On the train ride back home, the child watched the small puppy sleep in her backpack. Her sibling smiled and kissed the child’s cheek.
The little smiled and laughed. She pulled up a folder that she had stuffed in her pack before the puppy had moved in. It was decorated with various pug stickers. She opened up and pulled out 3-5 sheets of paper.
“When we went to the library, I made notes!” She exclaimed, handing her sibling a sheet. It was a drawing of a pug with arrows pointing to various parts of its body.
“Smooshed face because of inbreading”
“Curly tail like a piggy!”
“Tippy tap feets”
“Tummy problems :(”
“This dog may be asthmatic. Ask if dogs can use inhalers”
The sibling smiled and handed back the paper.
“You did a lot of research, huh?”
“Yes, because you said a dog a big respons… Responsibility! And I can do that!”
Surprised, the older sibling nodded and laughed.
“Well, I can see that now! If you need help, just let me know, okay? And I’m sure the other people at home can help, too.”
The sibling watched as their little sister play with now awake and aware puppy. The ride home seemed to be faster than the ride to the house to get the puppy. When they got to their stop, the child placed the dog on the ground, placing the collar and leash they had received from the seller. They walked for what seemed like hours because passersby and neighbors and old friends wanted to say hello to the new puppy.
“Hey! You can’t just come up to my dog and pet them!” The child said to an older lady. The lady gasped and looked at the child’s sibling.
“You need to teach the manners!”
The sibling laughed and shook their head.
“But she’s right. She’s been looking up how to take care of dogs and how to be a great pet owner. Had that dog been a bit bigger, a different dog, and it bit you for coming to close, you would have cried foul. Ask to pet strange dogs next time. Have the day you deserve, ma’am.”
When they arrived at the boarding house, 4 other children ran up screaming. The puppy barked and bounced around to all the new little hands, sniffing and licking them.
“What’s its name!?” one of them asked.
“Goooooortyyyyyy,” the child said, smiling proudly. The other children giggled and started petting the puppy.
“Hi, Gortyyyy,” they all said. Gorty barked.
The boarding house was an older 4 story apartment building, one of many on this block. It was old brick with old windows and old wood floors. Some of the walls of the apartments were torn down to make some of them bigger on the main floor for bigger families. The two siblings lived on the 3rd floor with other displaced children and teenagers.
The two siblings went to their apartment, one of the few two-bedrooms left. They must have left the door open, because the other children had walked in a few minutes later.
“We just wanna see the doggy,” one of them said, rubbing their dirty hands on their face.
The older sibling looked at them, hands on their hips and sighed.
“Well, she’s giving the puppy a bath and then she’s gotta get a bath and then eat dinner,” they said, looking at the clock on the wall. It had stopped working forever ago, but it was just a habit.
“Tell you what, you all get cleaned up. Like, actually get the outside off of you and then come back.”
The children squealed and ran off. It was 2 hours later when there was a round of hands hitting the door. The younger sibling went and opened it. They were all dressed in pajamas, holding sleeping bags. The older sibling blinked and sighed.
“I guess, we’re throwing a sleepover… Tell your brothers they owe me money!” The younger children giggled and ran off into the birthday girl’s room. It was about 45 minutes when she came to see her older sibling.
“Can you tell the story!? I was telling it, but I don’t tell it like you do!”
The sibling blinked and smiled, getting up from their futon.
“Alright, tell everyone to get ready for bed. It’s late anyway.” She squeaked and ran off to her room, yelling instructions.
“And Gorty sleeps with ME!”
The older sibling rolled their eyes as they walked into the room, sitting at the foot of their sibling’s bed.
“Alright, now where I was I?”
“The king is there and they were about to eat dinner!”
The queen reached down, fixing the headband on her child’s head. She smiled at them and bent down to kiss her cheek.
“You look so regal, my dear,” she cooed, holding her tiny face in her hands. The child beamed up at her mother.
“Thank you, mommy. I-I-I mean, ma’am.”
The queen laughed and kissed her forehead.
“You’re doing a wonderful job! Slip-ups happen. I didn’t stop calling my own mother mommy until she died.”
In the dining hall the king waited, his twin brother sitting a few seats away from him.
“Brother, I grow tired of this game you and her play. You should have killed her the moment she defied you,” he said, grumbling.
The king sighed, rolling his eyes and looking at his brother.
It was like looking into a mirror.
When they die and the stories that will be told of them will say that they were two giants since they were a bit over 7′ tall. The stories will say that their skin was blessed since they were so tall, the sun-kissed their skin more and that’s why they were so dark. The stories will talk about how the King’s cheetah was actually the soul of the wind itself and the King somehow managed to control it. The stories will talk about how the gods damned the lesser twin to be the God of Death since they gave him fire to clean up the mess of bodies his komodo dragon leaves behind in its noxious gasses when it stops through towns.
In their younger years, they were a force; they would ride into battle at the father’s side, the king riding his Chosen cheetah, his brother his Chosen komodo dragon. They would ride into battle, the king using his sword and shield lessons from training and skirmishes, his brother having been blessed with the power of fire cleaning up the king’s mess by laying fire to the land.
But there were differences, too. The king had shaved the sides of his head, the hair going down the middle of his head was braided and went to the back of his knees. He wore a blood-red fur-lined tunic, with gold seams. His brother head was bald and covered in colorful tattoos. He wore an all black tunic, to show that he was the sibling who would take the king’s place if he were to die.
“Brother Sanjo,” the King said, shaking his head. “I am practically an old man. The queen, she is still so young. Still so fertile. You keep suggesting that I get rid of her, as if she is a flea. No, younger brother by a moment, I am the flea. Rather, a grub, trying to destroy her garden. We had met when I was 20 and she was still a mere child; I was a man set to marry a child. We married when she turned 18 and I was almost 30. You know how we were then. We went to war for 3 years. I come back and she’s in tears, damning me to hell, telling me she’ll try her hardest to stop me. I laughed in her face. She was still young, didn’t know anything.”
“And she still knows nothing, your grace,” Sanjo said.
The king chuckled.
“I had her town destroyed when she told me that.”
“When I told her that, she didn’t even said a tear. She had said that had cried for her mother and father already years ago. Told me she had flown out months before on that giant chicken of her’s, to warn them anyway. She told me that they were glad she warned them and that they would try their hardest. We burnt that city down.”
Sanjo smirked slight, remembering. His lizard companion was the size of a pub at the time and it trampled through the streets, leaving its poison sludge in the air, choking the residents. The king had gone forward, rushing the small castle where Queen’s family where. He slaughtered the handmaidens, the guards… the father… the mother. The Queen’s own twin had seen that. She had screamed, charging at him with a sword that seemed like her little frame shouldn’t be able to swing. The king had knocked her back with his shield, leaving the castle. When she had gone to chase after him, she was met with the King’s twin. He threw fire at her. She braced herself with her hands, letting out a yell as her flesh started to burn. They had left her to die in that burning castle.
“She looked me straight in the face and said she’ll keep trying to stop me. And she did. Each little battle got a bit harder because she also gave them money to buy weapons and fight back. I had grown to love her telling me to stop but I never did. …And that’s how I have a child now. And why she stays here in the cold. Far from me.”
He looked up as the Queen and the Princess walked into the dining hall. He and Sanjo stood up. The King walked to the Queen’s chair at the head of the table, pulling it out for her. She nodded to him and sat down. He sat to her right, the Princess to her left. Sanjo sat at the foot of the table. He stared at the small child in front of him. Her hair was as big as her body. She was tall for a 4-year-old, too.
“How are you?” he finally asked.
“I am fine, thank you,” the little one replied, looking back at him. She wasn’t impressed just yet. “How are you?”
“I’m doing very well, thank you. So… Do you have a name to pick out for Choosing Day?”
Sanjo sighed in thanks as the food started to come in, so he could do something instead of listening to small child banter.
“No. Do you have a warriors that can teach me to fight?”
The King and Sanjo blinked.
“I want to be a fighter; can they teach me to fight?”
The men were silent. The Queen chuckled into her spoonful of soup.
“I don’t think it’d be a good idea for you to take up a warrior’s path, child,” the King said.
“Why not?” the Princess asked, nibbling at her piece of boar fat.
“Well, it’s just unheard of for women to be warriors and –”
“Oh, okay, well I would like to be the first. Can they teach me?”
The king stuttered.
“The Queen said you have the best warriors of all Melaeye and I would very much liked to be trained by them.”
Sanjo ate quietly, watching this tiny human. He had tried to put a worm into the King’s ear, trying to get him to cast away the child and make a new one. But this one wants to be a warrior! A girl warrior at that! He started to plan in his head, playing with his salad medley.
After dinner, the King and the Princess sat quietly outside, watching the moon.
“Why do you want to be a warrior child?”
She was quiet for a moment.
“It came to me in a dream,” she started, swinging her feet from the bench she sat on. “And in the dream, I was a great lady with a giant two-handed weapon! And I rode on a giant… I don’t know what it was, but it was trusty companion and someone kept calling out to me, I think. Well, they kept saying a name and I kept responding. They kept saying… Aife Mujahida. And I think… That’s going to be my name.” She nodded. The Queen came outside, wrapped in a loose fur.
“My sweet, it is time for bed.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The Princess jumped down from the bench and bowed to the king.
“Goodnight, your grace,” the child said to the King. The King nodded, placing a fist over his chest.
The Queen smiled at her child as they walked inside. She was about to head in herself when the King grabbed her hand.
“If I could have a moment of your time,” he requested sheepishly. She blinked at his hand then looked at him in his face.
He took a deep breath.
“In my old age, I realize that–”
She held up a hand.
“No. I don’t want to hear it. I do not care.”
“You WILL listen–”
“I will not.”
The Queen turned on her heel and left the King standing outside.
“And then what happened!?” one of the neighborhood children asked, clutching their pillow.
The older sibling smiled.
“You all went to sleep.”