Chapter 1: Can't A Dragon Just Be A Dragon?
There weren't always dragons in the Valley. The words were printed in large block letters on the blackboard.
Ms. Meadow pointed at the chalky words, "Thea, can you tell us what the author is trying to tell us here?"
Thea turned her head abruptly from the window and toward her teacher. She squinted at the sentence.
"There weren't always dragons in the Valley!" Ms. Meadow read the words aloud, making no effort to hide her exasperation, "What is the author trying to say here?"
Visibly annoyed at having her daydream interrupted, Thea sighed, then softened her stern gaze slightly. A wry smile spread across her pink lips as her mind seemed to come alive. "I think it means that one time there were no dragons in the Valley, and then they showed up," she replied, her voice flat and her eyes visibly rolled.
The classroom rumbled softly with tentative snickers as the young girl looked around, nodding her head of dark curls approvingly as her peers moved from quiet chuckles to excited chatter.
As Ms. Meadow struggled to bring the class back to order, Thea cast her eyes back to the window and her mind back to daydreaming, unconcerned with her teacher's disapproving glare.
Thea didn't care much for school. At almost 16, she knew her power. She came from a long line of Magiwars, a distinct clan of female warrior magicians who were as feared for their battle skills as they were respected for their healing magic.
Like the grandmother she was named for, Thea had a knack for both magic and warfare. She was tall and beautiful, with broad shoulders and long powerful legs. She possessed a keen mind and an innate understanding of her own natural abilities.
She saw no need to be at Northlandia’s Academy of Practical Craft (NAPC), the local private institute for young warriors, magicians, sorcerers, warlocks and alchemists. It promised to graduate “proficient practitioners for a modern world,” through course offerings like Fundamentals of Alchemy, Introduction to Battle Technology, Advanced Mathematics and Principles of Ethical Practice.
And of course, her least favourite class of all, Classical Magical Literature.
To her, it was all a giant waste of time. Thea was already skilled in the art of battle. And she had forgotten more magic than any of her so-called instructors had ever hoped to know.
She learned it all the old-fashioned way – at her grandmother’s feet.
Traditions, battle strategies and magic in the Magiwar clan were passed down matrilineally. Over millennia, mothers passed the secrets of the Circle to their daughters. It was an age-old tradition that worked.
Until 2171, the year of the Third Great War.
There had been two previous great wars. One in 2148 and one in 2159. These wars happened every few years as rivalling clans migrated northward in search of hospitable land.
Migrations happened slowly and peacefully at first. Nothing more than a few families here and there escaping the inconvenience of persistent droughts and uncomfortably hot summers. And they were welcomed into Northlandia warmly and eagerly.
But as the climate continued to change, more and more groups came, many of them not friendly. The World Collective declared almost the entire swath of land between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn uninhabitable by 2147. Winters were frigid and unforgiving, and the summer sun scorched everything in its wake. There was nothing in between. There was just terrible cold and terrible heat. Billions of people were left to flee either to the extreme south or toward the far north.
The panic, the uncertainty and the scarcity of resources lead people to do things they normally wouldn’t do. And soon, the shores of Northlandia were the site of several vicious battles for supremacy.
The Magiwar were front and centre at every single battle. Every woman between the ages of 16 and 60 took up arms and defended the territory from outsiders. It had always been that way. It would always be that way.
One of those women was Thea’s mother, Althea. Although she was built like a warrior, sturdy, thick and powerful, she was more a healer than a fighter. Her brilliant mind and warm heart had made her the most sought-after medicine woman in the whole territory. But she could, and would, fight when necessary.
Her sense of duty ended in her demise.
In the Third Great War, Thea The Elder instructed her daughter to stay back, to await the sick and injured and to care for the baby, known as Thea The Younger. This was where her skills could best serve the clan.
She did as she was told until word made it back to the Village that Northlandia was about to be taken into enemy hands.
Althea handed her daughter to Artius, her husband, a skilled hunter and farmer and one of The 5, a group of men who provided all the food for the Magiwar clan. Seeing no choice, she defied her mother and did what she had to do. She donned her breastplate, grabbed her weapons and jumped onto her horse and into battle.
Northlandia was successfully defended that day. Althea took out 46 advancing troops but lost her life in the process. She never knew what hit her. She didn't see it. She didn't hear it. She didn't even feel it until several moments later. Whatever it was came from out of nowhere.
She made it back to camp, pale, shaking, blood gushing from her wounds as her life drained along with it. Her mother, Thea, The Elder tended her.
She took the silver locket off her daughter's dying neck and promised to care for and teach the baby in the Magiwar tradition.
Part of that vow was to see that young Thea, her namesake, got a proper education. She was convinced that whatever killed her daughter must have been a new form of weaponry, unknown to the Magiwar.
The old ways were good. They were necessary. But, so was keeping up with the times. It was something she'd long considered.
She had even thought about sending Althea to school years before but decided against it. The timing didn't feel right. The need didn't feel so pressing. And financially, it would have been a stretch.
That, Thea, The Elder realized, was a fatal error. It was something she had to live with every single day. The shame, the sorrow of losing her daughter, all because of a foolish decision, a selfish decision, was almost more than she could bear.
She would not be repeating the same mistake with her granddaughter.
No more Magiwar women would be lost. Not if she could help it. And she could, by offering Thea what she should have given to her daughter, something no Magiwar woman had ever received until now, a formal education.
Through Thea, The Younger, the clan's continued success and survival would be ensured.
It was so important to her that she refused to give her namesake the silver locket from her mother’s neck until she obtained her diploma.
The locket was a rite of passage, passed down traditionally from mother to daughter on the daughter's 16th birthday. It was the ancient symbol that marked a young Magiwar’s transition from a juvenile to a full member of the Circle with all its attending rights and responsibilities.
Without admission to the Circle, Thea would not be permitted to fight or administer healing magic to the ailing.
She begged, she whined, she pleaded and reasoned, all to no avail. Her grandmother's resolve was firm - no education, no locket, no Circle.
With no choice, Thea grudgingly carried herself off to school.
She hated her classes. But like most teenagers, Thea enjoyed much of her day-to-day life at school. She relished the battle games with neighbouring academies and attended every single dance and feast. She gossipped with girlfriends and ate too many sweets.
The young Magiwar was a popular girl and made friends easily. She spent most of her time with her two best friends, Inez and Ada.
Inez was a tiny fairy with blonde hair, huge blue eyes and a personality bigger than Northlandia itself. Ada was a girl from a friendly clan of alchemists. She was bookish and serious, but with a surprisingly wicked sense of humour.
And then there was Reuben, the boy Thea had her eye on. He was a wiry, quick-witted warlock in the senior class.
Reuben cut a striking figure. Not tall, but not short. Broad and covered in lean muscle. He knew he was attractive and carried himself with a confidence that melted effortlessly into arrogance.
He was bright in a practical sense, but like Thea, saw little value in institutional learning.
He had twinkling dark eyes, an impish, sideways smile and a naughty, rebellious streak that Thea found irresistible. Reuben always looked like he was up to some sort of mischief. Often, much like Thea, he was.
But for the tomfoolery, Reuben was also quiet, kind and gentle. He was a lover of all things animal and had a special way with horses. He spoke rarely and when he did, he did so softy and with a sense of purpose that defied his youth.
Reuben was the kind of boy that could either fill your heart and protect it fiercely forever, or break it into a million pieces without a second thought. It was the never-ending contradictions, the mix of dark and light, of soft and hard, that captivated Thea so completely.
But Reuben never noticed her. Not really. He liked the fairies. The teeny, tiny girls like Inez, that fawned all over him, laughed at all his jokes and clamoured to buy him treats at the Cauldron Cafe.
All Thea got was his respect. In the joint war games, Reuben always chose Thea as his partner. He knew she was a good warrior. He admired her family history and her skill. But it wasn't the same as love. It wasn't even the same as like. She was a means to an end. A partner to win the games and nothing else, which they'd done 3 years running.
But as much fun as she had with her friends, thoughts of Reuben, Inez, Ada, dances and feasts faded quickly when school let out each quarter. The moment Thea returned home, the urgency of her life fell sharply into focus. And her resolve that school was a waste of time hardened.
Thea The Elder, at 67 was about as tall, broad and straight as she ever was. To see her in the marketplace or around Northlandia, she was every inch the warrior.
She had been in every Great War and every skirmish the territory had seen since she was a girl. She had delivered every single baby in the clan and administered healing to countless ailing souls from Northlandia to Icelandia and beyond.
She showed no signs of slowing down. She was revered by allies and feared by foes. Thea, The Elder was the matriarch, not only of the clan, but of Northlandia, and the wider Northern territories as well. Her very name conjured respect or terror, depending on your intentions.
But young Thea knew better.
She was the one that saw The Elder's swollen feet and soaked them in a Turmeric and saltwater bath after long days of walking from house to house, administering medicinal potions and herbs, delivering babies and giving wise counsel.
She was the one that watched her strain her ageing brown eyes as she mixed potions and read recipes.
She was the one that watched her struggle to set her spear in the war games, only to reign victorious, not through sight or strength, but sheer muscle memory from decades of battle.
She was the one that caught the slips in memory. Subtle mistakes that could have been just that, if her grandmother had made mistakes. Mistaking the root of celery for the root of beet. The muddying up of dates and names. The fuzzy recollection of past events that had once been vivid.
And she was the one who saw the exhaustion on her face and in her limply slumped shoulders at the end of the day as she sipped her evening tonic.
What Thea saw in the dim late evening light wasn't Thea The Elder, proud, fierce Magiwar. What she saw was a tired old woman who couldn’t keep it up much longer. A tired old woman that couldn’t survive another battle. A tired old woman who desperately needed to pass the silver locket on to the next generation so she could live out her days in the quiet repose she'd so richly earned.
Yet she refused. She persisted. Thea, The Elder vowed to carry on for one more year. She would face and fight in any battle and administer any healing magic necessary as the leader of the Magiwars until the day her granddaughter successfully completed her studies. And on that day, and only that day would the silver locket be passed on.
"But what if you die?" Thea had asked her grandmother several times, fearing it to be a real possibility.
The Elder's reply was always the same, "If I die, I die. You can pry the locket off my cold, dead body, but I'm alive now, and you're going to school."
Thea didn’t know what dusty old school books had to do with any of that. She didn’t care. All she knew was that faint rumours of war were beginning to rumble in Northlandia’s valley again and that her grandmother, despite her resolve, was in no condition to fight should the rumours prove true. No amount of sitting around talking about the symbolism of storybook dragons was going to change that.
About the author
Retired legal eagle, nature love, wife, mother of boys and cats, chef, and trying to learn to play the guitar. I play with paint and words. Living my "middle years" like a teenager and loving every second of it!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes