Fantasy Fiction Coming of Age

The sun shone with wholesome radiance over the Royal Gardens.

In the east, a glade of Weeping Willows hugging a lake greeted the light with shimmering shades of dark and emerald green. Towards the north, flower beds blossomed vibrantly with purple Violas, butter-yellow Sunflowers, scarlet Bee Balms, purple Lavender and a grand assortment of Roses. Facing west, apples glimmered with sparkling flashes of ruby as dewdrops clung stubbornly to their crimson skin. Finally, to the South; a wild garden of Birch and Ash shaded all manner of creatures not ready for the sun’s embrace.

The lawns surrounding the grounds were elegant and neat, in the center stood a grand marble gazebo trellised with spiraling Ivy and lilac Wisteria.

Underneath the gazebo lay a spacious table bedecked with triangle-sandwiches, croissants, scones, juice and every other delicacy a brunch-setting deserves.

At the head of this table sat Princes Kestra; dressed in official shades of black that matched the long ebony braid hanging halfway down her back perfectly.

She didn’t like her outfit. The black shoes, trousers and cardigan shrouded her, leaving nothing but a light grey V-shape around her neck; the only flash of light in an otherwise lifeless outfit. Kestra beheld her bright surroundings and longed to disappear within them in one of her summer dresses.

At either side of her sat her very best friends. Her father, the King, had introduced them when they were but babies; they have been inseparable ever since.

To her left sat Lord Unicorn Purplefeather, master of the Clouds and the Night. He was pale silver with void-black eyes and hooves. His horn was a translucent spiral of prismatic elegance that occasionally caught the sun and darted rainbows into conversations.

He had kindly reduced his usual grand size to no bigger than a small pony today, wanting to join her at the table. Kestra smiled at him, grateful he had foregone his usual routine to be with her; to sit like humans do and to expertly hold a china cup of coffee between practiced hooves.  

On her right sat Lady Bear Honeymead, ruler of the Forest and Day time. She too had reduced her mighty size to take a seat at the table with Kestra. Her fur was a deep chocolate, glistening with gold and copper flecks in the sunlight. Her eyes sparkled with a sharp amber intelligence that felt like it looked right through you. She held her teacup with more familiarity and grace, the steam trailing smokily past her nostrils as sipped.

“Princess, why are you all in black today?” Lady Bear asked kindly as she reached for a scone, covering it in honey and cream.

“We had to attend a ceremony today. A while ago, father commissioned the creation of a magical Talisman that would keep his Spirit safe.” She gestured casually at her outfit. “For it to work, it first required a somber ceremony. That occurred this morning. The Talisman currently waits in the castle...” Lord Unicorn had helped himself to some cake whilst Kestra was talking, having swallowed a hasty bite he asked. “What happened at the ceremony?”

“I don’t really understand it.” She frowned, crinkling her nose as she thought. “There was an old magician with black robes, he recited some words and sent smoke plumes into the air with a small ball at the end of a chain.” Her friends nodded with interest as she explained. “Then there was this large box that my father had to enter, and many of his closest friends and colleagues were there to support him as he waited within…” She took a sip of her juice, her throat feeling dry.

“After that, my father had to leave and the magician brought us all together to watch a grand fire… Father told me beforehand that only then could the energy of his Spirit travel freely and join with the Talisman.”

“Why did he wish to keep his Spirit safe?”

Kestra frowned again. “He said I had to keep him close, no matter where he was or how far he had to travel.” She stared at her empty plate with distant eyes. “He’s been talking about how King Oma of Carcin’s territorial expansion was a threat to our Kingdom, and that he had to leave to stop King Oma before it was too late.” She shook her head, still too young to really care about such intrigues. “I think he left me his Spirit so I could remember his wisdom in the trying times to come…”

“That seems like a rather important artifact.” Lady Bear said seriously. “Should you not have it on you already?”

“I should...” She grabbed a triangle-sandwich from the platter and took a shallow bite, using her chewing time to think. “It has some instructions I need to memorize first, and once I’ve done that, it will never leave me.” She flashed a cheerful smile at Lady Bear, then turned it’s warmth to Lord Unicorn. “But not today.”

Lord Unicorn returned her smile, understanding it was her cue for him to change the subject. He took another long and delicate sip of coffee and asked evenly. “Has her Lady the Queen provided any instructions for the day?”

“Uggh… No. Other than the ceremony, my day is Wide open.” Kestra replied disdainfully, unable to not be annoyed at her Queenly Mother for not providing her with a full schedule. She also regretfully knew that if her day had been packed full of activities, she’d likely have been just as annoyed…  Her mother, for all her magnanimity, simply didn’t understand her.

“Then it sounds like we should hatch our own plan against the fiendish king Oma.” Lord Unicorn said with narrowed eyes, his long lashes fluttering with mischief. Kestra couldn’t help herself, she smiled and nodded.

Lady Bear chimed in. ”That… is an excellent idea Lord Purplefeather!” her golden eyes pinching almost shut in her delight.

“Why thank you Lady Honeymead!”

Kestra loved how they always last-named each other with such warmth.

They sat together, laughing, enjoying each other’s company and the plans they hatched in the sunshine; when from a great distance a whistle stilled their lively conversation.

The whistle grew louder… Much Louder.

“TAKE COVER!” Kestra yelled, having looked up just in time.

She dropped low, ducking her head between her knees, covering it with her arms. She was enveloped by layers of silver and chocolate as her friends grew to enormity, shielding her with their bodies.

With a thunderous Booooom! The earth shook with a solitary wave as the whistle abruptly ceased, sending a 360° spray of pebbles, roots and dust everywhere. The silence that followed this mighty hammer blow provided Kestra with enough courage to raise her head and open her eyes.

It was as though the sun had been erased.

The light wasn’t just obscured, it was gone. In its place, a bed of stars greeted the trio with pale light. As her friends parted, the curtains of Kestra’s immediate world flew open; the devastation shook every negative emotion she had, violently, within her frame.

Not far away, a large crater had appeared next to the lake, the waters within sloshing ominously as the rim was very close to the shore. A ring of earth and stone had risen around the crater as the dirt within was now the dirt without.

Further in the east, destruction reigned as more whistles filled their ears from further away. One, two, three craters appeared as Red barrels in flames crashed and exploded the impeccably maintained landscape into dirty tatters. Kestra smelled steamy sulfur and charcoal on the white smoke that billowed around them.

On either side of her, her friends stood firm, watching the devastation of their Kingdom unfurl before them as two more barrels gouged holes from the face of the earth.

Kestra started running towards the carnage, but was stopped short by Lady Bear; looming largely beside her on her hind legs. 

“First; we find shelter.” Lord Unicorn spoke, now a sturdy and magnificent silver stallion. “Then we go and save the Kingdom, okay?”

Kestra didn’t want to listen, but saw no alternative. Lord Unicorn and Lady Bear were right…

They headed west and took refuge in the Orchard. Lord Unicorn and Lady Bear both helped themselves to plenty of apples whilst Kestra paced, making plans out loud as they munched and listened in silence.

“We must get to the castle.” She concluded. “I must know that mother and father are alright!” She held her braid tightly in her left hand; her eyes trained at the ground a short distance ahead of her marching feet.

“What will we do when we get there?” Lord Unicorn asked.

“We will face whatever waits.” Kestra replied solemnly, she knew they understood as they nodded.

“For now…” Lady Bear added dramatically. “We Fight!”

As if her words were some sort of catalyst; Lord Unicorn whinnied with ethereal echoes, inciting a raucous roar from Lady Bear in response. Kestra felt the chemistry of the moment envelope her as she yelled as loud as her lungs would permit alongside her friends.

All battle-cried out, they stepped from the orchard to find their battered garden had settled. The pale starlight bathed silvery light on craters wider than her father was tall. Kestra gazed down at her outfit and smiled, feeling content that she blended with her environment at last.

They stopped shy of the first crater. At the very center, a small black dot popped and grew. Kestra tilted her head to get a better look. It popped once more and grew again. Within seconds it had started bubbling; growing into a sloppy being of dripping tar extending an arm towards her. The ooze collected at the bend of its elbow and dripped, forming a puddle at its knee. As it moved closer towards her, it dragged the drippings within itself.

The bubbling stopped and its growth ceased; yet it kept crawling towards her, assuming a shaky solidity as it stood on two legs.  

She had once asked her father to describe a Carcin soldier’s appearance; he had simply replied with:

A demon made of tar. She recalled she had laughed at him…

To her left; Lord Unicorn stood tall and powerful, shining brightly in the starlight. He snorted and lowered his head. Kestra noticed the tiny hints of rainbow within the prism of his horn.

To her right, Lady Bear took a solid pose, her gold and coppery tones had been replaced with silver on a mass of thick black fur, making her look imposing as her teeth glittered sharply.

Kestra clicked her fingers and a sword appeared on her back; she reached up to pull it out but it was too late, the creature had launched itself at her. A high pitched Skree escaped its gaping mouth and Kestra closed her eyes. Lady Bear grabbed it in a hug, tackling it to the ground; Lord Unicorn charged in and stabbed it through the chest. It fell limply, leaching into the ground.

Kestra stared intently as Tar-Demons lurched with ungainly bounds towards them from the east.

She took a stand, bracing herself with her sword held high.

They slew Demons for hours, gradually making their way further east, closing in on the castle doors. Lord Unicorn was covered in black blood running down his muzzle and up his legs. Lady Bear’s paws, face and chest were slick and sticky in the starlight as she too was covered in tarry blood.

They entered her mother’s Maze. The lecherous tide of Tar-Demons had begun to ebb, and they all welcomed the bouts of reprieve.

Kestra felt restless. “Mother says there is a shortcut somewhere, perhaps we should find it.”

“No.” Lady Bear said kindly. “We have reasonable cover right now. Besides, it would be good to know this Maze… if the Kingdom ever faces another threat like this, you may want to know it.”

“But I can come back later, I promise I will.” She argued.

“I don’t think you will.” Lord Unicorn declined her oath steadily. “Now is the time to learn this lesson.”

Kestra crossed her arms in annoyance, but chose to remain with her friends.

They faced four more Tar-Demons before they cleared the Maze, each one twice as large as the last. The final Demon gave them quite a fight. Lady Bear had wrapped her whole body around its throat, biting furiously as dark blood fountained from the wounds she inflicted. Kestra wailed at it with her sword, ducking lithely between its arms and legs, cutting and stabbing everywhere her blade found purchase.

Tired and aching; Lord Unicorn ran a short distance from the fight and turned to face the giant creature head-on. He craned his head backwards, raising his horn high; the night grew darker and the clouds gathered. Once it felt like the sky could handle no more, a ray of bright red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet burst forth; lancing the monstrous Tar-Demon through its skull. It stood still, as if locked in a moment in time, then fell to the ground. As it landed it sloshed out in a wave of soft black water which covered and filled Kestra’s shoes, then drained away into the soil.

As they exited the maze the clouds parted; the doors to the castle lay before them.

In the large stone archway with heavy doors, stood two guards crying loudly. Kestra ran, recognizing them as her father’s guards, Sprocket and Bangs.

“What’s wrong?” She asked urgently.

They looked at her with sympathy, Bangs replied. “M’Lady Kestra. We are truly sorry…” They cried again, unable to contain the sadness that welled within them. She felt their depression mingle in the air, and a single tear escaped down the plains of her cheek.

“What do you mean?” She asked again, now frantic.

“The King’s been taken Princess. And no one can enter the castle without answering the riddle” Sprocket blubbered the words through sharp, shallow intakes of breath.

Kestra’s head spun inside her skull. The axis of her reality had been forcefully misaligned and she wanted to throw up.

Father’s gone. I need to get in but there’s a… riddle? Wait… What?

“Who’s Riddle?” She asked.

“We don’t know my Lady; all we know is that’s what we’ve been told.” Sprocket continued, more tears streaming down their faces.

Bangs pulled himself together. “The Queen’s trapped inside and her sadness fills us M’Lady. It’s her that’s making us weep as she cannot stop crying herself.“ Kestra sighed, surprised she hadn’t recognized the distinctive pall of her mother’s tears.

“What’s the Riddle?” She sounded tense.

Bangs recited it, as if by rote. “My Life can be measured by hours. I serve by being devoured. What am I?”

Kestra scoffed, her father had taught her all his best riddles, and this was one of their shared favorites.

“A Candle!”

As the castle doors flew open, she felt her brief sense of victory get swallowed by grief and sadness. The chamber within was dark. Within its gloom, on a small marble table in the middle lay an envelope. On top rested a small silver necklace with a clear gem bedded firmly into a socket.

She recognized it instantly as the Talisman.

Lady Bear and Lord Unicorn, who had stood back whilst she spoke with the guards, joined her in the room.

She stood before the Talisman and picked it up delicately. The small crystal contained a treasure within. She examined it fondly for a moment, then dropped the chain around her neck. She opened the envelope and pulled out her father’s written instructions, hoping he had left a clue as to how she could save him.

My Kestra,

This is the first of many letters I have prepared for you.

No doubt you’ve destroyed the backyard trying to avoid this moment. Knowing you, you’ve probably visualized a grand battle to prepare for it.

So just this once, I will be brief.

My darling, we need to be real for moment.

We both know you are only reading this because you had to go to my funeral today. Your amazing mind helped us forget about it many times, imaging grand adventures with Lady Bear and Lord Unicorn… I honestly never knew that stuffed animals could live such vibrant lives…

But we both knew this day would come.

I know you want to be angry at your momma right now, but that’s only because she survived while I died. I’ve left her just as much as I left you. It’s not her fault. And it’s not yours either...

You need each other.

Think of me when you wear your necklace, oh sorry… the Talisman. It contains just enough of me to keep me close.

Kestra blinked; fat tears ran down her face. Her father had sent a small drop of his blood to a gem lab to be encased in crystal. She’d known the details beforehand, but they held new meaning for her now, her tears dripping freely on the paper.

I Love you my little Adventurer!


Kestra’s mother had watched as her grieving daughter wreaked absolute havoc on their back garden.

She’d sat quietly in her little sheet-fort, chatting away with her tattered plush toys as she sipped some juice.

Like a switch had been flipped, she started throwing her plastic chairs and digging small holes. She pulled fruit from their only apple tree, swung a stick around, moved pot-plants and crawled under bushes. Her concern actually receded once she spotted her daughter hugging the gardens gnomes outside the backdoor, crying loudly. She’d lost sight of Kestra once she entered their home, and felt better knowing her husband’s letter and that macabre necklace they’d agreed upon would be in plain sight, and therefore unavoidable.

Her mother found her later, fast asleep. Lord Unicorn and Lady Bear providing plush cover as she clutched the letter and crystal tightly in her slumber.

July 28, 2023 21:48

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Ronel Steyn
12:55 Aug 04, 2023

Oh, I really like this one. I love the visual stimulation and I love the names you used. The development from the battle to the truth is a magical transformation that was done really well!


18:31 Aug 04, 2023

I am so frikken happy you liked this one! I poured a fair bit of myself into it. 🙃 And I loved writing it. 🤓 I really appreciate that are always supporting me. 😊❤️ Thank you.


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