Cover art courtesy i-r-annet over at deviantART and used with permission, though I did repixelate the background to blue myself from her black. I'd been searching for a single white feather for the cover for a few months before I found this one. I think this picture captures the story beautifully in a simple image.
This story belongs to me – Sati – and no other. It is copyrighted to me and it is FREE for all the read. I will never sell it anywhere, so if you see this listed as an ebook (as has happened in the past) please inform me.
This story is an original and so are all the concepts for the characters/plot line. Any similarities between real people/events or other stories are merely coincidental. Though, if any of you know of such people, places, or events ever occurring in real life, please let me know!
A little information on the "Day of Offering"…it's an annual event held on the day that a dragon became the town's guardian. Nearly every town of even moderate size had a dragon that protected them (the kingdom's capital even had three because of the importance of the city). Some dragons make a demand of this, some only carry it on because it is tradition.
And, just FYI, since I could never really find a proper way to add it into the story - Lonryo is not a very large dragon, he's only about thirty-five feet long from tail tip to nose and about six feet tall at the shoulder.
Chapter #1 – Born on the Day of Offering
The middle-aged man ran down the street in the pitch black of night. There was no moon out that night to give him light, but he knew the streets as well as anyone that had been born and raised in the town. He was dressed in nothing but his nightclothes and the cool air of early spring was making goose bumps gather on his skin. He did not care, though. His goal was far more important than getting a little chilled, and his running was making him warm enough. He finally reached the house that was his destination and pounded on the door. He hated to wake them up at this time of night but…
The heavy oak door opened just a crack and an old woman peered out at him. She looked at him, waiting for him to finish catching his breath so he could speak. She knew him, but was unsure why he was at her home at such a late hour. "May I help you, Faybien?"
"My wife…she…she's gone into labor!"
The midwife scoffed. "The baby is not due for another month! Don't be ridiculous! It was just some dream you had. Go back home. You're wife is probably pacing your house quite fine wondering where you ran off to."
"But her water has broken!" He knew the old woman might not believe him, but he knew. He had woken up to a soaked bead and his wife holding her swollen stomach, teeth gritted in a contraction. Though she had said nothing to him, he had hurried from the house to come get the town's midwife. "Please…you have to come."
"Faybien, listen to me… Your wife is not due for another month! The first child is very rarely early, let alone this early." The midwife shook her head. "She cannot be…" The old woman started closing the door. "A month early…"
The worried husband caught the door before she could close it all the way. "Please, Lanoia! You have to believe me!"
"Good night!" She moved his hand and slammed her door shut. He heard her latch it, surely to make sure he did not follow her to harass her further.
Faybien groaned. What was with her? She had to be half asleep to not be rushing back to his house with him already. Indeed, his wife was a month early. He knew his child was not going to make it. No child born so early did – unless they were lucky enough to have magic to help them. This was urgent. He needed the midwife's help, hoping she had some herb to help stop it. He debated banging on the door again but knew it would accomplish nothing but raising her ire.
Of course, her attitude might also have something to do with the fact that when the dawn came it would be the time for the Offering. He sighed. He was going to have to miss it. The wellbeing of his wife and his first child was far more important. He was just going to have to suffer whatever consequences came with his missing it.
Quickly, he hurried back down the dark street to his house. Once there, he went straight to the bedroom. His wife looked at him shocked when she did not see the midwife with him. He knew she probably wondered if he had forgotten in his panic to go get her. He shook his head and sat beside her, catching his breath from his run back. He made her lay down so she could rest some before what was surely to come.
"Where is Lanoia? Is she getting her things to…"
"She thinks I was dreaming." He rubbed his face with his hands. "But it might be something to do with the fact that the Offering is in the morning. She doesn't want to miss it. She didn't even want to come to check on you, so that had to be it. She's a good woman, so you know that…"
His wife winced as a contraction came to her. "This baby is not going to wait. It is as if she really wants to be born today."
"It does seem that way to me, too, Rhea." He smiled then kissed her forehead. "I will go boil some water and get a blanket. I have birthed horses and cattle, so I have no doubt that I can bring my own child into this world as well.
For this being her first child, Rhea was having contractions very close together by the time her husband got back with the steaming water and warm blanket. It was perhaps an hour before dawn at that point. He set the kettle with the boiling water and set it by the fireplace in their room to keep it warm. He put the blanket beside his wife's feet so I would be ready to wrap the baby in. He checked her and was surprised to find that she was nearly fully dilated. She had been in labor for maybe four hours. From what he knew of human births, this was very unusual for a first child. It usually took twice as long or more for the baby to be born once the mother went into labor.
As he comforted his wife during her ever worsening contractions, he began to wonder more and more if his child was going to be stillborn or die shortly after emerging into the world. Babies just were not born this early! He knew his wife had a similar concern, he could see it in her eyes. She did not speak, though, for she was usually too busy between contractions catching her breath and preparing for the next.
As the bell on the far side of town began to ring shortly after dawn, indicating that Lord Lonryo was on his way, Rhea cried out as the baby crowned. The small, gooey newborn girl slipped out easily after that, though. She looked to be nearly the size of any baby born when they were supposed to be, even being a month early. Her father quickly cleared her nose and mouth before giving her a gentle but firm pat on her bottom and nearly cried when he heard the wondrous sound of her crying. Rhea was crying. He tied off her umbilical cord and cut it then cleaned off the shivering baby with the warm water. Once she was clean and wrapped tightly up in the blanket, he handed her to his wife, who smiled weakly at the child. There did not seem to be a thing wrong with her, even though she was a month early.
"You were intent on being born this day, weren't you?" She looked at the now quiet baby who cooed, looking away from her mother some, reaching out a hand. Rhea looked in the same direction but only saw one of the bare walls of the room. "What are you looking at, little one?"
The newborn girl turned back to her mother, closing her eyes some. Soon she was asleep. Her mother just gazed at the small child, amazed at what had happened. There were some strands of blond hair on her daughter's head but she doubted they would stay that color since both she and her husband had dark brown hair. She was tiny, of course, being a month early, but she looked just as healthy as a fully matured newborn.
"She is a miracle," Faybien said softly.
"That she is." Rhea kissed her daughter's head gently.
"So, what name did you decide on if we were to have a girl? I know you wanted to keep the names secret from me."
Rhea looked up at her husband with tired eyes but she smiled. "Aeslynn."
Faybien smiled and nodded. "That is a good name."
Out on the edge of town there were many murmurs about the Braeymans not being there. No one was allowed to miss the Day of Offering…unless they were deathly ill. As one by one the families of the town went forward to give their offerings to Lord Lonryo, the area baron's brown eyes went over the crowd. He had seen everyone but his main stable hand show up. He frowned then looked over at the rather regal Lord Lonryo standing stoically before the gathered townsfolk.
Lord Lonryo was no mortal nobleman. He was the dragon lord that protected the valley town of Oshlay. He was currently in his more human form, though. A pair of white, feathered wings, with each feather edged with a trace of silver, sprouted gracefully from his back. His hair was pure white, hanging to his waist. His skin was pale. He wore a white toga-like outfit that did not interfere with his wings. It flowed to midcalf, showing the laces that wound up his legs from his sandals. A silver belt made of perfectly round interlocking rings and set with mother-of-pearl hung around his waist. The baron had been pleased to see him wearing it, for he had given it to the dragon lord as part of the Offering he had given the year before.
When the last family deposited their offering in front of the dragon, he did not seem to have noticed that one less family had given their duty to him this year. He waved his hand over the pile of gifts at his feet, mainly bags filled with gold and silver coins, and it all vanished in an instant, only a little shimmering magic remaining behind for a moment. His fathomless, rather cold looking silver eyes looked over at the baron and he nodded slightly to him.
"You have my protection for this town for another year," he said rather dryly.
Before the richly dressed baron could say anything, the dragon had taken wing and flown off, back up to his lair up on the mountain that was to the east of the town. Even though he had not received a tribute from one family he did not seem to mind. Though the baron knew it was more of a tradition for the dragon protecting a town to be given these gifts yearly, he still took it very seriously (too seriously, actually). Some dragons insisted on a maiden from the village to pacify him (which had grown rather rare) or a number of cattle, but their protector only desired material "payment" in the form of coins, cloth, jewels, and other such items. Such had always been the way in their town. The baron thought, though, that if their protecting dragon lord did not receive his offerings then he might harm the town or not protect it if some outside attack did come – though there had not been any major threats to any towns or cities in the kingdom in decades. The yearly event did not bother the members of the town much, though. They knew it was a small thing to "pay" for a dragon that would protect them from any dangers that might arise, even if they were a rare thing.
With a slight scowl, the baron turned to one of his men. "Talsun, go see why the Braeymens did not come here today. They had better have a good excuse or they will pay dearly."
The man that had been addressed nodded his brown-haired head and then hurried off. He went through the cobbled streets as people were returning home. He quickly arrived at the small house the husband and wife lived in near the woods that bordered part of the river than ran through the lowest part of the valley. He passed through the gate into the small yard, his eyes glancing around to make sure they were not outside. He knocked on the door loudly and waited a while for an answer. When the door did slowly open, he saw Faybien standing before him in slightly blood-stained nightclothes with small bags forming under his eyes. Mr. Braeyman was drying off his hands and looked terribly sleepy.
"Baron Monsuwa wants to know why you and your wife were not at the offering this morning. You better tell the truth, and it better be a good excuse."
"He wants to know, does he? Well, tell him this. I was bringing my daughter into this world, as that the midwife did not believe my wife was in labor when I rushed to her house last night."
Talsun scoffed. "Your wife is not due for another month!"
"That's the same thing Lanoia told me, you know." Faybien stepped aside a little and gestured to the man to enter. "Come meet my daughter, if you wish to see the truth with your own eyes. She is sleeping right now, as is my wife…as I shall be shortly." He shook his head at the slightly startled man in front of him with tired eyes. "She was born not an hour ago, just after the bells rang to signal Lord Lonryo's approach. Go tell that to the baron. If he does not believe me either, tell him to come meet my new child. Good day."
The baron's man reached out a hand as the new father started to close the door. He looked confused. "A child born on the Day of Offering?"
"Yes, it is surely just like any other day that children are born."
Faybien closed the door but the man did not move for a while. It was a rarity that a child was born on the Day of Offering in any village. Granted, it did vary from town to town…but still… To his knowledge no child had been born on the Spring Equinox since Lord Lonryo had come to be the town's protector. He seemed to remember once hearing something about it, too. He shook his head. Though it was odd in his opinion, he brushed it aside. It was probably just like Faybien had said – it was no different than any other day children were born. And, anyway, there could not be anything special about such a lowly born child.