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Talorian the Fair

KELS is a chronic collector of odd things for her pocket hoard. This hoard currently includes: a plethora of crystals, stones, a jar of fox teeth, and a very tiny Li Shang of unknown origin. She shares her writing with her partner and occasionally the living room plants, depending on who is more willing to listen. All of her work, whether horror or fantasy or science fiction, has a human bent. If you'd like to follow her work and nonsense, she can be found on twitter and Instagram under @KELSpisak.
Talia was ten and two when she sheared her hair with a kitchen knife, bound her budding breasts with rags until her ribs ached, and stuffed a sock in the crotch of her father's borrowed breeches. She was the same age when her father beat her bloody with a switch and told her she would never hold a sword.
"You're to hold a babe, not a blade." He hissed. Her skin cracked, peeled, and bled with every strike.
But she knew he was wrong.
She was ten and six when she ran away in the stolen mail of a solider. At ten and seven, she took the name Talorian and claimed her brithright as a knight and man.
He took the snubs of his slight frame on his chin, made up for thinness with quickness, and brawn with wit and skill. He shaved his head with the dull flat of a blade and wrapped his chest tight whenever his mail was missing from his shoulders. At night, he'd curse his father's name under his breath and ask for his mother's forgiveness with every exhale.
At twenty, he joined a company of sellswords and laughed over ale and coin. He lowered his eyes when women passed, snickered at jokes of his virgin heart. He adjusted the lump of rags in his crotch like he knew the others did. They offered him coin for the tavern wench to share his bed.
He shook his head. "I'll deal with it myself," and left, drink still foaming in his mug. Talorian pretended he was asleep when a knock and a woman's voice tickled him through the oak of the door. He pretended his ribs didn't spasm from the thickness of rags around his chest.
At twenty and two, he found notoriety in tournaments for nobility's amusement. Talorian the Fair was chanted in lands near and far. It was meant for his skin and the blond on his scalp; it had nothing to do with the calloused length of a girlish hand or the pitch of his voice. He joined tourney after tourney, gathered bag of coin after bag of coin. With a sweep of his arm, he would bow to a princess and then kiss the hand of a king. He was the man his father swore he would never be.
A quiet Duchess asked for his hand when he aged to twenty and nine. Her skin was soft as spun silk, her smile half-hidden behind shy fingers, and her hair spun of raven feathers. He kissed her hand and offered her a rose three tournaments in a row. But he refused with the excuse of a soldier's life and the woman he found in his blade.
But his heart ached more than his ribs ever had.
Night grew longer in the winter and Talorian found himself on a road too familiar, one coated in crisp snow from a dark night at ten and six. He should have reigned in his horse and turned back. Instead, he continued down a path he barely remembered. The windows of the home were boarded with wood. Light leaked between the cracks and stained the dirt.
He tapped a mailed fist on the door, remembered the ache in his back and the cut of a switch. "I bring copper for shelter."
The door opened to a man, old and grey, with a hunch in his spine. "A knight at my door or a fool?"
Both. "There is a tourney a few leagues from here. I have good coin." Even with a polished blade at his side and a shield on his back, Talorian was afraid.
His father twisted his tongue between rotten teeth. "There's room in the loft."
He handed his father three copper disks. The barn for his horse was more holes than walls. The mail peeled from his shoulders and he bound his chest tighter than he had in years. But his heart still threaten to beat against his skin. Iron rested thick on his tongue as he went back to the home.
"My wife made stew. Another copper and it's yours."
There was a toddler, thumb in a dirty mouth, clutching the woman's skirts. She was thinner, nearly skin-coated bones. Still, his mother's eyes shone with warmth a hearth never replaced.
He took a warm wooden bowl for a coin. "My thanks." He remembered how her hair tumbled with golden curls once. "How old is the child?"
She laughed, sweet as Talorian remembered. "Four. He wants to be a knight."
"Of course," the old man scoffed. "All children want swords and dragons."
Talorian smiled. "I have stories of dragons." So he told tales of valor and metal, of blood and hope, until the fire was low, the man was gone, and the boy was asleep.
He stood, stirred the ashes with a booted foot. "I can carry him to a bed for you." He plucked the child from their mother's lap and felt the gentle breath of a brother he would never know against his shoulder.
"I've missed you, my son." The words were soft enough to be caught and hidden under the crackle of a flame but there were only ashes and embers in the pit beside them. She looked at him the same way she had when she mopped his blood from his back with a warmed rag.
"I can't stay." Not with a man who hated him for what he was.
His mother only nodded. "I named him Taylor, after you." She was so close yet so far. The two of them danced away every time they neared. "Just... let someone else love you."
When the morning sun rose, he left and refused to look back. He thought of his Duchess across the plain and a brother holding their mother's hand. But, still, he couldn't shake the sting of a switch and the ache of his ribs.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 29th, 2020


I would like to say something highly intelligent or profound about "Talorian the Fair" but it's more than a sentence or a few lines or a statement. Talorian's story is one of acceptance and how the lack of it can hurt in such a profound way. It is the way one person's perceptions can damage someone else, despite self-acceptance and rebellion. His story isn't new, it isn't unique. His story plays out every day in a hundred different homes about a hundred different things. I think that's why his story will stay with me after writing, editing, and finding it a wonderful home. It'll stay with me because he's still living his journey in a hundred other people. I don't know how his story ends (I do like to think he went back to his Duchess though). A lot of people don't know how their stories end. But their stories, like Talorian's, still deserve and need to be told.

- KELS
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