Pale and Malicious
By the time she had finished making the ointment and poured it into pouches of sheepskin, the sun was already sinking. Kalliope headed back towards the barracks to see if her brother was still recruiting. Maybe, she thought to herself, if I handed him the gift in front of an audience people would realize that I actually am nice and would stop calling me names. She wasn’t sure what “mud princess” meant, but it didn’t sound very nice. Maybe they called her that because of her unusually dark complexion? Kalliope entered the nearby military district and noticed a lack of the usual screams from the fighting grounds, but walked to the black brick building anyway to see if someone might help her locate the prince. With all the free time on her hands, the princess had frequented this place just to watch her brother practice as she admired his elegant sword-fighting style. While most people hacked and slashed, Aeron seemed to perform a fast-paced dance with his weapon, locating the weak spots in his opponent’s style. Only on rare occasions did Kalliope see her brother get hit by a weapon or much less lose a match. She had heard that the head of military had fighting partners come in from the neighbouring cities because no one seemed to be up to par with the Prince’s abilities. He was said to be a warrior like they only come once a decade.
“He’s not here” announced a deep voice behind Kalliope, causing her to jump. She spun around too quickly, causing the full skins to spill from from her arms and hit the dusty ground with a loud thud. The princess quickly scrambled to gather her lost work and frantically check whether any of the skins had burst, which would have upset her more than she would like to admit. After making sure the pouches had taken no damage, Kalliope looked up at the man who stood watching her in silence. Clearly, he was from the working class. His clothes were dirty and worn-out. The man held a black hammer whose head looked roughly the same size as that of a child. He probably worked in the forge. Kalliope slowly rose, still looking at his weathered face. He was about a foot and a half taller than her and his strong, hairy arms as thick as the princess’ thighs. Prominent veins snaked down his neck and biceps. His frown slowly twisted into a sinister grin, accompanied by hungry eyes the princess recalled other men having when they were alone together. It also reminded her of the look the hunting squad’s starved hounds had when they were left to fight over scraps of meat. She disliked it.
“Anything I can help you with, young princess?” sneered the man as he stepped towards Kalliope. She stumbled half a step backwards, causing the mountain of sheep skins in her arms to wobble. The smith’s eyes glanced to the princess’ left shoulder, which was exposed by her dress while she scrambled on the floor. Her dark skin stood in contrast to the simple white linen she wore.
“N-no. No thank you,” stammered Kalliope, “I- I can find him on my own.”
“Is there really nothing at all you want from me?” asked the smith, who took another step towards her and whose face broke into a new grin, exposing his yellow teeth. Kalliope didn’t like this man, he didn’t seem very kind. Why was he bothering her when she had clearly told him that she could find her brother on her own? The smith had a wicked look on his face. A movement on the deserted streets behind the smith caught her eye. Two children surrounded by four guards were walking towards the market district.
“Alynn!” screamed Kalliope. Her little sister’s spotted her instantly. The smith mumbled something and took off towards the shadowy alley between the forge and the stables.
“What are you doing here?” asked Alynn, “Aeron is giving a speech on the market district’s stage soon! Mother told us to watch.”