No one remembers when or how the bull appeared. It just had always lived in the tunnels under the city. Anyone who dared to invade it's territory would be inevitably gored through with its horns. It would terrorize citizens, and cause the odd earthquake under the slums of the city, where the underground trails were closer to the surface. Some said that the bull was the punishment of one of the gods, slighted by a long-forgotten king or priest. Some said it was the rogue invention of a scientist whose name had been lost to history. Others believed that the bull was as old as the city itself, a neglected protector who had lost its purpose. In any case, the great mechanical bull, wandering through the tunnels, had become a menace to our city, and had been for generations. Many kings had called for heroes to come and face the beast in the great stadium outside the castle. Every time, the hero would stand in the center, surrounded by a roaring crowd. Every time, the bull would appear, a great hulking beast made of gold clock-work, steam bursting from his nose and ears. Every time, the hero would fail, and the bull would charge back into the tunnels, swinging its enormous horns and searching for more blood.
I have only seen the bull a few times in my lifetime. By the time I was born, word had gotten around about the indestructible bull of Terraza, and very few people would come to take the challenge. Very few people came at all, actually. The ports on the west edge, where our city met the sea, were empty. The markets, once teeming with people from distant lands, objects of every kind and color for sale, the smells of spices piercing the air, were closed. People lived in fear of the bull. Cracks had begun to appear in the cobblestone roads, letting the sounds of the robotic beast ring through the street. There were frantic, worried, whispered questions of when the bull would break loose and set upon the streets. The city was beginning to die, as people were too fearful to head out beyond the citadel walls and tend the fields just outside, on the terraces that had given this city its name. Some even fled, carrying rumors to the world of the danger within our walls. So I could understand when my father, the king, gathered the matadors de toros and made his proclamation. I could understand when he promised their freedom and the hand of my sister, the princess, or myself, the prince. I could understand his desperation to be finally rid of the bull.
I could tell my sister was less than pleased with the arrangement. With the majority of the matadors in the city being men, it was more than likely that she'd be the one married off. Unlike the heroes who had come before, some with titles and names and lands of their own, the matadors were usually slaves who decided to risk life and limb for the ceremonial entertainment of the people. Still, each of them was owned and sponsored by someone, usually a lord who could afford to pay for fancy dress and trainers. To those in the highest ranks, including my sister, the matadors were no better than slaves; useful, sometimes in valuable, but not worthy of their friendship, and certainly not their love. Why must a princess lower herself to marry a common slave, even if he did save the city? She was royalty, and deserved to marry another royal, in her mind. But my father's decision was resolute. If her hand in marriage would give a man the determination to defeat the menace, then so be it. Me, I said nothing against it. He was the king, and my father. I would follow his orders.
My sister didn't have much to worry about, though. Very few matadors were willing to risk their lives, even for their freedom or her hand. The couple that did were easily destroyed by the bull. They may have been able to defeat the flesh and blood bulls brought in from across the sea, with skin they could piece and muscles they could exhaust. The mechanical bull, though, was seemingly indestructible and tireless. The matadors could not stop it from catching them in its horns, throwing them up into the air as if they were nothing more than the rag dolls of the peasant children, and then goring them through. As each matador died, I saw another layer of woe cover my father, like the heavy blankets woven by our people. Whatever hope he had held for the future of his city was slowly dying, stomped on by the creature the way it stomped on his people. I pitied my father. This city was everything for him, his responsibility and his heirloom, and the death of it would kill him.
That was when Fearless came in. Everyone knew of Fearless. She was one of the few female matadors in our city, and she was a master at her art. There was a grace to her and the way she would work a bull, giving enough of a show to please the crowd, but always leaving them yearning for more. With her auburn hair cut short around her face, emerald eyes framed by tanned skin, she would have been considered a beauty had she grown up in any other way. Her sponsor, some duke whose name I no longer remember, said that he had found her as a child in a pen of bulls on his farm. She had been laughing, and reaching for the swinging tails of the beasts around her. She had been completely fearless of the bulls, and the duke had named her accordingly. He had taken her in and sent for the best trainers in the city. By the time she was seventeen, she was fighting bulls for the entertainment of the population, and for the greed of her master.
I had seen her fight bulls before. They would dress her in black jackets, white shirts, and red tights, all covered with embroidered swirls of gold. Black slippers over the pink silk socks would cover her quick yet dainty feet. Her montera hat, black as night, would be set off by the red of her hair, but it was the capote de paseo which would catch everyone's attention. The ceremonial cape was made of gold silk, and embroidered with flames. It would shimmer in the sunlight, with the blaze seemingly jumping off the threads and onto her. It would send the crowd into a frenzy, to see the girl apparently unafraid of even fire. She would raise her free arm, holding the montera, almost offering it to the crowd, and each way that she looked, another roar would spring up. Her entourage would remove the flaming cape, and hand her the red muleta cape with which she would fight. I would stare down at her from the king's box, completely entranced. I was a few years older than she, yet she commanded more respect and displayed more courage than I had ever felt in my lifetime.
At the feasts my father held every festival, her sponsor would bring her, prepared to brandish his prized bull-killer, the girl he had found and claimed. Fearless would be dressed up, like a doll, in colors that showed off the color of her hair or eyes. Any skin that was shown was purposeful, to reveal the muscles she possessed, or the ragged scars she had gained. There would be the scent of lavender, or oranges, or vanilla wafting off her skin, and her hands would be scrubbed clean of calluses and blood. The other lords and ladies would compliment her to the duke who owned her, give him praise on her training and the luck he had had in finding her. No one would speak to her directly. To them, she was just an object to behold, just like any other matador in the city. They only cared for her well-being because the overwhelming majority of the population did. But unlike the other nobles, I noticed something in the way she would smile at them, especially her donor. It was less of grin than of a baring of her teeth, a warning to those who ignored her humanity. In her eyes, there was an anger, a rage for being treated no better than a well-trained dog. Her passion lay in her sport, yes, you could see it in the way her eyes lit up in the ring. But she did not want to be a slave.
So I don't know why I was surprised when Fearless announced her acceptance of my father's challenge one hot summer’s day. Perhaps it was because I was expected to be. Everyone in court saw her as too precious to let her challenge the mechanical bull, the automaton that had taken the lives of others far stronger than her. If she died, they feared riots would ensue, the people angry from the loss of their champion The duke approached my father, begging him to keep Fearless from entering the ring. He could not risk losing his greatest possession, he said. I saw red, standing there beside my father. There was nothing in his voice to imply that he truly cared for her wellbeing; all he cared for was that people kept coming to the fights, and giving him their money, and not rising up against him. That’s all any of them cared for. If I had been a braver man then, I would have stripped him of all titles and given Fearless her freedom then and there. Still, my father refused his request. If Fearless wanted to challenge the bull, then she would. Looking back now, I wondered if he wanted her to gain her freedom as much as I did. I wondered if he saw the looks she would give at his feasts, like I had. He never told me, though, and I never asked. A date was set, a week after her announcement. On the first day of fall, she would fight the mechanical bull.
Never again would I see so many people crowded into the stadium as I did that day, with the sun beginning to set into the turquoise sea and the clouds stained orange and pink. The city had made her its champion, its last hope. These common people had watched her for years, fighting bull after bull, and they had come to love the red-headed girl. In their eyes, if anyone could save them from the bull, it was her, the girl who had seemingly been sent from the gods, filled with courage, to defeat the menace. There would be no picadors to weaken the bull for this battle; no horse was bigger than the mechanical bull, and their spears only bounced off the the metal skin. Fearless was on her own, but as she stepped into the ring, she seemed to not care. Her capote blazed around her, as if she was a phoenix, rising to new life. Unlike at her previous fights, the crowd was silent, an unspoken communal prayer sent to the gods for her and for themselves. The tension nearly hummed in the air. I often ponder what she must have felt at that moment. All I could feel was my heart in my stomach, beating hard and fast, as I watched her stand in the center of the ring and hand her capote to an armored individual who then hid somewhere I could not see.
The moment she took her muleta, an ominous rumbling could be heard. The entire world seemingly fell hush, leaving only the sound of heavy hoofbeats. Every songbird, every bee, even the wind itself stopped. I watched the people in the stands shrink away, cowering against the seats. I felt myself do the same. Not Fearless, though. She stared defiantly down the dark archway from which the bull would appear. She stood tall and straight, an unbreakable wall. At the first flash of gold, I felt the collective staunching of breath in the throats of the crowd. The bull, the great mechanical bull, was here. It charged out into the ring, right at Fearless, who at the last moment turned away, the back of her jacket brushing the metal as the bull sped past. It turned and stopped, and the two stared at each other, fire-filled green eyes meeting cold diamond orbs.
For moments that passed like lifetimes, the foes stood frozen. The bull's metal skin was tarnished in some places with blood that had dried black. At the chinks in its armor where the legs, body, and neck met, you could see into the clock-work body, and the gears and steam that kept the bull alive. Its horns, though -- its horns were its most terrifying feature. Thicker than the strongest man's arm, and curved into deadly point, they had been stained black by the blood they had shed. It snorted, but hot steam came out. A great clinking, clanking, clattering sound came from within it, where the sprockets turned. I felt waves of dread fill me as Fearless lifted her red cape. The metallic tail flicked from side to side. She snapped the cape, a quick motion, and the bull charged, head low to the ground, the grinding sound of metal filling the air.
Again, at the last moment, she turned away, the bull flying under her muleta. It turned and charged again, and again she turned away moments before it's horns could touch her. Again and again, she let it come within mere inches from her, confident in her ability to avoid every charge. It was dance between her and the mechanical bull, a deadly dance where one wrong move would be the end. Spellbound, I could not look away for one moment as they moved around one another, circling rapidly as if it was a tango. The bull would bellow, horns aimed to bury themselves in her abdomen, and Fearless would spin away, taking three steps before facing the bull again. She never ran away from it, always pulling it closer to her, always staying in the terrain of the bull, rather than her own. Still, for all her speed and agility, there were times when she couldn’t move fast enough. Tears appeared on her clothing, and at times there would be a small stumble in her step as the bull’s charge threw her off balance. The sheer fact that she could regain her footing, and avoided the worst of it’s horns, spoke to her skill. It went on like this for what felt like hours, but could only be minutes. The bull stopped charging, seemingly gauging how to attack this tough opponent, and she faced it, the smallest of smirks gracing her face.
Still, this could not have been play for her. Too much was on the line. The mechanical bull was fast, faster than any living bull, and she had to kill it now before it wore her out too much. From the folds of her muleta, Fearless withdrew her sword, causing the red cloth to flick out and the bull’s tail to rise. Her confidence at staying alive this long had made her rash and negligent. She could not keep still enough to keep from provoking the bull. The bull charged again, before she was ready. She had lost her control of him. In less than a moment, the bull was upon her, his left horn piercing through her stomach and hooking out from the top of her back. Now the horn was red, red as the </i>muleta</i>, red as her hair, red with her blood. A piercing cry broke the air. Hours later I would realize it was mine.
It was over. Fearless was dead and the city would die and my father would die with it. It was all over. Those same blankets of heartbreak that I had watched cover my father fell upon me. There were shivering, sobbing cries from the crowds, as they too conceived of the end. The sheer loss of hope was indescribable. I could only stare in horror as the mechanical bull, that beast who would not die, bellowed again in triumph, turning to charge back into the tunnels of its home. Yet it shuddered, and stopped. Its movements slowed, and the steam bursting from it puttered out. The crowd murmured in confusion, perturbed by the bull's actions. Suddenly, I could see what they could not. From a chink in its metal armored skin where the body met the neck, a silver hilt stuck out, held tightly by a blood-covered hand. The bull fell forward, and then onto its side, allowing the crowd to see the sword thrust in. A collective shocked hush filled the crowd. Fearless, still alive somehow, still gored through and pinned to the ground, heavily lifted her head to stare at my father.
I realized I was standing then, as I had to turn back to stare at my father. His face was ashen, and his eyes were filled with emotions I can not name to this day. He stood too, coming to the railing of our box next to me, and looked down at the scene. Gazing down at her again, I could see the question in her eyes, in those wild green eyes which said everything she could not; would the king honor his word? Would she be freed? I'm sure somewhere in the crowd, her master, that despised duke, stared at him with that same question filling his head. And I, I only wished for someone to move, to run onto the ring and stop her from bleeding anymore, to stop her from feeling anymore pain. Without a sound, my father nodded, a movement with all the meaning in the world. Fearless closed her eyes. I'm sure I saw a smile of relief, before her head fell down again.
I don't remember clearly what happened after that. I remember seeing her entourage pour out from some hidden crevice, removing her body from the horn and taking her away, covered by her muleta. I remember the crowd calling her name, shouting it to the heavens, proclaiming her the hero of Terraza. I remember, hours later, hearing the claims of the common people, that she was a gift of the gods, sent to defeat the bull. Stories began to circulate of an unknown prophecy she had been sent to fulfill. Some even claimed that she was a child of the gods themselves. I don't remember if she died. I don't know if they ever told me what happened to her, or if I have just forgotten as I have so many other things. I know, elsewhere, people have claimed to see her, a stranger traveling the world. Often, I have wondered if any of those stories were true. I like to imagine they were, for if she did live, she certainly never came to stake her claim on me. In all truth, though, I never did see her again. I forever keep that last vision of her close to my heart; of her peaceful smile as she was carried away, drinking in those first few moments of freedom.