Illustration by Arushi Gupta

For Better and Worse by Yi Han


Illustration by Arushi Gupta
Illustration by Arushi Gupta

When he woke up there was a snowy horse standing in the corner of his chamber looking at him.

He sighed. There were too many kidnapped princesses and distressed damsels, these days. The worst thing, so many of them offered their hand to him in marriage after being rescued.

No, he told each and every one who offered, we know not of each other, you reckon you are beguiled by me as I have saved your life and your heart is full with gratitude and your blood is singing, and it makes you act with haste. In the clear light of day, when your heart has calmed, you will find I am not as comely as excitement had clouded your mind to believe, and you are not as fond of me as you thought. If you desire to express your gratitude in some manner, kindly endeavour not to be captured by dragons or evil warlords, or ensnared in magical entrapments by crafty wizards and witches in the future.

The clever ones understood, the foolish ones called him all sorts of names before they tossed their hair around and stalked off haughtily. His horse neighed in sympathy.

Maiden saved, marriage rejected; patting his horse, they set off for home.

 

On the days he woke up with nothing in the corner of his chamber, but a vermilion fiery dragon flying outside his tower, striving to poke its stout into the loophole, he knew the castle’s treasures were under imminent attack, and he would ride his dragon to face the goblin or orc or dwarf hordes greedy for the King’s gold. These usually provided immense merriment and his dragon reveled in it too, breathing fire merrily. After they took care of the treasure-raiders and fended off the raids, he would spend hours flying with his dragon, who would be mirthful with the chance to stretch its wings and soar, taking great dives off cliffs. It was a magnificent sight. At times his dragon would spin in the air to shake him off its back and rarely he would fall, but his dragon always caught him if he did.

When enemy troops were attacking the castle, he would awake to find an ebony steed, decked in full armoury, impatiently snorting at him and thumping its hoof in the corner of his chamber. He chortled.

Patience yet, I shall fetch my armour and we shall ride to battle.

In melee, with his trusty steed, he had yet been undefeated.

 

On days when there were no impending attacks, no defences nor rescues required of him, mornings would bring a brown-and-white hound watching him from the corner of his chamber. Those were favoured mornings, unburdened by duties for the day, the chance to continue with his research in the castle library, his hound by his side. On fair-weathered days he would bring piles of parchment, scrolls and ancient books into the woods behind the castle. There was a great oak tree under which he would read, sheltered in its shade, his faithful hound dozing on his lap, nudging his fingers for a scratch behind its ears. He always obliged.

 

On full moon nights he did not sleep, staying awake in bed. On the night of the fullest moon, in the hour of moonrise, in the corner of his chamber there would manifest a figure – not dragon nor steed nor hound but man – strong of build, pale blue of eye and dark of hair, once a knight, before a wizard’s spell had put an end to it, a spell shielded from a fellow knight in battle.

He had put out the candles earlier, but still he could sense him in the velvety darkness. Come, please, his voice barely more than a whisper in the darkness, a slight tremble from want, need, guilt, too many emotions to give voice to.

When the figure strode across the chamber past the loophole, he was illuminated for a moment by the moonlight falling into the room. Then he heard the rustle of coverlet being lifted, felt the dip in his bed, the figure climbing in next to him.

He reached out, touched the expanse of chest under his fingers, warm, human, and sensed rather than saw the smile on the other knight’s face. Mere hours they had, before the sun rose again.

Someday, he thought, he would have this again by sunlight, not just moonlight.

Someday, he would find the antidote, he would remove the spell. He would awake to the same pair of eyes looking fondly back at him every morning, watching over him, human eyes.


About the Author

Yi Han

Teo Yi Han is an analyst with a degree in psychology that has come in handy in the exploration of mental health issues in her writings. Her writing has won awards in a few Singapore-based competitions, including first prize in the 2015 Golden Point Award short story category and one of her stories is published in FLESH: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology.


About the Illustrator

Arushi Gupta

Arushi Gupta is a 20-year-old alien studying to be a dentist in Chandigarh. She is a die-hard otaku and wishes to go to Japan soon.  You can find her singing Japanese songs, making some artsy concoction or taking weird photographs in the streets of Chandigarh. You can find her works here.


For Better and Worse is one of the many amazing submissions we have received for the second edition of the literary collection The Machinery. You can read the first edition here.

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