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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6. Freedom and Festivals

Freedom and Festivals

 

                Melaina couldn’t believe her luck. At first she had been terrified as the dragon had gotten loose. The beast’s golden eyes spoke of fury, and she knew the destruction that dragons were capable of. But the dragon hadn’t hurt a single soul except Dain. Even the damage to the coliseum was minimal. She slowly stood to her feet as the dragon disappeared into the sky, fighting back the strange desire to laugh in relief.

                She heard her mother break down on the ground sobbing and her father left her side to comfort her. Melaina didn’t need any comforting. Slowly it was dawning on her that the dragon had rid her of her punishment, and she would soon have her freedom back. Lucille and Gavin were both already on the ground, both in a dead faint.

                The guards rushed up the stairs as she left the coliseum to see the outside. People were huddled near the walls, mothers protecting their children, crying infants, and faces that were lost and frightened. She beckoned to the nearest guards to round up children without their parents.

                She called a couple of maids and sent them into the castle to fetch the nurses from the infirmary as well as Oliver. Not many people were injured, just shaken. She started towards the children separated from their parents when someone stepped in front of her.

                It was the annoying soldier from before. The one that had tried to kill Manny. She pushed him aside and continued on her way.

                “You planned this!” he accused her. She didn’t understand at first. When she did she walked back and punched him in the gut harder than she had the strength to. Normally the punch wouldn’t have had any effect on her, but her knuckles were on fire from pain. Starving herself was taking its toll.

                The soldier was in worse shape than her. He fell to his knees and looked up at her in indignation. She ordered a dozen guards to lead the children into the castle’s kitchen. She looked at their receding figures and turned back to the other people. They were slowly settling down, walking back to their homes.

                Her father emerged from the coliseum with her mother leaning on him. Lucille and Gavin both had tears in their eyes.

                “Pa,” Melaina called out. “We need you here.”

                She knew her mother would hate her and berate her later for dragging her father away. It wasn’t for herself that she did, but for the people. In times of crisis, he needed to be at the peoples’ side more than at her mother’s. He left her mother with a maid and stood at the top of one of the horse carriages.

                In his bellowing voice he called for all the people to stop and listen.

                “I know that what has occurred is a terrible tragedy. But we cannot let it stop our lives, or the Dragon Day celebrations.”

                Melaina saw the serious doubt in some peoples’ faces. Before her father continued, she took a place next to him.

                “We cannot let this stop Lucille and Gavin’s wedding,” she proclaimed. “Let us have something happy within this day. I’m sure that the king of Felucca would’ve wished for that.”

                Her father wrapped his arm around her tightly and they walked back into the castle. The small white chapel was waiting for them, and she took her seat. Her father walked in with Lucille who wore a beautiful netted veil over her head, and still walked unsteadily.

                Gavin’s face brightened as he saw her. Melaina didn’t pay much attention after that. They were happy. Although she wasn’t supposed to be, she was happy. The only unhappy people she saw in the chapel were her mother and the soldier who she had punched. Her mother didn’t completely count, because hers was just a diluted joy. Melaina saw that she had given up all hopes of ever getting her married. Although that saddened her, she was euphoric about Lucille’s wedding.

                The soldier standing in the corner though, he had enough misery for two people. No one else, not even the guards from Felucca were sad. The ceremony completed, and the festival of the evening started. The king had all but forgotten the catastrophe of the morning and involved himself in opening barrels of ale and being hospitable to anyone who wanted to get drunk.

                Melaina slipped out of everyone’s view and went to the castle’s kitchen. She saw the wedding feast ready to be served and reached for a platter with chicken, only to have it whipped out of her hands. Her eyes filled with tears.

                “Eat out of a plate,” a voice scolded her. “You’re a princess for goodness sake. Behave like one.”

                Her open hands had a full plate shoved into them and she settled down on a crudely made wooden chair to have her first full meal in a week. The food tasted like heaven. She finished twice her average fare and left the kitchen to celebrate her freedom with much more energy than before.

                Music was playing everywhere by the time she left the castle. She had changed out of her wedding dress and into something simpler, a pale green dress that only reached her ankles. She pinned her loose hair into a bun and rid herself of the jewelry. With a bonnet over her head, her transformation was complete. The result of the changes was that she had changed from the princess to just another peasant girl.

                People would assume that she was in her rooms mourning. She would out in the town dancing and drinking, celebrating her freedom in the loudest way possible. The town squares were lit up and colorful. She had expected some people to be with dampened spirits after the death of their king, but all the Feluccans that she saw were celebrating just like the people of Lor. She would say that they were even happier than before.

                She slipped into her favorite local tavern and found Oliver sitting at a booth alone. An empty jug was in front of him, and as she watched he vomited into it. He was terrified of the repercussions of his mistake. After the dragon flew off he realized his mistake. It was his mistake that had killed the king of Felucca.

                He never drank before in his life. In his experience, drunkards had foggy memories. But no matter how many mugs of ale he downed, the memory of him injecting the wrong amount of sedative refused to go away, nor did the thoughts of his impending punishment.

                “Oh, Ollie,” Melaina sighed as she saw him push away the mug and order a bottle of rum. She told the barmaid to bring a glass and jug of water instead, handing the rum off to some Feluccans who saluted her in response.

                She sat next to him and rubbed his back as he vomited another time.

                “You don’t make a good drunkard, Ollie,” she commented.

                “I’m not exactly a wonderful doctor either.”

                “I don’t believe that,” she answered. “You made a mistake. I know that. My father knows that. It was unfair, what he expected from you.”

                “You’re bloody right, it wa’ unfair! And, and, and now… the king of Flukka is dead!”

                She resisted the urge to laugh at his mangled language. He had lost his usual polished speech, the alcohol had made his tongue sluggish. She saw his head drop, and finally fall to the table. When the snoring started she got up and looked around. The tavern was full of noise and celebration. Everyone was dancing and singing, talking and laughing, except for a sole figure in the shadows of a corner who simply stood there and watched.

                Melaina walked into the middle of the dance floor and joined hands with a heavy-set man of middle age. They danced and he sang the entire time. She danced with a flighty lad that was at least two years younger than her who turned red the moment she put her hand on his shoulder. She danced with Oliver when he finally woke up. When her feet hurt and her face was sore from smiling she headed off to the table to rest and eat something.

                Before she could take a seat she was pulled onto the dance floor again. It was a slow dance, things that she detested. And whoever her partner was, he didn’t even give her room to move. They were practically embracing each other. She couldn’t see his face, and despite her attempts she couldn’t get out of his vice-like embrace. What bothered her was that she wanted to keep dancing.

                “Your future husband is dead, and you’re dancing,” he whispered into her ear. “Is this the way people mourn in Lor?”

                She recognized the voice instantly, and kicked him in the shin in response. She stalked off into the crowd of the tavern and through the door before he could follow her. She took a place in the shadows next to a stall selling pies and waited. He came out hurriedly, and she observed him. His height made him easily noticed in the crowd. His features were strong but youthful, his blue eyes fierce and searching. The clothes he wore were of quality, but the colors made to blend in. Before he could find her she stepped into the crowd and became invisible again. She didn’t stop walking until she was back in her room, noting that she had managed to evade him. People ignored her in the halls. Even the castle had warmed up to the celebrations. Nowhere was anyone wearing black.

                Manny was nestled comfortably in his new cage and she went over and picked him up. He wrapped himself around her arm. To anyone else the slithering of scales across their arm would have made their hairs rise in fright, but she was used to the feeling.

                It had been a week since he had been fed, and she went downstairs into the kitchen to see if her any of her traps had worked. The large rat in one of them glared at her brassily, seeming to know that she was carrying it to its death.

                After Manny ate, a spectacle she chose not to look at, she took her seat at the window and looked out. No Dragon Day had ever been so festive, so happy. She hadn’t thought of Dain at all during the entire evening, and wondered if she should’ve been feeling guilty for being happy.

                As she watched the celebrations slowly died, the lights dimmed and the music was reduced to the slow murmur of the occasional people still wandering the roads. Her eyes focused on a figure in the courtyard pacing nervously. He was the soldier from before, and as she watched he looked up at her.

                She stepped back from the window immediately and drew the curtains. Someone knocked at the door. She opened it to find Oliver. He looked haggard and his white hair stuck out in all directions. His clothes disheveled, speech sluggish, he informed her that the king had summoned them.

                In her father’s study she found her parents and the royal advisor waiting for her. The soldier was also there, and she grinded her teeth in frustration. He was quickly becoming a menace.

                “We were discussing the future, Melaina,” her father told her.

                “Whose?” she asked. She sensed the optimism in her mother’s face, and that optimism never bode well for her.

                “Yours of course,” her mother answered.

                “My future is here. I’ve made my decision.”

                “Yes, I’ve convinced your mother of that,” her father said. “I’m not speaking about the distant future, Pint. I’m speaking about what must be done now. It would not be proper for you to continue on with your life as before. This soldier here-”

                He pointed to the man standing in the corner. “He believes that Dain’s abduction by the dragon was orchestrated… by you. I’ve convinced him that it was a horrible accident, and nothing more.”

                “But?” she asked. She worried that the soldier had revealed the news of her leaving the castle and celebrating. She doubted that her father had convinced him of anything from the glares that he was still sending her way.

                “He’s suggested something to us,” Henry replied. “He proposed that a search party be sent out, to find Dain… or his earthly remains. If he is alive, all is well. If not, well, it would be nice for him to have a proper burial.”

                “That’s a wonderful proposal,” she agreed. “So, I’m guessing that this soldier will head the search party?”

                “No, Pint… you will.”

                Her mother gasped as her father tried hard to hide his smile. Melaina understood what he was doing. It was her father’s unique way of apologizing. She was being granted her freedom, if only for a while. She relished the thought of riding horseback through unknown lands instead of the routine path within the small woods behind the castle.

                She would be able to hunt new prey, sleep under the stars, see wonders that her eyes had so far been deprived of. She wanted to embrace her father, but the presence of the soldier held her back. Instead she nodded.

                “Of course, father,” she chirped. Her mother left in a huff.

                “Your highness, this is a grave mistake,” the soldier warned. “Letting a girl of sixteen years head a search party through rough terrain? It is not a wise decision.”

                “Normally I would agree Alex, but this is my daughter. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.”

                The soldier left with his eyebrows knit in fury, banging the door closed behind him. The royal advisor, a short and stout man named Phillip, laughed as he left.

                “So, are ye happy Pint?”

                “Blissfully,” she sighed. “I love dragons now.”

                “Let me handle the diplomacy here,” he said. “You go off on your search. Try to bring back his bones if you can. And have fun. You leave the day after tomorrow morning.”

                Melaina smiled and left the room. In her room she started packing clothes and her weapons. They were all that she needed. She thought she would be unable to sleep with the number of thoughts that buzzed around inside her head.

 

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