The Tale of Ander Collins: Chapter Nine

Fiction By LoriAnn // 5/14/2009

“It’s about time you two showed up,” a voice from inside the cave snapped. A figure stepped from the rocky shadows and into the dimming light.

It was a girl; tall and slender, like a willow switch. Her hair was long and red-tinted, and her skin was flawless – like the fine pink porcelain used for state dinners back home. She wore a finely-tanned leather vest, trimmed with scarlet stitching around the bottom and arm-holes; and her tunic was deep green, made of good linen. Her boots were shaped to her legs and feet, tooled with vine motifs and dyed a dark brown.

Ander thought, for one unguarded second, that not even Princess Reina – for all her finery – could match this girl in beauty. He realized that he was gaping, and snapped his mouth shut; but it was too late. The girl smirked at him archly.

“This is the urchin you want me to train, Uncle?” she asked, her voice dripping with haughty disdain.

Ander burned in humiliation. He was small for his age, it was true. But he was wiry and strong – after all, had this girl run away from home, met a fearsome creature, cleaned the said creature’s cave, had a run-in with an evil witch and made a grocery run – all in the space of three days? He thought not!

“My name is Ander Collins,” he declared, keeping his voice overly polite. Even if she could not be courteous, he would be. It might be the only thing he could do better than she – but by the Berik Sea, he would do it well!

Thraluic glanced at Ander and back at the girl. He grumbled in amusement. “Ander, this is my niece, Shyllen of the Forgath Mountains. She is to be your instructor in sword-craft and archery.”

Ander bowed stiffly, a formal court bow he had only been taught once, by a squire he had befriended for a few days.

The girl only sneered. “He’s a fop, Uncle,” she complained. “He won’t last an hour.”

”I suggest you try him before making any assumptions, Shyllen,” Thraluic said. “He managed to resist Celzara.”

Shyllen turned appraising eyes on Ander, and he stood up a bit straighter under her scrutiny. A flash of something like interest flashed in her eyes, but was gone as soon as it had appeared. She shrugged. “We’ll see. Did you bring anything to eat?”

Thraluic nodded in Ander’s direction. “I just brought Ander back from Mor. He should have the makings of supper for you two. I’ll find my own dinner, and be back in an hour or two.”

She nodded sharply – almost militaristically - and spun on her heel, disappearing back into the cave.

Thraluic chuckled. “Don’t get fried, Ander. Shyllen can be a little...feisty. But she has a good heart.”

Ander shrugged uncertainly. “But – hold on a minute, Thraluic,” he said, as the dragon started to turn away. “I thought you said she was a dragon. And just now, she called you ‘uncle’. But…she’s –“

“Human? Not really. Remember that I said younger dragons can shift into a mostly-human form. Shyllen likes to mingle with your race – and she probably thinks it will be easier to train you in this form.” He motioned with his head in the direction of the cave. “Are you going in?”

“Do I have to?” Ander hated the childish tone in his voice, but he already disliked the self-important dragoness.

Thraluic snorted a soft laugh. “Yes, lad. You have to.”

Shrugging in defeat, Ander watched the black dragon melt into the deepening forest shadows, his bulk barely whispering through the thick underbrush. Within seconds, the hunter was out of sight and hearing.

Ander sighed, squared his shoulders, and walked into the cave, squinting into the half-light.
He followed the dim glow of a torch down to the treasure cavern, where he found Shyllen critically surveying the north corner.

“It’s sandy,” she said, nudging the pale-golden grains with her toe as though it were something dead. “Sand gets into my scales.”

Ander bit back a sharp retort, his shoulders still aching from the weight of the bags he had hauled away that morning. “I am sorry it is not to your liking,” he said through stiff lips. “But as you can see, the rest of the cavern is of stone. This is the most comfortable area.”

She waved dismissively. “It will do. And I will say that the sand will work well for your lessons. It’s painful to fall on a stone floor.”

His pride a bit stung, Ander tilted his head. “Perhaps I will fall less than you expect,” he suggested.

With a snake-like whipping motion, Shyllen twirled in place and swept Ander’s feet from underneath him with her left leg. He landed on the sand with a soft “oomph”, his head jarred harshly by the fall.

The dragoness clucked her tongue in mock sympathy. “And you sounded so sure of yourself,” she said, shaking her head at him.

Ander said nothing, but his face burned with fury and humiliation as he stood to his feet, brushing sand from the back of his breeches.
Without another glance in his direction,

Shyllen marched over to a pile of firewood Thraluic had ordered Ander to stack that morning. She placed five small logs in a pointed tent shape, and knelt down beside it.

Taking a deep breath, she blew gently on the wood, a barely visible jet of white fire streaming from between her lips. Instantly, the dry logs burst into a cheerfully cackling flame.

Ander stared in amazement.

“Well, boy?” Shyllen demanded, standing up. “I’ve gotten the fire started; now you do your part.”

Bowing yet again, Ander began pulling items from his pack – two sausages went into a shallow bronze bowl that he set over the coals; and one loaf of bread was carefully sliced and buttered. While the sausage browned, Ander carefully roasted two of his apples, coating them in a thin layer of honey – supplied silently by the dragoness from her own pack.

Ander nearly thanked her when she handed him the small clay jar, but the look she shot at him was one of barely contained scorn; so he said nothing.

Within half an hour of sunset, the cavern was filled with the scents of fried sausage, toasted bread, and sweet apples. Ander found two silver plates that didn’t look too ornate – though still far finer than anything he had ever eaten off of before – and served Shyllen her dinner.

She was reading one of Thraluic’s books –The Art and Lifestyles of the Feielves – and barely looked up when Ander set the plate down beside her. “Am I to eat with my fingers, boy?” she asked coolly. He gritted his teeth, and brought a knife and a fork from the same cabinet where he had found the plates. The dragoness examined the silverware closely and polished away several spots with the hem of her tunic, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

“You may go now,” she ordered him. Ander bent at the waist and backed away, his brain seething with biting remarks. But he was determined to show her that at the very least, he was cultured; and kept the angry words behind his teeth.

As he ate his dinner – distracted for a moment by the absolute deliciousness of the richly spiced sausage – he stewed over Shyllen’s treatment. Who was she to decide that he was a no-account? He’s show her. No matter if it nearly killed him, he’d prove that he could be just as good at she was – maybe even better.

Yes, he’d show her.

Ander awoke the next morning with a severe crick in his neck. He had been relegated back to his stony niche in the outer cave by

Shyllen, who declared that it would not be proper for her to sleep in the same room as a boy who was not related to her. Thraluic had not returned when this decision was made, but

Ander was unwilling to put up a fight; so he had taken four of the velvet curtains to line his “nest”, leaving Shyllen the treasure cavern. As he stretched vigorously, attempting to reorient his bones to a less painful position, he regretted his compliance. She was a dragoness, for sea’s sake! It wasn’t as if he could hurt her, even if he wanted to. Tonight, he was sleeping in the cavern.

Besides, Ander thought crankily; he had slept fitfully all night, half-afraid that some minion of Celzara’s would slip past the protective bulk of Thraluic in the entry cave. Morning had come far too slowly.

The smell of something frying tickled his nostrils, and Ander followed the scent down to the cavern, where he found Shyllen already up and dressed, and carefully crisping last night’s leftover sausage bits, mixed with chunked potatoes and a sliced apple. She glanced up at him, and Ander thought she was about to smile – but she frowned instead. “You look like something chewed you up,” she said critically.

“And you act like you’d prefer to have been the one doing the chewing,” Ander retorted, remembering too late his vow of aloofness. To make up for the lapse, he served himself a plate of the steaming hash and retreated to a comfortable seat along the wall. He had to admit, the girl was a decent cook – the sweetness of the apples complimented the savory meat well – though he wondered where she had gotten the potatoes.

Shyllen didn’t volunteer the information, but sat silently herself, chewing the hash slowly, and sipping from a small flask of what seemed to be a fruit juice.

Thraluic stuck his head through the door. “Are you two nearly finished?”

Shyllen scraped the last bit of potato from her plate. Hardly glancing in Ander’s direction, she smiled brightly at her uncle.

“Yes, Uncle. Do you have a plan for today?”

Ander rolled his eyes at her sudden cheerfulness. Yes, oh my darling Uncle, he mimicked in his mind. I’m just dying to beat the brains out of this puny little boy, unless of course, you had other plans for this beautiful morning. Thraluic glanced at him and gave a slow wink. Ander quickly wiped the sardonic look off his face and stuffed in another bite of hash.

“No, I had no plans,” the dragon said to his niece. “I thought I might watch Ander’s first lesson, though.”

Ander had to swallow quickly to keep himself from sighing in relief. In contrast, a look passed over Shyllen’s face that almost resembled anxiety. She shrugged.

“That sounds like a good idea.” She said. “Maybe you can give some pointers.”

Thraluic looked over at Ander. “Are you ready?” he asked.

Ander held up his only half-empty plate of mash. “Not quite,” he mumbled around a sizable mouthful. “Give me a few minutes?”

The corner of Shyllen’s mouth quirked, just short of a sneer. “That’s alright, Uncle,” she said, dismissing Ander with a flip of her hair. “I need to get out and stretch anyway.”

She sashayed past Thraluic with yet another blinding smile, exiting the treasure cavern and disappearing through the gel-like door. As soon as she had vanished, Ander stuck his tongue out at the door.

Thraluic snorted. “I saw that.”

“I don’t care,” Ander said indignantly. “She’s a snob! And I hate to think what will happen when she’s trying to “teach” me to fight. She’s more likely to thrash my hide than actually help me.”

Shrugging his wings noncommittally, Thraluic stretched out his neck and sniffed at the leftover hash browning over the coals. “Did you make this?”

“No,” Ander shook his head, and scooped another bit of his breakfast into his mouth. “Shyllen did.”

The black dragon’s thin tongue snaked out and tasted the hash. He raised his scaly brows. “Hmmm. Pretty good. Though I haven’t ever known my niece to cook for anyone besides friends and family.”

Ander’s fork stabbed the last piece of hash firmly. “So?”

The entire pan of hash vanished in a single snap of Thraluic’s jaw, leaving the bronze bowl teetering dizzily on the stone floor. “I think she likes you,” he said simply.

Ander nearly choked. “What? No she doesn’t – she thinks I’m a waste of her precious time.”

With a casual nod of his great, horned head; Thraluic answered “Maybe, but you never know.”

Nonsense. Ander ignored the dragon’s suggestion. Even if Shyllen did like him – which, judging by her attitude, was unlikely – he certainly didn’t like her. Her arrogant attitude grated on his nerves, and the scornful looks she shot in his direction were infuriating.

He stood and gathered up the dishes, intending to take them outside. He remembered seeing a small brook near the cave when he had first arrived.

“Put those down,” Shyllen’s voice ordered from near the door. “You can wash them later.”

Ander glanced up, startled. The dragoness’ voice sounded…fuller somehow. When he saw her, he realized why – her voice was coming from a much larger chest now.

Shyllen’s draconic head filled his vision as she loomed closer to him, grinning derisively. “Not too much for you, I hope?” she mocked him.

Thraluic sighed. “I’ll be on the other side of the cave for a bit, you two,” he said. There was just the barest hint of amusement in his rumbling voice. “If you need me…”

Ander gulped. I think I need you already, he wanted to shout, but that would just reinforce Shyllen’s poor opinion of him. The dragoness snorted a tiny plume of purplish smoke, and winked lazily at him.

Her scales were shaped differently than Thraluic’s – where his were plate-shaped, with notches in the bottom; Shyllen’s were more like small shells, similar to the ones he had so often scooped oyster meat from, to serve at the king’s table. Her scales were also different in color than her uncle’s: instead of black, tinted green in the light; hers were deep blue, with rosy highlights. Her eyes glinted violet in the cave’s torch-light, and when she moved her head, her horns glittered an iridescent indigo.

“Well, if you’re ready to begin?” she asked with an unreadable glint in her shimmering eyes.

Ander squared his shoulders and tried to look larger than he really was. “If you are,” he said, daring her to…do…something. He wasn’t sure what.

With a snort, Shyllen vanished. Ander blinked, and took a step back, glancing around warily for the dragoness. He wouldn’t put it past her to leap out at him from one of the towering piles of treasure.

Instead, she simply stepped out calmly – in human shape – from behind a stone pillar. In her hand was a gleaming sword, its hilt set with a fiery, violet gem.

She hissed, grinning at him in wicked anticipation. “Then we shall commence.”

Comments

:)

Chapter ten coming soon.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Imagine long, smile much, laugh often."

LoriAnn | Mon, 05/18/2009

Oh...

She's annoying...and it doesn't help that I'm not in a good mood right now. I'd like to transluminate her!
---
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 | Mon, 05/18/2009

Formerly Kestrel

Now, now...

Fortunately for dear Shyllen, there is no such thing as a candlestone in my world...lol. Good thing, huh?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Imagine long, smile much, laugh often."

LoriAnn | Wed, 05/20/2009

She's pretty, as both a

She's pretty, as both a dragoness and a human. But, yeah, she gets on my nerves a bit. I'd like to fight her! I bet I could learn a lot.

"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 | Sun, 05/31/2009

"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

Neat!

Sorry its taken so long for me to comment here LoriAnn.Its great! I like Shyllen too, though she does get on my nerves...
************************************************
Lying in my bed despite the raging storm I tried to look at the Brighter side of things... And so sat in the darkness for a full ten minutes.

Kay J Fields | Fri, 06/12/2009

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