Making Her Mark

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Making Her Mark

 
 

By Amethyst

 


 
Nyssa Smith's life seems to be heading nowhere good and her dreams of being a knight impossible to attain. When a dragon is sighted near her village carrying off a young woman and an arrogant nobleman seems eager to sacrifice the village men in an assualt against it for his own glory, can Nyssa save them all by getting there first? And if she enters that cave, will it change her life or end it?

 
 
The sound of footsteps distracted her, very heavy sounding footsteps and Nyssa turned her gaze toward the front of the cave to see the dragon coming right toward them. It was the single biggest creature that she had ever seen, or even imagined, and could easily swallow her whole. How did those people not notice it? She needed to get them out of the cave. Aris preserve me, she prayed silently to the Goddess of life and light as she unsheathed her sword and dropped the sheath as she leaped out of the crevice, placing herself between them and the massive creature. "Go!" she shouted at them. "Run! I'll keep it busy!”

 
This is one of two short stories I wrote in my absence that takes place in a world called Althea. I was talking with some of the girls in chat (you know who you are *hugs*) and they convinced me that they're worth posting, so here's a little something until I can finish chapters of my serial stories.
 
 

The village of Ribel: 23rd day of Summer, Fifteenth year of the Sixth Era

Nyssa frowned, her back and shoulders stiffening as she felt the sharp sting of a large hand slapping her bottom. She gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to slap the offender in return, instead clenching her fists tightly at her sides as she made her way back to the bar for another round of ale. Each night it became more difficult to resist such urges, as they conspired with the growing desire to just leave the Big Fish Inn, and perhaps the village, never to return.

It hadn't always been like this; she used to help her father in the forge. He was the village blacksmith and had raised her on his own since her mother had died in childbirth. Since she was an only child, it had made sense for her to work with him. That had all changed a fortnight ago when the innkeeper Trebor had approached her father with his proposal: Nyssa was to be betrothed to his eldest son Thomas, his younger son Treban would become her father's apprentice, and Nyssa would learn to be a proper bride and help run the inn under the ever-watchful eye of Trebor's wife Renna. It was a deal that worked out well for all involved, or so Trebor claimed. Nyssa's father got a proper apprentice, Treban would learn a good trade, Thomas would get a bride, and Nyssa would get a husband and learn to act as a proper young woman should. It certainly seemed a fine deal to her father, who had quickly accepted.

Oh aye, it seemed that everyone was happy now, especially Trebor. He had made out like a bandit. One son got a future bride, another a trade, and Nyssa was working in the kitchens by day and the tavern by night without being paid a single copper. The only one who wasn't happy was Nyssa. Firstly, Thomas was ill-mannered, stupid, and wanted nothing more from his life than to be an innkeeper like his father. He was certainly not the husband she would have chosen for herself, if she had decided to wed at all.

Secondly, the work at the Inn was the worst sort of drudgery; cleaning by day and serving meals and drinks by night while being molested by drunk fishermen and shepherds. The mere idea of living with Thomas, working in the inn, and churning out babies for the rest of her life made her strongly consider throwing herself into the sea.

Nyssa wanted more from her life than that, and as a result, it made her feel like she didn't really belong with the people of her village. They were happy to take what life gave them, while she longed for adventure and freedom; for a life where each day wasn't the same as the last. She longed to see the capitol city Havenhold and maybe even leave Ranoor to go to the mainland and explore all of Althea: There were so many things to see and so many Races other than Man that she would like to meet one day; the various types of Fae, the Kobolds with their great machines and alchemy, the Dwarves and their forges, and probably so many more that she had never even heard of.

She even thought of trying to become a knight. There were rumors from those who had been to the Capitol and some of the larger towns that King Joren was recruiting new knights. Some of the rumors even said that women and those of lesser birth were being accepted as long as they were of the right age and could pass the test involved to acquire the King's Mark. Nyssa thought that would be like a dream come true, but they were probably only rumors since she had never heard any real first-hand accounts.

She dismissed her fantasies with a sigh as she claimed an ale tankard for each hand from Thomas and returned to the monotony of serving, shuffling her way morosely between the tables. Once the tankards had been placed on the table and the coppers were taken, she placed the coins in the cash box as Trebor watched. He always watched Nyssa closely, as if afraid she was going to run off at any moment with all of his hard-earned coin, as if she could get very far on a few measly coppers.

A wave from one of the tables by the hearth caught her attention and she stifled a groan as she noted who it was and made her way over. Parrin was the son of the local Count, and he made damn well sure that everyone knew it. Nyssa had a special kind of hatred reserved just for him; and not just because he was selfish, arrogant, and rude. He was indeed all of those things, but her hatred for him was over a sword.

Last winter Parrin had come to her father to commission a sword. Her father hadn't made a sword in many years, most folks in Ribel didn't need anything more than harpoon heads, knives for cutlery or for gutting fish, the occasional horseshoes, and other odds and ends. The winter had been a harsh one for the whole village though, and they had desperately needed the promised coin, so he had agreed. For twelve days she and her father had worked hard on the blade, but when it was ready he had refused to pay.

Though the sword was sleek, sturdy, and well-made, possibly her father's finest work ever, Parrin had claimed that it was not regal enough for someone of his station and that he would merely buy one from a proper smith the next time he was in the Capitol. Her father had been furious and the next day the blade was gone when she had arrived at the forge, probably melted down by her father and forged into something else.

Nyssa clenched her fists as she made her way toward the hearth. “Another ale m'lord?” she practically hissed once she was close enough.

"Aye," he replied absently, his eyes roaming over her tight-laced bodice. An unpleasant shiver slithered its way down her spine at the direction of his gaze, so without another word, she turned and made her way swiftly back to the bar for the ale.

She had been getting far more attention from the men who frequented the tavern at night than she was comfortable with, but having it come from that arrogant fop Parrin had made her feel violated. It wasn't even like she was beautiful or anything, in fact, she considered herself to be quite the opposite. At fifteen, her years of helping her father in the forge had shaped her as much as the metal she had worked with, keeping her slender with what Renna had opined was, "Too much muscle for a proper woman." Her skin was also darkly tanned, and her features seemed plain with her dull brown eyes and hair. Renna had also bemoaned her lack of good childbearing features: Her hips were too narrow and while her breasts were not small, they were merely modest in size compared to some of the plump and pretty girls of the village, not near enough to satisfy a hungry babe.

She wrote their interest off to too much ale, and her being the only serving wench, as she claimed another tankard and rushed back to deliver it with all possible haste. The sooner she was done with Parrin, the better she would feel. She placed the tankard on the table in front of him and snatched the empty one for washing as he fished in his pouch for a copper. Once he had found one and held it out to her she took it quickly, but not quite quickly enough. He took her hand in his own and with an arrogant smile, he said, "Good to see you doing something more suited to you Nyssa. You make a fine tavern wench, and maybe with a proper apprentice your father's work won't be so shoddy."

"How dare he?!" Fresh anger welled up inside her, setting aflame her feelings of hatred, her captured hand clenched in his own as she tried to pull away and her free hand, the one holding the tankard, swung at his head.

Everything seemed to happen at once then. The front door of the inn swung open, letting in a burst of wind and the shout of “Dragon!” made the whole tavern room go quiet and still. Nyssa turned her head and Parrin let go of her hand in shock, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the floor as the wooden tankard flew from her hand and hit the wall behind him.

All eyes were now on Garen who had hastily entered the tavern, clutching what looked like a ragged piece of red cloth, and closed the door. “There be a dragon in the cave past the far east pastures! Saw it me-self, I did. Flew over me 'bout midday and scared the flock sumthin' fierce.”

“Are you sure it weren't just flyin' past?” another of the shepherds questioned him.

“Nay,” Garen replied with a grim expression and a shake of his head. “The beast flew by again not more'n a few hours ago. Followed it, I did. I saw it enter the cave, clutching some poor lass. An' I saw these layin' all about the area, it be dragon-hide or me name ain't Garen.” He shook the hide clutched in his hands for emphasis.

There had been talk of dragons being seen in the skies all over Ranoor in the past six months, but never had one been sighted so close to Ribel before, so like the stories about the knights, most people dismissed the talk as rumors. Now though, it seemed that those stories might indeed be true, the scrap of dragon-hide certainly seemed real enough to those who saw and touched it.

Parrin stood up, sticking his chest out like some puffed-up peacock trying to find a mate. “This dragon is a menace and we must deal with it swiftly! The beast will need to hunt, so keep the women and children indoors. It will sleep during the day, so I will lead any men who are with me to attack it after dawn. Who is with me?!”

Every man in the tavern but two raised their hands and cheered, “Aye!” One of the two was Trebor, who seemed far more interested in the state of his cash box, and the other was Nyssa's father, who never even looked up from where he was eating his dinner near the entrance, except to glare at the young nobleman.

"Then let us start planning," Parrin said with a smile that caused Nyssa's stomach to sink. "With your help, I am sure to slay the beast and save the princess!"

"Who said that the girl Garen saw is a princess?" Nyssa snapped as she stood up and straightened her skirts, angered once again by the sheer stupidity of the assumption. "It's far more likely she's a shepherd's daughter or something alike."

“Does it really matter?” Parrin countered dismissively. “Either way, as a member of the nobility I am the only one fit to rescue her. Now make yourself useful girl, and fetch these thirsty men some drinks.” The last was said dismissively as he handed her a silver piece and slapped her on the rear.

Nyssa fumed, but complied, since there was obviously no getting past his ego to talk any sense into him. As the evening passed and the plans were made though, she felt a growing feeling of dread, as well as relief that her father hadn't got caught up in this nonsense. These men were fishermen and shepherds; they had no experience fighting anything, much less a dragon. They also had no weapons aside from harpoons, or knives used for gutting or shearing. The only one with a real weapon was Parrin himself, an ornate and bejeweled blade that Nyssa thought would likely snap in two if he ever actually used it. It was also plain to see that Parrin didn't care whether these men lived or died as long as he lived and was seen as a hero.

The thing that bothered her most though, was that the fool was obviously forming his whole plan based on those insipid minstrel tales rather than real information. Garen had said the dragon flew over at midday, but Parrin was certain it would hunt by night and sleep during the day. He also seemed certain that the girl was a princess. Why was it always a princess in those damnable tales and songs? Did they somehow taste better than other people? Nyssa doubted it with all those perfumes and silks that they tended to wear. And if it was to eat them, then why capture them and not just eat them right away? Were the dragons saving them for dessert after the banquet of fools that they would be feasting on from the obligatory rescue attempts? She doubted that knights went down easy either with all that armor on. Those stories never made any sense.

* * *

The tavern closed late that night and as the men all staggered to their homes and beds, Nyssa came to a decision. She needed to stop this farce before it began, her conscience wouldn't let her do otherwise. She didn't care much if Parrin died, he was an arrogant fool and the world would be better off once rid of him, but the others would bother her. Their ill-conceived attack might actually put the girl in further danger, and she didn't deserve that, if she was still alive at all. As for the men, she might not like most of them, but they were mostly good men and didn't deserve to be led to their deaths. For she had no doubts that they would all die while rushing in to follow that idiot with little sleep, no real weapons, and still too deep in their tankards from their long night of drinking.

Her decision made, she headed for home and slipped silently to her room. She didn't want to wake her father, as he had looked to be in a dark mood when he had left the tavern. Usually, when he had the spare coin, he stayed there late of a night drinking and talking, but he had left after having only one ale with his meal. Once in her room, she changed as quietly as she could, donning a dark knee-length wool tunic and stockings that she had worn beneath her leather apron while working in the forge, thinking them far more practical for the task she had in mind than a bodice and skirts. After adding a pair of worn boots she started gathering the things that she would need.

First, she gathered clothes to take with her; even if she somehow lived through this she didn't think that she would ever come back to her life in the village. She thought it best to be practical and limited herself to three changes of clothes. Those were wrapped in her warmest blanket, which she thought she would use as a makeshift pack. Secondly, she needed a knife, and she chose one of the first she had made that still kept a good edge. Lastly, she removed the laces from two of the bodices she would be leaving behind and placed both those and the sheathed knife within her meager coin purse for later. She would have liked to take more, especially as she took one last look around her small room, with all the odds and ends she had made with her father over the years, but she felt it best to travel light. Her throat tightened and she could feel tears stinging her eyes as she turned to leave, bumping right into her father.

“Good time to be leaving, with a dragon in the area,” he said conversationally with a nod toward the makeshift pack slung over her shoulder.

“This is not what you think..." she began to reply lamely, chewing nervously on her lower lip.

“Looks like you are leaving the village to me,” he replied gruffly, cutting her off as he crossed his arms in front of him and leveled a stern look at her. “About time too, I thought you would have left after a few days of that nonsense at the inn.”

"Wha..." she started to ask dumbly, but at this point, Nyssa's nervousness gave way to complete and utter confusion and she just stared, unsure what exactly she should be asking.

Finally, he laughed. "Nyssa, the people of this village are like the fish they catch and the sheep they shepherd. They are happy living each day the same unless something happens to disturb things, but I could see since you were a young girl that you needed more than that. You are a hawk, and hawks need to fly free. You needed a bit of a push to get out of the nest though, so I took Trebor up on his offer."

“Why didn't you just tell me?” she finally managed to choke out.

“I know my daughter, Nyssa. As long as you were working the forge with me you never would have left, even if I encouraged it, you would have thought that you were abandoning me,” he told her, ruffling her hair as he often did when he wasn't sure whether he should scold or praise her. “Treban is doing well though, he likes the work and he'll make a fine smith, so you have nothing to worry about.”

“Won't Trebor be angry?” she cautioned, a bit worried about what the innkeeper's reaction might be when his son's betrothed ran off.

“Aye, but he'll find some other village lass for Thomas. I think that he got about enough free work out of you, and his son is learning a good trade, so he made out well enough.” He replied, dismissing her concerns with a shrug. Then his expression and his tone turned serious as he looked her dead in the eyes. “I hope you're not planning on trying to fight that dragon before you go.”

"Not if I can help it," she said honestly, though she squirmed a bit under his intent gaze. "I was thinking more of sneaking in and seeing if the girl is still alive. If she is I'll try to sneak her out to safety. Then maybe I can stop Parrin from leading those men to their deaths." A heavy sigh escaped her father's lips and he shook his head, but she quickly cut off his possible arguments. "I know that cave Da, I used to play there. There are other ways in there, too small for grown men, but I might still be able to fit. If I can't I'll give up on the idea and just leave, I promise."

Her father sighed again, but gave a brief nod. "You'll do it whether I approve or not, but you'll need a weapon, just in case things don't go as you plan." He motioned her into the larger room, led her to the corner beyond where his grass-filled mattress laid close to the hearth, and then began to shift the rushes that coated the dirt floor. Then he began shifting the dirt itself, digging roughly three inches before he found what he was looking for. Finally, he produced a bundle wrapped in dirt caked rags. Nyssa let out a startled gasp as he removed the rags to reveal a sheathed sword and held it out to her; she recognized that hilt, and she should since she had helped to forge it. "I didn't have the heart to destroy her, she was too fine a blade," he explained.

* * *

Nyssa ran through the east pastures as fast as she could, encumbered as she was with the sword and her blanket-wrapped possessions. She figured that she had roughly an hour before dawn, and maybe another after that before Parrin arrived at the cave with his mob. Her breathing was haggard, and her chest burned from the effort, by the time the pasture gave way to the rocky hills that formed much of the coastline. She kept her pace quick, but advanced cautiously, keeping an eye out as best she could in the light of the half moon.

Glints of reflected moonlight on the rocky ground ahead caught her attention and she approached slowly in a crouch to inspect the source. "Dragon-hide," she noted mentally as she inspected a scrap. It was cool to the touch, metallic-looking red scales over thick sturdy skin. There were scraps all over, some smaller than her hand, while others were several horse-lengths. If it had been shedding this much then it had been here a while, several days at least, to her mind. Yet there had been no sheep reported missing. That didn't feel right to her, especially with the pasture so close.

Thinking herself close enough she began to prepare: She carefully scraped free two patches of the thick moss that was about all that would grow in this rocky area and used the laces she had removed from her bodices to fasten them securely to the soles of her boots. She was hoping that the soft thick moss would muffle the sound of her footsteps enough that the dragon might not hear her. Once that task was completed, she looked through the scraps of dragon-hide until she found one large enough to wrap around herself like a cloak. If it came from the dragon it might still smell like the dragon, and possibly mask her own scent. Also, the legends said that dragon-hide was fireproof, and that could very well save her life if things went bad.

Satisfied that she was probably as prepared as she could be, given the circumstances, she looked toward the moonlit hillside that housed the cave and gathered her things. The hill, like most of the area, was solid stone with the gaping entrance of the cave on the southwest side. There were cracks and crevices all over that hill, and two for sure that she knew led all the way into the cave itself. She thought the one was likely too small, it had been a tight fit even when she was a child, but the other might just be big enough. She headed swiftly to the north side of the hill, hoping she was right, as the sun began to peek over the eastern horizon.

Nyssa found the crevice that she was looking for quickly and hid her belongings nearby to collect later, taking only her sword and makeshift dragon-hide cloak. Both felt heavy to her, but it was a comfortable weight that made her feel a lot safer as she slid inside the opening. The gap was big enough, but only barely, as she had to get to her knees and crawl at first. Since she had no light to go by, she had to feel her way along, more than once bumping her head or scraping some other part of her body. Finally, the crevice became high enough to stand in, and soon opened up into the cave itself, where Nyssa had to muffle a gasp of surprise at the bright light and smell of frying bacon that greeted her.

“Do you think we'll find someone today?” she heard a feminine voice inquire.

“You never know,” a man's voice replied crisply, “but it would be nice. I would like to get out of this cave and back to Havenhold, Aureal's problem kept us here two days longer than I would have liked.”

"Does the dragon hold two people captive now? They don't sound terrified. And what is this talk about finding someone?" These thoughts rushed through Nyssa's mind as she peeked around the corner of the crevice into the rear of the cave where the voices were coming from.

The rear of the cave was brightly lit by torches, and the two people were talking across a cooking fire. The girl was almost as slender as Nyssa herself, though Nyssa thought the other girl might be taller, and perhaps a bit older. She wore an embroidered gown and her long blonde hair was kept in a loose braid that was swept over her shoulder and went down to her hips. "It's not like she could help it," she snapped back at the man, "it's a natural part of becoming an adult. She wouldn't have been able to concentrate on the test in that condition, she was too irritable and distracted."

"I know, I know," the man grumbled. He had his back to Nyssa, so it was hard for her to make out any details aside from his short-cropped black hair and the dark blue cape he wore.

The sound of footsteps distracted her, very heavy sounding footsteps and Nyssa turned her gaze toward the front of the cave to see the dragon coming right toward them. It was the single biggest creature that she had ever seen, or even imagined, and could easily swallow her whole. How did those people not notice it? She needed to get them out of the cave. "Aris preserve me," she prayed silently to the Goddess of life and light as she unsheathed her sword and dropped the sheath as she leaped out of the crevice, placing herself between them and the massive creature. "Go!" she shouted at them. "Run! I'll keep it busy!”

The pair seemed to be in shock, just staring open-mouthed as she turned and held her sword out, waiting for the dragon to make its move. She really hoped those two got over their shock and ran, because she held no delusions that she could actually kill the beast in front of her, or even wound it. While she was strong enough to wield the sword she held, she had no real training in the use of it and the dragon was watching her carefully with those huge green eyes, as if it too were waiting for her to make her move.

The dragon's nostrils flared and its great head darted toward her. Thinking it was going to breathe fire she turned, wrapping the cloak tightly about herself, to see the man and woman still staring at her. It was over, she would never be able to save them both now. They were all dead and she knew it. No flames washed over her though and, to her complete bafflement, the pair of people stopped staring and started laughing as she felt a pushing at her back. The pushing was the dragon's head, close enough to gobble her up, but it wasn't. Instead, it seemed to be sniffing her. Nyssa's head turned very slowly to get a far closer look than she really cared for at that draconian muzzle; there were far too many big sharp looking teeth for her liking, each longer than her arm. Its emerald eyes were so close she that could see its slit pupils looking her over as its nostrils flared again.

Suddenly it pulled its head back as if burned, opened its great jaws, and spoke. "Is that my skin you're wearing?" The creature's voice sounded female to Nyssa's ears, though it was guttural and sounded very perturbed. It was also accompanied by the hysterical laughing of the man and woman by the fire.

“You... you can speak?” The words tumbled out of Nyssa's mouth uncertainly as she began to wonder if this was all just a very strange dream.

Of course I can speak,” the dragon snapped, snorting indignantly before adding, “do you start all conversations this way?”

“Yes! I mean no!” Nyssa blurted out before taking a deep breath to steady her nerves. “I mean yes it is your skin, but no, I don't normally start conversations this way.”

“Why in the name of Syndair would you prance about wearing someone else's skin?”

“Aye, that is a good question,” the man's voice agreed now that the pair had stopped laughing.

Nyssa turned to see them slowly approaching her and thinking that she might actually be safe, she lowered her sword. “I thought it might help protect me,” she explained. “I figured that if it still smelled like the dragon, it would mask my scent and keep the dragon from noticing me. The legends say that dragon-hide is fireproof and few weapons can pierce it too, so I was hoping that it would keep me alive.”

”I'm standing right here,” the dragon sniffed indignantly again. “And I am not a dragon, I am a Drake. Please just relax, I am not going to eat you, or burn you to ash, or whatever other horrible fate you might think that I have planned for you. I must admit that using my castoff skin was a clever ploy; I never even noticed you until you jumped out screaming and started swinging that sword around.”

"There are big differences between dragons and Drakes, lass," the man told Nyssa sternly, "but that lesson can wait a few minutes. Let me have a look at you now." He began looking her over from head to toe as if inspecting a prize sheep at the Spring Faire. "Hmm, you put moss on the soles of your feet, no wonder you startled us so badly when you jumped out. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders, and courage too, the way you jumped out and tried to distract Aureal to 'save' us. Not some soft lass either, probably the blacksmith's daughter from all that muscle and that sword. Can you use it?"

“Not really, my Da thought I should have a weapon if I was set on coming here,” she answered truthfully.

To her surprise, the man just shrugged as he replied, "Swinging a sword can be learned and strength can be trained, but courage and wits, those are traits that few possess in abundance. What is your name, lass?"

“Nyssa Smith,” she answered simply, still unsure what was going on. The man had an air of authority that demanded respect though, and she wasn't dead yet, so she thought that it might be interesting to see where this would go.

"You have impressed me, Nyssa Smith, and that is no easy task. I am Cayne Reddin, the Drake is called Aureal, and the lass is Janith Cooper.”

Nyssa's sword fell to the ground with a clatter as she stared open-mouthed. "Cayne Reddin?!" Everyone in Ranoor knew that name.

Janith laughed at the expression on her face and moved closer to give her a companionable slap on the shoulder as she confirmed what Nyssa was thinking. “That's right, you're looking at Prince Cayne; third son of King Joren and Commander of the Knights of Ranoor. I'm one of the knights too, Cayne asked me to play the part of the captured princess for Aureal's test.”

“Test?” Nyssa asked in disbelief.

“You wouldn't believe how many times we had to fly over the pasture yesterday to get the attention of that sleeping shepherd and then get him to follow us here,” Janith said with a laugh, as if Nyssa would know what she was talking about.

"The shepherd!" Nyssa exclaimed as she was reminded of part of the reason she had come. "There's a mob coming to try to kill the dragon! I mean Aureal! They could be here anytime!"

Prince Cayne merely nodded as if he had been expecting it. “Aye, that often happens when we run a test. Many folk feel braver in a group, but unless they have ballista or some manner of magic they won't be able to harm Aureal. If she needs help she can call for Sokair and Gralt, they are waiting in a cove not far away. The Drakes will do their best not to cause any serious harm to those people. They will just keep them busy while I explain things and we complete the test; that is if Aureal approves.” The last had the feel of a question as he directed his gaze toward the Drake.

Aureal seemed to catch his meaning, looking Nyssa over once again as Nyssa took the time to get a better look at the Drake. While most of her hide seemed to be covered in those dark red scales, the scales on the underside of her belly and long serpentine neck and tail seemed to be a bright gold. Atop her head was a crown of bony ridges and a pair of gill-like flaps pulsed slightly where Nyssa thought her ears should be. Her hind legs looked powerful, but her forelegs were shorter, almost like arms, with thumbs on the forefeet to help her grip things. Each digit on both sets of legs ended in savage-looking claws as long as Nyssa's legs. She couldn't really see Aureal's wings very well, folded up as they were, but what she did see was the same dark red as most of the rest of her body.

Her assessment of the Drake was cut short as Aureal spoke. "Aye, I think she'll do nicely. I approve." With that, she turned and headed toward the mouth of the cave.

“Now tell us how you came to be here, Nyssa, and then I have a few things to explain to you,” the prince said, his gaze now resting on Nyssa once more.

Janith had finished cooking the pair's breakfast and they shared it with Nyssa as she told them her story and then Cayne began by telling her the differences between dragons and Drakes. Dragons were large and ferocious, their actions fueled by their baser instincts and needs; hunger, territory, and their desire for gold and other treasures. Drakes were smaller than their feral cousins with notable physical differences, such as the shorter forelegs with hand-like forefeet. The Drakes were also a lot more intelligent, in fact, folk on the mainland considered them among the sentient Races of Althea, just as much as Men, Fae, Kobolds, or Dwarves.

The Drakes had fled the mainland almost a year ago as a darkness spread across Althea; War had broken out between Men and Fae and in the chaos dragons, orcs, and ogres were becoming bolder, attacking settlements of all the Races. The Drakes had been no exception and had lost many of their kin to attacks by their larger cousins, their numbers dwindling to under three hundred. They sent an emissary to King Joren, asking for sanctuary in return for service to the Crown as defenders of Ranoor.

Once the details had been worked out, the King had Prince Cayne see to the Drakes' needs and discover how best to utilize them. The prince decided to pair each Drake with a human partner, but not just any partners would do, they would need to learn to be proficient in both aerial and ground combat. These people would need to be trained from scratch alongside their Drake partners, and they would have to get along well enough to spend a lot of time together. Thus he began the tests.

The first test in the Capitol was meant to test for courage, determination, and resourcefulness. It was held in the King's Forest and open to anyone between the ages of thirteen and twenty. Applicants found themselves challenged with the task of spending three days in the forest while Drakes rotated in shifts and did everything they could to harass and terrify them. If a Drake found an applicant that they approved of, they could claim them as their partner and end their test then and there. There had been over two thousand applicants, but only two-thirds of the adult and near-adult Drakes had found partners.

“Janith here was one of the first to be chosen,” the prince said with a chuckle at what Nyssa assumed was some private joke.

“I caught Sokair by surprise,” the blonde girl began to explain with a grin. “There I was, sitting high up in a tree trying to get the lay of the land when he landed and started sniffing around. He started sniffing at the tree and I thought he was going to find me for sure, so I did the first thing that came to mind. I snapped off a branch, and as soon as his head got too close for comfort I jumped on it and started bashing. We're best friends now, I can't imagine life without him.” She sighed happily, a dreamy look in her eyes as she added, “We still have that branch.”

Cayne chuckled again at the girl before getting back to his explanation. "Since we still needed partners for some of the Drakes we decided to test some of the towns and villages, but without letting them know they were being tested. We try to issue a test every fortnight, choosing a different location each time. The scenario for the tests is that we allow a resident to see a 'dragon' in the forest or a nearby cave, flying overhead, or about to gobble up their livestock and see how they react. This time, at Aureal's request we based the scenario on those tales about a dragon holding a princess captive."

“You should hear her complain about how stupid those tales and songs are,” Janith quickly chimed in. “She thought finding a partner that way would be ironic though. We were all settled in here and ready to begin the test three days ago, but Aureal started shedding her skin so we had to put it off until she was done.”

“You surprised us when you showed up,” the prince added, “we have never had someone manage to sneak up on us that way. Most hide and some try to form mobs, but once in a while one or two will show the qualities we are looking for, like you did. If we find one then the Drake performing the test can choose to claim the person as their partner and a Knight of Ranoor. If more than one is found, the Drake will choose one and the others will be taken to Havenhold for other Drakes to choose from.”

Nyssa could feel her jaw drop and she stared open-mouthed as what he was telling her sunk in. “You want me to...” She couldn't seem to finish the sentence, afraid that she might be wrong.

To her surprise, the prince nodded, a solemn look on his face as he placed a hand gently on her shoulder. "Aureal has approved of you, but the choice is yours to make. I warn you that the life of a Knight of Ranoor is not for the faint of heart so please consider carefully. Should the chaos on the mainland reach this far, we will fight against it. Some of us may have to go to the mainland as well for diplomacy and to re-establish trade. You could be asked to do just about anything for the sake of the Kingdom. Also, you and Aureal would be true partners; living together, training together, and fighting together. Her opinion matters as much as yours, and you would see to her needs as she would try to see to yours."

Was this really the kind of life she wanted? She could still go back home, marry Thomas, and spend the rest of her days at the Big Fish Inn. No, that life was not for her. The life being offered her was something she could have never conceived of a few days before; not only would she be a knight, but she would be partnered to a Drake. It didn't take her long to decide. “I accept, Your Highness.”

Cayne reached into his coin pouch, extracting a silver medallion and handing it to her. It boasted an engraving of what appeared to be a drake holding a sword, and she was so enthralled by it that she almost didn't hear the prince say, “Welcome, Lady Nyssa, to the Knights of Ranoor.”

"Thank you, Your Highness," she responded, with a grin that threatened to split her face in two.

“My knights call me Commander, or just Cayne,” he corrected her with a smile. “Now let us go see how Aureal is faring and conclude this test, then we can take you to Havenhold to get settled in with Aureal until you can both be officially knighted by my father.”

Nyssa smiled as she retrieved her sword and sheath. Aureal's roars and the screams of terror outside the cave had quieted fairly quickly during their talk and she wondered if the mob hadn't already fled. When they stepped outside the cave entrance the mob was indeed gone and Aureal had been joined by two other Drakes; one with green and gold scales and the other blue and silver. Both of the unfamiliar Drakes wore a thick leather harness, fastened tightly about the base of their necks with a multitude of straps of various lengths secured to the upper half. Parrin was with the Drakes, not looking pleased at all to be lying face down on the ground with Aureal holding him down with her hand-like front paw. He was trying to reach for his sword, which laid on the rocky ground just out of his reach.

Janith ran over to hug the green and gold Drake, smiling as she said, ”It's good to have you back Sokair.” She looked pointedly at the entrapped nobleman and asked, “So, what's the catch of the day?”

The Drake answered in a deep rumbling voice, “That one ordered his men to charge Aureal and then abandoned them so he could try to sneak into the cave.”

Nyssa leveled a cold glare at Parrin. “I was afraid that you would try something like that.” Her expression softened though as she looked toward the red and gold Drake and asked in concern, “You weren't harmed, were you Aureal?”

“I am unhurt, as are the men,” Aureal replied, flooding her with relief. “A few good roars sent them running for home.”

“Let me go you stupid beast!” Parrin shouted as he tried to squirm free and reach his sword.

For some reason, hearing him talk to Aureal that way made Nyssa even angrier than she had been in the tavern the night before. If anyone was a beast it was him. He had intentionally led those men into a situation where they were likely to die without a second thought, while Aureal had been careful not to harm them. In the short time that she had spent with the Drake, Nyssa had found her to be intelligent and her reactions to things not much different than her own would have been. She unsheathed her sword, gripping it tightly in both hands, and swung downward as hard as she could.

Her sword struck the flat of the blade that Parrin was still reaching for with the sound of metal on metal, causing him to retract his hand in shock as the bejeweled sword's blade snapped just shy of the hilt. Nyssa cast a withering glare toward him, turning her sword so that its point was mere inches from his nose. “Do not talk about my partner that way.”

“I would listen to her Parrin,” Prince Cayne advised as he stepped forward.

“Y-y-your Highness?” the Count's son stammered nervously as he realized who had spoken.

Cayne ignored him and looked down at the broken sword on the ground, “A regal looking weapon, though not much use in a real battle. I have seen similar blades sold in Havenhold for no less than thirty gold pieces.”

"That's funny, he could have had the one that broke it for fifteen silver if he had paid for it as promised," Nyssa muttered.

"A fair price for such a well-made weapon," the prince agreed with a nod as he looked over the sword in her hands. His expression turned pensive for a moment and suddenly he smiled. "Janith, let us go get our supplies packed while Nyssa goes to collect her belongings. Aureal, please hang on to him for a while longer, we have a stop to make before heading back to the Capitol.

“Aye,” the Drake replied, “but I can't promise he will remain in one piece if he keeps squirming.” She winked at Nyssa, eliciting a gasp of surprise from her, followed by a smile as she left to gather her things.

* * *

Flying had been the single most exhilarating experience of Nyssa's life. The wind in her face and hair and the refreshing spray of the light rain that had started just before they left the cave made her feel alive in a way that she never had before. She would have preferred to be flying with Aureal, but her new partner had no flying harness or straps yet. Instead, she had been seated behind Janith atop Sokair's neck, just forward of his shoulders. Parrin hadn't been so lucky, having spent the whole flight grasped tightly in Aureal's draconian fist.

She had been surprised when Cayne had them land behind a stand of trees outside her village and dismount, and more than a little nervous as well as he had her ring the gathering bell. Nerves gave way to an intense feeling of pride when the prince had Parrin identify him and then announced to those gathered that she, Nyssa Smith of the village Ribel had earned the King's Mark and a place among the Knights of Ranoor. That alone would have been enough for her, but he had also commanded Trebor to pay her ten silver for services rendered. Best of all though, Parrin was to pay her father twenty silver for her sword and the same again each for fifty more swords of the same quality to be donated to the Knights of Ranoor as punishment for his various misdeeds.

As they left the village at mid-morning Nyssa was wearing Janith's spare riding jacket; thick wool and leather, dyed in the King's blue and gold, and proudly displaying the knight's emblem over her heart. "It's strange how a simple title and the right piece of clothing can change things," she thought to herself as she left the village, the villagers treating her with reverence, and wishing her well. The crowd thinned as they reached the outskirts, until there was only one man remaining. Her father had tears in his eyes and was beaming with pride as he stood there. She swallowed the lump in her throat and ran to wrap her arms around him. "I'll miss you, Da."

“You'll be fine,” he assured her, holding her tight. “You're a hawk, you were meant to fly.”

Reluctantly she let him go and brushed the tears from her eyes as she rushed to catch up with her fellow knights and their Drakes. "Thank you, Commander," she told the prince uncertainly, "you didn't have to do any of that." She still wasn't really sure she could call him by his first name, though Janith had said that she would get used to the idea in time.

"Of course I did," he argued as he gave her a boost onto Sokair's neck and helped her strap in, "you are a Knight of Ranoor, and I take care of my own. Now let us get you away from here and where you belong."

As he left to get strapped in atop Gralt she mulled over what he had just said. “Where I belong? Is he talking about Havenhold?”

Janith laughed in front of her as she kicked her heels lightly, spurring Sokair to launch himself into the air with Aureal at his side. She turned and gave Nyssa a wicked grin as they climbed into the sky and she had to shout to be heard above the wind. “This is where we belong!”

 © 2019 Amethyst Gibbs
All Rights Reserved
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It's great being back Talia

Amethyst's picture

I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope to have other things to post relatively soonish.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

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Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Welcome Back!

terrynaut's picture

Hi, Amethyst!

Welcome back and thanks very much for the story. I like it a lot. I love dragons -- and drakes! -- and I love strong female characters.

I'm saving your other story for later. I'm sure I'll like it.

Thanks and kudos (number 10).

- Terry

Hi Terrynaut

Amethyst's picture

Thank you and I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Its funny, because I love writing about dragons -- and drakes -- and strong female characters.

I hope you'll enjoy the other one just as much.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

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Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Thanks Dottie

Amethyst's picture

It's good to be back where I belong. Much thanks to you and Talia, for convincing me to post these.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

two very nice stories

Monique S's picture

Sweet, entertaining and well written, a joy to read.

Monique.

Monique S

Thanks Monique

Amethyst's picture

I'm happy that you enjoyed them so much, as making my readers happy with my little tales makes me happy :)

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Far To Short

This reminded me of some other dragon riders. Both Pern and Dragonlance with some others that maybe aren't dragons. It is always a good day to have some dragons, a bit of magic and intrigue. Almost makes me want to start drawing maps and rolling dice to flesh things out a bit. This could easily be a much larger world. You just need to figure out where the rest of it is. I'm sure Nyssa's rise through the ranks would be most interesting and eventful whille nearly always doing something unexpected.

Funny you should mention that

Amethyst's picture

Actually this is part of a much larger world, It's just that so far I've only written these two stories. I already made a fairly sizable map and have a long list of various races, deities, places, characters and such and have some other stories planned later with other characters that will bring it all together, including possibly a full length novel at some point once I've finished some of my serials and such.

I also planned for Nyssa and Aureal to possibly take part in some major events against the darkness spreading across Althea and meeting some of those Races she dreamed of meeting. I also plan to write another short story introducing another major character, that will show the Warders mentioned in The Wrath of a Wraith and shed a little light on how the darkness spreading across the land began. There's a lot more where this came from, it just may take a bit of time ;)

Hopefully once I get rolling and finish a few projects, you'll be seeing a lot more of the Magical Realm of Althea.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Lovely story.

The development and outcome of this story was a complete surprise to me. Nicely done too. To have both Dragons and Drakes leaves all sorts of possibilities open for future episodes should you decide to do that.

Thank you.

Gwen

You know me Gwen,

Amethyst's picture

I love to throw those curveballs once in a while ;)

There's lots I can do with this world and I already have a lot of background in place, so I'm sure that someday we'll see more of the Magical Realm of Althea.

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Well, this was definitely an

Well, this was definitely an enjoyable story to read. And even better that it's from one of the authors I've been greatly missing as they've return!

Now, to go and read the other one I suppose. I'll be hoping, and looking forward to, many more to come, whatever form they take and whichever universe they take place in.

Let the flames of inspiration blaze within, and the sky be less of a limit, and more of a challenge

Thanks Pyro Hawk

Amethyst's picture

I'm happy you enjoyed it, and happier still to be back. Just a bit to tide people over until I can get a few chapters of some of my serials finished,

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Kitty came back - hooray!

Podracer's picture

And brought us all a present too. Can't go wrong with a draconic friend.

"Reach for the sun."

Yup, I'm back

Amethyst's picture

I do love Draconic friends, and I'm hoping I'll be getting back to another one once I finish some Syryn's Song and I Wish

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

I could have sworn,

that I left a comment on your story (this one) last night. But it seems I did not. I am a silly woman sometimes. My husband would say all the time. I love this kind of story. My Mom would too, and my late father would have. You are an incredible writer and I LOVE seeing girls being the heroes, and their worth being recognized by magical beasts an Princes as well. Super nice job!

Sarah

I am a Proud mostly Native American woman. I am bi-polar. I am married, and mother to three boys. I hope we can be friends.

Thanks Sarah

Amethyst's picture

I'm very glad that you enjoyed it so much as I do love writing strong and intelligent female characters. I also really enjoyed turning the classic 'brave knight rescues the princess from the dragon' story on it's head a bit:)

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Good Story

A fun and interesting story. I love fantasies, dragons, and interesting characters, you managed the trifecta.

Aww thanks

Amethyst's picture

I often write about things that I would like reading myself, so it's very rewarding, and somewhat validating, when others enjoy them too,

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Dragons...ehhh

Jamie Lee's picture

I saw this story was about dragons and thought, eh, why not. So glad I read this story, but where's the rest of the story?

There's Nyssa's training with her partner and her sword. Plus battles. Plus, plus...

Others have feelings too.

lol nope this was a one shot deal

Amethyst's picture

I'm glad you enjoyed it, but it's a standalone story. Nyssa and Aureal will likely have a role in some of the future stories in the Universe though.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

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Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

thanks

an welcome back

Dragonby Dragon

Amethyst's picture

I googled it and it looks interesting and the two local stories about the place are interesting. It could make for an interesting location to base a story on.

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

The story was definitely

The story was definitely worth posting.

It's interesting. With the height of your avatar picture, the comments section is as long as the story :)


I'll get a life when it's proven and substantiated to be better than what I'm currently experiencing.

More more more!!

Ms Amethyst you are by far one of my favorite authors on BC. Originally I was thinking this was so reminiscent of Earthsea Trilogy and Dragon Riders of Pern. But I’m a total Sci-fi nerd and I finally realized your writing reminds me most of Joan Slonczewski (A Door Into Ocean) and Sherri S. Tepper. I can’t offer much higher praise than that since they are my two all-time favorite authors whose work I periodically re-read. I’ve probably read Door Into Ocean at least five times, and your work is equally as good. I have no right to ask this but I will anyway, if there’s more of this story (honestly ALL of your stories) please post it when you can. I can’t thank you enough for the hours of pleasure I’ve derived from your offerings. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Don't believe everything you think.

Um... wow

Amethyst's picture

That's quite some praise there, my cheeks are like bright red right now. I do love writing fantasy and Sci-fi especially because they allow me to dive into my imagination. This one is part of a universe that I do plan on expanding once I finish a few other projects, there's a few other short stories and at least one novel that I'd really love to do in this world and my muse is being pretty insistant about it. I had some thoughts of doing more with this story or maybe having some of the characters feature in a novel as well, but we'll see where my muse takes me on that. It makes me feel good when people not only enjoy my stories but want to re-read them since that really is the sign of a good writer.

It's funny that you should mention the Dragonriders of Pern because I was a big fan of those books in my teens and could really immerse myself in that world. Writers like Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Mercedes Lackey made me want to write and create my own worlds. I've never read Sherri S. Tepper, but I've heard great things about her work and I really will have to read some of it if I ever get the time.

I'm greatly honored that my offerings have affected you so deeply and I'll do my best to keep offering more.

*big hugs*

Amethyst

ChibiMaker1.jpg

Don't take me too seriously. I'm just kitten around. :3

Love it

A good origin story

To put it simply, this is

To put it simply, this is simply wonderful. Thank you.