Hey, Look! A new story! I plan to use some self-restraint and post a chapter only every other other day (every third day). It's pretty cute so far, though I only just yesterday wrote to the point where the Plot Thickens, so we'll see. It should be longer in length than my last one, though perhaps shorter in chapters.
The White Stag
To Hunt the White Stag
Prince Joshua yawned. It was just after dawn, and the winter hunt was preparing to leave, the prince among them. He sat comfortably on his horse, glad for the new fur cloak he'd received from his father at fall festival. Unfortunately the warmth was threatening to put him back to sleep if the hunting party did not fully assemble itself soon.
"Joshua!" his mother's voice called over the crowd.
Joshua turned to find her standing on the stairs, a young maiden at her side. The maid was in a heavy robe over her nightclothes, soft slippers on her feet.
"This is the Princess Elisia," His mother introduced. "She's the daughter of Duke Bluerose."
"My lady," Prince Joshua bowed to her awkwardly from his saddle.
"She and her mother arrived last night, just after you retired. She wanted to wish you luck this morning on your ride, didn't you, princess?" The queen finished, turning to smile at the girl beside her.
Princess Elisia curtsied. "Yes, I did. I hope you do not think it impertinent," she said.
"Of course not," Joshua said. "'Tis oft the blessings of a lady that make the hunt go well."
Elisia smiled. "Will you be seeking the white stag this year?" she asked.
Joshua laughed. "If I lay eye on it, my lady, then it is as good as caught."
"Of course, my lord," Lady Elisia said, giving another curtsy.
Joshua glanced around to check on the hunting party's progress at getting ready. "Excuse me, my lady, mother," Joshua said, tugging his reigns around. He edged his horse next to one of the younger nobles. "I do believe you are not old enough for this hunt," Joshua said, pulling the hood from his younger brother's head.
Prince Allen glared back. "I am as fair a shot with the bow-"
"Be that as it may," Joshua interrupted, "Father has forbidden you—forbidden anyone under the age of seventeen from attending the hunt with us. Now, go and stable your horse before I decide to tell father that you tried to sneak on the hunt with us."
Allen grumbled, but did as he was told, sliding back off his horse and leading it back to the stables.
Joshua rode his courser to the gates and sat beside his father. "I fear I mounted too soon," he said.
The king grunted. "I take it you chased off your brother?"
"I told him I wouldn't tell you," Joshua said.
The king shook his head, though he was smiling. "I believe that, to this day, I am the only one who managed to sneak into the hunt before I was old enough."
Joshua laughed. "Only because you had no brothers to betray your disguise."
The king laughed as well. "Aye. Do you know that I saw the white stag on that hunt? I was the first to see it so young. Nearly caught it, too, but my horse shied at the last moment and my arrow went astray."
"Is that so?" Joshua asked.
His father nodded. "'tis true. I can attest to the luck as well, since that is the year I met your mother." He waved over the crowd. His wife waved back from an upper window, Princess Elisia barely visible beyond her shoulder. "Perhaps this year it will be your turn for luck," the king added, gesturing for the gate to be opened.
The hounds began to bark, straining at their leashes. Then the doors were fully open, the trumpets sounded, and, with a rumble of hooves, the hunt was on its way.
"There!" Joshua shouted, catching a flash of white between the trees. No one heard over the braying of the dogs. The dogs themselves were intent on the trail they were following, and none so much as deviated in the direction the prince had indicated.
Gripping his bow tighter, Joshua sent his courser into the woods after that glimpse of white, hopping the others would follow him.
Hooves thundering, Joshua followed his quarry through the trees, never close enough to see it clearly.
A break in the trees and Joshua emerged into a clearing. There, ahead of him, was the stag. Paused for a moment, it stood so the sun shone off of its pure white coat. The stag gave a disdainful look to the prince, one that showed no fear as it tossed its impressive antlers and snorted before heading back into the trees.
Determined now to catch it, Joshua spurred his horse after it, growing closer, farther and closer again as they crashed through the woodlands.
The chase grew long, and the underbrush grew dense as they entered an older part of the forest. Trusting his courser to keep its footing, Joshua kept his eye on the stag, carefully measuring the closing distance between them.
The ground leveled out as the trees changed to pines and evergreens, the distance between the prince and the stag closing with every beat of his horse's hooves. Pulling an arrow from his quiver, Joshua straightened in anticipation. He nocked the arrow and raised his bow; the shot would be a difficult one, but if he could draw but a bit closer-
As he pulled the bow sting back, his courser tripped over a fallen log, stumbling to its knees, and throwing the prince, who felt something snap as he landed and the world vanished into darkness.
It was a comfortable darkness, at least. Soft and flickery, and there was the quiet humming; that was nice as well. Shifting slightly deeper into the warmth, Joshua let out a sigh of contentment.
The humming stopped.
"Awake?" asked a gentle masculine voice.
Awake? Joshua wondered. He fluttered his eyelids open. I guess I am. His gaze flickered around the small and cozy cabin, wondering where he was, though still too tired to worry about it.
"Good," said the voice. "That'll make things easier." The owner of the voice stepped into Joshua's field of vision. He was a slight man, hair mostly pale in the firelight, though there were darker streaks through it. His eyes were dark in the firelight, clothes layered and patterned in darks and lights.
There was a loss of soft pressure against his neck, and Joshua watched curiously as two balls- one dark and one glowing faintly red- floated across the room to hover around the young man's head.
Mage, Joshua thought, though his mind was still too mushy for anything more.
"I am Oren," the mage said. "And you have a broken leg."
"Ow," Joshua mumbled obediently, though he didn't really feel the pain. Even now that his attention had been drawn to it, it was dull and distant.
"Do you have a name?" Oren asked, picking up a bowl and coming to sit next to Joshua.
Oren sighed. "I guess we'll get to that later," he said, putting the bowl down long enough to prop Joshua against the headboard.
The movement sent a spark of pain up Joshua's leg, and he gasped.
"I know," said the gentle voice. "But you've got to eat, and for that you've got to sit up."
Once Joshua was positioned correctly, Oren fed him a few spoonfuls of soup. Joshua felt a little more alert with every mouthful of food, and by the sixth, he gestured that he could feed himself.
"I'm Joshua," he said quietly after he'd finished the last spoonful of soup. His leg was hurting more now, no longer a distant fact, but instead right below his knee and insistent.
Oren nodded as he refilled the bowl. "The prince," he said.
"Y-yeah," Joshua replied, wondering how Oren had known.
Oren glanced at him. "Your heraldry," he said, pointing to a pile of discarded clothes. "Well, your majesty," Oren said. "I'm afraid it looks like you'll have to winter here with me."
"What?" Joshua asked as he accepted the bowl of soup from Oren. "Why?"
"It's a full day's walk into town," Oren said. "And there's no way you'll be able to make it, highness."
"Horse?" Joshua asked, pausing to blow on a spoonful of soup.
Oren shook his head. "Long gone when I found you."
"M-magic?" Joshua asked after his next bite.
Another head shake. "If I was that strong I wouldn't be here, my lord."
Joshua sighed. "Just Joshua," he said, holding out the empty bowl for Oren to take. "Thank you. For rescuing me. And for dinner." He nodded at the bowl.
Oren gave him a smile that was slow and sweet. "You're welcome, Joshua," he said.
Oren settled Joshua down again, and the prince drifted back into a soft sleep.
The shift of weight on the bed woke Joshua a second time, and he blinked his eyes open to see Oren leaning over him.
"Awake?" Oren asked, tenderly brushing a lock of hair behind Joshua's ear.
"Good," Oren said, sitting up. "Because I need to talk to you." He looked steadily into Joshua's eyes to make sure the prince was paying attention.
Joshua, looking back, noticed that it was still dark in the cabin. His eyes flicked around the room, but the covered window was still dark.
"It's just before dawn," Oren said, following his gaze. "But I've got to get an early start if I want to get to town today."
Town? Joshua thought.
"I need to get supplies so we will both survive this winter." Oren sighed. "This is going to cut into my savings, so I hope you're grateful enough to pay me back in the spring."
Joshua nodded, wishing he were capable of stringing words together into sentences.
Oren smiled gently at him. "My magic won't work while I'm gone, and I have to take my Colors with me even if it would."
Something cool and round slid from where it had been resting on Joshua's bellybutton. He hadn't realized it was there, but now he shivered as it rolled off his hip and out from under the blankets. It had to have been another magic-orb, but two were still against his neck, and Joshua could see the yellow one bobbing in the air behind Oren's head.
Was Oren a four-color mage? Joshua wondered. And, if he was, then what was he doing alone in the woods?
"The magic's been helping your pain," Oren said. "So I've prepared some pain medication for while I'm gone. They won't be as good, of course, but better than nothing. I've asked my neighbor Marim to look in on you this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon. She should come with food and more painkillers. It's nearly an hour's walk from here to there, so be nice to her."
Joshua blinked at him, wondering how he was supposed to be rude when he couldn't even think in a line.
"Is there anything special you want me to pick up while I'm in town?" Oren asked as he shifted Joshua into a sitting position so he could drink the cool pain medication.
Joshua shook his head, sipping from the small bowl Oren held to his lips. It tasted like mint, and Joshua wondered how Oren managed it when most medicine at the castle was awful enough to make one never want to admit they were sick.
"Good?" Oren asked as he set the bowl aside.
Joshua tried to nod his head, but couldn't figure out which direction to move it.
Oren smiled faintly as he settled Joshua back down. "Sleep well and recover some strength while I'm gone," he said, leaning forward and brushing a kiss against Joshua's forehead.
It was only a comfort gesture, from nurse to patient, but the kiss tingled across Joshua's skin long after Oren left.
Oren took a deep breath of the chill air and let it out slowly, glad to be out of his stuffy little cabin. There'd be enough of that over the winter, probably made all the worse with the prince there.
Sure, he wasn't a problem now, but once his leg healed, Oren doubted Prince Joshua would stay obediently in bed all day.
Shaking his head and reminding himself not to borrow trouble, Oren started the long walk into town. The frozen ground was covered with the thinnest dusting of snow from last night, and it crunched under his feet as he walked. The breeze was sharp, and cut through Oren's scarf, freezing his nose and biting his cheeks.
Oren didn't put up with it for long, bringing his Red to settle on top of his hat like a pompom. He tapped it with the Blue and sighed happily as the breeze and cold were both cut off. There were benefits to being a mage.
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