Magda escaped the court and walked feverishly down the huge hallways of Castle Leueysianna. She let the cool air calm her temper. She knew she would pay for her exit later, as her father would reprimand her for her rudeness, but for now she would enjoy this small time of freedom. She slowed her travel along the vast hallways of the castle that she loved, letting her fingertips trail along the old walls as she negotiated her way to the ancient kitchen. Ome greeted Magda with a smile and nod toward the food, as she was entirely too busy and preoccupied to take time to give personal attention. Magda did not mind, as it was one of the qualities she loved in Ome.
Ome was a large woman. Her capable hands were on her ample hips, which meant she was angry. Her substantial breasts heaved as she commanded her army of cooks and servants. She yelled, waved her arms, grabbed food, placed it on trays, smacked lazy servants and praised energetic ones. Her long brown hair was wound into a haphazard bun from which wispy strays escaped. Her brown eyes blazed and calmed as the need arose, but Ome was fair. Those who worked under her received what they deserved or earned. Magda did not disturb Ome, and she served herself from the large array of delectable foods laid out in the kitchen.
Magda chose freshly baked bread in small round loaves with cinnamon and raisins, butter and cheese in small wedges, several pieces of fresh fruit, and finally a pitcher of water. Magda escaped the kitchen and headed toward her room, which was at the top of the castle. As she passed each window, the dark night drew her attention. The velvet black was generously strewn with sparkling stars. Her country was certainly beautiful this evening, she thought. Why would the Bordokian think they needed jewels when the stars in Suntorna shined down in unparalleled beauty on her legendary country.
Dragons, thought Magda as she drew the night air in through her nostrils. She hoped they were not beasts which survived only as stories told to children as incentive to obey their parents. Now the subject of dragons was often as the object of fear and the subject of nightmares. Magda’s lonely heart longed for the romantic tales of old. She knew those times possibly never occurred, but she loved the old stories. There was always some truth in legend…or so she felt and hoped.
According to the legends and stories, the vastness of the halls and rooms were necessary for the use by dragons, even if the legends were supposedly untrue, the design of the castle was certainly unique. Lueysianna‘s distinctive design attended to the needs of the many inhabitants and visitors. There was not another castle, which had the machinations and innovations of Lueysianna. If the stories were true that the dragons were large in size, then they must have been intelligent of mind as well.
Lueysianna overlooked the kingdom on a rise at the elbow of the river Se, which in the old tongue meant “heart”. An enormous rock outcropping divided the river just before it circled around the castle. The two branches of the river each traversed an opposite side of the castle, and rejoined after passing. The river’s route created a natural oval shaped moat and the moat made accessibility almost impossible to outsiders. The outer wall of the castle was in five concave sections with each section meeting the next at a point, which was at the bank of the upper or lower river. Large wooden gates, one at each of the five points of the outer wall, were let down to allow travelers to cross the river and enter the courtyard. Guards manned the mechanics of the portcullis and stood watch at each point of the joining sections, so they could see down the length of both adjoining walls without obstruction, which the concave design allowed. The sections met and touched the river at five points, three on the northern side and two on the southern. From a bird’s eye view, the river looked like a dragon’s eye, as the courtyard walls created the iris. The castle, constructed of grey-black stone, looked as if it comprised the pupil of the eye.
The castle was a sprawling edifice with different heights, levels, and towers. The tallest tower on the east side, in which Magda and her mother’s living quarters were housed, was in the old part of the castle. The Red Tower, named for reasons unknown was a solitary residence, and no one ventured to the tower unless blackmailed. It was rumored to be haunted…a rumor furthered by Magda to keep people from snooping, she thought smiling. It was also extremely tall and required a long climb to attain the top, but from the top the scenery was amazing. The unobstructed view of the river, plain, and forested mountains was a favorite of Magda’s.
Dorgan surreptitiously watched as Magda leaned out the window of the hallway. He saw her smile, and could tell her mind was deep in thought. He wondered why she had taken offense at his question, but he also followed her from interest. He wanted to find common ground to engender her to trust him. That would require observation, and to Dorgan the opportunity was a pleasant one.
Magda looked out the window and saw the Se river, and knew it originated from an opening in the mountain that loomed on the horizon, and that by the time the water traveled down the mountain picking up speed, it was a swift and churning river. The water was clear and sustained the entire region, and although Suntorna experienced the passing of seasons, the river did not freeze in the winter. If the water were ever to freeze into a solid expanse, enemies could utilize it to get close and attack the castle, but that had never happened. The temperature changes were beneficial for the castle’s inhabitants, because the water was cleverly routed throughout the castle. By an ingenious system, the water made its way through the kitchens, springing forth from a huge round fountain which provided water utilized for food preparation or cleaning; traversing through the stables so the horses had a ready supply of clear water in stone troughs which never emptied, nor overflowed; and supplying the bathing rooms. There were bathing rooms strategically placed throughout the castle and each one contained a gradually deepening stone pit with an entrance and exit for the water. As a person cleansed, the old water washed away and continually replenished with new. In the winter, the water was comfortably warm, and in the summer, the water was often refreshingly cold. The most unusual feature was the fall rooms, which were lofty rooms from which the water fell from an opening in the roof and exited through a drain in the floor. The water flowed continuously in these rooms, and a person could stand under the waterfall while bathing. The overly tall height of the fall rooms reinforced Magda’s belief that their construction was originally to accommodate dragons.
Magda gathered her things from the window ledge and continued toward her room. She passed several fall rooms on the way and Magda preferred the fall rooms, when unoccupied. Public bathing was common in the castle and even though it was a common practice, she did not like to bathe in a room with other people present. The bathing facility in her tower room was one reason why Magda begged for the use of her quarters. Magda’s room was at the top of the Red tower and her mother’s room was located directly below. Magda counted the steps as she climbed. At the top of the tower, there was a large circular room and an adjoining fall room. It was certainly a mystery how the water climbed to the top of the tower, fell in the fall room and passed through the ornately carved drain in the floor, but it was also a wonderful convenience for Magda. Magda’s tower room was a beautiful refuge, because it was distant from the rest of the castle.
Magda loved the round and spacious room, because it was at the top of the winding steps, and gloriously carved in dragons. There were dragons around the fireplace, around the windows, and on the ceiling. There were small, large, old and even baby dragons. The border of the floor of the room was etched in dragons, and the carvings of the room held intricate detail. The room was also constructed on the same overly large scale as the rest of the castle, and with little imagination Magda could believe a dragon lived there in the past. The beauty of the room was truly remarkable, but for Magda the privacy was the most beneficial attribute. The stone of the castle was dark which made Magda’s room peacefully pleasing.
Dorgan stealthily followed Magda to the top of the tower. He chuckled to himself as he descended the steps. The Suntornan people mistakenly told stories that the large scale of the rooms was to accommodate the dragons’ size, but in reality the tower where Magda slept was the resting place of the original Watcher of Suntorna! Magda did not know about the history of her sleeping place, but Dorgan doubted it would cause such a romantic minded woman to appreciate the room any more.
In a previous visit, Dorgan had inspected the room for clues to help him solve a riddle that his King had commissioned him. He knew that in the evening when the great stone fireplace lit the room with flickering light, the dragon carvings seemed to move on their own. He thought the room rather beautiful and appealing, but he knew that the people of Suntorna though the room haunted. Dorgan would return to the room to continue his search, but for now he needed to talk to the other men of his party.
Magda the young woman, or Sol the king’s old spy…or both?
She looked around the room which was the “Red Tower”, rumored to be haunted with dragons, and spoken about in hushed tones. It was actually peacefully isolated to her. Few people ever used the tower rooms, which served Magda’s “vocation” perfectly. Magda existed in two identities. She was Magda, Essen’s daughter, but she was also “Sol”, supplier of information to the king. Through some malfunction, Magda did not sleep….ever. All the hours others slept, Magda practiced. She knew languages, mathematics, weaponry, and how to use them all to her advantage. She also learned disguise. A small plant that secreted a gel dried on Magda’s face, causing it to wrinkle. A little soot, dirt, and ground herbs gave her an aged appearance, and male clothing completed her disguise as “Sol”. The king knew Sol as an older man who brought information from missions. The information helped the king make decisions. Mara helped Magda keep her identity secret. The tower room was the perfect place for her existence in two worlds.
Mara laughed as Magda relayed the pursuit of Saygard and Aggles.
“I know I should have hid somewhere else, and launching myself out the window was probably not the smartest move to make. They were so close coming up the stairs, I did not have time to remove this clothing or face paint.” Magda said. She told Mara that the two men talked so loud the whole time, that she could clearly hear them discuss what they had, or rather had not found. Stealth was not an attribute they exhibited. Magda mimicked each man’s stance and voice as she relayed the pursuit.
“Looks like the room’s empty to me,” said Saygard.
She was warned of Saygard’s approach by his raspy breathing, long before he ever came into view up the tower steps. She leaned heavily against the stone walls, acting like the tall guard . He rested as he tried in vain to catch his breath while he waited for Aggles. Soon Magda could hear the agonized gasping of Aggles, the other guard. Where Saygard was tall, Aggles was short and round. His clothing was always fastidious, but it was also always tight. His breathing was more than gasping, and made a loud moaning sound as he pulled reluctant air into his lungs. When he forced it out, it end in high pitched wheezing.
After a long time…an exceedingly long time…the two men were able to speak in breathless sentences, “There’s not a man here….again! Why does that stupid woman…have us climbing to the top… of this wretched tower?” Aggles whined between gasps. The two men roamed around the room looking for something to take back to Ailsa, then they tried the risky dance on the rotunda before finally giving up.
“There has got to be a secret exit in this tower.” Saygard said vehemently. However, Aggles was not listening. His fat head was tilted up causing rolls to gather on the back of his neck, as he looked at the carvings all around the room. His eyes were large and his distended stomach jutted, while he stood with his hands on his lower back…similar to an advanced pregnant woman’s stance. When Magda imitated him, Mara had to use the blanket to wipe the tears from her eyes because she laughed so hard.
“Dragons!” he breathed reverently. “Just look at all them dragons,” he said as he pointed to all the carvings in the room. Mara looked at the ceiling , which seemed to undulate with dragons in the firelight from the great stone fireplace. Carvings circled the room on all the stone walls…large dragons, small dragons, dragons in flight. Each dragon had tiny stones in the eyes and in the firelight they probably seemed to look down on the two men, shifting and moving as the men moved. Magda told Mara that Aggles shivered as he probably remembered all the myths and legends told to him as a child. They were stories told to keep children in at night, and to scare them around campfires. “She lives with dragons everywhere. No wonder she’s so strange. There’s something weird about her and this room, Saygard. I don’t like it. I’m gettin’ out of here,” Aggles said determinedly as he thrust his rotund form through the door and stumbled on the top step, nearly plummeting head first. He regained his footing with a curse and grunt, and hurriedly descended the stairs.
Magda knew the “fat witch” as Ailsa, a malicious woman in the castle. “Send me up here with a superstitious idiot like Aggles,” Saygard had muttered as he followed. “No one has to scare him…he can do it to himself.” Magda saw that just as he was even with the stone doorframe, he turned and looked out the window. She knew that he considered the window as a hiding place one more time, but his false bravery gave way. The pent up superstition about dragons, and the ingrained fear of them, moved him toward the staircase, forcefully thrusting him through the door as if a strong arm shoved him between the shoulder blades.
Mara watched as Magda drifted into silence, her eyes on the window. Magda was remembering the beautiful sunrise and the guests. She was combing her fingers through her long red-brown strands, coaxing out the tangles, when she saw the group of riders enter the gates of the courtyard. “Mara, the miners were here. I saw the Bordokians. Not many people know anything about them except they mine jewels from the bowels of the mountains. Although, I did overhear someone say that the “alliance” custom does not exist there!”
Magda lived in constant worry about her alliance time. She remembered watching the travel dusted horses when the rider with dark hair looked up, just as his horse entered the gates. The wind blew his hair and the deep brown of his eyes met her clear green ones. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart jumped, but she held his eyes with a steady strength. He grinned and his teeth flashed white as it turned into a smile. His eyes were deep and thoughtful, and they remained in her mind for a long while.
“Have you heard anything about the Bordokians?” Magda asked Mara.
Mara continued to work around the room as she said, “Well the castle rumors endow the miners with Irini attributes. Some of them descend from the original Watchers, and the rumors are many and varied. Some say the miners live longer lives than everyone else, they are stronger or faster, and some even say….better lovers!” Mara said with a smile and a wink, “but all agree that they are different. You know nothing would make the king happier than to arrange an alliance with Bordok.”
Magda considered the information as she readied for the fall room…a long time under those healing warm waters was just what she needed. She removed her boy’s clothing, and stashed it in the false bottom of a bench beside the fireplace. Mara would clean it or patch it as soon as she had opportunity. Magda should have had the traditional “cassone” in her room. It was a chest that propective brides filled with things for her marriage. It was customarily decorated with flowers, ribbons, and birds. Magda disdained the custom. She knew that marriage was imprisoning, and nothing like flowers. She had watched several marriages over the years, and none were happy. She used the bench’s false compartment as a storage chest for her leather braes and tunic. She loved the freedom the clothing gave her, and she considered it unfair for men to be the only ones who wore such clothing. Magda grabbed up a linen cloth, breathed deep of the scent of her last sliver of soap, and made a mental note to acquire more.
As she lathered her hair, she thought that while she was acquiring supplies, she would use some of the coins from her pouch to contract some new clothing. Her father was never going to realize she needed things, and frankly she was tired of waiting for him to notice. She needed shoes, as hers were worn and frayed. She also could use some new undergarments, as well as a serviceable dress…or two…and possibly boots.
Magda was tired of depending on anyone. No one noticed when she needed something. No one noticed her, most of the time, and most of the time that was just what she wanted. Her newly acquired coin source might be questioned, but she could usually get around the interrogator.
The Red Tower’s graceful silhouette was illuminated gold as the sun began its journey beneath the horizon. The generously built edifice was large, and yet graceful in its position of prominence at the top of Lueysianna. The high peaked tower roof sloped down with a slight curve to its lines, to hang over and cover the generous rotunda. Ancient stones of interesting sizes and shapes outlined the exceptionally large windows.
The rider entering the castle walls was watching the walkway at the top of the tower. He observed the figures that seemed to be executing a complicated dance on the suspended walkway. One figure in brown moved swiftly and constantly, to remain on the opposite side of the tower from two other figures. It seemed almost like a child’s game of hide and seek, but for some reason he felt it a more serious moment. He pulled on the reins to pause in his entrance to the castle, and the horse stomped impatiently at the interruption in his travel toward the water that his flaring nostrils could smell.
Saygard the tall, and Aggles the round, two guards of Lueysianna, were unsuccessfully trying to keep up with the figure. The two guards constantly attempted to move into a position to catch a glimpse of the elusive dancer on the walkway, only to be left with suspicions that the high walkway was empty.
Dorgan chuckled because the two figures did not move as spritely as the lone one. They held on with both hands, kept their legs splayed for support, because both were obviously uncomfortable with the height. Finally, in accepted defeat, the two guards climbed through the window, mumbling and grumbling all the while, having not seen anyone even once. The Bordokian continued to consider the movement of the lone figure remaining on the walkway.
As his approach moved him in better visual range, he realized the lone person was female. Although she was in a man’s clothing, she peaked his interest and he straightened in his saddle. Unaware of her observer, she stood leaning on the carved railing of the rotunda and gazed out over Castle Lueysianna’s walls, beyond the swift and sparkling river Se, past the vast plain of the golden colored Suntessan flower, to the deep green forested mountains of Bordok. The sunlight cast a burnished glow on her slim figure and her hair flamed red in the light, as her clear green eyes seemed to search the horizon for….something. Dorgan saw her reach up and loose her hair to the wind, which caught the strands and pulled at the long tangled curls. The currents and eddies of the wind teased the locks, giving the tresses a life of their own.
“A good conquest for a good cause,” thought Dorgan, “and one hopefully that would be accomplished within just a few days.” His eyebrows lowered as he thought of the intricate paths he must navigate to the ending of his mission…but he had no doubt he would accomplish his goal. He turned and glanced at Marek, one of his fellow warriors. Marek’s eyes were also fixed on the figure with the fiery hair. Dorgan waited, and when Marek’s eyes met his, he shook his head “no”. One eyebrow raised in question met his gaze. Dorgan did not answer.
Magda lifted her face to the sky, closed her eyes, and breathed deep the fresh breeze, as she savored this moment of solitude and freedom. She hugged the freedom to her heart. Feedom was a precious commodity to her sixteen years, even though she was considered to be a free citizen of Suntorna.
“What are your plans today?” asked Mara, her surrogate mother, who helped Magda navigate the intricacies of her life.
“Well, first I must scrub this sweat and grime away; relay information to the king, or rather “Sol” will; and then I will commission some clothing with my new coin,” Magda said with a smile and jingle of a small leather bag. “Then, I will have spent the last day, before my last year of freedom of alliance. One more year. I face so many things as Sol, but the thought of the end of next year is so much worse. You are so fortunate not to be under the alliance rule…sorry, I did not mean that, I meant…” Magda trailed off as she saw the pain in friend’s eyes. Mara was widowed and thus was free of the alliance custom. Females of Suntorna did not enjoy real freedom, unless it was bestowed upon them by their husbands…or if they were like Magda, by their fathers.
“It is all right,” Mara said, “I know your heart.” Mara’s heart was that of a mother, even if a surrogate one, to Magda. Essen, Magda’s father, was a minor adviser to the king. Through manipulations, spying, feeding true and false information, and even more dire methods, he maintained his position. Magda was key to keeping his position. From her early years, Essen forced Magda to spy, sneak, and listen for information he could use. If she successfully brought him useable information, she earned freedom from his abuse. If she did not, well, Mara knew Essen as a cruel, cruel man. Essen did not confer moments of freedom to Magda, because to grant such privilege would entail actually thinking about Magda…and Essen did not give Magda a thought outside of what use he could make of her.
“You have to return to the castle earlier next time. Those guards must have seen you enter the castle,” Mara said concernedly.
“No,” Magda said as she shook her head, “They were waiting for me…expecting me. Ailsa. She is always behind those two bumbling idiots! Gladly she does not know it is me. She thinks it is “Sol” coming up to my room. Those two guards have burst into my room on so many occasions, thinking to find me with a man.” Magda turned to Mara with a smile, “If she only knew we were the same?”
The Bordokian stood beneath the stone entryway to the famed castle of Suntorna. He raised an eyebrow; he was not impressed. He knew the legends and myths of the “people of the beast”, as any good warrior knew his enemy. He knew more about Suntornan history than the inhabitants of the stronghold city of Lueyessiana, but he also knew that the people of Suntorna had forgotten their heritage. In the last three hundred years since the last Stoneseer, they had veered from their true purpose. They were no longer a people of the dragon. Suntornans now believed dragons were mere legend and myths told to children to make them obey their parents, but the Bordokian knew a different story.
Dorgan knew that since the time of the Watchers, a time when those who had brought the knowledge down from the heavens to the peoples of Earth,there had been a kingdom of Suntorna. The original king of Suntorna was the Watcher, Arqiel, that mixed his blood with that of a mortal woman. Aras was the first born. Although Dorgan was a big man, he was nothing compared to the Watcher’s first progeny, who were the giants of legend. Greater size, speed, physical prowess, and intelligence were the inherited traits of the Watcher’s line, called the Irini. Each Watcher brought different skills from the heavens down to man, and Arqiel brought the knowledge of the conquest of beasts. All Bordokians learned their Irini history when they were at their mother’s knee. Dorgan knew the mighty Arqiel created the dragons, which is why he scorned the Suntornan’s ignorance.
The name “Suntorna” was at one time synonymous with “Dragon”; a kingdom that embodies excellence, power, and wisdom. Dorgan sneered as he thought of the current king of Suntorna. Darmen was a weak and soft monarch who was too easily satisfied with courtier flattery to be worthy of the current peace status of his kingdom. Peace is truly appreciated only when the cost of obtaining it is high. King Darmen worried about impressing and mollifying his courtiers, and did not seem to notice that his people were suffering. When the people of a kingdom suffered under an uncaring monarch, they became an easy target for conquer…or revolution.
Dorgan turned in the saddle and looked away from the castle. The river Se glistened in the late afternoon light, and onward the gold plains of Suntessa were a feast for the eyes. The Suntessan plain surrounding the castle was the only source known for the small yellow flower whose medicinal properties were great. Although Bordok mined jewels, they traded for the flower.
Dorgan urged his horse toward home, and knew an anticipation in seeing the mountains of Bordok. Dorgan’s blood was tied to Bordok, he was Irini. His ancestor was Samayaza, the leader of the Watchers. When Samayaza descended from the heavens, the first female he saw was Iroori, a woman renowned for beauty and intelligence. Samayaza took Iroori for his wife, and their offspring were the makings of legends. Each generation produced men of renown, women of great intelligence, and both were equally feared as fierce warriors. Their innate ability to prevail was due to their superior bloodlines, that of immortal and mortal. Their longevity of life, love, and heart was due to their innate stubbornness. The stories of their lives were bound into the very fabric of Bordok, and passed to all in the line of the heirs of Samayaza, Captain of the Watchers.
Dorgan’s mission was twofold. Suntorna and Bordok were created through the clash of Samayaza and Arqiel. It was only a matter of time before two great immortals, with even greater egos, clashed. When they parted company, they divided the people. Suntorna followed Arqiel and Bordok followed Samayaza. Like most great friendships, there is great passion. Passion can easily move over the line of love to hate. The feud between the two great beings fueled wars for many generations.
Dorgan stretched his shoulders as he rode home. He was tired of traveling. Tired of being away from his home, and tired of carrying the burden that his bloodline put upon him. As Irini, he would serve his kingdom. It was his duty; but he would also serve himself. Dorgan’s mission was to seek information, but he also wanted to find something. Today, he had found the key, and surprising it was a woman. Just like the great Irini whose might moved entire civilizations, Dorgan knew nothing would stand in the way of his goal.
Magda moved among the people in the great hall. She could hear snippets of conversation about the visits. The topics centered around jewels and warriors. King Darmen of Suntorna did not hold an alliance with Bordok, and it was no secret that one was preferred. Rulers sought alliance with Bordok because of the famed skills of the warriors of that country. Bordokians were often hired as protectors, mercenaries, some even said assassins. Bordok’s value was twofold, because along with acclaimed warriors, the country also possessed rare and precious jewels. The jewels lay in the mines of the mountains that surrounded Bordok; the same ones that Magda saw from her window.
In preparation for the visit, Essen directed Magda to spend time in the great library. There she gleaned the information that the miners were a sect that commanded privilege and power. The skills and knowledge of a miner passed down through generations from the Captain of the Watchers, Semayaza. He who taught them about the secrets of the bowels of the mountains. The miners guarded the secret locations of veins of precious metals and caches of rare gems with their lives. The lives of miners were often fraught with dangers from within the mines, and within the political arena of their country. By tradition, twelve miners held positions on the king’s council. Bordok’s matronymical society traced inheritance through the mother’s line, instead of through the father’s.
As she read, Magda smirked because she knew that a woman’s bloodline assured that the line of inheritance could be validated. A husband could be tricked into unknowingly raising a bastard, but one duty of the Bordokian midwife was to physically witness the child’s birth and substantiate the child’s lineage in report to the king. Although the bloodline was traced through the mother, only a man could represent a mining family on the council. In Bordokian society, the miners held position just below the king.
The matronymical society was a contradiction, because all women wanted the Irini bloodline for their offspring. Magda could imagine the women scheming for access to Bordokians with particular bloodlines. The lines of the Irini were coveted, and many women scrabbled for the opportunity to bear a child of the Watcher’s bloodline, but only a few of the mining bloodlines boasted true undiluted veins of Irini blood. The manuscripts did not entail the various characteristics that the Irini blood imparted, but Magda knew from the castle gossip that the Irini blood was special. One entry discussed attributes in that the Irini were larger, faster, more powerful, and lived longer than those without the blood. Magda considered the Bordokian she saw enter the castle. He was larger than Suntornans. She wondered what other traits the Irini blood carried.
She shrugged and kept reading. The manuscript said each of the twelve large mining families maintained a position on the king’s council. The mining families held great influence over the decisions the king made for Bordok. The families were political cartels that commanded respect and power. They often quietly fought with one another for the king’s ear, assassinated their rivals, and even though they warred with one another, they always combined to war against another country. Magda knew that King Darmen recognized that Bordok was a fierce and merciless enemy, which was the fuel behind his search for a covenant with Bordok. An alliance with Bordok was preferred to the possibility of a future transgression…it was, in essence, the lesser of two evils.
Magda continued toward the great hall, but her mind was occupied with the Bordokian history. The rider was of the miners and she wondered which of the twelve family branches claimed his allegiance. She also wondered if they truly carried the Selfana. The mountains of Bordok were the only source of several rare gemstones. The rarest of all, the Selfana, had been successfully mined only a few times in history and many stories were told about its beauty. The pale sky-blue stone produced much admiration…and greed. The legend was that Semayaza brought the stone with him to seed mortal soil…but of course that was legend.
Rumors abounded that the Bordokians carried a Selfana with them for King Darmen to view. Magda wondered why King Darmen would view the Selfana, as he was unable to acquire it. As a stone with holy connections, the people of Bordok would not allow it to be taken away from them. The manuscripts indicated that the Selfana was a holy relic within Bordok. The history listed all those that protected and lost their lives to keep the stone within Bodokian borders. She shrugged her shoulders, because it was silly to think such a valuable relic could be here within the castle walls.
Magda arrived at the entrance to the great hall and slipped unobtrusively behind a group of people as they entered the hall. She did not like to garner attention, and her mind was still on the Selfana. She knew that the rumor of the jewel had the town seething with anticipation, which also meant thieves were sliding along the underbelly of the kingdom. Her father would expect information from this gathering and she hastened her step. The informal convergence of visitors and inhabitants of the castle, namely the courtiers, occurred before the supper meal. Although Magda detested the gossip produced by the courtiers, she attended because the gathering produced much of the information Magda assembled for her father.
Magda’s stomach lurched as she realized that it was almost time for the customary Frealyn. It was an ancient custom that played upon the inferiority of the female within Suntorna, and one that Magda abhorred. When the supper horn sounded, each man would extend his arm to a woman of his choice, and the couples would proceed into the great dining hall. The evening meal was a “free” time, in that it was not expected that husbands would choose their wives for partnership for the meal.
Each man’s position within Suntornan society was reflected at the dining tables. The highest esteemed people ate closest to the king. Magda knew that political waters were discerned by watching the pairing of the procession in preparation of entering the great dining hall. She hated the custom because men could delegate the women to whatever status they wished. All balanced on the pleasure of the male, and bribes passed hands so lessons were taught to errant wives. As she observed the jostling of position, Magda did not realize she was the focus of several male eyes.
A delicate dance of strategy occurred during the time of pairing. The choice of a man of high social standing could temporarily lift a woman’s standing, or a husband could publicly punish a wife by allowing her to be chosen by someone of lower standing. Those left without escorts were relegated to the lowest seating arrangements in the hall, and thus the lowest level on the societal ladder…Magda was always on the low end and she knew this occasion would be no different. Magda kept her eyes averted, so no man would have the occasion or excuse to approach her, but she felt all attention turn toward the great hall doors. Kanna, the king’s last unallianced daughter, entered the great hall.
The occasion for the Bordokians’ visit coincided with the prospective alliance of Kanna, princess of Suntorna. King Darmen commissioned jewels from Bordok for the alliance piece, which became the earnest of the covenant drafted between the two countries. Kanna, the youngest daughter of the royal couple, was the last of the king’s five daughters to be allianced. The other four all had allianced well, enabling good connections to the surrounding countries of Suntorna. Magda felt the anticipation within the room rise, as Kanna lingered in the great stone doorway…she knew how to make an entrance!
Magda thought how the focus of the negotiations for Kanna’s alliance was to secure Suntorna’s position as a center country with alliance covenants on all sides. Since King Darmen had not sired a son, the inheritance of his position was a complicated matter that required extensive research. Darmen also did not have a grandson, because thus far there had only been granddaughters born. Since Suntorna did not consider women as first class citizens, they also could not inherit. It was rumored that the Jeralai, the hermit historians, were being consulted on the legality of succession. The one thing that Darmen would avoid was the appearance of the availability of the throne for the taking.
The line of succession could fall from Darmen’s family. The line could not fall to a woman, so an alliance to a king or prince, who could possibly father a son, meant that someone other than Suntornan could possibly sit on the throne. Other countries obviously had figured this possible advantage and the attendance of possible suitors to Kanna was great. To Dorgan, this was an interesting turn of events and he was eager to send word back to Bordok.
Magda knew that Kanna always had several men who extended their arms for the dinner procession, and the princess sometimes disdained all offers in violation of the traditions moving to the head of the dining hall on her own. Lately, with the negotiations occurring, the scramble for her arm had become particularly fierce…there had even been some pushing and shoving at the last dinner Magda attended. Tonight Kanna did not disappoint those viewing her in the public arena. Her jeweled and golden hair was attractively piled into an artistic disarray, her voluptuous figure clothed in a suntessan gold cloth that swished as she moved about the room displaying more of her attributes than covering, and her eyes boldly roved the figures of the Bordokians. Magda smirked in her estimation of the “winner” of the negotiation of alliance with Kanna.
Magda chuckled at the thought that Bordok might choose to become involved in the negotiations to alliance a member of royalty with Kanna. Her indiscretions were legend in Suntorna and everyone had strict instructions not to speak of them. Magda knew that the winner of the alliance was in for a surprise. Kanna’s conspicuous attractiveness hid her extremely high value in the currency of trouble, but it seemed that Bordok was also on her mind as the princess walked brashly toward the miners without waiting for the traditional introduction. Magda saw the one with dark curly hair and blue eyes return Kanna’s smile. Sorry, thought Magda, Kanna does not like easy conquests. Just as she expected, Kanna veered away from the open smile and began to focus her flirtations on the brown haired miner, Dorgan, leaning forward and brushing against him.
Dorgan did not respond with more than a cursory nod of courtesy in Kanna’s direction and she soon tired of the hunt. She turned and directed her attention to a different group of possible suitors, leaving with a disdainful toss of her head. Magda knew that Kanna had not given up. Kanna was intelligent in the art of getting what she wanted.
Magda wondered about the price that the alliance piece would command for one such as Kanna. Kanna, although beautiful and a member of royalty, should normally command a high price in negotiations, but unknown to the Bordokians, Kanna was born without a sense of remorse or trepidation for consequences. If Kanna liked someone, Kanna pursued; if Kanna did not like someone, she publicly disdained. She did not worry about political repercussions and King Darmen often fumed at her inability to understand politics. It was not that she did not understand, rather it was that she did not care. Kanna’s empty smile hid an intelligence better spent in spying out a forbidden pleasure, and then manipulating everyone so she could attain it.
Magda was grateful that she had managed to remain below Kanna’s notice. She avoided Kanna’s gaze and hoped she did not fall under Kanna’s focus. Kanna’s deviousness knew no boundaries. She would often devote herself to charm a person, win their heart, and then cruelly leave them in the wake of her destructive power. Sometimes Kanna would focus on a woman of the kingdom, and her cruelty knew no bounds. There were even some who disappeared after angering the princess. The potential for a “Kanna-tastrophe,” as the kingdom called her many indiscretions, caused King Darmen to prefer to negotiate an alliance by correspondence. The idea was to keep Kanna from seeing the suitor, or suitor seeing her, until the alliance day.
It was horrifying that the long enemies of Bordok, could possibly have a chance as a suitor. The “peace” between the two countries was new and precarious. The prince of Bordok was a thirteen year old heir to the throne, and also of the Irini line. Magda was sure that Kanna thought she could control the young man, while she sought after others. Kanna would probably pursue the object least favored by her father…Bordok.
Magda’s gaze swept over the great hall and she breathed deep with a sense of pride at the richness of the room. Suntorna was rich in many things, and Magda thought history was the most valuable. Although Bordok was a coveted jewel for alliance, Suntorna held high value as well. Alliance agreements were ancient, steeped in traditions and sometimes blood. Magda knew that the true focus of the agreements would not be Kanna, or any wife. The focus was the benefit garnered by the two bargaining parties. It was a practice never questioned…unless you were the alliance piece, thought Magda with a frown. Fathers could offer daughters as incentive in negotiations to a person of nobility, to a farmer, a guilds member, or just a neighbor. The incentive was to enter into an alliance, or covenant, that would place the two families together in cooperation with one another. If the family was fortunate enough to have an attractive daughter, then the bargaining had more energy. If the family was unfortunate enough to have an intelligent daughter, then the negotiations often were hindered. Daughters were taught to behave as if they were unintelligent to enhance negotiations. Although the process was not called slavery, especially by men, it was in effect the same thing. It was a position that Magda did not intend to occupy.
Magda knew that if the family were wealthy, an alliance jewelry piece was commissioned to solidify the agreement. The alliance piece traveled with the prospective bride, and became the property of the husband, as did the wife. Magda had lately heard that Bordok did not hold the same custom about alliance. It was said, although disbelievingly, that Bordokian women were valued as contributing members of society and they actually had a say in who was chosen for their alliance! It was an idea that was almost laughable to Suntornans, but in her heart Magda hoped that somewhere it was true. The thought gave her hope that she might be able to escape the custom.
Secretly, Magda thought the poor of Suntorna were more fortunate in the marriage custom than the privileged. The alliance “privilege” was not for everyone, because families that suffered lower economic status did not have the wealth to contract alliances. Their children chose mates for passion or love. Of course, the nobility looked down their noses at the act of marrying for love, comparing it to an animal driven by estrus. Noble women, ignorant women thought Magda, often would brag about their alliance cost. The same ignorant women felt that their sense of worth came from the value of their alliance. Thus, marrying for passion or love was an action of the peasants, and openly ridiculed. The practice of taking mistresses and lovers was common, because love was not a part of the marriage process. Magda unknowingly crinkled her brow as she considered whether Bordokian women were allowed to choose for economic status or…attraction?
Magda stood quiet against the wall, as she waited for the announcement of the Fraelyn. As the courtiers milled around, Magda kept her face passive, because she knew if she looked sad, the courtiers gossiped; if she looked happy, the courtiers gossiped nastily; and if she showed no emotion, the courtiers made up the gossip. Today, they would have to expend their energies to construct the gossip as Magda kept her face expressionless, while she surreptitiously observed the various men standing with the jewel holder of Bordok.
They did not look like miners, Magda thought. They looked more like warriors, and well-seasoned warriors at that. Magda observed, without appearing to do so. She moved around the room, but kept her senses trained on the Bordokians. The great court hall was long and had two rows of gigantically proportioned wood columns down the length, which were polished and darkened with age. The columns held carved and fantastic figures of dragons that wound round each pillar from the bottom to the top, where they connected to the massive carved beams that supported the ceiling. The ceiling of the court arched in a graceful curve, and a great carved dragon was suspended on a huge, age darkened chain. The scales of the dragon seemed to ripple and move when light played across its surface, and the outspread wings spanned the entire width of the cavernous room. With wings fully outstretched, the dragon seemed to be hovering protectively over the royal dais.
The throne was singular, as the queen did not sit in ceremony with the king. King Darmen, a man of unquestionable authority, stood near the dais, not quite ready to sit in the ceremony of welcome. His tall straight figure was unbent from age, his blue-black hair only slightly peppered with silver, and his dark eyes did not miss a detail. Darmen’s success in governing Suntorna was due to an intelligent mind, and in the fact that he surrounded himself with intelligent, if unethical advisors. Suntorna had never been challenged in war during his reign. Darmen had only known peace, and thus was unseasoned in war strategy. He stood straight, thinking he emitted fierceness; but the Bordokians could see that his muscles sagged with disuse, and his chin lacked strength. They turned their observations to the room.
The dimensions of the room usually elicited awe in the observer because its height was extraordinary. It was said that giants must have lived in the castle, or at least had a hand in its construction. The Bordokians thought that the enormously huge fireplaces at each corner attested to the fact. The deep charcoal colored stones of the fireplaces were rounded and smooth, and benches were positioned in a semicircle in front of the fires. The benches were decorated in carvings of dragons, wings, and vines and the motif of dragon echoed in the luxuriously thick tapestries along the walls. The images on the beautiful fabrics gave the room an opulent feel, but the room’s lavishness was so familiar to the courtiers that they no longer saw it. Magda loved the room’s ancient feel, but soon she returned her attention to locating her father. She needed to find out why he sent her an urgent summons earlier in the day.
She finally noted his presence in front of one fireplace, surrounded by courtiers…the malicious ones, which of course were female. Magda’s father, Essen was tall and muscular. His dark hair and blue eyes added to his attractiveness, until one actually looked into his eyes. His blue eyes were lifeless and merely conveyed the cold and calculating personality behind them. Any warmth or concern was long gone from his heart. Essen’s eyes could become chiseled ice, but they could also turn dark with pretended interest. Magda’s father utilized his looks with great advantage to gather information for the king, as this kept him in a favorable position at court. When Magda saw her father, standing in the middle of a circle of wealthily dressed women, she delayed her meeting by dawdling and observing others in the room. She evaluated those surrounding him and decided that Ladguss would be his focus this evening. She knew this not by how Essen leaned forward to look down Ladguss’ gown, but by how interested Essen’s eyes falsely sparkled at the gossip the woman’s painted mouth spewed. Although considered to be unreadable to others, Essen’s eyes always gave away his intent to Magda.
Magda knew she did not resemble either of her parents. They were both tall and Magda was small and delicately made. Although she did not consider her eyes a special color, she had to admit she had never seen anyone with the same. Magda’s mother, Nayana, had eyes of clear sky blue, long silvery blond hair that pooled on the floor when she sat in front of her mirror, and a pale creamy complexion with a soft generous mouth. Her mother’s tall and willowy body was easy to dress in attractive clothing, because even the plainest dress looked better when Magda’s mother wore it. Magda was not like her mother, or her father.
Essen was not Suntornan, but rather Immaen. The Immaens were currently enemies of Suntorna, but Essen had sought allegiance to king Darmen long before the enmity. Essen’s continued feeding of usable information to Darmen, kept him in favor with the king. Magda’s mother was of Sarensalen heritage. A country of which Magda had only heard of by name. Essen refused to speak of it.
Magda was intelligent with a quick mind, and her eyebrow raised as she returned her gaze to the “jewel holders”. Their resemblance to warriors was apparent to one used to studying people. Magda surreptitiously edged toward the wall for a clear view of the formal acknowledgment of their arrival. She saw the largest man step forward and bow in courtesy, as he introduced himself as Dorgan of Bordok, jewel holder. When he said “jewel holder” Magda smirked. Dorgan towered above the contingent of miners and everyone else in the room. His deep voice conveyed strength and his eyes took everything in with a hint of amusement. He smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling pleasingly, as he presented himself for introduction.
King Darmen graciously welcomed him to Castle Lueyesianna, and bid him a long stay. Even though Darmen stood on the raised platform, his eyes were not quite level with Dorgan’s. Magda inwardly chuckled, because she knew this rankled Darmen. He liked to be above everyone in political position. Magda’s eyes turned from the royal welcome, to the miner. Her eyes took in the alert stance of the miner, the long dagger at his belt, the slight bulges in his clothing that denoted hidden weaponry, and the sword that looked too practical to be decorative. The other two miners were also similarly attired, only slightly less in stature. They looked to be as experienced in battle with weaponry similar to Dorgan’s. Magda’s eyes narrowed as she wondered why they were truly in Suntorna.
After the initial introductions, the Bordokians were surrounded by the flutter of the women of court. “New meat” thought Magda, as she waited on the fringes of the crowd so she could better observe their behavior. She noted that the men were well practiced in grace and courtly repartee; the flutter and giggles of the women as evidence. Magda tried hard to control the disgust she felt at the superficiality of the picture. The announcement of the beginning of the meal startled Magda. She was so intently studying the Bordokians that she missed her opportunity to edge unnoticed from the room. Magda preferred the food in the kitchen.
The food in the kitchen, under the motherly eye of Ome, the cook, was so much better than that served in the great hall, or so Magda thought. The food in the kitchen was hot, because it did not have to be arranged and carried on platters to be served by servants…all of which took time. Magda’s stomach growled as she thought about the hot bread, butter, and fire roasted pig that was waiting. Just as she attained a position that would allow her to exit unobserved, she was blocked by a large expanse of muscular chest.
When she looked up, she was surprised to see Dorgan, the jewel holder extending his arm. She calmly looked into his dark brown eyes and waited for his next move. “May I escort you to supper,” he asked in a courteous voice.
Magda’s mouth stretched into a smile that did not quite reach her eyes and she said, “I am not entering the supper hall, but thank you Dorgan of Bordok,” Magda’s eyes left Dorgan’s face and continued to scan the room. Magda waited for Dorgan to move so she could leave, as she watched him from her peripheral vision. Her eyes returned to him when he did not move, and her eyebrow rose in annoyance. Dorgan’s brown eyes steadily returned her gaze.
“Although I am not familiar with Suntornan culture, I am sure you will need to eat supper, and it is considered discourteous to refuse a visitor…is it not…or is my societal standing not high enough?” he asked with a cool smile, thinking that this woman was almost as small as a child! Magda’s jaw clenched as she evaluated this adversary, for that is what Magda decided he was. She chose the quickest way to rid herself of his presence. She decided to be blunt.
Magda leaned forward and waited. Dorgan leaned down in response, their faces close. Magda leaned forward a little more so that her mouth was close to his ear. She quietly said, “I know you are here for some purpose of which I am not aware, and perhaps in your ignorance you think I am someone of importance. I am not. I am at the lowest level of societal standing and you do your standing harm by extending your arm to me. I am not a valuable alliance prospect, I am not of an age to alliance, my father is not wealthy, nor influential, and I am not stupid, therefore I am not a potential conquest. You are wasting your time on me, as I have no value. You should pursue her, as she is more valuable for the procession or alliance than I.” Magda’s eyes pointedly traveled to a plump and bejeweled young woman. Magda continued with a sarcastic note in her voice, “As you can see she has not a thought in her brain which might conflict with your own, she is of influential and wealthy family, and she is actually eager to be haggled over as if she were a cow on the auction block. After you two are allianced, she will actually boast of the cost of her alliance, as if her very worth depended on it….as it does. She will not hesitate to relieve you of your burdensome “duties”, as she will take a lover as soon as she can produce an heir. So as you can see, you need to utilize your time and efforts in more profitable directions,” and she moved back a step. Magda looked one more time into his brown eyes and said, “Excuse me, I have business to attend. Welcome to Suntorna, Bordokian.” Magda nodded with a mocking smile to her lips, noting the amused crinkles around his brown eyes.
Magda waited for him to move. Her sarcastic wit usually identified her as undesirable alliance material, and men would then leave her alone. The bulky chest did not move from her vision and the deep laughter he elicited caused her some consternation. She took a calming breath, her nostrils flaring in anger, and returned her eyes to his. Magda was surprised at the true amusement in them.
“Finished?” he said with a breathtaking smile. He extended his arm again and waited. Magda ground her teeth and considered refusing, but she noticed her father pointedly looking her way. If she made a scene, the gossip that followed would ensure her punishment. She gritted her teeth, pasted a smile on her face, and took the Bordokian’s muscled arm. She almost spat when she heard the Bordokian quietly chuckle under his breath as he possessively patted her hand!
“Enjoy your advantage for now Bordokian, the game continues,” Magda thought, but aloud she began the expected pleasantries, “So, Bordokian, what brings you to visit Suntorna? Are you enjoying your stay?”
“Yes, it is a beautiful country,” his deep voice answered, “I am surprised at the dragon motif…is there some significance to your country’s history?” Dorgan asked, and to Magda’s surprise actually sounded interested.
“The dragon is part of our country’s beginning. Ancient myths say that Suntorna, a name that translates “dragon’s eye” in the old tongue, was created in cooperation between dragon and man. A society that was codependent, in that each species’ continuance was dependent upon the other. The culture was structured around dragons and humans living as one society. They say that the massiveness of Lueyesianna, a name that means “people of the beast”, was constructed under the direction of dragons, which is a testament to their intelligence. The massiveness of dragons determined the size of the structure. Dragons actually are said to have lived in our castle.” Magda sighed as she considered the amazing history of her country. She loved dragons and the passion for the subject communicated itself to the Bordokian as she quietly finished, “It must have been a magical time…I would love to have seen the dragons.”
Dorgan felt drawn to the young woman’s voice as she told the story of her country, and inwardly he smiled as he realized she attached the massive size of the castle to the size of the dragons. He knew that dragons were huge, but he also knew that the original king of Suntorna was a giant of the blood of a Watcher and mortal woman. He enjoyed looking at Magda’s face as her delicate features and smallness of size created a sense of protectiveness within him, but he was not here on pleasure. He was here on business…two business matters actually. If he could conquer the little spitfire in the same visit, well…that would just be a bonus. He considered her size a testament to the possibility of her possible lineage, because she did not resemble either of her parents.
“What brings you to our historically rich country?” Magda asked looking up with a smile that was genuine. The Bordokian was treating her as an equal in his discussion and questions, and Magda responded more quickly to the consideration than she would have to flattery. Magda did not have any defense against genuineness from a man, because it did not occur in Suntorna.
“I am here with a selection of our country’s finest jewels for an alliance piece commissioned by your king. I believe his daughter will be allianced soon, and he wanted to look at the various jewels we could provide. It is to be quite an unusual and valuable piece.” It had better be, thought Magda, as she almost snorted, thinking of the trouble the unsuspecting groom would be encountering in Kanna. Magda understood why the alliance piece would need so many jewels…bribery!
Dorgan continued, “Tell me Magdanalati, the jewels of an alliance piece are said to have special significance to the bride. They represent certain qualities of the young woman. It is said that each artist interprets the qualities of the young woman in the crafting of the jewelry that surrounds the stones, but the stones represent the heart. My country’s culture is interlaced with gems and jewels, their meaning and significance. Each stone has stories and myths behind it. If you were choosing jewels for an alliance piece…perhaps your alliance piece…what colors would you choose for the stones and what characteristics would you want them to represent?”
Dorgan asked the question in sincerity, because in Bordok the woman was considered of worth. The qualities of the woman was interpreted in the alliance piece, as it was not merely a jewel piece of barter, but rather an artistic piece of appreciation.
Magda’s anger simmered and almost boiled over. Her face reddened with the effort of restraining her hand from smacking the Bordokian’s smug face. Magda stopped, removed her hand from Dorgan’s arm, and turned to look him directly in the eyes. Magda waited, allowing the silence to extend into awkwardness, as she continued to hold Dorgan‘s gaze. Dorgan did not understand Magda’s anger. He saw that she clenched her jaw and replied slowly, “I am not sure, Dorgan of Bordok, as this subject might be one an empty headed giggling idiot would usually find fascinating, but…as an intelligent woman I find it insulting. Asking a slave what her worth would be on the open market, is not a question at all. Perchance with all your experience in…mining did you say it was?” she said slowly as she looked pointedly at his sword, “What stone color would represent…freedom?” she then turned and walked away with her back straight. She did not glance back at the large miner, as she had already discarded him from her thoughts, or so she tried to tell herself. She did not see the appreciation evident on Dorgan’s face, nor the anger on Essen’s.
The sickly green colored dragon seethed in anger as she stared into the water. Eesoeena often could use the reflective surface to scree, or foresee a little of the future. She was upset because the signs were unmistakable. She furiously clenched her claws, which were around a deer retrieved from the forest. The doe shuddered as Eesoeena’s talons sank into its chest, killing the animal. The dragon disdainfully threw the doe against the cave wall with an angry jerk, preferring to eat her meals when they were at least partially alive. So, she thought, a Stoneseer has risen…after three hundred years. Three hundred years of hiding in caves, slinking through the night, and eating…animals. She promised herself that it would not be animals ever again. The tender flesh of children was so much more delicious, and the younger the child, the more succulent the meal. The risk of discovery up until now had been too great to seek a meal of young flesh before the arrival of a Stoneseer. Now the hunting would be risky, but it would be calculated. Eesoeena hoped she could find the Stoneseer before he became an adult…they were so much more difficult to kill as adults. She looked at the doe against the wall, its nerves causing its limbs to kick and jerk even in death, and then she turned toward the cave opening. The stench from her body rose in noxious fumes. The same toxic vapors that her misshapen body emitted had poisoned the cave walls and ground, sinking through the cave floor and into the underground river for many years. The contaminated river system carried the death knell to all life in the water, and all life that drank the water. The dragon was very aware of the effect she had on the river, and it was the one source of deep enjoyment in her tormented and exiled life.
She stood at the opening of the cave and sighed with deep anticipation, the light shining dully on her ailing olive colored body. With great effort she lifted her deformed and bloated carcass in flight, taking in great amounts of air through her nose. She sifted the myriad of scents in the night air as she searched hungrily for the scent of a young child.
Eesoeena, misshapen from birth was an egg that many said should not have been allowed to open. She chuckled because she knew that her egg was blooded by a youth under threat of death. Although the stress in the giver of the lifeblood that helped to create her distorted the life in the egg, Eesoeena survived. The depraved overseer of the egg ritual wanted more than loyalty within a dragon; the overseer wanted merciless ferocity. Eesoeena, made for evil, fulfilled her destiny to its fullest extent. Through her self-torment with envy and discontentment, she matured into a malevolent creature. She was an evil being responsible for many deaths of both human and dragon kind, wanting to wreak havoc on those who were not like her, and communicating her misery to others by instigating their suffering and prolonged deaths. Eesoeena was not a tolerant individual, but rather quite the bigot. She did not like man. She did not think dragons should coexist with such a pathetic creature, and her focus in life was always to turn her evil genius toward ways to eradicate what she considered vermin.
Eesoeena procured much enjoyment from cruelty. When she tormented creatures, her anger was whipped into high fury if a creature succumbed to death too soon…without as much suffering as she could wring from it. For so long she had only taken creatures not easily missed, but now it no longer mattered about discovery. She knew when the Stoneseer was in place, the others would return. She would no longer be alone.
Discovery of the long kept secret of dragons’ survival was imminent…and it would be well for the people of Bordok to understand the payment expected in exchange for certain courtesies. The pathetic state of the Bordokian water system was to Eesoeena’s credit, and she chuckled when she considered the commanded recompense for the loss of her dank and musty abode. Payment for clear and clean water also meant a constant supply of pink-fleshed, tender Bordokian children. Eesoeena’s mouth dripped long strings of saliva in anticipation of the taste of the small children’s bodies as she sought prey from the evening skies. She greedily sucked in the scent for which she was searching, pulling it deep into her lungs, as her eyes spied lights in a small cottage. Eesoeena screeched and her heavy body plummeted toward the target of much anticipated pleasure.
Copper knew something was amiss, because her friend Ozzie, just wasn’t that polite! He always let her read first, said to keep going because she read so well, didn’t want to interrupt her “creative flow”, and the most foul smelling piece of drivel – “you just make it sound better”! Copper was on to him, and she kept watch.
She noticed that Ozzie watched the teacher the entire time she talked about the chapter, and he never looked at the text. She noticed that when she handed him anything written, he said something creative, slid the piece of paper to the side, and redirected her attention in another direction. Other pieces of information built her suspicions: the confused looks on his face when others read something on the computer screen, the way he immediately jumped past the written story parts of video games, and finally, how his “sick stomach” surfaced at his turn to read aloud in class – every time. She initially thought he wore glasses, but was just too self-conscious to wear them. Then she wondered if he needed glasses, but hadn’t told his parents. Oz was her best-friend and she did not consider him vain. Other girls talked about him with giggles, they batted their eyelashes, and tried hard to obtain his attention – and Copper knew his comedic attitude, accomplished ability in athletics, and his beautiful eyes made him the target. Copper also knew in her heart that something did not add up. She twirled her long coppery hair and made a decision. She would approach the problem like she did everything else – direct.
“So, Oz, is it your vision or what?” she said the very next time they were alone studying, he on the front porch swing, and she in her chair. Her clear green eyes fastened on his and never wavered. There was no judgment, no amusement or ridicule….just level green eyes waiting for an answer, but not prepared for the one they got.
“I….can’t…..read,” Ozzie said with a final whoosh of air escaping from his pent up lungs in relief. His eyes stared at the pillow on the front porch swing, and he waited…and waited…and finally he raised his eyes to her green ones.
“I have dyslexia. It’s incurable. I will never be able to read.” Oz finished and gravely looked at Copper, like a man announcing his impending death – all dread and doom.
“Okay,” Copper said and turned back to her homework.
Oz waited, then shrugged his shoulders and returned to his drawing, relieved his friend didn’t care about his “disability”, a word he hated.
After several weeks of intensive scouring on the web, reading every piece of information she could get her hands on about dyslexia, and finally asking her mother (who used to teach students with learning disabilities), Copper waited with suppressed, but concentrated excitement. She checked the mailbox every day, called the post office every other day (just in case they lost her package), and returned to the tracking information online at the package service website every five minutes. When the website said the scheduled delivery of the package was today, she raced through the hallway of third grade, a ruby blur scouring the school grounds for Oz.
“Oz….Oz!” She yelled out the science room window, and he casually waved her way. She pointed to him, then at herself, then tapped her watch. He held up four fingers and she smiled, waving an okay sign. Now, she smiled, time to set the stage.
“I think your dad is gonna like it, Copper,” Oz said, as Copper adjusted the super small earphones on him. They fit into the ear, and the casual eye could not discern them. . The wire from the earphones traveled over the back of his ear, under his hair, to the back of his neck, into his collar, and out under the hem of the front of his t-shirt. “It looks like a regular pen, but the fact your dad will be able to record conversations, or meetings, and then replay it is ‘spy-tactic!’ No one can even tell,” Oz said with excitement in his voice. Oz assumed the pen was a present to Copper’s dad….and Copper let him continue to believe it.
“Well, the pen has a lot of features. Let me show you this very secret one,” Copper said as she took the pen from Oz’ hand, but left the earphones in place. Copper grabbed a book and ran the head of the pen over the first few words of the book, her green eyes never leaving Oz’ face. It would have been extremely comical, if Copper wasn’t so afraid Oz would be offended. He froze! Oz stared at the book page, statue still! The blood drained from his face and still Copper moved the head of the pen along the words. Oz did not even blink, move, twitch, or breathe. Copper began to think the volume was too low, but when she stopped moving the pen, Oz’ hand closed over hers and moved her hand, which moved the pen. Oz did not stop until the words stopped at the end of the page.
Copper waited. “How…..where….I mean….Copper?” Copper just looked steadily in his green eyes. Finally, Oz took a deep breath, slowly expelled it and said, “So, can I borrow this from your dad every now and then?”
“No,” Copper said quietly. Oz’s face fell, but he covered his disappointment. “It is yours Oz. I only said it was for Dad so you wouldn’t be mad, and you would try it out,” Copper laughed at the joy in Oz’ face!
Later, several days later, Copper saw Oz on his front porch. His red-rimmed, dark circled eyes, pale face, and oily drooping hair told his story….three days straight of reading! “What stopped you, Oz?” Copper asked her best friend, her heart threatening to burst with happiness that he could share in her love of books.
Oz looked so sad, as his blood-shot eyes met hers, and he said solemnly, “The batteries went dead.”
Copper’s throat convulsed at the emotion, “You didn’t look in the package? The box?” she asked.
At Oz’ head shake, she moved her chair forward, touched his hand, and said quietly, “It is rechargeable.”
Oz leapt from the swing, took the porch stairs in one leap, and turned suddenly, halfway down the sidewalk, “Come on Copper – we have to plug it in!” he yelled in excitement.
Copper waited until the tears in her eyes cleared before she zoomed down the ramp, sidewalk, and across the street to Oz’ house. The sun shone on the two friends, as they fervently discussed the devoured books, sometimes agreeing loudly, and sometimes disagreeing even louder – but always as best friends.
Copper heard the music when she entered the house. Mom was listening to John Mayer again! She rolled her chair quietly through the house and peeked through the French doors leading to her mother’s studio. Her mom was moving in a rhythm as she moved the clay in her hands. The long gold tresses swayed as her mother’s body became rhythm. She should be a dancer, Copper thought! Her mother’s short turquoise cotton dress floated occasionally as she danced around the light filled studio in worn brown cowboy boots. Copper smiled and stifled a giggle, as the light mood infected her heart. For too long Mom has been sad, she thought. Then she saw movement and Copper’s dad moved into view! Dad was home? This early?
Copper’s eyes widened in surprise as her dad easily danced in the room. He took her mom’s hand, his arm around her waist and they danced around the studio! Her mom threw her head back and laughed! Her dad twirled her mom easily and then…..he dipped her! Copper giggled, as one smooth tanned, cowboy boot tipped leg came up and blond hair trailed the floor. On and on they danced until a twirl out and back put her mother with her back against her dad’s chest, his arms around her, she laughing up into his loved filled eyes fastened on hers.
Copper quietly replaced the sheer curtain on her view, respecting this private movement. Copper smile, she could hear Hootie belting out music with her mom and dad’s laughter mixed in. Too often people assumed Copper could not enjoy this type of moment because she was chair bound, but music was life!
The new sculpture was finished! Copper waited until everyone was gone before she entered the studio. It was sitting on her mother’s worktable covered in a deep turquoise silk throw. The silk easily slipped away, like water running off smooth stones and Copper’s heart stopped.
The sculpture was just a face at a window, just one pane. The joy on the face caused Copper to smile; because it seemed the laughter was just a hair’s breadth away from erupting into the room. A small hand covered the girl’s mouth holding in the giggles, her eyes were wide with surprised joy. Then Copper looked closer at the window. It shined and was of glass! Embedded in the glass was an almost image……Copper moved slightly and the image cleared! She looked closely, but the image disappeared because Copper imperceptibly shifted. Copper held her breath and moved her head until the image shimmered and reappeared. Copper saw a woman and man, she in a short cotton dress and cowboy boots, he in a jean work shirt and worn jeans. They obviously had been dancing, and one smooth leg was up with cowboy boot in the air, as the man dipped her! The woman was laughing up into the man’s love filled eyes. Copper moved and the image was gone! She moved slightly and the imaged appeared! Copper enjoyed the moment, smiled and giggled! She couldn’t help it – the sculpture made you feel that you were a secret observer to an impromptu, joyous, and incredibly romantic moment.
Copper’s eyes looked at the nameplate: “Mayer and Hootie on a summer afternoon”.
So many people tried to interpret the sculpture, some even decided Mayer and Hootie was the couple’s names! Copper laughed aloud when she read that reporter’s comment. Every child should have that moment embedded in their mind, especially when they grew up and looked for someone to love. Copper turned up the music and smiled while she finished her homework.
What a hard day..and a long one, he thought. The summer heat and humidity always turned roofing days into a special version of hell…but that’s one reason why he earned the big bucks, he thought with a tired smile. No matter the weather or the temperature – he got the job done. Although he owned a construction company, Janus Construction, there were times when just directing everyone was not satisfying. He liked to be in the midst of his men, driving them, joking with them, sweating with them, and building with them. Working and creating with his hands are the reasons he started the construction company in the first place, and the love of the craft is why his company held the well earned reputation of the best.
He turned the doorknob to his house and was surprised to see Copper sitting directly inside the door, waiting on him. “Copper, honey, waitin’ on dad?” he asked, as he set his briefcase down and put the mail on the table by the door. When Copper didn’t answer, he turned to his daughter and paused. Her white face and large, round eyes scared him. He squatted down in front of her and took her cold, shaking hands. His heart jumped, stopped, and then jerked again. Something was wrong.
“Dad, there is something wrong with Mom. She is crying again. She cries a lot. Ms. Berman, you know my psychology teacher? Well, today in her lecture she said those are signs of depression. The man in the news last week…you know Dad, the one who killed himself…suicide? He was depressed. Dad, I’m…..I’m worried. Why is Mom crying again?” Copper’s voice trembled and tears rolled down her face. Her dad’s heart hurt for his daughter’s pain….and misunderstanding. He knew he needed to handle this now.
Copper’s dad gently unbuckled the safety belts that held Copper in her motorized wheelchair. He put his arms around her, lifted her to his chest, and carried her to the living room. He settled on the couch and held her until her shoulders stopped shaking. After she calmed, he began. “Your mother is not depressed. I am not telling you this so you will feel better. It is the truth. When I first met your mother, she knew what I was thinking, without me saying a word. She sat on one side of the restaurant, in a group of friends, and I sat on the opposite side of the room. Sometimes the people between us moved, leaned in to hear a conversation, leaned back while they laughed, and I caught glimpses of her,” he reminisced while he hugged Copper and smiled at the scent of her hair. It smelled like her mother’s hair. “Her long gold hair caught my eye first and then her eyes. Your mother’s eyes are so unique…light sky blue. I looked at her and raised an eyebrow, because I wanted to meet her. She nodded her head and raised a hand. She put one finger up, and then put her finger and thumb together…which meant ten minutes. Every so often, I would smiled, then she smiled; I laughed, then she laughed; we spoke without ever speaking, it went on for a while…way past ten minutes and when we finally stood face to face…well, my heart already belonged to her. This was before I ever spoke one word to her,” he finished with a smile.
Copper lifted her head from her dad’s chest and said, “How did she know?”
Copper’s dad smiled again as he looked into his daughters gold eyes. They were shaped the same and fringed with the same lush, dark lashes as her mother’s. “Your mother’s gift is perception. She can perceive and interpret nonverbal communication. You know when a person keeps silent, but they are still mad, even though they smile and pretend they aren’t mad – well no one can pretend well enough to fool your mom. More than that, when a person has no language, like the kids you visited in the school? Well, your mom understands what they want to say…and she is their voice. It’s a gift.”
“But Dad, why does she cry? You didn’t answer that,” Copper said in a quiet voice, fearing she was right.
“Well, I’m getting there…just hold your horses sweetheart. Now…” he took a deep breath before continuing and then finally said, “I’m gonna talk about the accident, and I want your promise you are going to listen and not blame yourself. Just nod.” At Copper’s nod, her dad looked into her eyes a long time, regretting that the accident which caused his daughter’s dependence on her little red motorized wheelchair needed to come up again. “Okay. Uh….the accident changed your mom. It changed everything,” Copper’s Dad took time to hug his little girl, kiss the top of her head, and then he continued.
“You see, not only is your mom very good at perceiving nonverbal communication…actually gifted, but she is also an artist. Honey, artists are made different than everyone else. There is just no getting around it. They are moody, they feel everything deeper than anyone else, and oh boy, when she finishes a sculpture…well, it’s kind of like having a baby! There are tears, laughter, emotions running amuck! It’s just a hard thing to explain. Your mom cries when she gets an idea to sculpt in her head; when she hears a song that causes her to have an idea about something to sculpt; and, wow…when she finishes a sculpture…well, it is emotional. But being able to take that energy – her emotions and ideas – and put them into a sculpture is what makes her work genius. She also, doesn’t have the ability to break off from the hold that an idea takes. That’s why sometimes when we have something on our schedule that is really important, she forgets. She forgets, not because we aren’t important, but because the idea won’t let go. Now, I’m getting to the part about the accident,” he swallowed hard, knowing that no matter how he prepared her, she would still blame herself.
“After the accident, everything seemed to intensify. You see, even though your mom is special, and she has talent that no one else does…none of that is valuable to her. Especially, when they are measured against you. You are the most valuable and precious person in her life. When the accident happened and you were hurt…well, it just caused your mom to have not as tight a hold on the things that make her a genius. Let me explain it this way, you know in the movies when someone comes into contact with gamma rays, or a radioactive spider and suddenly all the traits they already have become supercharged?” At Copper’s nod, he said, “Well, it’s like the accident supercharged everything I just told you. She is impossibly better at translating nonverbal communication; more talented as an artist; and the downside is she feels everything even more. She isn’t depressed honey, she just feels everything times a thousand. She loves you and she almost lost you. Honey, your mom is still recovering from the accident too…just like you. She isn’t depressed; she is just working through it.” Copper’s Dad waited. He knew Copper’s intelligence would process the information. It took time.
Finally, Copper raised her head, “Dad, I feel better,” and then with a smile she said, “After all, my Mom has superpowers….and my Dad…well, he’s a hero. Why wouldn’t I feel better? So…you know she finished another sculpture…the barbed wire one? Let’s go have a super celebration,” Copper said with a wavering smile.
“Super, but hon I really need a….well, a super shower first!” They both threw back their heads and laughed.
Copper’s mom, who listened to the entire exchange in the hallway smiled. She released the held breath, and suddenly…..another idea loomed….but she quickly squashed it. She waited and finally smiled, a little surprised that it worked! Tonight, she thought, it was time for a super celebration!
After her mother’s explanation that the visit within the brick building would be “painful,” Copper was quite worried about what the visit would entail. At first, the various children they encountered seemed “different” to Copper, and then she realized they all were. Each room they passed was bright and cheerful, but there were no desks or anything that was usually common within classrooms. There were beanbags, expansive rugs, and a great amount of open area within each room that Copper, and her mother passed. Finally, Copper’s mother slowed and stopped. When she didn’t knock on the closed classroom door, Copper turned to look at her mother. Her mother’s gray-green eyes were closed; she breathed deep and slow. Finally, with a serene smile, Copper’s mother gently knocked on the door. “Be calm and they will respond the same; be polite and you show respect; and speak to them as if they are normal, and they will love you,” was all her mother said as they entered the classroom.
Copper’s chair was situated in the corner of the room, and her eyes swept the room taking in the residents. One particular petite girl caught Copper’s attention. She was tiny, and fast. As she moved around the classroom in a smooth, yet darting motion, her dark brown shoulder-length hair swayed out like wings of a quick little bird. Copper could not discern the words, but the small girl’s voice was mesmerizing. Her voice soothingly sing-songed, traveling through various collections of notes, as she flitted around Copper’s chair, getting close but never touching her. The girl darted up to Copper’s face, stopped motionless, and stared at her face with dark-brown eyes. The brown was so deep that they seemed to merge with her pupils, giving them a fathomless depth. Copper tried not to blink or even breathe, because she felt that the girl would flit away at the slightest movement. Then, with a dash and a wave of her hair, the girl was gone to the other side of the room in a blur. Released from the spell of the little girl, Copper blinked her eyes searching the room for her mother.
A group of children surrounded Copper’s mother, as she sat on a stool beside a boy in a wheelchair. He struggled to control his flailing arms, and he made sounds that were not understandable. There were several children hugging her mother, touching her arms and back. It seemed to Copper that they seemed to crave and need to be near her mother. Copper was quite forgotten as her mother visited with the children. This must be her mother’s old classroom Copper thought, as her eyes took in the various disabilities that each child displayed. The children all struggled with one disability or another, and a few of them struggled with several all at once. All of them were nonverbal, but her mother seemed to understand them. Some spoke in unintelligible sounds strung together, some in facial expression, while some with just eye gaze. Communication seemed to be her mother’s strong trait, because she kept a constant stream of conversation going; answering some children or responding to a various look. They all smiled at the same time, obviously understanding her and she understanding them.
After her mother visited with each child, Copper noticed that her mother stayed very still with the same serene smile on her face. Finally, the small hummingbird girl flitted up to her mother’s side, sat down, and put her diminutive hand into her mother’s hand. Her mother’s smile widened, and she spoke in a gentle quiet voice. “Hello my Ella. I have missed you too. I am so very proud that you are doing so well in class.” The little girl lightly laid her head against the arm of Copper’s mother and then darted away with the mesmerizing musical voice lilting her happiness. Copper noticed her mother’s eyes followed the little girl with tears brimming.
The visit did not last long, but it was effective. Copper knew that although she was chair bound, she did not have all the other difficulties to live with that the other children endured. She was puzzled that they seemed happy with all their disabilities. Copper’s mother talked all the way home, an endless stream of conversation that did not require an answer. “The boy in the chair has been in my classroom for several years and has learned to communicate via eye gaze. He can work the communication device with some expertise and….” Copper zoned out, as she thought about her own disability.
So, she was chair bound. It was devastating, sad, and yes, she agreed it was limiting, but…she was so fortunate. She squared her shoulders, lifted her head, and smiled for the first time in many, many months. “…and the little girl…she is my hummingbird. She came from a severely abusive situation. She never touched anyone, looked at anyone, or made any sounds. She perceives any agitation within another person and responds agitatedly. I am the first person to which she initiated any sign of affection…and I miss my kids so much,” Copper’s mother’s voice trailed off, and Copper understood that her mother wanted to be back in the classroom teaching again.
“Mom, why don’t you go back and teach them?” Copper quietly asked. Copper’s mother didn’t speak, but tears overflowed her eyes. “You will be ready again,” Copper said, “It’s just not yet.”
“Maybe….maybe,” her mother said in a whisper.
It was several months later that the thick, cream colored envelope appeared in the mailbox. Copper knew it was important in the stunned way that her mother read the contents. She knew it was important in the shocked and silent way her father read the contents. It was a national award for her mother’s most-recent sculpture!
Many months later Copper stood silently in front of the sculpture. The small figurine shone under the special lights of the glass box in which it was encased. It sat on a dais that turned ever so slowly. From one side, the sculpture was the face of a beautifully delicate girl with large dark eyes, exquisite features, a shy smile, and wings of lustrous hair that flew out from each side giving Copper the perception of motion. When the figure turned completely around, Copper gasped at the perfection of the diminutive hummingbird. Its wings were splayed, but as the light played across the surface, they seemed to constantly move. The small bird’s dark eyes were a match for the girl’s; and its body was covered with micro-fine iridescent crystals. The room’s walls shimmered with crystal shaped lights reflected from the bird’s crystal covered wings. As the figurine turned, the crystals embedded in the depths of the girl’s lustrous tresses and along her eyelashes projected different, yet equally exquisite multi-colored lights that danced around the room. Each perspective of the figurine projected different iridescence encasing Copper in the experience. They shone separately, yet blended as the figurine turned. It was a breath-taking sculpture, which Copper knew as “my hummingbird”.