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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9. Seasickness and Suspicions

Seasickness and Suspicion

 

                The name of the boat was The Beast. It was aptly named, giant in size, imposing in weaponry, and repulsive in terms of appearance. The dark-wooded hull was completely covered by barnacles, the sails were brown with dirt accumulated through the years, and the windows that they saw from the port were white with sea salt. Melaina was the first to step off the port, taking a deep breath of the cold salty air.  Another unexpected smell hit her. Most of the sailors smelled like they hadn’t bathed in months. Melaina tried to ignore the stench of sweat and fish coming off of most of them. She would get used to the smell eventually.

                She kept her head up and headed for the man she knew to be the captain. He was the cleanest of the bunch and also the best dressed, with stockings without holes in them and an overcoat. Captain Wilhelm also happened to be the most fear-inducing of all of them. Fighting off pirates, all of the sailors had at least one visible gruesome scar. Perhaps as a sign of his superiority the Captain had the most.

                His wrinkled face was covered with nicks from blades that had attacked him decades before, and one prominent jagged line that started at his forehead and extended all the way down to his neck. It was a wound from a Gargonian scimitar, gifted to him by a bloodthirsty Gargonian pirate chief. The scar contorted the end of his lip, giving him a perpetual morbid smile. He kept his head shaven and Melaina as a child had compared his head to a demented egg.

                “Good morning Captain,” she chirped at him. He had often visited the castle during her childhood, bringing her gifts from foreign lands that she begged him to take her to. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a warm hug.

                “You’ve grown Pint,” he commented. “And congratulations on your wedding.”

                “Um, Captain, the wedding didn’t happen. I thought you knew of this.”

                “Hence the congratulations!” he bellowed. “I knew the wedding would never happen. Won me’ self a forty gold coins thanks to that blasted dragon.”

                Alex was standing right behind her while the Captain explained to her what the odds had been and who had lost some large piles of money. He knew that any other girl would’ve been appalled to find that her marriage was being betted on by dozens of grimy sailors, but Melaina just laughed.

                She knew that the crew of The Beast betted on everything, from how soon they would die to the weight of the catch when they worked as a fishing vessel. The Captain wandered away and started barking orders to his crew.

                Melaina dodged around the sailors preparing the ship for the journey. She knew her favorite part of the ship already, precariously nested on the main mast, the crow’s nest. She looked up at the expanse of ropes that led to the crow’s nest. It was a small podium surrounded the main mast. Above the nest the white and green flag of Lor hung proudly. She was twenty feet off the deck when someone called her name.

                “WHAT are you doing?” Alex asked. He saw she was headed for the crow’s nest. With the wind that was blowing past, the ship moved quickly and bounced against the waves. He imagined her being thrown out of the precariously high podium.

                He wanted to yell at her to get down, but before he could a wave of nausea came over him. Before he could vomit onto the deck one of the sailors shoved him towards the railing, and he threw up, holding onto the railing of the ship for support.

                Melaina watched from the crow’s nest. Although she felt pity for him, there was also an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. He was finally getting what he deserved for following her, accusing her of murder. Most of the sailors laughed as he turned around slumped down on to the deck.

                Three days she spent the days sitting at the top of the ship, seeing everything from the crow’s nest. Alex spent them in his cabin vomiting repeatedly. On the night before they were bound to reach Collyria Melaina went into the Captain’s office.

                He was poring over maps and taking looks outside the porthole. He didn’t bother to look up as she entered the room. She took a look at the giant map spread out in front of him. She didn’t recognize anything except for the diamond-shaped island she knew to be Lor. There were little islands spread around it, one of which was Collyria.

                “This is Collyria,” he said, pointing his finger at a small oval shaped island. “It’s not a heavily populated island. Most of the land is covered by a forest. That’s where we found the dragon. Her nest is a cave high up on the mountains. ”

                “Well, what about that Lord Nathaniel?” she asked.

                “We didn’t see much of him, he was sick when we went. He was hospitable enough to the crew,” the Captain said. “But not a very sturdy lad. According to the people he’s often bedridden, but he manages everything in the land well enough. No one questions his rule, and the people are satisfied.”

                “So he’ll help us,” she thought aloud.

                The Captain agreed, “Of course. But all the help in the world doesn’t matter in those woods. That forest is unforgiving and strange, Mel. Be careful.”

                “What do you mean strange?”

                “Well after two days in most of us started to hear voices,” he admitted. “It wasn’t a good time for any of us, Mel. I fought against mutiny from my most trusted friends. They weren’t themselves in there, and I dragged them out of that forest by threatening them with... I’ll show you later. In the end, we ended up going up the mountain by going to the far side of the island by ship.”

                “Does the king know about this?”

                “No one does,” the Captain replied. “The Collyrians have legends about that forest. They keep well out it. And, well, I was going to tell your father. But I thought you would like the adventure.”

                Melaina sat down at the table, tracing her finger around the shores of the island on the map. It was a difficult decision. She wanted to see the forest, more than anything, she wanted to see it. She saw the possibility of her quest being something more than a bone-hunt. But it would be wrong of her. She couldn’t endanger other peoples’ lives.

                “I think my adventure will have to be another time,” she answered. “I can’t risk these soldiers’ lives. I’m going to do what my father expects, just this once.”

                “Your father expects you to do the unexpected, and so do I.”

***

                Alex hated ships, and everything related to the ocean in general. Until a few months ago he had never taken his feet off of solid ground. Then Dain had gotten into his head the idiotic idea of marrying an exotic island princess instead of one of the girls at home. Of course, not many of the girls at home had been willing. But Alex reasoned that Dain would’ve been able to find at least one.

                He cursed Dain for his decision, the dragon for abducting Dain, and everything that he could think of for his current situation, with his head half in a pot vomiting every half-an-hour. He occasionally ventured onto the deck, where the sailors often made fun of him.

                He had wanted to talk to Melaina, but every time he found her to be out of his reach, sitting in the crow’s nest as if it was her second home, staring out at the horizon. He didn’t dare climb the rope that led to it. He knew that she saw him, saw what condition he was, and acknowledged her disregard glumly.

                Every time he gathered up the courage to ask the Captain how much longer their journey would be, the old man shot him an angry look with his disturbing twisted morbid smile. His tongue stopped working and he would retreat back to his cabin to vomit into a bucket.

                Finally he felt the boat come to a still and heard the heavy clinking of the anchor being rolled out. When the splash of the anchor resounded through the air he ran out the door and onto the deck. His first thought was that Collyria was a beautiful place.

                Although just three days aboard the ship, the climate had changed dramatically. Sunlight glinted off the clear turquoise water and as he leaned over the railing he saw the rainbow colored fish dart around the ship’s giant rudder. In the distance, the white sandy beach led to a clutter of buildings. In the distance he saw a giant building, an ivy-covered villa. The sailors let down the plank to get onto the wooden port.

                Melaina was already on the port, walking unsteadily over to a nearby group of men who waited standing. The foremost of them, a plump well-dressed man in his thirties handed her a bouquet of flowers and bowed before her. Alex hurried off the plane and walked onto the port.

                The man greeted him with apprehension as he stepped to her side.

                “Sir Alexian, of Felucca,” Alex introduced himself, putting forward his right hand. The man stared at his hand for a second before bowing respectfully.

                “Lord Nathaniel offers his apologies, he has been bedridden for the past few days,” the man explained. “I’m Benjamin, the lord’s personal advisor.”

                “That’s quite alright,” Melaina responded. “Please inform him that we wish for his speedy recovery.”

                “Of course, your highness. Your rooms have been prepared, a guide has been employed to lead you to the forest. All arrangements have been done.”

                Melaina left David to deal with the specifics of the arrangements while she walked ahead into the small village that was Collyria. The people were different from the ones in Lor. Their skin was a light brown, and all of them had black or dark brown hair. The men and women both wore trousers. She only saw dresses on some of the old women.

                Only a fraction of the town was on the ground. The rest of the huts were nestled among the trees. People walked over heads on rope-and-wood bridges. On some of them she saw dark markings drawn onto their cheeks, intricate drawings painted onto their faces. Most of the townspeople looked at them with hostility.

                The manor was a little way off the village, surrounded by sprawling gardens filled with flowers and a high stone wall. The enormous iron gates were a culmination of iron twisted into a picture depicting three dragons, intertwined and breathing fire.

                As soon as they reached the gates the guards hastily opened the door. Melaina ignored the screeching of the rusted iron. Gardeners pruned the flower bushes, but paused as their group passed by. Melaina could understand their surprise. Her father had told her that the people of the other islands of Lor were often wary of pale-skinned strangers. Usually they brought along a desire for conquest and new diseases.

                The manor up close was a work of art. Everything was spotless, even the ivy was carefully controlled in its growth. The staff had a sense of decorum and seriousness. She missed the warmth and casual nature of life back in Lor. It seemed that no other place in the world existed that was quite like Lor.

                Inside the manor was an example of elegance. There were vases full of colorful tropical flowers every few feet. The walls were covered with the usual portraits of ancestors to the latest family additions. She stopped when she saw the picture of their host, Lord Nathaniel. She could see that he was a sickly person. When the picture was painted he was a boy of thirteen. His jaws jutted out and even the painter hadn’t been able to mask his lanky structure.

                “That is Lord Nathaniel?” she asked Benjamin. 

                After a pause, he answered, “Yes. But that was painted a few years ago.”

                “When do we get to meet him?”

                “It’s doubtful whether or not the lord will be well before your quest ends,” Benjamin informed her. “He falls ill often, I’m afraid, and takes very long to recover.”

                Alex doubted what the man said. There was a voice in his mind telling him that Benjamin was lying. He was suspicious that they were hiding the lord from outsiders, keeping him unseen as much as possible. Melaina had the same thoughts, but she just smiled. Her father always said she made too much out of little things, suspected everyone too easily.

                She looked at the picture again, at the pallid color of Lord Nathaniel’s face, at his spindly arms and the look of glum despair that was clear across his face. His velvet coat threatened to swallow him up, and he bent forward with the weight of the gold chain around his neck. His light brown hair hid most of his light green eyes, and she wondered what secrets they held.

 

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