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Glorious Purpose

by Shauna Houser about a month ago in Fantasy
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Chapter One

Glorious Purpose
Photo by Daniel Malikyar on Unsplash

There weren't always dragons in the Valley. At least according to the old stories. But Vashti Unmael could not recall a time when dragons didn’t inhabit the deep, sprawling terrain nestled within the mountain known as the Sacred Gleaming of Glorious Purpose.

Stupid name, really, especially for a mountain. After seventeen years, Vashti still couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to mean. It probably had no greater meaning than some priests somewhere got schnockered in ages past and decided, in their drunken stupor, that the mountain needed the most pretentious title they could think up. Thus, the Sacred Gleam—That Name—was born.

Vashti privately thought that, had she been a dragon, she’d have eaten every single one of those priests just for the sheer audacity of it.

“Are you still standing around? How long does it take you to buy flour? Honestly, you lazy mutton! You were due back to the inn half an hour ago!”

Vashti startled out of her thoughts, turned from the public well she’d been gazing blindly into and faced her older sister. Lorelei’s normally indifferent expression had melted into one of extreme irritation. Probably because, as long as Vashti wasn’t there to complete the neverending list of innkeeping chores, it fell to Lorelei to pick up the slack.

“I was thirsty,” was all she offered as an excuse.

No need to mention that she’d finished her task almost twenty minutes ago and, after she’d gotten her drink, had spent the remaining time simply staring into the well’s deep pit, daydreaming about dragons and stupid mountain names. Probably drawing a bit of attention to herself in the process, but that was nothing new. The locals were mostly used to seeing the innkeeper’s odd daughter standing in a daze, gazing out at nothing.

At least she had gotten that week’s flour purchase loaded into the wagon before allowing her mind to wander off with her. Tut-Tut the mule was sort of old and doddering and in no hurry to haul the heavy load back to the edges of town where the Owl Inn resided. He’d been content with simply standing there and picking at the bits of scraggly weeds that valiantly attempted to grow around the well’s base. Lorelei, however, had other ideas as she gripped the worn rope around Tut-Tut’s muzzle and proceeded to wrestle the stubborn beast into a sulky stroll back toward the inn. “Keep up!” she barked at her sister, who scrambled to obey.

~*~*~*~*~

The Owl was one of two competing inns, each located at opposite ends of town and each catering to vastly different clientele. Unlike the Dragon’s Glory (another stupid name, Vashti thought), the Owl served the everyman; weary travelers and folks of questionable reputation who happened to be passing through. If they were looking for a hot bath, a bed that was more than a lumpy mattress on the floor, quality ale and fresh bread that had been baked that day, they were better off stopping at the Dragon’s Glory … as long as they had the coin to pay for such luxuries.

Most of the Owl’s patrons did not, however, possess such wealth, so they made do with tepid bath water, mid-quality ale, and bread that may or may not have been baked that week. A great many customers claimed the Owl’s famous meat stew was pretty darned tasty … as long as they didn’t presume to question what sort of meat went into it.

Vashti much preferred the Owl over the Dragon, because her inn had much more interesting customers pass through. True, none of them ever stayed more than a night or two—When you were running from the law, you couldn’t afford to stay in one place for very long—but they all had such interesting stories to tell!

Such was the case now as she dwaddled near one of the tables in the common room that doubled as the town pub, pretending to clean a spilled mess on the floor. It was one of the corner tables set way back in the shadows, dark even at midday. It tended to be favored by the sorts who were always Up to No Good. Those sorts were Vashti’s favorite to eavesdrop on.

This particular pair of no-gooders were dressed for trapping and hunting, which struck Vashti as a bit odd as it was mid-summer, and hunters normally did not make their appearances until early fall. But their conversation was most interesting and so she listened carefully.

“Yer lyin’!” one of the two trappers slurred drunkenly.

(Most conversations in the Owl’s pub tended towards drunken slurring, which Vashti had become quite adept at interpreting over the years.)

“I swear on me mu-mum’s grave I’m tellin’ th’ truth!” the other insisted.

“Yer mum ain’t even dead!”

“Well, if she were, I’d swear on ‘er grave!”

Vashti huffed.

The problem with drunk people was their conversations tended to meander off into various tangents until—more often than not—they’d completely forgotten what they were talking about to start with. Or else they just passed out. It was up to her to drag them back to the subject at hand. So, giving up any pretense of cleaning, she blurted, “Did you really see a dragon at the foot of the mountain?”

Two sets of bleary eyes tried hard to focus on her, with varying degrees of success. There was a long silence and Vashti wondered curiously if they were about to get violent.

That happened sometimes, and while brawls were great entertainment—especially when the entire pub got involved—the cleanup afterward tended to be a real chore. Her Da had yet to replace the window from the last fight after someone had thrown a table through it.

(Vashti would put her money on Da, but he wasn’t owning it)

After another moment of staring, the trapper with the knee-length beard slapped said knee with a great roar of laughter. “Righto, boyo!” he bellowed cheerfully. “Wi’ me own two eyes, I did! What’s more—” Here he leaned in, so far that he nearly toppled from his chair. “—I caught ‘im, too.”

Vashti ignored the fact that he’d called her “boyo”. Being short of stature and rather scrawny for her age, she was used to it. Instead, she cast a skeptical glance at the man’s friend, who was clean-shaven but had clearly not bathed for a good while. The man had nothing further to add to the conversation, aside from a great rumble as he snored into his stew.

You caught a lizard the size of a house. All by yourself?” Vashti addressed the bearded man with open skepticism.

“Nay, nay.” He gave such an exaggerated wave that he nearly toppled over again. “‘E’s just a lil bit, barely the size of a donkey.” He leaned in again. “Like as not wandered off from ‘is ‘erd an’ made ‘is way down th’ mountain.” He cackled. “He’ll fetch a pretty price when I brings ‘im to market! Folks’ll pay through the nose fer a look at a livin’ dragon!”

Vashti frowned as she pictured the poor little creature being carted around like a sideshow act in a carnival. No living creature deserved that fate, especially a baby. Besides, little dragons, while relatively docile (or so the stories claimed) grew up right fast into big dragons, who were not nearly so harmless. And surely this one had parents. Big, scaly, fire-breathing parents. Vashti had always thought this drab little town could use a touch more excitement, but not at the cost of being razed to the ground as Mum and Da hunted for their wayward child. Which was likely to happen, as dragons were protective of their kin and were hardly known for their sweet temperaments.

“So where might you be keeping such a treasure?” she asked the trapper with as much casual disinterest as she could manage. “Don’t imagine you’ve got him stuffed in a broom closet somewhere, eh?”

“Pshaw!” he scoffed, waving his tankard of ale and sloshing a good bit of it on the floor. “As if I’d tell ye I’m keepin’ ‘im in me grandpappy’s old lodge in the Buckhills! Nossir! Not a peep outta me ye’ll get!” He pounded a meaty fist against the table (which earned a sleepy grunt from his friend), tipped off his chair onto the floor, and promptly started to snore.

Vashti sighed and shook her head, cleared as much of the table as she could with two unconscious bodies in the way, and headed back to the kitchen where Lorelei was washing dishes. She dumped her load into the large wooden sink, earning a disgruntled grumble when water sloshed over the sides, then stepped away with arms crossed and stared at her sister’s back.

After a few moments, Lorelei stopped washing and turned to fix Vashti with a suspicious glare. “And why are you skulking around back here when there are tables to clear?” she demanded.

“Aren’t you sick of slaving away at this sink? It’s a beautiful day! Let’s go on an adventure!”

That earned a disbelieving laugh. “Have you gone daft? As if Da would let us skip off without a care when there’s still work to be done!” A broad sweep of her arm took in the entire kitchen, and probably everything beyond it, too.

Vashti rolled her eyes. “It’s not like we’re the only ones doing it! There’s an entire staff! You know, the folk who get paid to do all this work we’re helping out with for free? Let them earn their coin for a change!”

Lorelei pursed her lips and tapped her foot against the floor, but Vashti could tell she was reconsidering; she hated dishwashing. “And say I go on this ‘adventure’ with you. Where are you going and what’s in it for me?”

Vashti hesitated, but when her sister started to turn back to the sink, she blurted, “I’m going to rescue an animal that’s been kidnapped by that trapper in the bar. It’s an incredibly rare creature. He’s planning to cart it around the country and charge money for people to see it! We can’t let him do that!”

“How is that any of your business?”

“It’s just a baby! A baby shouldn’t be subjected to that. It’d be heartless to ignore it.”

“And why do you need me to come along?”

“Come on, ‘Lei! You’re the one who inherited Mum’s magic, remember?” At her sister’s fierce glare, Vashti rolled her eyes and amended, “Her special abilities.” She quoted the air with her fingers. “I might need you to calm the baby down. Andmaybecalmthepsrentsdowntoo,” she added in a rush under her breath.

“And what do I get out of it?”

“The satisfaction of saving a helpless creature?”

Although a dragon wasn’t that helpless, was it? Even a baby one? She decided not to ponder it overmuch.

Lorelei narrowed her eyes. “You do my share of the work for six months.”

“One,” she immediately returned.

“Five, or no deal.”

“Two, and I don’t tell Da you’ve been sneaking out after hours to meet Caleb Hillman in the stable loft.”

Lorelei sputtered and turned red. Caleb was the innkeeper of the Dragon’s Glory, inherited after his father died and willed it over. Da would definitely not approve. “Fine,” she huffed. “I’ll go with you. What are we telling Da?”

“Who says we have to tell him anything?” Vashti shrugged. “We find the baby, free it, and then come back. Simple!”

Well, there would probably be more to it than that, but Vashti was far better at making stuff up as she went along than planning ahead. Another reason why she needed her sister; Lorelei was excellent at planning. “You tell Da we’re going on an outing for the day and I’ll go pack us some food. He’ll agree. He owes us time off!” Before Lorelei could argue, she bounded up the rickety steps that led to the family’s living quarters.

“Where are we supposed to be going, anyway?” Lorelei wanted to know when she returned some minutes later with two large sacks slung across her back.

“The Buckhills.”

Lorelei balked as Vashti tried to push her out the kitchen door. “The Buckhills! Are you mad? That isn’t a day’s outing! It will take that long just to get there! And there are all sorts of dangerous wild beasts lurking about just waiting to take a chomp!”

“We’ll be fine. You can just lull them into sleep.”

“Do you even know where in the Buckhills we need to go?”

This gave Vashti pause. She considered what the trapper had said. “A hunting lodge. Pretty close to the mountain, I think.”

“There could be dozens of lodges up there!”

“In the Buckhills? Not likely. Only an idiot would set up permanent residence in that place.” She ignored Lorelei’s pointed look. “Anyway, we’d best be off before Da finds an excuse to put us to work again.” She tossed one of the packs at her sister and set off down the road.

Grumbling, Lorelei followed her. “Three months. I think three months of doing my chores is fair compensation for agreeing to this madness,” she complained.

“All right then, three months it is,” Vashti cheerfully agreed.

Another few moments of silence. Then, “You never said; exactly what sort of animal are we trying to rescue, anyway?”

A lengthy pause wherein Vashti proceeded to study her feet with extreme interest.

Lorelei narrowed her eyes. “Vaashtiiii. What is it?”

She put on her most innocent smile. “…A baby dragon?”

Lorelei promptly choked and tripped over her own feet.

Fantasy

About the author

Shauna Houser

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