by Geneva Fox
Required Assignment 3 for NaNo Prep: Protagonist Background Story.
|Gwen smiled as her horse; Tempest sped up the road leading away from the palace. She loved to ride and loved riding fast. The reckless abandon of her reddish gold hair streaking behind her in the wind and the fluid motion of the horse galloping beneath her brought her a sense of true freedom. Her father Alistair held his breath every time she took the large black stallion for a ride. He dreaded they day she would not return and he would find her sprawled beside the road with a broken neck because the beast got it in his head to throw her off. When he expressed his concern to Gwen she hugged him and promised him Tempest would never do such a dreadful thing.
"I truly hope not," Alistair sighed. "Not only would I miss you terribly, but your mother would curse me beyond my death."
Gwen smiled at that. They both knew her Morgan was very protective of her but she would never harm Alistair using magic. Riding Tempest was Gwen's outlet. She enjoyed her magical training and her lessons in the Royal Library but she felt cooped up in the palace. These daily excursion were her key to freedom until the season of Litha. Her family would spend the entire season camping on the Elemental Coast. For a while they were bringing Prince Matrim with them but after the twelfth anniversary of his birth King Jarrod decided his time would be better spent in the palace observing him holding court. Gwen sighed with disappointment at the prospect of spending her first Litha without Matrim. She was only eleven but she was developing a fondness for the Prince. On the other hand, she thought. Perhaps this Litha I can get to know Taurus better.
Taurus was the son of her mother's closest friend Evelynn Stormsong; the Grand Enchantress of the Trellion Tower of Magi. His father was a Virgo Longhorn; a Minotaur Ambassador from the kingdom of Bastion. Thinking of Taurus reminded her that the fifteenth anniversary of his birth was the next day.. She pulled back on Tempest's reins to slow him to a hault. After, observing her surroundings she realized she was halfway to the Tower of Magi. She could be there by sun set and surprise him. She looked back over her shoulder at the road leading back to the palace.
"Which direction should I go?"
Tempest added his two cents by jerking his head toward the tower and taking a few steps forward. He did not like returning to the palace any more than she. His pace always slowed when she turned him around.
"I agree," Gwen stated. "But I do not want anyone to worry."
She held her right hand palm up and summoned a marble sized ball of light from the realm beyond. She mouthed a wordless message to the tiny sphere of light and sent it on its way. Once she was sure it would reach the palace, she dug her heels into the stallion's sides. Tempest leapt forward and galloped toward the Tower of Magi. They arrived just as the sun dipped below the horizon.
As they crossed the stone bridge leading to the tower grounds Gwen spotted a tall young man in nothing but boots and lose fitting pants working through the basic forms with a two-handed great sword. The large set of bull horns protruding from beneath his thick mane of black hair marked him as a descendent of a Minotaur. Gwen reined Tempest in before he got too close. The young warrior froze in mid swing when his amber eyes locked her. He sheathed the sword and grinned.
"Gwen!" He exclaimed in a deep voice as her hurried up to her.
"Easy," Gwen murmured patting Tempest's neck. The horse was not use to someone so large approaching him so fast. She turn to dismount and found herself gathered into her friend's large arms. "Hello, Taurus."
He squeezed her for a moment, and then set her on her feet. "This is such a surprise."
"A pleasant surprise?" Gwen inquired.
"I am always pleased to see you." Taurus laughed. He offered her his arm. "Let me show you the stables."
Gwen took hold of Tempest's reins. The horse followed her lead obediently. He reared when one of the initiates assigned to work the stables attempted to take his reins from Gwen. The boy stepped back uncertainly.
"If you will show me to an empty stall I will take care of him."
"Yes, m'lady," the initiate bowed. He straightened and motioned for her to follow him.
"I will let my mother know you are here," Taurus informed Gwen. He headed back toward the tower as she followed the initiate into the stable.
Gwen was rubbing Tempest down with a round wooden brush when Evelynn Stormsong entered the stall the initiate gave her. Tempest lifted his head from the feed trough and whickered. Gwen looked over her shoulder at the older mage. Evelynn made herself comfortable on the bench near her and the horse. Gwen moved around Tempest putting him between her and the older woman. Evelynn gave no outward sign of disapproval but she did not seem overly happy to see her.
"Does Morgan know you decided to come here?" Evelynn asked.
"I sent a message back with an emissary from the ether."
"Then she will not worry once she receives the message. Gwen, you know you are always welcome here but you need to make sure someone in the palace knows you are here before you decide to disappear on a whim."
"Yes, Aunti Evelynn." Gwen lowered her eyes to concentrate on an already brushed spot on Tempest. "I just thought it would be fun to surprise Taurus by showing up for the anniversary of his birth."
"He certainly is surprised." Evelynn agreed. She stood and approached the horse. Tempest watched her warily but relaxed when she ran a hand down his neck. "You can spend the night in one of our guest chambers and spend the day with Taurus, Virgo, and I."
Evelynn escorted Gwen into the tower and showed her to the Grand Enchantress's chambers. Virgo and Taurus sat at a polished wooden table. Two initiates were laying out dishes of food for the evening meal. Taurus stood and pulled out and empty chair beside his for Gwen. She settled into the chair as he slid it closer to the table for her. Taurus did the same for his mother.
"Quite the gentleman you have raised," Virgo commented. Though he was Taurus's father, he knew Evelynn took on more of the parental responsibility.
"And you have turned him into quite a warrior," Evelynn complimented.
Gwen watched as the lady and the Minotaur gazed at each other with warmth and love. To avoid being rude she turned her eyes away and studied Taurus's profile as he ate. Though he inherited his father's horns, size, and eyes; his face was human like his mother's. A thin layer of dark hair covered his arms, upper torso, and legs but his sun darkened skin could still be seen. At the age of fifteen he sported a full beard and mustache. As she looked at him, Gwen felt a stirring in herself. Something similar to the stirrings she felt when she looked at Matrim.
"Is something wrong?" Taurus asked after swallowing a bite of food.
"No, sorry." Gwen turned her attention back to her plate which she realized was empty. She did not recall eating and blushed when she realized there would be no one to serve her but herself. She added a small portion of everything to her plate and began to eat.
"Too used to servants, eh?" Evelynn smiled. "None of those here."
"Unless you count the intiates," Taurus remarked. "But they are not quite as doting as a palace servant."
"Take it easy on her," Virgo interjected. "She did not ask to grow up in luxury and you both know she is quite capable of taking care of herself when she has to."
"Of course," Evelynn agreed. "I apologize for my lack of manners."
"It is alright," Gwen returned her smile. "I should not have assumed."
"After the meal I will escort you to one of the guest chambers," Evelynn stated.
"I suppose there is no chance I could stay here?" Gwen asked.
"Unfortunately, Taurus is already staying in the room that would be reserved for my apprentice," Evelynn explained.
"She can stay in my room," Taurus offered. "I can sleep out here on the floor."
"Oh no, I do not want to put you out," Gwen argued.
"Nonsense," Taurus waved away her protest. "I prefer the hardness of the floor to the soft bed anyway."
Gwen knew he spoke the truth. When they camped together during Litha Taurus would usually sleep outside by the fire, rather than in one of the tents.
"You could just sleep on the floor in your room and let her have your bed," Virgo suggested. His mouth spread in a mischievous grin. "Or you could just share your bed with her."
Evelynn gave him a hard elbow in his ribs. The thickness of his fur and muscles made it feel more like a light nudge but the look of disapproval on her face let him know he went too far. "She is only eleven."
"I was joking, my love," Virgo soothed. "I know your ages of eligibility are a bit higher than those of Bastion."
As they continued to discuss sleeping arrangements a flash of green light drew their attention to the center of the room. A small wooden trunk appeared. Gwen recognized it as the trunk she used to transport a change of clothes for an overnight stay. She moved to the trunk and opened it. A neatly folded dress lay inside; along with a clean shift and her brush. A folded piece of parchment lay on top of the dress. Gwen picked it up and unfolded it. Scrawled in Morgan's elegant hand writing were the words, "Next time let's make a plan before you go off on a whim. Have fun and wish Taurus a happy birth anniversary from all of us here at the palace. P. S. Big trouble when you get home." Gwen nodded in understanding. She knew there would be consequences for her actions. Morgan's punishments were firm but fair. Most likely, she would not be permitted to ride alone for a while. She folded the note and tucked it into the pocket of her riding dress.
After the meal Evelynn and Virgo retired to Evelynn's room leaving Gwen and Taurus alone. Taurus carried the small trunk into his room and set it at the foot of his bed. He stretched out on a chaise lounge with a crushed velvet cushion. Gwen settled on a cushion beside the chair. Taurus rolled on his side facing her and propped his head on his elbow to watch her. She drew a pink silk ribbon from her belt pouch and freed the embroidering needle from the silk just below her completed work.
"What are you working on?"
"It is the ribbon my mother will braid into my hair on the twelfth anniversary of my birth."
"That will signify your eligibility for courtship and marriage?"
"So, my mother would not object if we shared my bed after that?"
"She would not object openly." Gwen looked up into his curious amber eyes. Her cheeks flushed. "However, in Trellion, it is more acceptable for a woman to share a man's bed when she is a bit further into her change."
"If you were a girl from Bastion you would be considered ready to mate now," Taurus pointed out. "But then Bastionites mature faster than the rest of Penterra."
"Physically perhaps," Gwen agreed. "But neither of us are truly from Bastion."
"That is true," Taurus agreed. He scooted back on the lounge and patted the empty space in invitation. "This is more comfortable. I will behave myself, promise."
Gwen put away her work and sat on the edge of the lounge facing Taurus. He sat up and leaned back against the chair. Gwen removed her riding boots and reclined beside him. Taurus smiled when he caught sight of the shell necklace he gave her four years prior. He slipped his large finger beneath it and lifted it so the purple and pink streaks caught the fire light.
"Did you really decide to come her on a whim?"
"Yes," Gwen answered. "But I decided to because I wanted to spend the anniversary of your birth with you."
"And you just happened to have this on?" He gave the shell a gentle flick with his finger.
"I never take it off, except to bath. Water would ruin the leather."
"I never remove your gift." Taurus reached beneath his hair and drew a pendent to the front of his neck. The symbol of the astrological sign Taurus was etched into the silver. "I just keep it tucked beneath my hair when I practice with my sword so it does not get damaged."
Gwen traced her finger over the etching on the pendent. A tattoo of the same symbol on his left pectoral muscle caught her eye. He sucked in a breath as she traced the inked flesh with her finger. He cleared his throat and caught her hand just before her finger brushed over his nipple.
"You have been reading too many of those romance novels," Taurus chastised softly. "They are giving you ideas beyond your years."
"You said yourself if I were a Bastionite woman it would be perfectly acceptable for me to have these ideas," Gwen argued.
"But you are not," Taurus reminded her. He sat up and pulled her to a sitting position. "You should go to bed now. My mother will want to have you up early and give you a tour of the entire tower and the grounds. She hopes you will decide to stay."
"Is she the only one?" Gwen stood and stared into his darkened eyes.
"If you were an initiate here I would see you more," Taurus admitted. "But you would not have nearly as much freedom as you have at the palace until you become an apprentice. So, our interactions would still be limited and monitored by both the mages and the initiates."
"I would make time for you," Gwen informed him. "Even if it meant being a bit sneaky."
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his whiskered cheek when he turned his head. He caught her chin in his hand and pressed a warm kiss to her smooth cheek before she pulled away.
"Good night, Gwen."
After bidding him good night, Gwen retreated into Taurus's room. She removed her riding dress and climbed under the covers in her shift. She nestled her face into the soft pillow, which smelled strongly of him. She supposed he slept in the bed most nights to maintain a sense of civility. Matrim would have risked disapproval to kiss me, Gwen thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Word Count: 3,119