Dragon Sight

I am not ashamed to say that I did not go quietly to my death.  

I bucked, kicked, and fought all the way down the gilded hallways with their velvet draperies and marble statues.  I caught one guard squarely in the shin as we passed under the baleful ruby gaze of the stone dragon that stood sentinel outside the hidden room.  The guard cursed me as the dragon seemed to mock me in the otherwise deserted corridor. The guard smacked the back of my head hard enough my eyeballs nearly left their sockets.  Chuckling, he a button on the bottom of a sconce.  With my head still spinning, I was dragged from opulence into the dank shadows of a secret cave.

            Once my vision cleared, my chest heaved, and my nostrils flared.  Before me stood King Hiclyr and his wretched daughter, Princess Marguerite.  

            All my life, I’d been told the Creator had blessed me to so closely resemble Renvale’s beautiful princess. I never gave it a second thought until I was stolen away in the dead of night to take her place as the Dragon Sacrifice.  

            The Sacrifice took place every ten years.  Every girl in the kingdom aged thirteen to twenty-one had their name entered.  I thought I was safe.  There was no way I could have foreseen this treachery.  Ice ran through my veins.

            “Be still,” Hiclyr said.  “The Dragon will not want his prize bruised.”

            I spat at him.  Wrym.  He wiped his face disdainfully.  

            He clapped once.  A timid maid rushed from the shadows into the circle of light cast by the torch bracketed on the wall.  

“Make sure she is Marguerite before she leaves this tunnel.”  His voice was hard like granite.

            My gaze landed on the princess.  We’d been friends once.  Some deep place inside me understood why this was happening.  We had all lost someone we’d once loved to the Dragon.  The King had lost his son, Marguerite had lost her brother, and I had lost my best friend.  Hiclyr was desperate to save his remaining child.  

But this was wrong.  

It was wrong to steal me away.  Wrong to sacrifice me instead.  Not because my sacrifice wouldn’t be worthy, but because my sacrifice wouldn’t be enough.  If I went instead of the girl rightfully chosen by lot, King Hyclir would break the treaty that had existed between the Kingdom of Renvale and the Dragon Lords for over a century.  It would bring open war down upon us if ever discovered.

            So, while I was here, I’d use every means within my power to fight for my life.  But if I couldn’t escape before dawn light lit the sky, I’d have to put on the performance of a lifetime to save my people and my country.  At the expense of my own life.

            The next hours were full of forced pampering.  I was scrubbed, washed, shaved, styled, and put into a dress with a ridiculous number of pleats.  But at the end when they stood us together—the princess and the falconer’s daughter—even I had trouble telling us apart. 

            I fought like a banshee as the guards once more took my arms.  Thrashing and digging in my heels did no good as the soft satin of my slippers tore against the rough floor.  The guard cracked the door open and weak sunlight filtered in.

            I bit the inside of my lip hard enough I tasted blood.  There was nothing more I could do but continue the ruse.  I prayed it would be enough to save my kingdom—save my family.

            On wobbling legs, I stumbled to the wooden platform raised on the beach beside the castle.  The ocean’s waves lapped calmly, lending me their strength with their soothing swooshes.  Terror seized me as memory flooded my mind with images I’d refused to acknowledge for the past ten years.  Fire, gaping teeth, blood, smoke, screams, and Daniel’s face as he’d been caught in the crossfire.  I relived the Dragon’s teeth closing over his body, taking him from me forever.

            A sob choked out and I would have fallen to the ground had the guards not been holding me.  My friend.  And now I would meet the same fate.

            The ropes cut into my wrists as they tied me to the stake.  The drums beat, the wind howled, the waves began crashing in fury.  

            I saw the Dragon’s aura before he came into view.  Fiery red and streaked with yellow that caught the sun and set spots dancing before my eyes.

            His grating shriek pierced the morning and screams of terrified villagers echoed off the crags.

            Creator be merciful…

            Unable to hold back a wail of terror, the breath left me in a staggering rush as the Dragon morphed out of the clouds, his black talons outstretched. 

            The Dragon blotted out the sun.  Leathery wings folded and sent sand pounding against my sides.  Bright scales, eyes like fire, and a face framed in horns stole the breath from my lungs.  The wings creased, revealing an odd-shaped hunch on the creature’s back.  

            Before I could see any more, the talons crushed around me, lifting me and the stake into the air.

            Dignity left far below, I screamed as the beast rose into the air, wings beating the winds into submission.

            Soaring, wheeling, gliding over the clouds would have been exhilarating if it hadn’t meant certain death.

            At last the beast landed on a high crag, tossing me and the stake into an enormous nest.  A groan escaped then turned to another scream as flames bit through the ropes binding me to the stake.  I tore my hands away from the ropes as the fire stopped.  

            Shakily I stood, mouth falling open as a dark figure slid from the Dragon’s back, favoring his left side.  Throwing back his hood, the sun caught the marled, puckered skin of his cheek, the wide red rope of scar from scalp to chin.  But the eyes.  Those crystal blue eyes were the same.

            “Daniel.”

            The scarred mouth wrinkled on one side before pulling into a frown.

            “Marguerite?”

            My mouth dried as my eyes grew larger.  

            “Emma.”

            It wasn’t a question this time.  His eyes lit with excitement.

            “Emma?  It’s you, isn’t it!”

            “Daniel,” I whispered.  I was incapable of anything else.

            The smile died on his face.

            “This is my father’s doing.  Truly, it was my sister’s name drawn from the lottery?”

            I saw no point in keeping the ruse now.  “Yes.”

            The Dragon snorted and my knees quaked in terror.

            “It’s alright.  She won’t hurt you.”  He stroked the amethyst scales covering the beast’s flanks.  His eyes found mind again.  “My father may have just started a war he cannot win.”

            “What do we do?”  I had to save my family—save the kingdom.

            “We must go appeal to the High Dragon Lord.  Will you come with me?”

            He stretched his hand to me, tiny scars crisscrossing his palm.

            Dread lodged in my throat.

            His fingers were cool around mine.

Unicorns

Unicorns are age old, beautiful creatures just like horses, but with a horn, and magic. This week Lacey Scott has gracious offered her story, “The Unicorn Races” for us to enjoy! Check out the sweet little plump Elmas sculpture, also done by Lacey. Check out her other sculptures on Facebook, Here There Be Sculptures, or on Instagram, @heretherebesculptures. Happy reading!

The Unicorn Races

By Lacey Scott

Unicorns were supposed to be elegant and beautiful creatures. With long willowy legs and graceful arching necks, their mystery and magic captivated the hearts and minds of humans for generations—but the ponies of Sobor were not unicorns. At least, not the kind you read about in fairy tales. 

            My family had lived on the secluded island of Sobor for at least seven generations and every single male, going all the way back to my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, had won the coveted trophy in the annual unicorn races. It was a tradition that was expected to be upheld by my father’s son and it probably would have been—except he didn’t have a son. He had me. Me and my nine sisters.

            There wasn’t a rule that said girls couldn’t enter the race, it just wasn’t done, which was probably why there had been such an uproar when I stepped forward into the group of rowdy boy contestants. Even now, as I waited for the judges to decide my fate, I could hear their taunts and petty jabs as they whispered around me. 

            I didn’t realize my hands were trembling until I felt a tug on one. Looking down my brows rose in surprise.

            “Take this, Phoebe!” My little sister, Josephine said. “It will give you luck!” She opened her tiny hand to reveal a butterscotch candy wrapped in yellow plastic. 

            In a family as large as ours, every penny counted, and candy was a luxury we could seldom afford.

             I smiled shaking my head.  “You keep it, Josie.”

            Her lips pressed into a thin line. Then before I could stop her, she stuffed the candy into my pocket and darted back into the crowd. 

            Thirty minutes later as I searched for a place to stand in the starting line, I began to have second thoughts. The judges may have agreed to let me race, but the boys weren’t going to make it easy. 

            “Phoebe!”

            I looked up and a fresh wave of butterflies fluttered to life in my belly. 

            Tag Jacobson waved me over. “Over here,” he called, shoving the boy standing beside him out of the way. 

            I nervously stepped into the empty space beside him as he grinned down at me. My neighbor, Tag, was older than me by a year, but we’d often played together when we were young. I’d had a crush on him as far back as I could remember, and his time spent in the sun on the fishing boats with his father had only made him even more handsome.

            “Don’t let what they say get to you. You got this.”

            His confidence gave me strength and I nodded getting into the starting position. The unicorns grazed peacefully in the field below, completely oblivious to the chaos about to ensue. 

            The horn of the conch shell echoed in my ears and I pushed myself into a sprint. I was small and fast, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t fast enough. The boys pulled ahead of me, their long legs eating up the ground carrying them faster than I could ever hope to be.

            A high-pitched whinny broke through the early morning air. Someone had reached the herd. I urged my legs to move faster but by the time I reached the field only one unicorn stood untaken. My heart sank.

            Like most island creatures, the unicorns had adapted overtime to a life of limited resources, shrinking them down to the size of a large pony. There were no predators to hunt them and that coupled with all the scraps we tossed out had made them lazy with stumpy little legs and large round bellies. They weren’t afraid of humans and had become so commonplace that they acquired their own names.

            I slowed as I approached the lone unicorn. His sleek black summer coat glistened in the early morning sun and he looked up at me through long wavy bangs. 

            “Hi, Elmas,” I greeted.

            Big blue eyes blinked at me before he returned to his grazing. All the unicorns were easygoing but Elmas wore his laziness like a badge of honor. No one ever wanted to get stuck with him. 

            I squinted down the field. The race itself was only a mile, but getting a stubborn lazy unicorn there was the real challenge. Some of the more relaxed unicorns meandered towards the finish line, stopping occasionally to nibble at the grass—much to their rider’s chagrin. Others were feistier, spinning circles and tossing their riders into the dirt. A lot of the boys wanted to try their luck with those, but it was a gamble, just because they were faster didn’t mean you could steer them to the finish line any quicker. 

            I sighed looking back and Elmas. Not once in all the years I could remember had anyone ever gotten him to move an inch—but I wasn’t about to give up.

            Backing up a few steps I took a running jump, throwing myself across his back, but I overshot and toppled off the other side, landing in the grass on my back. 

            Elmas cast me an uninterested glance.

            With a huff I tried again, this time grabbing a handful of his mane and pulling myself up. Once I was situated on his back, I lightly dug my heels into his flank. When he didn’t move, I repeated the motion a little harder, clicking my tongue. 

            His sides expanded as he took in a deep breath but other than that he ignored me completely. 

            I groaned sliding off his back. “Come on, Elmas!” I leaned my shoulder into his rump, urging him forward. “This is important,” I ground out between clenched teeth. 

            He stomped a golden hoof into the ground, tail swishing, but he didn’t budge. 

            Undeterred, I moved to his head, careful to avoid his shiny gold horn and tugged on his mane. You didn’t actually have to ride your unicorn all the way there, you just had to ride it across the finish line. The only rule being that you couldn’t do anything that might harm them. 

            “Emlas, please!” I begged, putting all my weight into it. My foot slipped in the grass and I fell back landing on the ground for the second time in as many minutes. I closed my eyes, struggling to keep the tears of frustration at bay. 

            After a moment a shadow fell across my face and I opened my eyes to find Elmas hovering above me. 

            “Come to mock me, too?” I grumbled.

            His nostrils flared, hot air rushing out as he sniffed around me, his snout eventually coming to stop at my hip. He snorted, nipping at my pants. 

            I frowned, sitting up. I dug my hand into my pocket “What are you—” my fingers brushed against something, the crinkling sound making his perk up with interest. I pulled out the butterscotch my sister had given me, and he whinnied, nearly snatching it from my hand. My eyes widened. I had an idea. 

            “Come on, boy.” I urged crinkling the wrapper. “You want the candy, don’t you?” 

            Elmas slowly began to follow me as I walked backwards down the field. Casting a quick glance over my shoulder I saw that my fellow racers had also been struggling. Most of them still fought with their ponies, with only a few still moving steadily towards the finish line at a snail’s pace. I grinned, picking up speed, and before long I was jogging backwards down the field, with Elmas trotting along after me.

            We gained ground, quickly passing each of the other contestants one by one until there was only one left. My heart leapt up a notch as we passed Tag, moving steadily forward, on a dappled unicorn. Our eyes met and a wide grin spread across his face.

            I could still hear his laughter ringing out across the field when we reached the finish line and I brought a panting Elmas to a stop. He whined as I climbed back onto his back, swinging his head around to try and grab the candy. I removed it from the wrapper, making sure to wave in front of his nose. 

            His teeth snapped together as he tried to swipe it from my hand, but I pulled back and chucked it forward. His eyes followed it as it soared over his head and landed on the other side of the finish line. With more speed than I thought possible for such a lazy beast, he lurched forward, nearly unseating me as he raced forward, carrying us to victory. 

            The roar of the crowd was deafening as I slid from his back, catching sight of my dad as they handed me the well-worn trophy. Even at a distance I could see the pride in his eyes. 

            “That was amazing!” Tag laughed, coming up behind me and clapping me on the shoulder. “Candy, huh? Who knew?”          

            “Yeah.” I averted my gaze feeing my face warm under his praise. I watched as Elmas munched happily on the butterscotch. “I guess he’s got a sweet tooth.”

            He cleared his throat and I looked back up meeting his warm brown eyes. “You know, it’s not that I’m not happy that you won,” he began. It’s just that I was hoping to earn some cool points before I asked.” His cheeks turned pink and he rubbed the back of his neck. 

            My brows pulled together. “Asked what?” 

            “Asked you out on a date.”

            My mouth fell open, eyes widening in surprise.

            “What you say, Pheebs? Do you wanna go on a date with me?”

            My blush reignited as I matched his hopeful smile. “Definitely.”

Magical Curses

Magical Curses.

Is it even possible to have a fairy tale without one?

Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White…

Gorgeous rendition of Snow White by artist Krishnakhi Hazarika. Check out more of her art on Instagram @krishnakhi_h14

It seems that nearly every fairy tale has at least one cursed person (usually a princess) and that there’s always another person (usually a prince) that must come, break the curse, save the princess, then rule the kingdom with justice and wisdom.  But where did the idea of the curse come from?

The Cambridge dictionary defines cursing (paraphrased) either as saying rather naughty things to someone else, or, “to say magic words intended to bring bad luck to someone.”  The idea of the malevolent curse is ancient.  Egyptian tombs had curses chiseled into their entryways and on tablets scattered throughout their winding passageways (www.ancient-origins.net).  When Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut, of all the original excavators, Carter was the only survivor.  Everyone else bit the dust.  Even Lord Caernarvon, the benefactor of the dig, perished at the hands of mysterious ailments after visiting Tut’s resting place.  Many chalked it up to the Curse of the Mummy.

Many cultures world-wide have beliefs in magic—both good and bad.  Sometimes it’s the same magic and it’s the wielder who causes the good or the bad, other times it’s the magic itself.  Even the Bible mentions curses.  In Exodus (chapter 20), it talks about generational curses—that the LORD will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children for multiple generations.  But the next verse also offers the way to “break the curse.”  Repentance and turning to the same LORD breaks the curse and brings restoration (www.bible.net).

On an excavated 1,600-year-old Italian lead tablet, an inscribed curse was found wishing for the destruction of a man and his wife.  The curse specifically asked for their hearts, livers, and buttocks to be destroyed.  Yes, please destroy the rear ends of my enemies.  That will show them (www.ancient-origins.net). 

Curses seem to have changed over time (and really, don’t most things?). They’ve gone through the changes of the medieval-type fairy tale, enacted by vengeful stepmothers or nasty witches.  Today they’re still most closely associated with witchcraft or superstition.

What do you think?  Are curses real then and/or now?  Pop up to the grey “comments” button and let me know what you think.  Also, make sure no one gives you the evil eye!

Book Recommendations

Midnight for a Curse by E. J. Kitchens

Anwen of Primewood (Book 2 of a series—can be read alone, but better if you read Book 1 first) by Shari L. Tapscott 

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (awesome protagonist with cerebral palsy)

Creative Writing Prompts

The curse fell upon me, heavy, stifling, suffocating.  I was going to die before the enchantress finished her work.

Are you kidding me?  It’s the twenty-first century.  People don’t get cursed.  Do they?

Unicorn poop.  I had been cursed to shovel unicorn poop until I found a way to break this horrid spell.

The Quintessential Curse…
Such a great, under appreciated song! From the movie, RIgoletto
One of my very favorite fairy tales.