I Have a Girl’s Courage

The terms of this prompt were somewhat more interesting than normal. The instructions are to choose a book. Turn to page 51. The first sentence of the last paragraph becomes the beginning of your scene. My sentence comes from Living Your Yoga by Judith Hanson Lasater, and reads: “I have a girl’s courage.”

I have a girl’s courage. Which is not to belittle the courage of men, who will so blithely leap at every opportunity to prove their brawn. It is only that I make a distinction between that which requires bravery and the tomfoolery of adolescent young men, who feel an overwhelming desire to answer every miniscule challenge without hesitation.

No self-respecting young woman would place her hand into the fire for thirty seconds because the most popular student claimed to have tried it three summers before, while they were camping. Nor would she devour a newly sliced elancu fruit to prove her taste buds were made of steel. And if she did any of these things, she would not do them in the name of gallantry. It takes no courage to cover one’s eyes and walk in the direction another has chosen. Rather, it requires a reckless desertion of self-preservation.

Courage is choosing to face the unknown in order to retrieve an item of great importance, with only the insight of a dream as guidance. It never occurred to me this might qualify in the category of ‘foolish.’ Dreams, for me, have always been knowing, possessing enough sense of oracle to guide my footsteps in the proper direction. They had promised me an item of power and, at the moment, my people needed power.

Daughter of a queen I may be, but growing up within the palace walls did not shelter me from the concept of hardship. I know what it means to toil through dirt and grime to achieve an objective. It was not that which stopped me on the precipice of the pitch-black cave. Nor was it the darkness.

It was the sense, however fleeting, of power in its purest form. A scent in the air, a tingle at the base of my neck. My dreams had not led me astray. But power that strong could not be unguarded. This journey may well require every ounce of my courage.

Drawing a deep breath, I shifted forms. My eyes were no worse in the half-feline form but, as a cat, I rested closer to the ground. It would be easier to make my way by feel. If there were traps, they were most likely to be laid by magic, and my grasp of the art was still slim at best.

If some entity did wish me to enter here, if the magic object which lay within were calling me in its direction, you would think the dream would have offered some instruction on how to protect myself through the trials. But I was warmed with no such defense. Fur standing on end, tail poised behind me, I inched my way into the blackness.

It was a cave, laughably ordinary at first. What had I expected? Poison-tipped arrows? Retracting spikes? Potent mage blasts? How would I have dealt with any of them anyway? I was unarmed, save for what little magic I had mastered and most of that revolved around defense.

The first sign of trouble was small. A fox. It must have run down here to escape a predator. It was dead, and not from any physical wound I could detect. I smelled no blood and little fear. The body was cold, hadn’t yet begun to decay.

I paused to sense ahead of me, a pulse of magic meant to bring back information my physical senses could not detect. A wave answered, powerful, strong. There was magic here, but not magic I could tackle. I had two choices; go forward or go back.

Except it was no choice at all. No one asks to find themselves on the brink of war, and they certainly can’t hope to escape it by hiding in the closet waiting for it all to pass.

I pressed on. A shimmer of light danced before my eyes as I passed through the spell, almost like a barrier, save that it didn’t resist my forward momentum. You are of the blood, a voice echoed in the vaults of my mind. You may pass. It should have reassured me. It didn’t.

I kept moving, winding my way down and down. At every crossroads or branching tunnel I paused, seeking that hint of power, that flair of energy in the distance, allowing it to lead me on the road. I didn’t worry about how to find my way back, I had to survive moving in this direction first.

I saw the light from a great distance but didn’t allow myself to rush. The source of power lay close to the glow, but it might well be a trap. It inhabited a large, circular room. The walls were rough, slick with water dripping from above. The floor was covered in ankle deep water. The object emitting the glow, a staff, rested on a pedestal on a small rock in the center.

My every instinct screamed trap! I paused in the shadows of the room’s one entrance, body low to the ground as if waiting to pounce. I shifted slowly back to my natural form. I wanted the height, and I would need arms to carry my treasure, if I was allowed to claim it.

“Why do you not step into the light?” The voice filled the chamber. A woman’s voice, unfamiliar.

I considered a moment. Everything might well depend on my answer. “I am not yet certain I have the right to approach. I would not take what is not rightfully mine.”

“The staff can only be taken by the rightful owner,” the voice agreed. “No one else could pass the test.”

“And what test is that?” I countered, unwilling to believe I could approach so simply.

“Step into the light.”

Something moved beneath the water. It might well be a guardian. I knew far less about physical combat than I did about magic. But physical strength alone did not determine a person’s worth. There must be more to the challenge even than that.

I must have hesitated too long.

“You cannot run now, interloper,” the woman’s voice rang through the circular chamber. The walls seemed to vibrate with the force of it. The glow grew brighter and took on a reddish tint. “Only a thief would seek to avoid the final challenge. The guardians will never allow you to return to the surface.”

Guardians? Plural.

I swallowed hard. My dreams had led me this far. There was obvious power here. If the staff was meant for me, I could take it. If it wasn’t, perhaps the guardians would let me go. Objects of power could always sense your true intentions… couldn’t they?

I have a girl’s courage. Now is the time to use it.

I took the first step forward, into the light. It blinded me. I raised an arm but could still see nothing. I kept going. One foot in front of the other, hand outstretched. I expected warmth and heat. I expected a booming tirade about my unworthiness.

My claws clinked lightly against a smooth sphere. I blinked and lowered my arm. A soft blue glow surrounded me. Water dripped down the walls, joining the pool with a soft plink. My finger traced the smooth edge of the glowing staff head.

Was that really all there was to it?

Indeed Rose, daughter of Loraine, savior of us all. Take the power left for you and learn to wield it well. For soon, I will be unable to guide you.

My hands closed around the haft and I lifted the staff from its stand. It felt light, easy to carry, easy to swing. Yet, as I hefted it, I knew that it would stop any steel slung in my direction. And without the magical pulse, it would seem little more than an ornament.

The perfect weapon for a princess.

rose - girls courage

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Don’t forget to check out my writing partner’s prompt; a scene beginning with “When he found so astonishing a power placed within his hands, he hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which he should employ it.”

If you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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