Fifty years in the future:
“This way!” Rica called, picking a trail through the dense underbrush of the ancient forest. “I thought I saw something orange!”
“Probably your own stupid head reflecting off the stream,” Mina muttered. Here she was, a mature girl of eleven, traipsing off through the dismal woods on a chilly autumn afternoon. And for what? A cat! Alright, she admitted, she was fond of the little beast herself. Moreso than of her current company, at least. But, she couldn’t deny Rica’s presence; it was, after all, her cat. Besides, their parents were friends, and somehow that seemed to mean they should be too. Mina found that conclusion questionable at best. It didn’t help that her little brother Ellard was infatuated with the girl. Not that he’d admit it, of course; nonetheless, when Rica came bemoaning her plight at Fireball’s disappearance, he jumped up to come to her rescue. Mina glanced behind her, where the clumsy boy was trying to keep pace with them, staying well away from the stream. Not that a little mud would hurt his appearance any; mud-colored hair, mud-colored eyes, he may as well be covered in it already. She didn’t know what Rica saw in the boy; but, she was only nine, after all, still a little girl.
“Hey, wait for me!”
Mina rolled her eyes. Conall. Rica’s chubby-cheeked little brother, was worse than Ellard; and, being several years younger than the rest of them, he had a much harder time keeping up. He absolutely refused to stay home while they all left, though, and she knew that if he was out by himself Bardolf would blame the rest of them. It was all so unfair. Occupied as she was bemoaning her fate, she nearly missed Rica skidding to a halt in front of her.
“Did you find him, finally? What, is he up in a tree or something?”
“No, but...” The freckled girl gestured in front of her, where the land dropped away sharply to the banks of the wider river into which flowed the stream they’d followed. Mina paled a little; she didn’t think they’d come this far, already.
“We have to go back. We shouldn’t be this close to the river.”
“Oh, come off it,” Rica said, her concern evidently dissolving in the face of an opportunity to defy the older girl. Just what we need, Mina thought. Behind them, the boys had caught up, and now the entire group stood gazing down at the embankment, the waters, and the shore beyond.
“I sees him!” Conall declared, pointing across the river with one chubby finger. Mina’s gaze tracked where he pointed, and then she froze. There was something there, at least for a moment. Her heart leapt into her throat.
“We should go. Right now. You know we’re not allowed near the river.”
“Dad’s not here,” Rica scoffed. “Who’s going to see us?”
“You know who! Or what, maybe I should say.”
“Ohh,” Ellard nodded. “Yeah, good thing I’m here to protect you, Rica.” He sidled a little closer to the other girl, to another eyeroll from Mina.
“I don’t see anything,” Rica frowned, though she didn’t rebuff Ellard’s offer. “No one will notice if we only go over for a minute. Look, we can probably cross on the stones over there without getting too wet.”
“The river’s the border of her territory though,” Mina frowned, biting her lip. “Who knows what magic she might have watching it?”
“His territory too,” Ellard butted in. “He’s the dangerous one, in the stories.”
“Nuh-uh!” It wasn’t the first time Mina’d had this dispute with her little brother, who stubbornly refused to admit the obvious fact that girls were naturally more skilled, and thus dangerous, than boys. “She ate all those farmers in Wisconsin, grandpa said. Ate them right up!”
“Well, he demolished the old city of Dee Troit, so there!”
“Are those stories really about... it, right across the river?’ Rica asked, beginning to sound nervous again.
“Your dad says so too, I know it,” Mina replied. “He’s warned you against her. The Dragon! The Faceless One, the Skinchanger. Delaney ia’Ardell.”
“And what about the dragonrider? The Chaos Lord, Bringer of Destruction. Ardell ia’Delaney!”
Ellard’s retort was expected, but Rica looked curious at the appellations.
“Are they really Bound like that? I didn’t think that was something Nedetakaei did usually.”
Mina had wondered that once herself, but she had the answer, of course. She was so much more educated than these children. They were lucky she was willing to tag along.
“I heard they were once normal people. Ellehemaei, like us. They chose to be Nedetakaei.”
“Nuh-uh! You can’t just become Nedetakaei... can you?”
Mina was prepared to lecture Ellard again, but a sudden rustle of wings cut it off unsaid as her mouth went dry. She glanced skyward, pulse racing. This was going to be the end, then; they’d gotten too close and they’d find out how true the stories were. A winged shape descended swiftly and Mina gulped hard, closing her eyes.
Feet slapped against the damp leaves. A sound that could only have come from Rica was something between a shout and a sob. A small hand found Mina’s, and she clutched it impulsively, silently forgiving the owner of whatever wrongdoings she’d so recently berated them for in this, surely her last moment.
A long moment, and getting longer, as she silently trembled and began to wonder why.
From the inevitable, an impossibility had emerged. They were still alive.
“What have I told all of you about the river?’ a harsh voice demanded sternly. “Come here, now!”
Mina’s eyes snapped open at the familiar voice, and she gasped in relief as she beheld Bardolf’s huge frame, his grizzled red beard, his massive, feathered wings.
“We’re going straight home now, all of us. Conall, Rica, take my hands. Mina, Ellard, quickly now, let’s go.”
“What about Fireball?’ Rica murmured even as she hastened to obey.
“Fireball?’ Bardolf scowled. “He’s sleeping under the stove, found a way to wedge in under the stones there. Has been all day, near enough.”
All day. All this had been for nothing. All the bother, the trouble, the fear, that she could see reflected on the other children’s faces as well. They glanced towards the river almost together, but it was little Conall who voiced the thought as it receded in the distance.
“But I did see something over there! Do you think it was...?”
“No, no,” Mina replied hastily, ignoring the fact that she’d been certain she, too, had seen something. “Of course not.”
“I bet there’s no such people as Ardell and Delaney anyway. That’s just a fairy tale!”, Rica grumbled to Ellard.
“But... aren’t we fairies?”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
Previous | Home | About | Table of Contents | Contact| Next