PRINCESS AGNE AND QUEEN AIRYANNA
Princess Agne sat wagging her tail as her sisters arrived for her fifteenth birthday party. Her violet scales had been polished to a shine. Her striping, detailed with makeup to showcase the darker purple and white lines that crisscrossed down her back in a wavy pattern. Her father’s private garden glowed with heated bricks, lilacs, and the rear stone wall painted bright colors, bearing a larger-than-life portrait of her.
She smiled, allowing her fangs to show, but only a little bit. She didn’t want to seem overbearing by bearing her teeth at guests. She could hardly wait for everyone to see how beautifully the Earth Dragons had decorated the garden.
Her mother, Queen Airyanna, leaned over and whispered: “Don’t wag your tail, especially in front of the other princesses. It makes you look much younger than you are.” She sat poised, with her ears perked straight up and her tail wrapped around her hindquarters with her tail horns tucked under her leg. Her light blue scales, also polished and detailed to a glamorous shine. “It’s time to start acting like a young adult.”
She nodded, curling her tail around like a proper young dragon. “I am sorry, Mother. I am just so excited to have friends over. I so rarely get to see anyone except you and Father.”
It was true. No one outside the castle walls had seen her. The only place she was allowed to visit was the castle library every other week during her literature lesson. Otherwise, her teachers came to her private chambers. Being a Fire/Air Dragon, she was an avid student of these forms of Elemental Dragon Magic. Being a curious young dragon, she also liked to study the other areas of magic too, Water and Earth were on the top of her list. She had even been able to sneak some books back to her quarters.
“Dear Daughter, they are not your friends. They are daughters of your father’s other wives; they are the competition. I’ll have to have a talk with your father about changing some of your lesson plans to be more useful in the area of government and politics, and the history of them.”
“But Selma is already the crown princess. I’m just a future nobody.” She was confused: what was mother suggesting.
Her mother almost laughed. “You are not a nobody, and you should watch your back. The older you get, the more difficult it will be to shield you from palace politics. I’ll have your reading schedule advanced to the next level so you can understand what I mean.” She turned her attention to the approaching sisters. “Hello, Welcome to the West Tower.”
Salma, her dark blue Water Dragon sister, led the group of red and green Fire and Earth Dragons. They bowed to the Queen, while Agne nodded, smiling and remembering not to wag her tail.
THE EARTH DRAGON GENERAL
Chactau, the Earth Dragon General of the Blood King’s army, trotted into the library of his home in North Dragons Ridge. This was the largest palatial dragon barn next to the palace. And, to avoid it being empty, he had invited his lead butler to live in one of the guest suites.
At least someone got to enjoy it.
His staff had made a fire and raked his pea-gravel napping bed for him. It looked like an elaborate little carpet in front of the fireplace. He was lucky- he had a great staff.
He stepped on the bed and spun around in a circle before plopping down. He let his tail lay limp behind him. He watched the fire burning, breathing and then exhaling slowly as he shook his rear end to get more comfortable. He had two days in a row off, and he intended to lay curled up here until his back started hurting from lack of movement. If he got bored, which he doubted, he would read a scroll.
At twenty-one, he was the youngest General in over three hundred years. He, along with several other nobles, had been surprised when the King let him have the position after Chactau’s father had been killed in battle. Usually, an appointee held the position until the future entitled came of age and experience. He had finished his formal education at the Royal Dragon Training Academy and his officer’s training at the top of his class. But he’d only had a year working under his father in the real world before his father died. Several had argued against it, but the King said Chactau was an adult, and the matter was closed.
Dragons were considered an adult when their tail horns were, at least, six-inches long. They grew in anywhere between the age of seventeen and nineteen. Chactau had been eighteen when his grew in. His were an impressive eight inches of sharp diamond, clouded with a greenish hue to compliment his dark green scales and brown striping.
His mother had been killed by human rebels when he was a six-month-old pup. The attack on her is what had alerted him to the danger. Dragons grew out of infancy faster than humans did. They had a longer teen period where they were stuck between being a pup and being an adult. Schooling and training were longer. If a human’s mother died when it was six months old and another human didn’t step in, it would die. But, he had bitten the attackers, and burrowed into the ground with his dragon magic and made it home safe. He missed her.
He hadn’t been with his father when his father was killed. An archer’s arrow had found the right spot behind his father’s ear. They also said that it was a group of so-called Secular humans. At first, he thought he had misheard them. When they explained what the Secular’s were up to – wiping out dragon magic and leaving the world sterile of Elemental Dragon control – it sounded mad.
Dragon’s- in particular, Elemental Dragons- controlled the elements. Who would stop hurricanes? Who would be the healers? Who would save humans from fires or fertilize their fields? Dragons and humans were meant to live together. However, more and more villages were becoming either all dragon or all human. Not that Chactau was a big fan of having human smell in his barn, but he was a bigger fan of low political strife.
Political conflict can lead to extreme behavior, extreme behavior leads to things like insurrection, or coups. After all, the first people executed during such changes of power were usually the nobles – that would be him. If such a thing happened, it would wipe his family line from existence.
He shifted his thoughts, no sense in thinking about it before his nap, it would cause nightmares about being chased for no reason.
His father had been trying to arrange a marriage for him. Of all things, it was to Princess Agne. He had no interest in trying to entertain that puff-ball of a Fire-Air Dragon wannabe. She was seven years younger than him, and it would be another two years, at a minimum, before her tail horns were grown in. He would, at youngest, be twenty-four when the time for building his family came around. His friends already had mates and pups. If his father’s plan came to fruition, the family line would gain Royal status, but he as an individual would be left hanging for a long lonely time while he waited for her to come of age to take a mate.
That wasn’t the only thing that worried him, he heard the princess was spoiled and pampered. It was depressing to think these lonely years would be the only quiet ones. The palace guard said the King even threw little tea parties for her. Tea parties, it was an outrage. What sort of self-respecting dragon engaged in tea parties? It was a training exercise for little pups to be introduced to human children who were rider candidates. The idea was to help the pups understand the concept of eating with humans, and not eating the humans. Why would the King have tea parties for Princess Agne when the one, and only, human allowed in the palace was the king’s rider, Ja Hua?
His father had warned him the King thought his seven older daughters were the best, but none were as good as his eighth. Since the eighth was Chactau’s intended, it would fall to him to keep her shielded from them. According to father; the older princesses had plotted two assassination attempts on Princess Agne. The Air Dragon Minister had tried to inform the King, but he refused to believe it. The Minister had been banished, and an assassin eliminated the threat of so-called misinformation about palace politics. Of course, the official report read that wild humans had killed the Minister, but Chactau knew better. He had overheard the Queen giving the orders to eliminate the threat.
He was less than thrilled. He wanted nothing to do with a mate he was not interested in and even less interested in dealing with scheming future sisters-in-law. The last warning from his father was that the King would lose what little sanity he had left once he realized the princesses were a clear and present danger to Princess Agne.
Nope! He needed to be able to come home after a campaign and curl up on his pea gravel carpet and nap until he got bored with it. He wasn’t lazy, he was very serious, and he took rest just as seriously as he took work. Nothing about palace life allowed for rest, and that presented a logistical problem in his personal life.
He was doomed – he knew it.
“Chactau.” Loutic, the Fire Dragon General, entered. “My contacts at the Palace say there is a birthday party for the Lilac Princess.”
“You mean Princess Agne? And, so what, she has tea parties all the time.” He perked both of his ears straight up and raised his head to look at the red Fire Dragon who had just entered.
Loutic’s long tail swooshed behind him like a thick whip. He always admired how handsome Loutic’s tail was, but the rest of his middle-aged body bore the signs of many battles he had fought alongside the Blood King.
“So, I have information there is a plot,” he said, not bothering to sit down. His tail continued to swoosh ever so slightly, an indication he was nervous. “And this is her fifteenth birthday party, not a tea party. Don’t worry, you’ll be on the guest list for her sixteenth.”
He ignored the jab. “A plot at the palace, no. It’s a Fortress of Peace.” Chactau put one ear up and one ear back, offering a half-smirk.
“You’re hilarious; Come with me, let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on. One of the gate guards said he thought he smelled a human.”
“A human? In the castle grounds? Do you mean the guard that’s hot for the Queen? Or the one on the West gate?” He pointed with his tail from one side of the room to the other to indicate the guards’ positions.
“He isn’t hot for the Queen. He’s young, so he’s only been under her command during battle, so he naturally gravitates toward her orders.”
“So she says.” So much for naptime, time for work. He got up and followed Loutic out to figure out what was going on because he knew something big was up, but he didn’t know what. It had been the Queen who argued for him to have his father’s position instead of using an appointee. Loutic was also a huge fan of the Queen. Meaning, she was building a set of high ranking noble dragons – loyal to her and not so much the king.
The King, being a hybrid dragon of Fire and Earth is incredibly powerful. It had not escaped Chactau’s attention that the Queen aligned herself with him and Loutic – the exact powers she would need to complement her own power, and counter the King’s dragon magic.
The political strife was so thick he could cut it with his diamond claws. If he had the sense of smell that an Air Dragon had, he wondered if he might smell a coup in the air. The whole thing upset his stomach, and he wished that an appointee was handling this right now- not him.
Once outside, he cantered behind Loutic toward the guard shack wondering who was involved and who was loyal to the king and who was loyal to the Queen; because not many were loyal to Shestafa as a nation.”
Princess Agne enjoyed meeting all the new dragons. It was good to talk to someone who wasn’t one of her tutors. The only thing that would make it better would be if her sisters would come over to hang out with her. But so far, they were ignoring her.
Her father’s garden featured his cactus collection, landscaped so he could rub against them if he wanted to. In higher spots, he had firebloom flowers so he could practice breathing fire on them. They opened into beautiful red coal blooms if the fire was hot enough. The landscaping bricks placed around the flower gardens glowed with the heat they were putting out for the party. It would get cold once the sun went down.
His rider, Ja Hua, stood next to the heated bricks, shivering. Agne thought about talking to her, but she knew Ja Hua valued her silence. She smoothed the front of her fitted Rider uniform. It matched her father’s blood red scales and deeper red striping. She smiled and nodded, “Happy Birthday, Princess.” Using a finger, she brushed her long black hair out of her face.
“Thank you, Rider Ja Hua.” She nodded, as Ja Hua turned her attention back to warming herself by the landscaping bricks. Agne saw her every day, or at least every other day, yet the dragon rider had said very few things to her. It was always her father who did the talking and Ja Hua who sat quietly sipping her tea. She was the only human Agne had ever met
She wondered if all humans were as quiet, or if they were all different, like dragons. For example, her eldest Earth dragon sister was very quiet, while the younger of the two chattered on and on.
Agne turned her attention back to her sisters and the fact that she was out of her chambers.
Agne’s oldest sister, Salma smiled as the party began to wind down. “When will you be taking a rider?” Selma asked looking around at the garden with her ears perked straight up. She was a young adult Water Dragon, the most beautiful of Agne’s sisters. Her betrothed’s mother had spent a significant percentage of her fortune placing her son at Selma’s side. The position of King Consort to the future Queen was a valuable political position – or weapon. Regardless, one chose the royal consort with lots of care. The king and queen would jointly pick a mate for her. Agne found this confusing, why would Mother have a say in Salma’s mate. Salma wasn’t her daughter.
Agne nodded, feeling her diamond horns on her ears as she wiggled them around to listen better. Her horns didn’t curve back like most Air Dragons; they went straight back, like a Fire Dragon’s horns. She was the perfect balance between her mother and father. She had completed her Air Dragon training two years early but was still struggling with her Fire Dragon training. Her Earth Dragon abilities were limited to that of a Common Dragon so her father had refused to allow her to train with Earth magic. He stated that she would not be fraternizing with peasant Common Dragons who couldn’t even create dragon magic.
She was confused, Common Dragons may not be able to create it, but they were experts at using what was there, no matter the level of difficulty. It seemed like anyone, anywhere, of any rank would need to be able to master the highest amount of magic they could; be it the mastery of fire tornadoes or lava flow, or as simple as starting a campfire. Everyone should know that. Shouldn’t she at least, know the basic magics of Earth or Water?
Agne smiled at Salma and answered that she knew nothing about a rider. The Blood King almost snapped his own neck twirling to face his eldest. “She is my daughter and she will not be saddled. That is final.”
Agne’s smile dipped. She had never heard Father talk to anyone like that. He was always so kind and playful. She didn’t think it was possible for her father to use that tone of voice with anyone, let alone someone he loved. Poor Salma.
Her sister slumped back from him, stuttering. “I-I’m s-sorry, father.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I thought we were both – all of us, were your daughters.” She gestured around to their other sisters at the party.
Father ignored Salma and trotted off toward the other side of the garden. He began talking with one of the local magistrates, who was preparing to leave.
Salma was right; weren’t they all Father’s daughters? Why had he excluded Salma? Was she being disowned? Agne was also curious as to why she couldn’t have a rider. Maybe he was disappointed in her inability to master Earth magic like he had. But he couldn’t blame her for that, could he? After all, dragons were born with the powers they had or didn’t have, that’s why she thought it necessary for everyone to at least, learn the basics of other magics.
She head-butted her sister, as dragons do to show affection, but Salma shoved her away, snarling. “I don’t need your pity.” She trotted off to find her other sisters.
Agne swallowed hard as she sat down on her hindquarters staring at her sister’s pearl colored tail horns as she trotted away. What had she done? She had only been trying to let Salma know she didn’t agree with Father. She put one ear back, and one ear up, indicating her confusion.
The party momentum died down. She walked over to a Giant Fire Willow tree in the center of the garden and sat under it, staring at the beautiful red-orange blooms that spilled down from its long dangling branches. Using her Air magic, she held her breath to keep from tearing up. Why did no one like her? What made her so unlikeable? She wished she knew so she could change it.
Queen Airyanna put her tail around Agne’s back as she addressed the rest of her sisters. “Why don’t you seven get ready to return to your shared garden.”
Agne hadn’t heard her mother use that tone before; it sounded condescending. She hadn’t considered that she had private chambers and her own garden tailored to her needs. Her sisters shared quarters and a garden in the South Tower. She thought this was strange since they were different breeds of dragons with different needs. It would be uncomfortable for her two Fire Dragon sisters to sleep in a chamber designed for a Water Dragon. She wasn’t sure why they shared quarters, and she had her own. Perhaps it was because she was like Father and could use two powers. She was disappointed this evening had started out so hopeful and was ending with a feeling of further alienation.
Agne felt something under her back leg. One of her Earth Dragon sisters had burrowed under her and slipped her a note. Excitement ran through her. She couldn’t wait to read it.
Her father escorted her back to her chambers for the evening meal, and then trampled her canopy bed of hot rocks for her by turning around in three circles. Fire Dragons like sleeping on hot rocks; to have someone trample a bed for another was an act of love. She sat on her hindquarters with her tail wrapped around her, like a proper lady dragon, while he finished her bed for her. Inside, she was bursting with excitement to read the note. For the first time in her life, she couldn’t wait for Father to leave.
He tucked her into the rocks, gently head-butted her good-night, and then left the room. As soon as she was sure he was gone she read the note. Happy Fifteenth Birthday, Meet us in our garden for the rest of the party, sis.
She wondered if they had a much bigger and more beautiful garden than her. She used to wonder when Father would move her up to the big pup’s room to be with her sisters. When he didn’t do this, she had figured her sisters were now adults and no longer in need of a pup’s room. She had always wanted her sisters to share chambers with her, especially her two Fire Dragon sisters. Perhaps they could teach her Fire Dragon skills. Then they could play instead of fighting.
She snuck out to go meet them. When she arrived in their play yard, she didn’t see them anywhere. Where was the landscaping? There were only the two scorched bushes of her Fire Dragon sisters. While wandering around looking for them, she wondered why she was the only one who ended up with two Elemental powers. Perhaps her mother had good genes.
Another thing that caught her attention; this place wasn’t decorated for a party. She figured she would send her servant Ming-Ah to help them decorate their garden. She was a great Earth Dragon and would do wonders in their play yard. The place looked abandoned. If she fixed this place up for them, they might soften their attitude toward her. She looked around making plans for the alterations to the yard. Salma would need a pond, but her Fire sisters would probably need a firewillow tree, which could pull double duty since Earth dragons also liked them. Maybe she could put in one Fire-willow for each of them.
After a minute, she realized they still weren’t here. Had she misread the note? She was about to check the note again when she felt something sharp in her neck. It pinched, like a needle. “What is hap…?”
“Go to sleep Princess,” A voice said, becoming more distant as she fell asleep.