The Tale of Ander Collins: Chapter Thirty-Four

Fiction By LoriAnn // 6/4/2010

 

King Juston turned out to be a good host and a better negotiator. Five hours later, Jagsod, Shyllen and Ander came stretching out of the Map Room, mind-weary, tired, and satisfied. Deliberations would continue in the morning, but they were well into an extensive treaty that suited both parties.
A page appeared at Ander’s elbow and made an elegant little bow. “If my lords and lady will follow me,” he said, looking up, “I will lead you to your bedchambers.”
“Very well,” Ander said, suppressing a yawn. It was getting late, and it had been a long day. “Lead on.”
They followed the boy up to the second floor, past an oddly familiar unicorn tapestry and into a suite with four bedrooms. There the boy left them, standing in the center of a large parlor.
“I claim the biggest room,” Shyllen said with a sleepy attempt at a smirk, pushing open one of the doors leading out of the parlor and peering inside.
Ander shrugged. “As far as I remember, they’re all the same size.” Now he really did yawn, a jaw-cracking moan that made his ears pop. “I’m going to bed,” he said, shaking his head. “Sorry to be antisocial, but I can hardly keep my eyes open.”
Jagsod nudged him toward one of the bedroom doors. “Go on then,” he said. “We’ll start the party without you.”
“What party?” Shyllen asked. She stepped into the room she had chosen and shut the door behind her. From the other side, they heard her muffled voice: “No parties for me, ogre boy. Goodnight.”
Ander smiled. “Goodnight, Jagsod.”
The ogre looked slightly grumpy, but shrugged. “Eh…I’m tired too. See you in the morning, Prince Ander.”
Ander winced. “Please don’t do that.”
Jagsod only chuckled as Ander left the parlor and closed the bedroom door behind him.
The bedchamber was sumptuous and comfortable, with intricate tapestries on the walls and an extremely soft rug on the floor. Ander hardly noticed this though, being too occupied with the bed and finding the turn-down switch for all the oil-lamps on the chamber walls. He fell into the rich bed, sinking into its plush depths with a sigh.
He was asleep in minutes.
 
 
Despite his exhaustion the night before, dawn found Ander already drowsily awake. He lay curled under the warm blankets on his bed, savoring that delicious feeling of being in a comfortable bed and knowing that you don’t have to get up just yet. He remembered his days growing up in this very palace—though, admittedly in a very different portion of this palace. The mornings when he didn’t have to get to the kitchens right away, when Mandy would let him sleep in and wake him late with a fresh apple turnover in her hand.
“You’re a growing boy,” she would say, grinning up at him. It was one of their jokes, since Ander had passed her in height when he was only twelve. Not that Ander was that tall, it was simply that Mandy was that short.
Ander wondered what she had done when he had disappeared. It had never occurred to him to think before what problems his leaving might have caused for her—or what trouble she might have gotten into because of him and his idiocy.
He sat up quickly, letting the covers fall away. Idiocy was right! He had been here a whole day already and hadn’t even gone to see if Mandy was alright!
He hurried out of bed and got dressed as quickly as he could—not too hard seeing as he had barely managed to pull off his overtunic before falling into bed last night. He hopped out the door, pulling on his boot as he went. Out the bedchamber, through the parlor (hearing Jagsod’s noisy snoring as he went) and into the hall—Now if he could just remember how to get to the kitchens.
He spotted a page walking toward him and grinned inwardly. Ha! He was nobility now—he could just ask.
“Excuse me,” he called. The boy blinked sleepily up at him. It was still early, even for the staff.
“Yes sir?”
“Can you give me directions to the kitchens?”
The page looked dubious—people from the upper classes rarely had much to do with the staff, and when they did it was rarely good news.
“I’m just hungry,” Ander tried to assure the boy. “I wanted something to eat.”
The page still frowned at this, but shrugged. “Down the hall, first stairwell on your right, and follow the sound of dishes crashing,” he said.
Ander thanked him and hurried away before the boy could offer to simply bring him a breakfast tray, the way nobles usually did things.
He followed the boy’s directions—down one of the servant’s stairways, no less—and soon found himself back in the familiar recesses of the castle, where the walls were no longer cut stone, but molded bricks with chipped whitewash coatings. His feet, now shod in brand-new leather boots, courtesy of Dorlan’s tailor, brushed softly over the pebbled floor where once they would have been bare and calloused.
The sounds of an early-morning kitchen—loud and bustling and busy—filtered down the corridor to his ears, and sunlight began to replace the torch-light of the tunnel-like hall. Taking a small breath, Ander moved around the final corner and into the kitchen.
No one noticed him for a moment. He stood there in the doorway, breathing in the old scents of flour and frying bacon. To his right, three girls stood over a counter, carefully drizzling chocolate over a tray of berenberries; while one of the older boys carried in a crate of eggs balanced precariously on top of a bread basket.
The ovens were hissing along the back wall, built high with coals and putting out a wall of heat that Ander could feel across the room. A boy Ander thought he might recognize stirred a vat of scrambled eggs over the counter-top coal pit.
Nearby, on a long wooden table pushed against the wall, a mound of bread dough sat forgotten. Ander, without really thinking about it, slid off his jacket and dropped it on the floor. Sliding his sleeves up to his elbows, he stepped over to the table and plunged his hands into the dough to knead it.
For several minutes, he simply stood there, pushing the dough with his knuckles and pulling it out again to fold in on itself. He savored the familiar sensation of the sticky dough under his fingers, patting more flour into the mound and working it evenly through the mix. Push, turn, pat, fold. It was nearly hypnotic.
“What are you doing?”
The indignant voice snapped Ander rudely out of his daze and he turned around to see Marla—the baker’s apprentice—standing behind him. He blinked at her. “Um…kneading bread?”
She stepped back and threw her hands up to her mouth with a little squeal. “Ander Collins!” she yelped.
He nodded sheepishly. “Hello, Marla.” The last time he had seen her, she had unwittingly warned him about King Juston’s wrath.
Ander Collins!”she repeated. He began scraping dough off his fingers in sticky globs, pushing them back into the top of the mound.
“Yes, Marla,” he said. A wet rag lay on a counter and he picked it up to wipe the last daubs of dough off his hands.
“Ander Collins!”
“Marla—I think we’ve established my identity.” Ander grinned to hear how much Shyllen was rubbing off on him. He never would have said such a snarky thing before he met her.
“Marla, don’t you have work to be doing?” Mandy’s voice came firm and unyielding from the other side of the kitchen. She looked up and wiped a lock of grizzled blond hair out of her eyes, with a reproving look in her eyes for Ander.
“And if you don’t mind, young sir, I’d thank you to stop bothering my workers. Not to speak above my station, mind, but your class is wise to stay above stairs.”
Ander stepped toward her, as Marla sniffed and took over the dough. “Uh, Cook?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Have I seen you in here before, sir? You look—” her eyes suddenly widened, and she put a flour-covered hand to her chest. “Ander?”
He grinned. “Marla recognized me right away.”
Mandy pushed around the corner of her table and grabbed Ander into a warm embrace, hugging him tightly and stroking the back of his head. “We thought you were gone for good,” she said, her voice breaking. “Where on earth have you been?”
Ander pulled back and smiled down at her. “You’ve shrunk.”
She swatted him. “Answer my question, young man!”
He took her arm and drew her toward the outer door. “Let’s go sit outside,” he said. “It’s a long story.”
 
 
“…then Dorlan sort of sucked the power right out of her, and she just fell over,” He concluded a good half hour later. Mandy had sat riveted through the entire story, laughing at all the right moments and gasping at the bad ones. She even teared up a bit when he told her of Ravin’s death.
“We were friends once, you know,” she said quietly, dabbing at her eyes with a hanky. “That’s why he asked me to take care of you.”
Ander held her hand, soft and calloused at the same time, and waited for her to sniff and say, “Go on,” before continuing.
Now, at the end of the story, she sat back with a sigh. “Well, it’s been a long few months for me,” she said, “But it sounds like it’s been even longer for you.”
Ander laughed. “At times, I guess.”
Mandy looked over her shoulder into the kitchen. “Well, I should probably get back to work…” she said.
Ander felt horribly guilty. Here he was in his nice new clothes—clothes nicer than anything he had ever worn before—and with his new position, and his foster mother was still sweating her life away in the kitchens, doing work she had always hated even though she did it well and skillfully. All she had ever wanted to be was a teacher—and all she had ever gotten was a single ungrateful student.
“You know what?” Ander said before he had even thought the matter through.
“No…but I know his brother Who,” Mandy said.
Ander laughed out loud. “I haven’t heard that in ages,” he said. Then he took her arm and tugged her gently to her feet. “You’re not going back to the kitchens, Cook,” he said with a smile. “You just follow me.”
“Ander Collins, what do you think—“
“Just trust me, please?” He gave her his puppy-dog eyes, the ones that used to get him all sorts of special privileges when he was younger.
Mandy sighed. “OK—but if the king doesn’t have his breakfast—“
“You leave the king to me.”
 
 
“Shyllen?” Ander called, pushing open the door to their shared parlor. “Shyllen, are you in here?”
The dragoness’ head poked around the corner of her bedchamber door, her red hair rumpled and frizzy.
“Clod, you’d better have a really good reason to be waking me up at this ghastly hour…” she threatened, but her expression changed to one of surprise at the sight of Mandy. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, stepping out of the room and smoothing down the soft pants and loose tunic she had slept in. “I didn’t realize we had company.”
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Mandy assured her with a mischievous grin. “I like a girl who can cut anyone down to size. Please, continue.”
Ander elbowed her and cleared his throat. “Shyllen, this is Cook Mandy, my foster mother and one of my Uncle Ravin’s old friends. Mandy, meet Shyllen. She’s a pretty face most days, but she’s got a killer mean streak if you don’t know what to watch out for.”
“Very funny,” Shyllen retorted. She extended her hand toward the older woman. “It’s lovely to meet you,” she said. “Any woman who has the fortitude to raise Clod here is a woman I want to know.”
“Is this just going to turn into a “let’s make fun of Ander” party?” Ander complained. “Because if so, I’ll just leave and you’ll never hear my wonderful idea.”
“Wonderful idea?” Mandy asked. “What is it?”
“Yes, Clod—I didn’t know you could have bad ideas, let alone good ones.”
Ander sent Shyllen a withering look, but didn’t rise to her bait. “I don’t want Mandy to have to go back to the kitchens,” he said. He turned to the cook. “We’re going to be rebuilding a lot of the Denwold society from scratch,” he told her. “Celzara managed to destroy so much in a short period of time—we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
“And where do I come into this?”
Shyllen, all teasing put aside now, looked intrigued. “Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” she asked Ander.
“Depends on whether or not you think that you’re thinking that what I’m thinking what is what you think I’m thinking.”
There was silence for a moment, and then Mandy asked, “Do you two honestly understand each other?”
Ander looked at Shyllen. “Sometimes.”
“But not right then,” Shyllen said dryly. “However, what I think he’s thinking is that you need to come back to the Denwold with us. We need teachers, and from what he’s told me, you’re an excellent teacher.”
“Gracious, I haven’t taught in years,” Mandy exclaimed. “I’ve probably forgotten how.” But there was a wistful look in her eyes.
“You taught me,” Ander pointed out.
“True, but that may not be the best example of my talents,” Mandy said. Then she blushed. “You two are rubbing off on me.”
Ander shook his head. “Why do I even try?” he said with a roll of his eyes.
“You really should think about it,” Shyllen urged Mandy. “Ander’s right—we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“Well…” Mandy said, twisting a finger into her apron. Ander recognized that gesture. He pointed at her finger.
“Whenever I begged for snacks or free time, and I saw you doing that, I knew I was going to get my way.”
Mandy whipped the finger out of the twist of apron. “I didn’t realize I was so readable,” she said. “Very well—if you can persuade the king, I’ll come with you.”
“Already done,” a new voice said, entering the parlor. The threesome looked up to see Jagsod come around the corner, juggling a piping hot muffin between two rough hands. “I figured this was what you’d be doing—and if you weren’t, I’d have to decide that you have even less brains than I usually give you credit for.”
“You already talked to King Juston?” Ander asked. “And he said yes?”
“Sure—he’s not that hard to persuade. Not as hard as my Grandpa Grigly.”
“Then it’s all set!” Shyllen said with finality. “Cook Mandy, you are now Professor Mandy.”
Mandy blushed again. “Actually, it’s Miranda, and…ahem.” She cleared her throat modestly. “And I got my doctorate in education.”
“Dr. Miranda!” Ander whistled. “That’s just a bit different than Cook Mandy.”
“Just a little.” Already, she looked taller and more confident.
“Just wait until Dorlan meets you,” Ander said. He knew that the tailors back in the Denwold would fit her out with clothes fitting for a royal adviser—which she would probably become, as soon as Dorlan heard about her degree. But Ander wouldn’t say anything about that yet.
“We still have to finish negotiations with King Juston,” Shyllen reminded him.
“I know, but that will only take one or two more days,” Ander replied. “We’re due back in the Map Room right after breakfast.”
“Oh my,” Mandy—that is, Miranda—suddenly exclaimed. “I left the biscuits baking, and none of the girls know how to toast them like the queen likes. I’d better get down there and finish up. One last time,” she added. “It won’t hurt me to do one more breakfast.”
“I’ve already eaten,” Jagsod said as Miranda hurried away. “I’ll meet you in the Map Room in an hour or so—but I’ve been wanting to see the stables ever since I got here.”
“You’re interested in horses?” Ander asked in surprise.
“Sure. Any nomadic ogre would give his best cookpot for a decent pack horse. And I happen to be a bit more interested than most.” He departed, biting into the now-cool muffin with a fading moan of delight as the door closed behind him.
Ander and Shyllen were left standing in the parlor. The dragoness walked around to the front of a couch and sat down, throwing her feet up on an ottoman with a sigh.
“So…” Ander said, going to sit across from her in an armchair. “Mandy—I mean, Miranda—is coming back to the castle with me; I’m acting heir, and Jagsod is apparently going into the horse trade. Do you know what your uncle is going to do?”
She nodded, examining her nails with a critical eye. “Yes, he’s going to rebuild his cave and move back in—he’s already commissioned a team of dwarven minors to come do most of the reconstruction work.”
“That’s good,” Ander said. “I’ll have to see if he needs help salvaging his horde from the mess Aunt Cellie made.”
Shyllen snickered. “Do you realize how odd that sounds?”
He made a face. “Yes. But what else am I supposed to say? She is my great aunt.”
“I know, it’s just weird to hear Evil Queen Celzara referred to like an old maiden aunt—like she just sits around and knits and bakes cookies.”
Ander snorted. “Right. Like anyone could ever have that misconception, after all the trouble we’ve gone through with her.”
“You never know,” Shyllen replied, sobering. “Look how little time it took her to twist the memories of pretty much everyone in this part of the world.”
“True,” Ander conceded. “But she was working with black magic too, remember.”
“True.”
The room fell silent. Ander felt himself becoming uncomfortable, uneasy in the dragoness’ presence as he had never been before—not even back when she called him Clod all the time and acted like she would send him head-over-heels at the slightest provocation. Nervously, he twisted his mother’s ring, which he still wore on his right hand.
“What about you?” he blurted, trying to fill the suddenly awkward pause. Shyllen looked surprised.
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” Ander tried to think what he did mean. “Will you be going back to the mountains, or will you come back to the Denwold, or something else?”
The dragoness turned her eyes to the ceiling thoughtfully. “Hm,” she said. “I hadn’t really thought about it yet. But…I suppose I’ll be coming back with you to Anamere, at least for a while. It’s about time I moved out on my own anyway—my parents have been hinting for a while that I need to claim my own territory and start settling it.”
“Dragons settle their territories?”
“Of course,” she said, looking back at him. “We do it from behind the scenes, a bit, but we dragons have a very big say in who is permitted to live in our territories—Uncle Thraluic spent the longest time deciding if he wanted to let the villagers of Mor build that close to the edge of his lands, let alone who lives inside them.”
“Oh.” Ander twisted the ring again. A wild urge to ask Shyllen a wild question pushed against the inside of his mouth, but he kept it tightly shut. He couldn’t imagine having her live far away from him, where he might only see her once in a great while. He wanted her to be near all the time, to talk with and joke with and argue with and spar with and…and just be with.
“Shyllen,” he said suddenly, not even intending to speak. He flushed and snapped his mouth shut.
“What?” She peered at him curiously with her bright, violet eyes.
“I…uh…” he cleared his throat. “Can I ask you a question?”
She sat up slowly, leaning forward. “Go ahead.”
“Um…have you ever…” Ander felt his ears growing red and hot. “That is, have you ever thought about…um, about what—I mean, have you ever thought about getting married? I mean—” he stammered all over his tongue, hating himself for being so clumsy. “I mean, are there any dragon…erm…dragon men? Yeah—any dragon men that you’ve courted or…” his voice trailed off in embarrassment.
But Shyllen just nodded, an oddly bright expression on her face. “Yes,” she said slowly. “I’ve thought about it. There is one person that I’ve wondered about…”
Ander felt his heart sink. “Oh?”
She nodded. “I haven’t known him for a really long time, but we’re pretty good friends, and I’m sure my parents would approve of the match.”
Feeling sick, but forcing himself to try to be polite, Ander nodded. “That’s…nice. What’s he like?”
She grinned. “Oh, he’s nice enough, and his fighting skills are pretty good—which is, of course a must.”
Ander made a small noise of pretended interest. Inside, he felt like curling up with mortification.
“He’s already a battle-tested warrior,” she went on, “And I’ve seen him in action once or twice—it’s really something to watch. He’s good with people—all sorts. His manners are so nice, and he’s always respectful of other people, unless they just deserve a good pounding or something, and sometimes even then. He’s handsome and well-bred—descended from royalty, actually—and well-traveled; and he’s a decent cook to boot.” 
“Sounds like a nice fellow,” Ander said, hiding his disappointment. “Um, do you think breakfast is ready?” Anything to get out of that room and away from these descriptions of Prince Charming.
Shyllen broke out into peals of laughter, falling back on the couch. “You should see your face!” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around herself as she laughed. “Oh, Ander Collins…you’re just too easy.”
If possible, Ander felt his face go hotter. “What do you mean?”
“I’m talking about you, you big bumbling Clod!”
“Oh.” Ander sat back down on the couch, feeling as though the wind had been knocked out of him—but with a silly smile bursting onto his face. “Me?”
“Yes, you!” She shook her head, still giggling. “Who else?”
He shrugged, grinning even more broadly. “I don’t know.”
Shyllen finally calmed down, and gave a long sigh. “You and I match up pretty good, Clod,” she admitted. “You’re the sensible one, and I’m the smart one.”
“Hey!” he tossed a pillow and hit her on the shoulder.
“Well, it’s true!” She grinned, looking up at him through her lashes with a glance that was positively mischievous. “We really do go well together—like chocolate and pecans.”
“Which one am I?” Ander asked, already knowing her answer.
“You’re obviously the nut,” she replied.
They were quiet for a moment.
“Shyllen?” Ander finally asked. He didn’t break into the silence because it was awkward this time. Instead of feeling nerve-wracked, as he did a moment ago, he felt supremely certain that he was doing the right thing. Carefully, he pulled his mother’s wedding ring off his finger.
“Yes, Clod?” Shyllen answered expectantly, her eyes shining.
He cleared his throat and slipped from the armchair to kneel in front of her.
“I have one more question to ask you,” he said.
 
 
 
                                                  THE END
 

Comments

Well? What do you think?

Well? What do you think?

LoriAnn | Fri, 06/04/2010

Fantastic!

*happy sigh* A very satisfying ending! You did a great job on all of it (especially considering the source material! ;)).

Leandra | Fri, 06/04/2010

Aww, I wanted to see him ask

Aww, I wanted to see him ask her! *pouts* Otherwise, excellent ending! Congrats on the triumph of a finished story!

KatieSara | Fri, 06/04/2010

Katie:-)

"Are all humans like this? So much bigger on the inside?"
-Idris/TARDIS

Nice

This is the kind of story that demands a sequel.

I do wonder how that marriage will work... would Shyllen eventually (as she got older) "give up" her dragon form and just stay human the rest of her days? 

James | Sat, 06/05/2010

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

Or is there some information

Or is there some information i never managed to fit into draft one that is very important and I can't beleive I forgot? :P

LoriAnn | Sat, 06/05/2010

AWWWW! LoriAnn, you almost

AWWWW! LoriAnn, you almost made me CRY!!!!!! Sorry, but that was so sweet and so funny and, and...I Love it! The good guy becomes a hero, the villian is vanquished and the good guy gets the girl! Perfect story ending! <3

Kay J Fields | Sat, 06/05/2010

Visit my writing/book review blog at http://transcribingthesedreams.blogspot.com/

Aw...

sniff. sniff. ka-chu!

Wow! It's been a long journey for our kitchen boy, from servant to prince with a dragoness bride. I knew Syllen was talking about him the whole time, I really did. Congradulations on finishing an excellant story. What's next? Any behind-the-scene peeks? Deleted scenes?

Julie | Sat, 06/05/2010

Formerly Kestrel

Aww! I love it! I thought

Aww! I love it! I thought about crying! which is a big deal, because I have only cried once over a book; and that was because someone died. This was amazing! Congrats on finishing. If you ever do write a sequel, I bet it will be just as good.

airlia | Sun, 06/06/2010

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived."
General George S. Patton

I'm going to miss this crew

I'm going to miss this crew of characters! I definitely think this is one of the best "unlikely hero" stories I've read! And uh...hmmm...I know you're going to be busy with college and all...but, uhhh...sequel, please? :0)

BTW thank you for not killing Thraluic. ;0)

Heather | Tue, 06/08/2010

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
And now our hearts will beat in time/You say I am yours and you are mine...
Michelle Tumes, "There Goes My Love"

YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Happy ending!

Thats what a good book is ! and I love the

" I have one more question to ask you" LOVE IT!!!! that was a real fairytale! I loved it from the very begining to the end! that was spactactueler(?) I had so many anxios butterflies in this book!

May your hand never tier

 

Kassady

Kassady | Fri, 06/25/2010

"Here's looking at you, Kid"
---
Write On!

*gasp*

But how does she ANSWER?? Okay, I'm pretty sure I know. But I would have liked to read it.

I want you to go for publishing so that I can buy a copy and shelve it next to Dealing with Dragons and Ella Enchanted. Seriously. Then I can lend it to my friends! These characters feel like friends themselves-- they're so real.

I'm sorry I took so long to finish.

Anna | Tue, 10/12/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief