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From Ember to Ash

by Jessie Waddell about a month ago in Fantasy
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Chapter one

Image licensed for use, edited by Author on Canva

There weren't always dragons in the Valley. According to most, there still aren't.

They thought they hunted us down—slaughtered us to extinction. Many fell. But, did they think us such simple creatures we would not take measures to ensure the survival of our species?

A single dragon's nest holds thousands of eggs, and there are corners of this world still untouched by the murderous hand of man.

Integrating was simple once we mastered the ability to camouflage ourselves in their form and live amongst them. When fire is your servant, you can produce their most precious currency at a rate beyond comprehension.

No one asks questions about the mysterious blacksmiths arriving from the far isles— when you can mould steel, silver and gold at a rate ten times faster than the balding bastard that tended the forge before you, you hold power in their world.

If only those kings knew the crowns of gold I fashion for their heads will be of no use when their kingdoms are on fire and the broadswords of their armies will bend and break as their molten armour melts the flesh from their bones.

"Excuse me, Miss. I'm seeking the blacksmith."

I turned from the forge and met the crystalline eyes of a stranger. The bitter cold of the winter storm that was raging outside seemed to cling to his skin as he closed the door behind him.

"I am she."

"A woman?" he questioned, my eyes narrowing as my temper made the flames behind me flare.

"I am sorry if I have caused offence. When I heard the best blacksmith on the continent resided in the valley, I assumed... that is..."

"You are not the first man to assume, sir. Nor will you be the last. What can I do for you?"

He seemed relieved that I offered him an opportunity to retreat from the hole he was successfully digging himself into.

"I am seeking to commission a large project on behalf of my king. I have the means to pay upfront but require your absolute discretion. I also require you to accompany me to our kingdom, as the work must be completed on site and out of view of the public."

He placed a large sack of gold on the counter and slid a piece of parchment in front of me that contained the blueprint of a complex weapon. I recognised the design immediately.

"What would your king be requiring a weapon such as this for, my lord?"

"I am afraid that information is confidential."

"I see. Well, I suppose our business is done then." I said, turning my back on the dragon slayer despite the gesture sending a shiver down my spine.

I knew what he was the moment I laid eyes on that weapon. I knew his king—and his dark purpose.

"I really must insist, miss."

"Merida is my name. And I'll have no part of forging a weapon clearly intended to kill, without knowing what it is I'll be contributing to killing."

I heard the sigh of frustration, and the sound of a gloved hand running through damp hair before he finally spoke.

"Do you believe in dragons, Merida?"

"Of course, my lord. But, there are no dragons in the Valley..."

My statement was a question that lingered between the two of us. The way his sharp stare was fixed on my own made me question whether I was truly the only one of us who knew what we were to each other.

"Not yet. But the sailors that return from across the sea are telling stories of kingdoms on fire."

He spoke barely above a whisper as he placed his palm on the counter and leant toward me from his towering height.

I leaned in toward him, amused and perplexed by the entire exchange. As though he somehow thought vague tales of fire from across the sea would be enough to convince anyone that dragons were back on the continent. No, this warrior knew far more than that, which is why I made the decision to keep my enemies close.

"So... you want me to help you slay a dragon, Sir?"

"You may call me Dain. And yes, Merida. I want you to help me slay a dragon."

I should have felt rage. White hot and burning through me at this man's admission that he intended to harm my kind. But there was something in his eyes I was unprepared for— Remorse? Perhaps even regret? Nevertheless, the sincerity in his eyes spoke nothing of vengeance.

"When do we depart?"

He quickly dismissed the relief that flooded his face and replaced it with a stoic expression.

"At first light." he nodded, before taking his leave.

I locked the door behind him and returned to the comfort of the fire. I placed my hands inside the forge and relaxed my body as the flames danced around my skin, snaking up my bare arms and welcoming me home.

I longed to shift, but the flames eased the ache of the scales that wished to surface and the wings that longed to be stretched.

I reminded myself that soon we would fly again, and they would burn.

Besides, I had just unwittingly secured myself a seat at the table with the man responsible for it all—King Fergus.

I let the heat of the flames calm me as my eyes fluttered closed. I awoke hours later to the sound of someone banging on the front door.

I grabbed my satchel and the gold before I opened the door to an apologetic looking Dain.

"Merida." he bowed his head in greeting.

"Dain." I nodded in return.

"Are you ready to depart?"

"I am." I nodded again, eyeing him quizically when he remained in my way.

"Is there a problem, Dain?"

"Forgive me, but, you don't appear to be packed?" He said, looking at my small satchel.

"Trust me, sir, I have all that I require."

"You don't even have a coat. It's the dead of winter."

"I run hot." I shot back over my shoulder as I pushed past him and made my way to the horses.

I approached the ebony mare that stood waiting for me. I stroked her mane and placed my forehead to hers as I silently sought her permission. I felt Dain's eyes on me the entire time but didn't acknowledge him. Granting a rider permission is a creature's right, and a great honour, not that the humans ever seem to pay the custom any mind. They treat their animals like slaves and property.

"Her name is Vesta." Dain's voice broke the silence of the bonding moment I was sharing with my new companion.

"Vesta..." I whispered, nuzzling her once more before mounting the saddle. How fitting.

Our journey began in relative silence. I was enjoying our slow trek through the forest with the sound of horse hooves crunching on snow and cracking branches the only thing preventing complete quiet from surrounding us.

Dain raised his right fist, halting to a stop ahead of us. I eyed him intensely as he carefully assessed our surroundings. He turned to face me, placing a finger to his lips and pointing north. I followed his lead as he dismounted his horse, continuing on foot and leading the animals by the reigns.

"I think we should make camp. There is a cave a few miles off this path that should provide us shelter."

"We've barely been travelling for a day?" I questioned, trying to decipher what Dain was aware of that I couldn't sense.

"I know. But this path is not safe for us. There is an alternate route, but we will need to rest the horses as the terrain is difficult."

I nodded curtly and followed as Dain led us off the path and into the dense forest. I had never been good at navigating on foot, and the way my human form dulled my senses in unfamiliar territory caused me much unease.

As we reached the cave, that sat nestled in the cliff-face that surrounded the great lake, I asked the question that had been plaguing me since Dain insisted upon our detour.

"What are we hiding from?"

"There are various creatures that call the dark forest their home. Though they are rarely seen by humans. It's interesting, they all but left me alone on my journey to the valley, but it seems their interest was piqued by you, Merida."

I lived my life untouched by the cold. There has been but one other time that I recall experiencing the feeling—the first time I took form as a human, and now for the second time, in the way Dain's crystalline eyes bored into mine. It felt as though he was peeling back the layers of my skin, and peering into my soul. The shiver that raked over my body was exaggerated and I quickly wrapped my arms around my body as I tried in vain to reject the uncomfortable feeling.

I broke eye contact with Dain and immediately took to collecting sticks and branches for the fire.

He brushed past me on his way out of the cave and a shiver ran through me once again.

"I told you, you should've brought a coat." He smirked back at me over his shoulder, as he left to water the horses.

As I summoned the flames to light the fire and ease the frost on my skin, I couldn't decide what disturbed me more—That Dain's touch held power enough to force a dragon to feel cold, or that I wanted more of it.

Fantasy

About the author

Jessie Waddell

I have too many thoughts. I write to clear some headspace. | Instagram: @thelittlepoet_jw |

"To die, would be an awfully big adventure"—Peter Pan | Vale Tom Brad

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (4)

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  • Jason Kolls22 days ago

    I enjoyed reading this. Just enough lore points to be interesting but not overbearing is a hard balance and I think you nailed it. The moment Merida has with the horse and how she is able to influence the flames around her stuck with me the most. I could see how they could be worked into the story if you were to write more. Very well done.

  • OOOO interesting! Was not expecting that ending at all, I enjoyed following Merida along on this part of her journey. The premise itself is really good too! Would love for you to read my entry as well :)

  • L. Ann Rucker25 days ago

    I found myself wishing there was more. What is in the woods that is so interested in Merida? Why does Dain sense it before she does? Great job drawing the reader in!

  • JP Solomon27 days ago

    Dragon/human romance brooding? Intriguing!

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