Princes in a Cavern
There you are! I was advised you would arrive today. Please, come in. I suspect you are weary from your travels. You've heard about my tales have you? Yes, I suspected it was so..
Have you come to hear the one about the fairies that travelled over the misty moors? No? Was it the of the pirates who found a lost treasure? Not that either, eh? Ah! Of course, you've come to hear about The Princes and the Dragon.. please sit! For I must warn you, the tale might be long. Our story begins in the ashes of chaos..
 
The earth rumbled and the walls of the great palace shook. Debris fell from the ceiling, and the cobblestone panels that made the floor began to be uprooted. The screams of the panicked people could be heard for many a mile.
 
The dragons had come.
 
They came wielding their fiery breaths, clad in the scales that stayed the blades and arrows of mortal man. Knights donning armour so valiant marched hopelessly to meet their winged oppressors, knowing they would face their demise.
 
The night sky was burnt orange from the flames that engulfed the kingdom below. Black smoke had impaired the vision of the brave knights who aimed to shoot the dragons down.
 
They circled, like an eagle would its prey. For that was what the people were to these dragons: a simple meal to be had.
 
'Quickly this way!' Sir Borin said as he led the Queen and the Prince through the catacombs of the castle. The King had been burnt to a crisp in his attempt to face their foes, so that his wife and son might have lived. When Prince Jarin had turned to see what became of his lord father, all that had been left was a shadow upon the wall, scorched in like a memory.
 
Through the winding ways they went, dust and debris coated their fine clothing. That hadn't mattered anymore; vanity held no meaning. All they wished for were their lives.
 
Finally, they had reached a tomb. Though it was not a tomb- not really. For once opened one would behold a secret way. A way that would lead them into the middle of the forest far from their castle; their home. Sir Borin quickly ushered them through, his torch nearly burned out. They could not waste anymore time.
 
The Prince (who was merely a boy at the time) had wanted to cry. His tiny feet that padded so hard against the old and damp floor, had tried his best to keep up. He could only run so hard, and so fast. He reached his limit then, and had stopped quite suddenly. So suddenly his Queen mother almost tipped over and fell flat on her face!
 
'Sir Borin!' She cried, 'A moment if you'd please.' She was quite tired as well. You see, to be Queen carries many responsibilities, most of which however, would require her to sit. And so, you can only imagine just how tired a Queen might truly be should she ever need to run some ways. Her bosom heaved heavily as she tried to catch her breath. The Prince, (who wanted very much to sit, even if the floor was muddy) clung to skirts of his mother.
 
'Mummy,' said he, 'Why do the dragons attack us?' The Queen stroked the head of her son in a soothing manner, trying to disguise the shake of her hand.
 
'They are soulless creatures, sweet Prince.' Sir Borin watched his torch warily. The last of the flames licked away the darkness around them. Should that had happened, they would very much have a longer trip ahead of them. This did not bode well with Sir Borin, especially when the roof of the cave they resided in was threatening to fall straight down on their heads!
 
'My Queen, we must make haste.' He pressured with little to no manners in his tone. For there was none to spare at the time. The Queen gave him a harsh look, before she agreed.
 
'Come, my Prince. We must continue.' Prince Jarin wanted to protest, but he sensed even if he did they would fall on deaf ears. By the by, he figured the sooner they left that stinky old cavern, the sooner he would be able to sleep. Perhaps when he awoke, his King father would no longer be scorched upon the wall. Perhaps he would awake to him smiling that big smile he had. The one where tiny lines would form at the corner of his eyes, and around his large mouth.
 
Yes, Prince Jarin quite liked that thought. And so, ignoring the aching protests of his little feet, he pressed on.
 
Once they had made it to the forest, they could hear the deathly fearful battle cries of the demons that ravaged their kingdom. They looked on in horror, as the dragons flew and expelled large flames of orange. Sometimes they would come out so hot they'd turn blue.
 
Prince Jarin wondered at that. Why was it that the hotter flames turned blue? He wanted to ask his mother, but her heart wrenching sobs told him to stay his mind. He learned long ago, that when his mother cried there was no getting coherent words to spill from her. So he squeezed her hand tightly, still not quite understanding why she wept. He was still young you see, and could not fully grasp the meaning of death and other sad things. Through her tears, the Queen could only offer her son a not-so-sincere smile.
 
Once he, his mother, and Sir Borin had fled to the Kingdom of his uncle, his mother remarried. With the consummation of the joining of his uncle and mother, came the birth of his younger brother: Merek. He was four years Jarin's junior, and much more brazen in character.
 
That was long ago. If one were to keep count, it would be roughly ten years to the day Jarin awoke on his fourteenth birthday. His mother had long since perished. She caught a deathly flu, and in her sleep she found she could no longer fight to breathe. And so she stopped. Just like that.
 
With his mother gone, and his uncle now known as his step-father, Prince Jarin found he did not settle well in his new life, in a different kingdom. His father never stopped being a shadow, and Sir Borin was oft times much too busy training new knights. With no one left to keep him company but his half-brother, Prince Merek, and a serving girl named Thea (who he didn't like very much, for she cried far too often!) Prince Jarin felt very lonely. Prince Merek wasn't terrible company, he was louder than Prince Jarin, and would often get into fights with children from the village. Where as Prince Jarin much preferred the confines of the castle library, or the highest branch of a tree.
 
On Prince Jarin's fourteenth birthday, when Prince Merek had quite enough of the library, he had managed to coax his elder brother and the serving girl, Thea, into exploring a cave he had found. Though it was after much whining.
 
With a sigh, Prince Jarin put away his favourite book and agreed to follow the younger boy. After all, the feast wasn't to be held until that night, so they had time a plenty to play.
 
Along the way, it was explained to Thea and Prince Jarin that he found the cave while accompanying his King father on a hunting trip. He was much too frightened to explore it alone however, but he was sure to exclude that from his droned out ramblings.
 
They took two horses to ride out and find the cave. Though they didn't ask the stable boy, for they knew he would go and tell someone just what it was they were up to. If that were to happen they wouldn't be allowed to go. After some arguing it was decided Thea would ride along Prince Merek's horse to the cave, and on the way back Prince Jarin would bear her hence.
 
So, off they galloped through tree and brush. Until finally, they came upon it. The mouth of a mountain, hidden behind vines that came down and covered the opening like a curtain. A very green and viney curtain.
 
'Come on then!' Prince Merek held apart the vines so that they would enter first. Thea looked in and saw how very dark it was. Her mind began to play tricks on her very quickly. Thinking there were monsters hiding within the darkness, the poor girl began to cry.
 
'Come on, Thea. It's not so bad.' Prince Jarin softly spoke. His more boisterous little brother merely scoffed and pushed passed the crying girl, who looked very tiny, and very fragile in that moment.
 
'If she doesn't want to come, just leave her!' Prince Merek said harshly. With one last look, Prince Jarin walked passed the younger girl. Reassuring her that they would return in time to make it for dinner.
 
The cavern was very dark, so much so they could barely see a foot ahead of them. Prince Merek became fearful very quickly, and held tight to his brothers hand. That made him feel a little better, and it made Prince Jarin feel a little braver, too. It wasn't often he got to do something big brothers would do for their little ones. Him being locked away reading and all.
 
'I don't think this leads anywhere.' Prince Jarin concluded after a long and testing while. His brother did not reply, he only urged his brother forward. He believed in his little heart there had laid treasure ahead, and perhaps, somehow, Prince Merek was right. For as they made their way deeper into the cavern, they saw a distant glowing light.
 
'See!' Yelled Prince Merek excitedly. A new found energy had been pulled out of them, and they ran forward until they came to an abrupt stop. They had nearly tumbled over into a large and gaping whole!
 
They gasped, and became quite breathless at their near fall.
 
'Look..!' The walls of the cave were something to gape at in itself, for they sparkled and glittered like the stars that made up the night sky. That, however was not what the Prince had been pointing too. Instead, resting at the bottom was an orb of sorts. An orb that looked like a crystal that fogged in a bluish hue. Within they could just barely make out the form of a person.
 
Quickly they began to climb down. Both nearly lost their footing on several occasions! Once securely at the bottom they made their way to the crystal. They had their mouths dropped open in a very less than princely way, that was unbecoming of them.
 
'What is it?' Asked the younger Prince. Jarin inched closer, he very much wanted to touch it then. It had looked so smooth to him, so unearthly. Like it had fallen from the heavens and lost itself in that very cave. 'Be careful!' Prince Merek called, losing his courage.
 
My dear weary traveller, I'd like to stop there and say Prince Jarin had stayed his curiosity then, and simply returned to the castle of his uncle, who had turned into his step-father. Perhaps then he would have gone off and been married to a Princess chosen just for him, and lived quietly ever after. Unfortunately, it was not so.
 
Prince Jarin did not turn back, and he was not careful. Instead, he tentatively stepped forward with his arm outstretched ready to touch the beautiful casing. He did not watch his step, and tripped and stumbled upon the uneven flooring. His face became bloody upon the crash of the impact. He was quick to grip at his injury, and felt the hot blood make his hands slippery. Prince Merek- who witnessed the entire thing, began to laugh so loudly the cavern shook just a bit. His laughter soon stopped in shock of what was to come.
 
The blood that sullied the crystal had seemingly been absorbed. And the casing had begun to crack and chip away. They same way you'd see when throwing a rock straight into a frozen lake. Prince Jarin quickly stepped back to stand at the side of his brother, and watched the events unfold.
 
They were uncertain if they were to run far away from the scene, or to stay and witness what would happen. You can only guess on which they decided.
 
Soon, the crystal had burst open with a bright flash of light, the remnants of it had resembled a lily fully bloomed. At it's centre a girl curled up and sat there. With short shaggy dark hair, and eyebrows that looked much too thick and short to be normal. Once her eyes opened (which were sharper than the point of a blade) they could see that they were stark white, with tiny black beads that were her pupils.
 
Both Princes stood there stunned. With the quickening of their beating hearts, they both yelled. Their fear had been stalled by shock, but then it freely poured from them.
 
Yes traveller of little words, not all Princes are always courageous, especially when they are still boys!
 
The girl stood, her clothes resembled something a court jester would wear. With a tunic weaved with strange patterns, and tights underneath. Even her shoes had points which swirled back. And even stranger yet, she had begun to laugh.
2: The Feast
The Feast

Might I offer you some tea, dear traveller? No? Now, now, there's no reason to be rude. I know you'd like me to get on with the tale. Very well, it is after all, why you have travelled such a long way! I shall continue. Where had I left off..? Oh, yes..

Now, Prince Jarin and his brother Merek were deathly frightened. Never had they seen such a thing occur in their short years of living. Though, Prince Jarin was quite intrigued by the phenomena, his fear won him over. By instinct he took his brothers hand in his bloodied one, and together they ran to climb back up from whence they came. Quite eager to run from the strange girl who laughed at the mere sight of them.

They scurried furiously to the top, so quick were they, that their muscles began to burn! Once at the top, they had bounded off quickly through the darkness and straight out the cave, hand in hand, screaming till their lungs collapsed.

Could you imagine being so frightened you have the ability to move much faster, and much longer than you normally would? You can? Have you been in such a situation? Oh lovely traveller, you must share your stories with me next.

They ran so fast, they couldn't stop once they exited, almost causing poor tiny Thea to tip right over!

'What's wrong?' Poor Thea asked, her large doe eyes near bulging towards the Princes. They panted quite heavily, hearts still hammering so hard they could hear it in their ears (which were a very deep red at the time). Neither of the brothers spoke, still a bit foggy at what had truly taken place. To which made Thea wrought with even more anxieties. She could bear no more, her still being merely eight years old. And so she took to doing what many children of that age did, and began to weep. 'Please,' she cried, 'Please, let us make for home!'

Brought out of their stupours, the Princes agreed. Mounting their horses, they trotted back eagerly towards the castle.

That night, a feast was held in honour of Prince Jarin's fourteenth birthday. He was gifted many weapons by many nobles, and was forced to smile and happily accept them. In his mind he had no use for weapons, for his heart laid elsewhere, between the pages of a good story. So, in a hushed whisper, Prince Jarin had told his brother that he was free to use them as he pleased. Prince Merek, who seemingly all but forgotten what they had seen earlier that day, cheered happily from to his brothers offer. It was when it came to the gift that his old friend Sir Borin gave, that Prince Jarin had allowed a sincere smile to lay upon his face. For it was a book he had brought him; All About Dragons was its title.

'Sir Borin, I thank you kindly!' Prince Jarin clutched the book to his chest, and Sir Borin, with a pat on the Prince's head of gold, laughed merrily.

The adults drank the night away, and the children had played. It was there, Prince Jarin began to feel all the lonelier once more. For he was in a stage where he was neither man nor child. So, he silently disappeared away from the merriment of the feast. His exit had not gone unnoticed however, Thea (who tended to stay out of the children's playing as they were much too rambunctious) watched him walk off. She wondered if she should follow him, for she was easily worried. After a while, she abandoned such a thought, by then she had contemplated it for far too long, and thus ended up losing time. Prince Jarin was much taller, and much quicker than she, and she would not be able to catch up to him. She clung to the skirt of her mother, who was being wooed by a drunk Knight. She had not understood the meaning of the word, nor the notions of it. She only thought that the light and secret touches shared between a man and a woman were to check them for injury. The word itself seemed the sound a bird would make.

'Woo, Woo,' she practiced in her mind.

'Dear, why not play with the other children?' asked Thea's mother, as she lightly yanked her then-wrinkled skirt free from her daughters tiny clutch. Thea's face contorted, as she watched the others play roughly with one another. The problem to her was that there were far too many boys to play swords, and far too little girls to play princess. She thought then, that the castle needed just that: A lovely little princess.

With no other option, she walked behind Prince Merek, who wrestled another noble boy to the ground. They were laughing loudly, almost spilling wine cups that rested upon the feasting table. The other noble boys cheered as they watched.

Can you understand now, why little Thea was as worrisome as she was, traveller?

She was a servant after all, and that was why the Princes and noble boys never knew why she worried so. For all the fun they had, they would always leave such a mess in their wake, and poor Thea, and other servants would always be left to clean it up.

After Prince Merek had won the fight, he offered his hand down to the other boy. It was graciously received, and quite Princely of him. Thea could see the makings of a great King in him. For he would take the thrown, as he was the true-son of the King of the castle.

He spotted Thea, and grimaced, knowing full well his fun would be cut in half by the mere presence of her company. However, he would rather have no fun at all, then listen to her cry. This was something Prince Merek had decided long ago. The sound of the girls cries was far to high, and it pierced his ears, leaving a small ringing when she quieted. It was so for many others who heard her, earning her the secret title: Thea the Banshee. So, this decision was not for Thea's sake, but for his own.

'Your brother left the feast.' She sat down beside him.

'I know.' Prince Merek replied simply.

'Are you not worried?'

'I am not. Some do not worry needlessly like you.' He glanced around, watching for any eyes that surveyed them. He found none, as they were all much too intoxicated drinking their expensive wines, filled with foreign spices. Taking a goblet filled with said liquid, he offered it her way. 'I heard my father once explaining to the knights, that this drink helped him worry much less.'

Thea sniffed at the strange liquid, she could smell the sweetness, and her mouth slowly watered. With a tiny sip, she sputtered. It wasn't as sweet as she once thought. With a frown, she hurried away to wash out the taste with water. The sound of Prince Merek's laughter chased after her.

How fondly I think back, to the pranks of children. Have you ever had those traveller? Yes, I see it in your eyes now, you have seen many things, though you speak very little of it. You are a strange one, aren't you? What was that? Oh, you'd like to know what happened to Prince Jarin, of course.

Once he left the feast he had begun to read his newly acquired book. He vaguely remembered the day his father perished, and the day he saw two very large dragons dance across the deep night sky. Blowing down a flurry of fire both red and blue. It wasn't that which haunted him however, but the sound of his sweet mother weeping, and smiling sadly down at him.

He remembered her calling the dragons soulless creatures, which made Prince Jarin wonder. How did she know for sure, that they were indeed soulless? For that matter, what was classified as a soul? Had he one of his own? Or was it that humans were the soulless ones, and dragons were the ones with the souls? He scratched his head, thinking deeper of his musings.

Then his thoughts drifted towards the cave, where he and his brother had met that very strange girl.. The one with eyebrows too thick, and too short to be normal. The one with stark white eyes, as sharp as the point of a blade.

Prince Jarin smiled at the thought of her strange attire, and the way she had laughed. It was not a malicious laugh (or perhaps it was, he had never heard on in his time after all). Although, it was the kind of laugh you would hear that sent shivers up your spine.

And that cave that shimmered brilliantly! He rubbed his nose, it was still sore from crashing into the crystal.

'Perhaps,' said he, speaking to no one in particular, 'Perhaps I shall return on the morrow, and see her again.' And so, with a loud yawn and a very good stretch, he laid down in his plush bed, beneath his silk sheets, and drifted off into the world of his dreams.

How I do wonder, just what it was Prince Jarin dreamed of. He was a quiet sort of boy, and none who met him ever really fully understood who he was and how his mind worked. Much like you, dear traveller.. you remind me of the prince in the story, very quiet, leaving one to wonder who you truly are? Have I made you uncomfortable? Forgive me, how about some tea..?

3: The Very First
The Very First

You're up I see, no, no, do not fret, traveller. My tea is of a special make, I have been told it has a most calming affect. I suppose I could not interest you in another cup? No? Very well, how about I tell you more of the story, while I make us a bite to eat..

The days came and went, and Prince Jarin had yet to return to the cavern. Despite his curiosity, he was still quite frightened by the girl. Many questions plagued his young inquisitive mind. Was she dangerous? Was she mad? Why was she in there? Where had she come from? Oh, the list was endless, and unfortunately so was his imagination! As it was, his hesitance made him earnest on one thought: If he were to return, he would not do so alone. Despite it all, he hadn't even been certain if the girl yet remained.

As he mulled the many thoughts over within his then pounding head, his brother entered his sanctuary and plopped down beside him. Prince Jarin was almost certain that he was hiding from Thea, the serving girl. He didn't greet his younger brother, only continued reading (or thinking).

'You know, brother,' began Prince Merek, 'By how often you read, one would not think you resemble a Prince, but a Steward, or a man of study.' Prince Jarin had to roll his eyes at that. The way his younger brother spoke it sounded as if it were intended to be an insult. He didn't think so, a man of intelligence was worth ten men of strength in his mind. So he straightened his back and raised his chin in a way so regal his brother raised a brow. 'It wasn't meant as a compliment.' He added just to make sure his jape had been delivered properly.

'Oh, I know it, little brother. I just wonder, if men did not ever use their wits, he would be unable to tell the blade from the hilt of one's own sword.' It was Prince Merek's turn to roll his eyes. With a great stretch and a groan, he stood once more, and asked his eldest brother to come play with him. This made Prince Jarin think about the cavern once more, and then his little oath to not return alone. 'Merek, I just thought of the most exciting of games.' His little brother brightened at that and gave a little hop. He begged Jarin to tell him. 'It will test our courage, and perhaps test us on who the most kingly is.'

'Do tell me, brother! I bet I would beat you.'

'We return to the cave!' Jarin smiled happily. His little brother blanched and seemed to become akin to a frightened animal, backed into a corner. You would not have guessed he was of a line of courageous men then. Quickly, he shook his head furiously and refused. He had not made mention of the cave for the exact reason. He did not want to go back. He was adamant about it, however his older brother was adamant about returning. And with a flurry of finely posed words, wielding his silver tongue, he had somehow talked Merek in returning with him. Such was Jarin's talent.

Isn't it funny, how you can believe in one thing one moment, and then the next you're led to believe it is not so! I tell you, Prince Jarin was a boy of many thoughts, and with a boy with many thoughts, he had oft times gone out to many extents to seek answers, traveller. Just as you do.. I wonder, why it is you travelled so far just to hear a tale from an old woman like me? Do you think them to be true, traveller? Silence? That is a good answer..

They had taken horses without permission once again. Off they galloped, a little more confident than before. For it was decided that they would bring weapons with them that time. Prince Jarin thought it lucky just then, that he was gifted so many for his birthday. When they spotted the mouth of the mountain with the vine curtains, they stopped and fell silent. Both felt their hearts quicken just a tad. Somehow, they had convinced themselves that it was truly a test that was laid before them, and that if they passed it they were worthy of their titles. Such is the way of children, after all.

Prince Jarin looked to his little brother, and Prince Merek looked back. Had they not been so afraid, they would have laughed at the expressions that graced their faces. Merek (who although younger, was the braver of the two) gripped the pommel of the short sword, and looked towards the entrance.

'Now or never, brother!' He tried smiling, but it came out more of a grimace.

'Now or never..' Jarin agreed, patting the dagger that rested on his hip. When he had chosen it, Merek tried to out wield his older brother. To undermine him, he chose a short sword, as opposed to Jarin's dagger.

Off they went, bringing a torch with them that time, so it would light the way through the darkest parts of the cave. However, once they lit it, the two Princes immediately wished they hadn't. Scattered about them was a trail of bones of all kinds! Human bones, animal bones, and (much to the elder Prince's horror) dragon bones. It was a wonder they hadn't tripped over them when they had first entered not but a few days prior! They let out a yell, that echoed deep into the cavern. Once their horror passed, they took in deep breaths and began to laugh a bit at the situation.

Merek urged his older brother forward, if it came down to it perhaps he could cover him. At least, that was his logic. In reality, looking from an outsiders perspective, one would easily spot the shake of the little prince's legs.

They walked deeper and deeper, trying painfully hard to ignore the hollow gazes of the skulls of the dead. Haunted forever by whatever it was that had rendered them lifeless. Once they found the glow at the end of the cave, they quickly put out the torch.

'Ready?' Jarin whispered breathlessly. His brother merely nodded, holding tight to his sword. They continued forward till they were looking down to where the crystal had been. Then they spotted it; there in the centre, was the girl. She laid with her back turned towards them, right where they left her. They looked to one another again, unsure of how to proceed. The girl was strange like that.. If she had been a normal looking girl with a normal presence, they would have whisked her back to the castle, and claimed themselves heroes. Such was the ways of any good Prince, in any good fable. After a good long while of thinking, and uncertainty, Merek could take no more. And so he called out to her.

'Hello?' There was no reply. Jarin felt faint. Had she died? Of loneliness? Of starvation? Was it his fault? Had he come sooner, as he said he would..

The Prince was a good lad like that, don't you think traveller? Taking in burdens upon himself.. What's that? You think him foolish for thinking so? Ah, well this is where we differ in opinions..

They clambered down, making sure not to almost fall. Not like the previous attempt. Once they had made it safely, they stepped lightly towards her. Merek signalled his brother to unsheathe his weapon.

'Just in case.' His mouth formed the words. They did just that. Just in case.

'Hello?' they called once more. Finally reaching her with only a step between them, they tried to glance upon her face. They were quite startled to see her eyes were opened wide, as well as to see she grinned quite largely. Her gaze was blank as she stared at the cavern wall.

'It has been a long time.' She said simply, with a sort of giddy shake to her voice. She did not move, but her eyes turned to look at them. They stood over her, weapons wielded. Oh, but how they shook so wildly with their fear. She laughed then, that same laugh they had first heard when she was freed from the crystal. She sat up with alarming speed. So fast were her movements that should they have blinked, they would have never seen her move! Nor heard her for that matter, for she was quite silent. They stumbled back, nearly falling on their rears.

'W-who are you? Why were you in that..thing?' Jarin asked. She inhaled deeply at his words, shutting her very sharp eyes. As if to recall the reason as to why it was herself.

'I was sealed away. By my kin.' She answered simply, opening her eyes once more. She looked between the two brothers, realizing just how young they were. She looked down towards her own body then, as if seeing it for the first time. She examined her hands and brought them to lightly touch her face. Her touches became more frantic, and her eyes widened in horror. 'What…! What form have they cursed me with! What wicked ways have they used to achieve their goals to bound my powers so?' She clutched tightly at her arms and cried out in anger, causing the cavern to rumble. Never had such a powerful cry been heard before! At least not to Merek. For you see long ago, when Jarin was just but a young lad, he had heard it well. The powerful shrieks and screams, the mighty bellows and roars. Those kinds of calls that could only belong to a dragon.

He dropped his dagger in fear, pulling his younger brother back.

'What are you?' He shouted out through her powerful cry. He knew it deep within him, though she did not look it. He just had to hear her say it. Hear it with his own ears. She looked up towards the boys, eyes blazing like the fiercest of fires set upon woods. Her thick, short brows furrowed deeply, causing many creases to form upon her young face. Her mouth twisted into a fear inducing snarl. Jarin could just make out the slightest of fangs.

'I am the one that came before all. I am the one that raised the ashes of the first fires of the earth, and brought life to my kind! I am the most powerful of them all! I gave them life! And this is how they repay me?'

'What are you? Say it!' Jarin said almost as fiercely as her.

Can you guess what she was, dear traveller? Yes, you know well. She was a dragon. The very first one at that..

4: Damsel in Distress
Damsel in Distress

By that particular glint in your eye, I would gander that your interests lie completely in the dragons, traveller. Your clothes are foreign and ragged now, which tells me you have come from a very distant land. And for what? To hear a tale that may not be true? Oh how you make me wonder, traveller.. Perhaps, I shall give you what you want instead. You have not paid me to guess your intentions after all.

It had not gone unnoticed when the Princes had wandered off by horseback once more. You see, that day Thea's mother had been placed in the kitchen, alongside her grandmother. As it was, cooking for an entire castle was gruelling work, naturally Thea's mother had enlisted her help. She had been up since the early morning, peeling various vegetables, and fetching water from the well in the courtyard. The girl had been tired, but it was nothing new to her. By then, her tiny hands began to break into a workers. Growing small callouses here and there, her finger nails almost constantly breaking. She hadn't minded at how brittle they were becoming, she was no royalty, and would never miss any luxuries.

It was around noon Thea had been sent to retrieve yet another pail of water.

'After this you may have a rest, little bird.' Her mother promised with a smile. She wiped the sweat forming on her brow, and sent her daughter off. Thea walked in haste, the promise of rest fueling her all the way to the well. She hummed and swung the bucket she carried back and forth until she reached it. She hoisted the pail using the pulley, watching the squires train alongside the knights. They had all been lined, practicing stances as Sir Borin walked in between each faction yelling orders, his right hand walking at his side. Thea knew the young man as Sir Oliver, he had a solemn regality to him. With his high cheek bones and piercing dark eyes. Rarely would anyone ever see him without his hair slicked back. Some people had thought that was why his brows were always arched so high, this included young Thea. He was somber and mysterious, and one would not guess that he was only ten years her senior.

Many people were frightened of Sir Oliver, he was a high born, with a great lord as a father. However, a rumour had been spread about his birth in particular. It was said that for years his lord father and lady mother tried to have a child to succeed them, only to find that his mother was barren. It was said they sought the magic of the Wood Elves to help conceive Sir Oliver. This would not have been such an issue, if it wasn't known that Elves were in league with the dragons. They worshipped them like gods, and refused to aid the humans, even when entire Kingdoms would fall at the behest of the great scaled beasts.

It was because of this that people would distance themselves from the Knight, fearing him from afar, not daring to get on his bad side. It hadn't helped when he would look at them all with such disdain, though Thea wasn't entirely sure he had meant to do it. She found him quite nice, for there were times when she would hide herself from everyone just to cry about something trying in her day. Many people avoided her as well because she was usually found with a running nose and swollen eyes. Sir Oliver would dote on her when others would not; once he even torn fabric from his tunic, just to wipe her eyes. He was kind to little Thea, and because of it she considered him to be her first love.

Do you not think it wonderful, traveller of mysteries? The innocence of children are something to be nurtured, to be sure..

She smiled to herself, still working at the pulley.

'Perhaps one day, I may serve Sir Oliver..' she sighed dreamily. Her child-like musings were ended by harsh whisperings that could be heard by the stables. They were familiar in sound, and it hadn't taken Thea very long to figure out to whom they belonged.

Sure enough, the two Princes were intimidating the stable boy once more into preparing horses for them in secret. There was only one place Thea knew of that would capture both interests of the Princes. For they had different tastes, and would scarcely decide upon an activity together. Her mind raced with the thought of the scary cave they ventured to. Though the Princes never truly told her what they discovered within, she knew it must have been terrible from how they reacted the previous time.

In her tiny heart, she simply could not let them venture on! There was the possibility that they might have suffered injury should they had chosen to return. Or worse. Thea blanched at the thought of her precious home, the kingdom she lived in, losing their heir to the throne. Their future King. She watched them trot off, not missing the weapons they had armoured themselves with as the steel caught the sunlight and shimmered.

She clenched hard at the rope she held, looking from the stables, to the retreating forms of the Princes, who could be heard laughing excitedly.

Oh! Her heart clenched and could bear no further burden. She abandoned her serving duty, as well as any hopes of rest. She would not be able to handle it should anything terrible befall the royal children, which she considered friends (however inappropriate it was for a servant). She knew as she ran towards Sir Borin and Sir Oliver, that her mother would strike her for abandoning her chores, but she would suffer it all for them!

She'd been nearly toppled over more than once by the squires and knights who trained vigorously. Yet she did not falter. She clung to Sir Borin as soon as she reached him, feeling her eyes sting already.

Sir Borin sighed at the sight of her, not quite in the mood to deal with the little girls tears. He was quick to ask her what it was that ailed her. With a quivering voice, she explained as best an eight year old child could. The only real information Sir Borin and Sir Oliver received was that the Princes could had been potentially in danger somewhere in a cave.

With a handful of Knights, Sir Borin and Oliver brought Thea along to show them the way to the cave.

It had taken longer to find the cave for Thea and her band of Knights. She hadn't quite remembered the way, and in the end they simply resorted to tracking them, using the skills they would on a hunting trip. They followed the fresh tracks of horses, until they came upon the cave. Near the entrance the Princes horses were tied around a small twisted oak. They whinnied nervously as the mountain shook. The entrance let out an echo of a cry Sir Borin had known as well, one that brought him shame, and tarnished his good name.

He- like his precious Prince, had carried a pain inside him ever since their Kingdom had fallen beneath the beating wings of the dragons. He had always regretted that day, feeling as though there could have been more to be done. Instead, his home had burned alongside the rest of their people, and his King had sacrificed himself. He wished it was Jarin's father that had escaped with his family, instead of him.

He relived that night, just from the shrieking from the cave. He pulled free his weapon in a fit of fury, as he hopped off his horse.

'Men! With me!' He ordered with a gruff voice. Thea gazed around nervously, not wanting to be left alone.

'Do not fear, Thea. Should anything happen, just take your horse and run back home.' Sir Oliver patted her hand reassuringly before following after the others.

Inside, the Princes had backed away from the strange girl. Her screams only got stronger than before, and they had become quite fearful of the fact that they might have been caught in a cave in. Large rocks would fall, debris dusted and impaired their vision.

'Merek, come on!' He grabbed his brother who had been shaking like a leaf. He tried to make reach for his brother, but was only met with resistance. Instead Merek slowly began to inch towards the girl. In Prince Jarin's mind, he thought that his little brother still thought it a competition of courage, and made to grab his brother once more. 'Merek!'

'She is in distress! Just like those silly stories you read, brother!' Prince Merek replied, 'Princes must always help damsels in distress!' Prince Jarin clenched his teeth in anxiety, he had no desire to even set his eyes upon the dragon-girl any longer.

Why had such a creature remained in their world? When his great noble father had been reduced to nothing but a shadow? Yet, something inside him forced Jarin to sympathize with the words of his brother. He wondered what it was about having a little brother that made him want to protect him so.

Perhaps it is that way for any family had? Do you have family of your own, traveller? You are searching for someone dear to you, do not deny it. I can see it plainly written across your face. Perhaps you are not as mysterious as you would have liked to believe. As for me, I am alone in this world, but I will always have my stories. Forgive me, I have digressed once more. Ignore this old woman's musings. On with the tale..

Prince Jarin threw his brother back, and ordered him to make for the cavern entrance. He balled his fists, forcing himself to look upon the dragon-girl once more. Her lungs seemed to have an infinite amount of air, as her screams were constant. He had no time to waste, the cavern had become unstable and would soon collapse. It was a certain factor. When he stood afore her, shook at the thought of having to touch such a creature, but both their lives were at stake. With no more thought put into his actions, he grabbed hold of her hand. He was startled to feel it was cold to the touch. He did not retract his grip however, and instead pulled her, and forced her to climb up to the exit along with him.

He had seen his brother waiting at the top for him, and grabbed his hand. Prince Jarin pulled both the girl and his brother through the darkness, until they were met with the dim light of an orange flame. Knights of the castle could be seen holding torches, making their way deeper in the cave.

'Sir Borin!' Prince Jarin cried.

'My Prince!' Sir Borin's worry dissipated at the sight of the boy.

'We must leave, Sir Borin! The cave is going to collapse!' He ordered, and the entire company had begun to run back from whence they came.

They narrowly escaped the cave in, one Knight had almost had his foot pinned by a collapsing rock.

Sir Borin embraced his Prince tightly, breathing hard from the over exertion of the escape. Prince Jarin was not one to show how he truly felt in the presence of others, it had been taught to him long ago; Royalty must always remain composed in show of remaining in control in front of others. Yet, he had revisited so much in so little time. He had escaped the clutches of death for a second time, and saved a creature he swore his enemy. He found that in that moment, he would be forgiven for crying like a child. And so he clutched the Knight who had acted something like a father to him, and wept.

Prince Merek sniffed, running his arm along his nose. He was shaken by the experience, but refused to cry. He had proven to himself, that he was made of Kings. With that thought, he raised his head high, and bowed to the girl in the cave, who had taken to sitting with her legs crossed upon a stone.

'Are you well, my lady?' Prince Merek mustered all of his courtly courtesies when addressing her.

5: Dracaena
Dracaena

Oh traveller, how they feared her when Prince Jarin and Sir Borin told the King of what she was. They locked her in the tower, only half believing in what was spoken. Some nobles whispered that the Dragon Girl was mad- that there was no way she could be what she claimed to be.. not with the shape she took. What do you think, traveller? Was she the Dragon she claimed to be? I suppose it is best you have no answer, sometimes they only come at the end of a tale..

Prince Jarin had been absolutely horrified by the mere thought of the girl being in the same castle as he. Though where they confined her had been distant from his own quarters, just the thought of sharing a roof made the Prince nauseous.

What worried him the most had been his little brother. It was clear as glass to Jarin that Merek had become quite smitten with her. Always offering to take her meals up to where she was, descending some time later with a great smile on his face. They had conversations, and it tore Prince Jarin in two directions. For one, he wanted to know about what they spoke, as his curiosity was driving him mad. And yet- his pride would not allow him to ask, nor join his younger brother for that matter. So he did his best to occupy his mind from wandering towards her. He read more books then he had ever before. Mostly based on dragons. Of course some of the information written seemed complete rubbish to him; dragons taking the forms of pigs? None sense!

Of course, because he tried so hard to forget about everything, this led Prince Jarin to also forget to eat his meals. Soon enough, he had grown quite thin and the King and Sir Borin grew more worried as time passed.

For the most part the Dragon Girl seemed completely harmless. Not talking to anyone (besides Prince Merek) who would bring her meals or check up on her. No one could quite tell why. But when she would take to speaking to them, she would do so in a polite manner. All 'Thank-you, Sir. Please, Miss.' nodding- bowing her head. She seemed well reserved, and soon enough their suspicions of her dissolved into nothing but worry. Was she simply a girl gone mad with whatever it had been she experienced?

'Surely she is but a girl.' the King would say, seeking advice from Sir Borin. One of his closest friends.

'Prince Jarin believes otherwise, your majesty.' Sir Borin would reply. He would not disagree with his King, nor would he doubt his young Prince. For he too, had heard the unearthly cries of the girl from within the then sunken cavern.

'Put her to work, and she will be fine. Thea seems a good match for her, she is gentle and will nurture the girl back to health.' Ordered the King, thus concluding their little meeting. And so that was what was done. Much to Prince Jarin's chagrin. From his quarters he would look down upon the courtyard as Thea would hold the girls hand and happily show her how various chores were done.

Prince Merek would sit and watch the Knights practicing their drills, and would join them sometimes, too. His eyes would wander to where the Dragon-girl was, and then he would be reprimanded by either Sir Borin or Oliver for not paying attention.

Once, as Prince Jarin watched Thea and the Dragon-girl (who people began calling 'Dracaena'. A joke being spread around the castle for her claims of being a dragon-which she seemed fine with as she claimed no name of her own) sweep the courtyard clean, he noticed Dracaena stop and stare up at the sky. A look of longing passed her face as the silhouettes of birds dancing in the air circled o'er head. The light of the sun pierced down making the vast infinite sky seem all the more unobtainable.

This made Prince Jarin almost pity her; a sharp pain in his chest began to spread and make his whole body ache with sorrow. Somehow.. he knew: This was her pain. He rubbed at his chest and retreated back into his room.

Isn't that spectacular? To feel the emotions of another living being, traveller? To have your heart connected with another's seems such an intimate thing.. What's that? How did he feel the pain of Dracaena? Why.. you are smart, traveller! Do you truly not know? Do not fret, it is here in the story that it will be explained..

Prince Merek also noticed how his brother became more and more reclusive. He knew he feared Dracaena, but he could not understand why. The force she had displayed in the cavern had only been marvellous to him. It enchanted Merek to no end, and for once in his life he had wanted to learn more than sword play. His conversations with Dracaena had been different to the ones he had with others. She was a vague girl, only a few years older than he and his brother.. yet, she displayed the wisdom of the entire council of his father, and then some! At least that was how he felt. 

'People say you are a dragon.' said Merek, 'You said so yourself.' Dracaena would only smile at him, no longer showing the aggression she had in the cavern. 'Why do you speak so little?' he asked.

'To balance your chatter.' She would reply, and Merek could only laugh. He did seem a girl desperate for gossip he admitted.

'Can you fly?'

'No more than you.'

Prince Merek had the same view as his father, yet he knew she was more than just a girl. This excited him dearly. He so desperately wanted to make a name for himself, and to Merek- Dracaena seemed a brilliant way to do so. To tame a dragon would be to have your name forever marked in history. First, he had to see to his elder brother.

One night, when he was sure the castle would become as still as it could get, he crept to his brothers quarters and woke him. Bleary eyed, Prince Jarin scratched at his head sleepily and asked:

'What have you woken me for?' Prince Merek simply threw Jarin's breeches into his lap.

'For an adventure, brother. We will cure you of your fear, and we will make my name be sung in songs by the greatest of Bards.'

'What?' Prince Jarin asked, but gained no further explanation. He was led out of the castle and into the servants quarters. Many cots were set up in a neat row, the last of the candles flickered and burned low. Jarin waited outside with his arms crossed, aching to get back into his bed. Merek hadn't woken him in the middle of the night in years, and last time he had was because he had soiled his bed due to a nightmare. He slept in Jarin's own that night because he was too ashamed to face the servants who had to clean it.

When Prince Merek emerged from the servants quarters, Prince Jarin was a bit confused as to why Thea came out wearing her day dress. The one made of scratchy material Jarin detested.

'Why is she here?' Jarin asked, thinking little of sparing Thea's feelings with the harshness of his voice. Usually, Jarin was the kinder of the two brothers. He was deprived of his sleep however, and no matter how humble he had proved to be before then, he was a Prince through and through. Luxuries kept him a bit spoiled you see.

'Because, brother. You can't think us to travel without a servant now can you?'

'Are we to travel? Shall I pack a lunch. I really should kiss my mummy good-bye, too!' Thea turned back to gather the things she needed, only to be stopped by Merek.

'We will be gone longer than that, I'm afraid. You can't kiss your mum good-bye either. No one can know we are to leave, else they won't let us.' Thea began to cry, feeling sad she was refused her right to say farewell. Both Princes rolled their eyes at her, they knew she would not refuse them however. Their word was law- next to the King that is.

'Alright, Merek. Where do you plan to travel?'

'To the elves.' Dracaena's strong voice startled all present into a jump. She cackled while setting down packs she had gathered for their trip. To Dracaena the Princes and Thea were like dolls- only little things to be played with. She had an agenda in mind- mad or no, she would see it fulfilled.

'What is she doing here, Merek?' Jarin held his arm out in front of his brother and Thea protectively. He glared hard at Dracaena, backing away from her.

'Dracaena! Are you to come with us as well?' Thea rubbed away her tears and ran towards the Dragon-girl, giving her as big a hug as she could. Dracaena allowed the girl to do so, but did not return the embrace. Nor did she seem to pay attention to her or Merek. Her eyes were locked with Jarin's and for the glare he sent her way, she sent a feral smile back. Shivers ran down the Prince's spine causing the conviction on his face to melt away.

'Do not cause such an uproar, Jarin. Honestly, you haven't been acting yourself of late. And I know it's because of Dracaena. She is no monster, and I am keen to make you see that.' Merek explained walking away from the protection Jarin offered. He stood alone then, two people he felt the closest to had sided with one he detested. His heart dropped at the thought of being abandoned in such a cruel way.

That is when he saw pain cross Dracaena's face as she clenched at her chest with her claw-like nails. Her bushy brows furrowed and her entire face contorted with contrition.

'I feel,' he could hear her voice in his head- which he gripped tightly at the sound of it. It echoed and rang so loudly it caused his head to pound. 'I feel your pain.'

'Jarin?' Merek asked worriedly.

'Prince Jarin?' asked Thea much the same. The eldest Prince felt his heart pound with excitement and fear as his hands slipped from either side of his head. His golden hair swished over his eyes as he gazed up to Dracaena.

'And I yours.' She smiled that feral smile of hers, walking towards the Prince and offering her hand to him.

'Your life and mine are connected now, Prince Jarin. If I was not in the form I was this would be a terrible thing, luckily I am the way I am. And our enemies are the same.' Prince Jarin's eyebrows raised high in shock. The same enemies.

'I wish to see the Dragons pay for what they did to my Kingdom.' Jarin explained, surely Dracaena would not turn on her own kind. But maybe she would? After all, back in the cavern she had said something about her kin betraying her..

'I will have them suffer as they have made us suffer. And I will not rest until all of them bow before me. Or they will perish otherwise.'

Merek and Thea looked to each other- feeling slightly confused. Merek most of all, he had thought the adventure had been for him. Not for Jarin! A pang of jealousy fluttered into the young Prince's heart as he watched his older brother lock hands with Dracaena. The just and magnificent adventure he sought seemed to be twisting into an adventure of revenge. And it had only just begun. Merek felt disquieted by the look on Jarin's face- something in him had changed then, and he could not be certain if it was for the better.

Well, traveller? You seem to have gone on an adventure yourself. I must ask: Is this your final destination? Or have you only gotten half way. Oh, how the air of mystery around you piles high, dear. I have so many questions I would very much like to ask you, and yet you seem less inclined to answer. Now, that is a taunting smirk you have! Shall we make a deal? I will stop asking you personal questions- for now, and I will not ask you again until the story has finished. I only hope you choose to answer them when the time comes..

6: Freedom's Kiss
Freedom's Kiss

Dreams are said to be the innermost desires of ones heart. There are many speculations as to what dreams may mean. What about you, traveller? Do you believe they hold a secret meaning?

The day passed quickly as they traversed through the ever-thickening woods. The children were excited to be on a real adventure of their own, and spoke of it constantly. What would it entail? Who was the hero, and who was the side-kick? What brutle enemy would they face-down in the end? Ah, their minds were racing with possibilities.

Thea and Merek had slowed their pace by playing tag and picking up shiny rocks and mushrooms along the way. To Jarin, they resembled magpies, eyes gleaming with mischief in search for a lovely prize. The children's games stopped however, once Merek had picked a bad plant. It resulted in him getting a terrible rash on his hands and face.

'I told you not to touch your face, my mummy always told me that whenever I got a rash on my hands.' Thea chided as best she could. Merek would only scowl while glancing at his hands. They had been smothered in mud by Dracaena, who assured him that it would soothe it in time. Though she was as cold as ever when speaking. She treated it as a liability more than anything.

'Well, no one asked you, stupid!' Merek retaliated and shoved by Thea. 

When night fell they stopped to rest. They had never truly travelled so far, especially by foot. By the time they sat, the children felt as though their legs would fall off. They settled into their bedrolls, too frightened to start a fire, lest bandits were drawn to the flame. Jarin much preferred taking his chances with a wild animal.

Thea disagreed, though she kept that to herself. They could not reason with wild animals, but they could with bandits. With no fire to keep her worries at bay, she inched her bedroll closer to Jarin's. He did not shoo her away, for his own anxieties were building as well. To Jarin, Thea was a comfort. Snotty face and all. 

It wasn't long before their deep breathing came in a chorus, though not all of them slept. Dracaena stood when she was sure the children had been lulled into sleep, and she cast her sharp gaze towards the moonlight. The canopy of the trees were a silhouette, covering the sky sparsely. Oh, how she longed for the sky. How she wished to feel the powerful caress of the wind against the scales she no longer had. The skin she wore felt wrong. As though it were a binding wrapped too tightly, causing her to itch and stiffen. For the days she spent alone in the tower, she would scrape away skin on her back and her sides- only successful in drawing blood. She could not breathe in those times. She dared not.

She sighed and looked away from the moon then, unsure if her burdens would wake Jarin. They were connected by no choice of hers. Another way she had been imprisoned. 

As Jarin slept he dreamed. First of his mother and father. Oh, how they doted on his every move. How they spoiled him with love and gentleness, even when he misbehaved. Though his uncle showed him kindness, he felt he only loved him for his mother's sake. And so there was always a distance Jarin could not close between him and his uncle. The vision of his smiling parents was so vivid, so real- oh! Had Jarin not been sleeping he would have wept and ached to touch them again. If only for a second. 

'My sweet Prince,' whispered his mother.

'My strong boy,' laughed his father, and Jarin again saw the wrinkles that lined his eyes and mouth when he smiled. 

As Jarin reached out to them with a shaky hand, it all began to slip away, and then his dreams shifted; rippling almost like a disturbed lake. His vision fogged and cleared quickly as he saw the world from the sky. The forests, and roads. The kingdoms, the lakes, and the mountains. Everything was so small, and he hadn't a care in the world. The sky was his mother and the wind against his skin her kiss. The smell of the air was sweet, as it whispered songs of freedom. 

What a dream it was! He soared and glided, sometimes he would intentionally let himself fall until he was but mere inches from crashing into the ground, before he would flap his mighty wings and propel himself upwards. The trees below cracked and splintered from the gust he summoned beneath him.

'Higher,' he laughed, 'Let me fly higher, until I reach the heavens.' The warm sun above beckoned him closer and closer. Just as soon as he thought he would reach it, he felt a cruel force pulling him back towards the earth. It was cold as it dug its hold into his skin, ripping and shredding. He cried out in agony as he descended. He would fall, and crash- this he knew, but how could he stop it? 

The wind no longer rung with the promise of freedom, instead it was replaced with harsh chanting.

'Traitor, traitor, traitor.' 

The next day was gloomy. The morning greeted them with dark clouds hanging o'er head, threatening them with rain. 

'How much farther must we go?' Merek complained as they repacked their belongings. Thea began handing out apples for breakfast. 

'We've only walked for a day, besides this was your dumb idea,' Jarin did not feel like sparing his feelings that morning. The memory of his dream still lingered, dulling his compassion. He had been flying. He had wings, and everything! Jarin gazed at Dracaena who waited for them patiently with her back turned. 

'Was it you?' Jarin asked, willing his thoughts to reach Dracaena. He saw her shoulders stiffen slightly, before she turned and locked eyes with him. 

'The forest has changed since last I've seen it,' she told the children, 'But I am certain it won't be much longer until we reach the Elves.' She had ignored Jarin's question. Though her remark seemed to settle Merek as he smiled broadly towards Dracaena. He walked with her in front all morning, telling her stories of hunting trips he had been on, and asking her questions. Though he received little answers. 

Thea lagged behind, and so Jarin took it upon himself to hold tight to her hand in case she got lost. 

'Do you think they noticed us missing?' Thea asked with shortened breaths, 'I know my mummy must be so worried. And Sir Oliver, too.' Jarin thought a moment. Was the castle in an uproar, desperately searching for them? Or had everyone carried on as usual? After all, they were known for finding themselves in trouble. A day with them gone wasn't an unusual thing, to say the least.

Thea worried about the adventure the most, that much was certain. Was it a wise decision to leave home? Would they survive if they encountered a hungry bear, or a territorial buck? And if they ran into bandits, would they be so callous as to murder children? 

Thea's eyes wandered to the sword cinched to Jarin's waist. Merek had one as well, even if they were armed.. Thea worried. They had given her a dagger to hold onto as well, what good it did her! She never held anything sharper than a sewing needle and a small knife to peel vegetables. She doubted she would be able to defend herself. What was more, they were making their way towards the Elves. Thea may have been a bit clueless at times, but she was not oblivious to all things. She knew well of the animosity held between their kind and humans. Her mother often told her stories- though most of the time  it was an attempt to keep her from exploring the wood. Thea believed her mother wholeheartedly none the less. 

'They are savages, little bird,' Thea's mother would tell her as the worked side by side, 'Worshippers of Demons.' And that was all it took for Thea to never even dream of seeking out the Elves. But it did little to stop her from admiring Sir Oliver. 

'My mother once told me that Elves are scant of dress.' Thea regaled as they stepped over fallen logs. From up ahead Merek called back:

'Your mum is stupid.' He had been listening to their conversation as Dracaena had gone silent.

'Shut-up, Merek.' Jarin called back as he noticed Thea's eyes began to well. 

'Everyone knows Elves only wear the finest of silks,' Merek continued, paying no mind to his eldest brother. At times Merek was merciless towards Thea, though Jarin doubted it was intentional. He was a boy who acted before thinking, and quite often after he and Thea fought, one could plainly see the guilt written on his face. He would always apologize later, though not with words. His way was to bring her gifts, as peace offerings. They would usually be wild flowers, or sweets he snagged from the kitchens. And all he would say as he gave her them was: 'I felt like it, stupid.' And kind Thea would always forgive him. 

Dracaena stopped suddenly, causing the children to cease their bickering. Jarin could feel her caution transfer to him.

'What is it?' He whispered, inching closer to her side. Jarin watched her stark white eyes narrow, and her pupils enlarged as a primal nature took root in her. She bared her teeth, flashing her small fangs. Danger was approaching.

Well, traveller? Have you any thoughts on dreams? What do they mean? Are they visions of the past, visions of the future? Could they be a window to our innermost desires? Ah, traveller, do you have a dream of your own?

7: Lament of the Berura
Lament of the Berura

Dragons are strongly built, their scales nearly impenetrable. None can blame the elves for falling to their knees in reverence. They have power like you would not believe. And their breath is so fierce that they exhale fire.. Because of this, they were worshipped. Humans are different.. they are soft, and no matter how hard they train, they must clad themselves in armour and clothes for protection. And yet they defy the beings that are superior to them in every way. They fight them, knowing there is no hope in drawing breath when the battle is done. They do not fall to their knees in worship, instead they raise their heads higher in defiance. Traveller, I cannot help but feel that humans- even though feeble in comparison to Dragons, have the will that seems equal to that of Gods..

The two Princes were quick to draw their swords towards the rustling bushes, placing themselves between a cowering Thea and the oncoming danger. Though frightened themselves, they were not warriors- even if they had been trained to be since they were strong enough to hold a blade. But they were yet boys, never truly testing their steel in combat. Dracaena took note of it, feeling Jarin's emotions slip into her heart. This only served to enrage her more than she had been. Oh, how she hated the fickle emotions of humans! Suddenly she lusted for her potential prey to sprout from the shadows of the bushes.

As if hearing Dracaena's silent demand, out ran an elven woman. She tripped and stumbled, only just missing the point of their blades. She fell back, sweating profusely through heavy pants. In her arms was a babe tightly bundled in layers of blankets, protectively cradled close to her chest.

The smell of fear intoxicated Dracaena better than any finest of wine. She could take no more, and before her company knew it she had sprung on the elf. The woman cried out in fear, twisting her body any way she could to keep the baby safe. Jarin and Merek were quick to respond, dropping their weapons, they fought to rip the dragon-girl off of the woman.

'Cut it out!' Jarin yelled. Summoning all his might, he somehow managed to rip her off. Dracaena scowled at how easily she was cast aside, cursing her body for being so frail. Oh, had she her old claws then, the raging fire that was her breath! Her fangs that could rent any shield asunder!

Merek tried to help the woman stand, only to be met with distrust. She curled tightly into a ball, sobbing and hugging the babe.

Dracaena snarled, seeming more animal than human. It was a clear reminder to Jarin of what she truly was: an enemy whom he allied himself with. His heart filled with doubt, pushing aside the sympathy he had come to feel for Dracaena. No longer would he lower his guard at the behest of a simple dream. And yet those were not simply dreams he had, they were memories that bled into his heart. How could he shield himself from such a thing, he wondered?

'Look out!' Thea cried in a shrill voice, dispelling any tension amongst them. It all happened so quickly that little Thea could not comprehend much of anything. Nets had come flying from all about them, covering the children and the woman and binding them where they stood. Like flies on a web, they struggled, only successful in entangling themselves more.

From out the woods came a band of finely armoured elves, marching swiftly before them. Their pensive faces marked with tattoos of various patterns, as they bounded straight towards them in a most intimidating manner. Their helmets were horned with the bones of Dragons, and their weapons engraved with runes of flame. Heat could be felt from the spears and arrows they wielded. How frightening they appeared to the children! Oh, the skill of elven crafting is something to be revered, indeed!

They were surrounded, and in their panic the children sought to silence their fears in each other. And so they all reached out, grasping one another's hands.

'Brother!' Merek cried out.

'It's alright,' Jarin placed a mask of indifference upon his face in attempts to assure Merek. 'We'll be fine.' He bravely turned to meet the elves, summoning the most regal posture the net would allow him. It was all for naught as none of the elves seemed to have the slightest interest in them, instead their gazes were fixated upon Dracaena. She had somehow managed to slip away from the traps they hurled towards them. She was always fast and quiet, Jarin remembered the way she had moved when they returned to the cavern they found her in. And he thought the situation terrible back then!

'A foolish thing,' he thought in contrast to their current predicament.

Dracaena's expression was one of anger; anger towards Jarin and Merek for staying her lust for blood, and anger towards the armed elves who held her temporary kith captive. A sliver of worry had wormed its way into her fierce dragon heart, an emotion that no doubt belonged to the Prince of which she then shared her life.

A soldier dressed in finer armour than the rest stepped back towards the children, removing his horned helmet. Dark braided hair fell down his shoulder as he secured his helmet between his arm and torso. The children could not help but let their eyes settle upon his pointed ears. By and by they were drawn in by his dark alluring eyes, a single eyebrow arched lightly in surprise. He hadn't expected to see human children out in the wilds.

'Y-you better remove this ratty old net!' Jarin ordered, hoping the elf had missed the way he stuttered in fear.

'And who are you to order me, boy?' He had a light accent, never heard by the Princes or Thea before. With a slight motion of his head, his fellow soldiers swiftly removed the nets. Though they had done as he commanded, Jarin knew it was not by his demand. He held no power amongst the elves. Jarin hated the helplessness that came without his title. Merek silently reached for his fallen sword only to stay his hand when a spear was pointed at his neck. 'Careful, boy. Our weapons are still trained on you.'

The children were shoved aside to make way for the soldiers as they trudged towards the woman and the babe. They roughly pulled her to her feet, oh how she wailed! She did her best to speak through her tears, and they needn't had understood the elven language to know that it was for her child she begged for. The soldiers mercilessly ripped child from mother with no remorse. She fell to her knees then, reaching out for the baby who slept away the tragedy unfurling.

'Oh, no!' Thea cried, 'You musn't!' She ran towards the crying woman, who paid her little mind as she continued to plead. The elven leader looked disdainfully towards Thea. A flicker of his eyes told Jarin that he admired her bravery, but scorned its timing.

'That is no concern of yours, little girl.'

'Give her baby back! You have to-' Her words were forced back into her mouth as a heavy hand came down to strike. Little Thea brought a trembling hand to her face. She had been struck many times by her mother before, but somehow it never hurt quite as much as when a stranger did it.

'Hey!' Merek yelled, charging towards the one who struck Thea. He was met by a strike of his own as the blunt end of the soldiers spear was thrust into his stomach. Jarin clenched his fists, his worry faded into anger, and Dracaena's fury only added to his.

'Do you understand?' The leader of the band of soldiers circled them with an elegance lost on any human. Never could they achieve such purposeful strides. 'When you enter the Elven Realm, you have no power.'

'All realms belong to the Dragons.' Dracaena barked, stepping forward to meet the weapons pointed in her direction. When overwhelmed by her emotions, she always seemed to forget she wasn't indestructible. Her aloofness only came off as bravado. 'You have only borrowed power, elf!'

'And pray tell, girl, where you think you've learned such knowledge?' He began to make his way towards her then, forgetting the others completely. Dracaena smirked at his piqued interest.

'You should bend your knee, elf. You are in the presence of the mother of Gods.' She puffed up with pride as he slowly drew back. His eyes widened in fright, as he looked to his party and spoke frantic words in his mother tongue. The soldiers all began to fall into panicked states as well. All their weapons were then pointed towards Dracaena.

The elf turned to look at the children, looking quite furious then. 'Do you know this girl?' They nodded in response. 'How did you meet her?'

'We rescued her-'

'Shut up, Merek!' Jarin interjected. His generous nature had been lost with how poorly they treated his brother and Thea. to give the elves anything freely was simply out of the question.

'Rescued her from what? Answer me!' The elven leader grabbed Merek by his collar and shook him.

'Sh- she was in a crystal! In a cave!' Merek yelled. He slipped free from the man's grasp, as the elf whispered in his language as he turned to Jarin.

'You've fallen into things beyond your ken, humans.' He almost sounded sympathetic. They were all stood and bounded one by one with a finely woven rope. The soldiers were ordered to have the same be done with Dracaena. For a time the elves only stared at her, too frightened to move any closer than they already were. She bared her fangs tauntingly, anger no longer felt emanating, only amusement. Perhaps power was not only found in brute strength, but words as well. Her gaze fell upon Jarin, he was wise in forming words.. Did that make him powerful? The thought almost made her respect the boy, before she went back to having fun with the elves.

'Dracaena!' Jarin called out. He was tired of being in such a fashion, and didn't wish Dracaena to prolong the uncomfortable event. He was of royal blood, and could not bear to be treated any less than that. Though he would not tell the elves of his prestigious lineage, in fear they might use him in some way. She understood well the feeling of being restricted; being treated below her greatness, and so she sympathized slightly with Jarin. She seemed to be doing a lot of that during recent events. She allowed the elves to wrap her wrists in a silver rope that she could only imagine was spun from a spider's web. Not the tiny spiders you'd see creeping along in forgotten corners of your home, no, the spiders used were much larger than what you know; much deadlier.

'Had I been in my true form, I would have burned them all to dust,' Dracaena mused.

'Had they been in my uncle's kingdom, I'd have them thrown into the tiniest cells we had. And I'd have lost the key, too,' Jarin countered. They shared a smile at their wicked thoughts.

They were led through the forest for some time, the deeper they treaded the colder the wind began to blow. A light mist slowly descended, and the world around them was cast in an eery silver veil that Jarin could only describe as magic. The air was soft and sweet, thick with the smell of ripened berries and lilac flowers. So lovely was this change- so different, that the children had all but forgotten to be afraid. Even Thea had ceased her crying when she spotted a creature emerging from the bark of a tree. It looked much like any human, only it had wings like that of a moth that shimmered like morning dew stuck to the petal of a flower, caught in the first light of day. It wore no clothing, and if it did Thea felt it would only disrupt its true beauty. With a tiny hand it waved at her as she was marched along with her elven jailers. Thea returned its greeting with a great, big, toothy smile. She missed how it quickly reeled back into its hidey-hole as Dracaena walked passed.

As they walked down a gentle slope, they were greeted with the sight of two great pillars of marble proudly erected at the entrance of a sealed great stone door. On it was engraved various intricate patterns that matched the tattoos placed upon the faces of the elves.

Jarin gaped in sheer awe. What beauty he beheld! Laurel leaves hung loosely about, framing the door with their blooming white flowers. As they drew closer the markings upon the stone began to glow, their tattoos mirroring it with a faint blue glimmer.

With a wave of the elven leader's hand, the door scraped open. Upon its opening, their ears were struck with the sound of song. It was a gentle tune as it drifted upon the wind, a chanting that filled the children's hearts with grief. It made the dark passage laid before them seem uninviting.

'What a sad song..' Thea spoke softly, looking towards the sobbing woman who was still separated from her baby. Even though the child in question was but a few feet behind her, being carried by a soldier.

'Who's singing?' Merek asked his brother. He was instead answered by the leader of the soldiers.

'What you are hearing is the choir of the Berura,' he held up a fist, muttering a light incantation before opening his hand and revealing an orb of light. Thea and the Princes watched in wonder. Everything the elves did seemed to be so otherworldly, so perfect. How was it they were not the rulers of the world instead of the dragons? If they used their magic against them, then surely..

'What does that mean? Berura?' Merek did his best to roll his tongue as the elf had, earning a smile from the leader.

'In your tongue it would translate to.. pure one, or clean. The Berura are Priests and Priestesses who have completely devoted themselves to the Gods,' his gaze settled on Dracaena when he made mention of the word. Jarin's eyes followed, understanding what he meant.

'Dragons..' he muttered to himself, though the elf yet nodded at his remark.

'What are they saying?' Thea asked with closed eyes as she took in the music.

'I cannot find the right words for it,' he listened as Thea had, dark eyes closed as he breathed in the chant. 'It is a lament- a preparation for the dirge they will sing soon after.'

'A dirge?' Jarin wondered who it was that had died. It was then Dracaena cackled, breaking the peace forging between the elves and children.

'For the sacrificial lamb they will slaughter,' they turned to look at Dracaena, the children in confusion and the elves with narrowed eyes. 'To think my children would ask you to kill your own in show of loyalty. How tasteless they've become.' She continued to laugh, but there was no humour to be found in her words. Jarin had pieced it all together, much quicker than his brother and Thea. He wished to keep them in the dark about what she had meant. The elven woman who was fleeing with her baby.. was her child a sacrifice to the Dragons?

'The Gods ask nothing of us,' the elven leader gripped the hilt of his sword, 'It is an offer given freely, nothing more.' And with that they were all ushered through the dark passage, being guided by the light summoned.

The darkness cleared after some time, the narrow passage opened to a completely different world. Orbs of light similar to the one summoned by the elf- though much larger, hung amidst the branches of the trees, making their pale leaves shine in its radiance. The barks of the great laurels were white as snow, engraved with carvings of elvish words painted gold. Connecting the trees were sturdy bridges, where the choir stood in plain sight. They sung flawlessly as their voices rung strong and proud. They wore white robes, nearly transparent, and all of them had shaven heads. The light of the floating orbs seemed to cause halos to appear behind them, they looked so angelic.. so pure. The Princes and Thea understood then that Berura was a title quite fitting for those who lamented in song.

Upon the floor were hedges formed into homes where the elves lived. Speaking again in a language foreign to the children, the soldiers were given orders and soon marched off. They whisked away the woman and her babe through a hall made by the very hedges that formed various homes.

'You three will follow Amine,' spoke the leader in a voice that seemed to lack the strength he had when they first met. Another soldier stepped forward, removing his own helmet. A youthful face greeted them, with golden hair that was softly tousled and disrupted from the removal of his head gear. He smiled gently, similar golden eyes sparkled in the silver light of the Elven Realm.

As he ushered them in an opposite direction, Merek quickly spun away from him.

'Wait!' He turned to see Dracaena being pulled forward, deeper into a darker path. 'Where are you taking Dracaena? I want to be with Dracaena!'

'Me too!' Thea said, running to Merek's side.

'Stop it! Both of you, this was a stupid idea! Just listen to them, and maybe we'll get to go home!' Jarin tried hauling them both away with the help of Amine, but they only dug their heels into the floor, beginning to throw tantrums like toddlers. Thea wailed, and Merek began rolling upon the floor, yelling.

Amine looked desperately towards Jarin, hoping he knew how to calm them. Jarin had no idea for it usually fell upon one of the maids or Sir Borin to reprimand Merek when he caused an uproar. And Thea.. well, it was often best just to let Thea cry until she could cry no more. At least, that was what he usually did.

'If that is the way you behave, then it is best you are well away from me.' Dracaena spoke, looking unimpressed. 'I do not associate with bellowing pigs who muck around on the floor.' She turned her head, raising her chin as if disgusted by an offensive odour. 'Come, elf. Take me to your, oh, what did you call your Kings? Your Atarah.' And off she went, not sparing another glance towards the children.

'Dracaena!' Merek called after her. Jarin could see tears forming in his eyes, but the younger Prince was quick to rub them away. Jarin felt a slight tinge in his heart. He was sure Merek and Thea must have felt as abandoned as he. This was not the adventure his brother had hoped for, and Thea had only wanted to return home with her friends.

Feeling a bit put off by the situation, Jarin nodded to Amine to lead them forward. Dracaena had said that they would both get revenge, but how were they to do that when they were prisoners? He felt very silly then, believing in the words of a Dragon. He felt the best thing for them was to return home.

How disappointed they all were, hoping to find gold and instead they found dirt. Ah, traveller, how life taunts people. I think Prince Jarin and Merek began to lament as well.. Lament for the dreams that seemed to be slipping quickly from their grasp.. Do not make such a sour face, traveller. You think they gave up so easily? Why, if they had, there would not be much more of the tale to tell!

8: Curse of Mortality
Curse of Mortality

There were many things the elves held sacred: the earth they treaded upon, the entirety of their long lives, the songs created to praise all they loved. They thought that family was sacred, the trees, blood.. and yes, the beings they worshipped which were held in the highest esteem. Ah, but traveller, there is something I must ask: If gods are what we must all aspire to, that which keeps us on the right path.. I wonder, do the Gods ever feel lost without someone to guide them as well?

Ah, but Dracaena did not feel a God amongst mortals then; all tied and cursed. She felt her power contained somewhere deep inside her heart. But, oh! The injustice, the cruelty and malice her transgressors had shown! She could not reach that special place, and could her dragon soul ever allow her to weep at least once, she would do so for her lost glory. If only to show the yearning she felt.

Along a large winding way the elf had led her, deeper into the darkness of the forest. And how chilly it was! For her breath came out in a perfect white puff of steam as she walked ever on towards the Atarah. How odd she found it, for all the animosity held between elves and humans, they were so very similar. Had they not been opposed to one another's culture, she feared that they could quite possibly stand against her children for reign of the world. But that was but a fleeting thought, one she hadn't need to worry about.

By and by, she heard the crunch of snow beneath her feet. Sure enough when she looked down to the path on which she treaded, there it was! Stark and pure, like the whites of her eyes. It illuminated and clung to the trees and hedges in the darkness. It was not a normal snow, of that she was certain.

They came to a circular temple, a place home to the Atarah- the King of the wood elves. It was decorated in murals of dragons of all kind. Some that dwelled within the deepest waters of the world, some that resided in the sky. The mountains, and forests. Oh, but her children could make a home of any place. Even the ones some might have found inhospitable.

The elf that led her knelt and muttered something to himself, a prayer Dracaena surmised. And he entered the temple, leaving his sword and other hidden weapons outside. Dracaena had no intention of showing the same respect.

'It is but stone,' she scrunched her nose in distaste. 'That and nothing more.'

Passing the threshold of the temple was an odd thing. It was warmer, and felt as though she had stepped into a pocket of air, like you'd find a bubble in the water. The elves were strange creatures, constantly creating equally strange magic.

They descended steps of shining marble towards three thrones placed regally upon a stage. Behind the thrones was a hall, guarded by two large statues of dragons with rubies as eyes. It had been carved into the wall of the temple, beckoning Dracaena with its mystery. She felt the Atarah could wait for her council then, just so she could sate her curiosity. Just what was beyond the thrones?

As her thoughts overtook her, she nearly missed the Atarah and his daughter sitting upon their respective seats, the third throne laid empty. It was quite the lonely sight. The elf soldier gave a deep bow upon stepping before them.

'Rise, Aviv,' and the soldier rose at his word, though he kept his eyes from landing upon the seated elves. It was foolish to Dracaena. A chair nor title was not something that gave power, but strength itself. She promised herself that she'd return to them once she regained her true form, and she would be sure to turn their seats into rubble.

'Atarah,' Aviv began, 'This one claims-'

'I know of what she claims,' the Atarah replied with a kindly voice. Though the face he showed Dracaena was anything but. 'My daughter is the eyes and ears of our realm, Aviv. Or have you forgotten?'

'No,' he shook his head, his dark braids swung with every movement.

'Cut her loose,' the elf King ordered. 

'Atarah, I do not think-' 

'Your thoughts have no value here. Now cut her loose.' The soldier held his open hand over the silky ropes that kept Dracaena bound, not long thereafter they untied, landing neatly in his grasp.

With a wave of the Atarah's hand, Aviv was dismissed. He left the temple, albeit hesitantly and with a long sideward glance towards the dragon girl. His gaze was pardoned by Dracaena, he was of no importance any longer. Nor was the elf King's daughter, she was a tiny creature; looking near the age of the younger Prince she had travelled with. The one who doted on her every move, Dracaena could barely recall the young Prince who was infatuated with her. Though Dracaena was certain the elven Princess was older than she seemed. Elves were curious beings after all, not quite working like those fleeting humans.

The dragon and the King were locked in a silent battle, each remembering the other from many, many years ago.

'It has been a long time,' the Atarah finally spoke. 'You might remember my daughter, though she was but a bump in my wife's belly then.' He presented his daughter with an open palm motioning towards her. 'This is Jimena.'

'Charmed,' returned Dracaena dryly. She barely looked at the girl. So eager was she to unleash the fury that was quickly bubbling within her. Though, she realized a very important thing as her sharp eyes returned to look at Jimena. 'Babette?' She took three eager steps forward, her hand outstretched towards the girl who simply watched Dracaena with indifference. Not a single trace of fear was etched upon her doll-like face. She sat with a straight back, her legs elegantly crossed. With a tilt of her head, she turned towards the Atarah.

'Father,' came her sweet voice. It was light with joy, almost like the slight chiming of the bells tied round the neck of a pet cat. Her fiery lips had a slight curl at one side, a teasing siren with the promise of a kiss once she grew. 'May I leave? I am so very curious to see what a human child is like.' Her father chuckled, eyes gleamed with adoration as he gave a slight bow of his head.

'Do not linger overlong, Jimena.' He spoke as she stood and straightened her shimmering velvet gown. 'They might curse you with their quickening.'

'Of course father.' She began to make her way towards the exit, the click of her frilled shoes echoed throughout the temple.

Dracaena watched her approach with uneasiness. The girl's face was something that made her dragon heart quiver; a dull ache which spread through her body like a sickness that made even her bones hurt. Oh, what a cruel thing it was to see the face of your greatest betrayer! Though Jimena was not the one who had sinned against her, no. It was her cursed mother who had been the initiator of her sealing.

'We could be of use to each other, dragon,' came Jimena's voice as she walked by. Their eyes locked for the briefest of moments before she left.

Ah, but the events unfolding had become curiouser and curiouser to Dracaena, and quite suddenly she had felt the urge to laugh. And so she did just that. She released the harshest laugh she could muster, cackling wildly. Just what laid in store for her, she wondered? Perhaps there was a positive to being human after all, for she had never experienced such fun in her true form! What a mystery life was to her then.

'Where is Babette?' Dracaena settled and wiped away a tear.

'She perished long ago,' he replied with a broken voice. 'Though I do not know where, I felt it when she passed.'

'A shame. I'd have liked to kill her myself.' The Atarah stood at her words, his robes flowing with his harsh jerking movements as he yelled.

'You'd dare!' He took a step towards her, his anger made evident by the red flecks growing within his eyes. 'You might as well have been the cause for her passing!'

'Hush now. Your words are too kind.'

'How easy it would be to kill you now,' the Atarah gave a vengeful smile. 'How easy it would be to make you grovel at my feet!'

'Careful,' Dracaena warned, snarling at his words. 'I have no care for idle threats, elf.' It was his turn to cackle, though Dracaena saw no humour in her retort. He lowered himself back onto his throne, rubbing his temples with long slender fingers.

'Oh,' his smile never faltered, 'Sweet thing. Has that human body of yours made your mind lame?' Her eyes narrowed as he spoke. She didn't feel her mind any slower than before.

'Have you only a mind to insult me? Or do you wish to settle this predicament properly?' Dracaena felt her patience come to its end.

'Think!' He slammed his fist against the arm of the throne. Dracaena almost jumped at the loud thud that resonated throughout the temple. Instead of reprimanding him, she let the Atarah continue. 'If this were centuries ago, even in the body of a human.. you'd have easily been able to unleash some of your power.' Dracaena needn't have been told this, she knew it herself. Surely it wasn't because her mind had turned lame. 'You've been sleeping far too long. And I cannot help but wonder how it is you've awoken?'

'That is none of your concern.'

'It certainly is. You are here now, standing before me; a potential threat to all that I have built. The magic placed on you is not one easily broken. There was a specific thing needed to rent the seal.'

'You mean blood?' Dracaena grinned, remembering the taste of iron when she awoke; the bloodied nose Prince Jarin sported as he watched her emerge from the cell created by the elves. For a brief moment she wondered how the children were doing, and if they were harmed.

'It wasn't just any blood that could have freed you. Babette was no fool.'

'Then we must have known two different women.' Dracaena insulted, having no care to show respect for the dead elf of which they spoke. She saw the red flecks emerge again within his eyes before they settled once more. He had loved his wife, this Dracaena remembered well. Any jape or insult towards Babette was like an attack against his very heart.

'The blood needed to break your seal was that of Kings,' he announced. Dracaena hoped he missed how her head jerked up at the secret revealed. Her thoughts again drifted towards the Prince. His golden hair, and his serious expression every time he looked upon her.. but oh, how child like he still was, despite his solemness! Jarin, the Prince who sought vengeance against her kin for destroying his home. Yes, she knew why he was filled with hate.

The night he dreamt of her past, his had bled into her mind. The smile of his father slowly fading at the sound of her children's cries echoing strong throughout his kingdom. The way he took up arms as they broke through the stone walls, crashing into his hall. His gruff voice ordering his general to lead his Queen and child to safety. And, ah! As a mother it pained her to see Jarin's own weep with fear as she continuously prayed for her little Prince to forget that horrible night. She knew how it was to want to keep her babes safe. What pained her most of all was the way she saw her kind through the eyes of the Prince. What monsters! What beastly fiends! And yet.. that was what she was; what she created.

But, no! She could not allow herself to be consumed by the hatred of a human. To despise herself was not something she would ever plan on.

'Tell me, dragon, where did this blood come from? Those children you have in your company?'

'Don't be foolish,' Dracaena hastily replied. 'You think a kingdom would so easily let their royalty stray from home?'

'No,' the Atarah agreed, 'You are right. It must have come from somewhere. However, that is something I needn't think of overlong. You are here now, and what concerns me is what to do with you.' He inspected every part of her, something she was unaccustomed to. Once upon a time, her body was much too large to take in all at once. 'Perhaps I shall leave you at the mercy of your children.' A wicked grin crept upon his long face. 'Yes, I quite like that idea.' With a flurry of his hand, a great vast light shone bright, rippling down the hall behind his throne. The ruby eyes of the stone dragons that guarded the hall began to burn brilliantly, as the earth rumbled with all its might.

Dracaena struggled to stay standing, casting her hands out in a panic to keep her balance. And when the earth settled once more, a great roar came in reply to the light the Atarah summoned. It reverberated throughout Dracaena's entire being, piercing her ears with its shrieking voice.

She suddenly felt the weight of the mortality cursed upon her by Babette, the elven Queen. A raging emotion had come crashing down like a violent monsoon; an emotion only mortals had the privilege of feeling: fear.

To whom do the gods pray in their times of need, Traveller? What light do they reach for when met with darkness? I think it sad when one cannot rely on another. Don't you, traveller? You seem like a person who has met with strife.. and yet, there is a glow to you as well.. as though there is hope inside. Even if alone now, traveller, I can see it. You are with the hope of meeting someone precious.

9: Pain of Another
Pain of Another

Kindness is a very precious trait, and also one very overlooked. Too often does it go un-nurtured. That was the trait that permeated the very essence of Prince Jarin, his mother would praise him for it and his father- when the King yet lived, would make the boy promise to never lose the softness of his heart. And Jarin did his very best to take into consideration the emotions of all those around him. But when his mother passed, and he came under the protection of his father's brother- a man who came to claim his own kingdom by becoming a conqueror, his kindness was often reprimanded; especially when his younger brother would so often show his fiercer heart and impress the conquering king.

Traveller, Jarin might have forgotten the teachings of his own father, in hopes of earning praise from his peers. But his heart never allowed him to lose the love he bore for all. 

Jarin and his brother were taken to a house made of hedges, like all other homes in that elven village. There was no roof to separate them from the sky, and only a single large round bed was there to decorate their flowered cell. Above them laid the vast open skies with the twinkling of the stars to keep them company. A crescent moon drowned out the light of the stars with it's own pale glow, just barely peeking out from behind the grey clouds drifting gently through the darkness. 

'Where have you taken Thea?" Jarin asked before the elf, Amine, could close and lock the door behind them. He looked rather guilty the way his eyes lowered to the grassy floor. 

'She'll be fine,' he offered, 'But she was causing a bit of an uproar, so I had to take her somewhere else so she could calm down.'

'Thea doesn't do well in strange places on her own.' Jarin hoped the girl in question wasn't choking on her own sobs. He'd have hated if she died in such a pathetic manner. 'How long will you keep us separated?'

'Give her back to us!' Merek added less diplomatically than his elder brother.

'I'm sorry. Truly I am. If it were up to me..' Amine looked behind his shoulder, seeing guards that had been stationed to watch the two princes walk down the hall. 'You'll have her when the Atarah decides.' He finished and closed the door. An audible click was heard when it was locked.

'They can't do that!' Merek shouted, 'If they knew who we were-' Jarin did not allow his brother to finish, and quickly clapped his hand to his mouth. He gave him a stern gaze, unable to fathom how Merek could speak without thinking. Sometimes he found him to be a bit stupid.

'They don't know who we are, and that is better.' He wiped his hand against his tunic, disgusted at just how much spit Merek's mouth could hold. 'Or need I remind you of your father's dislike of these people?'

'No,' Merek sniffed, 'You needn't.' He walked towards the large plush bed, removing his muddy boots and crept on to it. Jarin watched him, observing how red his brother's eyes were becoming; how his chin trembled slightly as he gazed up to the sky. This was Merek's first time being out of bounds of his father's kingdom, his home. Jarin knew his baby brother must've been frightened; how homesick he must have felt. The only piece of home which he did have was Thea, and the elves had taken that from him.

Jarin was no stranger to being far from home, he honestly didn't feel as he ever had one. Not since his mother had died. His heart went out to Merek, but he would trade anything to be in his shoes rather than his own. The truth was that Jarin had always been a bit jealous of his brother. He who had grown with a father. He, who had left his home of his own volition, whereas Jarin had been forced from his own.

Quite suddenly he felt his own eyes sting, blurring with the oncoming of fresh hot tears that threatened to spill. It always happened when Jarin thought of the past, he didn't know why it hurt him so much. He rubbed his eyes fiercely with the sleeve of his tunic and sucked in a big breath. He needed to be strong for his brother, for when Merek did not have strength he vowed to be that very thing for him.

'Merek,' Jarin called. He forced a smile upon his face and banished all doubt and worry from his heart. 

'What is it?' 

'Do you remember the story your father used to tell us? The one before we slept?' Jarin stepped towards the bed, removing his own boots and setting them aside neatly. 

'Which one? There were so many..' Merek rolled over to make room for his brother. 

'The one where your father and mine were boys, and captured- held for ransom by that bandit who claimed himself king.' Merek nodded, gaining back a bit of light in his large eyes. 'They were held in a cage, one much less comfortable than this one,' Jarin pointed about the room.

'Yes! And they were very much frightened, weren't they, brother?' Merek added, a boyish grin breaking out on his face as he recalled the tale. 

'Oh, a hundred times more so!' 

'They were in there for three days and three nights. The bandit king didn't feed them either. They had sit in their own filth, too!' Merek laughed aloud and his brother joined him. 

'Yes, that's right. Do you remember what happened next?' Jarin asked.

'I do,' Merek admitted, 'But I'd much rather hear you tell it. You have much better words than I.'

'Well, they  decided they couldn't wait for rescue. They were trained since birth for combat, after all. They had the blood of warriors in them. And they would not wait around like some damsel in distress.' Merek nodded, intrigued by his brother's words. 'They were stripped of their weapons, much like us. But my father's wily ways and quick wit were what helped get them out.'

'Your father was very smart.' Merek agreed, 'And he always had a dagger hidden one place or another.'

'That's right. He was cunning, but your father had much more dexterity. He was able to unlock the cage with my father's dagger.' Jarin then reached over, grabbing his boot. He watched as Merek's confused face turned into one of excitement as he pulled a dagger out from within. Escaping would not be an easy feat, this Jarin knew. But he was not about to lay about and wait for this Atarah's judgement. He was a prince, as was his brother. And he would not allow them to treat them in such a manner. 

'Oh,' heard the two brothers from the entrance of their flowered cell. Their eyes quickly settled on an elven girl, no older looking than Merek. She was as radiant as the moon above, black tresses falling upon her shoulders; a pretty little crown sat atop her head, it gleamed like starlight. 'Did you plan on escaping? How very exciting!' She strode forward until she was stood at the foot of the bed, looking upon them. Her eyes flittered back and forth between the two, though more often than not would they settle longer on Merek. 

Jarin was not blind to how she flushed red at the sight of him, nor was he aloof to the fact that she might have been royalty to the elves. After all, she walked so freely into a prisoners cell with not much of a fight. To do that, one must have been an important figure.

'What do you want?' Merek huffed impatiently. So inspired by Jarin's show was he, that he felt the entrance of this girl had ruined everything. 'Go away!' 

'Please be more courteous! My father did warn me about the brashness of humans,' the elf girl frowned and her cheeks puffed out. 'I wish you'd prove him wrong.' She continued on talking, and Merek would speak over her in attempt to get her out. He wasn't very good with girls, though somehow he got along famously with Thea. Jarin sometimes wondered how he would find a queen when he was grown. 

As they continued to banter, Jarin felt the room go still; the sound around him grew mute, and the air became cold. The girls voice filled his mind, similar to how Dracaena was able to communicate with him. 

'Your heart is one with the dragon,' spoke the elven girl. He wanted to say no, to tell her that he had nothing to do with Dracaena. But his mind was a door swung ajar, held wide open for her to peer into his head and pick out all his secrets. He fought against it, old memories rushed towards the open door like water flowing from a dam. Happy memories, sad memories; in his heart, they were all equally painful. 

He cried out for strength to fill him, he sought it out as his own failed him. Her overbearing magic filling him to a point where it was almost painful. In his desperation he had managed to conjure up the strength of the most ancient of dragons; the strength of a creature much stronger and more fierce than the girl picking through his mind. He summoned Dracaena's strength and fought back, edging towards the open door of his mind. For once, he had not felt the connection of her heart to him a curse, but rather a blessing. Once he stood at its threshold, he realized just as she could see through one side, he too could look through the other. 

Her memories were laid bare, and Jarin felt it only fair that he picked through them as she had. 

He had seen all in a matter of seconds: Jimena was royalty, daughter of the Atarah. A man who held  a great hatred of dragons, almost as much as Jarin himself. Visions of Jimena and her father happily walking hand in hand along the gardens were shown, and the songs of the berura filled his heart with warmth. He saw her pain in only knowing her mother through paintings and stories. It seemed to Jarin that a missing parent was a pain more common than not in most people, be they elves or humans. 

The visions changed then, delving deeper into her mind. He was shown Jimena sneaking into the temples of her land, searching for something- someone. A prisoner chained to the walls of a dampened cell, treated much more harshly than the elves had treated Jarin and Merek. The prisoner was dressed in rags that could have been lavished robes once upon at time. Their hair long and dark, shrouded their battered face. Jimena crept up towards the bars of the cell, gripping the cold iron so tightly Jarin could feel it in his own hands. 

'Grandfather,' Jimena called so softly that he doubted the old man could hear her. And yet he raised his head, revealing eyes as clear as the soft blue skies; those eyes, Jarin felt, were not suited for the darkness of the dungeon. The old man's face was battered, painted black and blue with abuse. Because these were Jimena's memories and not his own, Jarin knew things that he should not have been privy to. Such things as the conflict within the elves. For centuries upon centuries their people had been splintered into two factions. Those who were worshippers of the dragons, and those who opposed them. High elves, and wood elves. Jimena was both, as her mother Babette came from the highest peek of the mountains, where her grandfather ruled. Their beliefs were that the dragons were evil creatures, set out to destroy all things pure and good; that they corrupted all their shadows flew over. As where the wood elves (the people which her father lead and ruled), believed them to be gods. 

'Jimena,' her grandfathers hoarse voice came. He tried to rise and meet her at the bars, but his hand was cuffed to the wall and prevented from even approaching her. 'Jimena..' He said once more.

Jimena had snuck passed many guards to speak to her grandfather often, and how he came to be captured was knowledge even she did not have. But it was a minor thing, in her search to know about the other side of her heritage. A thing she felt she had lost.

'I need to know, grandfather.' She pleaded, desperate for answers, 'I need to know how my mother came to pass.. I need to know why.' The old man shook his head, and let his eyes glaze over with the thought of her question.

'Please,' his voice was thick with melancholy, 'Do not ask this of me.' 

'I have a right to know!' She rung the bars as if squeezing them tighter would milk the truth from his mouth, like utters on a cow. 'I have that right.' 

The old man must have felt there was some truth in her words, and soon he began explaining everything. He started with how he charged Babette, mother of Jimena, to find a way into the council of the Atarah, in hopes of finding a way to destroy the dragons once and for all. 

She did so, but the unexpected happened: Babette and the Atarah fell in love, and her quest to find an end to the dragons had stopped once she married. Soon after she became pregnant with Jimena. 

Jarin was so enraptured by the memories that he did not expect them to so suddenly be ripped away. He breathed out, and found himself back within his cell. Jimena stared angrily at him. Jarin could only guess that she wasn't used to having her own memories invaded. 

Merek had continued talking the whole time, trying to convince her to leave.

'We don't want to talk to you. So stop standing there like an idiot.'

Jarin wanted to burst out into laughter, and he would have had he not felt a sharp jolt course through his veins. His breathing quickened, and his heart pounded. Sweat dampened his forehead as his body was screamed for him to flee and find cover. He gripped at his chest  and rose, looking around the cell and clumsily putting his boots back on.

'Jarin?' Merek asked worriedly, placing his own boots back on. Jimena's anger subsided as well as she watched them both. 

'What is it?' She asked, stepping towards them, 'What's wrong?' 

Jarin didn't know what was wrong, but he could feel fear. He could taste it lingering in the back of his throat. 

'I don't want to die..' Echoed familiar words that he felt once when he explored that accursed cave with Merek, the one that led him to where he was. 'I want to live.' 

'Dracaena..' Jarin furiously clung at the hedges, ignoring the thorns that ripped away at his flesh. 'Dracaena!' 

A shrill unearthly cry travelled upon the wind from deeper within the forest. All the children's heads looked up to the sky, trying to trace where it had come from.

'No,' said Jimena. 'My father..' 

'What is it?' Merek asked. 'What was that noise?'

'A dragon.' She replied. 

10: Fires in the Woodland
Fires in the Woodland

Life is such a fickle thing, like a candle flame burning against the darkness.. all it takes is the slightest force of wind to snuff it out. To those with little time, their candle is cherished; held close to their chest. The warmth can fill you, and even when blown out- the smoke rises, and a lingering heat against the cold of night can still be felt. But what of those who need not worry of the raging winds come to claim their flame? What do they feel about life? 

The elves, ah, though they were not so eternal they lived much longer than any mortal man. Because of this they thought  themselves better, above the men and much more appreciative than the dragons. And though they knew quite a bit, they strove to know even more. And they had plenty of time to search for this.

Pixies eternal chose to live apart from the mortals. Though they did this for much different reasons, even now I cannot tell you why that was..

The dragons were also forever, though majestic, became lazy in their ruling. Separating themselves from the world much like the pixies. Dracaena was the very first dragon, and her children were born of her fire, come to the world by her beck and call. And how intelligent she made them, an image mirroring herself. They spoke and had a language, and even understood others. But what did they do in those many long years that she was gone? Not powerful enough to create life like her, they did something no one could fathom: they mated, like the humans. And from them, a new generations of dragons were born. They could not speak, and could not control their wild and fiery nature. 

'A dragon?' Merek shivered, 'What's it doing here?' 

'My father captured one,' Jimena explained in a panic. Her face paled as another painful screech vibrated throughout the woods. 'He wanted to have the power of the gods at his finger tips.. I told him his magic can't control it! No ones can!' She quickly went to the door, and turned back to face the two princes. 'Come, we must find your friend. She isn't safe.' 

Jarin quickly pulled Merek along, holding on tightly to his hand. They were both trembling and clammy.

'We will not die today,' Jarin assured him. 'I promise.'

'I'll protect you, brother.' Merek steeled himself. Jarin smiled, promising the same. 

The guards that watched their door were nowhere to be found, though Jimena seemed unperturbed. In fact much of the common area seemed ghostly in a sense that no one was to be found. This worried Jarin very much. A common area was for living, and even though it was night it seemed to him that the forest was lacking the bustling of it's usual vibrancy.  She led them quickly, turning left and right so many times before stopping suddenly in her tracks. 

''How odd.' She said, 'I can see everything in this forest, I saw her; saw Thea.' 

'Your magic.' Jarin offered as an explanation for his brother. 

'I don't see her anymore.' 

****

Thea was led down a separate hall from the two princes by a nameless elf. She held out her hands and screamed, reaching out for them. Jarin and Merek had reached back to no avail. They were ripped apart by the guards, and she had not seen them since.

She was thrown into an empty room, given nothing but a blanket to wrap herself in. She cried and cried for what seemed to be forever, thinking that she would never see her friends again, nor her family. And, oh! How she would never gain the chance to profess her love for Sir Oliver. She found herself searching her person for the cloth he had ripped from his tunic, and used to wiper her tears. To her it had been a token of affection, a symbol of their love. And, she knew in her heart she would be by his side forever one way or another. 

And yet there she laid, a slobbering mess. Kept away from her most cherished of loved ones. She worried about them, and Dracaena. Even if she was a new friend, she loved her just as much. 

Oh, Thea was a selfless soul. Even locked away on her lonesome, she fretted over everyone else, rather than her own safety. 

She sniffled loudly, and curled into a ball. She hoped she had said 'I love you' enough to her mum. Thea knew that sometimes people needed to be assured of things like that, because sometimes they didn't believe in the truth. She didn't mind saying it over and over, if it made her loved ones smile, that was enough for her. 

As she thought all this, Thea did not notice the rustling from the hedges. Nor did she see how they parted effortlessly for a little pale creature with wings shimmering with silver dust. Flowers grew beneath it, and stopped only when the creature landed at her feet. It placed a tiny palm against the heel of her shoe. It was such a light touch that there was no possible way that Thea would ever feel it. 

Knowing that, the creature scratched its chin in thought. It turned and plucked a flower from behind it , waving it beneath her nose. The sweet smell broke Thea from her thoughts, and she beamed upon seeing it: the creature that waved her way when she first entered the elven kingdom. 

'Oh!' She gasped, and took the flower it offered. 'You're.. a pixie, aren't you?' She saw the pixie nod and smile. Thea remembered Jarin reading her stories of pixies, they were her favourite. 

It fluttered upwards to be at an eye level with her. 

'You are so beautiful,' said Thea. She wove the flower into her hair, to keep it safe and her hands free. 

The pixie fixed a stray strand by tucking it behind her ear. It looked at her as if to say: So are you!

For a long time, Thea and the pixie sat staring at each other. Examining every inch, as if to memorize the sight. 

The pixie's wings shimmered like morning dew caught in the first light of the sun, raining silver down. The scent of it was like honeydew, soft and welcoming. It's face similar to any human, but rounder, youthful as a child. It wore no clothes, though it did not have anything to hide. Its body had only the very basic shape of a person, and not much else. It was between the look of a male and female.

Thea raised her hand, tempted to touch it; to catch the silver in the palm of her hand and throw it up in the air as if it were snow. The pixie mirrored her action bringing a tiny hand to rest in her palm. She never felt like such a giant, usually she was the one looking up to see people. And they would be looking down at her.

'I'm glad you're here,' she said. 'I was very lonely.' The pixie looked saddened by that, but it smiled as if it were happy it came. It flew up high, so high that Thea stood and craned her neck to find it in the sky. She could see it's silhouette cast against the moon, its tiny arms spread as wide as it could. Thea knew if it had a voice it would be shouting at the top of its lungs with elation. 

'Look!' It would say to her, 'How can you be alone when the moon is right here?' 

Thea burst into laughter, and danced in circles as the silver dust cascaded upon her. The pixie spun in the sky with all its might, summoning extra dust just for her. 

There joyous moment stopped when a great cry came bursting through the night air. The pixie slowly lowered itself back to Thea.

'What was that?' Thea trembled. The pixie was quick to fly towards the hedge, fleeing at the sound of the cry. Thea was too afraid trying to conclude what the noise was that she hadn't noticed it leaving.

She was only called attention to it when she felt a tug on her shoulder. The pixie had returned for her, urging Thea to follow. 

'Is it dangerous?' The pixie nodded, pulling her along toward the open path it created. 'Will we be safe?' She asked, to which the pixie nodded once more. 'But what about Jarin, and Merek? What about Dracaena?' Thea pulled away. 

This time the pixie looked deep into her eyes, furrowing its hairless brow. She could almost hear it saying please.

**** 

Dracaena ran, her feet pounded against the floor. For all the agility she displayed before then, she could not for the life of her outrun the beast. It narrowly missed the Atarah as it came bolting out from the deep recesses of the hall behind the throne. Its claws scraping against the stone as it thundered towards her. 

She made it out the narrow exit, hoping that would deter the dragon from pursuing her. But those wishes were soon put to rest when it burst out, breaking the walls and casting the stone forth as if were catapulted on purpose. They flew, crushing some of the elven guards who let out their last cries.

Dracaena had just barely ducked out of the way, avoiding a collision. She was laid upon her back with only her elbows keeping her up, she gazed upon the dragon that loomed over her with eyes as red as fire. It's breath smelled of ash, as it lowered its head to sniff her out. 

Dracaena knew a dragon when she saw one, they were her children after all. Their faces were once her own. And yet that dragon was different somehow; it was changed. Something was horribly wrong. It's eyes held no thought behind it; no will to seek out better fortunes. Its body was large, and its wings much too small for it to take flight. The sound of the dragons heart beat was so loud that it vibrated through the soles of its feet and into the earth. 

All the snow around them melted, and the air blazed in a wild heat. Its jaws opened, and her eyes opened just as wide. Time had slowed as if to savour the moment.

'I don't want to die..' Thought Dracaena. 'I want to live.' 

Dracaena saw her chance when the dragon was then distracted by the surviving elven soldiers who threw spears at the dragon. The dragon rounded it's head, using its tail to knock down the elves behind it.

Dracaena stood and backed away, spotting the Atarah standing at the broken entrance to the temple. He held his hand out, screaming out an enchantment. Dracaena could only just make out that it was a spell for trying to control the feral beast.

It stalled it, but only for a moment as it lowered it's head. The dragon's head shot back up and screeched louder than the first time, blowing fire from it's breath and burning the remaining elven soldiers. 

Dracaena was not stupid, and decided not to stay around to watch the fate of the Atarah. Though nothing would please her more to see the fool burn in the breath of a dragon, she valued her life far more than that. Which was a strange thing, as she never had to fear for it before then.. 

She ran passed various other soldiers that ran towards the beast, wielding their fine armours and swords. 

'Fools,' thought Dracaena, 'They'll burn away all the same.' 

She found herself at a crossroads, not remembering having come through this way, but knowing there was only one way to go previously. The halls shifted as she stood in place, not allowing her to gather her bearings. 

Her first instinct was to tear through and escape, but then she remembered the Prince; that if he died so too would she. She growled, trying to think on how to find the boy. 

She gasped and lost all train of the thought when she felt heat coming from behind her, burning away the hedges. The peaceful magic of the forest was disintegrated in the flames, and the silence fell through. The roaring flames engulfed all the greenery, so fierce was it that the tall and ancient trees began to crumble as it bit through. The crackling of the flames mixed with the screaming of the anguished elves, their fear was evident by their loss of composure. 

Dracaena jumped out of the way just in time to avoid the flames at her heels. Arrows whizzed passed her, accompanied by spears. Elves came pouring in on horse back and on foot. They held their swords and their bows; their shields and elegantly curved axes. Some even came with magic spells to attack, and to shield. Their weapons did naught at all, all they were doing was prolonging their demise. As well as enraging the beast.

'There's no stopping it!' Dracaena tried screaming, though she could barely hear herself within all that noise. 

****

Jarin and Merek followed closely behind Jimena. She had convinced them that there was no finding Thea, wherever it was she had disappeared to. Their only option then was fleeing. The elven princess looked close to tears herself at one point, Jarin noted.

Soon enough there was barely enough space to move, there were so many elves crowding the walkways in their attempts to escape.

'Please!' Jimena called out to her panicked people, 'Calm yourselves, or none of us are going to make it out alive!' There were a few guards she picked out to help her restore order as Jarin and Merek watched her work. 

She had somehow managed to get them in an organized fashion, and soon enough they were all making a quick escape.

'Jimena!' Came Amine's voice. He pushed through the crowd, completely clad in his armour, and his weapon unsheathed. His golden armour bent and scorched in some places, and his arm bled as if it had been shredded by a very large and sharp thing, not like any weapon Jarin had seen before.

'Amine!' She rushed towards him, looking over his arm worriedly. He brushed her off as politely as he could in that moment.

'Please, you must listen!' He cried, 'The dragon, your father.' He shook his head, 'All is lost! The woodland is lost, you must escape.' Jarin and Merek shared a look, goosebumps prickling their skin.

'I know, I've seen it. But I cannot leave.' Jimena responded, looking back to see that many people still needed to evacuate. 

'You must!' Said Amine.

'I can't!' Jarin stood forward, and gripped her shoulder, unable to watch any longer. Amine was right to want to evacuate her. But he could sympathize with how Jimena felt. Had he a chance to go back and save the people of his father's kingdom, he would. 

'Jimena,' he said in an eerily steady voice. 'You must flee.' 

'How can I?' Jimena asked with tears in her eyes as she looked upon the faces of the elves. 

'You must live on for them, to lead. They will look to you for guidance.' Jarin turned towards Merek, 'As will my brother's people.' Jimena froze, thinking over his words before nodding.

'Yes,' Jimena relented, 'Prince Merek, and Jarin. Future lords of men. I have seen it: your past.' She called for a guard, who took Merek forcefully by the arm. 

'Let go of me!' Merek yelled, 'What are you doing? Jarin! Jarin, help me!' He cried out, getting lost into the crowd of fleeing elves. Jarin felt a tear run down his cheek as he watched his little brother disappear. 

'Get him home safely, protect him.' He said to Jimena.

'I promise you, he will not come to harm.' She nodded as she grabbed Amine's arm. Jarin walked toward the destruction, focusing his mind and reached out to Dracaena.

'Where are you?' He asked, and for a moment all slipped into a grey hue. The only light he saw was Dracaena, calling out for him as well.

'Jarin.' She spoke his name. It sounded foreign on her tongue, forced and harsh. All returned to normal and he sprinted towards her, knowing full well she was in the heart of danger. 

When he arrived on the battle field holding the dagger he concealed in his boot, he knew it would amount for nothing when he saw the large amounts of scattered bodies laying about. Some were broken, some were charred; all were dead. 

Dracaena wobbled to her feet, once again alone in facing off with the raging dragon. She was bruised from being thrown to the floor by the dragon's tail. She was knocked down so easily, she found she had less will to get back up each time. It clawed at her, only barely skimming her. Her clothes were torn in so many places it was hard to believe how well they were staying together. 

She slowly reached for a sword, knowing she could not run away any longer in such a weakened state.

Jarin found he hated seeing her like that, and wondered where her proud old self had gone off too. The one that gloated and boasted about her greatness, about her superiority, 

'Dracaena!' He yelled. She would die if she faced the dragon, but he could offer no help when he was even weaker than her. 

Unfortunately, not only did his call capture her attention, but it also captured the dragon's. Its eyes narrowed, focusing in on its new intended prey.

'Run!' Dracaena ordered, throwing the sword about in an attempt to capture its attention once more. It only thrust its leg, and knocked her down as it stalked towards Jarin before barreling into a run. He backed away, only to tumble over one body of the many fallen. In that instant he saw it all: The kingdom he once grew up in, lush with strong oaks, and sword ferns. The red flowering currant of which the hummingbirds would feed. He remembered his father and mother, Sir Borin. The old knight who had taught and raised him as if his own. Thea, who he prayed survived and escaped. And his brother.. he wished he could see him again, hold his hand and assure him that there wasn't anything to fear. That he had all the makings of a great king, and that even if he was stupid sometimes, his heart was as bright as the golden sun. 

Dracaena watched in horror, they would both die. And just as Jarin saw things flash before his eyes, so too did Dracaena. 

She saw the very first child she called from the flames to emerge, his scales were golden and shimmered in the fires, much like Jarin's golden head. His fangs were sharp and long, and his neck was longer still; his body strong. He was her pride and joy, and she had no doubt her other children looked to him for leadership.

 Her mind flashed back to one particular day, where she was taking her little dragonlings on their first hunt. She had only let them out of her sight for a moments time when the runt of her brood had vanished. She searched from above, gliding through the mountains and listening for it; hoping it was still alive. Then she heard it cry out for her, and she found it bound beneath a net on a cliff side. A band of high elves surrounded it, preparing to strip it of it's scales and kill it. She landed in, blinded with rage and not seeing that their own Atarah was there. The High Elves king had a powerful magic, able to take down some of her strongest children, and possibly injure her. This magic had been passed down from Atarah to Atarah, developed into its highest form of raw energy.

Dracaena had landed, causing the face of the mountain to shake. She roared out in an attempt to scare them away, to warn them that she would not hesitate to eat them whole should they have tried anything. They did not deter, and soon enough she was attacking them as fiercely as they attacked her. 

The Atarah had stole up from behind her, and cast his magic. It went hurdling towards her, sending her crashing down into the ravine below. She was dazed as the felt the wind rushing along her back. Her child's cries returned her to her senses, and she spread her wings wide and beat them. The air began floating upwards and she scaled up the rock. 

She was ready to kill, fearing that her little dragonling was all but dead. To her great surprise she saw something most unexpected: An elven girl standing between the soldiers and her babe, screaming to the Atarah to leave it be.

'It isn't harming us!' She said, and cut the net off the dragon. She continued to shield it with her arms spread out  as it returned to Dracaena.

'Move, Babette!' The Atarah ordered. But she did not, instead she stood there standing as tall and proud as if she came from Dracaena's own litter.

That was how Dracaena met her only mortal friend. The one that taught her that even the most fragile things could show some form of courage.

Dracaena was brought back to the moment where the dragon was closing in on Jarin. She knew then she had to break through Babette's curse, even in her mortal body she had to find her power.

Her sharp eyes closed one moment and in the next instant burst open. She roared and her own flames came to surround her, engulfing her tiny body completely. The dragon was sent flying, crashing through trees by the force exerted from her summoning. 

So hot were her flames that they burned a pure white. Jarin had to cover his eyes with his arms, and even then he could still see the light. When the flames passed, he rubbed his eyes and was met with the most fearful of sights. 

Dracaena was no longer a human, she was a dragon that stood towering over the largest of trees. He was barely as large as one of her black scales, shimmering with all colours against the light. Her stark white eyes peered down at them as black smoke puffed out from her large snout. 

The dragon seemed barely grown then, and much less fearsome as before standing in her shadow.

It screeched, blowing its fire at her legs. Dracaena did not react; she only looked down on it with unmoving eyes. 

Jarin felt his legs begin to shake, and soon found he could not move. He had been completely petrified, the memories of the dragons siege on his home haunted him. She was a nightmare come true; the embodiment of his fear and hatred.

Dracaena could feel what was in his heart, and slowly it filled her; blinded her. Her head shot towards the sky and she howled. Enraged, she flew high up. Her wings beat like the sound of thunder, so strong was the gust she summoned that she blew away all the clouds in the sky, she dipped back down below and made for the feral dragon. All the remaining trees in that vicinity were blown away, and the rest burned as she sucked in a great breath and released her white fire upon her foe. 

When the fire dispersed there had been a crater where land had once been, burned black and smoking. In it's centre laid the dragon, charred and fighting to breathe. Dracaena was shocked to find it still alive, but a dragon was nothing if not resilient; their scales could survive much. It managed a weak cry and writhed in pain, upturning the burnt dusty floor. She descended, feeling Babette's curse coming back to her. Slowly, she began to turn and she shrunk in size. Her snout pushed back into her face and her wings into her back, her scales shortened and softened into her short ragged hair. 

She approached the dragon, its body abundant in damage. Her fiery breath melted most of it's scales clean off, and its eyes were wide and weepy as it looked about in horror. Dracaena watched it struggle to breathe, and suddenly she felt it difficult to do so as well. It hurt her to see the dragon suffering, it was not of her litter but that did not make it any less her kin. The pain she felt was grievous that it spread tightly across her chest. And then she felt it: Inside of her, something had broken. A warmth began to streak down her cheeks. 

She brought two tentative hands towards them, only to look upon her fingertips and see them gleaming with moisture. She was puzzled for a moment, never had she heard of a dragon shedding tears. She cast her attention back to the dragon.

It no longer had the strength to thrash about, and it began to still with shallow breaths. She walked towards it, making sure to be in its line of vision, an attempt to not harrow it further.

'My poor child,' she lamented and placed a gentle hand upon its snout. The dragon let out a sigh at the kindness being shown. By and by, it's heart settled and it accepted what was to come. 'I wish my children could see.. what becomes of a child without its mother.' Dracaena kissed it sweetly. 'Sleep now, the curse of mortality upon you.' And at her word the dragon's eyes closed slowly, ne'er to open again.

I could not tell you how long she and Jarin stayed there, only that after a good amount of time she approached the cowering prince. He winced when she reached out for him. She found that she did not like how he flinched at the sight of her, how he whimpered in fear and invoked the names of his father and mother as a form of protection. Didn't he know that she protected him? That she killed the dragon for him? Her own kind. 

To her, Jarin was nothing but a nuisance at first, but the memories of her dragonling made her associate him to something similar. She was born again of his blood, the spell that bound her for however long broken thanks to him. 

She suddenly felt very feverish and very dizzy. She had used to much energy in forcing her way back into her original form, and would need to sleep for quite a long time to regenerate her power. Maybe even then she could stay in her original form. She somewhat wished the wood elf Atarah yet lived, if only to proclaim that she truly hadn't turned lame. 

She looked to Jarin once more, knowing well she could not leave him in the world to wander. She was fearful that something terrible might befall him, and she could not leave him on his own. 

'Jarin,' she crawled towards him, settling between his legs. He looked upon her with wide eyes, fearing what might do to him. He jumped to feel her hand caressing his cheek and wiping away a bead of sweat. How odd it was to think that her skin was once scales, and her hands sharp with claws. They gazed into each other's eyes until she embraced him softly. 'Come,' she whispered into his ear. 'We must sleep. And when you wake, I promise you that all who went against us will perish.'

Her magic poured out around them, covering them completely. They fell into a great sleep then, one that lasted ten years.

What are you thinking, traveller? Have you found any answers from the story yet? Do not fret if it is yet unclear, the story does not end here.. Oh, trust me. There is more. True stories never end, now do they?

11: Time
Time

Here, traveller. You must eat, though you may wish to finish this long tale and go without sleep. I will not allow any guest of mine to starve.

Now, where to begin? I should first tell you about time: a precious commodity that not all of us may spare. I am sure you have used yours well enough. Should you have been able to find me, I am after all, not an easy woman to find..

The years flittered by too quickly for Merek's liking. He never abandoned his search for his elder brother, and as if in a blink of the eye, Merek had grown into a strong young man.

He had returned to his kingdom, his adventure long forgotten. But he did not return alone, he had found Thea the very night the woodlands burned. She seemed unscathed and unshaken. 

Thea had no doubt he was curious to what had happened, the elven girl at his side certainly looked as though she had questions. They pressed her for none, for as soon as Thea and Merek had set eyes upon each other they ran into a full embrace and cried all night long.

They had searched for two whole days for any sign of Jarin in Dracaena to no avail. All that had been left were bodies scattered, trees splintered, and the charred remains of the Dragon that had been attacking. 

'What happened?' Thea asked in horror, none answered her. It wasn't until later on in the years that Merek had gathered his courage and told Thea truthfully. 

'There was a large black dragon, we could see it in the sky.' He would tell her, tears forming in his eyes. She would hush him then, offering a handkerchief.

'No more, my lord.' She would say. 

Thea wasn't sure where the elves had gone to after that, all she knew was that Merek was still in contact with Jimena. Somehow he would always come and tell her of the conversations they shared, even though there were never any messenger birds sent- not even secret rendezvous. 

A lot had changed in the ten years that passed: The King had gone to sleep one night and never woke up the next day. The throne had passed to Merek, who would not yet accept the crown because he did not feel ready to receive it. So instead of becoming the king fully, he inherited the title regent. He was lord protector of the realm, and all his people loved him. Even when he proclaimed that he had allied himself with the elves. Not long after that declaration, seeing elves in the market place, or walking about the gardens was not a rare sight. His people mingled well with them, and they had come to be accepted in his kingdom. 

He had announced his betrothal to Jimena, Queen of the elves and soon to reign over the humans at his side. Their power shared, and the people rejoiced. 

Sir Borin had come to retire, and give up his sword. So weary with grief was he at the loss of Jarin, but every time Merek rode out with his company in search of his brother, Sir Borin was sure to follow.

Thea had changed a lot too. She grew more beautiful than anyone could have imagined, and Sir Oliver had taken her as a wife. She was to become lady of his house, despite the protest of his parents.

She found a place for her grandmother and mum to retire as well, making sure they were well taken care of so that they needn't have lifted a finger to work ever again. She kept them close and even then, she would tell her mum how much she loved her everyday. What filled Thea's heart with joy the most was how her mother seemed to believe her.

Her husband, Sir Oliver became captain of Merek's guard. Thea knew Merek valued her husbands council, and was glad her oldest friend and love got along so well.

Amine, the elf that had helped getting Merek and Jimena to safety had become the captain of Jimena's guard, and would rarely ever leave her side. Around that same time Thea was assigned to be one of Jimena's handmaidens. 

Once when they were sat together enjoying a cup of tea in the garden, Jimena had sighed peacefully and looked up to the sky. 

'I can hear it,' said Jimena. 

'Hear what, my lady?' Thea asked, placing down her cup with barely a sound. 

'The voice of your child grows louder.' She placed a gentle hand upon Thea's stomach and looked into her eyes, smiling brilliantly. 

'My child?' Thea placed her own hand over Jimena's and felt like bursting into laughter out of sheer joy. She wanted to announce her pregnancy to the entire kingdom, but could not move without Jimena's leave. Luckily for Thea, the queen of the elves could see into people's minds. And she had gotten much stronger at it as the years passed.

Jimena cocked her head to the side with a slight smile, dismissing Thea. 

'Go, I am sure your husband would love to hear it. You should let the lord protector know as well. And do not worry, Amine here will finish your share of tea.' She laughed, glancing over at her captain who shifted his weight from one foot to another awkwardly. Thea joined her before taking off in search of them.

Sir Oliver was quiet, always a solemn man even at joyous occasions. But she could see the tears in his eyes as he kneeled in front of her and hugged her around her mid section. He whispered sweetly to the child in her belly, promising that he would love and cherish it for as long as he lived.

She later found Merek in the library holding an old familiar book: All About Dragons. He looked at the pages, but was not reading over the words. His eyes held a far off look to them, and Thea could almost see the lost Prince Jarin sitting in the corner hiding behind a pile of books. Had he been there, Thea would be taller than him, which was odd to think when she always remembered having to stare up at the prince.

'My lord?' Thea called. Merek closed the book, but did not meet her gaze. 

'I hear him still, Thea.' He said. 'He haunts these halls, as well as my dreams.' 

'Indeed, my lord. As he does mine.' She could not count how many times she dreamt of the night they had woken her and set out on that adventure. Or the night she was separated from both princes, and locked away with nothing but a blanket; the sound of the dragon's call. 

If she was thankful for anything that night, it was meeting her pixie friend with whom she yet met every so often. There were some days she would ride out to the edge of the forest, and there they would meet. She called the pixie Silver, it seemed to like it by the way it enthusiastically flittered around her head. She kept in mind to tell Silver of her baby as well.

'Many of my men are telling me I should give up my search. I know that they are right, that there is no hope in finding him.. or Dracaena.' 

'There is always hope,' Thea went to him, and grabbed his hand. It had become large and calloused from all his sword play, much different from the child hands he once wore. But he had become a great warrior and an even greater ruler. 'We will find them.' Thea turned his bearded face to look at her, 'I promise.' 

'Jarin never got along with Dracaena. I think sometimes he even wanted her dead. I saw it in his eyes.' He looked down at his hand that intertwined with Thea's own. 'But he was always too kind to actually wish upon her death. But I..'

'You loved Dracaena.' Thea declared, 'You still do.' Merek nodded, it was not a secret he hid. Even if he tried, his betrothed could pick it out of his mind with a mere look. The only reason he had decided to marry was because it was an opportunity to unite and heal the animosity between the wood elves and humans. Merek had confided in Thea and told her it was all Jimena's idea. The elf queen was always plotting one thing or another, all for the greater good.

'But enough of that,' Merek stood taller and smiled brightly. Seeing him then, Thea could barely remember what sorrow looked like on him. 'Why is it you're here? Aren't you supposed to be having tea, or something else girly.' 

'Tea, yes.' Thea brushed aside his comment, 'But I've wonderful news.'

'Well go on then, tell me.'

'I am with child.' She smiled, and in an instant Merek took her in his arms and spun her around with joy. He hollered and laughed like a madman, setting her down and jumped. Thea laughed at his display and rubbed her still flat belly. 

'There are still many things I must do. You know, court stuff. Dealing with all these lazy noblemen. But when that is done,' Merek pointed a finger at her, 'There will be a great feast in celebration. What would you like to be served as the main dish?' Thea looked a bit startled, she had never had a feast held in her honour. 

'I don't care much for what you serve, really.' She looked down shyly. 

'Come on, Thea, name it. Name anything and it is yours.' 

'Well,' Thea looked up once more. 'I would very much like peaches. Though you may choose the rest.'

'Peaches!' Merek repeated and nodded. 'Very well, I shall hurry to finish. But you will not have to wait long, I swear it.' 

****

That night Thea stole herself from the home she shared with Sir Oliver. Of course this was after she told her mum and grandmother. They all wept and laughed, breaking out some wine from the cellar. Thea only drank a bit, allowing them to do most of the drinking for her. By and by and they drank themselves under the table.

She strode out to the stables preparing her horse. She smiled slightly remembering when the princes would do the same when they itched for an adventure. Usually it was Merek who would string Jarin along. 

She never imagined herself growing the courage to do the same, and yet there she stood. She hopped on her horse and galloped right out of the city towards the woods.

When there she dismounted her horse, leading it along by its reigns. 

'Silver?' She called out, removing the hood to her cloak. The winds picked up slightly causing the tall grass to shift and the trees rustle. A sound reminiscent to that of waves on a beach, a sure sign of Silver's arrival. 

The pixie zoomed towards her, clinging to her chest giving her a tight hug. Thea brought her fingers to the pixie and embraced it back as well enough as she could. 

'Oh, Silver.' Thea sighed, and the pixie looked up at her with worry, floating away from her body to better look upon her face. 'I'm sorry I only come to you with troublesome things. I know your life would not have it without me.' Thea remembered being led away by Silver that night, when the hedges parted for them and they passed its threshold. They did not step into the elven wood, but into another plain of existence. As if it were a different forest entirely. The forest was ripe with the smell of spring, and mushrooms of red and white sprouted to grow the size of any normal tree. Flowers of all kinds and colours mixed together to form a rainbow sea. Pixies danced, and glided through the air, each pixie had its own coloured dust fall from its wings. 

She was offered many exotic fruits there, but the one she delighted in the most were the peaches. She never tasted a sweeter fruit. 

Thea loved it there for there was no strife to be had. But she knew she could not stay, she had her own life to return to. Though not perfect she still held it close to her heart. She had only been in the pixie world for what seemed to be minutes, but when she returned a day had passed. 

Silver waited patiently for her to continue, wanting nothing more than to listen to her worries. It was a  tiny creature, but it wanted to be strong enough to shoulder some of her burdens. This Thea could see in Silver's eyes. 

'I shall first tell you some good news. To let you know that I fair well.' She leaned in close to Silver as if about to share a secret, even though it was not. 'I carry a seed within me. I will have a child.' The pixies, Thea knew, did not work like humans. They did not have fathers or mothers, for they sprouted from flowers. A pregnancy was a foreign thing to them. And yet Silver knew well enough to lower itself to her stomach. It placed its hand upon it, and closed its eyes as if to listen. 

Looking up, Silver nodded as if to say, 'Yup, it's definitely in there.'  The pixie did not celebrate as Thea thought it would, instead it looked contemplative; worried almost. It did not move away from her stomach, nor did it remove its hand. 

Thea continued on with other news, 'Do you remember Merek? I've spoken to you of him many times.' The pixie nodded, using its hand to make a shape over its head. 'Yes,' Thea laughed, 'He should be king. Though many people consider him such already, he will not claim it. He says he isn't ready, but I don't believe that.' Thea turned to look at the sky, closing her eyes and sighing. 'I believe he is waiting for Prince Jarin. He always wanted to impress his brother. He sought his approval more than his own father.' 

Silver frowned and hugged Thea's belly again; she knew then the reason Silver did not celebrate upon hearing the news of her pregnancy. The human world was filled with much toil, and to bring a child into it seemed a cruel injustice to Silver, who only wanted to protect what was important to Thea. It warmed her heart to know Silver cared so deeply. 

'If only the prince was found, and Dracaena too.' 

At that, the pixie perked its ears up. Its face brightened once more as if the greatest thought had popped into its head. Quickly, it flew back to the trees and waved Thea over. 

'What is it, Silver?' Thea dropped the reigns of her horse, not caring if it  ran off. In her heart she knew that she needed to follow the pixie; That Silver would lead her to something dear.

Through the darkness of the woods they went, following paths that would be hidden to mortals. But it was Silver that led the way, and the paths revealed themselves. There were stones of shimmering marble that sprouted from the earth with each step Thea would take, and when she passed they would slip back into the earth as if they were never even there. The trees bent and shifted, groaning under their own weight to make way for them. They had slept for so long they did not expect to be woken. 

The air nipped at Thea with a fierce chill, she was forced to once again wear her hood and bring her cloak closer to her chest. Her breath fogged and her nose turned a bright red. Whispers filled the air as they ventured deeper until they were stood before a great cavernous hole, leading deep within the earth. Silver pointed down to it a couple of times, wanting Thea to step first into the darkness. 

'No,' said Thea shaking her head. She looked inside, and her mind began to play tricks on her. The shadows from within danced and took shape of many monstrous creatures, and she did not wish to be amongst them. The pixie grew impatient and waved  its arms into a large circle, indicating something round of great importance must have been below. 'I don't care, you go first if you're so eager.' Thea backed away, only to be stopped by Silver tugging at her cloak. The pixie pulled with all its might until Thea relented. 'Fine, but you go in first.' 

With a roll of its eyes it delve into the darkness, and Thea reluctantly followed. She had to take small steps, for the way down was steep and the rocks surrounding them were jagged. One wrong step and Thea would have been in grave danger. 

Silvers wings dropped its dust, barely illuminating the way. The passage was so tight that it became  suffocating, and she desperately hoped that she would be out of the cavern soon.

On and on it went until finally a light breeze blew down the passage, and Thea was met with light of a large open cave. Floating at its centre was a large crystal, barely hovering above the ground. It was like a moon inside the earth, lighting all around with a pale glow. 

Silver pointed towards it, again forming a circle with its arms. Thea nodded, acknowledging Silver's find. She narrowed her large doe eyes, trying to make out the shapes from within the crystal. As she focused in she could see the shape of two people, and the sound of multiple heartbeats filled her ear. 

She stepped closer towards it, being drawn in like a sailor out at sea hearing the call of a siren. With an outstretched trembling hand she made to touch it. 

'How beautiful,' said Thea, who was completely enchanted by its warm glow; it looked so smooth. 

Before her hand came down upon the crystal its glow ceased, and it came crashing down with great force. Thea stumbled back and watched how it turned from a pale blue glow into a pitch black orb. It cracked right down its centre before it shattered, revealing a grown man wearing scaled armour. His golden hair was long and fell down his broad shoulders. His face was so familiar, and yet so foreign to Thea. She walked nervously towards his still form, ignoring the protest of Silver. His arms were wrapped around the other figure tightly, and his body covered it like a shield.

'Hello?' Thea poked his leg with her boot, afraid he would wake and attack her in a frenzy. When he did not respond the second time she nudged him, she grew the confidence to turn him onto his back. It took great amount of effort for her for his armour was heavy. But when she finally managed to do so his embrace on who he shielded loosened, and his arms slid free. A girl was revealed to Thea, a girl she did not think to see ever again.

'Dracaena.' Thea gasped, and then turned to look at the man in armour. 'Jarin..'

Yes, time is a difficult thing to fathom. If you do not keep track of it, it will steal away while your eyes are turned. And what happens to those who sleep it away? Traveller, you used your time well. And yet, I see that somehow you've lost it.. 

I know your face, traveller. It reminds me of a place that is no longer there, in a time that has long since passed. 

12: We Dreamed
We Dreamed

The waking world is a cruel place, traveller. I have seen so many evils, so many cruelties and injustices. Ah, and I was a coward in my younger years.. How many times I could have stopped things, when instead I chose to stay my hand. I am a guilty person, for I see all the faces of the people I have lost constantly in my dreams.

Do you dream much, traveller? Do you dream of beautiful things? Come tell me everything. What is that face for? Oh, the tale.. Yes, of course..

Jarin dreamed too, you know. All those years he slept by Dracaena's side, he dreamt of wonderful things at first. And because of this, Dracaena dreamt of wonderful things, too. Their minds, at first, were two separate entities that would only meet sometimes. But as they slept it merged, soon enough seeing and feeling everything together.

How I would love to tell you all the beautiful dreams they shared; the adventures they had, and the life they believed they created. But that would take far too long, and the hour is late. 

Soon, Jarin could only remember the promise Dracaena had made to him. How she would destroy all those who opposed them; his foes. After that all he could dream of then were the dragons who spoiled his kingdom. Had they not done so he'd have had a family- possibly his own crown. He would governed a whole kingdom, and beneath his loving and just rule he would lead his people into a golden age.

Those monsters had stolen it from him, and he would never forgive that. He wished with all his might for the remaining years he slept and grew, that when they awoke he would have the power to kill them all. No dragon would remain alive once he was through with them. This thought filled him; consumed his very soul. No kindness toward the creatures yet remained, and in turn these feelings filled Dracaena.

Those were his dreams.. the ones that began to corrupt and taint his soul. His blackened heart held no more room for any clemency. Because of him- because of his hatred, Dracaena had truly turned into a monster. Babette's curse upon her no longer stood a chance and it was broken. Dracaena was freed, only to be prisoner once more to the darkened thoughts which clouded the Prince's mind. 

Shall I tell you now what it was that Dracaena had dreamed of? The past of course, for she could see no future with what the angered prince had given her. She too, had been angry at her children. But she did not very much want them dead, not until Jarin's will became her own.

Dracaena could not hide her memories from Jarin, nor he from her. And he saw how she came to be in that crystalline cage of hers.

It started with the elven queen, after she had saved Dracaena's dragonling they would often meet. They were reserved towards each other, Dracaena more so than Babette. But slowly their conversations began to flow as if they were old friends, which was what they became. I cannot tell you how many years they met for, I've quite forgotten the number. But one day Babette had come to her with news of her father's plan.

'He wishes me to trick the wood elves to let me join them; that I might gain a foothold within their people so that I can find a way to destroy your kind.' Dracaena could only snort at that, lifting her proud snout high in the air and blowing out black smoke as if to say 'I'd very much like to see them try!'

Instead she contested with something like, 'And what will you do? You hold no particular hatred for the dragons, not like your people.' 

'No,' Babette agreed. 'But I was thinking that I still might try to join them. Perhaps their ways might show us how to broker peace between our kind.' 

'Don't be foolish, girl.' Dracaena laughed, a loud rolling sound that boomed throughout the valleys of the mountains.

'It is not foolishness, dragon.' Babette huffed and crossed her arms. 'I'll find a way, you'll see.' 

And find a way Babette did, for soon she had become queen. When she fell pregnant Dracaena had not seen her for quite some time, until she heard a whispering coming from the woodlands as she flew over head. She followed its call, landing in a great meadow. There she found one of her own being held down by a great metal net enhanced by elven magic.

She roared, wishing she could melt them away with her flames. But she knew that would only cause harm to her child.

'Mother!' Cried the captured dragon, 'Flee! It is a trap!' More chains wrapped around his snout and silenced him, appearing seemingly from nowhere.

Dracaena feared no traps, and more importantly her child was in need of her. She bit on the chains yanking on them as hard as she could so she could set him free. As she did so Babette had emerged from the forest, just about ready to burst with Jimena in her belly. 

'Those are unbreakable chains,' Babette told Dracaena. 

'How do you know?' She challenged, giving one final yank. 

'Because it's my magic that holds him.' Dracaena had reeled about quickly, bringing her large snout only mere inches away from Babette. The two glared at each other for some time before the elven queen continued, 'I renounced my father and his people some time ago. To please my husband. I thought I could adopt his ideals, his beliefs. That you might be a god, and that you are something to tremble before.' Dracaena tilted her head in a challenging manner.

'I am,' she said. To which Babette shook her head. 

'You are a mother,' she rubbed her swollen belly, 'Nothing more, as too will I be. I do not wish for my babe to grow living in fear. And both high elves and wood elves live with it. And do you know what they are most fearful of?'

'You.' Shrieked a voice from behind, the chained dragon was bounded no longer. Those great chains that kept him were now over Dracaena. She roared and thrashed about, nearly succeeding in breaking free. When all of a sudden more of children came swooping down below tightening the chains hold on her. Elves came bounding out of the forest, not many; only those who followed Babette and were loyal to her. 

Dracaena looked at all the faces around her, all familiar. Especially one particular golden dragon that stood tall and proud, looking down his nose at her and not moving from Babette's side.

'Why? How?' Was all she could manage.

'I have come to an agreement with the golden dragon,' explained Babette. 'I need you to disappear, in order to free my people of their fear.' Dracaena looked then towards her gleaming gold child.

'And I,' he said in a booming voice, 'No longer wish to be in your shadow. I wish to rule.'

No further explanation was given for none were needed. Somehow Babette was able to harness the power of one hundred of Dracaena's children and add it to her own.

She chanted a curse, and soon Dracaena's form changed into something different. Her scales softened and the sky above slowly became further and further away. She screamed louder than she had before in all her long life. 

The elves around clapped and cheered when she had become human, yelling things at her; towering over her. She saw their faces clearer than she had before, and noticed that one of her life long questions were answered. Which was: No, they do not all look the same.

The dragons laughed as she wobbled, desperately trying to stand. She was far too sluggish and felt no strength in her. 

The golden dragon turned its head away, almost as if it were ashamed to see her in such a state. 

'That will be all you require of us then?' He asked Babette.

'I still need some of your kind to help with the sealing.' She admitted, looking a bit unsteady herself. 

'You will have them then, He nodded to a handful of his kin, 'But I cannot remain for the rest.'  He turned to leave, following the rest of his brethren into the sky. And when he took flight Babette called out once more.

'You will keep your promise, won't you? You'll make sure your kind do not harm my people anymore?' The golden dragon stared at her for a moment too long, as if insulted she would question his integrity. 

'I will keep my promise,' he spoke finally, still flapping in the air. 'And I hope you intend to do the same.' With that he flew off, roaring into the skies, and all the rest of his family roared along with him. 

'Come,' Babette ordered the remainder of her company. 'Let us finish this.'

They stole Dracaena towards a cave, setting her down in its centre. Its entrance hidden behind a curtain of vines, so that no one would easily find it and decide to venture in. The dragons had to squeeze in to it, a difficult task but not impossible. 

Dracaena laid naked, she had felt no shame before then. Only in a human body did she experience that wretched feeling. An elf came forward with clothes made for a jester.

'A joke, just like your reign.' He said, and shoved her into it to humiliate her further. 

'What wrong have I done you?' Dracaena looked to Babette, and pained expression fell over the queen's face. 

She began her chant, offering no words to Dracaena. This enraged the once great dragon, and in a final effort of her fury she unleashed the last of the strength allowed to her. She screamed once more, and her fire burned. The elves ran as did her children. They scattered towards the only exit there was, only to have their flesh seer away. The only remains left of them were their bones. 

Dracaena had made sure not to touch the elf queen, she wanted to see the pain in her eyes when she saw her kin fall. And most importantly she wanted her alive so that she may live to rue the day she had ever turned against Dracaena; so that she could watch all she loved die beneath her wings.

Instead, through Dracaena's hazy vision she saw Babette kneeling over her. Tears filled her eyes, pain- just as Dracaena wished- pity. But not for her fallen, they were for Dracaena. With no more strength left to defy the elf's magic, Babette had no need to draw power from others.

'The blood of kings will be needed to break you free. And no king will let loose a monster.' She explained, 'I am sorry.'

And with that she chanted her spell, a great clear orb of light began to surround Dracaena. By and by, her eyes fluttered as a great sleep came upon her. She refused to shut her eyes as the orb crystallized and hardened. There, Dracaena stayed for quite sometime. She dreamt sometimes, that Babette would come to visit her in that very cave. The queen would stand and stare at her and place her hand to the crystal. Sometimes she could hear her sing.

But one day the dreams she had of Babette ceased, and all she saw then was darkness. The emotional wounds inflicted on her still fresh, until she woke to see the face of a boy. A boy with a golden head, as golden as her very first child.

Jarin had seen her past, and he shared with her his many times after. In a way they grew to love one another, finding comfort in sharing their pain. 

'I will avenge your honour,' Jarin promised her in a dream. 

'And I yours,' Dracaena said, offering him a gift of her scales to shield him. 

****

Thea sat with the lost prince and the dragon all through the night, not wishing to leave their side. She had no idea how she would carry them, but luck was with her always as soon as she befriended a pixie. 

Silver had taken them all to the world of pixies, and when they were taken back they were in the field of tall grass where Thea had met with Silver that night. The horse stood in the same place Thea had left it.

'Oh, thank you, Silver!' Thea clapped her hands together with glee. She had some trouble laying them both atop the horse, and she knew she had quite a bit to walk. But it was better than lugging them from the cavern all the way there. 

Silver looked at its nails as if what it had just done was nothing to grandeur. Thea began to walk and as she did called over her shoulder to her friend. 

'You know,' said Thea, 'I believe your home is a dream. For there is nothing as beautiful in this world as there is in yours.' Silver merely gestured to its stomach, reminding Thea that she carried something beautiful in her as well. 

Dreams affect us in our waking life, I think. We may wake up frightened by out nightmares, angered by others. But I think our lives affect our dreams as well. I lost something precious to me long ago, traveller. And I've dreamt of it to this day..

Were you not in search of something precious as well? Did you dream of it this whole time?