The Tale of Ander Collins: Chapter Four

Fiction By LoriAnn // 3/21/2009

CHAPTER FOUR

The sun was already high in the sky when Ander awoke, and Thraluic was nowhere to be seen. Ander stretched and grinned up at a bluebird in the tree above him. “I think I could actually handle this,” he mused aloud, half to himself and half to the bird. “It’s nicer than the kitchens, though…” he trailed off, unwilling to admit that he missed Cook. The wiry woman had taken him in when he was a baby – abandoned by an unknown mother beside the kitchen ovens. Ander had sometimes wondered if maybe the reason he hated the ovens so much was that they reminded him of his mother – and of her disinterest in him. He used to make up stories for himself about how she was on a quest to find her lost husband, and would return for him someday; or that she was a noble with enemies, and she left him with Cook for safety. But as he grew older, Ander’s dreams began to rust and gather dust in the corners of his mind. These days, he rarely thought about his parents, unless it was with resentment.
Ander stood and shook off the bits of grass and leaves that clung to his tunic. Hungry, he looked for something to eat, but there was no hot gruel waiting on the stove, or day-old sweetbread needing to be eaten. The only edible thing in sight was the leftover meat from the night before, now cold and greasy, and attracting a thin cloud of tiny flies. Ander poked at it warily, as though it might transform into a small pie or dish of mash, if he just stared at it long enough.
“Hungry?” Thraluic’s deep rumble made Ander jump.
“You’ve got to stop doing that!” he gasped, catching his breath. “Or your new hired hand is going to drop dead of shock!” For a second, he feared that he had gone too far, but the dragon only grunted.
“I brought you some breakfast, and some supplies for cleaning and making yourself at home.”
He nudged a small burlap sack in Ander’s direction with a claw. Curiously, Ander untied the string around the bag’s neck and inspected the contents.
The first thing he saw was a large, spiced-fruit pie, only slightly squashed. He eagerly pulled it out and took a bite, savoring the tartness of the fruit – apples, he thought – and the crunchy, sweet crust. “Thank you, Master,” he said with his mouth full. “This is great.” Vaguely he wondered where the dragon had gotten a human-made pie, but he decided not to ask. He was probably better off not knowing.
When the last bits of juice and crumbs had been licked from his fingers, Ander examined the rest of the things in the sack. One bucket, metal, with a wooden grip on the handle; one mop-head, to attach to a stick or rod - not included; three bars of good soap; a small jar of polish, though what for, Ander had no idea – there was nothing polishable in Thraluic’s cave. He shrugged, and pulled out the last object in the sack, a small pillow and a thick blanket.
“There’s a niche in the back of my cave you can sleep in,” offered Thraluic. “It’s not very big, but at least you won’t be sleeping outside every night.”
Ander nodded. “Thank you,” he said, returning the items to the pack and shouldering it. “I’ll go set up my new bedroom,” he added, grinning cheekily. Somehow, he wasn’t afraid of his new master anymore. Cautious, yes, and certainly respectful; but not afraid.
Thraluic made that peculiar grunting that Ander had come to recognize as his laugh. “Go on, then,” he ordered. “And come back out when you’ve finished. I might as well show you my land.”
Ander cocked his head. “Your land?” he asked curiously. He hadn’t known that dragons owned land.
“Yes, my hunting territory, my gardens, and my other hidey-holes.”
“Yes, sir,” Ander said excitedly, hurrying into the darkness of the cave. “I’ll be quick.”
Inside the cave, Ander quickly found the alcove Thraluic had mentioned. It was actually quite large – about the size of a cart-bed, if only barely tall enough for him to stand up in. Ander tossed out any large rocks he could find and lay down the blanket. Too hard he stared at the alcove thoughtfully. He snapped his fingers.
“Finished already?” Thraluic asked as he stepped into the sunlight outside the cave.
“No, sir,” Ander replied, heading for the edge of the clearing. “I just need some cushion for my bed.” Two loads of grass and dead leaves later, Ander was satisfied with his ‘bed’. He carefully arranged the pillow in the center of the tucked-under blanket, and put the cleaning supplies in the bucket next to the bed.
“I’m done,” he called out.
“Come on, then, lad,” the dragon’s voice came faintly this far back in the cave.
Ander gave his new bedroom a last, contented glance and jogged out of the cavern. “Where to first, Master?” he asked.
Thraluic eyed him carefully. “Hmm,” he rumbled, a tuft of steam escaping his left nostril. “I don’t think you’ll be able to keep up with me on those scrawny legs of yours.”
Ander drew himself up defiantly. “I can keep up,” he protested. “I’m stronger than I look.”
“I know you are,” the dragon replied. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken you on. But a dragon can cover leagues in mere minutes, when he has a mind to. No, I think you would be better off riding on my back.”
Ander started to argue again, stung that Thraluic had such a low opinion of him - him, Ander! Reigning champion of arm-wrestling and –
“Wait, did you say ride?”
Thraluic chuckled. “Yes, lad. Climb aboard.”
Eagerly, Ander scrambled up the dragon’s rough side, finding finger-holds and toe-grips in the gaps between scales; thin, black plates that seemed dry and pitted. Once settled in a semi-comfortable spot between what might have been Thraluic’s shoulder blades, he said “I’m ready!”
He felt the dragon’s voice vibrating through his bones as Thraluic answered “Oh, you are, are you?”
With a leap that seemed to defy gravity, and a thump of wings so large that they filled Ander’s vision on both sides, Thraluic rocketed into the air. Ander couldn’t hold back a shout of surprise, but the dragon merely laughed; a booming, roaring guffaw that filled the air and sent birds diving for cover. Within moments, they were soaring high above the Denwold, looking down on the mottled green-and-brown of the trees, and the glittering pale blue of the sky reflected in small pools and brooks.
Ander shouted again, this time in sheer exhilaration. “This is amazing!” he cried, his face stinging from the wind. He closed his eyes and dared to let go his tight clasp of Thraluic’s scales. Stretching his arms wide, he almost felt as though he were the one flying, not only along for the ride.
Thraluic swooped unexpectedly, and Ander had to fumble to hang on, jolted out of his daydream. Thraluic’s voice came floating back to him, “Don’t get distracted, lad. We’ve come to the borders of my land.”
Ander looked down – a tricky business, because he had to lean forward and out at the same time, to see past Thraluic’s wing – and saw a huge river, flowing through a deep gorge the sliced cleanly through the land. “This is the Seletar river,” Thraluic explained “It flows from the northern borders of Alkemen, and south to the Berik Sea, where it foams around the Rocks of Teremin. These rocks make it impossible for ships to sail up the Seletar, because they would first be ground against the seabed, or else dashed on the rocks.”
Ander shivered. He had heard many tales of the Rocks, stories about the ships full of treasure that had sunk there, and the mermaid-songs that lured them there. Folk said that the doomed sailors still haunted those waters, enticing other ships into the deadly embrace of the Rocks.
Thraluic continued, dipping low over the river, so that Ander saw their reflection in the cloudy-blue water. “My territory extends to the village of Mor, on the western bank of the river. I do not claim what men have settled, though the land that Mor rests upon belonged to my father and his father before him. The territory of men has encroached upon that of my people for generations, but Man is a short-lived race and eventually the land will be ours again.” His voice was wistful. Ander wondered what Alkemen had looked like before it was settled by his people. Had there been another race of man who had lived here long ago? Or had it all belonged to the dragons and the feielves and the other creatures that now lived in Denwold forest?
They flew high again, soaring over a small village perched on the banks of the river. Several fishermen shaded their eyes and looked up, but before Ander could see their reaction to a dragon flying above their homes, they were out of sight.
Once again flying above the trees, Thraluic circled tightly, so that for a moment, Ander was lying horizontally, looking down at the forest. He yelped. “This is the western border of my land,” Thraluic said, straightening. Ander caught his breath and tried to calm his stomach. “That tall oak tree is home to an old owl that has lived in this forest as long as I. We are friends, of a sort, and he keeps my woods free of rodents, for the most part.”
Ander studied the old tree, big and sturdy. He thought he might have seen a pair of round yellow eyes blinking up at him, but when he looked again, he saw nothing.
Thraluic swept his wings strongly, sending them rushing up and to the west. “The western end of my land is marked by the beginning of the feielve’s city,” he said. Ander eagerly looked down, hoping for a glimpse of the famed golden city of the elves.
Thraluic’s large black head swiveled around to look at the boy. “You won’t see anything, lad. The stories you’ve heard are nothing more than fireside fancy, and the feielves’ home is hard to spot even when you stand within it.”
Slightly disappointed, Ander sat back up and shouted “What about the south?”
“The cave sits right up against the long side of the southern border.” The dragon answered. “Though the corner of the territory in the south about lines up with where the river exits the wood.”
Ander nodded, though he knew that Thraluic couldn’t see him. The dragon’s territory was huge – covering almost all of Denwold. “Are there any other dragons around here?”
“There is one in the southern Forgath Mountains, but we dragons are not particularly social creatures, and I have only met her a few times.”
They said no more until Thraluic had spiraled down to the clearing that held the cave. It was nearly noon when they returned, and Ander felt his stomach rumble with hunger.
Thraluic’s sensitive ears heard it. He shook his head. “You humans need to eat so often,” he said, “I knew, but had forgotten. Sit down, and don’t move.”
Ander obeyed, curious. The dragon gave him an appraising look, and vanished into his cavern, as silent as smoke.
Ander strained his eyes to see into the cave, but the sun was almost right overhead, and no amount of squinting made any difference.
Suddenly, the faint sound of weeping disturbs the quiet stillness of the noontide. Ander pushed himself to his feet hurriedly, despite Thraluic’s order. He peered into the dense undergrowth surrounding Thraluic’s clearing, trying to make out anything unusual in the dim, sun-dappled forest. A movement to his left caught Ander’s eye. He whipped his head around, a panicky feeling fluttering in his stomach. “Who’s there?” he demanded loudly, trying to cover the nervous quiver in his voice. “Come out where I can see you!”
A small, bedraggled shape in a brown dress crept out from under a bush. Ander sucked in a dismayed breath. “Oh.” He said helplessly.
Cellie blinked up at him and brushed a strand of her red hair away from her teary green eyes. Ander took a step back.
“Not you again,” he muttered. He tensed, ready to run, shouting, for Thraluic at the slightest provocation.
Cellie sniffled. “Did you rescue my mother yet?” Just the slightest hint of a smirk hovered around the corners of her perfect, rosebud mouth.
Ander gritted his teeth. “He ate her,” he said scathingly. “And now he’s looking especially for young girls who tell tearful lies to unsuspecting strangers.”
The tears in Cellie’s eyes dried instantly, and Ander suddenly recalled the horrible heat of them when he had first met her. Suddenly, she didn’t look so harmless and innocent. The smirk grew, stretching across the child’s face like hot taffy, until it resembled more the rage-filled maw of an animal than the sweet lips of a girl.
Ander stepped back again, watching in horrified fascination, unable to look away, as
”Cellie’s” form shifted and morphed, like hot wax flowing up the candlestick. A terrified squeak escaped Ander’s lips, and he wished desperately for Thraluic’s imposing presence. But much as he wanted to run to the cave and never come out again, he found himself rooted to the spot by the appalling transformation.
With a cry of satisfaction, a tall, red-haired form stretched luxuriously where Cellie had stood seconds before. “Ah, it feels good to be out of that cramped space,” a rich, cultured woman’s voice said. Ander stared, petrified, at the impossibly beautiful woman.
She was tall – enormously so, it seemed to him; as tall as a tree! – and her red hair, no longer tousled and tangled, fell in indolent waves to the small of her back. She was clad in a silken russet gown that reached her feet, trimmed in gold and red embroidery; and the look in her hot, green eyes was one of murderous gratification. “You will regret your hasty words, filthy mortal,” she purred, flowing toward him over the grass like molten gold, the vegetation withering under her feet, and small sprouts of twisted, blackened plants springing up to take their place.
Ander couldn’t move; his limbs seemingly turned to wood, unyielding and solid. “P-p-please,” he managed to stutter, though even his voice felt stiff.
“Silence, brat. It is nice to hear you grovel, no doubt, but we have larger matters to discuss.” She examined her fingernails languidly. They looked sharp, and Ander could easily see her slicing through worked iron with them. He gulped – his throat was noticeably softer, not to mention more convenient, than worked iron.
“So, boy,” her voice was scornful. “Did you honestly think you could just waltz in and take the lizard’s gold for yourself?”
Ander started, for a moment unhindered by the strange bonds the woman had placed on him. “Gold?” he asked, bewildered. “There is no gold.” Indignation rose up in him, and he added hotly, “I though I was helping an innocent girl save her mother!”
The woman merely smiled, and though it was a cruel, catlike smile, Ander couldn’t help but suddenly realize how lovely she was, in a terrifying, unearthly way. Master, he moaned inwardly, once again frozen in place I need you!
The woman paused, and considered him thoughtfully, that thin smile still gracing her rose-like lips. “I don’t believe you, of course, but I do have to wonder why you are still here. Why have you not yet vanished into the forest with your booty? Do you hope to kill the dragon yourself? If so, I might advise against it, as you would surely lose – though, it would make an amusing show.”
Ander forced the words past immovable lips, “He’s my…Master. I…clean –“
“Nonsense!” the woman glowered. “Don’t try to buy your life with lies, mortal scum. “Dragons do not need servants – they are nearly mindless beasts.”
“No…” Ander felt a bit of strength return to his face. “He wanted someone to clean his cave,” he spat at her, anger overpowering his fear. “He is not a mindless beast!”
She shrugged prettily. “Perhaps not. But how long do you think he will keep you in his service, kitchen boy? Dragons don’t make particularly good company when they are…” she smiled again. Ander hated that smile. “Well, when they are hungry. And if there is no other food to be easily gotten? Why, then, boy – you will be very, very close to those very, very large teeth.” She leaned in close to Ander’s face, so close that he could smell her perfume – sharp and citrus.
He shuddered, unable to deny the grain of truth in her words. “Who are you?” he begged, his voice shaking.
The russet-clad woman drew herself up regally, her eyes spitting green sparks. “I am the Wood Queen,” she declared. “Celzara the First, and rightful heir to the throne.”

Comments

Here it is!

Enjoy.

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"I am a dreamer, take me higher, open the sky up, start a fire...I beleive, even if it's just a dream." -Bethany Dillon

LoriAnn | Sat, 03/21/2009

Oooh! Wouldnt' it be strange

Oooh!
Wouldnt' it be strange and just- wrong- if it turned out she WAS the good guy and Thraluic WAS evil? But that can't be true, and I hope Ander doesn't give in! (Not that he could harm Thraluic anyway...)
:) I'm excited!
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Chaos.
Panic.
Disorder.
My work here is done.

Anna | Sat, 03/21/2009

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

Noh - trust me: that queen

Noh - trust me: that queen is evil through and through. And I like Thraluic too much to make him bad...though he has his secrets...lol

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"I am a dreamer, take me higher, open the sky up, start a fire...I beleive, even if it's just a dream." -Bethany Dillon

LoriAnn | Sat, 03/21/2009

I don't like her and I wish

I don't like her and I wish Thraluic would come up behind Ander and eat the woman! I think I might like this chapter the best so far, though.

"The more I see of the world, the less inclined I am to think well of it." Elisabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

The Brit | Sat, 03/21/2009

I know what happens next!

for the most part and I'm not giving anything away! Loriann, you are doing a REAllY good job of adapting this!
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I personally predict that the world will come crashing to a halt if you don't forward this to 50 Gazillion people by noon tomorow!!
-me (in parody of a chain e-mail)

Keri | Sun, 03/22/2009

:)

I'm glad people are liking this. And thanks Keri - but yeah! No spoilers! lol

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"I am a dreamer, take me higher, open the sky up, start a fire...I beleive, even if it's just a dream." -Bethany Dillon

LoriAnn | Tue, 03/24/2009

Interesting..*goes back to

Interesting..*goes back to read previous chapters.
---
The Word is alive/and it cuts like a sword through the darkness
With a message of life to the hopeless/and afraid...

~"The Word is Alive' by Casting Crowns

May my words be a light that guides others to the True Light and Word.

Julie | Thu, 03/26/2009

Formerly Kestrel

Interesting! I like it. I

Interesting! I like it. I think Ander's 'bedroom' is really cool. And... "go away, bad lady!" LOL
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"Their most active years are the first six months"--Old Fashioned Girl, referring to cats.

Kendra | Sun, 04/26/2009

<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\<>/\
"Are you sure this water is sanitary? It looks questionable to me! But what about bacteria?"--Tantor the elephant from Tarzan.

'Ander started to argue

'Ander started to argue again, stung that Thraluic had such a low opinion of him - him, Ander! Reigning champion of arm-wrestling and –
“Wait, did you say ride?”'
That's my favorite part. This story is really awesome. I'm just glad I don't have to wait until you post more, because I'm not done yet.

"California", he said, "is a beautiful wild kid on heroin, high as a kite and thinking she's on top of the world, not knowing that she's dying, not believing it even when you show her the marks." - Motorcycle Boy, from S.E. Hinton's 'Rumble Fish"

Bridget | Fri, 05/29/2009

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya