Title Image: A white dragon from the neck up with his mouth open and a long red tongue sticking out. He is turned to the left and has one blue eye looking toward the audience. On a multicolored background with frosted edges and a light snowfall around him. Text on the photo says: Lieutenant: Part 1
Part two of Lieutenant, a winter short story inspired by 6 Royal Wishes. Reviews and critique welcome!
The fire in Valorae’s gaze as the girls exchanged looks while galloping through the dense, snow-covered pines of the forest and leaving the safety of civilization behind ignited something inside of Eloira. For the first time in as long as she could remember, her mother’s legacy among the Hunt didn’t feel like a looming shadow covering every one of her daughter’s accomplishments, but an unbridled incentive that propelled her forward as they raced each other across the snowy terrain.
At a fork in the road, they split. Eloira cheered internally as Valorae galloped toward an open clearing of trees while she took off in the opposite direction, propelled by towering cliffs and skinny pathways leading up to the entrances of multiple caves. Even from this angle, she could see the glitter of the Prismites—clear stalagmites that sparkled like diamonds, casting every color of the rainbow around the surface of the cave.
Valorae may be older than me, Eloira thought, but I’ve spent my whole life studying the habits of Elderberry and his family. Her mother had taught her everything there was to know about Chameleon dragons—including the fact that they loved cramped, colorful places. Most animals used their camouflage abilities to protect themselves from predators, but ever since the royal family had domesticated the Chameleon Dragons generations ago in order to harness their powers of fire to protect the borders of Everwinter, they hadn’t needed it in the safety of the castle. And that could make the dragons restless. Legend said if they didn’t use their powers often enough, there was a chance they could lose the ability to camouflage forever. A dangerous endeavor, considering it would nullify the power of their fire to hide Everwinter from the mortal world.
Eloira had never believed the queen’s suspicions that Elderberry had been kidnapped; even if he was the last of his breed, his abilities prevented mortals from knowing he existed, and no one in Everwinter would be stupid enough to risk the survival of the entire population. No one had even come forward to post a ransom, and the dragon was too smart to let himself be taken.
She rode her mount As far as it would take her up the side of the cliffs, then climbed down and continued searching on foot.
He has to be up here. He just has to.
She poked around in every crevice, fashioning a makeshift torch out of a broken tree branch and a match that she’d packed in her saddlebag. She swept it around the interior of each cave and held out a handful of the juiciest blackberries she could find—they were the dragon’s favorite treat. She was almost at the end of the final row of caves on this level of the cliffs and still had no luck. “Come on!” she fumed. “Where are you?”
A sudden burst of violet fire lightened the sky above her. She whipped around only to duck as Elderberry’s giant, gleaming wings cut through the air. An agitated roar pierced Eloria’s eardrums as a rope shot out of the sky and caught the dragon’s ankle. She followed the length of the rope to the level below hers, only to see Valorae struggling to keep her grip on the other end. Sweat beaded her forehead and her horse panted wildly beneath her.
Eloria gasped and clamored to where her own steed waited before galloping to the huntress’s side. “What the blazes are you doing? We’re supposed to be bringing him home!”
Valorae glared at her and the loss of focus caused her to slump across her horse’s mane. The sting of the rope tearing at Valorae’s skin. “What does it look like I’m doing?” Elderberry reared in the air again. Eloria reached out and braced the older girl before she could tumble into the snow.
“It looks like you’re torturing him. We’re not poachers!”
Valorae grunted and pulled back with all her strength. The horse stepped back with her weight. “Well, duh! I just rescued him from poachers.”
Eloria’s brow furrowed. “What?”
“He had wandered too close to the wrong group of humans and didn’t shift fast enough. They had him netted like some fish and were building a pyre by the time I got there.”
Eloria paled. “They were going to…”
Valorae shook her head. “Trust me, I didn’t wait around to find out. I cut the ropes as quickly as I could, but I guess he was so scared he didn’t recognize me. He took off as soon as he was free. I can’t get him to come close enough to calm him down.” She yanked the rope again, but Eloira could see the knot around his foot beginning to fray.
She frowned. “If I help you, will you put in a good word for me with the queen?”
Valorae blinked. “What?”
The other girl shrugged. “You found him. The post rightfully belongs to you.”
“If Lucia doesn’t skewer me for going against orders first.”
Eloria shook her head. “She won’t. But don’t think this means I’m going to make it easy on you, choosing your first in command. Just because Zayia has more years on me…”
Valorae smiled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Eloria nodded and wrapped her hands around the rope. “Together?”
Hope you enjoyed!