He was not blind.
It would have required a lack of two eyes to miss out on what was going on – possibly also a loss of hearing. And still, it was just about the only thing which king Trode did not raise a comment or vehement protest against. He simply watched and thought about it, pretending not to.
It had started long before the journey began, he realized that. Yet, he had not noticed it before they arrived in Farebury. Until then, perhaps, he had been blind – simply grateful of his retainer’s loyalty.
Despite being told to rest at the inn, the youngster had come back out with a piece of grilled meat and a bunch of carrots. At that time, king Trode had been so angry at the townspeople for their attack that he had simply torn into his meal – well, “tearing into” as much as dignity allowed – without at first noticing what the young man was doing.
But when he heard Medea snort, her father instantly looked up.
In the evening glow, the novice warrior stood before the white horse with a wooden slate in his hands. From the plate, Medea munched a salad of rinsed and sliced carrots, mixed with crisp, white pieces of apple.
At the sight of that, all the anger seeped from king Trode’s stout, green body. The act of loyalty and honest wish to remove some indignity from the cursed princess made all his complaints seem farfetched.
“Thank you, my boy,” king Trode murmured when the plate was empty.
The gratitude was returned with a respectful bow of a brunette head and a wish for peaceful sleep.
It continued like that.
Wherever they made a stop, the boy would take a basket from the back of the wagon and head out to fill it with grass and clover. He always rinsed the harvest in the nearest river or pond before serving it to the princess – sometimes spending a good while searching for both fresh grass and water.
All this, despite everything else, seemed to be what finally convinced that oaf Yangus that the horse and the old monster really were princess and king. Amazing, really, that it did not instead convince him that “the guv” was out of his mind.
King Trode never had the heart to tell the lad that even though he would serve Medea two basketfuls of grass, and vegetables whenever possible, it was never enough for her cursed form. Whenever sure that her caretaker wasn’t looking, she took the chance to munch on “wild” grass. But the pleading look from her big blue eyes kept her father silent – not that he actually needed her wordless request.
Retainers like this one were things out of fairy tales, and as such he deserved all the credit he worked so diligently for.
King Trode thought about that now, sitting on the wagon’s seat and gazing at the autumnal landscape slipping past around the ragtag group. They had passed Rydon’s tower about an hour ago, heading towards the cold north. The wind was still fairly warm however.
Just a few weeks ago, he had met his future son-in-law.
Trode closed his beady eyes and suppressed a growl. This anger would not seep away.
That the prince of Argonia was an insufferable brat shaped like a pig could still be mended with time. Certainly, he had merely been nervous about of his initiation… surely that must have had an impact on his rudeness.
But what had happened in the morning of their trip together, that could not be forgiven.
Even knowing that “Charmless” had no idea whom he brought the whip down upon… it was an offense, a pain so deep that no reasoning could touch it.
Trode narrowed his eyes. And what could he do about it?
He gazed at Medea’s wide back, swinging for each step she took.
If… when they returned to their true forms, he would have to give her away to that brat who had whipped her. To the brat who would have beaten the father too, if Yangus had not stormed in like a bulky, ugly angel with news of that huge lizard.
And afterwards, while Charmless gloated about the big Argonian heart, Trode had watched a pair of trembling hands. Held out and hovering above Medea’s back, shaking despite all the obvious attempts to still them.
Trembling hands, and a pair of eyes pinched tightly shut beneath a frown. The fingers glowed one moment, then the light fluttered and died in the next. He tried again and again, but the anger won each time.
Healing magic is difficult to use when your mind is in rage.
King Trode watched this, and Medea turned her head trying to see how their retainer was doing.
Her eyes nervously twitched when Charmless said something loud, and the outstretched hands clenched into whitening fists.
Trode didn’t say that he had seen the same hands stretch towards him and Medea a short while ago – the half taken step, the helpless expression. The lad could fell huge lizards and trolls with only his skill with a sword, but he knew his place.
Charmless was a prince, and Trode himself had made any protest impossible by demanding to be beaten instead of his horse.
What could a vagabond retainer do?
And afterwards, he was too furious about it to heal the princess’ pain.
Angelo had been standing a little ways away, apparently watching just as Trode did. But when their gazes met and the pretty-boy made a vague motion with his hand, silently asking if he and his magic should step in, the king shook his head. Angelo merely nodded in understanding and walked out of sight.
Eventually, the attempts to heal were successful, because the one who tried refused to give up. He was a good lad in that way too.
Trode sighed, shaking himself out of the memories.
Beside him, Jessica straightened up and gave him a questioning look.
“Hm?” Trode said, making himself ease up his grim look just a little.
A moment passed.
“… nothing,” Jessica finally said, sinking back into her own thoughts again.
She was still a little subdued after having been freed from the staff’s wicked control, despite a seemingly brisk physical recovery.
Angelo, at least, kept proving that Jessica was feeling better and better, by causing her to verbally lash out at him time and time again. As painfully obvious he was about baiting her, the anger surely did her a world of good. At least, it took her mind off what had happened.
Jessica would protest against everything she didn’t like.
Medea would not.
Trode bit back another sigh, looking at the finely brushed horseback again.
She voiced some concern now and then when they visited the enchanted spring. For the most part however, she struggled to be cheerful.
Sometimes, Trode wanted to tell her that he would not scold her if she spoke her mind. But he never did. She elevated only what she dared during those precious moments that she remained human. He did not wish to press her.
He still feared that she was frightened. All her spoken worries were innocent – would Chamles still be as rude and childish after marriage? Could he change? Didn’t people usually grow up after a while?
But it was doubtlessly on her mind, on all their minds – and while Trode felt quite disturbed at the suspicion that several outsiders were having such thoughts about his precious Medea, he was more disturbed at his own thoughts. He cringed at the idea of Charmles’ grubby hands in Medea’s hair, on her cheeks, on her shoulders – and worse.
The prince had already hurt her, and nobody could forget it, or forgive. But neither could they voice it.
Evening had fallen without him really noticing it, but waking from his thoughts he spoke up about stopping for the night.
They set camp quickly. By now they were all so used to it that most of the chores were done automatically, with little thought. The only thing disturbing the peace was Jessica and Angelo’s quarrel – he made a half-lewd comment which she proceeded to blow out of proportion, and off they were. Within twenty minutes they would be friends again, without fail. It was a strange but familiar routine of their peculiar relationship.
Peculiar, but close and at ease in its own way.
Trode silently watched as Medea’s meal was prepared, while everyone else’s boiled above the campfire.
Soon, the loyal lad would be brushing Medea’s back and neck, pausing only to tell her something in a low voice every now and then. And her big eyes, watching him and never leaving him whenever he was within her limited sight. Him reaching out and touching her neck with his hand instead of the brush, whenever he thought that nobody saw it.
Yes, Trode would have to be blind and deaf not to know what was going on. But he did nothing to stop it.
Something would have to give, but first he would have to see the curse lifted.
Then he could deal with the rest.