The Paper Dragon Festival (Excerpt)

Original Image: “Ancient Dragon” by Satoshi Kamiya (Japan) 1 uncut square

Around this time last year, I finished my first ever first draft of a novel, Jadeflare. I’ve been overwhelmed with the idea of editing it. So it’s been sitting. Among the numerous chapters already there, it needs some additional scenes added. This is one of the parts I want to add. My goal was to give it a definitive beginning, middle, and end, but it started to get long and rambling. So I cut it off.

A heads up, it gets a little steamy at the end.

Enjoy!

~ Effy

1000 Day MFA — Week 4

The Paper Dragon Festival

As they walked through the tall gates of Farnx, Lakeerae felt as if she walked into the prismatic rays of a rainbow. Shifting colors waved in the wind before her along both sides of the street and she squinted to better identify the objects that swung in the light breeze.

Colored paper, folded into the shapes of small, multicolored dragons.

Paper dragons.

Roidar seemed to recognize them at the same time, but his reaction was much different. He groaned, and as Lakeerae looked over to ask, she saw the deep frown on his face. She had finally started to get used to seeing him without it.

“Excuse me, ma’am druid, but we need to keep the way clear.” The guard averted his eyes as she turned around.

“Forgive me. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful,” Lakeerae said. As she smiled, the guard returned it.

“Yes, ma’am druid, the Paper Dragon Festival is very beautiful.”

Roidar snorted.

The guard’s smile faded as he studied Roidar’s flamboyant clothing and gold chains and hoops. “Watch yourself, gypsy thief,” he snarled.

“Forgive us for dallying, sir,” Lakeerae said, grabbing Roidar’s hand and pulling him along beside her. Once they were out of earshot of the guards, she dropped his hand and spun on the man. “What are you in such a huff about?” she hissed in a whisper.

He did not answer but maintained his disgruntled look.

“Can you at least guide us to someplace we can get supplies? You know your way around much better than I do.” As Lakeerae spoke she tucked her red hair behind both of her ears and tried not to get lost in the fluttering paper dragons.

No answer came, and she finally looked back to Roidar. “Yes,” he said without expanding on it.

“Okay, lead away.” Lakeerae tried to sound cheerful, gesturing widely out before her, but he was good at fouling her mood when he wanted to.

He walked in silence. Lakeerae took the opportunity to take in all of Farnx.

She marvelled at the streets and buildings made all of stone, instead of the dirt and wood nocs, or hill-homes, she had always known among the druids. Even the roofs looked like sheets of stone, instead of the thatch often used on smaller houses. They crowded the street and loomed from five or six times her height, making her feel small.

People walked everywhere. Their clothes were as colorful as the paper dragons. Some people danced in the streets. Others hung out of windows, shouting, singing, or a combination of both. Smiling faces, covered with paint like multicolored scales, greeted her and offered her foods, the scent of them travelled to her on the summer breeze, warm and fried and sugary.

“So many people,” she said, grabbing ahold of Roidar’s sleeve, so to not lose him.

“Stupid people,” he growled and pushed his way through.

Lakeerae frowned. She thought to press him but decided to wait until they were off the street.

Roidar stopped in front of a building. Lakeerae bumped into the back of him and mumbled a flustered apology.

“Damn this town and their stupid festival,” Roidar grumbled.

Lakeerae peeked around his shoulder and saw a hastily written sign: “Closed for the festival! Come see us tomorrow!”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” she said.

“Tomorrow? Just what I want, to stay in this city.” Roidar glanced both directions down the street they stood on. “Come on. We’ll have to find an inn for the night.”

“Oh, we get to stay for the festival!”

Roidar glared at her, but his facade softened under her smile. “Yes, I suppose so.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the time they settled into the inn’s common room, Lakeerae was painted, full, and getting sleepy. Roidar let her rest her head on his shoulder as he sipped his ale. Hers was still half full. Her cloak’s hood slid back from her hair and she caught Roidar studying the green scales painted on her face.

“Why green?” he asked.

“It’s the color of leaves, of course,” she said.

“Of course.” He nodded and went back to his ale.

He had humored her all afternoon and joined her in the festivities, despite his continued annoyance and reserve. She had even forced a smile out of him a few times, but he had not been enjoying himself like her. She tried to experience everything around her.

“What is it about these paper dragons?” she asked. She put her hand on his arm. It looked pale against his darker skin.

“They’re just silly.”

“Like the kind of people who enjoy such things?” she continued with a smile.

Roidar frowned. “Are you referring to yourself?” She nodded. “Your enjoyment is endearing. I have tried to remind myself today that they…” he gestured to the room “…are just as unaware of the true meaning of this festival as you are.”

Lakeerae sat up. She swept the hood back the rest of the way and tucked her hair behind her ears. “What do you mean?”

“This festival. It’s not about dancing or face paint or food. It’s about protection from the terrors the dragons brought with them. The Dragon War was a real thing. Dragons are murderous and destructive. These paper dragons are wards, originally created by the priests before they fell out of favor when the gods disappeared.”

And the druids became the religion of the people, Lakeerae finished silently.

Lakeerae fingered the blue paper dragon on their table, feeling the fibrous smoothness of its wings. “Well, they must work then. No dragon has been seen in the Bracklin Reach in hundreds of years, not since the Dragon War.”

Roidar picked up the paper dragon and held it, staring into its eyeless face. “Not as well as you think,” he replied cryptically.

Lakeerae studied him but didn’t know how to reply.

She didn’t have time to think long on it. A woman holding a lute walked between them and the hearth, catching both of their attention with her dark silhouette against the orange flames.

“As we come to the end of the Paper Dragon Festival, it’s good to remember what we have to celebrate. The Dragon War was a dark time.” She paused, strummed the lute, adjusted it, and then began to sing. The lute harmonised with haunting sobriety.

The bard told how the sky grew dark with great scaled beasts and how they crashed like thunder and lit the sky like lightning. Their battle waged for several fortnights, blocking the sun, blocking the moons. The greenery burned and the animals laid down. The people hid and the people starved.

The priests prayed and created wards. One morning the sky cleared and all became quiet. The dragons were gone. The people rejoiced but that winter was a harsh one. More died. The priests begged the gods for help but they were silent. The only magic left to them was their wards–paper dragons, hung from window and door frames. They worked and the dragons never returned.

When the bard finished, the common room erupted in cheers. Lakeerae leaned over, close to Roidar’s ear, and whispered, “She knows.” She took another drink of her ale, watching him over the top of the mug.

Roidar looked at her with the ghost of a smile. Lakeerae returned it but wider.

Then she yawned unexpectedly.

“You should rest. The sooner we get our supplies the quicker we can be on our way again,” Roidar said.

Her eyelids were too heavy for her to argue.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lakeerae stumbled up the stairs, but Roidar caught her before she could go over. He had one arm under each of hers as he hauled her back to her feet, where she wobbled, her face close to his.

“Can you stand?” he asked. His mouth was close enough to hers that she could feel the warmth of his breath and smell the hint of ale still on it. His lips filled her vision.

She nodded, then tripped on the next stair. “Sorry.”

“Here.” He leaned over and lifted her into his arms. He staggered momentarily and Lakeerae’s tired eyes fluttered with concern, her arms clutching his neck. “I’ve got you,” he promised. He ascended the stairs slowly but more steady than she had been on her own. She buried her face in his chest and inhaled his scent, like pine needles.

He didn’t set her down at the top but kept going. The door swung open and shut with hardly her notice. She was too focused on the backs of her eyelids and fingering one of the gold chains that hung around his neck, smooth and warm from being against his skin.

The bed rose up to meet her, or maybe Roidar set her down. Suddenly his arms were gone. The linens felt cold against her skin and she prickled with gooseflesh.

“Will you be okay here?” Roidar asked. He sounded far away.

“I’m cold,” she mumbled.

A weight on the bed brought his smell closer again. He tucked the blanket around her, the scratchy fibers tickling her chin. His hand lingered at her cheek and she sighed and pressed against it.

Silence stretched and Lakeerae opened her eyes with a start. She wondered if she had drifted off. Roidar was still sitting there, a shadow against the darkness. Moonlight streamed unevenly into the room from his left, casting just enough light to create an outline.

“Get some sleep. I’ll come get you in the morning.”

As his weight on the bed shifted, Lakeerae reached out and found his retreating hand. She gripped it and pulled it back. She fought her tired eyes and heavy body as Roidar made a surprised noise.

He chuckled. “You can’t even keep your eyes open. What are you doing?”

Lakeerae sat up, blinking. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand, keeping Roidar’s in her other. They were face to face. “I want to say thank you.”

“For what?”

“For spending the day with me, even though I could tell you wanted to be somewhere else. I enjoyed it.”

She watched his shadowed cheek rise, the moonlight illuminating his teeth as he grinned. He was starkly contrasted in light and dark. “I enjoyed it as well. I’m sorry if I seemed an unwilling participate. I’m actually starting to like your company.”

From anyone else she would have thought it a backhanded compliment. “You’re not quite as bad as I first thought.”

Silence enveloped them until it seemed they and the room and the moons were all of existence.

Lakeerae raised the hand she still held and placed it near the center of her chest. She felt her quickened heartbeat against his similarly racing pulse.

Roidar’s eyes fell to their entwined hands and came back to her face. “You should get some sleep. Remember to shield your mind, like we’ve…”

She silenced him with her lips. There was no hesitation. He leaned into her, tilting his head and kissing her deeper. Their tongues found each other. Lakeerae reminded herself to breathe as she became lightheaded.

She brushed both of her hands back through his hair, tugging his face tighter to hers.

Their knees touching on the bed made them awkward as they tried to press closer. Roidar pivoted and guided her leg out to the side of him, the other still hanging off the bed. He laid her down.

Roidar pressed against her. He kissed from her mouth, along her cheek, and to her ear. His breath was heavy as he kissed her earlobe.

The room grew warmer. Lakeerae pulled on his handfuls of hair as her skin tingled. She felt it grow hot.

Roidar gasped and pulled away.

Lakeerae’s eyes shot open, her breath coming in small pants. He sat straight up, patting his arms and shirt. When she saw his face, she looked down at herself. She was wreathed in a light layer of green flame, an iridescent flicker along her pale skin. She raised her hand before her face and watched the flames lick along her skin for a moment.

She willed the flames to quiet.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she asked, her voice strained. Her eyes glistened with moisture.

“No, I appear unhurt,” Roidar said, tracing along his arms with his hands and his eyes again. “Are you alright?”

“I think so.” Her voice trembled with emotion.

Roidar stood up and smoothed his shirt and then his hair with his hands. “I should go,” he said, his words slow to form and leaving a palatable discomfort hanging in the air. He leaned forward, paused, and turned toward the door. He stopped with his hand on the knob and said, “I’ll come get you in the morning.” He left, the only sound the click of the door closing behind him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Big Bad (Drabble)

1000 Day MFA -- Week 3

1000 Day MFA — Week 3

I had a rough week. A total lack of energy, ambition, and muse. It’s probably the weather–a week or two of spring followed by cold weather that screwed with my sinuses all over again. I got four sentences over four days and found myself waxing poetic about it in our 1000 Day MFA group. Our advisor replied to me and suggested aiming for just 100 words and gave me permission for it to really suck.

Getting something down on paper, yes, that was what I needed. But 100 words of what?

On my way to work the following day, I heard a song called “Big Bad” by Borgore, and the title stuck in my brain. I wrote (and revised) half of this piece in my head in the car, rushing through the drive thru so fast I didn’t realize I had the wrong size coffee until I got to work and started typing.

So here’s my first drabble. Per Wikipedia:

A drabble is a short work of fiction of around one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.

I edited it to exactly 100 words, which made me pretty proud. This is the shortest piece I’ve ever written.

I hope you enjoy it. (I spent more works talking about it than writing it!) And wish me luck with a longer piece next week.

~ Effy

Big Bad (Drabble)

No one knew his given name. He only answered to Big Bad, and the name fit him.

He looked at me from across the obscenely large oak desk and smiled a smile that made me shiver. It showed his whole sharp set of teeth, complete with overly large canines, bright white from many whitening pastes and strips. It curled his face into a wolf-like semblance that made me second guess all my reasons for being here.

“So, little one,” Big Bad said with a voice like honey, honey lined with razor blades. “What can you do for me in return?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Sabrine (Short Story)

1000daymfa-week2

1000 Day MFA–Week 2.

Here’s a 25-word elevator pitch for my current novel WIP:

screenshot_20170225-111338_1

It needed some back story. So I wrote this piece.

I’m not big on writing in first person, but I had fun getting into the head of my 9-year-old main character.

I hope you enjoy.

~ Effy

Sabrine

“I have seen nine winters and I won’t be treated like a child!” I shouted, stomping my foot for emphasis. When Father said “No” it just meant I had not asked emphatically enough.

“A lady has no purpose in the woods on a hunt,” Father said. He had his stubborn face on and his arms crossed over his chest. I’d have to be more convincing. I was more stubborn than him.

“Nadea will come and the knights will be there to protect me as they always are,” I reasoned. Usually, I detested being followed around, but if it got me my way it was worth it. I did not mention Garren, Sir Edhin’s squire, but thinking of him specifically made me smile despite the serious adult look I was trying to give to Father.

“Take her, Victus,” Mother said, her voice soft and smiling. “Why shouldn’t she learn to hunt?”

Father blinked. He opened his mouth and closed it again. Finally, he replied, “It’s unladylike.”

I crossed my arms, preparing a new argument, but Mother spoke first.

“What about your daughter is ladylike?”

I opened my mouth to correct her. I was wearing a dress, as they insisted, though it was dirty and torn from play with Nadea and her brother.

“She is a lady and she should act the part,” Father said, but his voice held less conviction and I could tell he was close to giving in.

“I’ll be quiet as a mouse, I promise,” I said, giving my most convincing smile.

“Very well, Sabrine, you can come today, but you are not to hold or fire a weapon. You will observe only and no more,” Father said. He voice was still stern, but I was nodding as my smile grew and I ran over to throw my arms around his neck. He hugged me back and snickered into my hair.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Good morning, Garren,” I said, giving him my most charming smile. I’d practiced it in the mirror while getting dressed, much to Nadea’s annoyance. I wore tan my riding pants and a white loose-collared shirt, more comfortable than any stuffy dress.

“Good morning, Lady Sabrine,” Garren replied. He didn’t smile. Garren never smiled. His blue eyes did twinkle from beneath the messy lay of his blonde hair, and I told myself it was at seeing me and not just a trick of the light.

I fidgeted with Gwen’s reins for a moment. He was supposed to ask why I was there and dressed for riding. Was I going out to ride through the fields this morning? No no, silly boy, I’m going hunting with you and Father.

I willed him to ask.

Garren looked uncomfortable under my stare. I grew annoyed, but I practiced patience, I practiced being a lady.

“Are you going for a ride?” he asked.

I beamed. “No!”

He gave me a confused look.

“I’m going hunting!” All wrong, silly, silly girl.

Garren tilted his head slightly. It looked boyish on one always trying to be a man. “Hunting? With us?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to make the words in my head come out of my mouth.

“Oh? Does the duke know?”

“Oh, yes. He said I could go today.”

Garren nodded and glanced in the direction of his master, Sir Edhin, with a frown. The old knight looked meditative, praying. I don’t understand asking someone else for things you can do yourself.

Looking back to me, but avoiding my eyes, he studied my hands. “If you’re going into the forest with us, you should ride your horse properly, starting with how you hold the reins.” He gave Florence a nudge with his heels and she pranced forward. She nuzzled Gwen.

Garren reached over and gently took Gwen’s reins. He sat a full head higher than me but with him bent over my hands I could smell grass and dew on his hair. He’d been in his secret place, reading. One day I would go there because he invited me, instead of sneaking along behind him. He placed the reins in both my hands and positioned it with fingers callused by long hours riding and holding a sword.

If mother or father or anyone else had fussed over me so, I would have complained, but I endured it to have Garren close.

“You hold tight to them. If your horse gets startled, you have to hold on,” he explained. “Horses are easily startled.”

I nodded. I had been riding since I could walk and I already knew what he told me, but he was close enough that I could see the flecks of slate in his piercing blue eyes. I imagined leaning forward and kissing him, him kissing me back. The sun set behind us as day and night and years passed in a blink, all in the span of that one kiss.

“Alright?” Garren asked. He had leaned back in his saddle but Florence paced close. He had a hand out to steady me if needed.

“Yes, now that I know how to hold my reins.” I said, smiling. I felt my face flush with silly girl embarrassment.

Garren nodded and studied me for a moment longer. He always looked like he was trying to read a language he didn’t understand.

“Perhaps later you can give me a private riding lesson?” I suggested.

Garren’s eyes widened, easily the most emotion I had seen him display. “I’m not a royal and hardly proper company or protection for a lady.”

I did not understand and started to ask what he meant.

“Sabrine, where is Nadea?” Father came up to us on his horse, Rasher, as he asked the question.

Garren bowed his head and averted his eyes. I sat up and tried not to look like a swooning little girl.

“She was still in the stable when I saw her last,” I replied.

“Well, go get her. Hurry up now. We’re leaving right away.”

I nodded. I wouldn’t argue with Father in front of Garren or Sir Edhin. Even I knew that was improper. I nudged Gwen’s ribs with my heels and she turned in the direction I indicated with a light movement of the reins.

Nadea was still putting the saddle on Mindalen when I entered the barn. Well, trying to anyway. “Aren’t you ready yet? Everyone else is ready to leave,” I said, annoyed with the whine creeping into my voice. Gwen paced beneath me, as impatient as I was. I watched Nadea struggle with the saddle with growing frustration.

“Sahym left without helping me with this. I don’t know what I’m doing,” she complained, referring to her brother, the stable boy.

“That much is obvious.”

“Hey! This thing is heavy. It’s nearly bigger than I am!”

“You’re a whole two inches taller than me and I got Gwen’s on just fine.”

Nadea stuck her tongue out at me.

I swung my leg over and dropped off Gwen’s side. She looked at me curiously and I patted her nose as I walked past to where Nadea struggled to lift the saddle over her head. I took it from her hands and swung it while stretching to the tips of my toes to put it in place on Mindalen’s back.

“See? Easy,” I said as I did the straps and made sure they were tight. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Yeah, yeah, show off,” Nadea said as her hoisted herself up. “You just want to go ride next to Garren.” She said his name tauntingly and elongated.

“Shh,” I scolded. “Last thing I want is him, or Father, overhearing you.”

Nadea quieted but she grinned at me. The wider her grin became, the hotter my face felt.

“Sabrine!” Father’s voice called.

“Coming!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As the forest enveloped us, I felt at peace. Golden sunlight filtered through emerald leaves, casting a warm friendly glow on people, horses, and groundcover alike. It looked like the background of our family crest, the green and yellow background, the white hart standing proud. The wind was cool and brought the scent of pine needles. Happy bird songs wove in and amongst each other like children singing rounds. I wanted to join in, but I didn’t know the words.

Everyone looked serious, even Nadea. She was always trying to be a serious adult. I wanted to be an adult too, but I also wanted to enjoy myself. What good was it not to? Would Bael turn me away because I smiled or laughed too much?

Sir Edhin and another knight, Sir Jakoen, lead the way, Father followed, then Nadea and I, and lastly Garren and Sir Jakoen’s squire, Anthel, came behind.

The knights carried their swords loosely in their fingers, and I wished I had one. I had been begging Father to let me learn since I could form the words. Apparently, me tagging along on a hunt was more acceptable than a lady with a sword.

What if I needed to protect myself?

I tried not to pout. That wasn’t adultlike.

Father had his pistol tucked into its holster on Rasher’s saddle. I’d never seen the gun up close, Father rarely brought it out of its case. Bullets and gunpowder were hard to come by and only available from one blacksmith far to the west in the kingdom of Raah. He only took it into the forest with him.

I hoped to see him shoot it. But why did he bring his bow as well?

I wanted to ask, but I had promised to be seen and not heard. Later.

A crackling of twigs and dry needles caused all the men to turn their heads to the left. The horses became nervous and quietly I reassured Gwen that it was probably just a deer wandering across our path.

The forest quieted again. It took me a moment to realize it had grown quieter than before. The birds had ceased their songs and even the wind seemed to hold its breath.

“Father?” I asked. He didn’t turn to face me, only held a finger to his lips. His other hand held the bow tightly enough to turn his knuckles white.

I was about to comment on the silliness of being expected to actually keep quiet per my agreement when I heard a noise unfamiliar to me. It was a deep-chested noise, wordless but almost conversational, very inquisitive. On the heels of this indecipherable question appeared a creature I knew only from books. Wide and shaggy, tall as the horses while still on all fours, the bear came forward on heavy paws. It uttered another rumbling query in pleasant tones.

“Stay back, my lord,” Sir Edhin said, his voice barely a whisper as he put himself and his horse between father and the bear. Garren and Florence similarly shielded Nadea and me, Anthel close by.

The creature seemed unhappy with this adjustment and rumbled louder, crinkling its muzzle and showing all its enormous teeth.

I watched Father put away his bow and draw the pistol. The sunlight glinting off the dark metal hypnotised my eyes. The shape of it flowed up through his two hands to a thin, delicate looking barrel, rising and pointing forward.

“Bael, guide my aim,” he whispered.

Nothing could have prepared me for the sound the pistol made. It was like thunder, usually far away and soothing, but banging and echoing through my head. I put my hands to my ears too late, but kept them there, both to ease them and in fear of a second shot. They rang painfully, muffling the rest of the world.

I pried my eyes open. The bear was not dead. It protested loudly, no longer questioning but cursing us in its bear language.

My mouth dropped open in horror at the amount of blood that streamed from the creature’s shoulder, trailing from where it had been to where it stood atop Sir Edhin and his horse.

The horse struggled and shrieked. Sir Edhin was unmoving and quiet.

Some of the blood belonged to the knight. Some to the horse. Some to the bear. It all ran together like streams into a wider river, pooling and swirling. I had never seen so much blood. I imaged all of that blood gushing forth from my knee when I had scraped it falling from the garden’s apple tree. It made my stomach churn.

Sir Jakoen’s horse was on its side, unmoving, a trail of claw marks across its stomach split wide, and the knight struggling feebly underneath it. His sword lay several feet away, half-hidden in the grass.

Garren stayed close, but I could see the conflict in his eyes. My heart broke for him as he watched the bear trample his mentor. It rose up and crashed its giant forepaws down over and again until the horse too quieted.

Father fiddled with the pistol. I waited for him to fire it again, to finish off the bear, but he opened and tapped and shook it instead.

The bear lost interest in the unmoving heap beneath him and turned to roar at Father, who still jiggled and slapped the pistol with growing frustration. Rasher neighed and pranced backwards, his eyes wide and rolling. The bear loped forward then rose onto its rear legs, towering over people and horses alike. Giant paws crossed its chest, trailing claws that looked longer than my hand and dripped with red.

It was huge, like a furry oak tree.

Garren pulled a knife from his saddle. I saw what he intended and thought to cry him off. I could not bare to watch the bear stomp the life from him as it had Sir Edhin, but Father was in danger as well. I tangled my fingers in Gwen’s mane and huddled against her neck, peering over her head.

Frozen, I watched as Garren lead Florence forward and shouted taunting words at the bear. I could not make out the words, his voice sounded muffled like he was underwater. Or maybe I was.

I wanted to close my eyes but they were riveted to Garren. The bear’s followed him too. It roared a challenge that made Florence hesitate, but Garren kept her steady.

A giant paw shot forward faster than looked possible from the cumbersome beast. Garren was unflinching and met the paw with his knife. The bear roared again, saliva rolling off snarling, rippling lips.

Garren eased Florence forward, and the bear took a step back, uncertain.

My heart hammered in my chest, a mixture of fear and pride. I had never seen anyone so brave as Garren. No shining armor or flashing sword, yet he still faced the bear fearlessly.

That’s when another crash of thunder tore through my head. My already ringing ears muffled it but not enough to dull the pain of it. I massaged my ears, trying to ease the ringing.

I willed my eyes back open, fearing for Garren. He still brandished the knife in a bloodless knuckled hand, but the bear retreated into the shadowy trees. A trail of red followed it into the darkness beyond my sight.

Father sat in his saddle, the pistol gripped in both hands. The tip of the barrel smoked, curling and twitching with Father’s sharp breaths.

Garren turned. “Are you alright, my lord?”

“Yes, Garren. I am unhurt. Thank you.” Father’s words came out in between pants.

Garren slid off Florence’s back and hurried to Sir Edhin’s side. I tried to sniffle back my emotion but I felt the moisture collecting in my eyes, stinging them. I wanted to go to him and comfort him, but it seemed improper to intrude upon his grief. He looked very much a boy, crying over the old knight who had raised him.

“Are you and Nadea alright?” I had not even heard Father approach, but he was beside me, his hand on my shoulder.

I nodded, unable to form words. Despite how hard I tried to hold them back, how desperately I wanted to be grown up, I began to cry. The sobs echoed in my head, the underwater sounds being replaced by a soft ringing. Father’s arms enveloped me and I collapsed against him, wetting his shirt with my tears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I doodled with the pencil and paper Father forced me to use during council meetings, slumped down low in my chair. It was the most boring part of trying to be an adult. Serious-faced adults sitting around a table discussing how many chickens Farmer Henrik had lost to foxes this week and whether Merchant Yedra was paying her taxes in the proper amount.

“One last item.” I silently cheered as Father said it. “The matter of the squire Garren.” I dropped my pencil and sat up straighter.

“Garren recently lost his sponsor, Sir Edhin, in a hunting accident.” The table erupted in murmured prayers for Bael to grant him entrance to Elysium. “In the process, he saved my life and that of my daughter. For this, I would usually seek the council’s approval in granting him knighthood, but Garren is not royal, has no lineage or land, and therefore cannot be knighted. Sir Edhin knew this when he took Garren as his squire.” Father paused and let the council absorb his words.

“The boy is eighteen,” Merchant Findlay said. “That makes him too old for another sponsorship, even if he were a royal.”

Father nodded. “But he saved my life. He saved Sabrine’s. There must be something we can do.”

Everyone began talking at once, and Father patted the air with his hands until they quieted.

“If land is what Garren needs to be knighted, Father, then grant him land. We owe him at least that much,” I said. As every eye at the table fell upon me, I wanted to shrink lower into my chair, but I stayed straight and hoped it made me look confident.

“It’s not that simple, Sabrine,” Father replied.

“Why not?”

Father looked down at his hands. When he looked back up at me, the others at the table silent, he replied, “There are royals and there are commoners. A person is born as one or the other. Garren cannot become a royal just as you cannot become a commoner.”

His words pierced my heart more than he could have known.

“These are extreme circumstances, my lord,” Councilor Reedus said. “A grant of land seems an appropriate reward for saving you and Lady Sabrine.”

Father put on his stubborn face. “It would set an unsustainable precedent.”

“We would not be here without Garren, Father,” I said, giving him my most convincing smile. I was more stubborn than him. “And I know the perfect plot.” I thought of a secret place, where Garren disappeared to read often, where I had followed him several times. A shady bank at the edge of where the river met the forest.

I put my hand on his much larger one.

Father looked at it, pale and smooth and small next to his. He nodded once and looked up, meeting the eyes of each member of the council individually. “What say you? Let us vote. Those in favor of granting Garren land and title of knighthood, say aye.”

The response was unanimous. My heart hammered in my chest and my smile felt unable to be contained by the boundaries of my face. I hoped Father would let me tell Garren first.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.

Blues (Short Story)

1000 Day MFA -- Week 1

1000 Day MFA — Week 1

As part of my keeping myself accountable in writing and expanding my reading horizons, I joined a Facebook group run by the same lady that runs my Ninja Writers group for a 1000 Day MFA. Basically, we are committing to reading and writing a lot:

  • Daily: Reading (1) poem, (1) essay, and (1) short story.
  • Weekly: Writing (1) short story. Watching (3) movies.
  • Monthly: Reading (1) novel and (1) book on writing craft.
  • Yearly: Writing (1) novel.

1000 days is a huge commitment, but I have a group to keep me accountable.

Here’s my first week’s accomplishments (above), followed by my first short story. I plan to share many more in a near future, but I suppose it will depend on how complete I feel they are at the end of the week.

~ Effy

Blues

Demithyra’s great blue bulk shifted as she roused and she made a mental count out of habit. Seven. No wait, she only counted six. She counted again. Six. Six sleeping dragonettes curled beneath her. No dragonette at her left forearm.

Lazheward was missing. Again.

Demithyra let out a quiet squawk. Edarmos did not reply. He must already be out hunting. She lifted her head and scanned the dim cave. Sometimes little Laz would sneak off and occupy himself with a stone or cavern critter or stalactite puddle, but he did not respond to her soft noises either.

Had he followed his father?

She could only hope that they both returned soon. Six other dreaming dragonettes still demanded her protection.

Demithyra resettled herself, resting her scaled head in the crook of her forearm, but she did not sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lazheward splashed at the edge of the water and did not see the approach of a furred creature on four hooved legs. The creature approached from the other side of the river, leading toward the grassy plains. It got to the edge, a mere ten paces from the dragonette and gave the oblivious dragonette a cherubic grin. It looked like a human child in the face, except for the small horns and pointed ears that came from a head covered more with fur than hair.

The young dragonette heard a splashing that came from elsewhere and looked up to see the smiling child, his four legs curled beneath him like a gazelle. Surprise was quickly replaced by joy at a playmate other than his clutch-mates. Lazheward squawked, and it was a small bleeting noise. The child giggled and waved a chubby hand.

The water flowed slowly, it being the dry season at this border between the plains and the desert, and Lazheward had no problem loping on all four taloned feet through the low water to the other side.

The two younglings could not speak to one another, but it did not matter. Language was no barrier for play. They splashed and formed shapes from the sandy mud. Together they mounded it together and formed a mud hill, laughing and smiling.

As the two played, a shadow crept. Tawny fur blended into the sandy dunes and pale stripes hid it against the waving grass. It smelled the children before it saw them. Keeping low to the ground, but poised to run, the sand cat moved silently closer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Edarmos scanned the burning desert sands. He had left again as soon as Demithyra had told him Lazheward was missing. An adult blue dragon feared little but a dragonette of less than one cycle of seasons had many possible predators in the desert.

He glided low over the sands, the heat of the climbing sun reflecting back up from each glinting grain and warming his underside. He needed to find Lazheward before the day got too late and the sun too hot. His scales could handle the heat but Lazheward’s were thinner.

Edarmos smelled the river and shortly after he caught the scent of his missing dragonette. A blue speck appeared along the sparkle of the flowing water and Edarmos bugled a call.

Lazheward made a faint happy noise in return.

Edarmos saw a centaur child sat in the mud beside the dragonette and sighed in a mixture of frustration and relief. He caught movement nearby and recognized the sinuous form of a sand cat mostly camouflaged by the sand and grass. He willed his wings to get him to his little one faster.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Vol’zan returned to the centaur camp early in the day, a gazelle with half an arrow still in its heart slung over his shoulder. He acknowledged his clan members with silent nods. His lifemate, Asa’fre, greeted him with a kiss and took the gazelle to clean it.

Settling himself in the shade of their tent flap, Vol’zan looked around the camp and settled his eyes on his youngling, Cer’ah, playing quietly with her doll just inside the family’s tent.

“Where is Mi’an?” Vol’zan asked.

“Playing with his sister,” Asa’fre replied, not looking up from the delicate cuts she made with her knife.

“Cer’ah, where is your brother?”

Cer’ah shrugged and did not look up from her doll. “Probably playing in the mud. He’s always getting dirty and trying to get my Kie’lee dirty.”

Asa’fre met Vol’zan’s concerned gaze.

They heard the bugle of a dragon and Vol’zan took off, his limbs a flurry of movement, his bow clutched tightly in his hand, and his quiver slapping against his shoulder. He saw the great gliding blue wings and ran with a stomach heavy with dread like rock.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Edarmos watched the sand cat until he saw another flash of movement coming from the plains side of the river. A full grown centaur galloped through the golden scrub, bow at the ready, heading straight toward Lazheward and his playmate. The blue hesitated, scaly lips peeling back from his teeth, and almost adjusted his descent, but the sand cat must have seen the centaur as well and broke into a sprint.

Fearing he would reach them too late, Edarmos flapped his great wings harder, though he knew each flap made him less able to stop himself. He braced for hitting the grassy sands with all four claws out before him.

He hit the ground. The sand cat screamed. Edarmos felt only sand and scrub grass in his claws, but squeezed anyway. He felt the burning pain of talons along his belly, death throes as the sand cat was crushed beneath him. Then nothing.

Edarmos slid to a stop and his chin fell to the sand with a thump. The form of the sand cat and its claws, along with a thousand tiny pieces of hot sand, all burned his underside. He expelled a great breath that shot a spray of sand into the air before him.

Lazheward was at his nose, tugging a tooth and a nostril playfully.

“Mi’an!” the centaur cried and swept up the child with one arm, the other still holding tight to the bow. He set the child on his back and drew and cocked an arrow in one motion. The centaur held it ready, trembling but his face a menacing growl.

Edarmos rose with an effort, pulling Lazheward upwards with his snout and bouncing the dragonette onto his nose. The babe squawked and grinned. The sand cat still clung to his belly, already growing rigid, and Edarmos flinched as he plucked the talons from the raw, dirty wounds.

The stiffening cat hit the ground and sent up a cloud of golden dust.

Edarmos lowered himself back to the ground, both to protect his vulnerable belly and to make himself less threatening. The sand stung and blood oozed but he fought to ignore it. He tilted his snout in a way that protected Lazheward were an arrow to fly but relaxed the snarl on his face despite the throbbing pain.

The centaur hesitated. His face and arms relaxed. He too positioned himself in a way the child remained hidden from Edarmos’s view. He lowered the bow and the readied arrow a few inches.

The two fathers faced off for several breaths, neither moving.

Then the centaur backed several steps away. When Edarmos did not move, he backed off a few more. Then he turned and galloped away, glancing backwards several times.

When the centaur was out of view, Edarmos plucked Lazheward from his nose and tucked him into his forepaw. The dragonette squirmed but stayed put.

Making a noise deep in his throat, the blue dragon spat at the sand beneath him. Blue and white lightning crackled and melted the sand into hot red balls of molten glass. In his free forepaw, taking a deep breath to steady himself, Edarmos picked up the glass while it was still malleable and spread it across the dripping wounds of his chest and belly. The liquid did not burn his hands, but it stung the wounds, raw and open as they were. He smoothed it around until the wounds stopped bleeding and the glass had formed a tight but effective covering.

Picking up the sand cat by the scruff of its rigid neck, Edarmos sprang into the air to take his dragonette home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“My precious Mi’an,” Asa’fre wept, holding their child against her.

Mi’an fidgeted and squirmed. Finally she let him down and he rushed off to play. She watched him even as she spoke, not willing to let him out of her sight again. “The dragon just let you leave?” she asked as she wiped her wet eyes.

Vol’zan nodded.

“What was Mi’an doing?”

“Just playing with the dragon youngling in the mud.”

“I don’t understand. They’ve never thought twice about eating our kind. It’s why we follow the herds east in the wet season, to avoid them when they’re more active.” Asa’fre’s face crinkled in confusion as she looked to her mate for answers.

“I don’t know, perhaps it didn’t want to hurt Mi’an. It never made a move at us, just the sand cat. It seemed more concerned with protecting its youngling then with us.” Her mate paused. “I did not see the sand cat in time to stop it before it ran at the little ones. I wouldn’t have been able to save them.”

“Then we will thank Suriya the dragon arrived when it did.” Asa’fre hugged her mate, Mi’an still at the edge of her vision. It was the strangest prayer she ever made to the sun goddess, but watching her child pester his sister when he might have never come home made it the most heartfelt too.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Demithyra nuzzled her precious and frustrating dragonette, making noises that were almost purrs at tiny Lazheward.

“I couldn’t think to harm the child,” Edarmos confessed. “Nor will I hunt when not for food.” He absently shredded the sand cat into the pieces their dragonettes could manage. It pulled at glass protecting his tender chest, but it did not tear the wounds open again.

Lazheward squeezed out of his mother’s reach and grabbed the first piece. His clutch-mates followed after him, but he was munching away on a second piece before they even started.

“Maybe we should go farther into the desert,” Demithyra said. “Somewhere we won’t run into the centaurs. Family is all that matters now.”

Edarmos nodded. “We’ll have to go farther to hunt, but perhaps it’s for the best.”

“I want no more conflict. I just want to raise our family where no one, dragon, centaur, or otherwise, will trouble us.” Demithyra corralled her dragonettes with her tail and put a foreclaw on her mate’s. The two dragons nuzzled and looked down gratefully on their dragonettes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.