I know I said I would try to keep on top of posting, but I have a submission deadline coming up in just three days, and to be honest, it’s been difficult to balance that project with my regular posts. I’m still warming up my writing muscles. For now, here’s the start of a fairy tale I started writing about eight-and-a-half years ago.
Far away in the mountainous and rather cloudy kingdom of Bytheria, there lived a boy whom nobody loved. His name was Nil and he was a squire. No, that’s not right; he was a squire but he had no name, and so everyone called him Nil because they could never remember his real one. For all they knew he had never had a proper one.
Nil lived with his old aunt, who was some sort of distant relative of the king’s; but this did not make Nil any better off, and it certainly did not dispose his aunt to think more highly of him. In fact she was the only one who ever paid him any attention at all, and when she did, it was unpleasant, for it usually meant he was in trouble. Nil stayed out of her way as much as he could, but he had nowhere else to go; and so he took to lurking round the quarters of the king’s only daughter, the fair Ardis, for she was the only one who was kind to him. He never loved anyone, yet he loved the young princess. Nil accompanied her wherever he could and in her presence found that his anger slipped away for a time.
But it never disappeared completely. As Nil grew older and still no one loved him, his resentment grew as well, until not even a walk with the princess could lessen it. Nil hated everything and everyone around him, and one day, in a rage, he stormed up to the top of the north tower and cursed at the sky. He brought his fist down on the stone wall, ready to rage again; but suddenly the echo of his words seemed to form in the air. Nil stood transfixed, his rage at last forgotten. His words formed together, twisting and writhing, creating a grey vapor that expanded and expanded, until it was a shimmering mist that filled a quarter of the top of the tower. Then all at once it shifted and shaped itself once more—and became—
“A dragon,” Nil breathed. He could hardly speak in his awe.
The beast, a young one, hunched in front of the wall, its wings shimmering with dark green scales against the grey sky. A pair of keen yellow eyes stared back at the young squire. Black talons scraped the worn stone beneath.
Nil gazed on him, his heart pounding almost painfully in his chest. The dragon stared, enveloping the young squire in his yellow eyes. Nil shuddered; something in them sent a different fear down his spine. Fear of what? He could not answer. It was as if the dragon could see into him…
Suddenly Nil bolted down the steps of the tower. He had remembered why he was there in the first place, but that did not matter now; he must show Ardis the dragon. His heart swelled with pride as he dashed through the corridors to the garden. He had a dragon, he, Nil, whom nobody cared for.
He found the princess cutting roses for that evening’s dinner (for it was her particular delight to choose the flowers for her father’s engagements) and seized her, nearly knocking the basket from her hand.
“Ardis! Come see—you must come now…” he gasped, breathlessly tugging her toward the archway.
The princess held back, startled. A few roses fell from her basket but she did not notice; she only saw the change in Nil’s face.
“Because—because there’s a –a dragon!” Nil stammered, barely containing himself.
The princess started. “A dragon? But—but how? I thought there were no more left in Bytheria! Where could it have come from?”
Nil didn’t speak. Ardis looked at him.
“But come!” he burst out. “Come see it! You must!”
Ardis hesitated, then set down her basket and drew in a breath. “Very well, I will,” she said shortly. Nil dashed from the garden.
At the top of the steps to the tower, he took her hand. “Look,” he whispered.
The dragon had moved a little. It sat in the corner, its bony shoulders hunched, its pointed tail twitching just slightly. The princess gasped and shrank away, but Nil led her forward recklessly. Ardis looked, and the dragon looked back, regarding her with the same yellow stare he had bestowed on the boy. The princess stood transfixed for a minute, then looked sharply away.
“You can’t keep him.”
Nil felt his forgotten anger rise in his throat. “What do you mean I can’t? Of course I can! I will!”
“Nil—no, you musn’t, you can’t keep him,” Ardis pleaded. She turned her back on the beast in her earnestness and touched the squire’s arm. He jerked away.
“Listen,” she begged, “if you keep him, you endanger all our lives. You can’t do that. My father–“
“Yes I know,” Nil interrupted with a sneer, “you father will rule against it, just like he always does. Don’t you understand, Ardis? I can’t give the dragon up. He’s all I’ll ever have.”
Ardis stood still for a moment. Nil glared at her, breathing hard. Then with an angry whirl of her skirts she turned and ran for the doorway. At the top, she looked back. A tear was making its slow track down her cheek.
“Then keep him. You’ll be sorry.”
She slipped down the stairway and was gone. Her words struck Nil like an arrow. But he had the dragon. He stepped to the dragon’s side and tentatively touched a finger to its scales.
He is mine.
Thus it was that Nil lost the princess’s love, and gained a dragon. It was not a fair trade in the least, but Nil did not care. That is, the dragon convinced him it was so.
The squire found a suitable place for his beast, a gorge near the castle (but far enough that he could spend hours away at a time). There the dragon resided, and there Nil spent the greater part of every day, feeding and tending the object of his affection and pride.
Now the king had heard of the squire’s beast through Ardis, and it was not long before Nil found himself summoned to the king’s chambers. At the doors he drew a deep breath, and the guard let him in.
The king stood with his back to the door, his hands clasped behind his back. He turned as the squire entered. His brow furrowed deeply.
“So young Nil,” he began. “I’ve heard of your dragon.”
“Ardis told you, I suppose. Your Majesty,” muttered the squire.
“Yes. And she told you, as I gather, that you cannot keep it?”
“Yes. Your Majesty. She did. But I told her I would.”
“She was quite right, you know, Nil. You cannot keep it. I cannot allow you to visit this—this monster. You know very well the destruction dragons cause—“
“But your Majesty,” Nil cut in. “I must keep it. It—it is—it is all I have.” He finished in a rush of desperation.
The king surveyed him gravely. “No, Nil, it is not. I must order my guards to kill it.”
Nil sucked in his breath. His dragon—his pride—destroyed…
“No! You cannot kill it! I will not let you!”
The king stood, his eyes flashing in the light of the fire. “If you refuse, Nil, I will be forced to banish you. You will not endanger the kingdom through your own selfishness. Will you get rid of it?”
“Then you must go. Leave the castle, and take your beast with you. I am very sorry to do this, especially for Ardis’ sake. Do not return with the dragon.”
The king’s words stung him, but only for a moment. Anger blotted the pain from his heart. Anger, and thought of his dragon. Nil spun around, and sauntered from the king’s chambers, his head high. Straight to his part of the house he strode, past his dozing aunt, and into his room. He did not have much to pack.
Within twenty minutes, he strode out again, his short sword at his left hip, and a stout knife in his pack. He didn’t bother to wake his aunt; he hated her anyway.
Nil glimpsed Ardis’ face in a doorway as he strode past. The sight froze him for a moment; tears were spilling down her cheeks. Yet she jerked away when she saw him, disgust in her eyes. He didn’t care. He left the castle.
In the gorge the dragon rose when it saw him, its tail flicking back and forth. “Come, you,” Nil commanded. The dragon followed him out of the gorge.
And it followed him across the rocky moor, and it followed him through the dark forest, and it followed him to the very edge of the kingdom where mist spilled across a stretch of mountain.
Then the kingdom lay behind them, and the dragon and the squire were alone.