This is a good place, thought Ell, warm. Ell slept.
She awoke to cramping in her shoulders and neck. Her legs tucked up close to her chest, her neck bent almost double bent. She blinked her eyes open to a gentle, green light surrounding her. She found this comforting and Ell rested.
The cramping intensified.
She had to move, stretch, lift her head. There was a crack and a tearing sound, light blinded her. She blinked eyelids shut and lifted her head higher, inhaling sharply. The smell of the world rushed into her nostrils. She was overwhelmed with memories of green trees and deep, rich earth. Images flashed into her awareness, too fast for her to catch hold of, all of them centered within these dense, fragrant rememberings.
A slight breeze drifted around her, cool against her wet skin. Breathing deeply, she thought, I know this world.
Carefully she opened round-pupiled, golden eyes, slow to adjust to the bright light of a sun-lit day.
Blinking, Ell looked down at herself, mottled greenish brown body still curled within the translucent grass-toned shell. She struggled to lift a delicately scaled, earth-toned forearm free. Waving it in the air, enjoying the movement and the feel of the breeze on her skin, she noticed a soft flap of skin underneath, stretching from her forearm to her body. As she peered down at herself, she pulled hard to free her other forearm. The wing skin was caught under her body. She lurched and fell over, carrying the shell with her.
Lying on her side in the damp earth she thought, I am Ell. I am Guardian, and promptly fell asleep.
Tiny thoughts pricked her awake, feeling thoughts, cold…, and she was cold. She felt heavy and tired. It would be so hard to move. Warm... Tiny, hands, surprisingly strong, pushed at her shoulder, leaf-green fingers pulled her wings.
Ell recognized a familiar tingling warmth filling her heart space.
She clung to the thought of warmth and pushed hard with her legs feeling the shell slip off. Digging soft, hatchling claws into the earth, she struggled to push and pull herself up onto wobbly legs and forearms.
It was an awkward process, requiring several attempts.
A shimmer of translucent wings assailed her. Warmth! The pinpricks of excited thought jabbed at her awareness, even as the little hands grasped and prodded her. Pushing with her legs and pulling with her claws she crawled to where the little ones led. Finally, they left off prodding at her and she collapsed onto her side, limbs akimbo.
Here, the sun shone strong and warm onto the flattened stone upon which she lay. Grey rock radiated heat upward into her body, warming and soothing her. Exhaustion overcame her, even as she could hear a slight rumbling in her stomach and Ell slept.
Tiny blue and green fliers, wings sparkling in the sunlight, ranged over Ell’s body, patting and caressing her, and finally settling down to rest pillowed against her.
A rumbling, gurgling, feeling noise jogged Ell awake, eyelids flying open. Hungry…I am so hungry, thought Ell. Her companions startled upward and flitted about, arms waving, tiny mouths making mewling cries of distress.
One, green-skinned flier hovered, wings beating furiously in front of Ell’s eyes. Moving closer, she patted Ell’s muzzle several times with tiny hands, then she zipped off into the trees behind Ell. Others darted off in the same direction after her, wings a blur of motion.
Ell turned her head, flexible neck twisting, to follow their flight behind her. As she did so she was distracted by the sight of her own small tail, scales blotched with green and brown. She hadn’t been aware of it before.
I like it, she thought, and wrapped it snugly as far as it would fit, around her abdomen.
Then, stomach rumbling ominously, she settled down uncomfortably to wait.
©Holly Hildreth 2019
Lisle awoke early to see the dim light of morning making the loft where she slept just visible. She turned over, pulling her woven coverlet close, enjoying the warmth of its thick fibers. She could see her sister, Mina’s sleeping form. Four changes older than Lisle, she lay curled on her side, tousled, brown curls just visible above the heavy, rumpled folds of coverlet. Then she remembered happily, I'm hunting this morning!
Moving silently, Lisle lifted the lid of her much loved and battered wooden chest, given to her by her Ma-Marn, which stood against the wall next to her pallet. Lisle dressed quietly, pulling on soft leggings and a woven over-dress.
I miss Ma-Marn, she thought.
Lisle missed the clack-clacking of Ma-Marn's big loom as she sat by the window every day weaving thick, warm fabric for the family and for sale in Greystone. She missed sitting on the stool next to her and winding her shuttles with colorful yarns. She missed the long talks about Guardians and the One. She missed seeing Ma-Marn’s age-gnarled hands working the shuttle to and fro, and beating the fibers into place.
With a sigh she shrugged the memories aside. Lisle reached in and pulled her pouch and stone-shot from the chest, a small knife in a skin sheath, and a larger bag, looping all over her belt. She intended to get out early before anyone else woke.
Quietly, Lisle closed the cover of the chest. She pulled the coverlet up over her sleeping pallet and tucked it back under the eave so Mina wouldn’t trip over it when she arose. It wouldn’t do to annoy Mina this early in the morning. Lisle had eaten many a burned dinner as a clumsy footed younger.
Pocketing a tie to keep her shoulder-length brown hair out of her eyes, Lisle stepped to the ladder and turned around to climb down.
She thought again of her Ma-Marn, and how she and Mina used to spend the long evenings during winter dark listening to Ma-Marn read from the Book of One in her creaking, aged voice. Then they would beg her for stories of when Ma-Marn had met the tiny Flier Folk, and once even a Guardian.
Imagine what that would be like! She thought.
Lisle reached the bottom rung, lost in her thoughts, and startled as it resounded with a loud screech of wood on wood.
No! She jerked her foot away as if burned, and jumped to the floor, racing on tip-toe toward the door.
A deep woman’s voice sounded from behind a curtain on the other side of the cottage.
“Lisle! Your heavy feet have woken me! You might as well bring me my tea. Make sure it is hot. And remember my silver tray. Why you can’t seem to remember such a little thing is beyond me. Start the porridge while you’re at it.”
As bad as it could be to annoy Mina in the morning it was disaster to wake their step-mother.
I’m in for it now, thought Lisle.
“Y…yes Juh…Juh…Jessamin,” She forced out, her tongue tangling like Ma-Marn’s yarns. Lisle tried to remember if her tongue tripped over her words when Ma-Marn was alive.
No, my tongue didn’t get stupid until after Jessamin came to live with us. Ma-Marn was gone by then, she remembered sadly.
Lisle turned and trudged to the enormous fireplace that composed one whole wall of the cottage. She found wood piled next to the hearth and blessed Mina for her foresightedness, as she built up the fire. She knew it wouldn’t have been Farn. He would not have been so thoughtful.
Turning she saw Mina climbing carefully down from the loft, jumping nimbly over the last rung to the floor. She grimaced at Lisle, shrugging her shoulders.
“I’ll feed the egg-layers,” she whispered, as she slipped out the door. They both knew that was Lisle’s job. She silently mouthed thanks to Mina.
Lisle swung the kettle, now full of water, over the fire and started the rest of the preparations for breakfast. She made very sure to set out Jessamin’s silver tray with the delicate tea set she had brought with her from her family home.
Tea steeping, Lisle lifted the tray and parted the curtains that separated her father and Jessamin’s sleeping area from the rest of the cottage. There Jessamin sat, arranging herself against her pillows. Even so early in the morning Jessamin had a regal look to her, a grand lady awaiting service. She wore a short, shiny, black, bed jacket. The lace from the neck of her bed gown frothing up around her neck.
Lisle placed the tray upon the small table beside her, and stood, hoping for a quick dismissal, blue-gray eyes downcast. She risked a quick glance upward and Jessamin was staring at her, deep brown eyes shadowed in olive complected skin, mahogany waves of thick hair draped over her black-clad shoulders.
Jessamin’s mouth turned down at the corners.
Lisle cringed inside, knowing what was coming next and feeling helpless to avoid it. She shuddered slightly, remembering the times when Jessamin’s raging temper had filled the house, roaring around them like a spring hungry cave-dweller.
“You will never amount to anything, you know,” stated Jessamin in an almost reasonable tone of voice.
“There is not a one of you who has done anything that matters with your life.”
Jessamin reached to pour herself a cup of tea, picked up the cup, took a sip and then set it down again on the tray with an air of finality.
“None of you could hold your heads up if my family were still here,” she said, gesturing grandly at the tiny portrait on the wall in which a man was seated in an elegant chair and a beautifully dressed woman stood with her hand upon his shoulder.
“If they were alive, I wouldn’t be here; you can believe that. I’d be planning parties and visiting with your betters. Instead, I have to live way out here!” She threw her arms out angrily and glared at Lisle as if it were all her fault.
Dark eyes narrowing, mouth sneering, she battered at Lisle with her words.
“I married your farn thinking that of course, marrying someone of my quality, he would naturally be ready to follow his farn into the mercantile. We’d live in a beautiful home in Greystone. We’d move in all the best circles.”
Voice rising, rage filling her, she was yelling now.
“But no, he has to bring me here in the middle of this One-forgotten forest so he can be off somewhere tromping through the woods!”
Jessamin’s intense eyes bored into Lisle.
“And I’m stuck here looking after the likes of you!”
Lisle stood, afraid to leave, afraid to even move as Jessamin's anger impaled her like the weapon it was.
It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s never enough, Lisle thought helplessly, as Jessamin’s words continued to rage around her. She’s letting loose on me again, drowning me in her poison.
Finally, Jessamin’s rage subsided. She picked up her tea cup, took a sip and sighed deeply.
“Get along outside now, Lisle.”
Lisle groped her way to the door, opened it and stepped out, closing it carefully behind her. Jessamin had forgotten about the porridge but Lisle wasn’t about to remind her. With the door now between herself and her terror, Lisle ran.
©Holly Hildreth 2019
Deep within Guardian Mountain, Gran Bryl rested her massive bulk upon the comforting ledge of warm grey-rock that was her favorite spot. A single beam of sunlight shone down into the huge cavern, from what was left of the crater at the top of the long dormant volcano.
Gran Bryl stretched out her long, plated neck and tail, glistening almost emerald in the light. She lay full-length, able to reach from one end of the shelf she rested upon to the other.
None of the other Guardians can boast such size, she thought with a tiny prick of pride.
A most unseemly thought for the Gran Eldress to be entertaining, she thought, exhaling sharply through delicate nostrils.
She didn’t really care. She was finally warm and almost comfortable, the constant pain in her hips and legs only a dull, throbbing ache.
The crater, hovering far overhead, was smaller now than it had been when the mountain breathed fire. A jungle-like growth of thick vegetation had closed off the opening until what remained was just large enough for Gran Bryl to stick her head and shoulders out of if she had had the inclination to fly up there and do so.
Today, the crater opening suited her desire for warmth as the sun poured in to ease her. She lay stretched out, translucent green scales tipped with deepest red and along her sides, a golden yellow, gleaming in the sunlight.
Gran Bryl's great body needed warming now in a way she hadn’t when she was younger. Her inner fires had dampened over the years and she often felt cold.
Much like this old fire mountain, she thought.
Tension and cold had been her constant companions, ever since she sent out her last egg with her beloved Contracted, Brylen. Her egg rested now, tended and cared for.
Yet fragile, so very fragile, she thought.
The slanted column of sunlight poured in, making a stunning display of light within the darkened crystalline interior of the cavern, moving slowly across the cavern sparkling off the ridges and striations of crystal created eons past.
A tiny flier zipped past her head to land lightly upon her hip. His doubled pairs of wings whirred iridescent in the shaft of sunlight penetrating the cavern. Another joined him, a female, and then many more. Hundreds of pairs of wings fluttered as they ranged over her spine and legs. Tiny blue and green hands gently caressed her.
Gran Bryl sighed contentedly, and closed her eyes, the constant ache easing. She thought loving gratitude to her small friends, visualizing them surrounded in a cloud of heart light.
Unseen by her, her attendants stopped, each one lifting a delicate face as if to the sun. Pearlescent wings stilled upon slender backs clothed in delicate, woven fabrics. Slanted, brilliant green eyes closed, sharp chins raised, each one smiling, tiny chests lifting, breathing deeply.
Then her helpers busily resumed their attentions to Gran Bryl’s nether regions.
In time, some flitted out of the cavern and others settled to sleep, heads wreathed in clouds of grass green hair, curling tiny bodies into where Gran Bryl’s massive hind leg lay across her abdomen.
Gran Bryl let them rest, as she rested. She was so tired.
The warm hours together passed and gradually tension built up in her spine. She shifted gently so as not to disturb the tiny sleepers. The tension, cold and pain returning and increasing as she once again thought of her egg.
Her egg, the hatchling who was to tip the balance. If she survived.
She must survive, thought Gran Bryl. I will have no more eggs.
Gran Bryl’s huge form shuddered as she thought of how easily things could go wrong. Tiny fliers startled upward fluttering above her.
My apologies, friends. She thought to her helpers.
Her attendants bowed their heads to her, tiny hands crossed on their chests, and whirred out of the cavern.
Ah, One. It’s a wonder that any of us survive to reach Guardian Mountain, she thought.
Then shaking her head she prayed. Forgive me, My One. I am old and tired and allowing my fear to fly.
Gran Bryl lay her head, shaped much like an elegant runner, (though she would never agree to such a comparison), upon her forearms, yellowing claws curled under.
The sunlight doesn’t warm as it used to, she thought irritably. I must have the plant speakers reorient some of the vegetation at the opening. It really is getting quite overgrown.
Enough now, Bryl, she reprimanded.
Gran Bryl heaved her front quarters up. She lifted her head, eyelids closing over round-pupiled gold eyes, and settled herself as comfortably upright as possible. She leaned back onto her haunches into where the sunlight poured down from above and warmed the rock beneath her. She rested gleaming, scaled forepaws on the ground in front, claws clicking softly upon rock, and curled her long tail about her. Her slender neck curved upward as she tucked her head and muzzle down into her chest.
The sun-warmed air, rich and moist from the overgrowth of vegetation, filled her deeply as she took in great draughts. She allowed thoughts and irritation to drift away.
Clearing her mind, she prepared herself to walk the Pathways of the One.
©Holly Hildreth 2019