Stories

Just finished Chapter 6 of The Dragon’s Egg, a YA fantasy. Thought I’d post it for fun. :)

Chapter 6-The Dragon’s Egg
It was the warm kiss of yellow light against her eyelids that jolted Slevyn awake. A young, merry sun climbed into the cloudless sky while birds chirped with abandon, as though trying with all their might to wake up the rest of the world. On the ground beside her, Shasta slept soundly. His wool blanket was wound up around and over his head so that only the tip of his coffee-coloured nose could be seen. He breathed heavily, making snotty gurgling noises which made Slevyn uneasy.‘Shasta!’ she hissed in his ear. ‘We overslept! We have to go. Now!’ The boy groaned in his sleep and butted her in the stomach with his elbow in protest. He was always a difficult riser in the morning, but today was not the time for any of that bratty nonsense.

Slevyn bent down to his ear again and whispered, ‘By now the villagers know we’ve gone and are probably looking for us…well looking for you, at least! Get up before I drag you up!’

At last, her brother arose. He groaned while rubbing the sleep from his giant blue eyes before getting to his feet. They shook out their leaf-encrusted blankets, shoved them deep into their packs, and only spared a few seconds to sip from their water skins. There was no time for breakfast. The pair tightened their belts against the loud rumblings from their indignant—and empty– stomachs.

Within minutes, their packs were tied to their backs and Slevyn had brushed away the signs of the impromptu camp with a tree branch. She then led Shasta deeper into the trees and away from the wide footpath that ran the length of the Chimera Wood. Just in case.

As they picked their way through the spindly trees and brushing ferns, Slevyn continued to notice something about her brother, something that had been nagging at her since he had awoken.  She squinted at his back, trying to figure out what it was. Like her, he kept his head down, watching the ground for the best places to set his feet. Then he inhaled loudly, allowing her to hear something which caused a wash of concern to pass through her.

‘Shasta, are you sniffling?’ She stopped him by putting a hand on his shoulder. He turned his face away from her, but she caught the determined pout of his lips and jut of his chin. ‘Are you sick? Have you caught a cold?’ Prone to chest colds and sometimes fever, Shasta’s general health bordered on frail. If he fell ill–

He jerked away from her to turn back to the trail, but again, Slevyn stayed him with a firm hand. ‘Listen to me, Shas. If you are not feeling well, you should go back. Sleeping outside, living off little more than berries and all that, it’s not good for you. You might get sicker.’

She felt him stiffen under hand. He turned and glared at her.

‘No, I don’t think you’re weak! You’re the strongest kid I know! But I’m not willing to let you get hurt or worse because of me.’

Then Shasta turned around and looked her full in the face. As he had done last night when he’d caught her sneaking out of the cabin to escape, he set his little fists on his hips and tilted his head to the side.

‘No, I’m not going back,’ Slevyn answered. ‘I can’t. You heard Father; no one wants me. But you could. And I’ll even let you tell them whatever you want about me so you don’t get in trouble.’ Thinking, Slevyn put a hand to her chin. ‘We’re still in Lower Chimera. You could easily find your way back home, as long as you follow the—‘

She was cut off by the sounds of feet tramping along the dirt road. Neither of them could see who was coming because of the bend in the path. In a flash, both Slevyn and Shasta dashed deeper into the trees.

‘Hi! Men! I hear something!’ cried a deep voice.

Afraid to make another sound, the children ducked behind a marbled green and blue moss-covered outcropping. Slevyn peeked around its corner, straining through the ferns to catch a glimpse of the man who had spoken. Shasta tugged at her sleeve, looking up at her with wide eyes. She put a hand to her lips and squeezed his hand with the other. ‘Let’s listen,’ she whispered. ‘They don’t know where we are. Maybe we can learn something useful.’

Shasta pressed his body against hers, and she squeezed his hand gently to comfort him. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.’ When his breath caught in his throat, she added gently, ‘I’ll be fine, too. I promise.’

She turned her attention back to the man in the road. From this distance, she couldn’t be sure, but she thought it was Arnot.

‘You sure it’s not a bear?’ asked a second man when he caught up to him. That must be Stirling, she thought.

‘No, sounds like a lighter, smaller creature. Maybe a cub.’

‘Hey!’ called another villager from somewhere down the road behind. ‘Looks like the children spent the night right here. One of them even tried to cover their tracks. Probably used a branch. They can’t be gone far away, then.’

‘Good. I’d like to get back to town before lunch. Can’t believe we have to look for two spoiled runaways! If they want to leave home so badly, let them!’ complained Arnot. This didn’t surprise Slevyn at all. That man wouldn’t go the extra mile for his own mother, let alone another man’s lost children.

‘You know,’ said Stirling, ‘I don’t mind that the girl is gone. I never agreed to Steig keeping her in the first place, especially for so long. The original agreement was for a year or two, at most. Twelve years is a long time to temps fate. It’s the boy I feel bad for. The world has changed. It’s become rough and wild, especially since the dragons are gone and aren’t protecting our lands any longer. The Wood is no place for a little kid, let alone one who doesn’t speak.’

‘You know there are rumours. You don’t think she–?’

Stirling scoffed. ‘No. Just because they are known for swooping in and snatching up prey and all that doesn’t mean—‘

‘It certainly doesn’t mean that at all.’ The new voice cut in on the conversation, startling the men into silence. Slevyn could not see the newcomer yet, but she would know that baritone voice anywhere. It was the one that sounded as good to her as chocolate tasted. It was Uncle Stamos.

She almost jumped from her hiding place to throw herself into those massive, strong arms, the ones she believed were more than capable of holding at bay all the bad things in the world which threatened to hurt her. But she did not trust the other men, so she stayed where she was, hidden behind the rock and the ferns.
Stamos continued. ‘Shouldn’t you two be looking for the children rather than speculating about such nonsense?’

Arnot looked down his nose at Stamos. ‘You always take her side, even though you know the truth about her.’

‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ Stamos practically roared at the men. Startled birds, chirping angrily at their lazy morning being interrupted, burst out of a tree. Flashes of yellow, red and blue dotted the clear blue sky as they flew away. ‘She’s just as much a child as Shasta is. You’ve got your orders, so get to them.’

‘You’re not our boss,’ said the third man, who likely bolstered by Arnot’s resistance, dared to enter the conversation. ‘We don’t have to do anything you say.’

‘No, I’m not your boss,’ Stamos agreed, folding his arms across his barrel chest, making himself appear even bigger and stronger. Those arms were used to hard labour as well as carrying deer carcasses and other game for miles back to the village over his shoulders. Few people dared trifle with Stamos, and those who did always regretted it. ‘Still, I think it is in your best interest to get back to perusing the trees…before you find yourself thrown face-first into one.’

Grumbling, one by one the men turned to continue down the road. Stamos watched them for a long time, as though counting the seconds as they passed. Then he turned and looked straight at Slevyn. How did he know? 

He strode through the underbrush and the press of the ferns. They parted before him like water. When he reached them, he squatted down looking every bit as strong and as protective as a great mother bird, and folded them both in his arms.

‘Don’t cry, Slevyn.’

‘How could they say such terrible things about me?’ Angered and embarrassed by the villagers’ words, she kept her face pressed into his shoulder, shaking her head against his gentle encouragement to look at him. ‘What rumours are they talking about? And why would I do anything to harm Shasta? Do they really think I’m as horrible as all that?’

Stamos sighed and released them. Seeing that Shasta’s nose was running, he handed him a handkerchief to blow his nose.

‘Are you hungry?’ he asked them. Shasta nodded and quickly tore into the strip of dried meat his uncle offered. Slevyn shook her head, but Stamos insisted. ‘You’ll need to eat or you won’t have the strength to make it to the mountains. You’ll be too weak and likely die before you get there. Or worse, you won’t be able to protect Shasta along the way.’

The last part got her attention. She nearly snatched the meat from her uncle’s hand. ‘What are you talking about? The—the mountains?’ Could he really mean those mountains?

‘Yes, Slevyn. It’s time.’

‘Time for what? Every one is talking in riddles. I don’t understand any of this, except that no one wants me around! Even…even my own father!’

‘No, that’s not true. Look at me. Your father…Slevyn, sending you away was the hardest thing he ever had to do. In fact, it’s killing him.’

‘Didn’t seem that way when I heard him at the town meeting.’

‘You were there?’ He looked sharply at her. ‘I see. That’s why you left.’

She lowered her gaze, unable to meet his serious, deep-brown eyes. ‘I sorta snuck under the hall and listened. Shasta heard, too. My father’s wishes were very clear. Uncle, you still didn’t answer my questions. What were the villagers talking about?’

Stamos wasn’t looking at her anymore. His eyes were turned towards the sky, scanning the depths of the blue realm for…what?

‘There’s no time to explain everything right now,’ he said, abruptly coming back to her. ‘Those men will soon return once they get fed up walking around in circles. Go west to the mountains. Be careful and above all, stay safe. Once you get to the city, you’ll get all the answers you need. And one more thing,’ he added while tugging on her orange-red braids. ‘You are no longer a villager. You are…you are who you are. Let your hair loose.’

‘Loose?’ she echoed, picturing her mother’s horrified expression at such a thing. Taming the long, wavy and at times fuzzy mane had been the bane of her existence until Slevyn had managed to learn to braid her own hair. As much as Slevyn enjoyed thumbing her nose at convention or the ‘acceptable and expected’ thing to do, even she balked at the idea. ‘Wouldn’t that attract unwanted attention?’

‘Attention, yes. But not unwanted. Do you trust me?’

Slevyn looked him straight in the eye. ‘Like I trust no one else.’ She started to untwist her braids.

A strange expression crossed Stamos’ face and his eyes closed a fraction, but he quickly recovered. He handed her a bundle of tied cloth. ‘Good. Take care of your brother and see that he doesn’t get worse. The herbs in this bundle should help.’

‘You don’t think he should return with you? Ow!’ she cried when Shasta pinched her, hard.

‘No. There’s no force in this world that could keep that one from your side. Besides, you need each other. Now go! Remember, head west. And don’t look back!’

Stamos didn’t need to name the city to which he was sending them. Slevyn already knew.

They were going to Perth.

D. Forde (June 2013)

Stories

The Dragon’s Egg-Chapter 1 (YA fantasy)

The Dragon’s Egg

Chapter 1

Dragons. Where had they all gone? Of the last five, great-horned beasts believed to cast their winged shadows across the land of Chimera, only three were rumoured to actually haunt its forests and grasslands. At least that’s what Stamos, Slevyn’s uncle had told her. And he never lied, at least not to her. Still, Uncle Stamos had said that, for some reason, only one of the three, the ancient Archteryx, had actually been seen. The lack of dragon sightings was a cause for concern. There had always been dragon protectors in Chimera. They kept the dark things lurking at the outer reaches, out.

Slevyn loved the old tales of the mighty serpents. She loved to hear her uncle tell of how they would swoop down from their dens hidden away in mountain crevices to breathe fire on marauding trolls, or to tear goblins limb from limb with razor-sharp talons. There were tales of dragon warriors and dragon riders. Slevyn smiled. Female dragon riders at that! She imagined herself seated on the back of one of them, her knees tucked into its sides and her hands grasping the spines of its cowl. What would the wind feel like against her skin? How magnificent her red hair would look against the blue backdrop of the sky! What would she wear? She looked down at her threadbare, cotton shift dress. No peasant’s attire for her. Instead, she would don a suit of armour made of dragon scales, and a helmet fashioned from a claw. Yes! Drunk with joy, Slevyn giggled and stretched out on the soft grass. The giggles turned to sighs. The serpents no longer came down into the forests and vales when the people called them, and ever since, evil things began to encroach on the land. Slevin pushed those thoughts away. She did not want to think about dark things, not on such a wonderful, fall day. Heaven knew there were few enough of them to go around at this time of year.

Slevyn closed her eyes and let the early-morning rays fall on her like a feather-filled blanket. She checked herself. She did not have a feather blanket so she did not really know for certain whether or not if it would feel as dreamy as the sun’s rays. But if she did have one, the kiss of sunshine on her freckled, brown skin is exactly what she imagined it would feel like.

No, she did not have a feather blanket, or a real bed or even decent shoes. Rude, sewn pieces of dried cow hide, which resembled socks more than shoes, are what the people in her water-front village wore. Legends told, however, of a wonderful place in the far away mountain peaks of Perth, where people lived in villas that shone like crystal in the sun, where the lakes were as still as mirrors and the streets were paved with gold. Slevyn snorted. She may only be an ignorant twelve year old girl, who always dreamed about lands that did not exist instead of focusing on the one that did—her father’s words–but she had eavesdropped enough on his conversations with the village men to know that was not true, or at least not entirely. Still, what if such a place existed? Slevyn pulled up tufts of grass and let them fly away through her fingers in the wind. It did not matter. Any place, even a made up one, was better than this.

Slevyn lifted a land, curled her fingers into her palm, and with one finger, traced the streaks of white clouds in the sky. Next, she moved on to the birds, mere specks to her eye, bobbing up and down in the pale-blue sky. The hawks soared, rising and dipping on the shifting air currents. When she came to the last dot, she moved her arm to the right side of the sky, where a solitary form shot across the blue expanse. Slevyn frowned and sat up a little, resting on her elbows. This was no hawk. For one, it did not release itself to the wind to soar as the others did, and this thing was far, far bigger. She could tell that much even from this distance.

“What–?” she began.

“Oy, Slevyn! Wha’ch’ya doing out here, girl? Don’cha know your da will skin you alive if ‘e finds you’ve ducked yer chores, again?”

“Girl? Who are you calling girl? You’re not much older than I am, Doret Mayorson,” Slevyn shot back. She sat straight up and glared at the intruder.

Doret was the mayor’s son. He stood tall with his shoulders back to emphasise his full five feet six inches, of which he was very proud. He was the tallest boy his age in the village, but Slevyn cared nothing about that. She cared nothing at all for Doret and never would, even if he grew to six feet! Why he had taken it upon himself to be her keeper she would never know. He was like an efficient hound dog, always sniffing her out no matter where she went, always ruining her precious moments of peace and quiet.

“Old enough ta tell ya to get off yar behind and back ta work. Girl.”

Oh, he had a way of getting under her skin. If she’d had a rock, she would have thrown it at him.

“Wha’cha smiling fer?” he demanded. He jammed the butt end of his walking staff into the grass with a dull thud.

Slevyn grinned, knowing it would annoy him further. “Don’t you know your voice cracks when you talk?”
He gripped the staff in one hand and took a step towards her. While she had been talking, as inconspicuously as possible, Slevyn had reached for the brown blob of soap in the unused wash bucket beside her. She tucked it into the palm of her hand, ready to launch it at Doret, if need be. It wouldn’t hurt as much as a rock, but it would do.

He retaliated the only way he knew how. “I’m going ta tell tha mayor ya was lazing off again instead a helping tha women with tha washing.”

She lifted her chin. “So? And what are you supposed to be doing at this hour? I don’t remember the mayor giving you the job of watching over stray wash girls. Go find your sheep. They’ve probably been eaten by trolls by now.”

Doret’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not allowed to talk to me like that. I’m an elderboy. Since last week.”
Slenyn rolled her eyes. “Maybe when you start leaving me alone I’ll be more pleasant with you.”

Satisfied, Doret stepped back and relaxed his grip on his staff. A moment later, he took it up again and pointed the crooked end at her. “Tha’ doesn’ make any sense!”

Slevyn was laughing now. “You only now just figured that out? Get going, Doret. You’ve already ruined my morning.”

He shook with anger. Brown freckles stood out on his paling face and his dark eyes seemed to darken even further. “I don’t ‘ave ta put up wi’ this! I’m telling yer da.”

That stopped Slevyn cold. Of all the things Doret could have said to hurt her, this was the worst. There was no way, however, she would let him know of the fear his threat stirred in the pit of her stomach.

“It’s just a thrashing,” she said with what she hoped was a nonchalant shrug. “I’ve had my share.”

“More’n yer share. It’s like ya like ta get in trouble.” Doret shook his head. “Silly girl.”

The sun warming her back soothed the tender skin that still smarted from the last thrashing. Silly girl. It irked her that he was right about that particular thing. No matter the number of beatings she suffered, Slevyn could not seem to stop herself from getting into trouble. But women’s work galled her, made her hands sore and her back ache. And when the sweet smell of the wild flowers rolled down from the meadow through the trees  to swathe the village in a blanket of perfume, how could she ignore their call? She remembered the tears glistening on her mother’s cheeks when she lurched through the front door from the wood shed, the back of her dress glistening with red stripes. Somehow, she had crossed the dirt floor and pulled herself up the ladder to her room in the loft. Her mother’s eyes pleaded with her, Why? Slevyn could only look back, her own tear-rimmed eyes answering, I don’t know.

“No one likes to get caught, Doret.”

“So why can‘cha listen? Is it so hard ta do what yer supposed ta?”

“Why do you even care? All you do is tell on me.”

Doret closed his mouth, cutting off whatever he had been preparing to say. He broke off his gaze and dug his toe into the ground. “I…I–”

“You what?”

“Nothin‘. Slevyn, I won’ say anything, this time. If ya promise ta get ta work, like yer supposed ta.”

Slevyn considered answering with a cutting remark, but in the end, grateful he decided to spare her, she nodded. “Alright.”

He did not leave then as she had hoped he would. How could someone go from being so irritating, to decent back to irritating so quickly? Slevyn took her time gathering her things. As she bent to pick up her bucket, she felt the wind rustling the reddish hairs on her arms and tugging at the braids running down her back to her waist. From above, birds called to one another.

When she looked away from the sky to the path leading back to the village, Doret was already headed for it. For the moment, she was alone again, just the way she liked it. For these last precious seconds, she was free.

As Slevyn put on her cotton hat and tugged at the front until it rested properly on her brow, a noise, like the croak of a gigantic frog, blasted through the meadow. Slevyn cast her eyes all about her, looking for its source, while her mind tried to conceive of what kind of a creature could have made such a sound.
There it came again! This time, from above.

Lifting her face into the sunrays, Slevyn’s eyes widened when she saw a black shape swooping and dipping in the sky. Massive wings bent and stretched, lifting the bloated body into the air while a forked whip of a tail sliced through the air behind it. It was too far to see more of it, and though Slevyn had never actually seen one, she knew that what she was seeing was a real, live dragon. With a last croaking whoop, it sliced the air with its wings and in the time it took for her to catch her breath, it shot through the air and disappeared into the distance.

The air left Slevyn’s lungs in a great whoosh. Her knees bent and she dropped to the ground like a stone. And for a reason she could not understand, she began to weep.