Author: No One's Fool PM
Estelle, Ariana's daughter. It's her turn for a tale! While away from her home, Estelle gets captured by a Dragon! K plus for romance. Sequel to Ariana. ONESHOTRated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Romance - Words: 10,792 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 3 - Published: 05-06-08 - Status: Complete - id: 2514221
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Now, as my mother before me and I have done, it is time for my oldest daughter to go on her own adventure. She has no special abilities to guide her, although she is half Human, a quarter Elf and a quarter Changeling. She didn't inherit any of their traits. Estelle's journey will be dangerous. But she will come through alive.
- - - - -
"Estelle," groaned Mikah, my sister, "just because you're the oldest doesn't mean you can leave your things all over my bed!" Mikah was closest in age to me, only a year younger. Out of four children, she was the only one who had inherited Mother's Changeling abilities. Mother is only half Changeling. Her other half is Elf. Father is one quarter Elf, but the rest is Human. A few years ago, Mother had made me write down the stories of how Grandma and her had met their husbands, Corwin and Kane, respectively. I didn't know why, but I liked hearing the stories.
"Sorry, Mikah," I apologized, moving my writing supplies off her bed. We were the only two who shared a room, but normally we didn't mind. "I forgot again."
Mikah grinned. "My sister, the budding author," she teased.
I frowned. "Well, I write songs, not stories," I replied.
"Songs? Can I read one?" I hesitated, but Mikah had special talents in the art of persuasion. She made her eyes go all big and innocent. "Please, Estelle," she said, pushing her bottom lip out ever so slightly.
I sighed, riffling through my pad of paper to find a good one. Finally I saw my favorite, pulled it out, and handed it to my younger sister. "Here. Just promise not to make fun of me if you don't like it."
Mikah looked at me, feigning shock. "I would never do that, Estelle!"
I grinned. "So you say, little sister, so you say."
Mikah sat down on the bed to read my song, and I left the room. Finding my favorite place in the gardens outside the castle/fortress thing we lived in, I sat on a stone bench in the sunlight. "Hello, Estelle," a little voice chirped from beside me. I turned in surprise, not shock, to the small bird sitting beside me on the bench.
"Hello," I said with a smile. Mother, being the amazing person she is, had taught all the birds around our home how to speak Human. "How are you today, Vical?"
Vical, a young male bird, did a Bird-shrug. "Can't complain. Especially since Kane banished the cats from the garden, via Ariana," Vical said happily. "Your mother is quite the charmer, Estelle." I grinned, nodding. We chatted until Vical had to leave, then I went back inside. Mother and Father were in the foyer, curled up together on the couch. I stood in the entrance, watching them just sit together. They didn't talk, at least, not out loud.
Father's hand was on Mother's waist, and she was snuggled up against him, her head on his chest. I smiled as Mother sighed. "Kane?" she asked.
"Yes, dear?" Father replied. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing," Mother reassured him. "I just wanted to know when you thought it was best for Estelle to leave." Leave? I took a step backwards, but didn't vacate the premises. Not yet. I wanted to hear more.
"All right, Estelle," Father said without looking at me. "I know you're there. Come on out." I blushed, then came into the room. "Sit here," Father invited, patting the spot next to him. I sat, nervously awaiting what he had to say. "You're wondering why we're going to send you away, no doubt. I don't need your mother's telepathic abilities to know that. It's not because of anything you did. We just feel that you need an adventure, something to get your blood pumping."
"But I don't want to leave!" I wailed when Father stopped speaking. "I love it here, with you, my parents! And my sometimes annoying siblings!" Here, both Mother and Father chuckled. "And Uncle Ethan and Aunt Harmony and their kids!" Mother's brother and her best friend had gotten married shortly after Mother and Father had, and they lived in the fortress with us. They had a son my age, and we were good friends. "It's not because you don't want me, right?" I asked accusingly.
"Never, darling," Mother said. Her black eyes were the only thing I'd inherited from her. "We love you too much. But life is boring around here. So we're going to give you enough food to last a week, and put you out on your own. Don't worry, someone will always be watching out for you," Mother added. "Usually a bird. Sometimes something bigger. You'll never be alone."
"When can I come back?" I asked in a small voice.
Father grinned, making the dimples Mother loved so much flash out as he said, "When something you feel is more exciting then normal camping happens. If you even want to come back. Who knows, you might enjoy the freedom of living on your own. You are seventeen and a half, after all. Nearly an adult!"
I stood. "All right. As long as you guys still love me and don't want me to leave because you hate me," I said, turning to leave. "I'll go on this little adventure." I sauntered out of the room, happier than I'd been when I walked in. I strolled the familiar halls, looking for Tai. He was Ethan and Harmony's oldest son, and my best friend. Sometimes, I wished he was more, but he didn't feel that way back. Finally, I found him in the weapons room.
I watched in silence as Tai practiced his swordplay. He was just a little older than me, by maybe a month, but already he was at least six inches taller and probably more. Tall and wiry, Tai was the best friend I'd ever had. Of course, we didn't get out much, so he was also one of the only friends I'd ever had, but that's beside the point.
Tai didn't notice me until he turned to lunge behind him. I leaned against the door frame as he dropped his sword in shock. "Estelle!" he said, surprised. "I didn't know you were there."
"Silent step," I said, smirking. "Got it from Father." I straightened. "That was pretty good. Would you teach me?"
Tai looked confused. "You've never taken me up on my offer before. Why now?"
I shrugged, waving my hand vaguely. "Let's just say I'm being thrown out of the fortress soon and I need to know how to fight, just in case."
Tai dropped his sword again. Grumbling under his breath, he picked it up a second time. "Kicked out? Why?" I explained. "Oh. My parents want to go on one of those as well, but not until I'm eighteen. Mother is kind of protective," he added. "Sure, I'll teach you." he squinted at me, sizing me up. Then he inspected the rack of swords. "Everything here is too heavy for you, Estelle," he said after a minute.
"Let me try the lightest of them," I said, unsure if I'd be able to lift it but game for trying. Tai looked skeptical, but handed me a small hand-and-a-half sword. I took it, surprised at its weight, but held it up without letting the tip waver. "I'll try this one."
Tai stepped behind me, making my heart speed up, and put his hands over mine. He showed me a few of the moves one would use in a battle, then stepped away to let me try. I looked at the sword nervously, then spun around and executed the maneuvers perfectly. Tai was surprised. "Good job, Estelle. You must be a natural."
I blushed, letting the tip of the sword slowly sink to the floor. "Thanks, Tai," I said shyly. "It's heavy. Do you think I'm strong enough to be able to use it for more than five minutes?"
Tai looked determined. "You will be when I'm done with you," he said firmly. "Now let's do it again."
A week passed in this fashion. Eventually, as Tai had promised, I got stronger and better at using the sword. Father said it was too big for me, but was surprised when I showed him what I'd learned. "That'll do, Estelle," he said with a chuckle. "That'll do just fine."
It was good that I'd asked Tai to teach me when I did, for the day after Tai pronounced me good enough to be able to take on a small robber, Father and Mother sent me off. I hugged Mikah, who was sniffling. "I'm going to miss your stuff on my bed, Estelle," Mikah said, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
"I'm gonna miss you yelling at me for leaving my stuff on your bed, Mikah," I replied, equally teary. We hugged again, then I went down the line, hugging my other two siblings, twin boys who had just turned fifteen. "Bye, Jonah, Jonathon," I said, reaching up to tousle their hair. Jonathon groaned, but his eyes looked a little damp. Mother and Father were at the end of the line. "I love you," I told Mother, than Father, hugging them hardest out of everyone. "I'll see you soon," I said to my family, then went out the door.
Elkhart, my sword, hung on a belt around my waist. Two stilettos were hidden in my hair and I also had a small knife hidden in a holster on my leg. I felt ready for anything, but I knew I wasn't. I could maybe defeat a small robber, if they attacked me, but no more than one. If there were two, I was royally sunk.
"Estelle, wait," Tai said, running up behind me. He stopped, panting, and held out a small belt pouch. "There's something special in here. Don't open it until you feel it's absolutely necessary!" he said, hugging me. "See you when you get back." We stepped away from each other, and I slip the belt pouch onto my belt.
"See you, Tai," I said, waving, and started off. I walked for hours, until the moon came up. I stopped in a small clearing and made a campsite. "Hopefully I still remember how to do this," I muttered to myself, looking at the flint and steel. Then I remembered my Father's warning: no fires unless you have to. You'll be seen and become a prime target for robbers. I set the flint and steel down and sighed. "No fire tonight," I said sorrowfully. With a groan, I wrapped myself up in in a blanket and curled up near a tree, hoping to hide in the shadows.
I woke up the next morning sore from sleeping on what felt like a million rocks. Sitting up, I squinted against the early morning sun. After packing up what little I'd got out the previous night, I started off again, unsure of where I was going. I ate a piece of journey cake as I walked. Then I came to the end of the forest and to the edge of a large open plain. It was covered in wildflowers and other plants of the kind. I blinked at it for a second, then took a couple steps into it.
Someone shouted behind me, and I whirled, drawing Elkhart. A man stood behind me, a club in his hand. "Like you'll be able to lift that," he scoffed. I fell into the familiar fighting stance and lifted it in one hand.
"Try me," I said, smirking when his jaw dropped. He drew his own sword, a slim rapier, and looked at it skeptically.
"My sword is somewhat smaller than yours," he said hesitantly.
"So? My sword is somewhat heavier than yours, and I just learned how to use it a week ago." I smiled sweetly at the robber.
The robber grinned, and lunged. I drew back sharply and whipped my own sword up. With a clash of metal, the two swords connected. The robber drew back, wringing his hand. Then he rushed me. I waited until I saw his sword, then chopped down with Elkhart. Half of the robber's sword fell to the ground, leaving him with a short length of metal attached to a hilt. "Still wanna take my things?" I asked innocently. The robber looked at me with wide eyes and ran off. I watched him go, snorting disapprovingly. "Wimp."
I turned to keep going and took ten steps before I heard a roar and the flapping of huge wings. I turned to see a large Dragon bearing down on me. I put Elkhart back into its scabbard and ran for my very life, dropping my things behind me. Somewhere, I knew in the back of my mind that running was pointless. It was a Dragon, for crying out loud! But it seemed suicide to stand still, so I took off.
The Dragon roared again, and swooped down. The large gray-green hand wrapped around my waist and lifted me into the air. I screamed, and saw a bird following me. The Dragon turned. "Go to the castle," it commanded in a deep, rumbling voice. "Tell her parents that I will not harm her."
The bird flew off helplessly. I fainted. When I woke up, I found myself cursing my faintheartedness. Fainting? Come on, I had to be braver than that! Of course, most people aren't carried off by Dragons, either, so I gave myself some relief by telling myself that most girls would have done the same thing in my place. I sat up, looking around nervously. I was in a large cave. A very large cave. It was large enough to be classified as a cavern. I didn't see the Dragon anywhere. Standing on shaky legs, I turned to see which way the exit was. Noticing a light at the top of the cavern, I started towards that. I would have to climb the wall in order to leave. I looked skeptically at my skirt, then grabbed the hem and tied it around my waist, making the skirt short enough to climb in. Grabbing onto ledges and scores in the rock, I pulled myself up the wall, little by little.
I reached the top and untied my skirt. It fell to my ankles again, and I sighed in relief. "I made it," I said to myself. Turning, I saw that the cavern was way up on a mountain. A cool breeze blew in, and I shivered, folding my arms tightly against my chest for warmth. It was a long way down. I didn't think I could do it without breaking something. I sank down against the wall of the entrance/exit and buried my face in my hands. "I'm trapped here," I sobbed quietly.
I stayed on the ledge, having no idea how to get back down. It was a forty foot drop to the floor of the cavern, and I had the feeling that if I tried to jump off, I'd kill myself. So I just curled up and waited for the Dragon to return and yell at me. I actually fell asleep in the time it took. I woke to the smoky breath of the Dragon. He, for it was a he, was looking down at my ledge in silence. I immediately curled up in a little ball and hid my face. "Why are you up here?" The Dragon asked in a deep voice. He spoke Human surprisingly well, with no accent or slurring of words. "How did you get up here?"
"I climbed," I said, tossing my head. "I was going to jump out, but it's too far down. And then I couldn't get back down the other way, either, so I was stuck here." The Dragon didn't say anything, and I realized that I was going to have to ask for help. "Please, would you get me down?" I asked, flushing. Luckily the light was dim, and the Dragon might not realize what the red meant.
The Dragon smiled, showing a good number of sharp ivory teeth, and stood up on his hind legs. Reaching forward, he gently grabbed me around my waist and lifted me to the floor. I pressed up against the wall as soon as he'd let go of me, feeling my heart hammering against my chest in terror. The Dragon noticed that I was scared, lowering his head to my level. "Why so frightened? I can practically see your heart pumping," he said in his deep, deep voice. "I promised I wouldn't hurt you."
"Then why did you kidnap me?" I asked in confusion. "Don't Dragons eat people?"
The Dragon reared back, roaring. When he was finished, he looked straight into my eyes, his own eyes gold and full of anger. "I would never eat a person. Is that what the Lore has turned us into? Man-eating beasts with no conscience? No, the only reason I brought you here is because Dragons long for Human companionship. You wound me deeply, Estelle," he finished, his voice low.
"I'm sorry. How do you know my name?" I asked, almost nervous about the answer.
The Dragon smiled again. "I know many things, daughter of Kane," he said. I felt his voice rumbling in my bones. "My name is Draike. I am one of the last of the Old Order."
"Old Order?" My voice was perceptibly confused.
"The first race of Dragons. We are the largest. But alas, there are only four of my kind left." Draike seemed to sigh, expelling a large cloud of smoke.
"I'm sorry," I said truthfully. "I don't know what I'd do if there were only four of my kind left." Draike didn't seem like he was going to kill me. Maybe he was telling the truth, and all he wanted was someone to talk to. I'd have gone crazy, living all by myself. "How old are you?" I asked, realizing that it was an absurd question, but truly wanting to know the answer.
"Eight hundred," Draike answered, his deep voice amused. "That makes me about twenty in Human years." my surprise must have shown on my face, because Draike laughed. "We Dragons live a lot longer than Humans, little Estelle. I am the youngest of the Old Order."
"How old is the oldest?"
"Two thousand four hundred years," Draike said matter-of-factly. My jaw dropped. "He's sixty in Human years."
I did some quick math in my head. "So you live one year for every forty Human years?" Draike nodded. "How long have you been living alone?"
Draike sighed sadly. "All my life. Dragons are not nurturing beings, you must understand that. We're like your reptiles. Basically, as soon as a Dragon is born, he or she is left on his or her own. It might seem cruel to you, but we were Created that way by the One, just as you were. It's all we've ever known."
"You'll treat me kindly, then?" Draike nodded. I took a deep, deep breath to steady my nerves. "Then I'll stay. But as soon as you try to hurt me, I'm leaving. I don't care how I do it."
"I would never hurt you," Draike said. "My kind is not like that. That's the younger races." His huge, golden eyes were sad. "They are giving my own race a bad name, apparently." I nodded. "How old are you, Estelle? You do not seem to be much more than a child," he said, but not in an offensive way.
I grinned. "Let's just say I'm six hundred and eighty."
"Seventeen," Draike said. I nodded. I had stopped leaning against the wall and, to my shock, it almost felt like I was having a normal conversation. "So young."
I put my hands on my hips, glaring up at the forty foot plus Dragon. "I beg your pardon! I'm turning eighteen in seven months. Then I'll be an adult. That's not young, it's technically only a few years younger than you!"
Draike smiled again. "You are spunky, Estelle. Life with you is not going to be boring, that's for sure." He turned. "But I am hungry. I must go find something to eat." He started to open his wings, then paused. "What do Humans eat?" he sounded unsure. An unsure Dragon is a amusing sight, but I didn't laugh.
"Meat, vegetables. Dessert, occasionally. Basically the same thing as you, I think. Unless you eat the meat raw."
"Raw!?" Draike sounded incredulous. "You can get diseases from eating meat raw. I know that much about Humans. I'll cook it first. Or I'll start a fire and let you cook it. Whichever you prefer."
I smiled. He seemed naïve when it came to Human behavior. "It doesn't matter to me." Draike nodded thoughtfully, then climbed up to the ledge and took off. I turned to the cavern. "Well, time to make myself at home," I said to myself. I explored the cavern until I knew every knick and cranny, then looked for a fresh water source. Finding one, I dropped to my knees beside it and took a drink of the clear, pure water. I was fairly sure that it came from the top of the mountain. Half-wondering how long Draike would be gone, I decided to take a bath. With a nervous look at the opening, I shrugged out of my shirt and bent over the water. I had no soap, but managed to clean myself fairly well without it. I thought about my pack. That had had soap in it. I pulled my shirt back on when I was just barely damp, and pulled my skirt up one leg to wash that.
After finishing my soapless sponge bath, I stood. Dusting off my skirt, I looked around the cavern. Draike hadn't returned yet, so I decided to go ahead and alter my skirt. It just wasn't practical to living in a cave. Steeling myself, I ripped my skirt down the front and back, then ripped strips and tied them together, making very loose pants. I looked down at myself, pleased. Something heavy thudded to the ground, and I glanced up to see Draike in the middle of the cavern, looking pleased with himself. There was a cow, dead of course, in front of him.
"How do you cook it?" he asked, his voice deep and confused.
I smiled. "You skin it with a knife. Do you have one?"
Draike looked around. "No," he said. "I can't hold one. They're too small."
I remembered the three knives I had. "No matter, I have some. I pulled the knife off my thigh and knelt next to the dead cow. I frowned at it for a second, then got to work. I can't say it was the best skinning job ever, but it suited the circumstances. When the skin was gone and most of the meat hacked off, I stood. "Now all you do is toast-" I ducked as Draike blew fire at the cow. "Hey! That nearly hit me!"
"Sorry," Draike said contritely. "I'll just blow hot air instead, then," he said, and did so. A few minutes later, I cut one of the "steaks" in half. Just barely pink inside.
"Perfect!" I smiled at the Dragon, who looked pleased with himself again. "I can only eat one, so you can have the rest. It's good cooked, really it is." To emphasize my point, I cut off a bite and stuck it in my mouth. It was delicious. I just about ate the rest with my teeth alone. Draike, with a skeptical look at the meat, ate one of the larger pieces whole. His eyes widened, and I braced myself for more fire. But he only ate another one, then another. He seemed to like it. I relaxed again.
"It is good," Draike agreed when he was finished. He curled up around a pillar in the middle of the cavern and placed his head on the ground next to me. Draike had a long neck, I realized. He slept while I washed my hands and the knife, then dragged the skin of the cow into the corner. Draike had toasted it as well, and I sincerely hoped that it wouldn't start stinking.
A couple of days passed in this fashion before something interesting happened.
When I was finished with my meal of the day, I picked up a piece of wood and got out my knife again, playing with the wood and humming under my breath. Then, quietly, I sang one of the songs I'd written.
"You have a beautiful voice," came Draike's voice. I jumped and whirled around, breathing deeply to get my heart rate back down. Draike looked surprised. "Did I startle you?" I nodded, glaring. "Sorry."
"How long have you been awake?" I demanded, giving Draike what my siblings call the "death stare."
"Not very long. Two minutes, maybe less." Draike was looking at me through sad golden eyes and his voice was quiet.
I relented. "You just surprised me, that's all. I had no idea you were awake."
Draike shrugged. "I thought you knew." we sat in silence for a few minutes, than Draike asked, almost shyly, "Would you sing it again?"
I looked at him in surprise. "You want me to?" Draike nodded. "All right," I agreed hesitantly. He was only a Dragon, after all. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and sang. I don't remember what the words were, only that I sang them. Draike watched through solemn gold eyes and said nothing until I was finished.
"You wrote it, didn't you?"
I looked up at the Dragon, surprised. "Yes, how did you know?"
Draike smiled. "You knew it by heart, the way only the author can. Plus, it had your soul in it." I must have looked shocked, because Draike laughed. His laughter was contagious, so I laughed as well. "I heard the song and immediately knew that you must have written it. It has your...personality in it."
"Really?" I'd never been told that before. "So you liked it?"
"Very much." Draike raised his head to look out the entrance, and his eyes widened. "Hide, quickly," he said softly.
"Where?" I asked, just as softly. Draike didn't answer, just gently grabbed my shirt in his teeth and gently set me in the corner. A shadow hid me. I wondered why he was hiding me, but my question was answered when another Dragon, this one a lot smaller, came in. His eyes were a savage green color, only a little lighter than his scales. He looked very bright next to the muted gray-green Draike.
"I sniff a Human, Draike," the second dragon said, raising his snout. "Have you had one recently?"
Draike looked disgusted. "You know I don't eat Humans, Renol. What do you want here?"
Renol glared. "Knights are coming. Just thought I'd warn you." Renol left again just as abruptly as he'd arrived, casting a look in my direction. I pressed back against the wall, holding my breath and desperately trying to still my frantically beating heart. He snorted and flew out, and I relaxed again.
"Knights?" I asked, curious.
"Yes, knights," Draike said. His voice sounded tired. "They come, from time to time. Trying to kill me, probably. Usually I just drive them away, but if they see you, they'll assume I'm holding you here against your will. I'm not, am I?" he looked at me urgently, making me laugh.
"No, you gave me the choice to leave if I chose. I have to stay away from home until something exciting happens to me, so this is a good way to get that to happen." I smiled reassuringly. "Really. I can tell the knights that, if you want me to."
"Tell the knights what?" a new, very different voice said. I turned in shock, unused to the higher voices of Humans. A knight stood on the ledge. "A girl! I will rescue you, fair maiden!"
"Oh, brother," I said in reply. "Leave me alone. I'm here under my own free will."
"The foul beast has entranced you with a spell! Unhand her, Dragon!"
"He doesn't have his hand on me," I pointed out.
The knight stopped, confused. "You're right. Umm...release her?"
"He doesn't have me under restraint, either." I smirked as the knight thought, clearly stumped. "So just leave me alone. I don't want to leave. See, I'm free to leave if I so choose." to prove my point, I went over to the wall and climbed up it. Then, just to prove that I wanted to stay, I climbed back down.
The knight was looking more confused by the minute. Finally, he turned back to the entrance. "She doesn't want to be rescued," he called down. Finally, I thought. "But the foul beast must be stopped before it can eat any more of us!" the knight started to run towards the edge of the wall.
"Draike doesn't eat people," I said.
"He doesn't?" the knight stopped in mid-charge.
"He doesn't," I reassured him. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here."
"Oh, they don't eat girls. Especially beautiful girls. At least, that's what I'm told. I don't know, it looks too stupid to tell the difference." Draike narrowed his eyes, and two columns of steam curled up from his nostrils. I put out a hand to stop him before he did something rash.
"I'm getting tired of this. Why don't you go away, organize a better party and then come back sometime else? Say, a week or so?" I was trying to be rational, but I was starting to lose my temper.
The knight put his sword back in its scabbard. "An excellent idea, maiden. Come, my companions," he called down. "Let us organize this better and come another day." He jumped off the edge, making me wince, and I heard the sound of horses galloping off. Draike snorted, obviously upset at what the knight had said.
"Too stupid to know the difference!?" he muttered. "What do I look like, a dog?"
I patted his elbow, the only thing I could reach. "You look intelligent to me," I said. "The knight wasn't all that smart. Are they all that way?" Draike nodded. "No wonder you think they're so annoying."
Draike sighed. "It's not that. They just can't seem to understand that I'm not the one taking their villagers. Renol and his gang do. They come up and accuse me of carrying off their mayor, or someone else. I have nothing to hide, but sometimes it takes me hours to talk them into leaving." He shook his head sadly. "One of these days, I'm just going to let them kill me and be done with it."
"No!" I said, surprised by how upset I was at this suggestion. "Then who will protect me?" I batted my eyes innocently.
Draike laughed. "Very well, you've convinced me. I'll just fly away instead."
"Fly," I said softly. "What's that like?"
"Flying? It's freedom," Draike said softly. His eyes had a faraway look in them. "There's nothing quite like being able to spread your wings and glide." He looked at me. "I'll take you for a flight, if you want," he offered tentatively.
"You'd do that?" Draike nodded. "Will you?" Again, Draike nodded. Grabbing my shirt in his teeth again, he lifted me up and set me down on the back of his neck.
"Hold on tight. Sometimes takeoffs are a little jerky," Draike warned. He jumped up onto the ledge between the cavern and the entrance, then threw himself off into space. I hastily grabbed at something to hold onto, and found myself holding one of the spikes along his neck. Only then did I relax enough to look around.
It was exhilarating. Draike's wings moved rhythmically up and down, and the cool wind blew my hair back from my face. After a few minutes, I realized that Draike was losing altitude, and finally he landed. I saw my pack, and dropped off Draike's neck to grab it. "I thought you would be wanting that," he said with a smile. After helping me get on, we flew back to the cavern. I enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face until we got back.
Once inside, Draike helped me off and I almost fell over. Regaining my balance quickly, I opened my pack and got out my hairbrush. Sitting down, I went at it with a will. Draike watched with interest as I tamed my wild brown hair, slowly but surely. Then, putting my brush back in my pack, I decided to change into real pants. I looked up at Draike, who was looking back at me in amusement.
"You can't look," I said self-consciously. "It's not polite." With a chuckle, Draike turned his head the other way and I quickly changed. "There. You can look again." Draike snorted hot air down onto my head, making me glare at him. "What was that for?"
"Being bossy," Draike replied with an evil glint in his eye, snorting hot air at me again.
I snorted right back. "Just because you're bigger doesn't make you better, you know," I said moodily. "I'm going to bed." I went over to my pack, got my blanket and curled up in a little hollow in the floor of the cavern. It took me a while to fall asleep. I thought about my family, how worried they must be, and about Tai. I realized that I'd sort of fallen out of love with him. Sure, he was a great friend. But try as I might, I couldn't imagine a life with him. Finally, I drifted off into blessed sleep.
I woke the next morning to complete darkness. I sat up, confused at the dark, and hit something above my head. "Ouch!" I yelped, rubbing at my head. "That hurt. What's this?" I asked myself more quietly, touching the thing my head had hit. It was cool, with little bumps and ridges all over it. I tried pushing up on it, but I wasn't strong enough to move it. Finally, I just tried crawling out from under it. Once outside, I stood. Draike was sleeping, his wings relaxed from their position along his back. I'd been under one of them, I realized.
I sat on a rock and looked at the Dragon. He really was an impressive creature. At least forty feet tall, with an enormous hundred foot wing span. He was probably around forty-five to fifty feet long, with spikes running down his neck, and above his eyes there were little spikes as well His eyes. A beautiful golden color with darker amber flecks. His scales were a muted gray-green color, with bands of dark green around the edges.
As I watched, Draike stirred, as if the weight of my gaze was waking him up. He lifted his head sleepily, his eyes already bright with wakefulness. I envied his quick start. It usually took me between five and ten minutes to wake up completely in the morning. "Morning," I muttered.
"Morning?" Draike sounded confused.
"Humans say it. I don't know why," I added. "We're just strange like that, I suppose."
"Yes," Draike agreed. "You are strange. But no stranger than I must be to you." He was right, of course. Somehow, he was always right. It wasn't fair. But who said the world was fair? I sighed grumpily, then went to my pack to get some food. "You eat every morning?"
I looked over my shoulder as I took a bite of journey cake. "You didn't know that?"
Draike snorted. "How should I know? I've never met a Human before you, so how am I supposed to know their habits? Just like before meeting me, you thought all Dragons ate people."
"Fair enough," I said in a snippish voice.
Draike lowered his head to look me in the eye. "Why so grumpy this morning? Didn't you sleep well?"
"I slept fine," I said. "I just don't feel like talking."
"You hate me?"
"Of course not!" I said, shocked. I whirled around and put my hands on my hips. "What gives you that idea?"
"You're being snappy. I thought that means you hate me," Draike said sorrowfully. Then he perked up. "I'm glad you don't, though," he added in a happier tone. "So what's wrong, then? Why are you being like this?"
I shrugged. "I'm grumpy in the mornings. Just ask anyone in my family. They'll tell you I'm always like this. It's nothing personal, Draike, honest."
Draike relaxed a little. "If you say so," he said, still sounding a bit unsure.
"A Human! I knew you had one hiding around here somewhere, Draike," came a low, smooth voice from the ledge. I whirled to see Renol standing in the entrance. He grinned, showing all his silver teeth. "I sniffed her yesterday."
Draike stepped in front of me protectively. "What about her, Renol?" His voice was just as low, but somehow it sounded more threatening.
"What are you going to do with her?" he eyed me. "I haven't eaten in a while..." I gasped and Draike's muscles gathered.
"You can't have her," Draike snarled. I'd never heard him this menacing. "She is not to eat."
Renol, sensing that Draike was angry enough to tear him apart, wisely chose a more peaceful road. "Then what is she for, pray tell?" he asked in a voice slicked with honey.
"I'm staying here of my own free will, Dragon," I said haughtily, stepping into plain view. "At least I don't worry about Draike eating me," I added as a further jibe. Renol bunched visibly, almost angry enough to lunge at me. But then his glance flicked to Draike, and again, he wisely chose not to move.
"Leave, Renol," Draike said in a tired voice. "I'm sick of the fighting. I want you to leave now and please, the next time you come, ask first." With a roar of anger, Renol turned and flew off. Draike sank back to the floor, relaxing. "I'm sorry, Estelle," he said in an apologetic tone. His voice was whisper quiet. His eyes closed, and he fell asleep again.
I watched him sleeping for a few minutes, then decided to take another bath, and use soap this time. I got the cake of soap and went over to the little pool where water flowing down the wall collected, grabbing a cup on the way. I washed my hands and hair, then filled the cup with water and poured it over my head, letting the water run over my hair and skin. I shook the excess water from my hair, then stiffened as a burst of hot air washed over me. My shirt was stuck to me with water, and it slapped wetly against my skin as I whirled around. Draike snorted another burst of hot air at me, which dried my shirt instantly. I gasped in surprise. "What was that for?"
Draike lowered his head to look me in the eye. "Drying you off," he said, as if I should have known that. "If you stay wet long, you'll get cold," he added logically.
I opened my mouth to say something, then stopped. "Well, that does make sense," I said slowly. "I just wasn't expecting it, that's all." I smiled. "Sorry."
"No matter," Draike said vaguely. He lowered his head to the floor.
"Are you all right?" I asked, suddenly worried about the large Dragon. "You seem to be sleeping an awful lot. Are you sick, or hurt?"
"No," Draike said, shaking his head. "I'm fine. Just tired, is all." the lids of his eyes lowered, obscuring the brilliant gold color. I looked at him thoughtfully. Then I turned to my pack and got a small piece of journey cake. I ate it slowly, not really liking it that much but wanting to make it go farther. While eating, I watched Draike off and on. He slept soundly, sighing every now and then. Humming one of the songs I'd written, I finished the journey cake and drew Elkhart, spinning and burying its point in the rock. Sitting back down, I watched the sword quivering, the point stuck deep in the wall.
"Well," I murmured to myself, "I'm bored." I stood again and walked around the cavern, my steps echoing slightly. Every so often, I'd glance at the sleeping Draike. He really was an elegant creature, I observed silently to myself. A nice color, too. Not to mention nice and easy to get along with. With a jerk, I realized where that thought was headed. I shook my head. No, it was impossible. I could not be falling for a Dragon. That relationship was doomed to failure. Not only were there size and anatomy differences, but he was a whole different species! I climbed the wall leading to the entrance ledge and sat on the edge, letting my legs dangle off.
I heard something behind me, and turned just in time to see glowing green eyes staring at me before a green hand snaked out and grabbed my waist. I had just enough time to scream before I was yanked out of the cavern and into the sky. Twisting awkwardly, I managed to get a glimpse of the Dragon carrying me. It was Renol. I shuddered inwardly. Was he going to eat me? Renol glided down and landed in the middle of a large clearing, easily big enough for four or five dragons to move comfortably. I was set down in the middle, and Renol paced around me, his eyes glowing in anticipation.
"I haven't had Human in a long time," he said in his smooth voice. "This is going to be a treat." He came at me, and I leaped backwards. Before I could scream, a huge shadow filled the clearing and Draike landed in the middle.
"I said that she's not for eating, Renol," Draike snarled. His normally calm golden eyes flashed menacingly, and his posture was anything but peaceful. Renol tried to lunge for me, but Draike hunched over me protectively. Renol ended up hitting Draike, and they both tumbled over. I ran and hid in the edge of the forest, and watched the two Dragons fighting with fright. Draike stood in the middle of the clearing, Renol pacing around him.
"You should have stayed out of this, Draike," Renol said, punctuating his words with a roar. "She's mine now." Smoke started trickling out of Renol's mouth.
"I told you to stay away from her," Draike said in response. His voice was more calm now, but I still detected a deadly quiet in it. The huge, golden eyes followed Renol's every move. The smaller Dragon stopped, then lunged for the larger one. Draike reared back and roared, sending a flame at Renol, who dodged. In return, Renol swiped his claws at Draike. As far as I could tell, he didn't connect, but I still gasped. Draike glanced at me, then launched himself into the sky. Renol followed, and I was forced to take a few steps out into the open to see the rest of the fight. Draike breathed a long tongue of fire at Renol, who recoiled in pain. The smaller dragon lowered his head and drove it into Draike's chest, making the larger Dragon falter in mid-flight.
I screamed. "No!" Renol dove towards me, and I hastily backed up. But I didn't need to. Draike dove faster, hitting Renol and making him crash into the ground. As I watched, the insane green eyes went dim. At least he'd died a quick, painless death. Draike pulled out of his dive, grabbing me on his way. I held onto him tightly, still terrified at what had happened. Back in the cavern, Draike set me gently down and staggered to the middle of the cavern, where he collapsed.
I followed on unsteady legs, dropping to my knees beside Draike's head. "Draike?" I asked in a voice that sounded scared, even to me. With an effort, Draike opened his eyes. "Draike, what's wrong?"
"The battle," Draike said, and rolled onto his side. Two huge gashes came into view, the blood glistening dark over Draike's scales. "Renol's head spikes." As if just saying that had drained him of strength, Draike closed his eyes again. With every beat of his heart, more dark blood poured out of the deep wounds in his chest.
"You're going to make it, right?" My heart was pounding in fear for the Dragon. "You won't die?"
Draike smiled slightly, his eyes opening again. "No Dragon can live forever, Estelle. My time just came more quickly than I expected it to."
I shook my head. "No," I sobbed, feeling tears run down my face. Draike raised his head and gently nudged my face with his nose. "You can't die, Draike!" I said, my voice catching.
"I have no choice in the matter. The idea isn't appealing to me, either," he said, as if it mattered. His eyes closed again, and he slowly let his head lower until it was on the ground. "I loved you, you know," he said, so softly I could barely hear him. "But it could never have worked out." His breathing grew more ragged.
I put a hand to my waist, where I felt sick, and touched the belt pouch. Don't open it until you feel it's absolutely necessary! Tai's words echoed in my head. It was absolutely necessary. I had no idea what was in it, but maybe it could help. I opened it, and saw something that looked like a large wooden hazelnut and a piece of paper. I recognized Tai's familiar scrawl and read the note hastily.
As you know, my Gift was Foresight. If you're reading this, you've probably already met Draike. Make sure he eats this and he'll live. Hurry, Estelle, or else he'll die!
His name was hastily signed at the bottom. I crumpled the note in my fist and touched the nut-like thing. "Draike," I said, without raising my eyes from the object. "Can you eat this?" Draike opened his eyes with a huge effort, looked at it, then his mouth opened ever so slightly. I pushed the nut-like thing into it. He chewed twice, slowly, than swallowed. His eyes closed again, and his breathing became softer. Then it stopped altogether. "NO!" I shouted. I screamed the single word until my throat was raw. I hit the rocks with my fist until it was bloody, then looked angrily at the red blood. "Why couldn't it have been me?" I sobbed. "Why did it have to be him? He saved me from Renol only to die!" I still felt like crying, but I was out of tears, so I curled up against his chest instead. "I loved you, too, Draike," I whispered. I felt myself getting drowsy, so I let my eyes close.
When I woke up, I was cold. Very cold. I opened my eyes to see that it was pitch black outside and there was a cold wind blowing. I grabbed my blanket and curled up with it, crying again. Then, still feeling cold, I crawled over to my pack and got my flint and steel. After starting a fire, I looked over at Draike. Or, rather, where he should have been. He was gone. I stood in shock. "Is it enough that he died?" I whispered to myself. "Did his body have to disappear as well?" I still felt sick to my stomach. Is that what grief felt like? I felt like someone had torn my heart out, then gave me a good sock in the middle for good measure.
"What's wrong?" came a voice from the darkness. I looked up to see a black form coming towards me. For a brief second, I hoped that it was Draike, but then I realized that it was much too small. "Why are you crying?"
"Am I crying?" I asked in a ragged, scornful voice. "Now why would I be doing that? Could it be because I fell in love with a Dragon, then got kidnapped by another Dragon, got saved by the first Dragon then found out that said Dragon was dying? Could that be it?" I collapsed in a little heap, sobbing. "All I wanted to do was live happily with the Dragon I loved," I whispered. "That's all I wanted. Was it really too much to ask?"
A man came into the light of the fire, his body and head covered in a cloak, for warmth, I assumed. He knelt beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. "You loved Draike very much?" he asked in a soft voice.
I nodded against the stone. "I would have died for him. I almost wish I could have."
The man sat still for a moment, his hand warm on my shoulder. "Then where would he be? In the same predicament as you, no doubt," he said logically. "Maybe he's happier where he is now," he suggested as an afterthought.
I sat up. "But I'm not happier. I wish he was still with me. I loved him, don't you understand? All I wanted was to be with him. I suppose that's impossible, though. He is, I mean, was a Dragon. We never could have been together. I just wish I'd known how he felt before he died," I murmured to myself. "I don't care that he was at least thirty-five feet taller than me! I don't care that he was a whole different species! Do you know how much I'd give to have him back with me right now? Do you have any idea?"
"Wait-" The man started, but I cut him off.
"Don't stop me, I'm just getting started!" I started pacing in agitation. "He was beautiful! He cared for me, I truly believe he did. He was always so gentle. I wish I wouldn't have yelled at him for blowing hot air at me. I wish that I'd have been born a Dragon, or that he would have been born a Human! And his eyes," I said, feeling my heart breaking. "That wonderful golden color. He'd look at me and I'd fall into those huge eyes. They were fathomless, so full of life." I put my hands in my hair in frustration and felt the two stilettos I'd put there. I drew one with shaking fingers. "To be with him now would be heavenly," I said, dropping my gaze to the little knife. Slowly, I turned the knife towards me.
"Estelle, stop!" the man said, lunging for my hand. Grabbing my wrist, he held it still as I struggled to bring the knife to my body.
"Let go of me!" I shrieked. "I want to die, to be with Draike!" then something occurred to me. "How'd you know my name?"
The man ignored my last sentence. "What if he's already here?" he asked in a light voice.
"But he's dead," I whispered. "His heart stilled and his breathing stopped and he died!" I struggled to get the knife to my frantically beating heart. "All I want is to be with him!"
"Stop it," the man said, his voice deadly quiet. I stopped, staring at him in shock. In that moment, he'd sounded so much like Draike that it scared me. The man's gloved fingers held my wrist still while he slowly reached out to touch my face. "Is that what you really want, to be with him?" I nodded silently. With a trembling hand, the man reached for his hood. My heartbeat quickened. The man pulled the hood of the cloak from his face and let it fall to his back. I froze, then felt my knees go weak. The man caught me before I could fall, his arms gentle on my waist and back.
"Draike?" I asked, looking up in shock at the man. His hair was a gray-green color, and his eyes were wonderfully golden with amber flecks. He nodded, smiling slightly. "So that's how you knew," I murmured, and fainted.
When I woke up again, it was morning. "It must have been a dream," I muttered sadly to myself. I looked around, noticed that Draike's body was really gone, and felt myself sit a little straighter.
"Or maybe it wasn't," came a very male voice from beside me.
I turned to see the man from the night before sitting by my side. "Are you really Draike?" I asked, still unable to believe that it was true. Not daring to believe it was true.
Draike nodded. "It's really me, Estelle. Believe me." He smiled. "That was quite the speech, last night," he observed. "I've never heard you say that much at once." he folded his hands, as if he didn't know what to do with them. "I think it was that thing," he finally said.
"Thing?" I asked in confusion.
"The nut-thing. You made me eat it, remember? I think that's what saved me. When I "died," I just left that body. I think it was too broken to heal. But I brought some things with me. My mind, for instance, and my memories. And two scars." He opened his shirt, and I saw the two ugly scars that had been on his Dragon body. I made a face. "Yes, not a pleasant sight," Draike agreed with my unspoken comment. Again, we were silent. Then, Draike spoke again. "Did you really mean what you said last night?"
I thought about his question. "Why do you want to know?" I asked, knowing it was an evil question and not caring.
Draike's eyes, those wonderful eyes, flicked from his folded hands to my face. "You know perfectly well why I want to know." His gaze glinted with amusement.
"What else can I say?" I replied.
"Nothing," Draike said, reaching out to touch my shoulder. "You said everything you needed to last night, Estelle." his fingers trailed down my arm until they reached my hand. With almost maddening hesitance, he wrapped his fingers around mine. My heart set to beating double time as Draike slowly pulled me closer to him. "I can't believe you were going to kill yourself," he added with a wicked, wicked grin.
I blushed. "Me neither. I guess I was just to heartbroken to care."
Draike's hand moved from mine to the back of my neck. "Well, I'm glad I was there to stop you, then," he said, his grin deepening. His fingers twisted through my hair. "I've always wanted to do this," he said. "Ever since you brushed your hair that day. But I couldn't, not when my entire hand was as big as your body, almost."
"You know what I've wanted to do?" I asked, having a sudden, cunning thought. Draike looked up, then shook his head. "This," I murmured, then grabbed his shoulders and kissed him. He froze, then relaxed, his free hand (the one that wasn't in my hair) settling on my waist. I let my hands touch his hair, and when I pulled away, I rested my head against his shoulder.
"That was new," Draike said, breathless. "And pleasant." His voice rumbled through his body, pleasingly deep.
"You know," I said, closing my eyes, "I really loved you as a Dragon, but you're so much more...touchable, now. And kissable," I added as an afterthought, sitting up.
"Kissable?" Draike grinned at me. "What's that mean?"
I shrugged. "Well, that was a kiss. I couldn't very well have done that while you were a Dragon, could I?"
Draike shook his head, his grin deepening perceptibly. "Kissable, eh?" I raised one eyebrow and nodded. Draike laughed, then bent his head over mine. His kiss was much shorter than mine, but no less satisfying. "Is there someone I should ask to be able to marry you?" he asked.
"My parents," I said. "You should definitely ask them. Not that they'll disapprove, of course," I smiled. "It's going to be a long walk, though."
Draike snorted. "That's an understatement."
It took us two weeks to get back to my parents house/castle/fortress. No one would ever tell me which it was. At night, we slept closely but not together. I was brought up with moral standards, and I strongly believed that sleeping together outside of marriage was against the laws of the One.
When we arrived, Mikah just about knocked me over. "Estelle, you're back!" she squealed happily. Then she froze, looking at my companion with wide eyes. "Who's he?"
I grinned. "I'll tell you later, when everyone's together." I went to find my Mother. "I'm back," I sang out, walking into the kitchen. Mother whirled and hugged me so hard I thought my ribs would break. "Ouch, Mother, a little less tight, please," I gasped out. "Where's Father?"
"Armory," Mother said. I turned to tell Draike to go to the armory, but he was already gone. "Who's that man, Estelle?"
I grinned. "I'll tell you later, when everyone's together."
Mother groaned, then snapped her fingers. A dozen birds flew in the window, and Mother told them to do something in Bird. They all disappeared in different directions. "You, my darling daughter, are wicked!" Mother said, slapping my arm gently. "First you worry us by getting kidnapped by a Dragon, then we hear nothing about you for nearly a month! Then, you just show up like nothing's happened."
I looked at Mother with a grin. "Oh, yes, my darling mother, lots of things have happened. But I'll tell you later."
"Later" was about fifteen minutes. Draike showed up with Father right behind him. Father nodded at me with a big smile. My heart started singing with joy. Mother was ushering everyone into the foyer, and they all looked expectantly at me. I took a deep breath, taking Draike's hand for reassurance. "Everyone, this is Draike. We're getting married."
Everyone exploded into sound. Jonah and Jonathan were both protective younger brothers, but they were nice enough about it. Mikah and her friends, Ethan and Harmony's daughters, immediately dragged Draike off somewhere. He looked behind him as he was pulled away and mouthed the word "help."
"You'll be fine," I told him. "They're just my sister and her friends."
Mother came up beside me. "Estelle, how old is he? He's got gray hair, for goodness sake!"
Oh, how could I pass an opportunity like that up? "Oh, he's only eight hundred," I said vaguely.
Mother just about fainted. "Eight hundred?" she said incredulously.
"Yes, eight hundred. That's what I said. Of course, that makes him about twenty in Human years," I added.
"Human years? Then he's not Human?"
I sighed. "Sit down, Mother. Or you'll fall over." Mother sat, and I sat beside her. "Mother, he's a Dragon," I said softly. "He was dying, so I fed him this nut-like-thing and it transferred him into a new form. His hair is the same color as his scales were. I promised him you'd be nice, though, so you have to be."
Mother shook her head. "Oh, he's a handsome young man. I wouldn't be mean to him, darling. He loves you very much, I can tell, and who am I to take that away from you? I just...wish that you were a little older, that's all."
"Mother, I'm turning eighteen in six months. I'm old enough to get married! You were just barely seventeen when you got married, weren't you?" Mother grudgingly nodded. "Then you can't say anything about wishing I was older."
Mother sighed. "I know. But I can't help wishing that you were. I don't want to lose my oldest baby so soon! And after we just got you back, as well." I looked behind her and grinned, making Mother turn. "You must be Draike," Mother said, holding her hand out. Draike looked at it uncomprehendingly, then his eyes flashed to mine in panic. I demonstrated shaking it. He did so, and Mother smiled. "You're very polite. Now you know that if you ever treat my daughter badly, I'll sic her father on you, right?" I smacked my forehead, but Draike seemed to know what to do.
"I would never dream of hurting your daughter, Milady," he said formally. "She's too much of an angel." Mother looked at him approvingly as I blushed.
"Keep him, Estelle," Mother said. "Don't ever let him get away. He's a keeper for sure."
Draike obviously didn't understand, but he didn't say anything about it. I'd have to explain it to him later. As it turns out, Mother had had my wedding planned for ages, ever since I came of age. My wedding dress was already finished, although how she made it fit so well without ever trying it on me was beyond me, and everything was all set up. Mikah and her two friends, Sirena and Selia, were bridesmaids.
On the big day, I was so nervous I thought I'd throw up. I paced around the back of the chapel and thought I'd fall over. "Relax, Estelle," Father laughed. "You'll do fine."
"So you say," I muttered, making Father grin.
"It's time." he offered his arm, which I took. Then I fixed my eyes on Draike, and everything else faded away. The ceremony went by in a blur, and the next thing I knew, the veil was over my head, Draike was kissing me and the crowd was clapping. Somehow, I managed to get to the reception without help, although my new husband was always standing by my side in case I fell. At the reception, I noticed Tai flirting with Mikah, who was innocently flirting back, probably without realizing it. I grinned, having the feeling that another wedding was not too far in the future.
That night, as we curled up together on the couch, I had a thought. "Draike, do you want kids?"
"I don't know. How do you get them?" The innocence in his eyes was enough to make me smile.
"I can see I'm going to have to tell you a lot," I said with a laugh.
- - - - -
She is back, safe and sound, with a new husband to keep her warm at night. Oh, Kane, I wonder if they'll have a daughter. If they do, will her life be as interesting as ours? Three generations of women, all going on some sort of adventure. All have ended happily and with a husband, to boot. What's that, Mikah? Ah, yes. It is time for bed, isn't it? Well, good night, my daughter. You're next, after all. But that is another story altogether.