On February 28, 2018. P. T. Wyant offered for her Wednesday Words prompt at ptwyant.com
a birdhouse, a brown pony, and a superstition.
My own memories of being thrown from a pony's back mingled with the memories of Rhane, insecure roleplaying gamer from my Work In Progress, 'The Players Are the Thing'.
This freebie story is told from the perspective of Amberwyne, Rhane's character, whom is often quite real to her.
Some say gaming isn't healthy, that people get too involved with their characters and their campaigns.
The characters in this campaign, however, are trying to help their players overcome a lot of their insecurities through the game.
This is one example of this...
I could feel Rachel tugging at my arm, although this was Rhane’s memory’s, Rhane’s shame.
Rachel dragged my player away from the birdhouse, all the chirping voices and tiny feathered heads, beaks open.
“Can’t we feed the birds?” Her voice was childish, yet not quite as uncertain as it was now.
She turned her head toward those expectant beaks. “I’m sorry. I don’t have any worms.”
“Why are you talking to birds?” Rachel demanded, not bothering to look back at the birdhouse. She continued to steer a much smaller Rhane towards the field.
“Why not?” Rhane asked with defensive innocence.
“They’re not parrots. They won’t answer you back.” Rachel raised her head with all the superiority of two extra years. “Ponies are much better. Trust me.”
“I think talking to birds is charming,” I murmured in my player’s small ear. I don’t think she heard me or noticed.
She was too busy remembering this.
A brown pony, swishing her tail in a corral.
“This is Buttercup.” Rachel waved a hand toward Buttercup, beaming with all the pride of an indulgent mother. “My new pony. Isn’t she beautiful? I’ll show you how to ride her.”
Buttercup bared her teeth at Rhane, daring her to come any close.
My player shrank back in response.
“I’ve never ridden a pony before,” she stammered.
“Oh, don’t worry! Buttercup is very gentle!” Rachel enthused, completely oblivious to Rhane’s lack of reciprocal feeling. “I’m sure she’ll let you climb on her back. Besides every girl loves ponies. I’m sure you’ll love her, too, once you’ve had a chance to ride her!”
Rhane tried not to tremble as Rachel lifted her onto the pony’s back. Rachel was already tall and muscular, more than strong enough to pick her cousin up.
The exact opposite of Rhane.
“Besides, you know what they say.” Rachel observed her handiwork as Rhane struggled to get herself upright on Buttercup’s bare back. “If you can’t love animals, no one is going to love you.”
Rachel patted the pony’s flank.
Buttercup began to canter, jostling Rhane up and down with each step.
I could feel her earnest wish for a saddle, something to hold onto. The pony wasn’t moving all that fast. Rachel loved riding Buttercup.
Why wasn’t Rhane enjoying this? All she felt was terror.
A particularly deep step nearly knocked Rhane off the pony.
A cry escaped from her throat, knocked free.
Spooked, Buttercup snorted and turned sharply at the sound. The movement dislodged Rhane.
She slid off the pony into the waiting mud of the corral.
“I guessed it at that moment.” Rhane closed her eyes to the memory, returning to her adult self. She didn’t want to remember lying there, covered with gunk, humilated at her failure. “No one would ever love me.”
“That’s not true.” I reached out to seize Rhane’s head, cupping her face with my hands. “Something like that is just a childish superstition brought on by a mistake. A mistake which was your cousin’s as much as yours.”
“And you’re a fictional character, no matter how beautiful.” Rhane opened her blue eyes which swam with tears. “Amber, you’re not real. You’re only telling me what I want to hear.”
“Better than telling yourself what you shouldn’t hear,” I retorted. “Rhane, Buttercup was simply spooked when you screamed. You shouldn’t have gotten on her back without a saddle, not a first time rider. You know this. Rachel shouldn’t have put you on Buttercup’s back either.”
“Why?” Rhane reached up to cover my hands on her face with her own. She no longer noticed I wasn’t real. “Why didn’t I love ponies as much as Rachel did? She said all girls loved them.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘all girls’, my darling. In fact, there’s no such thing as ‘all is’.” I entwined my fingers with hers. “Everyone is different. It doesn’t make you as less a girl for not being comfortable in the saddle.”
“I don’t dislike ponies.” Tears spilled down Rhane’s rounded cheeks. “I am afraid of them, though. Ever since that day, I’ve been afraid.”
If only Rhane could let go of that day. If only she could exorcise that memory in some way.
“Perhaps in the next gaming session I could fall off my horse?” I suggested, winking at Rhane. “That way, you wouldn’t be alone.”
“No!” Rhane recoiled, dropping her hands. “You wouldn’t!”
“Why not?” I release my player, trying not to feel hurt at her manner. “Isolde and I have been walking throughout the breadth of the campaign. Why would I know how to ride?”
“You’re a lady.” Rhane gazed at me with wide, solemn eyes. “Surely you’ve had riding lessons.”
“Perhaps not.” I glanced up, picturing the blue sky over the palace where I’d grown up. I could almost see the little girl with strawberry blonde curls I’d been. “Maybe ponies shy away from me because I’m a changeling. They might have loved their true mistress, the real Amberwyne. They might be the only ones who can smell an imposter, for all I look exactly like her.” I shot a sideways glance at Rhane.
Rhane frowned, jutting out her full lower lip in a pensive manner, while a light flickered in her eyes. Her thoughts raced.
This would be a way to play out her weakness in a way that developed my background. It appealed to her imagination even though it terrified her.
“Isolde may have noticed this.” I could picture a tall, toe-headed girl with greenish blue skin standing at my younger self’s side. The two of us stood apart from the other children. “She may have had problems riding herself, due to her nonhuman blood.”
“This could have been how the two of you met.” I could feel Rhane’s imagination, picking up speed, as if it were a galloping pony. “Before Isolde was enslaved by the witch, she might have met you at the field where the ponies were. Neither of you could ride.”
“Talk to Mona.” I doubted there would be a problem. From what Isolde has observed of her maiden, err player, Mona was eager to explore any relationship potential between Isolde and myself.
Not that either of us minded.
“Ask her if she’d be interested in doing this bit of character backstory.” I fingered one of my curls, trying not feel bashful. I wasn’t supposed to be bashful.
“I’ll have to talk to Beatrix, too.” Some of the light dimmed in Rhane’s eye. “She won’t like it. Not being able to ride will slow our characters down in getting to our destination.”
“Talk to Mona first.” I nodded for emphasis. “You’ll have a better chance of convincing your Gamemaster to let you do this if the two of us suggest this to her at the same time.”
“That’s true.” Rhane bit her lower lip. “Besides once Beatrix has a chance to think about it, she’ll realize this is a chance to thrown even more dangers at you during your journey.”
“Don’t worry.” I made Rhane a courtly little bow. “Your players can handle whatever challenges your Gamemaster throws at them.”
At least I hoped we could.
Beatrix could be a malevolent and dangerous opponent. She’d already thrown evil fae, wicked witches and a giant at us.
Who knew what might spring from her devious imagination once she started thinking about our long trip on foot?
The Gamemaster wouldn’t deny her players’s request for shared backstory, but she would hold it against them. Not to mention figure out ways to make any changeling spookiness very unpleasant for both of us.
If there was any chance roleplaying this out would help Rhane overcome that awful superstition that no one would ever love her, I’d take my chances with the gamemaster.
Whatever didn’t kill Isolde and myself would only make us stronger.