It’s like the silly twit doesn’t even see the dragon! I suppose she’s too busy staring up at Dearian’s golden eyes like she’s forgotten she’s in the middle of a festival and is trying to decide whether to rip his or her own clothes off first.
Dearian brings the Choosing Chalice up to his face, holding it before his lips but not drinking as he pillages its giver’s soul with his gaze. If he drinks, he accepts her offer of marriage. There’s no way he’s going to, even if the white feather in his burgundy cap does indicate that he’s open to proposals.
At the couple’s feet, Dearian’s miniature dragon looks up at his master, probably hoping the chalice is full of cheese that’s about to be dropped. I’ve never seen a dragon more found of cheese than Triscuit. He whines softly, but the silly woman trying to romance the Brytheman College School of Enchantment’s biggest cad still doesn’t notice him. Dearian must be using Tris’s magic to keep this lady’s mind muddled, because even he is not attractive enough to warrant this level of concentrated absorption. If she looked down for half a second, she might realize Tris’s scales are the exact same color as Dearian’s eyes, and if she had half a brain that would tell her Dearian’s an enchanter. Or maybe she knows that already and just doesn’t realize he’s enchanting her.
“Are you sure?” Dearian asks as I draw near. If he has any idea I’m around, he doesn’t show it.
“Yes,” the woman responds, voice all breathy and full of worship.
“Do you love me?”
There’s really only so much of this nonsense I can stomach. “No you don’t,” I tell her. I gather my own familiar’s power and use it to disrupt the spell the woman’s trapped in. “Go away.”
She blinks I confusion, looking around like she’s not sure how she came to be at the festival. “Who are you?” she asks Dearian. Pulling the chalice in, she stares at it. “Why do I…” She gasps. “Saren! I have to find Saren!”
Dearian doesn’t try to stop the woman as she gathers her expensive-looking robes together and rushes off into the crowd. He pouts at me instead. My traitorous hormones can’t help but point out the forest-inspired greens he’s wearing really set off his coloring, but I try to counter them by telling myself he looks like a tree, except with the brown bits where the green should be and vice versa.
“Why are you always ruining my fun?” he asks.
“Fun?” I snort. “I don’t think she was having fun.”
On the ground, my azure dragon, Rhea, gives Triscuit a nose bump. Dearian and I may not mesh, but our familiars are the best of friends. Go figure.
“I wasn’t going to hurt her,” Dearian scoffs. “I was just going to ask for a token of her affection, preferably one that would get me a good deal with a pawnbroker. Some of us have to worry about where our tuition’s coming from, you know.”
I shake my head. “And if she’d offered something less concrete, that would be alright too?”
“Like what?” he asks flippantly. “Her virtue? I don’t think she has any, but if she does, I wouldn’t take it. I’m not completely without morals, Lys.”
And, honestly, he flirts with anyone capable of flirtation and leaves broken hearts scattered in his wake wherever he goes, but I’ve never known him to do worse than part his admirers from small amounts of cash. He doesn’t even lead them on for terribly long before cutting them loose. “All I know is that if you pulled something like that with me, you wouldn’t live long enough to do it to anyone else.”
“Ah.” He gives his head a cocky jerk that makes the feather in his cap bob. “But I wouldn’t do to that you.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” I agree with ready confidence. “Because if I ever come at you with a Choosing Chalice, it will be because I’m about to clobber you over the head with it.”
His shoulders slump a little as he shakes his head, but his voice stays as arrogant as always as he tells me, “One day, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you’re in love with me.”
“I’ll put it down in my agenda. How does noon on Thursday the sixteenth of Never sound?”
“That soon?” He winks. “I’ll be anxiously awaiting your call.”
Before I can come up with a rejoinder, Dearian gives Triscuit’s leash a tug and disappears into the crowd. Damnit. He always gets the last word, and it drives me nuts. All the more so because he was right when he accused me of being in love with him.
Sensing my mood, Rhea jumps into the air, beats her gorgeous blue wings twice, and lands on my shoulder. She snuggles her snout against my cheek while I reach up to rub the spot on the top of her head that makes her purr. I was surprised when first paired with her to learn that dragons can purr and hearing it always gives me a little jolt of happiness.
“I’m just as stupid as the rest of them,” I tell my dragon.
It doesn’t matter how often I remind myself that Dearian Edrik is an egotistical child who plays with hearts like toys and would never be able to love anyone half as much as he loves himself, I don’t believe it. He may be overly aware of how pretty he is and may have an over-inflated view of his own charms, but he is capable of deep feeling. And that’s not just something I want to believe; it’s something I’ve saw first hand early last year when I watched Triscuit get struck by a misaimed immobilization spell while flying over a river. The sound Dearian made as his dragon tumbled into the water is something I’ll never forget. Then he jumped in, barely able to swim himself, rescued the motionless Triscuit, and brought the critter to the dock our class had been watching from. Our fellow students rushed to pull him out, but he wouldn’t let them until someone took Tris first. And as if that wasn’t enough to make me love him, someone said, “Dude, it was just a dragon. They’re replaceable,” and Dearian wound up suspended for busting up the guy’s face.
Trying to put Dearian out of my mind, I resume my journey to find my friends and a good food vendor. I skipped breakfast and it’s well past lunch, so I may be more on the lookout for food than friends… Although I’m picky enough not to stop at the first place I see because it promises spice, which, in this town, is typically code for “Our meat has spoiled.”
After about a block, I pass the woman as she holds her chalice out again, this time to a plump young woman who breaks out sobbing yet grins as she eagerly gulps from the cup. Good for them. I yell out congratulations that probably confuse the pair and keep moving.
Even though I’ve been living in Moirewash City for three years now, the festival has me in a neighborhood that’s pretty far from the school and I get lost quickly. I guess that’s what I get for taking so long to find my walking shoes that my dorm mates all left without me.
I try for a good half hour to find a street I recognize. Not only do I fail, but eventually I can’t even find the festival. How do you lose an entire festival? And why are all the shops closed just because there’s a festival in another part of the city? I am getting seriously hungry. With no clue where we are, I let Rhea take the lead in the hopes she’s less lost than I am, but that only buys me another twenty minutes of navigating unfamiliar streets until she decides she’s tired of walking and hops back on my shoulder.
“Now what?” I ask Rhea, reaching up to give her a scratch. “Know any good location spells? Because I sure don’t.”
“I might,” Dearian says, nearly causing me to jump out of my skin. My motion leads Rhea to dig in her claws and I let out a wail.
Dearian rushes forward from the alley he’d apparently been hanging out in. “You okay?”
“Just got a few new piercings is all.” I reach up to pet Rhea, but she hops down to the ground and looks around for Triscuit, who is oddly absent. “What are you doing here?”
“Me? I live here. Down that way.” He points at the alley for a second. “The better question is why are you stalking me?”
“Hah?” He crosses his arms and regards me with an enigmatic expression. He’s lost both his silly hat and his cloak, now wearing only a sage tunic over emerald leggings. It’s cold not to be wearing a cloak, so maybe he’s telling the truth about living around here. “So you didn’t follow me?”
“No.” I add a sneer in with the denial. “I’m lost.”
“Oh.” He grins. “Alright then. Carry on.”
My eyes narrow. Do I really want to give him the satisfaction of asking for directions? Deciding I don’t, I give a tug on Rhea’s leash and try to get her to start walking. She looks up at me, and very blatantly takes a seat on the cobblestones. “Damn dragon,” I mutter. “Guess who won’t be sharing my sausage if I ever find a vendor.”
Dearian laughs. “If you’re hungry, my mom stopped over this morning and left enough food to feed half the city. It’s better than you’ll find on the street.”
“I’m fine,” I snap.
“You don’t have to come in,” Dearian says. “I can bring you something here.”
I’m about to tell him I wouldn’t take food from him if I were dying when I realize I’m being silly. With a sigh, I nod. “Alright. I will allow you to serve me lunch.”
“Thank you.” After a quick little bow, Dearian rushes into the alley.
I could stay here and wait for him, but my curiosity combines with my desire to find somewhere to sit to prompt me to follow. The alley is pretty dank. It’s tight and there are puddles that I don’t think are full of water. But just past a refuse cart, Dearian goes through an archway into a little courtyard.
“Whoa,” I say, gazing around after following him out of the alley. The space we enter has a stone floor, but is filled with greenery blooming from a collection of pots and boxes. It’s also oddly warm. Glancing up shows a faint shimmer of magic that I assume is there to hold in the heat. “It’s like a park in here.”
Dearian stops and turns. “They’re my landlady’s, but I like plants. They’re… Calm. Quiet. And they offer great advice.”
Despite myself, I smile. “Advice, huh? And what do the plants advise you to do?”
“Most recently, they said I should go to the main road and check for stray college girls.”
My eyes roll.
“I’m serious,” he says. “You can ask the roses over there. They’ll back me up.”
He turns as I’m looking at the flowers and sprints up a set of stairs into a second-story apartment. It’s creepy how much I want to see his living space, creepy enough that I refuse to do it. Instead, I remove my cloak before settling myself at a cute little bistro table under what I think is a potted plum tree. My feet throb, unhappy with how much walking I did. For a moment, I worry about Dearian walking so far to class every day, but then I realize he probably takes a more direct route than I did. For all I know, we’re within five minutes of school.
I unhook Rhea’s leash from her collar, roll it up, and put it on the table. She rushes off to roll around on the ground, then sits and begins to lick herself clean. Crazy animal.
When Dearian returns in a few minutes, Triscuit now in tow, he carries a tray piled with food and drink bottles. The dragons take the time to nose-bump, then break into what looks like a game of tag.
“I didn’t know what you wanted,” Dearian says by way of explanation for bringing so much. “I know you like ginger drinks, but would you want plain ginger or lemon ginger? Or maybe you don’t feel like ginger and you want the sparkling orange…”
I laugh, cutting off his rambling. “Thank you. Do you have any orange and ginger?”
His eyes widen in alarm.
“Joking!” I exclaim quickly, holding a hand up. “I’m joking. The plain ginger sounds fantastic.”
“Okay.” Carefully, he sets the tray on the table. He takes one of the bottles and twists it open, then holds it to me. His hand shakes, but I pretend not to notice.
“Thanks,” I take the bottle, careful to keep our fingers from touching.
After a jerky nod of acknowledgement, he grabs a second bottle, opens it, and takes a long swig. Lowering the drink, he gives me a long look. “Can I ask you something?”
“I guess…” As much to avoid his eyes as anything, I examine the food on the tray. There’s a variety of things. Little sandwiches, some cookies, an assortment of fruit… I grab a sandwich and take a nibble. Chicken salad. Really good chicken salad.
“Were you really lost?”
I lower the sandwich and meet his eyes. Calling them gold is perhaps a bit simplistic. They’re gold, yes. But also brown. And a little bit orange. And bronze… I could spend a really long time picking out colors in his eyes. “Yeah,” I say quietly. “I don’t get over this way very often.”
After holding my gaze for a few heartbeats, Dearian nods. “Alright.” Does he sound disappointed or am I imagining that?
My eyes drop and I take another bite of my sandwich. He’s silent as I chew, a fact I’m highly aware of. “This is really good,” I say when I’ve swallowed.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “My mom’s a fantastic cook.”
We’re quiet for another little while, eating while the dragons play nearby. It’s… Really nice.
“Lys?” Dearian says three miniature sandwiches and several grapes later.
I swallow my grape. “Yes?”
He shakes his head and drops his gaze like he’s changed his mind about saying whatever he wanted to say. “Never mind.”
“What?” I frown. “You’re acting strange.”
His responding laugh is soft and slightly melancholy. “That’s all I ever do around you. Act strange. And moronic.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
Looking up at me, he takes time to decide on what to reply. “I knew you watching earlier. When I enchanted that girl. I knew you were there. It’s why I did it. I saw you enter the square, saw you coming my way, and snagged her as she passed by.”
My eyebrows draw together while I try to figure out what he’s really trying to say.
“I wasn’t really trying to get something to pawn off of her. I…” He shakes his head. “I always know you’re there. When…” He stops, closes his eyes, and starts over. “I keep thinking that if you see other people want me, then maybe you’ll think I’m worth wanting.”
“You…” I stare at him, my body trembling. His eyes open but don’t meet mine.
“Sorry,” he says, getting up. “I’ll just go… Do something else. Not bother you.”
He makes it a step away before I’m out of my chair and grabbing his arm. “Hold up. You don’t get to say something like that and then run away.”
His bent head keeps his eyes locked onto where my hand holds him. Likewise, I stare at our joining while millions of little tingles course through my body from the connection. “Lys…” his voice breaks. “Do you remember freshman year, when we paired with our familiars?”
“Of course.” Pairing with your first familiar is one of the major milestones of any enchanter’s life.
“You cut everyone else off and grabbed Rhea before anyone else could. Even though no one else was looking at her, because she was so little and frail.”
I nod, still not daring to look up. She had been tiny and a paler shade of green than the other unbonded dragons. “And she had a cold.”
“Yeah. She was so pitiful. Everyone else said it was really stupid to pick a sickly, scrawny, little runt. But you… You were ahead of everyone; you could have had any dragon you wanted. But you chose her.” His hand moves under my chin, tipping my head up until I’m forced to look at him. “That’s when I started loving you.”
My heads swirls as I look up at him. Is this what enchantment feels like? If it wasn’t impossible to enchant an enchanter, I’d be certain that’s what’s happening.
“But…” I start. Then I realize that I don’t know what to follow it up with. He could be playing me, but… He’s always been a flirt, but I’ve never heard of him professing his love to anyone. I let go of his arm as I try to process what’s happening.
His hand drops, as does his gaze. “You don’t believe me. I suppose I deserve that.”
“It’s okay,” he tells me. “You don’t have to say anything. Just leave the stuff on the table when you’re done.”
He starts to go. My pulse throbs and blood rushes in my ears. I should let him go. I watch his feet as he walks away. He gets to the stairs, starts up them.
His feet stop, but he says nothing.
“I love you, too,” I rush. The words just sort of explode out, leaving a great feeling of relief them, like I’ve suddenly been released from a pressure that was crushing me. I smile as I look up at his back. He’s gone completely still. “I love you, Dearian. I have since sophomore year.”
Slowly, he turns around. He grins and takes a step back my way. “So it’s the sixteenth of Never already?”
Eyes locked on his, I nod as he approaches. “And if this is all a setup, you may not live to regret messing with me.”
He laughs, but he doesn’t tell me I’m a fool and crush my heart beneath his heel. “It is not a setup. I am not messing with you. And if you’re messing with me, I might die from it.”
We stand inches apart, just looking at each other. The dragons yip as they play and roll very close to our feet, but neither of us spare them a glance.
“I’m not,” I whisper just before he lowers his lips to mine. And as I kiss him back, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he means it.
The above image is by Vladislav Yerko.
It was provided as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.