Blackwing Witch (Chapter 6: Common)

Blackwing Witch is a work-in-progress but I wanted to share it while I work on the first draft. Please bear in mind that this is an unedited work, but hopefully you will still enjoy it! Image is a commission from ShadowDragon22.

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Chapter Six: Common

The lure of the dragon proved too much. She swaddled Pan and let her into her father’s bedroom, tucking her neatly under the bed, where she would feel safer and sheltered. ‘Is that better?’ she asked the goat.

Pan nipped at Wy’s fingers as Wy tried to scratch her between the ears, which Wy took as a yes. She got some veg from the kitchen and left the goat sniffing it curiously. Then she went out and followed the stream of townsfolk to Alen Toll’s field.

As she rounded the farm house and joined the crowd, for once nobody had any nasty looks or whispered insults to throw her way. All eyes were on the dragon standing there, large as a house and serpent-sleek, preening its feathers with a slender beak.

It was a magnificent thing. Blue feathers that shimmered green and pink in the light. A long neck arched majestically as it watched the crowd gather with glowing blue eyes. Unlike the blackwing, its tail was long and luxuriously feathered, curled at its feet like a cat posing for attention. A gold-worked crown sat on its head and moulded to its horns, and bangles gleaming with gems were fixed to each of its legs and toes, and even followed its tail. Any one of them could feed the town for decades with its price.

Two humans stood at its feet. One, in gleaming gold armour with her helmet tucked under her arm, was clearly the Elysian Knight. Her blonde hair was perfectly coiffed into a braided bun, somehow without a hair out of place in spite of her helmet and flight. Her milky skin was somehow unblemished by sun or illness. Beside her was a girl no older than Wy. She wore no armour, but had expensive clothes including a green surcoat embroidered with a large, intricate blue dragon — clearly the profile of the dragon behind them.

Wy’s father strode across the field toward them, box held respectfully out. He slowed as he neared the dragon, but the Knight walked out to meet him, trailed by the girl — a squire, perhaps, though she’d had no idea that Elysian Knights needed them.

She watched her father’s gait, which had been hunched and cautious at the prospect of approaching the dragon, relax as the Knight went out to greet him well beyond the range of those shining claws.

While they spoke, the squire’s gaze roved the crowd. She ran her hands through her hair twice — an attractive cut with short sides and a long top, the silver colour stark against the warm taupe of her skin. Her eyes fixed on Wy; she frowned. Wy quickly looked back to the dragon towering over her.

A noble dragon. Said to be of the purest bloodlines, as divine as any royalty. She was struck again by its size, elegant pose, and the vivid colour of its feathers. But in spite of its beauty and stature, its body language spoke to Wy of a hound anxiously awaiting the return of its master. Its eyes were fixed on the back of the Knight, and its claws dug into the ground ever so slightly. Its feet were more like long-toed paws than those of the blackwing, adding to the image.

To her surprise, the squire returned to the dragon, patting its enormous leg. At the squire’s touch, the dragon lowered its long neck to nudge her with its beak. She rubbed it between its nostrils. The dragon’s head was easily as large as the squire, but its eyes still slitted in pleasure at the tiny touch. Its claws relaxed, releasing the turf.

Then her father was walking back, gesturing for her to come over. ‘Wy! Wy, come here!’

Wy stiffened. She could almost feel her hair bristling — which was the kind of thought that made her mother think she needed human friends. The townsfolk turned to look at her, disbelief clear in their glances.

Her father waved more urgently. ‘Wy! Wy?’

‘Elian has more pride than sense,’ someone muttered, looking darkly at her father.

She thought she heard a woman say snidely, ‘– just like her woebegotten mother.’

And that decided Wy. She straightened her shoulders and strode out to her father and the Elysian Knight. There was nothing she could do that would make her small enough to be beneath their judgement. So there was no point in hiding.

And besides, her father was beaming at her and looked excited to introduce her to the most important client of his life.

When she got there, she felt much less confident. The Knight towered over both Wy and her father, and there was an effortless, hard-cut beauty about her that made Wy feel like a muddy stone compared to her shining diamond.

She kept her shoulders up and her expression calm while she internally scrambled to remember all the social advice her mother had ever given her. She was supposed to make eye contact but not too much eye contact. She should shake her hand firmly but not too firmly. Moon and stars! How much was too much? How much as too little? She stared hard at the Knight a moment, then looked to her father, already starting to sweat.

‘This is my daughter, Wydis. Wydis, this is Lady Arielle, Knight of the Evenlands. We were talking about you and she specifically requested to meet you.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ said Wy. She held out her hand in what she hoped was a confident manner.

Something flickered across Lady Arielle’s face, so quick Wy almost missed it. Her hesitation was tiny before she shook Wy’s hand with her gold gauntleted one.

Wy glanced at her father and noted his pale complexion. Something shifted in her stomach; she’d made a faux pas, though what she’d done wrong, she didn’t know.

‘Your father tells me you have a gift with animals and an interest in dragons.’ Lady Arielle’s voice was deep and mature, at odds with her ageless look. There was a musical tone to it and an accent Wy supposed came from being noble.

She nodded, but the Knight seemed to expect more from her. ‘I live in the empty wilds. There’s a lot of wildlife out there.’

Lady Arielle’s eyebrows quirked. ‘Some more dangerous than others. It’s a rare talent, you know.’

Wy said nothing to that. She didn’t think years of studying the behaviour of animals and getting scratched to pieces learning how to nurse them safely constituted a ‘talent’, but Lady Arielle didn’t look like someone who would take contradiction in her stride.

‘Wy is very studious,’ said her father, looking proud and a touch anxious. ‘She’s very well read on anything that interests her, animal care included.’

‘Mm.’ Lady Arielle inclined her head. ‘Were you noble born, you might have found work as a Knight’s squire, as Mirran does for the Evenlands. Alas, your destiny lies elsewhere. A witch would find only danger among dragons. Especially given your options would be limited to the ugly, savage things that stalk the wilds.’

Wy looked to her father, who was now studying his feet, hands twitching at his sides. That he’d given away her care of the blackwing was obvious. But she didn’t have to give anything away to this woman. The awe she’d felt at meeting an actual Elysian Knight had quickly melted into caution and now a murky dislike. ‘I’m only a witch,’ she said. ‘I never said I wanted to be a Knight.’

Now Lady Arielle smiled. ‘You didn’t have to. Every smart, adventurous young girl wants to be a Knight. But not every smart, adventurous young girl gets to be a Knight. It’s a divine right.’

She’d never said it wasn’t, but her dislike was curling into something stronger. Had this woman, with all the power and wealth in the world, called her over here to personally crush her dreams and remind her of her place — at the bottom? It seemed laughable that she would use her time so.

‘I can see that subtlety has no truck with you.’ Lady Arielle crossed her arms, armour clinking. ‘Fine. Then I shall speak plainly. You should have let the blackwing die. They’re common as rats, and a menace to humanity. I’ve killed my fair share of them, and while they might look superficially like a noble dragon, they are something altogether more base and vile. It would be a shame for you to die thinking it a dream when it is in fact a nightmare. Better that the next time you see a blackwing in need, you do the right thing and keep your distance.’

When Wy was a little girl, an elderly man among the townsfolk had always smiled at her and offered her cake, and told her father what a good girl she was. She’d liked the cake and liked the way his compliments made her father smile, so she’d tolerated him in spite of general desire to be alone with her father. Nobody else in the town had ever complimented her, and it was a new experience.

But very soon, he was offering her advice and improvements where she had asked for none. ‘She’s a pretty girl,’ he’d say. ‘Shame that she dresses so strangely. Perhaps you should get her a nice frock.’ And: ‘You mustn’t let her run around in the wilds, Elian. She’ll go feral as a stray cat. Get her into town and into a nice trade. It’s cruel to let her mother pour nonsense into her head about magic and being special. She’ll only be disappointed.’

And when he’d said things that, young though she was, she had wondered. Was she really so different? Was that why only the old man was ever nice to her? He posed himself as her friend and her father’s advisor and it was hard to see the fangs behind his smile.

When her mother found out, she banned Wy’s father from letting him near Wy ever again. ‘People like him are pouring poison in your ears. I don’t care whether he meant it well or not, though I suspect it pleased him to try to cut you up and fit you inside a shape of his making.’

Looking at Lady Arielle now, with her cold smile and her talk of ‘shame’ and ‘divine right’, she could see what her mother meant. Lady Arielle didn’t like the shape of Wy. Perhaps she thought she was being kind, or dutiful. Maybe she thought of herself as a gardener, carefully pruning an unruly plant into a more pleasing shape.

But Wy was from the wilds where things grew untended and free, where trees were sprawling giants and brambles grew thick and fierce. She knew that there was beauty and strength in growing free, and she had no intention of letting Lady Arielle prune her to serve her own vanity.

‘Thank you for your advice,’ said Wy. ‘I’m not looking to be a Knight, truly.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. I’m going to be spending a lot more time here in Amys Mor,’ she said. ‘As your protector, I’d hate to see you hurt when I could have prevented it.’ The smile returned, more smug than cold. ‘Well! Your father has done good work for me. As you’re so keen on dragons, perhaps you would like to meet a real one?’ She gestured toward the glittering blue dragon. ‘Mirran!’ The squire turned and stood to attention. ‘Introduce Wydis to Valour while her father and I finish up business.’

Mirran bowed and gestured Wydis over.

Wy was fairly certain of Lady Arielle’s motive for introducing her to a ‘real dragon’. More concerning was her statement that she was the town’s protector. But Mirran watched her with a guarded expression, and she didn’t want to insult Lady Arielle by refusing her offer.

Besides … she really did want to meet a noble dragon.

As she passed, Lady Arielle clapped her shoulder with a heavy gauntlet. Wy kept going, glad Lady Arielle couldn’t see her face. She didn’t think she was doing a good job of disguising her annoyance.

 

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