Prince Zyrcon watched Tun’rilly as she lounged in her hammock. She was chewing on a long stalk of fresh hay that had been harvested for the elephants.
“You’re not cleaning elephant dung are you?” she chided him.
Zyrcon was a grown man now. He knew better than to stare. That didn’t mean he avoided it though. He was just far better at not getting caught. The prince returned to sweeping.
Zyrcon smiled. He and the Ridemistress had grown close since his father the King stopped talking to him. He’d been disavowed of the crown, but he kept his title since King Balim and the Queen were not able to have another child. They were getting old but the whole tribe talked about how they kept trying.
“The Crocs are going to be angry with us for going through their lands for hay… won’t there be war?”
Tun’rilly yawned. “There is always war, my prince.”
Zyrcon loved that she still called him that.
“War for rain, war for harvest, war for drought, war for… for babies.” She frowned at that revelation. “Holding a ceremonial war to win the luck of the gods… killing other people so you can produce an heir is a bit backwards, isn’t it?”
Zyrcon scowled. “You’re telling me. Haven’t enough of our people fled to the wilderness or attempted to become Crocs or Jaguars even? He’s going to lose everyone on this mountain in his effort to replace me.”
Tun’rilly closed her eyes. “Zyrcon, as beautiful as you are… you could never be replaced.”
Zyrcon stopped sweeping. He looked at his once riding instructor. She was still beautiful, and just as round and lithe as his last day of lessons. But Zyrcon did not like to think of that day, when Aisha died. Several years had passed since. At first, the tribe was hopeful that the calf spirit would speak to him and then they would know if she was angry with the tribe for letting her die or not. But she said nothing. Her actions were clear, however. Droughts and plagues for the Elphanti tribe were pretty much a slap in the face. Aisha hated them all. They dethroned Zyrcon immediately and King Balim forbade anyone to speak the calf spirit’s name.
Zyrcon didn’t think of himself as lucky for having a job with the elephants, even if he was never going to be allowed to ride one. It was only Tun’rilly that kept him from running off and becoming some jaguar’s dinner in the jungle below the mountain.
“I have something to ask you.” Tun’rilly announced. She sat up and tossed her head, thrust forward her large chest again. Zyrcon was sure he could see through her simple white linen shirt if he tried, so he didn’t.
“This question may shame you, but I would very much like to know the answer. I have been wondering for many years… why me? Why did you go to the bathhouse to look at only me?”
Zyrcon laughed. “It’s not so embarrassing. I am not royalty anymore because I wanted a woman that I was too young and too silly to have. I thought I had a right to you, so I had sex with you in my own way…” then Zyrcon really did seem amused. “I had my two hands around my kingdom that day. I didn’t even know it… But please don’t be offended. I didn’t single you out. At that age, any woman would do.”
Tun’rilly seemed unhappy with this answer. “It was brave of you, to defy your father like that. You demanded your throne even when he said Aisha herself forbade it.”
Zyrcon stopped sweeping. He understood.
“I think I’m finished for tonight, if you like…” he fumbled for a way to express his intentions. “I will be right back.” He said quietly and rushed off to the men’s bath house.
Zyrcon was nervous and took too long getting ready. When he returned, the sun was down and Tun’rilly was not there. He tossed his long hair out of his face and swore softly. Zyrcon ate a cold dinner of salty jerky and fresh fruit that Tun’rilly had brought him. She was about nine years his elder, but she was always more than tolerant of him. Zyrcon always wondered why that was… she was the one person who should be most resentful of him. Instead, she seemed to understand. She cared a great deal how he fared.
Zyrcon was sure that he now knew why. He lay awake that night in his hammock tied high up in the stable house. If he still smelled like dung, would she care? Zyrcon sighed and rolled onto his side. He thought of Tun’rilly until his humble dwelling faded from his vision. She was all he could see, and she was naked for him, happy for him. He tried not to think of how his hand felt…
Zyrcon stopped. The impulse filled his mind, he couldn’t let go of it. He dropped to the floor, left the hammock swinging. Without thinking, he skulked through the dark village, down the wide streets to the Cavalry-General’s house.
Ridemaster Tun’rilly woke to a hand over her mouth. She panicked at first, but then her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Zyrcon smiled down at her.
“My prince,” she startled.
“Call me that again,” he said, and crawled onto her simple pallet next to her.
Tun’rilly at first resisted his kisses. “My mother is right there. How can you be so bold?”
Zyrcon already had all his clothes off. “Do you think I care? I don’t even remember coming over here, but here I am and here you are… unless this isn’t what you meant earlier… when you said I was beautiful?” he whispered.
Tun’rilly thought about that. “At first I was just worried about you, but… you grew up.” She stroked the side of his face. “Now you are a man and handsome as well as a pervert.” She laughed, then her features became anguished. “But now you are so alone, a tragedy. I think that what happened to you, what the king did was wrong.”
Zyrcon laughed too. The old Cavalry-General stirred in her sleep only inches across the small hut.
“I’ve never done this before.” Zyrcon admitted after they kissed feverishly for a while.
Tun’rilly’s white teeth were easy to see in the dark. “I will teach you then.” She reached for the covers and drew them up. The beautiful woman stroked Zyrcon with her fingers, teasing him. Whether he could keep quiet or not became some game. Mesmerized, Zyrcon smoothed his hands up and down the sides of his once riding instructor. Mount. The word came to him again, and he snickered.
“What’s so funny?” Tun’rilly teased.
“Just this.” Zyrcon answered and seized her nipple in his mouth. He pressed his tongue against it, the way he remembered she liked it. Tun’rilly moaned and her mother grunted in her sleep.
“Oh, my prince.” She whispered in Zyrcon’s ear, then hurried to mount him. They joined many times that night. By the time dawn came Zyrcon had learned his lesson. He fell asleep ontop of his teacher.
That morning, Zyrcon woke to firm hands shoving at his shoulders. Tun’rilly was arguing with her esteemed mother. Zyrcon laughed at them as he put his clothes back on and was shooed out of the hut. People walking through the streets started humming with the gossip immediately: the prince had become a man.