Lucan giggled like mad as the soot sprites from the fireplace danced about in front of him wearing acorns for hats. Bright colors of red and yellow swirled around them. All warm and soft. Comforting. He laughed as they beckoned for him to join them. The warnings of his two mothers telling him not to follow the creatures he saw always left his mind when he saw them. They were so much more entertaining than the dull colored world he lived in. He could hear their voices all the time. Begging and pleading with him to join them in their world of colors.
It was easy to ignore the scratching sounds behind him. So long as he never looked, it could never get him. Lucan had made that mistake once before and never intended on doing it again. All he had to do was focus on the beautiful swirls of red and yellow in front of him. Not the dull grey that threatened to always swallow him up from behind.
The little sprites and fairies called for him again. They wanted him to go with them. Away to somewhere beautiful. Somewhere that he would never have to return from.
Mother Thyra always warned him of fairies. Said they were tricky creatures. That in their minds they did not see the harm they were actually causing. She said he had to learn to ignore them, but it was hard when what they offered was so tempting.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
The claws behind him called for him too. They wanted him more than the fairies did. He was too young to know what the beast wanted, but it scared him. Tempted him further into the arms of fairies, pixies, sprites, and brownies. For as long as he could remember, that beast was there. Waiting for him to turn around so it could dig it’s claws into his chest.
It got him once. Most didn’t believe him when he said he could remember the day he was born, but he did. He remembered the first time he saw the beast, or at least part of it. The scratching had got to him and he turned around. Out of the grey came a burst of bright red fire. Through the fire came a clawed and scaled arm. It dug into the circular birthmark over his heart.
Return what is mine!
It had demanded it of him.
When he woke, he was surrounded by the people who loved him. His two mothers, his uncle the King, and Queen. It was years before he confessed everything that he remembered from his fit. They said he’d screamed for hours, but in his mind, it had only lasted several quick moments.
Lucan had not made the mistake of turning around since then.
The Egg, Lucan. Protect the Egg. Give us the Egg, we can keep it from him till you are ready.
The fairies always told him this, though he never understood it. He had brought them offerings of chicken eggs and various birds eggs from the forest, but it was never what they wanted. He didn’t dare bring it up to his two mothers. Mother Emma always became upset whenever he talked about eggs. Uncle Edmund was never too happy whenever it was brought up either, but more so when Lucan mentioned talking to the fairies and sprites. Uncle Edmund hated magic.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Never look, he reminded himself. Just don’t ever turn around. Even when he felt the tip of a claw prick at his shirt, he had to remember not to turn around.
It was nearly his tenth birthday and he would not be tricked by a beast. He was intelligent and strong. Perhaps not as physically strong as his Mother Emma, but still strong. The beast could scratch and prick at his back all it wanted. He focused his blue slitted eyes on the soot sprites as they danced for him across the window sill.
“Lucan!” it wasn’t the fairies or sprites this time and it wasn’t the claw. It was someone else. They wanted him to leave the fairies behind, but he didn’t want to. He hated the world around him. It was cold and dull. Why couldn’t he stay here with the fairies? Why did he have to go back? Lucan didn’t want to.
But he knew he had no choice in the matter, not that he had to make it easy.
He ignored the voice as it called to him. Instead he went back to giggling with the sprites. Lucan would make them force him to come back, “Lucan! Wake up!” but he wouldn’t. It was his birthday soon and he wanted to stay here to celebrate it.
Come with us, Lucan! We’ll take care of you and the egg!
The fairy offer was much more appealing than spending his days learning to read, write, and fight. He would rather lay around all day eating, drinking, and dancing with the fairies.
Come live with the Queen, Lucan! She’ll take care of you and keep you safe from the dragon! When you’re older, she’ll marry you, Lucan!
He had never seen the fairy queen, but they talked of her often. She sounded lovely.
“Lucan!” the voice was louder this time. He would have to wake soon. They would make him. He knew he could escape. Let the fairies take him and he would never have to wake up again. But...he couldn’t.
“Lucan!” he couldn’t imagine life without his mothers or uncle. They were hard on him, but he knew it was only because they loved him.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Don’t go back, Lucan! He gets stronger everyday! Bring us the egg and come with us, Lucan! We tried to protect your mother, but she could not hear us! Lucan!
Scratch! Scratch! Scratch!
He shook his head quick and gasped loudly as it felt like something was pulling him upwards painfully by the shoulders.
His big, blue eyes opened fast and he saw the faces of his mothers and uncle over him. They looked scared, as they usually did. He felt hot and sweaty. His body felt sore and tired, “Mama?”
“Shhhh, it’s okay, Darling. We’re here,” his Mother Thyra sat on the bed next to him, she reached over to stroke his hair softly. She was always the more affectionate of his two mothers. Though the other boys teased that Mother Emma wasn’t much of a woman anyway.
Mother Emma moved around to sit on the other side of the bed next to him, “Are you alright?” she asked.
“I...I’m okay,” he said softly.
“Was it a nightmare?” his uncle, the King, asked with concern in his voice, “Was it the dragon again?”
“No,” he lied. They always went off and had long, loud conversations whenever he mentioned the scratching and the claws that pricked at his back. They didn’t like hearing about the fairies much either, “Just a silly nightmare. I thought there was something under my bed.”
“Are you sure, Darling?” his blond mother was never satisfied with his answers, “Do you need your medicine?”
“No!” he hated the foul tasting liquid. It made him feel heavy and dull. It made him feel sleepy and slow, “I’m fine. Really. I am.”
The three adults exchanged glances before finally getting up from his bed. They each gave him a kiss to his forehead before leaving the room. Lucan knew the only reason they were in there is because he must have been screaming. Even though the dreams were generally pleasant, with the exception of the scratching, he knew it made him scream. He didn’t know why it hurt his body so much, but it did.
He turned his head on the pillow to look out his window. There were no more bright colors. Just the black sky. The walls of his room were dull, grey, and cold. Even the small fire crackling in the fireplace to keep away the winter chill didn’t look bright at all compared to what the fairies brought with them.
They wanted him to come back, but he knew he couldn’t. He just had to forget about them and focus on the real world. It would do his mothers no good if something happened to him.
Lucan would just have to learn to ignore it all.
“Sophia can’t take her eyes off you, Lucan. She’s been giving you free drinks all night,” his best friend, Gilbert, muttered. Gilbert was two years younger than himself and his cousin. Technically, it was Prince Gilbert. He had his mother’s dark brown hair. He was short for his age, but just as capable as any of the other men. Some didn’t consider him near as handsome as Lucan, but he was comparable.
Lucan’s blue, slitted eyes flicked up and he saw the bar girl looking at him with a blush on her cheeks. She looked away quick as their eyes met. Sophia was a beautiful girl. Sweet and busty. She had long, soft brown hair that came down to her waist in gentle waves. She was the daughter of the bar owner. It was the only decent one in the area and therefore rather profitable. She was well fed with round hips and her top was certainly tightened too much, making her bosom all that much more lovely to look at. Her skin was tanned from outdoor work, but she had all her teeth and they were in wonderful condition. Her family took well care of her. Obviously hoping to catch the attention of someone like Lucan or Gilbert.
He had no doubts that her family was pressuring her to go after Lucan. The Prince would be too difficult. His mother was very picky. No one was good enough for her son. Lucan, however, was the cousin of the Prince. A much easier target. His family would take control of the bar and it’s profits. She’d give him several children and she might even grow to love him over the years. Her family would live comfortably with the knowledge that given the right conditions, they might take the throne one day. She was the kind of girl most men would be happy to marry.
Lucan wasn’t though. Not because his mothers wouldn’t approve. No. Mother Thyra would be happy if he brought a woman home. Mother Emma, not so much, but she would give her blessing. Lucan wasn’t ready to marry. He was twenty and she was sixteen. While not unseemly for him to be unmarried at his age, it was getting close to her being too old to be married. If she didn’t land him soon, then she would have to be married off to the next best option. She’d find one of the knights and be content with that.
Lucan had no intentions of getting her hopes up by taking her around the back of the building and having his way with her. While he was fond of the physical feeling of sex, he didn’t feel like leading her on. His mothers had raised him better than that.
Slowly, he moved from their table and walked over to her, his sword jostled a little bit on his hip as he moved past people to get to her. She smiled widely and bat her eyes at him, pushing her chest forward a bit more as she leaned against the counter, “Sir Lucan, it’s wonderful…”
He leaned close to her, cupping her chin and bringing his lips to her ear. He felt her holding her breath as he spoke, “Stop it. I’m not interested. I will never be interested. You’re a beautiful girl, find someone who actually wants you. There’s a half dozen knights in here, pick one of them.”
The rusty-dirty blond haired man didn’t expect her to slap him, but she did. Her hand connected with his cheek with a loud cracking sound and the whole room went silent for a moment. Lucan rubbed at the sore spot on his face as he headed back to his table, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” Gilbert said with a laugh, “But it was funny to watch.”
“Apparently I said something she didn’t like,” he had turned down several women the past few years. Lucan was far from being a virgin, but the idea of random sex wasn’t as appealing as it had been in the beginning. At first, the physical feelings the act itself provided were enough for him, but that grew dull after a while. The world was a cold, dreary place for Lucan Torit. It always had been. He didn’t see things the way other people did.
Mother Emma told him that their family blood allowed them certain advantages. Faster reflexes, heightened sense of hearing and smell, as well as stamina for days. He’d enjoyed the benefits of all of these. While his Mother Emma could still best him with a sword, he had surpassed her with a bow. Most said his skill with a bow was comparable to his Grandfather, not that anyone felt being compared to him was a good thing. However, the one thing his Mother Emma told him about that he didn’t understand was their sight.
They both shared in the curse of the dragon eyes. He had heard the stories about how his mother had been treated growing up and it made him angry sometimes how easily people accepted him. He wondered if it had to do with the fact that he was a man. Either way, they both shared the beastial eyes. Mother Emma said that she saw the world as a bright and shining place. No matter how dangerous or bad the situation, reds were always like fire and blues were always like the sky and greens like the most beautiful gems.
Lucan didn’t see it that way. Everything was muted and dull. Nothing was beautiful. Not the way his Mother Emma saw it. Part of him remembered a time when he saw things that way, but he couldn’t remember when or where it was. Like it had just been in a dream.
“I’ve had enough tonight. I’m going home…” he pat his cousin on the shoulder before heading off.
The village had grown larger since he was born. It was nearly doubled in size. The castle was surrounded on all sides by houses and crude, dirt streets. Some of the forest had been taken down to make room for the expanding village. Even the place where his mothers had vowed themselves to each other was no longer there. Instead, there was a chicken coop in the spot now.
He made his way through the dirt streets and up towards the castle. It was late and most of the lights had been put out for the evening. It was cooler out tonight and he could hear several fires going in various rooms. He headed through the stone halls and towards his room. He had been told that the room once belonged to his mother and then his grandfather before her. It was a little unsettling to think about, but he sort of liked the room. It was one of the largest in the room and he had always felt a sense of safety in it.
Granted, he had made his mothers assure him several times that it was not the same bed that his Mother Emma had been born in or the one he’d been born in. That was a little too much for him.
He jumped and grabbed for his sword till he realized it was his Mother Thyra, “Mother,” he breathed a sigh of relief. The two older women were the only ones who were ever able to sneak up on him.
Mother Thyra was always the more affectionate one. The more motherly one. The younger men were always saying things about her. She was tall, lovely, and soft. Her thick, blond hair was envied by many of the maids and village girls. The only thing that marred her body was the jagged scar on her cheek. He knew the story of how she’d got it. Even with the scar, she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the area.
Even still, people were scared of her. She was a powerful witch. One that had only grown stronger as she got older. People were wary of magic. Uncle Edmund loathed it. He’d heard plenty of stories about his Grandmother Glenna and the chaos she had caused. People weren’t quite over that. While he’d never seen his Mother Thyra consorting with demons, he knew that it wasn’t entirely impossible. He had overheard Mother Emma speaking about a black eyed demon that his grandmother used to deal with.
While Mother Emma was raised by a witch and taught some magic, she rarely used it. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever seeing her use it. Uncle Edmund and Mother Thyra spoke of it, but only rarely. He was told that Mother Emma’s magic was dark and dangerous, while Mother Thyra relied more on nature and what she called natural energies. Uncle Edmund didn’t like any of it.
“Enjoy your night out?” the tone of her voice made him wince. It was as if she had used his full name. He was on thin ice.
“It was...alright. Gilbert wanted…” he couldn’t blame his friend. No one would believe that Gilbert was the one to lead him into trouble, “I just wanted to be with my friends for a bit.”
“You should be spending your birthday with your family. You could have at least told us. We were waiting for you.”
Lucan went about taking off his sword and setting it across the chair by the fireplace before running his fingers through his hair, “I’m sorry, Mother. You know I hate those family dinners. I’m not a child. I don’t need a birthday party. Was Aunt Lillian upset?” his Uncle’s wife was a sensitive woman.
“Yes, but we calmed her down,” she had been one of Lucan’s nannies as a child. She was one of the few that had helped when he used to have fits. Her and Edmund fell in love and were married quick soon after his mothers were married.
“Is Mother upset with me?”
“Yes,” there was no mention of calming her down. Not that Mother Emma would have thrown a fit or anything. No. She would quietly simmer and take it out on him during training, “We had a present we wanted to give you.”
“I’m a little old for presents,” he was a little old for a lot of things. He should have been married with a child by now. Or at least a widower from a wife who died giving him a child. But he hadn’t even been with a woman in some time. It just didn’t hold the same thrill. Part of Lucan was sure that he’d be fine with never marrying.
“You are, but this is important. Try not to go anywhere,” she got up and left the room. Once she was gone, he pulled his boots off and threw himself onto the warm bed. He was ready to curl up and go to sleep for the night. Listening to the wood crackling in his fireplace did lull him to sleep.
He dreamed of little soot sprites wearing acorn hats.
But they went away as he felt a tug at his arm. He opened his eyes to see his mother’s own dragon slitted eyes locked onto his, “Mother…” he groaned softly as he sat up, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” he said as he slowly sat up.
Mother Emma was a strong woman. She was tall and lean. He had heard stories about how she used to hate herself and the way she looked, but she was a confident woman these days. Her rusty hair had faded a little with shots of pale grey. She was taller than most of the men she helped train. She was faster and stronger than them too. These days, about the only person who could give her a run for her money was him. Where his Mother Thyra wore pretty gowns and was considered a great beauty, his Mother Emma was practically a man. It was rare to see her without her various armors and tunics.
He looked from her to his other mother and saw her holding a strange looking box. He’d never seen it before, but it felt familiar, “What’s that?”
“This belonged to your great grandmother, Aislinn. She brought it with her from her homeland. It was a gift to her as well. It would have passed to your grandfather, but…” everyone knew that story these days, “I found it when I was a few years younger than you are now. I had hoped it would hatch before now, but it hasn’t. I don’t think it was meant for me,” he watched as his mother took out her dagger and pricked her finger. Mother Thyra set the box down on the bed between them and he watched as she inserted her bloodied finger into a small opening.
The box clicked and he leaned over to see what was inside as she pushed the lid open. There was a bright, silken yellow pillow. Little gems were dotted along the fabric. In the middle of it was an egg. A large egg. It was the color of cream and there were long, deep red veins running along it. He’d never seen anything like it before. The sight of it tugged at something deep inside of him and he reached up to touch his chest a bit. Mother Emma did the same. They both touched the birthmark over their hearts that they shared, “...Egg.”
“It’s a dragon egg.”
“I...uh...I get that,” he couldn’t take his eyes off it.
For years, he’d dreamed of it. He no longer had fits the way he did as a child, but he still had the dreams of an egg. It was beautiful. He could feel life inside of it. He didn't realize that he had stopped breathing till his mother lifted it up and held it to the fire light and his lungs burned with need. He took a sharp breath as he saw the creature inside of it. It squirmed a little, as if moving towards the heat.
Everyone heard stories about dragons, but so few these days were old enough to have seen one. He had heard from King Bowen that the last dragon had died to save everyone from his grandfather.
Lucan slowly reached out to touch it, but all three of them jumped as the window shutters flew open and the cold wind that came in threatened to put out the fire. Mother Thyra waves her hand and they all closed again, but they rattled with the force of the wind outside. There had been no hint of wind when he walked home.
“It's really a dragon egg, isn't it?” he asked quietly as he finally touched the shell. It was somewhat leathery, but it felt hot. The longer he touched it, the hotter it got, but it didn't burn his fingers. It felt nice.
“It is. The last. I found it when I was seventeen. Based on writings we found from Aislinn, it should have hatched by now, but it hasn't. I don't think it was meant for us,” she looked over at her wife, “I think it's time for you to care for it and see if it was meant for you, Lucan. It's your birthright. Just as it was mine.”
His mother leg the egg slip into his hand and he never wanted to let it go. It felt right sitting in against the palm of his hand. The weight of it felt as comfortable as holding a sword did to him, “You don’t...you don’t know when it will hatch?”
Thyra moved close and shook her head, “We thought it would have done so by now. It is still alive, but we are not sure when it will hatch. Aislinn’s writings did not have much information about dragon eggs. Sadly, no one has much information about dragon eggs,” he knew that from his grandfather’s family, he came from a line of dragon slayers. They didn’t care much for preserving knowledge of the old ones.
“I think it’s time for you to start caring for it,” Emma said softly, “Not that it needs much. Keep it warm and out of sight. I think Gilbert could handle knowing about it, but till now, it was only myself, your mother, and Uncle Edmund. Even your Aunt doesn’t know about it. Let those who know about it be trustworthy and sparse.”
Lucan could understand that. There were rumors that various dragon body parts could be used for several things. Eating their hearts was rumored to cause invincibility. Eating the heart of a defenseless, unhatched dragon would be easy work. The idea of someone cracking open the egg in his hand made his stomach turn. He pulled it towards him, touching it to his chest. It was alive. He could feel it. Lucan knew he’d never let anyone hurt it.
“...thank you…” it didn’t seem like the right thing to say, but it was the only thing he could think of. His mothers had always treated him as an adult. He had started to learn using a sword when he could just walk. They expected a lot from him, but they never actually put any burdens on him. They never asked him to marry, give them grandchildren, or anything. They just wanted him to behave responsibly; which he had for the most part.
This was a new level of trust. They were giving him a great and powerful gift.
Mother Thyra brushed some of the rusty hair out of his face before kissing his temple. Years had dulled the color and it was more dirty blond these days, but there were still shots of red here and there. Mother Emma was less affectionate and simply pat him on the shoulder with a small smile, “Take care of it. As far as we know, it’s the last of it’s kind.”
There had been rumors of dragons, but they all turned out to be false.
“I will. I will…” he couldn’t take his eyes off of it. It was pressed to his heart, spreading a warm feeling across his body.
Lucan hadn’t even realized when his mothers left the room. He just sat in front of the fire, holding the egg up, and watching the creature inside of it. It didn’t move much, but every once in awhile, he saw it squirm just a bit. Eventually, he set it on the pillows of his bed and dressed for bed. He left it on the pillow next to his head as he slept. Lucan didn’t want to put it back in the box. He wanted to keep it near him.
Lucan…he’s coming, Lucan. Don’t let him take the egg. Keep it safe. We can help you...
The soft voice in his sleep was familiar. One he hadn’t heard in many years. One he barely remembered, but it was comforting to hear it again.
The firelight shone through the thin shell of the egg and Gilbert gasped a little in surprise as he saw the creature inside move, “It’s really in there. A dragon. Well I’ll be damned…” he smiled as he reached out to touch it. Lucan pulled it away before his fingers could brush the skin.
“Sorry. Just kind of a reflex,” Lucan had been caring for the egg for a week now and it went with him everywhere. He kept it cradled in a large sack he took to carrying around on his shoulder. People asked questions about the bag, but he hadn’t told anyone about it till now. He kept it swaddled up in a blanket with a pillow at the bottom of the sack. His mothers had asked him to keep it safe in the box, but part of him knew it he did that, he would just end up carrying the box around with him.
Slowly, Lucan held the egg back out and Gilbert touched it gently, “It’s warm.”
“It seems to stay that way.”
“Our parents have had this since they were our age?”
Gilbert sighed in frustration, “How could they not trust to tell us? Father never even told mother about it.”
“Bowen and Kara never knew either,” Lucan set the egg back down on the grass next to the fire. He wrapped the blanket around it and swaddled it up. He felt very fatherly towards it. Lucan hadn’t thought about having children, but he sometimes thought that this might be what it felt like. Though he imagined children were a bit more active than an egg was.
“Wow…” Gilbert was staring at it, “Think it will hatch?”
“Don’t know,” he shrugged a little before grabbing up his water skin and taking a long drink.
They were camping not far from the castle. He could have shown it to Gilbert in his room, but it felt safer out here. Most of his life, he’d felt comfortable in his bedroom, but since he got the egg, it felt strange. He started having nightmares and he swore he saw eyes in the fire. Even now, looking at the fire was a little unnerving. He needed it to keep the egg warm, but it just didn’t feel safe. The eyes reminded him of his own and that upset him.
“The last dragon…” Gilbert seemed to notice how protective of it Lucan was. He looked at it, but he didn’t move to try to touch it again, “I was going to complain about how you dragged me out of my nice bed to lay in the dirt all night, but I think this makes up for it.”
The dragon eyed knight smirked before laying back on his wadded up cloak. He’d been sleeping outside for a few days now. It was just becoming too unnerving to be inside. Somehow, he felt safer out here, “I’m going to head up north in a few days. I want to see Aislinn’s homeland. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find something about the egg.”
“I’ll come with,” which went without saying. They had been nearly attached at the hip since they were children.
“We’ll tell our parents in the morning,” it was late and his eyelids felt heavy. It felt like no time before he was fast asleep.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Lucan turned on the ground to face the egg, groaning a bit.
Lucan! Wake up! Don’t let him get you!
He groaned again. It had been so long since he heard the scratching. So long since he felt the prick of claws at his back. He’d managed to suppress it for so long, but it was coming back with a vengeance.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
It felt like it was clawing at the back of his head. It hurt.
He’s coming! Run, Lucan! Run! Come to us!
His blue, slitted eyes opened wide and fast as he shot up from the ground. One hand went for his sword, the other went for the egg. He grabbed it up and held it to his chest. Just as he curled his arm up with the egg, an arm shot out from the dying fire. It was badly burned and the nails were long and claw like. It slammed into the ground where the egg had been and dragged the blanket back into the fire. The flames roared up for a moment before fading back down.
Gilbert woke with a start and looked around dazed, “What...what’s happening?” he asked groggily.
“Get up. Time to go,” he reached down quick and grabbed the sack. Lucan gently put the egg inside and sheathed his sword to his hip before shaking out his cloak and wrapping it around his shoulders, “We have to go now.”
“What?” Gilbert rose slowly, rubbing at his eyes and yawning a little, “It’s still dark. Where are we going? Lucan? Lucan?!” the dragon eyed man was already walking towards the forest, “Lucan!”
He heard his friend calling behind him, but he kept walking, his pace picking up as he got further from the fire. The weight of the egg on his back was comforting. As was the voice guiding him.
Into the forest, Lucan. We can help you. Just follow my voice.
Gilbert stumbled behind him and eventually caught up to him. His friend tried to get him to stop, but he knew he couldn’t, “We have to keep going, Gilbert.”
“Alright...I get that,” he sounded a little scared, likely for Lucan’s state of mind. Most knew about the fits he used to have as a child, “Why don’t we go back home for a bit and get some supplies before we go adventuring in the forest?”
Don’t turn back, Lucan. Not safe there. You’ll only bring pain to your mothers if you go back now. Keep going, Lucan. Follow my voice.
“No. Not safe. Too many fire places,” he said sternly as he started weaving through the trees.
They walked in silence. He could hear Gilbert lag behind a few times, as if he were going to turn back, but he never did. He always ended up back at his side as they made their way through the trees and bushes. Every so often, Lucan would stop and look around for a moment before changing direction and heading off again.
You’re almost here, Lucan. Just a little further. We’ll help you.
His eyes made it easier to see in the dark. It was easy for him to get through the forest. Gilbert had to stay close or risk getting lost. Even though they had grown up with these woods, it was still thick, dense, and easy to get turned around in the dark.
The only reason he finally stopped was when Gilbert grabbed his arm roughly and yanked him back, “What’re you doing?” he asked sharply.
“You almost stepped in it,” Gilbert pointed to the ground, “A fairy ring.”
Just at his feet were several large mushrooms. They spanned out into a ring about five feet across. They formed a perfect circle. There were all kinds of stories that went around about fairy rings. How if one were to step in one, they ran the risk of being dragged into the land of the Fae. Rumors of witches using them went around as well, but his mothers both said that was silly. His mothers told him that the idea of a fairy ring was silly superstition. Many stepped into the rings without it causing an issue. People just liked to tell stories.
Into the ring, Lucan. It’s the only way. We’ll open it for you.
Reaching out, he grabbed the front of Gilbert’s tunic and dragged him forward as he stepped into the mushroom ring. He heard his friend gasp a little and felt him resist, but they both stumbled into it. For a moment, they stood there and looked at each other. Lucan wasn’t sure what he had been expecting to happen. Maybe he was insane. Had a clawed hand really come out of the fire or had he lost his mind? Lucan heard stories that his grandmother had been insane and that his father had been a monster. Maybe he was heading down that path as well.
“Lucan, I’m worried about you. Let’s go home. I think you’re ill…” he heard his friend speaking softly.
Perhaps he was right. Gilbert had always been the more responsible of the two of them, “You’re...you’re right,” his head felt clear suddenly. Lucan realized that he could have lead them off a cliff or something, “I’m sorry, Gilbert. I’m not sure what came over me…”
“It’s alright. Let’s just get home…” but his voice trailed off a bit.
Lucan’s eyes went wide as he felt a warm tingle pass through his body. The mushrooms were glowing a pale blue color, “Close your eyes!” he wasn’t sure why he knew to do that, but he was glad that they did. Just as they slid shut, the blue glow flared up to blinding brightness and he felt the ground give way under them. Gilbert screamed, but he couldn’t find it in him to be scared of it.
You’ll be safe now, Lucan.
And he believed it. It made him feel relaxed.
The falling feeling only lasted a few seconds. He felt ground under his backside again and he slowly opened his eyes. The only thing he could see was the pale, blue-green eyes of the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was surrounded in a halo of red, which he realized was her flame colored hair. Lucan was used to the unusually pale skin he and his mother had despite their time outside, but hers seemed to glow like the moonlight. Her hair flowed out from under a lacy, leather headband that wrapped around her forehead. Strings of green and blue beads and gems hung from it and framed her soft face, “Hello, Lucan,” her voice was soft and sweet. It was the voice that had been filling his head, but it no longer echoed. He was hearing it for himself this time. It wasn’t just in his head anymore.
He stood slowly, his eyes locked on her face. Barely noticing the flowy green and brown dress that hung off her willowy body, “You’re…”
She smiled and he felt like his heart was melting, “I’m Nissa.”
“The fairy princess,” she laughed softly and he felt fluttering in his stomach.
“Close. I’m a fairy princess. There’s quite a few of us. Mother likes having children.”
“Too many of them, if you ask me.”
The new voice caused him to break his gaze from the beautiful woman and he whipped around to see the source of it. Gilbert was climbing to his feet and grabbing for his dagger. The silken voice had come from another willowy figure. For a moment, Lucan thought it was another woman, but as it moved quick to disarm his friend and force Gilbert back to his knees, he realized it was a man. His eyes were crystal blue, lacking the green the woman had in hers. His skin was the same moon-glowing pale, but he looked almost sun bleached bone with the dark of his long hair flowing down around his narrow face. A tiny, pale green gem hung down the center of his forehead from a simple leather strap that went under his dark brown hair. His body was clad in pale blue robes.
“Miken! Let him go,” the girl ordered.
“You meant to attack. I was defending myself,” the man responded before releasing Gilbert’s arm. The knight growled lowly as he got back to his feet and rubbed at his wrist. Apparently the wispy man was stronger than he appeared, “You dare to attack a prince?”
“You’re the man who attacked a prince,” Gilbert snapped before moving closer to his friend as the long haired man tilted his head curiously at the comment.
“Come on, we have to get you inside. Before he knows you’re here. Follow Miken and me. Mother will be happy you’ve finally come. We’ve waited for so long.”
Before either of the men could question them, they started to walk off. Gilbert moved close to him, “What is this place? Do you think we should trust them?”
Lucan believed they could. Part of him knew that the voices he heard had always been Nissa. They had to be, “Do we have a choice?” not that he was ready to let Gilbert in on that yet. Instead, he shrugged lightly and started after the wispy pair.
He heard Gilbert mutter something about men who look like women before following after.
“This is...incredible,” Gilbert said softly as he walked along side the fairy prince.
It wasn’t that his parents had sheltered him. He had trained along side Lucan and the other men. He had gone on hunts and been in fights with drunks. But he’d never left home. Not any further than a town or two away. None of them really had. There hadn’t been a war or rebellion since the time of Einon. With dragons gone, the world saw little magic. What he was seeing now was almost beyond belief.
The trees were taller than he’d ever seen before. They went so high that he couldn’t even see the tops. Each one was covered in mushrooms and flowers. Each of the fungus were glowing pale blue and the flowers were brightly colored. Shades of red and yellow he’d never seen before. They didn’t look real. The whole place seemed to be lit by these strange mushrooms and flowers. There were no candles or fires. Just plants that glowed strangely and beautifully.
There were people of all shapes and sizes moving about in the trees. Passing from branch to branch through a system of bridges, ropes, and some just jumping. Some, he swore, he saw using wings. Fast moving, shimmering wings. Just like the stories of fairies that Thyra used to tell them about. He wondered if Thyra had seen this place before, though she never described anything like this.
The people, if they could be called that, were strange looking. Some looked mostly human, like Nissa and Miken, but many did not. Most had exaggerated features. Long noses, fingers that extended much too far, skins tinted blues and greens, grins that went from ear to ear (literally), and all manners of heights and weights that seemed far too unreal. They seemed unphased by the newcomers to their land of trees.
The houses were built right into the trees. Unlike his home, where people cut down trees and altered the stone into the shapes they wanted and needed, these houses were built out of the trees. They were unmolested and uncut. Merely shaped and molded. He watched as a woman gently bent branches over to cover a hole in a roof. She never broke the twigs. She was careful to make sure they remained unharmed. The tree would continue to grow and the roof would as well. Their houses were living things. It was beautiful. Natural.
“We care for our land, unlike your kind,” Miken snipped and he narrowed his eyes at the soft man.
“And what do you know of my kind?” he growled. His eyes locked on Lucan and Nissa, who walked several feet in front of them.
“I know you stink of iron, blood, and sweat. You ravage and molest the land around you. Forcing it to conform to you. It’s why we left your world long ago and created our own world. One where we can take care of what is most important. Nature.”
“You think caring for nature is more important than caring for your people? What kind of prince are you?”
It was Miken’s turn to narrow his eyes and glare, “I care very much for my people. Enough to know that we can’t survive if our land doesn’t survive. We have learned how to be a part of nature, not a force against it. Perhaps your kind will learn that lesson the hard way one day.”
“Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. We have learned to make our environment adapt to us, rather than us adapting to it. Good or bad, in the end, it’s our choice to make. It doesn’t give you the right to judge us.”
The fairy prince was silent for a moment before nodding lightly, “Agreed. I will try not to judge you too harshly. After all, you are friends with Lucan, so you must be a good person.”
His friend had never mentioned these people before, but Mikan spoke of him like an old friend himself, “You know Lucan?”
“I know his heart. He’s a good man. We’ve watched over him for some time now. We had hoped he would come to us sooner, but he blocked us out for so long. I think finally seeing the egg again is what let us through to him again. He’s here now and that’s all that truly matters. Where he belongs.”
Gilbert couldn’t imagine Lucan belonging in a place like this, “He doesn’t belong here. Neither of us do. He’s human.”
“...partly. Half, perhaps. Though likely less.”
“What do you mean?” he knew Thyra and Emma had magic. The word witch was tossed around, but not the way it used to. Gilbert knew that Lucan’s grandmother had been considered a witch and so had Aislinn. Then there was Einon. He had been born human, but after obtaining his dragon heart, could he really be considered that? Was Lucan human at all? Gilbert had never thought to question it before, “He’s human.”
“Witches came from our land first. Magic creeped out and seeped into humans. They ceased to be human at that point. They are one of us. Lucan has some, very little, human in him anymore. He would have more, had his grandfather not had his heart replaced with that of a dragon.”
Miken grabbed his forearm tight and yanked him back, “We don’t say that name,” he hissed lowly, “You’ll attract him.”
He stared into Miken’s crystal blue eyes and felt his cheeks warming, “I...I’m sorry. It’s a sore name to bring up where I come from too,” especially when Emma and Lucan were around. People would look at them and judge them for being blood to the tyrant.
The fairy prince shook his head, “It’s more than that here. Our world is very close to the underworld. Sometimes...things...cross over. Most are harmless. Just wandering spirits. But him...he’s stronger than the others. It’s the dragonspirit still within him. Even in death, he has the strength of a dragon. It’s why we stopped using candles and fires for light,” he gestured to a mushroom as they started walking again, “He can use the fire.”
“He wants the dragon egg, doesn’t he?”
Miken nodded this time, “Yes. If he can consume the dracling’s body while it’s weak, he will be able to cross back over to the land of the living completely. Bathing in it’s blood will give him back full form, eating it’s heart will make him invincible, and creating a powder from it’s scales and bones can be used to enhance magic.”
He thought for a moment, “As far as I know, he never used magic himself.”
“No, but his lovesick witch does. She’s been helping him,” Glenna. Stories went around about the mad witch that birthed Emmaline and eventually died trying to save her daughter.
“This is a lot to process…” Gilbert didn’t know how else to put it. He was upset that their parents had kept the egg from them for so long. Had they known the danger? Wouldn’t it have been better to destroy the egg? If it was gone, then Einon would have nothing to come after. He flicked his eyes up to the back of Lucan’s head. He would have to have a talk with Lucan about it. Getting rid of that thing seemed the most reasonable option.
“Mother will be eager to meet the both of you. Mostly Lucan, but she does enjoy meeting royalty.”
“Did you think we don’t have a mother? I am a prince, so there must be a queen,” the soft man smiled and Gilbert felt his cheeks warm again, “We do conceive the same way. The same, rather disgusting, way.”
That least comment left his cheeks feeling hot, rather than warm, “Disgusting?”
“Well, I’m not against the act of lovemaking, not that I would consider what my mother does with several dozen men a year ‘lovemaking’. But conception...birth…children…” a visible shudder ran over his wispy frame.
The prince looked down at his feet for a moment before looking back at the fairy prince. He could relate to the things the other man said, or rather the way he seemed to feel about it. While no one pushed for Lucan to find a wife and start a family, they did for him. He was old enough to take a wife and have a child or two. He knew his mother would be more than happy if he brought a girl home. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been with a woman yet, but he had found the experience...uncomfortable. It had taken quite a bit of work to get his body to respond properly to be with her. The thought of being a father was even more uncomfortable. He had seen pregnant women around the castle and village and he got the same shudder going through his body that Miken had displayed, “I understand.”
He tilted his head to see Miken looking at him strangely before smirking and turning his head back to look at his sister and Lucan, “We’re almost there.”
Gilbert looked around and realized they had been walking for some time. The trees had thinned out a bit, but the ground was harder to move across. He realized that it was because there were massive tree roots jutting up from the ground. They led up to a tree larger than any of the others they had passed by. Gilbert and Lucan both stared at it in amazement, “All of the trees here came from this tree. While not nearly as large in your world, this is the tree you were conceived under, Lucan.”
The rusty-blond’s eyes went wide and Gilbert had to hold back a snicker of amusement, “Excuse me?”
Nissa laughed softly, “Sorry, not likely something you wanted to hear, but it is the truth,” Gilbert watched as she reached out and took Lucan’s hand to lead him on.
“He’s taken with your sister.”
“Most men are…” the fairy prince said lightly. Gilbert jumped a little as he felt Miken’s soft hand sliding into his own. Same as Nissa had done to Lucan.
His mind told him to pull his hand away. It wasn’t right. Men holding hands. It was unnatural. He heard the way people talked about Emma and Thyra. The awful things they said about the women who slept together nightly. Gilbert heard about their ‘wedding’ and how people said it was an affront to God and nature. People only tolerated it because Bowen and Kara had and his father did now.
Miken’s hand was thinner than his own, but still larger than a womans. While softer than his own hand, he could feel familiar callouses. Miken was used to handling a weapon. There was a strength behind the grip on his hand. One that he had felt when Miken got the dagger away from him before.
It made his stomach feel warm. For the second time tonight, he went against his brain. His mind had told him to go home and get help, instead he’d followed Lucan into the forest. Now it was telling him to let go of Miken’s hand, but instead he continued to hold onto it.