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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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/.