Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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4. Dragons and Despair

Dragons and Despair

 

            Henry was grinning ear to ear, viewing the two approaching ships, following the beacon of the lighthouse. The bigger one was a bit unsteady, wobbling occasionally, and he knew why. It had apparently been torture capturing one of them. The sailors quickly anchored both the ships, and their precious cargo was brought down.

            The first dragon to be placed on the port was a young dark blue male. It was frightened and confused, trying to get free of the net that captured it and the iron muzzle that kept it from spouting fire. The king was proud of his men. A captured dragon was something unheard of. He had wanted to tell Melaina of his plans, but the less time there was to the wedding, the more time she spent in her room.

            He didn’t like Dain man either, but stepping out of the marriage would be an insult of the severest kind. Although their king wasn’t a fighter, Felucca’s army was formidable. He knew Melaina was miserable, but they were both staying quiet for the same reason.

            A roar interrupted his thoughts. He looked towards the port again to see that the other dragon had been unloaded off the ship. She was a fearsome large scarlet female. While the other dragon had been confused and lost, this one lost no time showing her fury. He saw swirling wisps of smoke coming out from the iron muzzle.

            It would be the best Dragon Day the country had ever seen. The celebrations of ridding Lor of a dragon, and his daughters’ weddings. He didn’t like to think much of the latter. Eleanor had taken responsibility for those things.

            “Take them through at night!” he ordered. He wanted them to be unveiled on the Dragon Day itself and not before. The scarlet female was trying to tear through the net that trapped her, and was failing. Her eyes was the color of burning coals, and when she looked at Henry, even he was struck by fear.

            He shrugged off the feeling of foreboding and rode back to the castle alone. The cool air gave him time to think. He should’ve crowned Melaina before Eleanor had done such a foolish thing and engaged her to that man. Melaina would’ve made a wonderful queen, just like his mother.

            The castle came into view, and he urged his horse into a gallop, planning to get a few words in with his daughter. It had been many days since they had a conversation. He missed the happy and fierce child that he had raised. At the word of the wedding, she had been replaced by a miserable and angry girl. He missed the days of her running through the corridors, fighting his soldiers, and keeping him on his toes.

            Henry sighed, realizing it was far too late for him to do anything. The most he could do was try to get Melaina back to her old self. He wondered if he had done the wrong thing taking responsibility for bringing up Melaina. Lucille was happy about the marriage, she was ready for it. Perhaps Eleanor had been right.

            The castle was lit up more than usual, looking like something right out his mother’s fairy tales. He rode fast through the gate and quickly handed his horse to the waiting stable boy. Usually the castle was peaceful after sunset, but the Feluccans were already celebrating.

            He rushed through the drunken soldiers and hurried up the stairs to her room.

***

            Melaina was looking through her old books. Manny was almost healed thanks to Oliver, but he was still skittish when he saw anyone else. She hadn’t left her room in a week. Yet her mother hadn’t even bothered to ask her how she was.

            Part of her wanted to enjoy her last few days of freedom. The other part wanted to mourn its loss. She spent hours at a time weeping silently. It had been two days since she had looked into a mirror. Melaina knew she looked like hell. It didn’t seem to matter because in the end she would be getting married, and leaving Lor forever.

            Whenever she thought of that her tears started to flow again. She heard footsteps on the stairs and wiped her tears. Getting up, she faced the window so the person wouldn’t be able to see her tearstained face and her bloodshot eyes.

            “Come in,” she said as a knock sounded at her door.

            “How are you holding up, Pint?” her father asked. Her hands clenched the windowsill. So it had taken her family a week to finally talk to her.

            “How do you think?” she asked bitterly.

            She heard him sit on her bed and let out a deep breath. She knew he felt guilty, but she didn’t feel pity for him. He had taken part in the whole charade, the whole plan to send her away. He had been a puppet in her mother’s hands, not the strong king that she had admired and adored since she was a child.

            “I don’t like it either, Pint,” he said resignedly. “But there’s nothing we can do now. Stopping the wedding… Dain would definitely declare war.”

            “Be grateful,” she choked out. “Be grateful that I’m going along with the queen’s idiotic decision.”

            “She’s your mother,” Henry said. “She only wants the best.”

            Melaina turned around swiftly. Henry saw her face for the first time in over a week, and the changes were dreadful. Her grey eyes were watery and red. Her face was swollen, like the life and happiness had been sucked out it. Her dark hair was in disarray. The way she stood, slightly leaning against the windowsill, he could tell she was weak. Henry realized that she hadn’t been eating.

            “Nothing makes her an expert on what’s best,” she said with a sad smile. “She’s spent her life loving what I call ‘frivolities’ and what she considers ‘finer things’. She knows nothing about what’s best, Pa. Especially what’s best for me.”

            “She wants to see you happy,” her father argued.

            Melaina didn’t believe that. A few weeks ago she would’ve believed her father. She had never loved her mother liked she loved her father. Her mother was distant, even when Melaina was right beside her. She had loved her mother, but as with time they had grown apart. In the last few years the only real emotion that she had seen her mother have was anger. It was her reaction every time Melaina did what she loved. Every other second the queen put up a dignified façade, her usual artificial smiles and her icy chiming laughter.

            “If she wanted that, she wouldn’t have done this,” Melaina replied. “She wouldn’t made this decision. She had no right.”

            “She loves you,” Henry whispered.

            Melaina laughed dryly. She was miserable, but there was no other response to the statement her father made. Everything that he had said about her mother since he entered the room was a lie. Her mother didn’t want the best for Melaina, she wanted the best for herself. She wanted the ability to say proudly that she had married off both her daughters at a suitable age.

            As for her mother wanting to see her happy, that was another lie. She remembered the first morning she spent learning how to fence, sparring in her usual shirt and trousers. Covered in sweat, dirt and a few bruises, she had been blissfully happy. That was, until her mother had dragged her back into the castle and yelled at her and slapped her across the face.

            It was during one of those periods that her father wasn’t in the castle. As soon as he was back she went back to her lessons with renewed vigor. Her mother would never interrupt her lessons again, but Melaina would see her from time to time, standing on a balcony and looking down at her disapprovingly.

            Experiences like those were what constituted her memories of her mother. Since the announcement of the wedding, she had forgotten whatever good times they had shared, and those had been few. It didn’t matter what her mother had intended. In the end, she had led her daughter to a lifetime of misery. And Melaina knew that for the rest of her life, her mother would stand by her decision.

            Her father stared at her as she laughed with tears coming out her eyes, miserable and cursing her fate.

            “She loves me?” she asked. “What makes you think that, Pa?”

            Henry didn’t say anything. Melaina only shook her head.

            “She doesn’t understand me, Pa. She doesn’t understand that I will never like the things that she does. And the fact is, she doesn’t care.”

            Melaina pointed her arm towards the door, silently telling her father to go. She didn’t feel like saying anymore. If she did, she would say things about her mother that she would regret. Her suspicions that her mother never loved her would come out. As the days passed, her suspicions were becoming more and more solid.

            Henry left the room wordlessly. For the last few weeks he had been looking forward to the celebrations and trying to forget the melancholy that he would have to endure throughout the wedding, and every day after that. Now all thoughts of celebrations were far from his mind.

            The sounds of boisterous laughter filled the halls. All the joy seemed hollow. Lucille was sitting in the garden talking to her fiancé, a wimpy boy who would soon struggle under the weight of a kingdom. Henry knew what kind of a king he would become, the kind instructed on how to stand and sit by his ministers.

            But Lucille would be happy. It was much more than he could say for Melaina. He hadn’t liked one thing about Dain since he saw the man. Henry had been raised his mother who fought to keeping Lor from getting conquered by neighboring kingdom. She had raised him equally as a king and as a soldier.

            Dain hid behind his army, enjoyed nothing but luxuries. He knew nothing about work or the satisfaction that it brought. Henry saw that despite his character and his obnoxious behavior, he had people that were loyal to him. Like the soldier Alex. The boy was a decade younger than his king, yet was more mature. He could’ve been a general in Felucca’s army judging by the way he sparred. But he chose to be a bodyguard.

            “Henry,” his wife’s voice called out. He sensed she was about to ask him for something, perhaps supervising the decorations in the chapel, or tending to the building of the two wedding carriages. But she was the last person he wanted to see at the moment.

            He continued to walk, pretending not to hear her. It wasn’t too late at night, which meant Oliver would still be awake. He found the old man huddled over a book and mixing herbs. The apothecary had been his mother’s constant confidante, and was Henry’s as well. Oliver hadn’t noticed Henry enter, and the king couldn’t resist playing with the old man.

            “Boo!” he yelled into the old man’s ear. Oliver almost dropped the stone pestle onto his foot, but fumbled and caught it in it. He muttered a string of curses, very colorful yet just muted enough for the king to not hear.

            “What were that you were saying, Oliver?” Henry asked.

            “Nothing, sire,” Oliver lied, rubbing his ear feverishly.

            “So, I just conversed with Melaina,” Henry admitted.

            “Ah, how did that catastrophe end?” Oliver inquired, his eyebrows raised.

            Henry didn’t respond. Oliver was one of the few people in the castle that was close to Melaina. She spoke freely with everyone, but he was one of the few that didn’t avoid her in her anger. He recalled with a smile that one of the maids thought she looked like “a girl possessed” when she didn’t get her way.

            He wished for that girl again, not the broken soul that had spoken to him a few minutes before. His strong daughter had been weakened by the loss of her freedom, made miserable by a golden cage her mother had trapped her in. He had to accept his fair share of the blame, he had stood by and let it happen. He knew Eleanor hadn’t told him when she sent the message accepting the marriage proposal from Felucca, but he should have noticed Eleanor’s anxiousness. The clues were there, he had just been blinded by his trust for his wife.

            “What do I do now Oliver?” he asked. “Melaina is… nothing like herself now.”

            “None of us are anything like we normally are,” Oliver stated. “This wedding. It’s wreaking havoc on people’s minds, their hearts. Melaina is mad at the thought of losing her freedom, her home forever. You are wrought with guilt because of your daughter’s misery. The queen’s heart beats faster in fear at the thought of the weddings not going according to plan.”

            “And what bothers you?”

            Oliver looked at the king, pointing to the colorful vials of chemicals in front of him. Drugging dragons wasn’t an easy task. Henry daintily picked one up and observed the swirling smoky liquid.

            “I’m sure you’ll do fine, Oliver,” he breathed out.

            “It’s easy for you to say,” the old man muttered.

            This time the king heard. “Nothing will go wrong, Oliver. And if something does, I’m the one to blame. Not you.”

            “Let’s hope no one has to take any blame,” Oliver suggested. “Dragons are dangerous creatures.”

            Henry nodded his agreement and sat in an old armchair as Oliver worked. The sweet smells from the sedatives eventually put him to sleep as the old man worked on, already immune to the chemicals.

            The clinking of glass beakers and the slight hisses of a fire continued on his dream, his memory of late nights at the fire with his mother. He dreamed of her voice, her songs, and the way she rode off gallantly into the dense forest of Lor, never to be seen again. 

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