen.” Rhae scowled. “You’ll never win a girl’s heart that way. Now get over there and say hi.”
Toadie shuffled through the crowd as Rhae shook her head. She found a place to sit. Too far away to hear anything, she could at least see them talking. After a few moments, Toadie pattered through the crowd.
As he ran by her, Rhae called to him. “Hey, what happened? What’s her name?”
“I got to get a nifty-gifty.” He huffed without stopping.
“Well, okay.” Rhae shrugged. “That was fast.”
Rhae watched the little redhead chatter in a cluster of friends full of smiles. As they bounced and giggled, the redhead’s popularity became more apparent. No wonder he’s a mess. Toadie returned with an armload of apples and a bouquet of red flowers.
“Now just a minute.” Rhae grabbed him. “What are you doing?”
Toadie unloaded the apples into her lap, his face flushed from the run. “Apple-dapple for you and itty-bitty flowers for her.”
“Oh sure.” She checked over the apples. “You love the girl, so you bring her dead plants. Nice one.”
“I thought apples would be nice switchy-witchy from the fishy.”
“They are, but I’m talking about the flowers.”
“Flowers no goodie-woody?”
“Well, some girls like them.” Rhae plucked one flower from the bunch. “But thirteen is a bad number.” She tucked the odd flower behind her ear. “Where’s your little harp? Weren’t you going to sing for her?”
Toadie blanched. “I sold it.”
“To buy the flowers?”
“Well. . .” He kicked a pebble. “No.”
“Then what?” She leaned over to look at him.
He turned away from her. “A surprisey-wisey. Came in today.”
“She must mean a lot to you.”
Toadie met Rhae’s gaze with a slow smile. “She is the world unfurled to me.”
“Is that so?” She raised an eyebrow and bit into an apple. “Go tell her that then.”
He slumped and glanced over at the little woman. “Okay.”
“What’s her name anyhow?” She took another bite of the apple.
“Rilla-Dilla.” He sniffed the flowers.
“Toadie, relax will you? Just be yourself. If she doesn’t like you for who you are, then she’s a waste of your time.”
“I know,” he sighed.
“It would be her loss if she doesn’t go for you.” Rhae finished the apple and picked up another. “So get over there and show her what you’re made of.”
Toadie buried his face in the flowers.
“Go on now.” She nudged him with her hand.
She watched Toadie walk over to present the bouquet. Rilla-Dilla giggled and accepted the gift. Toadie turned toward Rhae, placing one hand on his chest and lifting the other. He smiled as Rhae took a few strides closer to hear his song. When he closed his eyes, the tension melted from his face. He became the performer with all the world his stage as the first notes of his voice rang out. The crowd grew and pressed together around them. Rhae smiled a little. She had witnessed Toadie charming beasts in the wild with his voice alone. She had seen him lull grumpy goblins to sleep. His voice drew crowds in town every time. It never got old to her, but she missed his little harp.
“In my dreams your sleek ruby hair
drifts and curls in the playful breeze.
If only you knew how much I care
to share in your silence with ease.
Gazing upon those storming eyes,
how my fluttering heartbeat tries
reaching, seeking, and breaking through
to speak the words of love for you.”
When Toadie finished his song, he lowered his hands and gave Rhae a warm smile. The crowd applauded, cheered, and began chanting, “Kiss him. Kiss him.” Rilla-Dilla planted a chaste peck on his cheek which sent whooping cries through the crowd. Rhae rolled her eyes. I’ll be hearing about that for days. One by one the sea of Fleuryns thinned out as the excitement died down.
“That’s a very-berry nice song, and very-berry sweet of you, Toadie-Odie,” Rilla-Dilla said, her face blushing.
Toadie bowed with a flourish. “I’m indebted to you, my pretty-itty lady.”
“Ah, there you are Rilla-Dilla,” said a small man with fluffy brown hair and built much like Toadie, “Sowwies I’m late-ate.”
“Hiyas, Melo-Polo.” Planting a kiss firmly on his cheek, she added, “No worries, Toadie-Odie kept me company.”
“Thankie-hankies, good sir.” Melo-Polo bowed. “You are bestest known for your songs in these here parts-marts.”
“Bestest wishes, Toadie-Odie, and good luck,” Rilla-Dilla said with a wave and wink.
Toadie waved back as the pair strolled away, hand in hand.
Rhae stepped up beside Toadie, crossing her arms. “I can’t believe she led you on like that. You even sold your harp to buy her flowers. And that bitch had someone else already.”
Toadie sighed, looking at his open hand.
“What’s that you got there?”
Tears welled up in his eyes as he balled his hand into a fist. “I can’t tell you,” he said, chucking the item at the city wall. Covering his face, he ran out the gate.
“Poor guy,” Rhae whispered as she watched him go.
Curious, she searched the tall grass near the wall. She found a large flat, oval onyx set in a plain silver ring with a fancy swirling “R” carved into the stone.
“Wow, what the hell, Toad?” She slipped the ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit. “This would never fit her.”
She admired it for a bit then tucked it into her pocket for safe keeping. I bet he sold his harp to buy this ring. Rhae headed through the gate to go fishing on the cliffs as planned. He’s going to need it to get the harp back.
Original draft was written back in 2006 and was posted on my old LiveJournal account. This draft is the result of having been workshopped over at Scribophile. If you’d like to compare this with the old draft, it has now been archived on my personal blog, HERE.