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!)
The Servant guided Mylia into the room, bowed to the seated people therein, and left, closing the door with a subtle click. It was a sitting area or study of sorts, with low ceilings and a muttery fireplace of red embers and coal. Seated in front of diamond pane windows now blustered by snow, were Prince Asher and an older woman she did not know.
She defiantly glared upon them through her veil, determined to show that she, Mylia, was not afraid.
The woman, Lady Edith, cradled an herbal teacup with fingers dripping in clouded emeralds. Years later, when Mylia built a formidable jewelry collection of the sheerest diamonds, pearls, sapphires and other rubescent stones set in three types of gold known to humankind, she learned that Edith’s emeralds were cheaper than a sack of wheat. In this moment, however, her eyes lingered upon the rings for they glimmered like spring weeds in mist and greatly calmed her.
Their owner lent an entirely different reaction. Edith appeared in her sixtieth wynter and her eyes, so alike to Asher’s black irises, were rimmed in kohl and wrinkles and pierced Mylia with educated precision.
Edith placed her tea down with a decisive clunk and rose from her seat. “So, this is the wyrm. Let’s have a look at her.”
She placed her hand upon Mylia’s head and lifted the veil. For a moment, and it was only the briefest second, Mylia saw a flash of surprise and jealousy within the woman’s eyes. And then, Edith’s face reformed into a smile.
“My son,” she turned to Asher with a thrilling laugh, “When you mentioned the wyrm you had found, I imagined a monster. This creature is beautiful. Look at her limbs and face so like us humans…but her eyes are larger and a wonderful habiis gold color and her mouth, somewhat smaller than ours. You mentioned her wings and tail and all I can imagine is that…somehow—and extraordinary to think!—there was a mingling of the earth that crafted our Third Breaking humans and Fourth Breaking wyrms.” Edith’s nails traced across the healing skin on Mylia’s face. “And yet, what happened here?”
Quickly and with few words, the Prince recounted the attack and Mylia saw the old woman’s lips tighten with anger.
“Ignorant peasants,” she breathed.
“Half of them are convicts from the Empire’s cities serving out their sentence in the outlying farms,” he replied. “They worship and fear the wyrm, planting shrines up and down the forest edges of the Wylds. To see their monster as human is too much a stretch for their imagination.”
“And what do you consider her to be?”
“I really have no thoughts in the matter,” Asher leaned back and crossed his legs in thoughtful determination, looking much like the lord of the castle. “Either way, I found what I looked for in the Wylds.”
“You mean this wyrm woman?”
“Wyrm woman? Isn’t that verging on the dramatic?”
“No, indeed, I say she is more woman than wyrm.”
“Well, I assure you that her finding was purely based on luck,” he said. “No, I went to the Wylds to find my destiny. It is exactly as I imagined it to be all those years ago.”
As he spoke, Mylia watched his face with fear and caution. Deep in her slow beating wyrm heart, she knew he could have her immediately killed. Executed like the three bodies that crushed the snow from the bullets addressed to their skulls—and at his orders, no less. Her bonds made her helpless against this possibility. She remembered the gentle touch of his hand against her bruised forehead after the attack. No, he may be a strange and even cruel prince, but she was an anomaly and there was both safety and an entirely different peril in this fact that turned him to save her when others cracked their lives for lesser wrongs. And then a thought occurred. She had no idea why he ordered those three men killed last night. She very much wanted to know, but Edith was speaking.
Edith sank again into her chair in a melancholy stiffened by sore bones. “You were not born into the luxury of deciding your future. You are the lord of our castle and must deal with the duties thereof.”
“Listen to me. We eat into our stores. If we run out of food this wynter, we must sell the farms and be land-less. Only the gods know what will become of those under our care. Already treason has shown in fits and starts. Royals lose their people’s respect when bellies empty.”
He paused for a long moment and then spoke, this time with a quiet determination. “I plan to take the creature with me to the Capital when the spring rains come. There, I will show her amid the parties and entertainment venues. She will quickly find work as a singer and her voice will restore wealth to our family.”
“You will parade the wyrm around like some circus show?”
“No. Her identity will be concealed. Do you have such little faith in me?”
“I fear you will disgrace the family name.”
Mylia watched their exchange with fascination. Their emotional currents conveyed what their words lacked. They were desperate for good fortune and hoped to use her. But how and why, she could not yet guess. What concerned her even more was the sharp pains traveling through her legs. All that walking was not suitable and she was certain there would be swelling and fresh blood on the bandages.
Asher’s black eyes sparked with fury. “I will do whatever I must to keep this castle running. If I become a businessman to reach my goal, then so be it. Is staying here, fending day to day in fear and poverty so preferred an existence? Why should our family suffer in such ill-founded pride?”
“I know the ambition that drives you,” Edith sounded worried.
Asher grimaced. “How many times must I reassure you. I will return home.”
“Yes, but I don’t think Gerard will come back.” Edith’s voice hardened. “He wants to go with you.”
“He’s dreamy…useless. I spend hours disciplining him and receive arguments and disobedience in return. What good can he possibly do anyone in the Capital?”
“He is nearly eighteen and wishes to impress the world,” she replied, “You’re his older brother and inspiring. Don’t you see? Your ambition shall rid me of all my children and I’ve already lost your father.”
“You still have Titus,” Asher remarked in the coolest of tones.
“He may be my lover but he is not royal like us,” she said. “And I increasingly dislike his influence upon Gerard. For that reason alone, I wish Gerard to have you around. Will you not reconsider?”
Asher stood up and his words stung the quiet air. “I will not live here, Mother, not for duty or family or pride, and you cannot make me stay.”
For a long moment, mother and son glared at each other. Edith was the first to turn away, back to Mylia, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “Let me hear this remarkable voice then,” she said. “Come, now, sing for me.”
Mylia remained silent. Though she did not follow their words, the emotions streaming between Asher and Edith painted a great clarity of vision. She had followed their exchange, read within their eyes and gestures, the fear and hope that drove each to some extreme. And she found that all song eluded her for she had no idea of what to say.
“She does not understand you,” the Prince said.
Edith glanced over Mylia, curiosity overtaking her earlier rage. “But, how to reach her? Even if her jaw and tongue are like ours, does her mind desire to speak after the manner of our language? You know that singing like some bird is highly different from speech.”
Asher’s face moved into a smile but Mylia noticed the conciliatory gesture did not ascend to his eyes. He rose and went to a bookcase. “Either way, you must try,” he said and carefully pulled out a long, thin volume and blew away the dust.
“I must?” Edith’s voice deepened.
“I have not the knowledge of speech that you maintain, or the time needed to devote to her letters. And I know you capable…after all, it was you who instructed my letters all those years ago.”
So the conversation had reached an apex, Mylia thought, feeling the emotions run like feathery tendrils through the heated air. Soon, her fate would be decided. She wished that she knew why these people spoke so seriously amid tea and books as she stood between them. The petals of snow that beat upon the windows and the atmospheric heaviness that lay upon the room told her a deeper wynter storm approached.
Her legs ached and she did not know how much longer she could stand. She needed to sit down but the splints on her legs forced her to stand, shoving her legs straight so that crumpling to the floor was impossible.
She looked around and saw a settee behind her. She bent at the waist and carefully fell onto the low couch. There, much better! She breathed a merciful sigh of relief to have the pressure removed from her legs.
And she spoke of this relief in a sudden rush of vocals, curses for her burdened life and love of released pain within. A smile echoed around Asher’s eyes upon her song rushing forth. And her wyrm curses for the pain transformed into melodic joy, every note healing to her anger even as they sought to penetrate his mind and read the unknown turmoils therein.
Edith’s eyelids strongly closed and opened in several blinks of great shock. For such a slow moving, stately woman as she, this gesture was the equivalent of screaming. And yet, even under the duress of surprise, she quickly composed herself and smiled upon Asher. “You were not wrong. Such a voice has never been heard in all the halls of this country. I will undertake her training, if only to sacrifice my hopes so that such beauty can live.”
Mylia felt the joyous atmosphere blossom from Edith and knew these humans had no intention of letting her go. At least, she grimly thought with a soft purr in her throat, they would not kill her. She was valuable to them like Edith’s green jewels or Asher’s monstrous ambition, although she only guessed the second thought a while later when she realized his true purpose in the Capital.
Asher smiled and handed the book to Edith. “Excellent. Please commence today.”
His mother accepted the book as he gathered up his cloak and fastened it around his shoulders. “You will not stay for the lesson?”
“We have cattle thieves on the borders,” he said with some weariness. “I’m taking several men to hunt them and will return at the week’s end.”
Edith firmly nodded. “Take care of yourself, Asher.”
She held up her face and Asher quickly kissed her wrinkled, powdered cheek. Then, he turned and left, quiet as a slipped shadow, through the door. Mylia gazed upon the closed door, curious that the Prince did not acknowledge her in farewell. Curious and almost hurt.
Edith turned to her and clasped her hands. “Shall we begin?”
For a multiple hours, as shadows veered across the floor and a strange instrument called a ‘clock’ ticked in the corner, Mylia sat on the plush settee and watched Edith mouth sounds to her. The heat and silence made her head throb and the book which lay before her lap stank of mold and puffed must with every turn of the page. Large, black scribbles covered the papers and she quickly made the association between these wriggled lines of ink and the sounds from Edith’s lips.
Long vowel sounds.
Edith repeated them over and over and over again. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaa, eeeeeeeeee, iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, oooooooooooooo, uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu,” and a strange “whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” that reminded Mylia of the “hiiiiii” sounds that hunters used when meeting each other.
Sometimes, Edith stopped and pointed to her, asking for a repeat of her sound. Mylia only blinked her gold eyes in superior unawareness. She knew the purpose of the voice lesson and held no desire to learn the fluttered ramblings that possessed human throats.
The storm ended the lesson. The glass-pane windows shook with the blasts of rage, wind and howling snow.
Edith listened to the raging storm outside. “There are evils that blow upon these winds. The weather fouls and before this noventury ends, our world will face a challenger that will either bring its doom or renew the future.” She tugged an embroidered hanging upon the wall and somewhere deep in the walls, Mylia heard a bell ting. “It is time for you to retire. We will continue tomorrow.”
Mylia realized she was dismissed when the Servant arrived. The snowstorm creaked the castle and filled the halls with racing shadows. Here and there, people passed, scurrying wordlessly with barely a glance for the two figures in their midst. She saw Lolli at one point, carrying a bundle of fir branches upon her head, skirts bunched high around her waist and white legs flashing in the gloom.
Back in her room, Mylia was rebound and dressed in night clothes. She noticed someone had closed the shutters on her window and stoked the fire hot and bright. A plate of meat slab and bread lay on bedside table and she was ravenous and fell upon the food as the Servant watched in mild distaste.
How heavy her sleep was that night and filled with frantic dreams.
If she had been more watchful, Mylia would have known that two hours past midnight, a great column of blackness filled her bedroom from which two eyes watched her thrash and turn upon the bed until morning.