The Messengers' Rags

Submitted into Contest #93 in response to: Set your story at a party that has gone horribly wrong.... view prompt


Fantasy Suspense

Author's note: This story is inspired by the fascinating folklore from the more obscure parts of South America, with the "llamas" being jarjachas from Peru, the very obscure "Ajchum" being from the Southern Cone and the messengers being from Tierra del Fuego.

It felt so odd to see the North Queen’s moat frozen solid. The envoys’ heavy coats hardly moved because of the icicles. The leader, Tanu, tensed at the thought they were frozen to the backs of their steeds. The drawbridge was already down, complete with bull-horned guards. 

Both guards gave heavy stares, but only one said, “Who sent these poor llamas here burdened with piles of dirt?”

Tanu made a thrust to the side, but realized too late her legs were asleep and she landed on the drawbridge. “Ouff.”

“That’s not a pile of dirt, that’s a Hainite!” The two guards laughed the snow off themselves.

Tanu peeled her face off the wood. Then two big spikes landed on her back.

“Hainxo get off!” Tanu could barely see his bulging eyes.

“Sorry,” The twig of a stonecoat hopped off, clinking towards the door, looking even smaller with his wife beside him. Tanu hurried after them with her coat sending ice chunks flying inside.

The castle’s inside was as gnarled and gray as the outside, but decorated with red and purple banners and many rich orange lights to make the atmosphere a little more lively. That is what Tanu would usually spot if it was not for the many guests inside. They moved with such energy and not a drop was found on their perfect clothes. This lured Tanu into stumbling further inside.

A female voice behind Tanu said, “Oh God. You’re not that Hainite Queen, are you?”

Tanu’s dress cracked. “No I am not.” Then she lifted a sleeve to see her dress was soiled enough to be black. She groaned and let her arm flop against her side. 

“Tanu! Tanu! You gotta try these!” Tanu’s nose felt sharp sweetness open her sinuses. She turned to Hainxo, whose frame struggled under all the fruit he gathered. Tanu wasn’t sure where to pick, should Hainxo lose balance and send the hard projectiles flying everywhere. Finally, she grabbed one. She couldn’t really remember the last time she sank her teeth into something that wasn’t frostbitten. 

Where was the queen? 

That fruit took a while for Tanu to eat. The taste, although sweet, was just intense. It was hard to eat without feeling a zap. The spirits still ate and joked and the lights still sent too much heat. Nothing changed. Tanu scanned the robes for Hainxo or Heuwan. They weren’t visible, and a weight plunged down Tanu’s gut. The many spirits blended in with one another, their outlines blurred. Tanu stumbled about, muttering “Hainxo. H-Hainxo. Hainxo!”


Tanu stared at the fellow Hainite right in front of her. How didn’t she see the peppermint doofus right in front of her? He didn’t have any invisibility or shapeshifting abilities that she knew. 

Tanu felt as though her head turned into fog. The buzzing on the side of her face drove her nuts. “Hainxo, you scared me.” 

Tanu’s relief stopped. Right behind Hainxo was another of the North Queen’s soldiers, this one was much taller, with stout horns sticking out of his helmet and almost every inch of his body covered with obsidian. 

Hainxo pointed to the hulk behind them, “The Queen called us.”

Tanu followed the guard up a spiraling staircase, the scoops and sides of his armor sported squiggles of light, the stairway’s walls scraped against Tanu’s shoulders. The air’s moldy scent made it smell used and dessicated. Poor Hainxo gagged and gagged, his effort to stifle his allergies only made the halls echo more. Heuwan stomped and scraped the loudest. She was holding up her dress. Finally, yellow light shone beyond the Hainites’ escort. 

The room smelled less moldy, but that was hard to notice with Queen Ajchum standing there. Her obsidian-clad guards, her scarlet dress, the embroidered grapes and her arms on her tilted hips made her look too much like a nature goddess. The guard behind Tanu and her friends pushed the three of them at once. Tanu scrambled to keep standing and the floor scraped her feet. The door behind them slammed shut. Queen Ajchum didn’t move, still standing like an acacia tree. 

Tanu made sure not to break eye contact. She carefully grabbed her friends’ cloaks from behind. Ajchum’s mouth wrinkled so much, her red makeup started to chip off.

Ajchum’s nose ring glared as much as her eyes. “Why would Xalpen send you at this time of year?”

The wind cut at Tanu’s face and arms. Her throat burned even though she tried to keep it shut. Her steed chattered with each jump it made. So long as Tanu could see the other llama riders in front of her, she would keep galloping towards safety. The grayness before everyone darkened and Tanu whipped her reins and pulled to the left. Leaves! Ajchum’s soldiers wouldn’t fare in the forests! Then everyone fell in a heap. Twigs and logs snapped. Leaves rustled in protest. The stone surfaces of the riders smacked. Cold mud clung to Tanu, even as she pushed herself up. They landed in a bog. Trees towered over them and bushes covered more of the area. Birds chirruped and whistled. 

Tanu talked like an old sickly sheep, “Is everyone okay?”

Heuwan cursed and threw off mud chunk after chunk. She turned to see Hainxo and pulled his head free. The llamas recovered too. 

Then Tanu heard shouting. She looked up and saw a cliff jutting above them. A horned head appeared over the cliff. His outline was obscured by leaves and fog. 

“Jar, jar, ja-” Tanu panicked and grabbed her llama’s muzzle. Everyone, including the animals hushed up and watched. The outline cocked its head and walked off. A rag of one of the envoy’s clothes drifted down and landed in the mud.

That year was an odd one. Nobody expected Queen Ajchum to chase out any messengers. Ajchum remembered that day as she strode along the same treeline her rejectees followed. It was almost spring. Golden grass framed by deciduous and rainforest trees alike, with the rainforest becoming more prominent once the little hill became a cliff. 

Ajchum steered her llama towards that treeline. There were bold red patches in the grass. Once one of these suspicious marks disappeared behind Ajchum’s vision, she got off with a sturdy thud. She turned, keeping the leather reins in her hands and saw a bright green plant she had never seen before. The leaves rose right out of the dirt like giant grass blades. The lime green pole growing in the midst of the leaves had redness topping it. These flowers were ridiculously big, had wide petals and were scarlet. Ajchum tied her steed to a nearby stump and found more plants just like it. Some had rather thin petals but also peppermint stripes, some were like the first one but with just a big stripe down each petal. Ajchum wondered as to how none of them fell over with their weighty ornaments. They stood their ground like a frightened Hainite.

That was when Ajchum remembered something else that happened last winter. She followed her troops during the chase and had to run on foot at one point. When the trio ran off with their ruined cloaks, Ajchum might have stepped on some of the rags that flew off. Just what she needed, a reminder of her rival, Empress Xalpen.

Ajchum heard feet scraping against dry grass. She turned to her llama and saw the little boy riding towards the both of them on another steed. “Your majesty, Xalpen’s planning on cutting this summer short! She wants to send a blizzard!”

May 13, 2021 20:47

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