A Castle Full of Dragons
Part 2: Sometimes things don't go according to plan...
Note: This story is the continuation of "A Roomful of Dragons." If you haven't read that story first, start there.
The air expands with a flash of green and a rush of heat that, uncontained by a circle, makes Asha flinch. She feels the pressure on her skin as stone turns to living flesh, and she closes her eyes to the inevitable.
She remembers walking with Jon on a bright day, apple blossoms dancing in the breeze around them.
She holds the memory in her mind as she feels the wind shift, the breath indrawn, and she anticipates the flames that will engulf her.
They do not come.
She opens her eyes.
Firestorm stands before her in all his fierce beauty, and though flames dance from his nostrils, he does not exhale them, not yet. He watches her intensely, a snake coiled to spring, and Asha knows what it is to be the mouse in a cat’s gaze.
She does not understand immediately, not until Firestorm shifts his leg and she sees the statue he has curled protectively around.
“Her.” His voice, like his mate’s, is the crackle of dried leaves in a fireplace.
Asha’s words should have awoken them both at the same time. Every time she has awoken more than one dragon, their transformations were simultaneous. Still, she knows her position here is tenuous. Firestorm assessed the situation immediately; he is beyond intelligent. And he restrains himself only because he needs her to regain his mate.
“Okay,” she says, trying to stay calm, trying to act like this is normal. “I will awaken her next, but you will need to step away a little.”
He hisses at her.
“Please.” She is proud of how steady she is keeping her voice. “I do not want you to be injured by the magic energy released. She must have room to awaken.”
Though his glare does not lessen, he takes a small step backwards.
It will have to do. Asha summons the spell again, letting the green light dance, and releases it toward Firestorm’s imprisoned mate.
She steps closer and tries once again. Jon had never specified a distance involved, though perhaps this, his last spell, was different.
Inferno remains small and inanimate, and Asha does not need to see the flames building in Firestorm’s throat to know he is becoming impatient.
She has to say something, do something, and she has no idea what. Something is wrong, and she suddenly feels very small and very alone next to the force of nature in front of her. The scholarly part of her brain that would normally be forming hypotheses and drawing conclusions is as frozen as Inferno.
She needs help, and there is only one source near. She shifts her gaze to Firestorm. “Are you a sorcerer?” she asks.
In answer he lowers his head, like a snake about to strike, and hovers over his mate. “You free her. Now.”
“I’m sorry. I’m trying. I can’t.”
“The spell is not working. I want to, truly. I know what it is to lose a mate. But something is interfering. Are you a sorcerer?”
He weaves his head and blasts a jet of flame at the ground, leaving a scorched bare spot on the grass. He exhales a string of words in his own crackling language, his frustration palpable, and Asha realizes what should have been obvious.
“Can you understand me?” she asks.
He growls before answering. “Yes. Some.”
Well then. She speaks slowly, carefully choosing her words.
“I want to free her. I tried. It is not working. I do not know why. Are you a sorcerer?”
He flames the ground again in frustration. “No,” he answers, and gestures at the statue of his mate. “She is.”
“I need a sorcerer. Your magic is different from ours. I need someone who knows your magic.” She suppresses a shudder as she realizes what she is asking for, and how dangerous a dragon mage would be. “Do you know one? Does she have--” Colleagues? Associates? Would he know those words? “--friends?”
He tilts his head, pondering, though he seems to understand. “Yes,” he says finally.
“Will they work with a human sorcerer? To untie the spell?”
“Yes. For her, yes. But,” he pauses, and Asha can see him finding the words, “he will not understand, talk.”
No one has ever compiled a dictionary of draconic languages. Asha has no idea how many languages there even are. She needs a translator, and can only think of one dragon.
Bail is no firedrake, but he knows Asha’s language fluently. She has to hope he knows others as well. She also has to hope he and Mercy have not traveled far yet.
“I have a dragon friend who can help understand. We will need to find your sorcerer, and my friend, and a human sorcerer.” There’s another challenge. Can she find someone willing to work with a dragon mage? She can think of a few possibilities, but they are not here. “I will need to take her to my home.”
Firestorm scoops up the statue of his mate and hisses again.
“Please. I want to undo this, but we will need help. We will need special help and special--” Equipment? Ingredients? She has honestly no idea what will be needed. “--things. We cannot do this here. She must come to my home.”
She can tell he is considering the truth of this. “Yes,” he says finally, still holding the statue of his mate. “I come too.”
A firedrake loose near the court. She is certain the king will have words to say about this, but she really has no choice, and it is easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
Still, she has to warn the drake. “Are you certain? It is a human town. People will be scared. You will have to be careful.”
His grip on the statue tightens. “I come too.”
She nods. “I understand. I would do the same.” Slowly she reaches out her hand, a trusting gesture. “I am Asha. What is your name?”
He answers, a hiss and a crackle. Asha tries to duplicate it, but her mouth can only manage a poor imitation.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I cannot say your name. My mouth is wrong. You are magnificent, a force of nature, and in my mind I called you Firestorm. May I call you that?”
“Firestorm.” Inferno had derided the name, but he gives it due consideration. “Yes. Asha.”
Her name in his mouth is the hiss of water on flame as he gazes at her outstretched hand. He makes no move to touch it.
She understands, more than he can know. Her worry over Jon is tempered only by her guilt, and that guilt has kept her up at night and led her on this pilgrimage. She is unsure that simple words are adequate to the complex thoughts she wants to share with Firestorm, but she has to try.
“I owe you,” she begins. “I did not realize your intelligence, and we were wrong to enspell thinking beings. I want to help you both. I had hoped for forgiveness, but I neither expect nor deserve it. I ask only for a truce. Let me make this right, give me that long, then you can do to me what you wish.”
Again, he considers her words. She does not know how much he understands. Maybe they can discuss it further, if they can find Bail, if he knows the language. There are so many variables.
She stands with her hand outstretched.
Slowly, Firestorm reaches out to her. His skin burns with the heat inside of him as he lays one scaly claw on her palm.
A single affirmation, agreeing to all or part of her request. They lack the language to clarify, and Asha is not sure she wants to anyway. This will have to do.
“Right.” She hefts her bag, light now for the absence of statues, and turns back the way she came.
The entire court was scandalized when Lady Asha marched up to the castle gates with four dragons in tow and asked for an audience with the king.
And now, three days later, they are all installed in a little-used wing, one with a courtyard that looks out onto an open field. Asha and the human sorcerers dine with the court three times a day. It is during one of these mealtimes that livestock is brought into the field, and the dragons dine by themselves.
She had counted on mutual curiosity, the drive to understand and order the universe that is innate to all sorcerers, to bring the two species together. It was not instantaneous, of course. The human sorcerers had been, at first, terrified, and the draconic mages wary; but Bail’s charming manner greased the wheels of their introductions, and mutual caution has become mutual respect over these days.
Their systems of spellcasting are not the same, and much of this time has been spent establishing equivalencies in translation, determining what can be taught versus what is innate ability. And now there is a palpable excitement in the air, a sense of progress being made, as Asha listens to Bail translate talk of ley lines and energy, life force and talismans.
She knew many of the human sorcerers as colleagues of Jon’s. Some of them had even accompanied him on assignments, though Bail has diplomatically avoided this topic. One of the draconic mages is a firedrake, and Asha has gathered he is some relation to Inferno. The other is a gorgeous bird-like creature covered in shimmering blue feathers. Asha has never seen one of his species before, and though she has many questions for him, none of them seem appropriate now.
She carefully avoids looking at the twin fabric-draped biers in the corner of the courtyard. A large figure rests on one; a much smaller figure on the other; and though Asha knows they are essential--the whole point of this conclave is to free both of them--her memories and grief flood back when she thinks about being in his presence.
She does not want to hope. And she hopes desperately that this will work.
They have brought in a diviner to study the connection between the inert human and the static dragon, to look into the past and try to determine how the threads of their spells became entangled. He has never met Jon before today, so he can see the problem with fresh eyes. The others gather around him as he removes the sheets covering the figures and begins to study them, as Jon used to study a new book of spells or the properties of a mineral, working impersonally between one and the other.
She can not watch her husband be treated as a science experiment. She slips unseen from the courtyard through the field and down to the river, where the water’s bubbling drowns out the conversation amongst the mages.
She sits on a fallen tree and remembers Jon, vibrant and alive, returning from a quest, laughing as he swung down off his mount and swept her into his arms. She remembers a summer’s picnic in the heather, lying on the blanket with the sound of bees buzzing around them. She remembers winter nights by the fire, firs bundled around them and their bodies pressed together for warmth and love.
She can no longer tell where her memories end and the grief begins.
A movement in the corner of her eye makes her turn her head, and she sees Firestorm across the river, gazing into his own memories. She meets his eyes, and a silent understanding passes between them. They have not discussed their truce, nor what will happen when it ends, though it hangs in the air between them. Also unsaid is the fact that Asha can command Jon’s spell, though not remove it, and with a word she can render the drake a statue again.
She will not. She will never speak those words again, to any dragon, and she hopes that he understands that. Whether he chooses to harm her is a different matter, and she meant what she said when she accepted any judgement he will choose to render.
And so they accept each other’s presence, with a river between them, as their mates are studied in the courtyard above.
See how it ends. Read Part 3: A Heart Full of Dragons.
About the author
I went from being a kid who would narrate the world around me to an adult who always has a story in her head. Now I find sanctuary in my Minnesota woods, where the quiet of nature helps my ideas develop.