Tomorrow NaNoWriMo begins. As does my task of taking Deveron on his journey to retrieve the Draco Stone and return it to the Opinouwi. For now I would like to share with you the short story that started it all.
Actually it is not soooooooo short…2,967 words to be exact.
I hope you will get settled with a coffee, or a cup of tea, curl your feet under you, let the cat out, turn off the phone and read.
I really would love to hear your thoughts on this. Of all that I have done so far…this story is a defining moment for me. For it set me on a previously unimagined path. The one of trying to become a published author. If you hate it…don’t worry. It was written long ago…and I know it needs improving in many areas. I thought though that I should put it up as it was. Also, I am Australian born. We have thick skins. I have also lived in New Zealand for nearly 20 years. Kiwis don’t say much…they are very…hmmmm…stoic. It’s rubbing off on me. So feel free to let me have it either way. Just don’t stay silent. I NEED your thoughts to improve as a writer.
The Draco Stone…by Jo Bryant
Behind their green-eyed leader the troop rode in formation, rows two wide, as they entered the Elusive City. Streamers of flowers waved them along the path, floating down to lay entangled in their hair, as they made their way to the Citadel. Underneath the hooves of the unicorns the road crunched as they landed on the bones of their ancient enemy, the Sadistiens. Though worn and compacted, the outlines of their bleached skulls from a century of warfare were still visible.
Leading the march was Deveron. His hair brushed his shoulders as he rode, the streamers so thick they hung about him like a rainbow cape. Sitting tall and straight, his eyes focussed ahead, ignoring the wall of sound that surrounded them. As he passed, he noticed how the children were all pointing in his direction. This did not surprise him, he knew for many it was their first sighting of a unicorn. Wraith was enjoying the attention. The sound of Wraith’s voice inside his head startled Deveron out of his own thoughts.
‘They scream your name Deveron.’
‘Only because they do not realise…’
‘It does you no good to blame yourself.’
‘I know that your intention is good Wraith.’
‘You would rather I kept my thoughts to myself.’
‘I do not need you in my head. I must…’
At that, the unicorn closed the connection between their minds.
Wraith’s stark white coat was broken up with great slashes of black and silver, running from his backbone vertically down to his feet. His markings were unique. He had been a gift from his father. Deveron wondered if there was a meaning behind the gift, Wraith was often the most complex of the creatures, but he trusted him as he did his own limbs.
As they approached the Citadel, he urged him into a gallop and left the deafening mass behind. Waiting on the stairs outside stood a group of Officials. Deveron grabbed a bag from his saddle, before kneeling on the stairs bowing his head. A young groom stepped forward to take Wraith’s halter.
Wraith’s ebony eyes looked over the groom with amusement.
‘Do not bedevil the lad Wraith,’ Deveron warned, glaring at him. The groom’s hand trembled as he took Wraith’s halter from Deveron.
“Be careful lad,” he advised. “He is likely to draw on trickery to get his way. Make sure he is settled and bedded before leaving. I should hate to have to scold you on my first day home.” The groom’s eyes widened and he quivered, Deveron smiled at him. “It’s all right lad. I’m much too weary to be stern today.” He stood up and turned his attention back to the Officials before him.
“Deveron,” the tallest one spoke holding out his hand. “It is wonderful to see you, but you look weighted, my son.”
“Thank you, Father. It is a great honour that you would welcome me publicly. I had not expected it,” he looked away from his father’s face as it searched his. Pain flitted briefly across Runolf’s eyes.
“Come,” Runolf’s voice wavered as he turned and led the way into the Citadel. “We have much to discuss.” Inside the entrance, under massive carved crevasses running vertically from floor to ceiling, stood large stone vases. Deveron and his father stared into the dim recesses, before looking to each other.
“We’ll leave you Runolf,” said one of the Officials. Bowing slightly to both men, they mounted a large stairwell. Deveron and his father waited until they were no longer visible before turning into an open doorway.
“Wait,” his father urged, closing the door. “For old men, some still have unaccountably good hearing.”
The room they entered had a window from floor to ceiling, as wide as four men – their arms stretched wide between them. The walls were white and grey marble, long slender rectangles bordered by light green. In between each panel, slits – the width of a man’s hand – ran vertically. Steam rose continuously in the panels, warming the room and refreshing the air.
“Come, sit with me,” his father sat on a divan near the large window. He waved for Deveron to sit opposite. Reaching out he took a decanter from the table between them. “A toast,” he said pouring the dark red liquid into two glasses. “To your return…and to those who did not.” Deveron placed the saddle bag on the ground. Taking a glass he downed the liquid, sat, laid his head back, and closed his eyes. His father watched, and remained silent.
“You would like me to speak of it?” Deveron asked.
“I, yes,” Runolf paused. “I need you to speak of it.”
Keeping his eyes closed Deveron ran a hand through his thick russet hair. His chest rose as he sighed deeply.
“Then there is much to tell.” Opening his eyes he sat up. For many breaths he was silent, looking past his father, through the glass to the city spread out before him. The only sound came from the steam bubbling up through the crevasses. His father waited, and watched his son’s green eyes flicker with emotions. Deveron held out his glass and Runolf filled it. Emptying it in one movement, he set it aside and looked directly at his father.
“We journeyed for weeks after we left, with no sign of them. It seemed as if they were just an imagined thing, a delusion in the Elder’s minds. We crossed the Symian Desert and saw no tracks before us, not one grain of sand turned over and pressed down under their feet, though there was a flavour to the air that spoke of their passing.” He paused to pour more liquid into his glass then raised it to his lips. Runolf remained motionless, waiting for Deveron to resume his tale.
“We were at the Abyss Lakes before we found evidence of their passage, a patch of compacted grass, a footprint by the shore, a branch fractured or bent, slivers of hair caught between thorns. Small things; so small I wondered if I was looking too hard. We pushed forward, stopping only when night forced us to.” He paused, his eyes closing again, as if he could no longer bear to look at Runolf.
“It was on the fourth night at the lakes that we knew. The men were tired, so we stopped early. We let the unicorns loose, and as we ate the night settled around us. It was during the second watch.” He paused, and dropped his head into his hands.
“Zak was drawn away from the camp. I can only guess that some disturbance made him curious, but that it seemed minor. He roused no-one. I found him as dawn broke. He lay on his back as if asleep.” Deveron lifted his head and stared at his father.
“His sword was sheathed, and I made to rouse him. My intention was to…when I saw a thin line of red on his neck. There was so little blood, I still believed, but he was no longer a part of this world.” Both men had tears forming as he continued.
“I could not bring myself to leave him. I held his head on my lap and told him to be valiant. I spoke to him; telling him that I would make sure his crossing would be easy. I prayed for his spirit, and spoke the words of the departed for him. I was almost finished when Jareth found us. The men were fortunate that Zak’s murderers had left the area – perhaps they thought him a lone seeker – for I had spoken not one word of warning.” Deveron bowed his head.
“Forgive me Father. I have dishonoured us, and cost the life of a beloved son. My arrogance, my belief that we were indomitable, is the reason Zak is gone.”
“You are not to blame,” Runolf held up a hand to stop his son from speaking. “I should not have allowed Zak to go. My pride…is at fault. I sought glory for both my sons, selfishly. I demanded our legacy to be one of courage and honour.” He stopped, swallowing hard. “Living should have been enough.” Nodding at his son, he signalled that Deveron should continue.
“Zak’s interment delayed us. I am sorry we could not bring him home, but I did all that I could to make his journey a swift one. I swear to you Father, that I performed the proper rites. After we lay Zak to rest we began to search in earnest. Evijan found traces of their camp some two hundred luerons from the lakes.”
“Many cycles passed but finally we knew that we were closing the distance. They no longer took as much care trying to obliterate traces of their whereabouts.”
Outside, the light began to fade. As darkness crept into the room Runolf held up his palm and stood. Deveron observed that his father seemed to have shrunk in the time he had been seated.
“I shall arrange for something to eat. I feel the need for a respite.” He walked over to a large desk and pressed a button. “We shall continue with your chronicle, after,” he said, looking away from his son. “Age,” he pursed his lips outward. “It demands you take more mind of what you do.”
Within minutes a young woman glided into the room, pushing a trolley laden with food and a full decanter. She bowed deeply before leaving. Deveron made no move towards it.
“Come, eat something. I had them prepare some things you like.”
“I have little appetite these days Father,” he replied. Runolf approached his son and sat on the small table.
“Son, I share your grief, but Zak was eager to go with you. We have…lost a part of us forever.” Leaning forward he placed his palms on each side of Deveron’s face. “And yet we go on. Do not waste what you still have by letting this overwhelm you. He would not want that for you.” Taking his son’s hand he pulled him upright.
They ate in silence. When finished, the first of the three moons had risen and the city was dotted with tiny orbs of light from the dwellings of the populace. A small circle of light cocooned around them in the otherwise dark room. Deveron leant forward and began the rest of his tale.
“Evijan was convinced that they had entered the Devil’s Den. We approached the opening from the right side of Malodorous Bay,” his frame shuddered slightly.
“I’ve never seen such a place of despair. Evil emanates from every surface. Even the unicorns were affected; in the end we dismounted to guide them. Not until we were through did we find any more signs. For twenty eight cycles we kept moving. None of us wanted to rest until we were out.
The Cross Mountains are the first thing you see when you leave that foul place. They are a balm to your soul after the Devil’s Den. Evijan found traces of them and although none of us had slept, we spurred the unicorns on. As we closed the distance we could feel them, the stench from their tainted bodies left a trail as clear as a signpost. Every trace of fatigue was gone.
Far off, a spiral of smoke drew our attention. We dismounted some five luerons from it and let the unicorns loose. I sent five men to circle around the right of them, and five to the left. Jareth and Evijan came with me, as we followed their tracks.
Each group got as close as we dared, and then we waited until the second moon was high. Their sentries were disposed of quietly, one by one. I counted fifteen asleep; they were spread out around the fire. We worked as silently as possible, slowly dispatching them by slicing their throats, as they had done to Zak.” Both Deveron and his father drew a deep breath at the mention of Zak. Runolf nodded for his son to continue.
“Their leader was easy to discern, and my group approached him while the others continued sending the rest of them to hell. Jareth tapped him with his sword. It was laughable, the surprise on his fetid features when he realised what we were about. Beside the fire lay a satchel. It seemed impossible to me, that they would be so cavalier with the stone. Yet the way the leader looked, I knew that it lay inside.
As I bent to retrieve it he went mad, foul sounds poured out of his mouth, and he rushed to stop me. Jareth and Evijan held him at the point of their swords, and he began screaming. Once I had the satchel, I opened it. The stone fell out into my hand. The beast knew that it was over. I nodded to Jareth, and he drove his sword through its neck.”
“May I see it now?” Runolf asked. Deveron lifted the bag and handed it over. Gently Runolf laid the bag on his lap and reached inside. As he withdrew his hand he smiled the first real smile in hours.
“It is more beautiful than I remember.” In his hands the stone threw off a modest luminous glow. Etched into it was the figure of a dragon with a woman’s upper body. The deep lines seemed to move so that the creature swayed and her long tresses wafted around her.
“I’ve never seen the stone out of its place. Intriguing isn’t it? I did not know there was a carving of Draco on it.”
“I too was surprised by it at first,” Deveron replied. “But it seems logical, that she would not leave us… completely. That the stone would bear something, to mark it forever, as her gift to us.”
“We must return her to the chapel. It is a great thing you have done my son. You and your men have bought home the heart that beats inside our people’s essence.” Runolf stood, reverently clasping the stone. “I should like for you to be there for this,” he said. He made to leave, stopped, and turned to walk back towards Deveron. “Hold out your hands,” he commanded. As the younger man did, he placed the stone in them.
“You have risked much and have paid a high price to bring this back. To you must go the honour of putting it in its place.”
“Father?” Deveron’s brow furrowed. “Will the Elders permit this?”
“They will do as I say,” Runolf replied. Walking before his son, they made their way into the great hall. They passed through a large door and began to ascend a marble spiral staircase. On each step, a warrior stood clad in blood red armour. As the men passed they beat a single fist to their chest. Reaching the top they were greeted by a party of ten Elders, their faces masked by purple hoods.
“Runolf.” the tallest of the Elders spoke. “Welcome.” When he saw Deveron behind him, he pulled off his hood and walked closer. “Why are you not alone? Deveron is not allowed here. You know that well.” The other Elders formed a guard stopping both men from advancing.
“Adsel,” Runolf raised his body to its full height, dwarfing the other man. ‘If not for my son, we would still be without the stone. Our civilisation would suffer, wither and die wretchedly, without its heart. I should not have to ask that he be granted the status he deserves.”
“Runolf,” the Elder shook his head with displeasure, raising his hands to quiet the others who were speaking among themselves.
“I have given a son for this Adsel. This gives me the right,” Runolf interrupted. Leaning closer he bent his head. Adsel appeared to be swallowed up by his body. The little man shrunk backwards. “If needed…I will bring this matter before the Senate.” Adsel looked up, and his brow creased.
“I do not think that will be necessary,” he replied, and turned to the other Elders. Each man nodded slightly before standing back. Adsel moved to the side. “Perhaps you have a point,” he ceded. Runolf and Deveron bowed their heads at the Elders before moving on.
They made their way through two large archways and continued along the hall. They came to another stairwell, which ended in a darkened room. They crossed the room to an altar that reached three times their height. Level with their heads was a deep hole. Runolf stepped aside and waved his son on.
Deveron raised his arms and placed the stone in the hole, then stepped back. A light began to pulse out from it and the air around vibrated. They could hear a humming sound. A brilliant flash burst out from the stone, and beams of light raced through the air touching markings on each wall. The markings glowed, then bounced into the air and floated free. New markings appeared to replace them; they too quickly rebounded about the room. This process became a continuous occurrence.
“It is good to have our history returned to us,” Runolf spoke softly. “Without it, so much would be lost.” He pointed to a series of markings glowing more vibrantly than the rest.
“Already the chronicle of your deed has been added.” A face with eyes exactly like Deveron’s could be seen in the air near the symbols depicting the Stone’s return. “He shall never be forgotten,” Runolf drew his son toward him. “Into one, shall all men journey,” he said.
“And all journeys shall become one,” Deveron replied. They looked at each other for a time, and before leaving the chapel they stared around, their faces glowing under the light show. Runolf placed his arm around his son’s shoulder and squeezed.