I... I suppose you want to kill me, don’t you?
The sinew string gave a slight creak, the only indication that Tobiya had been startled by the sudden voice whispering within her mind. The grip on the bow firmed with her resolve as she slowly extended her index finger next to the chiseled arrowhead. The creature before her stood like a living statue of moonlight.
I wish you no harm.
“I could feed my village for a year with the gold your alicorn alone would bring,” she spoke with calm assurance. “Not to mention your pelt.”
“Then why do you sound so resolved to let me kill you?”
Because you won’t.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t underestimate me. Aren’t you afraid of your death, beast?”I’ve no doubt that you are skilled enough to strike your arrow true. I would not suffer.
“No,” she whispered softly as the tension on the bowstring began to grow slack. Without another word, she returned the arrow to its quiver and turned her back on the unicorn.You’re not like the other humans I’ve observed.
“Am I not?” she asked as she picked her way carefully over a rain swollen brook. “Because I let you go?”Yes. I feel I owe you my gratitude. It’s not every day that someone walks away from such an opportunity without even giving it a second thought.
“Unless you can read my mind, how do you know I didn’t have a second thought?”Because I’m still alive. What is your name?
When she didn’t answer, the unicorn pressed again. Please. All I ask is your name.
“If you must call me anything, I answer to Tobiya. I don’t know my real name; my family died when I was a child. A kind woman gave me shelter for a few months before she died, it was her name.”You took her name to honor her for her kindness?
“Yes.”You’re a very kind person... Tobiya.
“Don’t think that just because I didn’t kill you that I am a kind person. I am far from it.”
The unicorn tilted his head as he watched the young woman disappear over the slight swell of a hill. His eyes fell to the quiver on her back and he made a soft, contemplative sound in the back of his throat.
The village sat at the base of Dark Mountain, and this was the month the merchants came to the fair-sized town to peddle their wares. Tobiya looked up from the well as she drew her water, casting a curious glance at the large caravan as it pulled in with much pomp. The sun was two hours into the sky and already the heat was oppressive. She washed her hands and arms, scrubbing the sweat from her skin vigorously before splashing her face.
She turned her face to a young woman who picked her way towards her from the crowd, and then rose to stand patiently as she waited for her friend to join her.
“Do you have your gold? The merchants brought cloth this time, just like they promised!” the girl exclaimed. She turned towards them with excitement as they made haste to set up in an empty field. “Perhaps you should buy something pretty to make a dress with, instead of insisting on those trousers.” With a playful tug, the young woman plucked at the archer’s roughly sewn pants.
“I have no concerns with what I wear, Chloe,” Tobiya answered softly before dabbing at her face and neck with a clean rag.
“You’ll never get married dressed like a man,” Chloe chided gently. “Such a pretty girl, and yet you hide it behind arduous labor. You really should put in an eff--” She halted her speech at the stern expression directed at her. “You will find a man,” Chloe said with a smile. “And he will be a fine man, worthy of you. It’s just... you’re so lovely and you hide it...”
“What have I to care about looks?” Tobiya asked as she returned her cap to her head and pulled the brim down low. “And to answer your question; yes, I brought my gold. I need a new hatchet.”
“At least buy some cloth, let me make you a dress for the blood moon ball. Please?”
Chloe let out an exasperated sigh as her friend began to walk away towards the caravan. “Please?” she tried again.
“No,” Tobiya stated again firmly. “I have work to do and a dance would only eat away at my time.”
“But people from all the neighboring villages are coming! Think of all the available young men just dying to meet you! I’ll even braid your hair like you like when you go hunting!”
Tobiya paused, and Chloe knew she had won the argument when she saw the shoulders droop slightly in defeat.
“No ruffles or frills, I promise.”
Tobiya turned her face to glance at Chloe. “Simple. Plain. Loose.”
Chloe put her hand over her heart, and then gave a slight bow. “On my word as a lady; you will look plain and uninteresting.”
Tobiya studied her friend for another long moment before nodding once. “Deal.”
“Deal,” Chloe smiled as she hurried to catch up.
“How was your hunt?” Chloe asked as she stood next to Tobiya’s elbow. She had to lift her voice over the din of the excited villagers milling about over the goods all around them. The stoic young woman was taller than all the women in the village, and though she didn’t know her exact age, some of the women believed she wasn’t finished growing.
Her hair was auburn which burned a fiery gold when the sunlight hit it at just the right angle, and it was long, though often unkempt. For some reason, she didn’t feel the need to cut it off; to the others it was off-putting in itself that she dressed like a man, she didn’t want to alienate them further by cutting her hair like one, too.
“Uneventful,” Tobiya finally answered. She was busy looking through the bolts of cloth, trying to find something plain that wouldn’t give her any opportunity to stand out. She wasn’t comfortable in social situations. Already she was trying to decide on where to stand to attract the least attention without being rude to the villagers by shunning them completely during an important festival. They didn’t have to take pity on her five years ago and let her live in an old hut by the towns edge. She didn’t have to pay taxes either as long as she provided meat. On her first hunting excursion, which she had fought bitterly with the chieftain’s son about letting her join, she had felled two stags and four boars while the others had only taken a handful of rabbits. Since then, she was given the title of chief huntress.
“I’m surprised,” Chloe said. “You rarely come home empty handed. Here, look at this blue,” she lifted the bolt of cloth and held it up. “It goes well with your eyes.”
“I think I like this better,” Tobiya answered as she chose a bolt of deep brown. “And it feels...”
“Soft,” Chloe answered for her friend as she ran her fingers along the material. “Is this what you would like?”
Tobiya nodded her head once, and then lifted her hand to draw the vendors attention. She knew nothing about sizes or how much to buy, so while Chloe was busy haggling with the man over the price and yardage of cloth, she turned her back to the pair and surveyed her surroundings. You’re a very kind person... Tobiya.
The words returned to her so suddenly it was as if they were being spoken to her for the first time. Surprised, she turned her gaze to the left before doing a slow sweep with her eyes, trying to find the unicorn before realizing it was just a memory.
Kind? Her? No. She was stoic and serious and much preferred to spend her time alone doing work, or reading. She loved both, she couldn't stand to be idle. She was distracted as she paid for her cloth, and walked alone towards the stalls still being assembled that held the tools she desired.
"Kind?" Her brow furrowed. The people in this village had never been exceedingly cruel to her, though she was sometimes the butt of a few gentle jokes. Even those dried up once she began to bring in wild game on a regular basis, however compliments towards here were rare. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had said thank you, or please, though they were abundant in smiles of gratitude when they paid for their meat. It was just the way they were, and she was just the way she was and she saw no need of change.
"Foolish beast," she frowned. "I never asked you to be kind to me."
"I'm sorry?" a vendor asked, and she jumped with a slight start. She had managed to walk through to the end of the row and thankfully stopped on instinct, lest she continue to wander mindlessly through the field. So lost in her thoughts, she had simply stood there while he put out his items. He occasionally cast a nervous glance at her time and again as he set up his goods while she pondered and muttered out loud to herself like she was daft. Not caring that she must have appeared out of her mind to the stranger, she simply stated her desire.
"I need a hatchet."
He gave her a wary look as he slowly produced the desired item and placed it upon the warn surface of his stall. "Will that be all?"
"Yes... no," she said, her tone turning thoughtful as she spied an item hanging upon a peg behind him. "What is that?"
Turning, he visibly relaxed when he realized she was looking at a golden pendant. Taking it from its peg, he cradled the tear shaped pearl in his fingers as he turned to present it to her. "It's an antique," he said. "And it would look lovely on you."
She reached out to touch it, noticing how the sun winked around the fine band of gold holding the pearl in place on the chain. This would look fine for the ball. Maybe later, she could sell it and recoup her price.
"Do you fancy it, miss?"
"Yes," she whispered.