Chapter 5: Nine Leagues to the South, a Broken Castle Rose

Mylia, a singing wyrm-human monster, is rescued from the bleak Wylds by a poor, ambitious Prince and surgically fashioned into a popstar to help him overthrow an ancient Empire. Under her new identity, she must navigate scandal, fame, deadly court intrigue, and even love in a rags-to-riches tale for the ages. (A new chapter every seven days!)

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snow_1_orig
amandadana

Mylia’s instincts, honed by years of climbing trees, flipped into action.  Before her pupils registered the incoming missile, before the wallop to her forehead sent red pain shrieking through her body, her wrapped hands grabbed the saddle bow and her body curved under the impact, avoiding a fall from the startled mule.  She foggily gazed at the rinds scattering the road, thick, black insects crawling within the decayed pulp.  Then, her eyes furiously narrowed in search for the thrower.

A farmer stood within a nearby melon patch, ripping another rotten melon from the vines.  When he saw her look up, he shouted something obscene and threw.  This time, the mule stepped backwards and the fruit harmlessly cracked apart on the road.  Mylia held firm upon the saddle bow and snarled with every gleaming fang she possessed.

She was not alone.  Gerard and Prince Asher swiftly rode horses towards the farmer.  At the sight of charging horses and armed men, he yelped and dashed away, leaping over the vine-strangled ground.  Gerard made to pursue him, but the Prince grabbed his arm.

“No, Gerard.  Do not cause trouble.”

From the flashing anger in Gerard’s eyes, Mylia could see he welcomed that sort of trouble and she bared her sharp teeth in agreement.  If she had just a moment with that melon slinger, she’d make him squeak all types of music.  Then, came the pounding headache and she thought of nothing else for a long moment.

“The wyrm frightens the villagers,” a hunter said to another.

“Can you blame them?  Wyrms are wretched beasts,” another hunter replied and made another religious symbol over his breast.

“Enough talking,” the Prince snapped at them.  “Do your duty and guard our captive.”

Mylia shrank upon the saddle as the two hunters reluctantly circled their horses around her mule.  Neither made eye contact with her.  It seemed they were doing their best to pretend she did not exist.  Gerard and Asher continued to fervently speak in low tones.

Mylia considered the fleeing melon-flinger, his coat snapping in the breeze as he jumped into a distant wheat field, still shouting curses over his shoulder.  A long time ago, she stumbled upon another wyrm in a muddy clearing of cindered pine.  The wyrm, disbelieving they sprang from the same species, had challenged her to a fire-breathing competition.  When her lungs only produced air vocalized in crystal song, the wyrm had kicked and beat her for hours.  The intention was more obvious than the bruises that lingered upon her skin for a dozen moons afterward.  She was not a real wyrm and thus embarrassed all the other wyrms with her presence.

Except, this was worse.  The human, who even now ducked behind a metal silo with a last, jangling oath, hated her not as a malformed wyrm, but for daring to be born a wyrm at all.  As if there had been a choice in the matter, Mylia thought.  More keenly than ever, she felt the injustice upon her species smite deep within her intelligent, cool wyrm heart.  Even the songbirds had worshipfully gathered around Mylia when she sang, whistling a chorus to her notes before she ate them.  And, whether their brains were small or her voice, entrancing, they always followed her from treetop to dale, twittering and dancing upon the winds.

Mylia sniffed and raised her head, proudly silent, even as the bruise darkened her temple.  These men could never know that she suffered.

But, Gerard had turned his horse and galloped to several other hunters.  The Prince approached Mylia, his horse sharply clopping upon the stones.  He appeared sterner than yesterday, and the head of the wyrm no longer thumped against his saddle.  She wondered what he had done with it.  Perhaps, and her eyes narrowed in wrath, he had eaten the tongue, eyes and brain before discarding the skull upon the roadside.  And she bared her lips in fury at the thought, not caring if it were true.  The gathered hunters placed their hands upon weapons but the Prince angrily waved them aside, drawing his horse to a stop beside her.

Mylia noticed that his boots fitted to his leg and were toed with engraved silver.  She heard the thump of blood within the black stallion and noted the reeking disgust within its prancing neigh. It was a horse bred for war, she thought with a flash of awareness.  Its father’s father had trampled her dying kin many years ago with steel-clad hooves.  As for the Prince—

Brimming with all the prejudice of ancestral memory, she met Prince Asher’s eyes.

Mylia often wondered why humans did not collect the eyes of the dead and preserve them.  It was a superstition, she reasoned, the idea of capturing the soul of the person rendered sightless.  In the Wylds, eyes were just another form of nourishment, to be scooped out with a claw and a sucking plop and eaten like a fat, squishy tomato.

And his eyes were darker than waters flowing upon obsidian rock in a moonless night.  Mylia imagined their taste as fir-shredded mist or the subterranean blackberries that grew beside volcanic fissures deep under the mountains.

She softly growled, eyes narrowing to golden slits, and prepared for his anger.

The Prince raised his hand, carefully, out of fear, she supposed, and removed his riding glove, revealing a surprisingly white hand powerfully cut with sinew and bone.  Before she could register this strange ritual’s purpose, his fingers grazed her forehead.

Her pupils widened upon the sudden warmth of his hand upon her skin.  Mylia had never felt such tenderness upon her skin and her mind fluttered and quickened to process this new information.  In the Wylds, affections played secondary importance to survival.   Her wyrm tongue did not possess the words she sought to understand this touch.  The feeling it evoked—safety and care and belonging—yes, she had felt a similar feeling once before when spying upon a black panther guarding its mewling cub.  She wondered if humans had a name for such behavior.  Many years later, she discovered they possessed many, all equally beautiful in sound and confusing in action.

And then his hand withdrew and the Prince pulled on his glove with a blunt, professional air.  “Fortunately for you, the damage is minimal and bruising should be gone within a few weeks.  I will have the medic give you a healing drink suitable for a creature of your cold temperament.”

Mylia only stared at him.  The warmth of his touch lingered upon her forehead and still there had been no pain.  No trickery or knife plied—no trap—

But, Gerard had returned from arguing with the hunters.  He approached the Prince and there was fear in his voice.  “Brother, the men say she is bad luck.  They want her gone.”  He looked over Mylia’s wounded forehead and grimaced.  “Nasty knock there.”

The Prince beckoned the few remaining hunters to leave them.  Only when the men were out of earshot, did he turn upon Gerard with quiet wrath.  “I have never cared for the words of my vassals.”

“They think she’ll take vengeance for the other dead wyrm.”

Asher scowled.  “They’re fools.  Wyrms do not seek revenge for their species.  They’re solitary creatures.  Haven’t centuries of war left no record within the commoner’s mind?”

Gerard shrugged, “Some of us commoners studied the wars.”

“I didn’t mean you, brother.”  The Prince’s voice grew soft.

“Yes, you did.  You never trust me.  I know you left camp alone for the Wylds that night.  I saw you return.”  He paused at the Prince’s warning glare and then continued, “Seriously.  You risked your life and soul.  I should have gone with you.”

“I could not endanger you.  Mother commanded me to keep you safe.”

Gerard grimaced.  “I’m eighteen!”

“Her orders, not mine.  And this creature is the best fortune to ever befall our house.  We must take care of her.  The men will obey my command or I shall deal with them harshly. Now, grant me a favor.”

His brother nodded but Mylia sensed obstinacy within his tight grip upon the reins.

“Ride with her until our castle.  I do not want further abuse to befall her and I trust you, as you well know.”

“Okay.  And what about when we get home?”

“Then…then, the world awaits,” Asher swiftly grinned.

“But wyrms cannot travel in the Dyn like us,” Gerard frowned.  “How will you take her around the world?”

“I’d prefer to avoid the Dyn altogether.  You know the Emperor spies upon every code used therein.  But, worry no more for I have a plan, brother.”  And with that command, the Prince shook the reins and galloped his horse to the front of the company.

Gerard sighed and then looked over Mylia with some approval.  “You’ve not whimpered and that knock could’ve felled me.  You wyrms are made of hard stuff.”

She gazed back, no understanding his words but feeling the need to communicate.

Yet he only clucked encouragingly to her mule.  The company moved forward at a slow lope and soon left the village far behind.  Gerard and Mylia stayed in the rear with the baggage animals.  When they started, Titus beckoned to Gerard to join him.  Gerard only shook his head and slightly laughed.   Titus grimaced in a pitying sort of way and gave another loathing stare at Mylia before turning around and ignoring them both.

A medic trotted back to join them and poured a beaker of thick, gloopy liquid for Mylia, pointing to her forehead to indicate it would help her heal.  She gripped it in her bound hands and carefully sniffed the interior.  For the strange, lumpy texture, there was virtually no smell.  The medic beckoned her to drink and with a single gulp, she downed the fiery water.  A strange warmth blossomed from her stomach and Mylia felt tendrils crawling up her spine and into her head, making her feel both dizzy and extremely alive.  She grimaced and was about to fling away the beaker but Gerard rescued it.  The medic held up a large linen cloth and handed it to Gerard.

“Is that really necessary?”  Gerard asked.

“The Prince asked that the wyrm conceal her face until we arrive at the castle.”

“Oh, give it here,” and Gerard angrily snatched the cloth.  Mylia watched him place the cloth around her shoulders, pulling the hood far over her face so that she could barely breathe from under it.  Instant claustrophobia struck her and she wrenched off the cloth, glaring at Gerard, baring her teeth in wrath so that he reined in his horse, falling a few steps behind her.

She tried to speak then, tried to articulate the hatred she felt at having her senses blocked off, her eyes covered.  Hers was a life wild and free!  And she was not the inferior species.  Yet only a stream of thin, angry notes spilled from her lips, cracking the ice-cold air.

Gerard took a sharp breath, overwhelmed by the sudden majesty of vocals.   “What a voice.  I swear…I’d give anything to be naturally talented like you.”

She glared in answer with a haughty grandeur that far aged her young wyrm soul.

The medic laughed.  “Spare your words, young Gerry.  You’re speaking to a beast.”

“I think she understands me,” he replied, somewhat embarrassed.

The medic cackled and Mylia grinned a mouth of fangs at him until silence met her ears.

“Look here…er, wyrm,” Gerard addressed her, “You should cover your face.  It’s for your own good.” He scooped up the cloth from the ground on which it fell and clicked for his horse to again approach her.

Mylia turned her head away but she understood.  This time, she waited as he clumsily half-pulled, half-draped the cloth over her head and slung the loose ends around her neck.  Mylia shivered at the loss of sight.  For a moment, she felt the quick urge to retch in fear.  How desperately she longed to again see the world.  Only when the wind blew, did the veil lift to reveal the body of the mule and the pebbled ground below, smoothed by seasonal ice flows.

Gerard spoke and she swiveled her head to his general direction.  “I’d mistake you for a lady save for that tail of yours.”

Indeed, Mylia’s tail thrashed like a cornered cat, the furred tip just visible under the heaps of robe.  And she grew afraid.  Her lack of sight posed a severe disadvantage and her hands were so tightly bound, she had no recourse but to grip the saddlebow against the mule’s tread.  Save for the occasional shriek of bird wings high overhead and the stink of tired horses and men that left a hollow ache within her throat, she had no other senses to rely upon.

Mylia remembered the rich, dark shades of the Wylds, thick loam reaching to her knees, ice waters twinkling down the cragged mountains, and that fresh perfume of cinnamon and pine, sighing through the waving treetops under a night sky shredded with stars.

She must return as swiftly as possible before homesickness suffocated her.  But, nine leagues to the south, a broken castle rose from the winds and snow to which her destiny lurched with frightening speed.

Chapter 6: September 9
Chapter 7: September 16
Chapter 8: September 23
Chapter 9: September 30
Chapter 10: October 7
[…]

 

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