Whoever you are, congratulations! You have successfully intercepted my royal letter. And that is quite a feat.
Did you know I used to send post by way of dragon? Razor-backed Firehorns, to be exact. Vicious beasts. Hard to tame, nigh untrainable. But worth the effort. For a formidable warrior queen’s correspondences are always sought after, you see, and so few dare to confront those petrifying, fire-breathing beasts. Safety in terror, as it were. Why, there was a time when I could fly commands clear over my enemies’ heads and there was nothing they could do about it. Ha! How they would rant, how they would rage, raising their feeble spears to curse at the sky. No weapons could reach my Firehorns, and even if they could no man-made artillery had a hope of piercing their adamantine hides. That was… until my enemies developed black iron bolts, and down the dragons went.
Thus began my search for a new type of message carrier.
It had to be something fast, something devious. My first choice was elven mercenaries. Costly but effective. They are masters of guile. The only problem was that some of my adversaries had deeper pockets than I. The elves sold my information for a handsome sum. Legendary honour indeed!
So then I tried reptilian kappas and grouchy gnomes – going for small and subtle. No good, either one. Far too unreliable. The little hoarders hid my mail in their burrows.
Unicorns were exemplary, though. Canny and swift – the fleetest of steeds. At one point, my castle stabled three starborn stallions from the Heaven’s Road. Did you know that they turn invisible whenever danger is close? Perfect, you’d think, for an imperial messenger. Except for that pesky virtuous trait. They are too pure to accept missives of war, or epistles of underhanded deeds. And they know what the letters contain, they always know. One even swooned when I attempted to mail a prince’s finger back to his father. Foppish, fainted-hearted nags. Again, I had to find alternative means of delivery.
Many I tried: ogres and nymphs, centaurs and banshees, pixies and griffins – scouring every kingdom from the deepest cavern to the highest peak for the most reliable creature.
Werewolves ate the letters – blasted canines – and vampires ate the recipients!
Hob goblins were the worst. Don’t ask… just don’t. It was a terrible idea.
It should also be noted that phoenixes and parchment are not well matched. Fire and paper – I should have seen that one coming.
Marsh trolls were much better than giants – those clumsy oafs are so easily felled – but all that slime. Bleh! It smudged the words until they were nigh unreadable.
I even tried mermaids once, going to the expense of waterproof packages. But those golden-haired sirens are terribly absent-minded, and gullible to a fault… The sailors seduced them so easily. Or did they seduce the sailors? Either way, the enemy apprehended the letters.
It has been such a bother. A sovereign should not be vexed over so mundane a thing as dispatching mail, yet it has become the bane of my existence!
And again, it seems, my communique has been waylaid. For since you are reading this, I must then assume that you have discovered my most recent venture and bettered my sphinx. Kudos to you, you wily wastrel. Those winged monsters are hard to outsmart – their riddles are so artfully tedious. You must be a clever one indeed.
But here is where I must disappoint… For I am afraid that this letter, however toughly earned, is a ruse. After so many failed attempts with the fantastic, I finally settled on carrier pigeons to deliver my real post. That’s right, carrier pigeons. Just like every other ruler in the land. There’s something to be said for normalcy. Hiding ones words amongst so many makes them indistinguishable from the rest. It’s the best type of camouflage!
My one regret is that I did not consider these flighty vermin sooner. Alas…
So no, you have not unveiled any of my secret plots here. I do hope your commander is not the spiteful kind, to execute you for this unfortunate failure. After all, it’s not your fault. As established, you did successfully apprehend the letter. Perhaps fortune will favour you in this. I mean, Lady Luck has served you well thus far – you have survived my sphinx!
Which brings me to one last point: did you know that sphinxes eat those who solve their riddles as well as those who don’t? Their suicidal tendencies are a myth, and they can’t have their answers getting about now, can they? Humans are so loose-lipped. So let’s hope you are quick on your feet. I advise you to stop reading, drop this parchment, and start running. Now.
Better luck next time, scoundrel. If there is one.
Yours in wiliness,
P.S. Look at it this way, at least you are not being chased by a Firehorn.
Nemma Wollenfang is a prize-winning speculative fiction writer who lives in Northern England. Her work has appeared in several venues, including: Beyond the Stars, Abyss & Apex, Third Flatiron, Speculatively Queer, Broken Eye Books, and Flame Tree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy series. She is a recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Working Class Writers Grant and participant of Writers on the Moon. She can be found on Facebook and Amazon.