So it is that time of the week again. As per Chuck’s request, I’ve picked three words, Mint, Scarecrow and Moon. I have on top of that willfully ignored the 1000 word limit this week, again, mostly because I am too tired to wrestle with words, but also because I’m not so sure I can realistically manage to wring 500 words out of this story. Besides, its got dragons. Dragons! That ought to make up for a lot.
It is not really so much a story as a continuation of my exploratory into the world I am building for another story that is pinging around in my brain.
(crappy title, too tired, see above)
By Trine Toft Schmidt
Dway held his eyes fixed to the horizon as he ran down the Market Street toward the south gate. It seemed that the sky brightened noticeably for every step he ran. The houses and shops sped past him, light from shuttered windows punctuating the dwindling dark. Ahead, the wide northern gate grew larger. In another hour or so the gate would be bustling with carts, farmers, horse traders, peddlers and travelers, but for now it was closed, so he veered right, aiming for the smaller Prayer’s Gate, which was more of a tunnel carved through the twenty feet of wall, narrow and dark.
He was almost at the gate when a large man stepped through, a cloak drawn in around him in the early morning chill. The man jumped to the side as he saw Dway, and put a hand on a heavy bulky pouch hanging on his belt, as if he feared that Dway would steal it. Dway snorted and shook his head. He was an Initiate, not a common thief. That should be obvious from the white Initiate tunic and the red belt that was tied around it. He caught a glimpse of the man’s face, an older man with deep wrinkles carved into leathery skin, as he thundered past, but forgot all about it when he glimpsed the horizon at the end of the tunnel. Almost too late. He burst out of the tunnel and took a sharp left turn, sprinted the few hundred paces to the Southern Gate.
He slid to a stop on his knees in front of the dragon, towering above him, just as the first rays threatened to break away from the horizon. He upended his satchel on the ground, grabbbed the wax candle in one hand and the fire stick in the other. With shaking hands he struck the fire stick on the cobbles and watched as the stick sputtered and came to life with a bright yellow flame. He lit candle wick and the smell of mint and honey rose up in the chilly air.
He sat the candle by the tip of the tail that was coiled around the dragon, the knife sharp edges of the tip half buried in the dusty brown soil. With trembling fingers he crumbled strips of dried meat into the small stone bowl, and drizzled a tiny amount of fire oil over. He re-lit the fire stick in the candle flame and held it to the oil and meat, as he mumbled the prayer under his breath. The first rays cleared the horizon and he felt the first tentative heat on his back. He smiled with relief, but didn’t stop praying. The scent of mint and honey was accentuated by the bitter smell of charred meat. He prayed until the fire burned out and the meat was black dust in the bottom of the bowl.
“That seems an awful waste.”
He yelped like a dog and felt his cheeks redden as he looked around, trying to find out where the voice had come from. Right as he spotted her in the deep shadows within the half unfolded right wing of the dragon, she stepped out into the sun.
She was tall and wiry, lean in a boyish way, and dressed in a weird outfit, that looked sampled from here and there, dusty mauve riding boots, dark gray trousers that would fit a farmer twice her size and a tattered nobleman’s shirt, embroidered in gold and copper. Draped behind her shoulders was a thick blue woolen cloak. She looked a little like the scarecrows his mother had built out of hay and discarded pieces of clothing. All the girl needed, to complete the look, was a wide brimmed straw hat.
Her face was long and narrow, and prominent cheekbones distinctively marked her to be from the desert lands. Perhaps she was Eruvian or Arahan. Her skin was a dark golden brown, her short black hair curled in tight curls that were not common in the north.
“You are not from here.” He blushed deeper, what a stupid thing to say, he might as well have said that grass is green or the night sky black.
“No.” She turned her head and looked up at the dragon. Where her left ear should have been was only a half moon crescent of nubby shin. She continued to study the dragon for a long time while Dway studied her.
The arms of her shirt was ripped off and showed bare arms, defined with muscle like she was a man, she had a dagger hanging in a beautiful sheath on her right hip. When she turned to face the dragon fully he could see the outline of something under her cape. Another weapon perhaps?
“I don’t understand, this…” she tilted her chin toward the dragon “this mountain of rock, is going to save you? Why you think it can save you?” Her spoken Common was accented with something hard edged, more rim than desert.
“It is not rock, or mountain. It is a dragon.” Dway stood up and walked up to her, pointed to the head high above, the flared nostrils, the open mouth where rows of teeth glittered in the morning sun. “She breathed fire. She was the mightiest of them all.” As always when Dway talked of her, his heart swelled and his vision tinted ever so slightly. The bright gold of the sun became a a deep copper. A shiver ran down his spine and heat spread from his neck to his fingers.
“But if she is dead, she will not be alive again. It is silly. Dead things are dead.” Her tone was a little impatient.
“But she is not dead. When the Middle Kingdom is in grave danger she will rise from this gate, as will all the others, and save us again.”
“Pah. I do not believe this nonsense. Why do you not save yourselves? Why Middle Kingdom men, soldiers, do not fight? Why do the rim kingdoms fight so much, but not you.” She shook her head, as if she truly did not understand. Dway struggled to find the words to explain, to convince her of the magnificence of the dragons, the red especially. He wanted to grab her and shake her, because how else could he underline the importance of them?
“I’ll show you something.” It was the only thing he could think of that did not involve heated words or physical contact. She turned and glanced at him. Then she looked away as if she saw nothing of importance.
“No. Really look.” Had he been a black it would have been difficult, but he was red and here, in the morning sun, where power of red was fresh and new it should be easy.
She rolled her eyes a bit, but did as he asked. He locked eyes with her and concentrated, felt the shiver and the heat intensify. He really shouldn’t be doing this. If he was seen, if word got back to the Master… he forced the thought from his mind and concentrated on the heat and shiver instead.
He stepped away and held out his hands, palms down. Heat gathered under his skin, and then liquid drops of it began to fall from his palms, spluttered on the ground as if dropped into water. A shower of fire. She stepped back and frowned. Looked down on his hands and into his eyes.
“How do you do that?” she asked. “And why are your eyes red.” She stepped closer, so close he could feel the heat from her body, and the shiver in his spine changed and became something different. The fire rain stopped, and the red tinge subsided.
“I am a red. Some of her gifts are mine. Like the fire.” Now it was his turn to tilt his chin to the dragon.
“But, I don’t understand. These rocks,” she looked back at the dragon “gave you power?” She made a dismissive movement with her hand, and looked into his eyes again, as if studying the flames that always flickered there, visible or not.
Dway nodded, explaining it in detail would take all day. She tilted her head to the side and gave him another long look. Then she shrugged and turned on her hee. She started to walk toward the southern road.
“Hey.” Dway shouted after her. “What is your name?” He felt a little frantic that she was leaving, just like that, without being convinced of the magnificence of the dragons.
She turned her head, but kept walking.
“Max.” She said, her voice carrying back to him with ease.
“Max.” He said and looked after her. It wasn’t until after she cleared the bend in the road and was gone from view, that he realized he hadn’t told her his name. He almost ran after her. But then he picked up the candle, stone bowl and the fire oil instead and stuffed it back into the satchel. Master would also be quite mad if he dawdled too long in the shadow of the dragon. And Dway would see the girl again. He was sure of it.