Chapter One: A Dragon Named Theodore
Molly woke in a cold sweat, shaking the dream of a fierce black dragon with silver claws searing a village from her head. But unlike other dreams she can’t forget the fear she felt. Dismissing the thought of sleep she did what she usual did anytime she had a terrible nightmare: turn to her tarot cards for meaning. Climbing from her bed she stealthily descended the stairs to the parlor. Jen would ground her for a week if she caught her out of her room after bedtime but she needed answers. She sat at her little table with a white tablecloth and shuffled the cards. The ancient deck was a gift from her mother, with instructions to use when the path was dark. Shuffling the deck in her tiny fingers she spread them out in a Celtic Cross formation, her hand hovering over the cards, as she sensed the anxious energy emitting from the deck. Each card vibrated but one matched her own energy. Flipping it face up she admired The Robed Figure of Temperance. She hummed a little song, recalling the card represented tempering of forces and a compromise to a solution.
“Hmmm… that’s fun!” she grinned as she formulated a plan.
At the castle, King Ethan paced nervously, using his index finger to push his crown from his eyes. A nagging voice in his head repeated: you’re going to die in three days. For a reason, no one in his family could understand the first king started a feud with a dragon and, obviously lost. Since then every hundred fifty years the dragon returns, demanding the blood of the king or he will swallow up the whole kingdom. The dragon wins every time resulting in Ethan losing another ancestor. However, Ethan’s great-grandfather struck a deal with the dragon, proclaiming the kingdom was safe and the great dragon was no longer a threat. Ethan inherited the crown, free of fear and burden of the dragon. that was until last week when his father confessed on his deathbed that his great-grandfather lied. And in three days the dragon was going eat everyone in the kingdom unless Ethan sacrificed himself as payment.
“Your Highness,” his manservant Joel tiptoed into the room, “what is your plan?”
“Maybe we can pay him off? How much gold do we have?” Ethan paced again adjusting the over sized crown on his head. “Better yet what about my mother? Will the dragon take her? Maybe she can nag someone else for a change?”
“His late late late late late Majesty Reginald the fifth attempted compensation but the dragon merely took the offering and still gobbled poor Reggie up. It has to be the king, your majesty.”
“Right…This may sound radical,” he began, “but would it be that terrible to let the dragon eat the people for once?”
“Then who would you rule?” Joel asked, unfazed by Ethan’s cowardice.
“Your Majesty, if I may. There could be another solution to our situation.”
“Spit it out!” his heart fluttered with hope. “A Dragon Tamer, named Lady Rose may be able to solve our problem. Rumour is she is a Mage as well.”
“Who is she? Is she close- can she make it in three days?”
“I think, so.”
“Find this Dragon Tamer Mage, pray to the Gods she will help us!” Ethan fought to contain his excitement, maybe he didn’t have to die after all!
Jen sat at the table enjoying her morning tea with oatmeal when a servant entered the dining room with a letter. She smiled, reading the request; grateful for some excitement at last. Abandoning the last few spoonfuls in her bowl, she left for the conservatory behind the manor. She tapped her magical staff on the gravel, thinking of a list of tasks as she walked. The bushes planking the path shook as she approached. A heavy set medium size forest dragon swayed as he staggered onto the path. Jasper’s heavy head swung as he stomped towards her. She knew enough about dragons to identify when one was threatening her; she also knew Jasper was more bark than bite. But he was the most irritable dragon in the sanctuary. He snarled shaking his ridged brown head at her in disgust, pushing his face into hers trying to show his dominance.
“Get away,” pushing his face away from hers, “you silly beast.”
He huffed off, disappearing into a hedge while she continued to the greenhouse where, as of late, her charge spent every waking moment. It was large with wide glass panels revealing the tall leafy vegetation growing inside. Three Scarlet dragon hatch-lings scampered out of the door as she stepped inside, almost tripping her in the process. Stupid beasts. Sighing she breathed in the disgusting warm sticky air and pushed through the ferns and tropical trees.
In the center of the room was the work area, Molly pushed tables of pots, bags of soil, and tools to the side making a makeshift nest with a beige dragon egg resting on warm coals. Molly sat before it, her blond pigtails and pink ribbons bouncing from side to side. She wore a soft purple knee-length dress, black stocking and black boots. She hummed softly, watching the egg with baited breath.
“Molly,” Jen said quietly, “we have a request from the King. A dragon threatens his kingdom.”
“Sounds like he isn’t a nice dragon.”
“No, not at all. We will leave in the morning, there is a tight deadline. I will have your bag packed.”
“Hmmm…” she swayed to the music in her head, “we should take a dragon, flying will be faster.”
“Agreed. Not Jasper. He’s in one of his moods again.”
“You promised him quail and gave him turkey instead,” she giggled, pulling herself to her feet, “he can tell the difference you know.”
“If he was nicer than maybe he would get what he wanted,” she replied, unfazed by the child’s reprimanding.
“I don’t think you’ll need that this time.” She pointed to the sapphire staff in her hand.
“This dragon actively seeks out blood sacrifices, leaving it behind isn’t an option.”
“I bet you a chocolate cake with buttercream filling and lots of cherries, you won’t need to use your magic this time.”
“Molly, be serious.”
“Cake is serious.”
“Fine,” she surrendered, Molly squealed; her pitch borderline ear piercing.
“Cake! You’re so good! You’re so fine! Cake, I’m going to make you mine!” she sang. “Hey Jen, can we take the egg with us? I don’t want him to hatch and be alone.” She frowned, using her wide eyes to plead her case.
“If you must,” she sighed as she left, “but it will be a waste of time.”
Ethan sat on his throne watching the clock. He didn’t want to die; he was still young- only twenty. He still had dreams of a gorgeous wife and…living. Why did the Gods have to be cruel? Joel rushed into the room and almost tripped over his own feet before kneeling before Ethan.
“She’s here! My Lord, the Mage!”
“Splendid!” Ethan wanted to shout in excitement but remembering his father’s words, remained reserved. But did a little happy dance in his head.
“She just arrived, on a dragon nonetheless! Truly magnificent!” He tried to picture the courageous Mage riding the beast into battle. He might have given her other pleasant attributes to make the fantasy worthwhile, but time was of the essence.
“Don’t just stand there Joel, send her in!”
“Yes, My Lord!”
Joel escorted a young woman followed by a little girl with a brown leather backpack eating a pastry. Ethan never saw a woman like her before, she was tall, thin but muscular with white hair hanging past her elbows. A brown wide-brimmed hat concealed her face but from what he could see it had angular pleasing features. She wore a blue tunic with brown sheepskin pants with knee-length riding boots. Her staff came up to her shoulder, containing a dark sapphire held in place by twisting wood. She stopped before him, bowing respectfully, carrying herself with an air of confidence Ethan could never muster.
“Mistress Mage Rose! The great tamer of dragons, welcome!”
“My king? I am Mistress Jen Syward.”
“Aren’t you…aren’t you the dragon tamer… I sent for?”
“I am the Mage. This is Lady Rose, the Dragon Tame you requested.” she motioned to the girl eating the pastry.
“You? You’re a little girl!”
“I’m not little! I’m eight years old!”
Ethan, an only child, surrounded by people obligated to please him, considered it remarkable that anyone will yell at him. But something about the child’s fiery temper reminded him of his father and it frightened him into submission.
“Molly comes from an ancient family of Dragon Tamers.” Jen interrupted, trying to quell the child’s tantrum. “She is more than qualified to handle this situation.”
“The dragon that wants to eat you,” Molly began, “he’s a big black scaled one on four legs. Breathes fire and has silver claws and horns. And has large wings and prefers to sleep in caves.”
“Why yes, how did you know?”
“I had a dream. He’s a rare Ebony Dragon. Almost hunted to extinction because there’s silver in his claws and horns.” She stuffed the last bite of pastry in her mouth.
“Can you slay him?”
“Maybe,” placing a finger to her mouth considering some deep thought, “it depends on what happens when I meet him.”
“Meet him? He’s a dragon, it’s not like he’s coming over for tea! He wants to EAT me!”
“Yes, he seems like a mean dragon.”
“Mean?” A vein in his temple felt like it would burst, “he’s evil!”
“My mommy told me never to be rude. Or judge people before you know them.”
“Your Majesty,” Jen spoke, “when is the dragon due?”
“Umm…” Joel stammered. A young messenger appeared next to the servant, “the boy says the dragon is overhead as we speak.”
“What? No!” Ethan cried. Screams cascaded outside the castle followed by loud roars. Finally a large thud shook the castle.
“Correction, My Lord, the dragon has landed.”
Outside the dragon Molly described was roaring and snapping at anyone who ventured too close. The squared emptied of people leaving Molly, Jen, Ethan and a trembling Joel to face the beast.
“Where is the King!” the dragon roared. When he spotted Ethan in his crooked gold crown he roaring in his direction. Stepping between Ethan and the dragon, Jen readied herself for an attack, poising her staff at the dragon’s heart. The dragon unleashed a brilliant fire blast, pointing the sapphire to the fountain, heaving the water in the path of the fire, extinguishing it with an explosion of steam. He swung his tail knocking both Jen and Ethan to the ground. Ethan collapsed on the Mage in a very compromising position.
“Oh sorry…apologies…” removing his hand to a safer- less awkward area.
“If you would, Your Highness, please remove yourself from on top of me.”
“Oh yes, of course.”
“Remember our deal?” Molly smirked.
“Well…” she points to the dragon, “go on then, what are you waiting for?”
Adjusting the straps on her backpack, she skipped towards the dragon, humming happily. The dragon roared but she continued, stopping short of his snout staring into his eyes. Ethan didn’t know if she was brave or had a death wish.
“You don’t have to eat people, you know.” She said simply. The dragon didn’t answer, assessing her whether she was worth the meal. “What you’re doing isn’t very nice. My mommy said it’s important to be nice. Didn’t your mommy teach you that?” she stared at him like a disapproving parent.
“She did,” the dragon frowned, his ears drooped, thinking of to his mother.
“You miss her, don’t you?”
“I bet you’re lonely, huh?”
“Bet all that gold you have isn’t much company, is it?”
“No. It isn’t, ” his ears drooping lower.
“And you don’t really make many friends when you eat them, do you?”
“No. I guess not.”
“Just because you’re lonely doesn’t mean you can to hurt others to make yourself feel better.”
Her backpack wiggled, slightly at first, until it almost knocked her over. Giggling with excitement she slipped it off her shoulders, pulling out the wrapped bundle, rocking it in her arms. Holding it close to her chest she unwrapped the egg, the dragon sniffed curiously as the durable shell cracked. A wiggle, a crack, another wiggle, another crack until a little black snout broke through. A tiny black dragon shook off the remaining shell sniffing the fresh air for the first time.
“Awe isn’t he a cutie!” She gushed over the creature, as the baby sniffed at the larger one, giving a tiny roar in greeting. “I named him Theodore,” she beamed, patting him gently. “You see that lady over there with the big stick?” she asked the enemy dragon, who nodded, “she says I have too many dragons at home. She’ll be mad if I take Theodore home with us. And trust me you don’t want to see her mad.” The dragon glanced at an unimpressed Jen, after a moment of consideration he nodded agreeing with Molly. “How about you take Theodore home with you? I mean he needs a home, and someone to teach him dragon things. It’ll be a favor, what do you say?” she smiled, presenting Theodore, who nuzzled the adult dragon.
“Well I guess, it’s not fair for him to be taught by a human. No offence of course.”
“None taken,” Molly giggled, handing Theodore over to the dragon. Theodore jumped happily in his claws, squeaked in joy and fell asleep. “One more thing before you go. Do you think you can leave this kingdom alone from now on? The king really is a useless guy. I think you need to go easy on him.”
“He does look a mess, doesn’t he?” he whispered glancing at the trembling Ethan. “Very well. I and Theodore will keep our distance if he will.”
“DEAL!” Ethan croaks, grabbing his royal robes.
“He will. I’ll make sure of it.” Molly winked. As the dragon flew away, Molly skipped passed a disbelieving Ethan to Jen. “I get my cake, now right?”
Ethan stood dumbfounded as the dragon flew away. He looked down at the smiling Molly, then the bored looking Mage. He saw a small smile tug at the corner of her mouth, fading as she returned to her usual cold appearance.
Jen cleared her throat, addressing him with an embarrassed blush on her cheeks, “you don’t happen to know a decent bakery, do you? It seems I lost a bet.”
After the mysterious disappearance of Molly’s parents, the eight-year-old is entrusted to guard her family’s prize possession: a secluded dragon sanctuary in the mountains. Jen, a Mage and cold-blooded mercenary turned guardian, must learn to work together with the child to fulfill her debt to Molly’s parents. Is she able to protect the child and her dragons from poachers and rivals while solving the mystery of her employer’s disappearance?