lb_lee: A tiny MSpaint drawing of Princess Judith from the Princess and Her Monster, frowning and shouting, "I DISAPPROVE!" (judith)
[personal profile] lb_lee
Given Values of Success
Series: the Princess and Her Monster
Word Count: 1200
Summary: Tobiach spends a lot of time desperately trying to convince himself that he and his plans are NOT failures, and then something he doesn't plan goes surprisingly right.
Notes: This story was prompted by silvercat17, and sponsored by the Patreon crew! It takes place years after the events of Broken Cup and Against the Night.


This isn't a failure, Tobiach tells himself as he flees his home. It's not. This is merely an unorthodox form of success, proof positive that the Name works in mysterious ways. Forget his father's disappointment, his mother's grief. He has his inheritance: his uncle's letter of reference, his prayer shawl, his books, and that's all that should matter.

Hasn't he always wanted to study? To become one of those righteous, learned men who become the pillars of the community? And here he is, given the chance. This is a success. He shouldn't feel grief; he should be happy.

As he trudges through the rain, he mutters blessings and thanks. Perhaps if he says them enough, they'll work into his heart.



Tobiach looks into Sir Bertram's face and finds himself wondering what exactly success entails.

At such institutes of learning, it isn't uncommon for more accomplished students like Tobiach to tutor local nobility. But he never expected to be tutoring Sir Bertram, who has all sorts of glorious stories about him. And oh, he is tall and handsome and golden like the sun, with a smile like the moon, and quite the celestial body. And he pays attention, rapt attention, as though Tobiach is one of the great teachers of the past, instead of a scrawny beardless boy covered in book dust.

Tobiach blesses the Name for creating such a beautiful world with such beautiful people in it, and tries to focus on the lesson plan.

...

All right, Tobiach admits to himself as he stands knee-deep in garbage. This might be a failure. But at least it's not his fault! It's Bertram that exposed him, got him booted into the gutter. And all right, maybe Tobiach should've predicted that would happen sooner or later, but still, not his fault.

Really, Tobiach should feel lucky that he made it this long. Four years of learning is four years more than he ever expected to get. It's not over yet, and it doesn't count as a failure, a true failure, until it's over.

And at least Bertram lost his reputation in the process. That counts for something. If Tobiach has failed in his endeavors, at least so has Bertram. Nobody will want much from him for a good while.

Tobiach digs through the trash, searching for something edible and usable, and he repeats to himself, “Blessed be the King of the Universe, who is good and does good.”



Tobiach watches the banners of triumph fly, hears the gossip and news, and there is absolutely no question about it this time: this is a failure.

Sir Bertram has regained his reputation. Gone off on some quest to slay a monster, which Tobiach always assumed was noble euphemism for, “run off in shame,” but no, Sir Bertram not only went on his ridiculous quest, he succeeded! Rescued some miserable little mountain princess from some miserable little mountain kingdom Tobiach's only barely heard of, and it doesn't even matter about the scandal anymore, because it's the most fascinating thing to have hit the city in generations, and even people who don't like Bertram are now talking about him. And Bertram has never cared whether he's liked, as long as he's discussed.

Tobiach seethes with helpless rage and frustration. How? How could someone as glib and facile as Bertram manage to kill an actual monster and rescue an actual princess? It makes no sense, Bertram never works at anything but the appearance of things--

Tobiach stops. He thinks.

What are the odds Bertram actually did what he said he did?

Tobiach has heard of the kingdom, after all. The monster bit is surely false, but the princess came from a real place, a place that can be asked and referenced. And knowing Bertram, he surely left a trail of very angry people in his wake. People who might be as willing as Tobiach to exact revenge.

It's not a failure until it's over, Tobiach thinks, and he gets to work.

...

Tobiach stands in front of the ruins, damp, cold, and starving, and begins to accept that this might be a true failure.

Fort Itzak is indeed a real place… but it's also completely dark and silent, with no lights or watchmen patrolling. Grass and bushes grow up between the fortress stones, and when Tobiach approaches the gates, he finds them hanging open, rusted and rotted in place. Obviously nobody has been here for ages.

Tobiach is baffled. Has he misjudged? Was Bertram really foolish enough to lie about where he'd gone, when it could easily be checked? Is this how it ends, with Tobiach starving to death, alone and forgotten, in the middle of mountainous nowhere?

He would cry if thirst hadn't long wrung him dry. Instead, he slumps against a lump of fallen masonry and holds his head in his hands.

“May I help you?”

The voice comes from right next to him, and when Tobiach looks at the rock he's leaning against, he sees a human face in the moonlight.

Tobiach shrieks, tries to leap backwards, trips on more rubble, falls on his rump, and scuttles backward on all fours.

“Monster!” he shrieks. “Oh, gracious, I just assumed he lied!”

“Aye, that's me.” Now that the speaker is moving, it's apparent that he's a stone man, worn and battered. “I'd give you the proper experience, but...”

The voice is tired, and deeply sad, but not hostile, and Tobiach calms down. The stone man isn't giving chase—with the cracked legs, he probably can't—and Tobiach has had enough bad receptions himself over the years to feel deeply ashamed of himself. He returns to a proper sitting position.

“I—I'm sorry, that was rude of me. It's just that I didn't expect...”

“Don't worry about it. Happens all the time.” The man seems beyond caring. “Kitchen's across the courtyard, to the right. Take what you want and go.”

Tobiach is hungry enough to be grateful, and he stands and takes two steps before something occurs to him. He turns back to the stone man. Glances up at the ramparts above them. Glances down at where the stone man lays, cracked and disheveled. As though he fell… or was pushed...

“Strike me down,” Tobiach says, rubbing his chin. “Bertram didn't lie.”

Like that, the life comes back into the stone man's face. He jerks as upright as he can, gazes at Tobiach with an expression of disgusted anger that is so familiar. “Bertram! That—that--” apparently he can think of no words bad enough for him. “But how… do you know him?”

Tobiach laughs, almost delirious with relief. “Oh, how I wish I could say otherwise!” He gives a brief explanation—the trip, the desire for revenge, though not the reason why. “Are you interested?”

The stone man blinks at him, then grins and puts out a huge stone hand. “Gad, at your service entirely.”

The handshake is solid and firm, but thankfully not crushing, and Tobiach mentally declares this journey a complete success.
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