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The Dancer and the Prince
When I dance, it usually takes a while for me to get into it, but this time it happened almost immediately. I pranced along with the beat of a low-sounding drum and my mind slipped into another world. Two males were competing for me, and both were very determined to get me. One of them was Hapti, the personification of good. He was a pure white color, and the male playing Hapti had the right coat color. The other one was Nakti, the personification of evil. He was black, and his dark pelt shone in the harsh noon sun. I came close to each of them, and jumped into the air. I did a flip and landed crouched down. I looked at Hapti and Nakti, and in that moment, my character decided that I should go over to Nakti. I came up to him and nuzzled him. That was the end of the show, and our few audience members pounded the ground and barked with enjoyment.
“That was good,” the black male whispered. His real name was Quatana.
I nodded. “It felt so real today. I really felt pressured to choose one of you. I seriously don’t know what happened.”
The white one, Yeshii, noticed our conversation and padded up to us. “You were really great, Naya.”
“Thanks,” I replied. After the others left, we packed up our few belongings and started to walk.
“Where are we going to sleep tonight?” I asked. I aimed it at Yuma, the elderly female who was the Alpha in our group.
Yuma shrugged her speckled gray shoulders. “I’m not sure. We could camp out behind that noodle restaurant by the hot springs.”
“That sounds good to me,” Quatana said. We are a group of four that wandered around the city, not living in a stable house. We dance and perform for jiimanna, or money. You’re probably thinking, why are wolves talking and acting like humans? Well . . . we don’t live on your planet; I believe you call your home planet Earth. But we live over one hundred light years away from Earth in the M79 galaxy, orbiting the twin stars Bregis and Ritana. We know of your existence, humans, but our race has decided to not interfere with your destiny. “Let them decide their own future,” the king had said. As for our dominant species, we are called ottagu siviris, or The People of Night. We look like your native ‘wolves,’ but we are much bigger and more civilized than Canis lupus. Our bones are a bit thicker and we are much more flexible. We vary in color from dark black to pure white to muddy brown. But the eyes of ottagu siviris can be any color. Our kind says that your eyes give a hint of your personality. My eyes are a striking royal blue, and my coat is a honey brown speckled with hints of red.
“We’re here,” Yuma said. We stood behind a large mud and clay mound. All of the buildings on our planet resemble large dens. This one was as tall as five large males stacked on top of each other. Loud howling and barking from inside confirmed it was a noodle restaurant because it was one of a very few restaurants that served alcohol. In our language, alcohol is translated into naiissi. Most ottagu siviris are against naiissi, but there are some who drink it night and day.
“I’ll go in and get us some food,” Yuma said. She was old, but she was wise and strong. Her dapple-gray pelt bore many scars she had received when Yuma had lived on the outskirts, the most dangerous place in the city.
Quatana stepped forward. “You’re not going alone. I am coming with you for protection because the males in there could kill you in an instant.”
Yuma shook her head. “I’m not going to put you in danger, Quatana.”
The large dark male stamped his paw on the ground impatiently. “But I’m not going to let some usagi come and take you and become his play thing!” Yuma gave in, and she and Quatana vanished and reappeared a while later.
“Ooohh, this is the best food we’ve had in weeks!” Yeshii yipped. His tail was going back and forth as fast as a bolt of lightning. After we gave thanks to our ancestors, we dug in. The noodles were absolutely fantastic. We ate quietly until Yeshii broke the silence.
I looked up from my noodles that were vanishing fast. “Yes, Yeshii?”
The white male shifted his paws in embarrassment. “I know you’re one hundred and fifty years old, and that’s the time when mates are chosen. I’m just curious; if you had the choice, would you pick either Quatana or me?” Just to tell you, we live many years, and our years are shorter than what you have on Earth.
I stared at Yeshi in shock. “I—I need some time,” I stuttered.
Quatana nodded. “We can wait.” We ended our meal in silence. The double suns had set, and the crowd in the noodle restaurant grew and got more rowdy. I was a very light sleeper, and I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep tonight.
“Yuma?” I asked hesitantly.
She trained her pine green eyes on me. “Yes, Naya?”
“Can I go to the hot springs? I haven’t had much time to clean my pelt off, and I think it would help my sprained ankle.” I had sprained my ankle only a month ago, and it was still sore at times.
Yuma dipped her head. “Yes, you may go.”
I smiled. “Thank you, Alpha.” We usually didn’t use proper names, but I felt like doing it.
“You’re welcome, Beta Naya.” I practically skipped to the hot springs. Hot springs are very common on our planet since it is younger than your home planet, and the magma deep inside our planet is much hotter than it is on Earth. No one was at the hot springs, and I was glad about that. Commoners usually looked at our group in disgust. We are called gypsii, or The Traveling People. I sighed as I placed a paw in the warm water. I waded in and searched for the ledge where I could sit. I found it after a while, and sat down on it. The water’s swift current carried little bits of stuff on my pelt away. The water came up to my chin. Now, here, I felt at ease, not caring about where were going to sleep for the night, or how we were going to get food. At the hot springs, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I didn’t have to be a gypsii. I could be the Queen for all I cared. I was deep in my thoughts when someone came in. I looked up. A slate gray male stood at the edge of the pool.
“May I join you?” he asked. His voice was relaxed and soft.
I nodded. “Yes, you may.” The male waded into the water and sat close to me. His eyes were the color of polished sapphires.
“I’m Taggor. What’s your name?” he asked.
“My name is Naya,” I replied. I started to stumble over my words. Why was I doing that?
“That is a very pretty name,” Taggor said. “What city are you from? Videra? Anozan? Brutaga? Just to tell you, I’m from Malaga.”
I sighed. “I’m not from one certain town. I’m a gypsii.”
Taggor didn’t shy away from me. “What is it like, being a gypsii?” His voice wasn’t scornful, just curious.
I shrugged. “We don’t live in one particular place. We just go wherever the wind takes us. Our group dances for jiimanna and live off of what little we have.” I looked down. “Some days, I wish I was normal for once, and not a gypsii.” My voice turn bitter, and I looked up at Taggor’s face.
“I come from a rich pack, and maybe I’ll find you sometime and give you some jiimanna. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
I nodded. Taggor and I talked for a bit more, and when he left, I didn’t want him to leave. When I went back to Yeshii, Quatana, and Yuma, they were all asleep except for Quatana. He stared at me with his strange off-white eyes.
“Whom were you taking to at the hot springs?” he asked. His question had a deep growl embedded in it.
“Why do you care?” I pulled my lips back a bit.
Quatana took two large steps towards me. “Naya, you have to be careful. You don’t know if a male could be just nice or an usagi just waiting to pick you up and bring him to his den.”
Now I was really mad. The fur on my neck rose, and I growled at the large black male. He didn’t scare me. “I’m not a pup, Quatana. You don’t have to be looking over my shoulder everywhere I go.”
Quatana looked like he wanted to slash me with his claws. “I’m just looking out for you.”
“I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself!” I moved away from him and lay down next to Ottagu and tried to get some sleep. Thankfully, I was able to fall asleep easily. Just as I drifted off into unconsciousness, there was one thought that was racing in my head.
Did I . . . like Taggor?
The next month or so was quite stressful because there was a massive flood and it was hard to get jiimanna because most were inside, waiting for the rains to end. Yuma, Quatana, Yeshii, and I made our way to the capitol, Malaga. Gypsii were tolerated more here, and we made quite a bit of jiimanna. We had so much that we were able to buy a den for the four of us. I was dancing outside our den when a male came walking up. He had a familiar slate gray pelt. He was wearing a hahtiia, a black headscarf that concealed the wearer’s identity.
“Taggor?” I asked, still dancing.
Taggor nodded. He had a large pouch of jiimanna in his mouth. He dropped it on the ground and looked at me. “It is I.”
I stopped dancing and practically ran up to him. He nuzzled my neck and I did the same to him. I looked into Taggor’s eyes. With the hahtiia on, his bright blue eyes seemed to glow.
“It’s good to see you again,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. “I thought I’d never see you again.” I glanced around, checking for Quatana or Yeshii. They wouldn’t be happy if they saw me here with Taggor.
“Would you like to come in for some herbal tea?” I asked. “Yeshii makes a heavenly brew.”
“Yes,” he replied. I led him through the doorway, which was made out of thick mosses and tree branches. Yuma was sleeping in a thick nest of mosses and leaves. Quatana and Yeshii were playing a game called giitra, where you have to slap the ground in a certain rhythm faster than your opponent. It was a peasant game, and I did not get the gist of it. They were making a racket, and hadn’t heard us come in.
“Uh, hello. We have a guest, you know,” I said.
Yeshii and Quatana looked up. “Why is he here?” Quatana growled.
Taggor replied for me. “I know Naya, and when I smelled her scent, I followed it and it led me to her. Can’t you show a fellow ottagu siviris some hospitality?”
Yeshii stood up. “Why yes, of course.” He walked over to the kettle and poured four cups of tea into clay cups. He grabbed the edges of them and handed them out.
“Sit down,” Quatana said, no trace of a growl in his voice this time. Taggor and I sat down, and I could see that the white and black males were noticing how close we sitting next to each other.
“Sooo . . .” Yeshii said, trying to start a conversation. “What is your name?”
“My name is Taggor,” the gray male next to me said.
Quatana nodded. “Do live in Malaga?”
Yeshii looked at Taggor with suspicious eyes. “What pack are you from?” he asked politely.
“I am from the Iial pack,” Taggor replied.
I stopped drinking my tea and looked at Taggor. “You’re from the ruling pack?”
Taggor nodded. “I am.”
It took a few seconds for Quatana and Yeshii to grasp the fact that the male next to me was part of the pack of ottagu siviris that ruled over our planet. “A-are you related to the King?” Yeshii asked.
Taggor smiled. “I am his eldest son.”
My jaw dropped. “You’re the heir to the throne?” I asked.
“I am the heir to the throne,” Taggor said. “I will take over the throne when my father dies.” Taggor looked at me with a look in his eyes that clearly said ‘come to the palace with me.’ “I was wondering if the four of you would be the entertainment for a feast tonight. It is for my mother’s birthday. Would you do it?”
I nodded. “We would be delighted to be the entertainment. What kind of dance would you like for us to perform?”
Taggor shrugged. “My mother likes romance.”
I looked at Yeshii and Quatana. The large black male mouthed, “Hapti and Nakti.” I nodded in agreement. Taggor looked out the window. One of the suns was high in the sky while the other was starting to slowly sink towards the horizon. He stood up. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” He walked out the door, and I followed him out.
“I guess I’ll see you tonight,” I said after a moment’s silence. I nuzzled Taggor’s neck. He smelled like ginseng and deep forests.
“I can’t wait to see you dance,” he whispered softly.
I smiled and faced him. “You’ll be blown away.”
“Maybe your stay at the palace could become permanent,” Taggor suggested.
I blinked a few times. “Do you want to be mates with me?”
The prince nodded. “I have a few females that I inherited from my father. I have to choose one to become Queen when I take the throne. None of them appeal to me. But you, Naya, you do. I’ve never seen such resilience in a female before.”
“I’d love to be your mate, but there’s one problem.”
Taggor frowned. “What is the problem?”
I sighed. “Quatana and Yeshii are very possessive of me. If you hadn’t come into my life, I would have to pick one of them. I don’t want to, Taggor. I’m scared that they’ll fight for me, and Quatana is so much bigger than Yeshii.”
“If you become my mate, they can stay at the palace and find mates that will love them.”
I closed my eyes. “I don’t know if that could work.”
“Why?” Taggor asked, confused.
“Well, to start off, Yuma hates being caged in. She’s already starting to get nervous since we’re not moving anymore. There are people from her past that are trying to hunt her down. Quatana used to be a segunii, an illegal fighter that fought in the alleys for females. He looks at me as if I’m a female he’s fighting for and Yeshii is his opponent. Yeshii, well, he’s deaf.”
Taggor blinked in surprise. “He’s deaf? It looked like he was following our conversation really well.”
“He learned how to read lips when he was a pup. He was born deaf, and I think he ran away because his pack was ashamed of him.”
“That’s so sad.” Taggor was suddenly eye-to-eye with me. “You’ve told me your friends’ pasts, but you haven’t told me your past. What secrets are you hiding, Naya?”
I held Taggor’s gaze. “When I was about one hundred years old, my parents arranged a mating for me. It was with a horrible male that was ruthless and unkind. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with him. The night that my parents told me, I ran away. I’ve never seen them since.”
“Maybe they’ll forgive you when they attend your coronation. I mean our coronation.”
My tail wagged. “I think you should get going. I’ll see you tonight, Prince Taggor.” I licked him on the muzzle.
“Goodbye, Taggor.” He turned to leave.
“Oh, come to the palace before the second sun sets.” He started to walk towards the palace. I watched him fade into the distance, and then went back into the house.
“So, how are we going to do this?” I asked.
A few hours later, we were waiting outside the door while the guests ate. We did have a meal before we got here, but the scents of the food were making all four of us hungry.
“Are you nervous?” Quatana asked. He was wearing a collar made out of polished animal bones. It made him look very scary.
Yeshii snorted. “Naya? Nervous? I wouldn’t think so.” The white male was wearing a collar and headband made out of a wide array of quartz, emerald, amethyst, and topaz. It was quite stunning and, from what Yeshii told me, really heavy.
I glanced at the two males. “Will you two please stop it? It’s getting really annoying.”
Yuma, who was wearing a simple woven necklace, growled at Yeshii and Quatana. Her Alpha side was showing. “Beta Quatana and Omega Yeshii, stop talking. You two are acting like pups. I say stop talking or I will bite your muzzles, and you’ll leave scarlet drops of blood on the stage. I’m warning you.”
The two males pushed their tails between their legs and said things like “I’ll be quiet, Alpha,” and “I’m so sorry, Alpha.”
I looked back at Yuma and mouthed, “Thank you.”
The old female winked back at me. “We wouldn’t want those males messing up your big night, would we?”
Just then, the doors to the hall opened, and we stood there with our mouths wide opened for a few moments. It was so huge! At least three hundred guests were there. Heaps and heaps food were laid out on long wooden tables.
“Oh, man,” Yeshii whimpered.
“Yeah,” Quatana said, his gaze lingering on the food and the females. We proceeded to the stage, which was bathed orange in the light of the second sun.
“Now, for some entertainment,” a servant cried out. “Please welcome Naya, Yeshii, Quatana, and Ottagu!”
The dance began, and like the last time, I got into character very fast. Instead of playing the drums, Ottagu was playing my mother, and during most of the performance, her character looked worried.
I executed my moves perfectly, and I felt free, the sparkly scarf around my neck wrapping around my body. When the time came to choose, I listened to my gut and picked Quatana. I glanced at him, and he looked smug.
Why is he . . . ? I thought. And then, it clicked. He thinks I’m picking him for a mate! Oh no, what did I do?
I finally looked out at our audience, and I could tell that they loved it. They barked and yelped and cried for more.
“You wanna do an encore?” Yeshii suggested.
Ottagu shook her head. “No. I’m too beat.” I noticed that the elderly female was panting hard.
“Very good!” the Queen cried out. “I absolutely loved it!”
The King, who was a deep russet brown, smiled down at us. “I liked it as well. Would you like to join us?”
I nodded. “It would be an honor.” We gave a final bow and walked to four seats that were the closest to the King and Queen. I sat down and saw that Taggor was next to me. I smiled widely and my tail wagged a mile a minute.
“So, where are you from?” the Queen asked. Her bright silver coat glittered like diamonds.
Yeshii shrugged. “We’re not from a certain place. We’re gypsii.”
There were a few gasps. But not as many if we were somewhere else. “That’s interesting,” the King murmured. “Prince Taggor didn’t tell me that.” He shot an accusing glance at his son. Taggor looked down, and his ears folded close to his head.
“Patience, Giityu,” the Queen murmured, running a soothing paw on her mate’s flank.
The King took a deep breath. “Very well then.” He then glanced at us. “I was wondering, would you like to stay here at the palace? Our old entertainment group left a few months ago because of . . . well, I’m not actually sure why they left.”
Ottagu nodded. “We would be honored to be your entertainment, mighty King.”
The King smiled widely. “I’m so glad we have amazing performers at the palace.”
I glanced at Taggor, and he put a comforting paw over mine. Someday, he’d be mine, and someday we’d rule this planet.