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!)
Gerard drunkenly staggered into the room. Mylia immediately stepped back, tripped on the rug and tumbled into a heap of robes. She scrambled up and found her tail over her face like a silvery feather duster. She coughed at the fur caught in her lips and lowed the fluffed tail from her face, coyly blinking at the swaying man.
He gaped at the ridiculous spectacle she made of herself, and so she sat up and dropped her tail in dismay. What on earth was she doing flirting with a human? Perhaps she was learning to beg for her food. Like some animal. She glared at him in full wrath and showed an array of small, pincer teeth. Teeth that later would be filed down and squared to resemble human dentures.
Mylia knew the danger she faced, alone in the room with a human. Like all of his species, he was dangerous and unpredictable. She stood tall and gathered the robes around her with a single clasp of her gloved fingers. She had watched Edith and knew how a woman’s elegance could frighten people. And she wanted to frighten Gerard because she had no idea of what else to do. There was no blueprint of behavior for a wyrm living with humans. One usually killed the other upon meeting and due to such behavior, social niceties had never had enough time to develop between their species.
Gerard turned and tottered out the room. She wondered at his departure—had she been so frightening?—but he returned, hauling in a trolley. The trolley was piled with bowls, silverware and lidded plates from which seeped fragrant tendrils of steam.
Mylia’s arms fell limp and all thoughts of terrifying Gerard vanished for on the tray was a feast.
Stacked was orange-spiced pork, bacon rib bubbling under a slop of butter, and a turret of golden scones cracked with sugar even as their cores dripped hot cheese. A dessert bowl held currant pudding that smelled of vanilla spice and caramel. And the wine! Purple wine that tasted of grapes so crisp, the liquid tanged her mouth like a bundle of shaved ice.
Mylia sat down on the bed, pulled the tray towards her and ate and ate and ate. He joined her on the covers. “I miss the castle beds,” he bounced lightly on the mattress, “Ever since I came of age, I have to live in the barracks with my father. Their bunks are like stone…lumpy stone, if that’s even possible.”
Mylia only topped off the wine and reached for a bowl of water scented like the dew of flowers.
Gerard stopped her hand. “You use rosewater for freshening up after eating,” he said, motioning to his hands and face.
She scowled and downed the liquid in a gulp. It was hideously bitter and she gagged.
Gerard laughed at her disgust. “Some things you drink, others you put on your skin. Next time, listen to me.”
Mylia studied him, staring intently into his blue eyes. Why this sudden kindness, she thought. He had always been nice to her, but never this nice. She frowned, uncertain of how to respond.
He piled the empty dishes upon the trolley, but not before scoffing the last currant rolling across the vanquished plates. “I meant to say this earlier but I forgot. I came here because you spoke to me.”
Mylia stared at him. The wine was doing funny things to her eyesight, she was certain humans reacted a lot stronger to fermented berries. Either way, Gerard seemed to be somewhat more sober, she reasoned. He smiled. He had a nice smile with small, square teeth…useless for hunting in the Wylds, she thought with mild dismay and then immediately regretted such unkind thoughts. Not everyone was born a predator.
“It was odd. I didn’t ‘hear’ you as if you were speaking to me. I just understood your thoughts. Your voice was inside my head and you were hungry so I raided the kitchens and here I am.” He ruefully grinned and hiccupped. “If my father Titus…or anyone…knew I just said that, I’d be tossed into a cell and accused of sorcery.”
She looked questioningly at him and recognized the name of Titus, the cruel old man who had starved and hit her when she was first captured in the Wylds. She had felt the odd connection between Titus and Gerard ever since her first day of captivity. So, they were father and son. And yet where Gerard was kind, Titus was mean and cruel. It was odd, she reasoned, that members of the same bloodline could exhibit such different personalities. She had yet to understand the huge variability of heritage’s influence on a person’s behavior. Later in the Academy, she learned such actions were explained by free will, determinism, and other delightful mental contradictions that exhausted the thoughts of the learned and elite.
Gerard gathered the dinner items and packed them onto the tray as Mylia watched. Then he walked to the door and opened it. He turned and looked at the small wyrm woman crouched on the bed in a bundle of robes and golden eyes.
“So anyway, have a Merry Yuletide,” he said and closed the door.
Mylia collapsed upon her bed stuffed and dizzy from the food. What a dinner it had been. She listened as Gerard’s footsteps died upon the passageway until the great silence of dead stonework erected high upon the speaking earth engulfed her.
But as she drifted into sleep, something odd happened.
Someone with light and hesitant steps walked up to her door and stopped outside. For a moment, she wondered if Gerard had returned but she sniffed the air and immediately picked up the panther scent of Lolli. For a while, Mylia listened to the other woman narrowly breathe on the other side of the door, her own lungs slowing to a state of cautious readiness for the eventual confrontation.
Lolli stood for a while, as though summoning the desire—or courage—to enter. She walked away at long last, but not before Mylia’s heart had begun to thump with the same, cold fear that she had felt during her first days of captivity.
Mylia did not fall asleep for the rest of the night.
** ** **
“A mortal looks at the sun and wonders what great machines shift the sky around its fiery orb, pushing it upwards with the new morning and sinking it like a stone before night encloses. Another gazes upon the sun and thinks “It is a fine day!” But the same sun shines on both people, whether or not they are aware of it.”
Prince Asher finished speaking and looked at Mylia with encouragement in his face. “Tell me, do you think reality changes upon your perception of it? Or, does the world spin along all the same, despite our brief involvement in its affairs.”
Mylia blinked and stared. His voice was melodious and his mannerisms, encouraging. But his words? Incomprehensible.
The Prince sighed and turned to Edith who sipped tea and studied Mylia with squinted eyes.
“I see you’ve made no progress,” he said.
“You asked her a complicated philosophical question,” Edith snapped back in high wrath. “I’m trying to get her to say the o’clock of the day and name colors.”
“If she cannot reach our level of understanding, there’s no use in our working together,” he angrily exclaimed. “I have no patience for ineptitude.”
Mylia softly snarled. There was no mistaking his tone of voice now.
The Prince indicated to her, “Listen. Even when she is angry, her voice is beautiful. She will become a singing wonder of the Empire. You must try harder.”
Edith slammed her tea cup onto the table and compressed her lips for a long moment. Then, she let out a large sigh. “My dear son, you must remember the situation. Just weeks ago, this creature had never seen a human. How do you expect her to expound on the universe when she has yet to understand the most basic of words?”
“The best singers, mother, are always the greatest philosophers. Only then can they touch the inner desires of the audience, whether they be commoners, royals, or the Emperor himself.”
Edith shrugged. “I don’t know what you would have me do. We’ve tried for days on end. The creature has had time to adjust to her new settings but refuses to interact with me.”
Asher sat back in the chair and studied Mylia with an intense scrutiny that she matched, stare for stare. He spoke to his mother, keeping his eyes fixed upon Mylia.
“Mother, when I caught the two horse poachers on the eves of our land, I hung them from the nearest tree. I stood before them and watched as life fell from their eyes. They seemed to die for an eternity.”
“Is that your greatest fear, my son?” Her voice softened.
“You mean, do I fear death?”
Edith gazed at her son with great compassion.
He shivered. “I fear mind loops. They are like a train you can’t remember boarding with a journey you may yet accept.”
She sighed and reached for her tea. “The Empire has many trains and all their tracks lead to the Capital.”
Asher made an impatient gesture as though tired already of the conversation. “The point I wish to make is that when someone dies, their eyes hold a final spark…as though their soul has flung itself against the prison of the body in one last attempt for survival. That spark reminds me of the fire that now burns within her golden orbs.”
“If she is so desperate to live, perhaps we did wrong in bringing her to stay with us.”
Mylia’s eyes flitted between Edith and Asher. Something about her was being discussed but their tones shifted so quickly, she could not determine whether she was in danger of their decision. She stared upon Asher and wished very much that she could reach his mind and ask questions. For, she had so many. Why she was here and where her future lay. If he would ever take her back to the Wylds or even set her free. She was in the mood to grant this human family lenience after the kindness shown by Asher’s step brother, Gerard, the night before.
“I couldn’t leave her in the forest with broken legs.” Asher’s voice calmed as he studied Mylia, matching the burnished intensity of her gaze. “You should have seen the state she was in. She would never have lasted a day.”
“It’s surprising you care so much for what is only a tool to procure our family wealth.” Edith sharply stated.
“Not really. She must pay me back for saving her life with her service.”
Edith looked from the Prince to Mylia and back again. A slow, steady, comprehending smile spread over her face.
“Asher, my dear, why don’t you try instructing the creature. Perhaps you may reach a breakthrough where I cannot.”
Asher met Edith’s eyes and his face shifted with calculation. “I understand that as a challenge, mother, and I accept.”
And so, Edith swept from the room, the door closed, and the Prince and Mylia were alone.
Mylia then realized that Asher would replace Edith’s tutelage for the day. It was not the result she wanted but perhaps, alone with Asher, his emotions unpolluted by other humans, she would be able to discern something more of his intentions for her. So, she waited for his to speak, expecting the same, boring litany of long vowel sounds and sentence fragments Edith had thrown into her ears. Instead, the silence of the room was overwhelming.
The Prince studied her face with a frown of what she thought to be great resilience. At first, she matched his gaze, her eyes bright with an intensity that made the sun pale by comparison. But her heart was not in the staring contest and she grew bored.
Mylia broke her eyes away to check the clock. Every lesson was based around the short needle moving from the ‘9’ to the ‘5’ with a break at ‘1’ so Edith could eat lunch. Now, the hand still hovered above ‘10’ and today’s lesson already dragged. Since the Prince only cared to study her face, Mylia let her gaze wander.
The fireplace embers dimmed to purple. Soon the Servant would enter to poke them back to life. She glanced to the door and then the window, noting the chill creeping through the glass. Perhaps she would stay warm today by shivering her emotions into submission. Perhaps, she could even forget how hungry she was.
She would consider the doorway behind her where a swift flight down the steps and out the door took her into the freedom of sunshine and snow. But the castle grounds and outlying buildings still lay to be navigated to the great beyond—the world outside. True freedom in the Wylds was so very far away. If only there was a way to be picked up from this room, lifted across the world like a bird on a supersonic wind, and deposited upon the forests of her home to dwell in peace forever. Such travel would be more valuable than anything else in this world.
Or, maybe the Prince could be overpowered? She looked at his sinewy form, noting the sharp darkness of his gaze. No, this was one human she would prefer not to fight.
She looked down to her clawed hands, resting sedately, one on top of the other, the nail beds turned pearl in the daylight. Just when her mind was falling asleep from boredom, the Prince spoke.
“What is your name?”
Mylia stared at him. It was a question, judging from the slight, upwards lilt in the last word, ‘name’.
“What is your name?” He repeated and then pointed to himself. “Asher. My. Name. Is. Asher.”
Mylia lowered her head, dismayed. She understood his gesture and yet she did not know how to say “Mylia” in the human tongue. But then, no one had ever asked her for her name. Not even Gerard, although he treated her as a friend. She was “creature”, “monster”, “wyrm” and a series of oaths from the humans who feared her.
Asher repeated the question, slower and with an ordered emphasis upon each word.
They stared at each other and Mylia thought for the longest moment that nothing else existed on earth but the question.
The question which hovered like a series of small, silver bells in a wynter-brushed forest in which footsteps crunched the stillness of pressed snow and icicles froze like glass ornaments from tall evergreens.
He wanted to know her name.
But how to speak her name as the humans did? They opened their mouths and used the contraption of their vocals to elicit a reaction. She did not think of words, only emotions consolidated in song. If she remained silent, perhaps his pleasantry would vanish and she be refused further lessons. Worse, he would no longer visit and she lose her best ally in this castle.
She reached out her arm, palm upward, fingers outspread, in supplication. Carefully and slowly, she sang to him. Her every note was delicate and beautiful as almond-scented breeze wafting through a rose garden. She sang of her frustration and sorrow, her desire to impress him with her knowledge, and the hatred of the chains which now bound her so well that memories of swift flight through dark trees had faded to the deep recesses of sleep.
When she finished, the Prince remained for a long moment as though turned to stone.
Finally, he spoke. “I still have yet to learn your name.”
Mylia looked upon him in great awareness. Prince Asher was a hard man. He could appreciate her singing even as he ordered her punished for disobedience.
With the greatest effort she had ever known, she pictured the sound of her name upon her lips and stated, carefully and slowly, like a needle puncturing taut fabric—
She paused and saw recognition dawn upon his face.
“Myliaaaa,” she said again, faster and with more competence.
It was the first time she had ever seen him spontaneously smile and it made her heart glad.
And she repeated the sound from her lips, the sound of her name. “Mylia.”
To be continued in Chapter 11, released on November 4!