Chapter 9: Curled Under A Shell of Ice

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 two weeks!)

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The next day, it began all over again, and the day after that for several weeks without break.  Every afternoon, Mylia sat before Edith and watched her make sounds and point to scribbles within her books.  And she blinked her golden eyes and stayed mute until Edith ordered her removed until the morrow.

Beyond the lessons with Edith, Mylia remained locked in her bedroom.  She slept when night fell and ate upon the arrival of food.  All free hours were spent by her window.  There, she would lean her cheek against the cold panes and dream of the Wylds as her fingers curled upon the glass.  The circling squeak of her nails recalled the echoed crack of black ice on the lakes and rivers of her homeland.  Oh, the memories!  How she could breathe a song into a hunk of shivered log and hear the melody thrum away through the icicle trees, over hill and mile, until a bird hearkened to the bait and flapped down to rest upon her hungry claws.

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Mylia remembered how beautiful it was to sing and how lovely her voice.  A thousand silver bells or the fizzle-zish of a falling star as it dissolved in fire and smoke upon the snowy treetops could not match her crystal notes.  Yet, here in this castle, numbed by loneliness and stone walls, she found the desire for song grow less until most sounds she made were reactions—tripping in her bonds or waking in the shivered morning.  It was not her fault, she reasoned.  Why should she sing for despising ears?  And yet no comfort arose from the answering silence.

The humans were not the only concern of hers.  The castle itself was changing.  As the days blended into weeks, Mylia noticed the arrival of fir and holly wreaths in the hallways.  The sharp, sweet smell of the evergreen punctured the air and made her sneeze.  Once, she found a holly berry that had rolled into her room and tasted it.  Awful—she spat out the red mush with a terrible wyrm oath.

This holiday, she learned, was known as Yuletide.  Soon, large firs rose in the main rooms and foyers of the castle, ribbons and strings of popcorn looping their frilled boughs.  The candelabras were lit and mistletoe hammered to door frames.  Lady Edith switched her tea for a cup of sugar, raw eggs and cream which she called ‘eggnog’—spiked with a pungent liquor from a cabinet.

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Mylia knew from years of watching the villagers along the Wylds edge, that humans possessed a strange affinity for celebrations.  She supposed they had repeat rituals to help remember their placement in the world.  The important moments of the wyrms needed no celebration.  Their massacre by the humans existed forever in the memory of every young wyrm, screaming across their sleeping eyes before they realized they could dream.  As for wyrm holidays, they did not exist.  No day was more special than another; only survival to nightfall and then until the rising sun.  Yes, only these creatures from the Third Breaking, these humans of delicate temper and rapid speech, dared plot the future with such contemptuous regularity.

She noticed Edith grew increasingly worried as the days piled on.  During their lesson, sometimes the woman fell silent and gazed upon the storm-rattled windows, fingers plucking her neck skin.  Mylia supposed she worried for her sons, Prince Asher and Gerard.  Asher had not returned since venturing forth to deal with the cattle poachers weeks ago.  Gerard was strangely absent although Mylia picked up his scent around the castle.  She knew Asher’s execution of those men had something to do with Gerard’s avoidance of everyone but she was young and could not yet piece together the entirety of human motivations.

Edith was speaking and Mylia shook herself from the reverie.

Edith opened her jaw wide, and said, “Water.”  She repeated the word again, stretching out the vowels, smiling encouragingly at Mylia’s bored face.  “Waaaaateeeeeeeer.”  She sloshed her glass so that the clear liquid swirled and gulped unto itself.  “Water!”

Mylia felt annoyed.  All the splashing made her thirsty.  Of course she knew what water was.  Edith treated her like an idiot.  There was no need to invoke its name, she thought with a terrible frown at the glass. Water answered to no one. It gushed, froze and dripped forever in mutiny to air and ground. Really, such a force was best left alone.  Only magic makers were foolish enough to call upon the elements.  She later discovered, when researching career options in the Imperial Academy several years later, that magical careers were directly correlated to high early mortality rates.

Edith drank the glass of water and studied Mylia for a long minute.

“Wyrm,” she said at last, “If ever there was a time for you to rise above the savagery of your species, it is now.  We alone have the power to spare your life or condemn it.  All I ask is a little sign.  Anything to show intelligence may lurk in you.”

Mylia had no idea Edith said, but she understood the emotions throbbing the woman’s voice and knew her teacher’s patience stretched like hot butter upon bread.  Soon, punishment would follow.

“Today is Yuletide Eve.  Soon it will be Spring.  And still, you are silent as one of our beasts.  In several weeks, you will attend functions in silks and pearls to charm the elite of this realm with your voice and…the gods save us from such foolishness!”  Edith shook her head and fell silent.

Mylia blinked.  Asher.  He saved her life and treated her with medicine, protected her against the insults of the stupid and cruel people on the road, and gave her a tutor to help introduce her to humans.  Wyrms did not believe in loyalty, but she supposed that he was owed something by way of thanks.

Perhaps, she could try to speak for Edith.  A thought occurred that it would please Asher when she next saw him.  Mylia found herself wondering when, exactly, he would return.  He was a curious man, she thought.  Here today and then gone for long periods of time.  She remembered his strange appearance and his vanishing on the bridge.  She did not recall how he strode into the Wylds the night after her capture, but when she learned this story sometime later, his aptitude for vanishing finally made sense.  There was a lot in this world of humans that she had yet to understand.  At this moment, she found the uncertainty of his return provoked a desire to see him again, if only to discover why he always—eventually—returned to her.

Mylia bit her tongue to wake from these strange thoughts.  What nonsense had just pervaded her mind?  Thinking kindly of Prince Asher for tearing her away from her beloved Wylds was the last thing she would ever do.  His hunting trap broke her legs and now she was his prisoner.  She would never learn the human language.

Her lips clamped shut and she remained still upon her seat.

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A metal box trilled upon the desk, a phone, as Mylia learned.  Edith grabbed the handle and pressed her ear to the shell-like opening.  “Gerard, dear, your interruption is not desired.  Why have you called?”  She listened and her face staggered into joy.  “Asher?!  Oh, he’s returned?  I will be down at once,” her eyes darted to Mylia, “And, Gerard?  Order the servant to take the wyrm back to her chamber now.”

** ** **

Back in her bedroom, Mylia hobbled to the window and again considered her escape under light from two rising moons.  Everything had been a mistake, from her capture to this idiocy of learning the human tongue.  She was a feral little monster of long limbs and pallid flesh who swung from snowy evergreens and twittered with the birds before eating them.  She did not sleep in a bed nor speak like the humans.

No.

She stared upon a vast and desolate plain, plunging from her tower window and running away to mountains blackened by the crawl of night.  Around the castle, the farms of Prince Asher stretched for miles, streaked by fences piled with snow and broken in sections from neglect and overgrown trees.  Mylia knew from the frozen chill in the air, another storm gathered fury for that night.

Leaning over the windowsill, she looked down.  The ground was two stories below her room, impossible to jump and survive.  Craning her head against the window, she studied the walls on either side for ivy, drain pipes or any other foothold.  But, the rock was sheer and wet with slime and rain.  Perhaps, she would jump after all.  Surely, the snow piled against the wall could lessen her fall.  She considered it a unlucky chance the moat did not extend around this section of the castle.

Years later, she learned the Emperor had demanded every castle of the Nine Royal Families have their walls leveled and moats filled.  After all, such warring architecture was unneeded now that peace had been proclaimed by radio and paper across the lands.  Upon receiving the decree, a then teenage Prince Asher merely piled dirt into the moat on the most protected side of his castle.  Otherwise, he let the Emperor’s orders be damned.  As his castle was geographically distant from the Capital, and his family, minor in House and poor, no one from the (consolidated) Imperial Justice and Public Affairs Department had cared enough to pursue the matter further.  Of course, this changed when his prestige ticked upward at the Capital and there arose a need to search his past for dark and shameful secrets to buy his political cooperation…but this was all far away in the future for Mylia.

At this moment, she knew of one thing.  She did not belong in this dim, old castle of humans and locked doors.  The jump must be attempted.  After all, greatness only happened to those brave enough to define it.

Her fist was moments away from plunging through the glass panes when she heard something that had not echoed through the walls of her chamber for many a night.

Singing!

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The castle had come alive with glorious song notes so pure that tears welled in her eyes.  She flung an earlobe against the floor and listened with her body and soul.  Dimly, trickling through the wood beams and plaster smacking the stones, she picked out the main thread of direction and purpose.  Yes, that was it.  The entire castle must be gathered within the great hall.  They were at dinner—a feast.  They sang carols around the table and she heard their melodies define each voice from the young child to an old guard she remembered had welcomed the hunters into the castle all those weeks ago.  She listened for the Prince’s voice and there it was, a quieter lilt among the others.

Mylia listened in surprise.  Asher was trained in singing.   It made sense, she thought, given his education and the beauty of his mother’s ovular voice.  Another voice rose above the chorus and Mylia recognized Lolli, the servant girl.  Lolli sung with an abrasiveness that reminded Mylia of death.  It was later that she learned it was the Prince who no longer met Lolli in black of night gardens, amid statues crowned with dried snow.

The music died and a great silence fell upon her ears.  She supposed they now feasted and her attention returned to her room and the needs of the present.

The fire had burned down to fat embers that coolly hissed in the smoked hearth.  Mylia slumped upon the floor in a total funk.  No one had brought her food that night and she was colder with every passing minute.

A strange, ugly thought broke upon her awareness.

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How many nights had she calmly rocked herself to sleep in a tree amid the wynter storms, waking to find herself curled under a shell of ice?  And now, all she wanted was to be warmed and fed at regular intervals like some pet.  Even her attempt to escape died with the embers in the hearth.  She had grown soft and so quickly!

A movement outside her bedroom snapped her alert.

Someone outside was opening her door—she heard his step and heavy breath as she spun around.

Gerard entered and he was drunk.

…to be continued in Chapter 10, posted October 21.

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