The thing had they had all thought to be a large engraved river stone had sat beside the hall door for decades, occasionally used as a stop, suddenly leapt into the air, sped across the stone flagged floor, steam issued from cracks that appeared all around, like a pressure cooker gone mad, as it made an ‘achoo, achoo,’ sound. Startlingly it sneezed harder as the bigger bottom part leapt higher and the smaller top piece flew even higher. Between the top and bottom a brilliant, pulsing golden ball hovered, its sides quivering, sparks and flames sneezed out as the golden ball spun and sped madly around in a circle. The top and bottom pieces crashed shatteringly to the stone floor. Flags, banners and paintings rattled as the berserk little speedster flashed passed.
The royal family of Karavon was at first shocked and surprised when the curious object finished its skidding, airborne dance in fits of sneezing, their amazement ended in riotous laughter.
“Daddy, its farting sparks!” laughed Princess Joanna, a young woman in her early twenty’s, with a clear, rounded face, large blue eyes, a slim, well-formed figure and strawberry blonde hair.
The golden orb ceased its bizarre pulsing, spark and flame spitting. Tiny wings beat the air furiously, a tapering, arrow-headed tail extended in one direction and a long snouted head popped out from the other. A pair of dazzling amber eyes darted all around the room as the creature inspected its location. The funny little being turned towards the royal family as their laughter gave way to great curiosity and some awe.
“Daddy,” pointed Princess Joanna, “could this funny little firework be the fabled golden dragon that Karavon has been waiting for all these centuries?”
“When the Golden Dragon returns,” quoted the King, “Karavon will begin its rise, to a prosperity far greater than it has ever known.” King Alfredo, was tall lean man in his late forty’s, with tight, salt and pepper hair, pencil moustache and commanding blue eyes.
“If this is the golden dragon, it will have to get a whole lot bigger than it is,” added Prince Frederick. “He would not even make a tasty titbit for a full-sized dragon,” chuckled Prince Frederick, a tall lean young man of just twenty, pale blue eyes, tight, glossy black hair and a black, pencil thin moustache
“I think you might be right Jo.” The King was studying the tiny gold dragon. “The ancient writings say that the golden dragon will return when the kingdom has the greatest need.”
“Aye, and if this little fireworks is the returning golden dragon, the sapphire dragons will be coming too,” offered Prince Freddy. “We had better be on guard.”
The tiny dragon flew slowly above the royal family with his wings beating furiously, his beautiful amber eyes cast over each member of the royal family in a slow, detailed study. Fireworks, as he had been casually named, settled to the table in front of the Princess.
Their eyes met and a mutual search began.
“It will do no harm to maintain an extra guarded watch,” nodded Queen Amanda, a slightly built woman in her mid-forty’s, with a round face, grey blue eyes and short blonde hair.
Princess Joanna put out her hand to the little golden dragon. Fireworks pulsed his long, narrow tongue back and forth, licking at her slender fingers. After a few seconds Joanna stroked under his jaw. Fireworks shivered the length of his body, appeared to be smiling and a purr issued from his partially open mouth, as he delighted in the gentle touch. He suddenly hiccupped, belching a tiny flame and smoke out of his nose that made him sneeze; his eyes watered. The Princess jumped and looked at her fingers. She hadn’t been burned.
“Oh, poor little Fireworks,” said Joanna as she rubbed his stomach. The dragon began purring again, and his eyes closed to just slits.
“Sire!” A voice from the open door startled everyone, including Fireworks, as he turned and spat a little, short-lived ribbon of flame and smoke.
“I am the Dragon Lady.” A slender, auburn haired young woman stepped purposefully to the table beside Fireworks.
The Dragon Lady was dressed in tight fitting, sleeveless leather vest and trousers, her feet were clad to just below the knee in soft leather boots and held by leather thongs crossed up the lower half of the legs. Around her neck was a thin leather lace which held a single dragon claw over the centre of her breasts.
Dragon Lady smiled at the Princess. “He is drawn to you.”
“I feel that he is,” Joanna turned away from the little dragon. “Fireworks is the name we gave him; do you know his true name?”
“No, I don’t, it makes no difference as it is over a hundred lines long – it was never meant to be written, only spoken. If he ever does speak his name, hope that you are outside in an open space, away from buildings. Dragon names are a defence for them and has been known to destroy whole castles at a single utterance.”
The King stood close to the Dragon Lady. “Lady, I have questions.”
“Sire, you would be a fool if you didn’t,” she smiled.
“My father is no fool, Lady,” bristled the young Princess.
“I know that Princess.” The Dragon Lady turned to the King. “Sire?”
“What is your name? And what proof do you have to support your claims?”
“My name is Carmen, Lady Carmen of Voldresse.” Lady Carmen began to walk back and forth before the royal family. “As for my credentials, I am not his master, or a dragon controller. I am his teacher.”
Alfredo remembered King Aldred, it had been a few years since they had last seen each other. Aldred had withdrawn into his own problems. Alfredo did remember Princess Carmen when she just a child.
Voldresse was the ancient home of dragons in the realm. It was here that the dangerous split came between the sapphire dragons and all the other dragons. The ruby dragons, the jade dragons and the rarer solitary golden dragon decided to end their war with humans and live apart from them. The sapphire dragons did live apart but would not end the war, they attacked other dragon and human settlements as the whim moved them.
Carmen turned to the Princess, placed her right hand on the Princesses shoulder and looked firmly into her liquid blue eyes. “You will be his master”.
The Princess was shocked, frightened. “No! I…”
“Yes! You can sense him even now, feel with your mind. Reach out to him.”
After several long, silent seconds the Princess lowered her head, nodding to the Dragon Lady.
“Command him,” whispered Carmen.
Princess Joanna looked determinedly at the little golden dragon. Slowly the Fireworks rose from the table, circled the room; he sneezed sparks as he flew, and then settled gently on her shoulder, licking the Princesses ear.
“Will that sneezing stop?” asked the Queen. “He could accidently set fire to the castle.”
“Yes milady. He is just getting used to the air he is now breathing. The sneezing will be gone soon.”
Carmen stood before the King. “Sire, Fireworks will grow rapidly. He is going to need a vast amount of food and drink. I suggest you give him a field nearby as his dining room and raise the roof of the open gallery above us.”
“How fast will he grow?” Asked the Queen.
“At the end of seven days he will not fit in this room,” said Carmen as she turned to the Queen. “At the end of ten days he will not fit under the roof of the gallery above. At the end of twelve days he will be full grown.”
“How is this done?” Asked the Prince. “Dragons usually take five years to reach full growth.”
“I can see the King does not raise fools. Fireworks is a very special dragon, he is needed and needed soon. The ancient wizards have put all of their magic into his development and they will be the cause of his rapid growth.”
The King issued orders, patrols were sent out to the borders of Karavon, watching for sapphire dragon incursion. Work began immediately to raise the roof of the open, upper gallery, a field was set aside to act as Fireworks dining room – it was widely known that dragons were very messy when eating livestock. Farmers were ordered to bring whatever cattle, sheep and pigs they could spare, from all across the kingdom of Karavon.
When it came to Fireworks’ drinking needs, the King did raise an eyebrow.
“Sire, dragons do drink water, but only in small amounts. Fireworks is going to need a regular supply of good brandy. It helps to keep his fire strong, and it sweetens the dragon breath. And as he is so small, his brandy intake should be kept only a little until his body grows to handle the strong spirits.”
Over the ensuing days Lady Carmen and Princess Joanna were constantly together, with Fireworks, as the Princess was instructed in the use of her new found position. The Princess was a fast study; her confidence grew daily and her ability to guide, and not order, Fireworks in one direction or another and to aim his fire was achieved telepathically, with consummate ease.
In one of the quiet moments Carmen took Joanna aside. “Princess, there are things that you need to know.” Carmen took Joanna’s hand in hers and looked to her liquid blue eyes. “As the golden dragon has been sent to you and there is every chance that you will become Golden Dragon Master. The forces of the inner world will decide in time.”
Joanna was silenced by the announcement. The women searched each other’s eyes slowly.
“Princess… Princess,” said Carmen as she squeezed Joanna’s hand a little harder.
“Oh… err… Sorry, your prediction is surprising. Surely it will be you that will be Golden Dragon Master?”
“No,” Carmen’s face frowned. “I can never take dragon mastery.” Carmen let go of Joanna’s hand. “The golden dragon has been sent to you. Time will reveal all.”
At the end of the twelfth day Lady Carmen’s predictions about Fireworks’ growth were proven true and very accurate.
The little firework had grown to tower a little over twenty feet from front foot to the top of his horned head. From the tip of his barbed tail to the end of his razor packed mouth, Firework measured twenty seven feet.
Fireworks took to his new home on the roof of the castle in comfort. Fireworks had an uninterrupted view in all directions, and while he could not stand to his full height without touching the ceiling, he was given all a dragon could want.
Everywhere around the Kingdom of Karavon, a watch was posted to look out for the dreaded sapphire dragons. A nervous expectation fell over the inhabitants of the normally peaceful realm.
The ancient scrolls told of the coming battle, they also told that if the first battle was not decisive, it would be a war. There were now no doubts that the sapphire dragons would be coming, for when the golden dragon appeared the menacing sapphire dragons would assuredly follow.
The ancient wizards also wrote that with the coming of the golden dragon, a Dragon Master would be chosen by the golden dragon, but only after the ultimate test.
The test, the trial, would be one of trust in two directions.
Ancient words, written thousands of years before stated, ’and the dragon master must pass through the dragon’s breath, without fear and emerge bathed in the power and fire of the golden dragon.’
‘Be warned,’ added the ancient writings, ’if fear be found by the Dragons Breath, it will consume and destroy the fearful vessel.’
The Dragon Lady, Lady Carmen told the Princess of the coming trial, once she knew that there was a strong bond between Jo and Fireworks. The Princess knew in her heart that Fireworks would never hurt her; she sensed that the magnificent creature would give his last fiery breath for her. She was afraid of her own heart. She feared that her own character would betray her. The young Princess did not consider herself to be very brave.
Although twenty years old, Princess Joanna was still a child, born it the cloistered safety of a royal family. She was now being thrust forward, being forced to grow up. The little girl was becoming a woman. Only time would make the change – but was there enough time for Princess Joanna to complete her own growth?
Joanna was afraid. The security of her personal world was being attacked. The Princess had always had the security, the safety of her family and the status she held within her cloistered environment. With the arrival of the golden dragon, she was being asked, forced, to step outside of her safe places and assume the role of a dragon master. This was all unknown to the young adolescent and it scared her. The only comfort Joanna felt was in having Carmen with her.
Carmen was watching as Joanna played with Fireworks. She watched the movement of the Princess, saw how her fine muscles managed her body with a graceful motion, Carmen noticed how Joanna’s breasts were firm, rounded, adding a perfect balance to Joanna’s slight but powerful frame. She saw a depth in Joanna’s striking, commanding blue eyes that all but took her breath away – Carmen shook her head, cleared her thoughts. ‘I should not be doing this,’ she thought as she looked away to anywhere other than at Joanna.
As the thoughts changed a new and unwelcome thought came Carmen’s mind. ‘How can this child be a dragon master? How was this mere child given the chance to be a Golden Dragon Master! It should have been mine!’
The Dragon Lady almost fainted at the violence of the thoughts. It took her several minutes to collect her abraded mind. Carmen was shocked by the thoughts and it did unsettle her. She did not know where the destructive thoughts had come from.
Looking at Joanna again, Carmen saw that this child was guileless and without realising it something more than merely physical had happened. Carmen had felt it but did not know what it was. Joanna felt the ‘something’ that was happening and did not understand it. All of her emotions were a little awry and she doubted her own capabilities – even her own common senses.
The women were both a little off balance emotionally, but when it came to the work of training Fireworks and Joanna for the task ahead, there was nothing out of balance.
Knowing that the trial of the Dragons Breath would cause unneeded anxiety for her family, Joanna asked Carmen to not to tell the royal family anything of the coming test of trust.
Fireworks landed on the wide rail less balcony of the open gallery and walked in. Carmen and Joanna were waiting for him.
It was time for the Princess to ride Fireworks. A simple saddle had been made for the purpose, and Lady Carmen was going to try to fit it on Fireworks shoulders, over the base of his neck.
Fireworks lowered his head to Joanna in the hope of getting his jaw scratched; it was by far his favourite pleasure, and had been since he exploded out of his shell.
“Fireworks, my beautiful golden boy,” soothed Joanna, “you have fed well… and yes, I know you want your scratches.” Joanna began to stroke the dragon’s jaw, and nodded for Carmen to approach with the saddle and place it over his neck.
Fireworks looked around at Carmen.
“It’s alright my lovely boy. You know that I will never hurt you.” The Princess moved around in front of Fireworks, continuing to scratch, fixing her eyes fully on his beautiful amber eyes. “You and I need to fly together.” Joanna nodded for Carmen to tie the saddle in place.
Fireworks looked around again and then back to Joanna, turned again to view the saddle, shivered slightly down his body, looked back at the Princess, closed his eyes and enjoyed the scratching. Fireworks gave the saddle no more attention.
After tying the saddle in place Carmen stepped back. Joanna stood in close to the majestic golden dragon’s side. Taking a firm hold of the hand ring on the saddle, Joanna put her foot in the stirrup and pulled herself into the saddle, sitting gently over Fireworks neck.
“Command him to take you for a ride,” said Carmen quietly.
The Princess never commanded Fireworks to do anything, she always asked him politely.
The mighty beast lifted his head to look back at Joanna; she could have sworn that Fireworks was smiling, so she returned the smile and thought of flying. Taking a few steps to the balcony, Fireworks opened his dark golden wings and with a few powerful strokes was rising high over the kingdom of Karavon.
As there were no reins the Princess guided her unusual steed by thought; at times Fireworks seemed to anticipate her desires and at one time the Princess received a clear thought image of her holding tight to the saddle.
Once Fireworks knew that his warning message had been acted on, he soared up at an incredible speed, to come plummeting down through the fluffy white clouds in a rolling, racing dive. As he came frighteningly close to the ground, he levelled out and raced, at a fantastic speed, following the contours of the terrain; scaring screams out of the young Princess, as he flew at a ballistic speed, straight at a cliff face, only to turn sharply at the last minute to race up, just inches from its solid rock surface.
After an unmeasured time of soaring all over the sky, Joanna realised that she would need to know what Fireworks was capable of, and asked him to demonstrate his fire power. Rising high into a mountainous part of Karavon, Fireworks showed that he could send out ribbons of flame or balls of fire in a variety of sizes, as he blasted at banks of snow. The Princess tested the idea of aiming him by telling him when to fire and soon found that she was not a very good shot. They worked out a way of doing this, by the Princess picking the target and letting Fireworks handle the aiming – they were quickly becoming a team, a very deadly team.
It was time to go home and the Princess suggested this to her fiery friend. He slowed down as he turned towards Karavon Castle, to allow Joanna to look out over the magnificent panorama. A view she had never witnessed before. Fireworks took a leisurely way home that included flying low, slowly along a meandering river, or between craggy gorge faces, and then high over Karavon Castle, to end the flight in a spiralling, downward glide that finished with a gentle landing on the wide balcony on the open gallery at the top of the castle.
Moments after landing the Princess removed the saddle from Fireworks neck, poured brandy from a cask into his personal bowl that would have made a big bath tub for a human. Carmen watched the interaction between the young woman and the young dragon, without comment. It was very obvious that their bonding had taken a huge leap forward.
With his thirst satisfied, Fireworks walked close to Joanna and lifted his jaw, telling her that he wanted a scratch. Carmen continued to watch focusing more on Joanna’s face. The Princess felt the look and turned around. They studied each other intently, saying nothing. After few moments of searching eyes, they smiled to each other, words were not needed. Joanna hugged Carmen tightly.
“Thank you, Carmen.” Joanna spoke quietly, with the hint of a smile on her face and sparkles in her vivid blue eyes.
Carmen was captivated by the depth of the beautiful blue eyes she was falling into. “Why do you thank me,” she said after a few moments of thought collecting.
“For many things,” smiled Joanna, “but mostly, for just being you.”
Carmen tried to look away. This should not be happening Joanna is just a child. Carmen tore her eyes away from Joanna’s eyes and focussed on the golden dragon.
Fireworks, now deprived of his scratching’s, laid his head lightly over Joanna’s left shoulder.
Both women burst out laughing, laughing even harder when they saw that the dragon had bared his enormous teeth in a broad grin. The tension was broken. Joanna made a pact with herself to not ‘look’ at Joanna again. But something had been planted in them both.
Joanna led Fireworks to the middle of the open gallery and gave him more scratches. As the princess’s gentle touch mingled with the brandy and the strenuous efforts of the recent flight, Fireworks’ eyes began a slow blinking and after a brief moment or two, he fell asleep.
The ladies left the peacefully sleeping dragon, quietly making their way down the spiral stone staircase to the new family room, one level beneath Fireworks gallery.
“Have you ever witnessed the Dragons Breath trial?” asked Joanna as she seated herself in a large leather armchair.
Carmen poured herself wine and wiggled the decanter at Joanna, who nodded her thanks for the drink.
“Yes, I have milady,” said Carmen as she took the wine to the Princess.
“What happens?” Joanna sipped from the cool white wine.
Carmen’s face creased to a deep frown. “Princess, it is different every time. I…”
“What happened?” Joanna was determined to know.
“The person who did it was not the chosen one and tried to steal the power that comes with the high position – They were utterly consumed.” Carmen took a deep gulp of her wine.
The Princess stood a stepped close to her friend. “Carmen, I am so scared. I… I.” Joanna’s voice choked as tears streamed down her distraught face.
Carmen pulled Joanna close, embraced the frightened young woman and let her pour out her fears and anxieties, as Carmen stroked the Princess’s long golden hair. Joanna felt the touch sooth her troubled feelings in a way she had never felt. Lifting her head from Carmen’s shoulder, Joanna looked into Carmen’s eyes.
“Who was it that tried to steal the power of the Dragon’s Breath?” Joanna asked as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Carmen stepped away and turned back to face Joanna. “It was my mother,” she exhaled.
“And it was you who was supposed to be a dragon master?” Joanna closed the distance between them.
“Yes,” a tear formed in the bottom of her right eye. “And once it has failed it can never be brought back.” The tear fell from the eye, followed by another from the left eye.
Joanna touched the tears gently with her fingers, wiping them away.
The Princess guided the Dragon Lady to her bedroom, holding her hand all the way there. Joanna kissed the clasped hand, smiled at Carmen’s troubled face, received a smile of understanding and a kiss on the hand, let go of the slender hand and walked thoughtfully to her own suite of rooms.
The Princess, after changing into a simple night gown, fell almost instantly into a deep, dreamless sleep. Lady Carmen experienced the complete opposite; she had been reminded of too many dark and painful memories and she feared, more than she thought she should, for her friend. Had the woman replaced the child? Was Joanna ready for the great responsibility that would soon fall on her young shoulders? If she wasn’t ready, it would kill her.
‘If it does kill her who will take her place?’ The thought came to Carmen as a voice and she turned to see who was behind her… no one was there. Carmen shook her head, knowing that this was not her thought. She knew that she would have a fight with these unwanted, destructive mind voices.
Hours later with the palace in sleeping silence, Joanna saw flashes in her dream state, of Fireworks, when he was still very small. The mental scene continued to show herself with the golden dragon as he grew and their understanding developed.
The Princess saw herself climbing the stone steps to the upper, dragon gallery.
’Come, now!’ came loudly to the young woman’s mind, causing Joanna to sit upright, becoming very wakeful.
The Princess knew what the summoning meant her fear almost paralysed her. Joanna fought with all her integrity against the terror, with more strength of character that she thought she had.
Carmen received the same urgent summoning and instantly felt the fear for her friend rise to a physical knot in her heart. Carmen had her own battle of character to fight. The Dragons Breath should have been hers.
Dressed only in her simple, long thin nightgown, Joanna arrived in the open gallery to find Fireworks standing at the far side of his spacious room. A fanning, breeze touched the torch flames to cast strange pools of light and deep shadow across the space between the massive support columns.
The Princess saw that Fireworks’ body was glowing from within, his big amber eyes shone brightly; his face held a look of concern.
Carmen came to Joanna’s side; both watched the glowing dragon in an awe filled silence.
The noble women looked at each other and after reassuring smile, from Carmen, Joanna walked towards Fireworks.
The bright golden dragon stepped towards the Princess – She looked very frail as she walked, with her blonde hair streaming out behind like a mighty pennant, barefoot in her simple nightdress that was pushed against her slim, taut body by the strengthening breeze.
After a few moments of looking at his fearsome face Joanna smiled to Fireworks. “Let it begin, my friend,” she said softly.
Turning away, the dragon walked to the far side, centre of the open gallery, torches flared as the breeze gusted; Fireworks looked down the length of the middle space, raised his head to his near full height, almost touching the ceiling.
Taking a last look down at the Princess, Fireworks closed his large amber eyes and began to exhale a golden gaseous mist that flowed down to the floor and out to stop at Joanna’s feet. Quickly the golden vapour rose to above the young girl’s head, held between the central columns by unseen powers.
The Princess felt a panic seize her – she did not know what to do. The opaque golden fog swirled in front of her. The terror of the milling gas held the woman in frozen fear.
‘Calm yourself,’ came the soft mind voice. ‘You are ready, just step into the mist and walk. Step in, now.’ The voice was quiet, reassuring, familiar – it was the voice of a friend.
Joanna took a deep breath, pulled on her strengths, rose above her freezing fears and began a slow, measured walk. As she reached the perimeter of the Dragon’s Breath gauntlet, the Princess stopped before the precious yellow vapours. Suddenly the misty wall before her began to pulsate, flicker as though it was on fire.
Startled to a standstill, the Princess stood just inches from the forbidding gauntlet. Quickly regaining her inner strength, she reached out cautiously -- her slender hand passed through. With no further thought or fears, Princess Joanna of Karavon, stepped boldly into the Dragons Breath and continued her controlled, confident walk.
From the outside the golden, burning mist, for that’s how Carmen viewed it, Carmen could see Joanna fleetingly as the fiery gold swirled around her body, allowing her to be seen only in part. Sometimes the Princess’s face was smiling, at sometimes it was frowning; at others it was completely hidden, only showing her body from neck to floor or knees to floor. At all times Carmen could see the confidence, the fearlessness in the Princess’s bearing. This did not quell any of Carmen’s fears for her Princess, her friend.
Sight of the Joanna was gone, the softly burning mist closed in and blotted out all views of the courageous young woman. Carmen caught her breath, stepped unthinkingly towards the Dragon’s Breath, she would risk everything to save her friend from harm.
A voice in her mind stopped Carmen in her tracks. ‘Stop now or you both die!’ boomed the mind voice.
Carmen reeled backwards, holding the sides of her head as though struck by a physical blow.
At the halfway point the vapours cleared briefly and began to spiral around the Princess. The golden fire rose from the floor in an ever thickening density and in mere seconds, Carmen could not see Joanna at all. The only thing stopping the Dragon Lady from crashing through the frightful scene was the certain knowledge that her action would kill her friend.
Inside the Dragon’s Breath gauntlet, Princess Joanna was truly becoming a dragon master. Upon entering the magical path, the Princess saw the origin of all dragons. She saw all of Fireworks family and as she passed by them, they nodded to her, smiling their dragon smiles in approval of her right to be a dragon master.
As the Princess reached the midpoint of the Dragon’s Breath, she saw, in startling clarity, the responsibility that came with the high office she was about to enter. When the vortex encased her, Princess Joanna understood that what was about to come was of the old, ancient world, very powerful, very dangerous unless used with tempering wisdom and of high magic in its origins.
The vortex lowered and Joanna walked calmly, almost serenely, towards its end. Carmen felt a flood of great relief as she saw Joanna was alright; tears streamed down her face. Carmen could also see, by the look on her friend’s face that the Princess had changed. For good or bad Carmen could not tell.
The Princess’s normally expressive features were blank, her face was pale, colourless – her eyes were looking straight ahead, appearing glassy, seeing nothing.
As Joanna reached the end of the Dragon’s Breath, the fiery gold vapours vanished away. Hovering high above her was her golden friend, Fireworks. He looked down at the Princess and drew a wing lightly, gently, around her in a show of great affection. Joanna rested against the warmth of her scaly gold companion.
Princess Joanna, Dragon Master was now in possession of great things, ancient, magical things, which she did not know she had – yet. All that the young woman was certain of was that she was a Dragon Master and a sorceress of considerable power.
It was not a belief, it was a fact; a most certain knowledge. And with this came a fear of how to use this awesome, fearful power wisely.
“Princess, Jo,” sobbed Carmen as she ran the length of the gallery. “Are you alright, are you harmed, is there anything you need,” rambled the distraught Carmen as she brushed the flowing, uncontrollable tears, from her anxious face. Her reactions surprised her.
Fireworks lifted his great wing from over Joanna.
The Princess saw the distress in her friends face and pulled her close in a tight embrace. “I am unharmed. Please, calm the tears.” Joanna’s voice was controlled, calm.
Carmen almost embraced the breath out of Joanna as she sought to stem the tears.
They stood in the embrace in silence for several moments. As Carmen’s sobs ceased they let each other go.
Lady Carmen looked deeply, searchingly into Joanna’s eyes.
“Princess,” began Carmen, “When you came out of the vortex, I saw that you were… changed. I saw a darkness in your face that scares me – I do not want to lose you to the evil side… I…”
Joanna reached out smiling brightly, brushed a tears from her face and took Carmen’s hand gently. “My dear Carmen, of course I have been changed, you of all people would know that. Along with the honour of being made a Dragon Master, magic also comes. As you know magic has two sides, good and evil. If one is going to fight against the evil, it is a necessity to have a knowledge of how the evil works.”
Joanna drew Carmen very closer. “I needed to know about the evil so I know how to defeat it. I didn’t like what I saw and I don’t like what I now know and if it scares you, just imagine what it does to me.”
Carmen hugged the Princess in a greater flood of utter relief.
The morning sun was beginning to show above the distant horizon, casting pink and purple splashes over the scattered clouds. The women stood, unconsciously holding each other’s arm, silently watching the beauty contained in the natural happening. Between and above them, Fireworks was also watching the colourful spectacle.
After a while, with the sun fully up, the dragon went to the middle of his gallery and curled down with his head resting on his front feet. Carmen and Joanna turned to watch the dragon settle and then wandered their way slowly, wearily, to their bedrooms, hoping to get a little rest. Fireworks lifted his head as he heard the ladies leaving. He blinked his big amber eyes as the tired women disappeared below the floor, knew that all was well and went to back to sleep.
As they parted company Carmen thought back to a pact she had made with herself. ‘Oh well, so much for that,’ she thought languidly as she made her way to her rooms.
Carmen went to sleep with Joanna on her mind. As she fell into deeper sleep the dreams became twisted and abstract as dreams do. The image of Joanna was morphing into Carmen’s mother in hideous parody, asserting that Joanna had stolen the dragon mastery from her.
Waking with a heart pounding shock, Carmen sat up. She looked around her room and her thoughts tried to take over from the nightmare. Carmen should be a dragon Master, not some weak little girl. The mere thought of this royal child as a dragon master would be an insult to the dragon community.
Throwing herself off the bed and on to her feet Carmen fought with all her strength to bring her racing mind under control. ‘This is not right!’ Carmen paced the floor.
‘There is a Dragon Master and that is Joanna. I cannot change that! I would not change that!’ Carmen kept up her thoughts in full support of Joanna, using them to chase the destructive thoughts out, not giving them a chance begin their damaging harangue over again.
When Carmen had finished the fight, she had won but she was exhausted, sweating and feeling good. Joanna had Carmen’s full support as Dragon Master and her total devotion as a friend. Carmen had seen, first hand, what wicked thoughts, brought to action can do. She was not going to be a victim to such treachery by being its orchestrator.
Later in the morning the Princess woke slowly, feeling well rested, sensing a strength from within that she had never felt before. Joanna also remembered the feeling of being held tightly by Carmen, she smiled at the thought and wrapped her arms about herself.
Joanna stood before her mirror and slipped off her nightdress. As she was about to pull clothes over her naked body, a thought crossed her mind.
Waving her hands over herself, the clothes that she wanted materialised over her. Not liking what she saw, Joanna changed. Laughing loudly at her new found power, she changed her garments a few more times, finally settling for a simple peasant blouse and skirt.
‘Now,’ thought the Dragon Master and wizard, ‘how do I tell the family?’
Joining her brother, mother and father in the morning room, the Princess selected two apples along with a glass of orange juice and sat at the table, all the while greeting each of her family with a cheerful ‘good morning’.
Prince Frederick looked long at Joanna. “Sister,” he said at length, “you seem different. What have you changed?”
Joanna smiled around the table, which soon turned into full laughter, “As a matter of fact Freddy, many things,” The Princesses laughter grew as she caused the table to be covered with all kinds of food and drink and flower petals to fall from out of the air, while candles appeared to hang on nothing, just above the dining table.
As the stunned looks turned to anxious questionings, Joanna supressed her fitful laughter, waved her hands and caused everything but the table of food to vanish.
When the family were able to talk the comments ranged from,
All with eyes bulging.
“I blame your side of the family for this,” whispered the King in the Queens ear. “I’ve always said that your cousin Zola was a strange one.”
The Princess laughed at the comment and began a brief explanation of where her new found powers had come from and why, as far as she understood it. As Joanna told of the coming evil the Kings face drew long, covered by a serious frown.
“So you, the dragon, the dragon lady and your ‘powers’, are to be Karavon’s chief line of defence?”
“No father.” Joanna noticed that she had dropped the usual ‘daddy’. “There are more. The jade dragons and the ruby dragons are yet to be deployed. I must call them to help us.”
I gather that dark forces are doing the same?”
“Yes, Freddy. We have already heard that sapphire dragons have been raiding across their own frontiers. I need you to…”
The building suddenly shook, as a thunderous pounding came from above. Pieces of ceiling and dust fell about the room.
Joanna looked up. “It’s Fireworks! He needs me!” Joanna waved her hands about herself and vanished.
“He probably wants his breakfast,” laughed Prince Frederick.
Reappearing in the open gallery, Joanna met the rushing Carmen. Fireworks was stamping about the gallery, his giant head tossing to and fro. Running to his side, the newly created Dragon Master called for him to be calm and explain his agitation. After some minutes Fireworks lowered his head level with his royal friend. His big amber eyes blazed.
“I must take you Dragon Master and the Dragon Lady to the ruins of Voldresse, now. The call is both urgent and dangerous.”
Conjuring riding clothes for both of them, the Princess made a double seated saddle appear on Fireworks’ neck. The Princess then realised that Fireworks had actually spoken.
“You spoke!” She uttered as she took her position on the forward seat.
“Yes,” said the golden dragon as he walked out to the balcony.
“I didn’t think you could talk,” she returned as the dragon took to the air.
“Nor did I until I did,” retorted Fireworks as he gained height and speed with a few powerful sweeps of his dark golden wings. “Now hold on.”
Setting a very fast pace for himself, Fireworks flew a little north of the rising sun, in a straight line for the ruins of old Voldresse, the ancient remains of Lady Carmen’s ancestral home.
After the fall of old Voldresse, the royal bloodline of Voldresse had seen its number drastically reduced. The old, misguided King was dead as were his two sons. The royal standard was taken to Carmen’s ancestors and eventually her father, Aldred, became King. He was more than a little surprised to learn that he had become King of Voldresse. The shock deepened when he visited Voldresse Castle, the home of the Voldresse family for centuries. Aldred was thinking of restoring the old pile, but realised that the time was not right.
Carmen’s mother, Esta, became Queen and Carmen became a Princess. The mother took on the role of Queen with a mercenary eye and heart. A new palace had to be built and while the old castle was gone and the King and his sons were dead, the Voldresse fortune was still intact and vast. Enough wealth and lands for ten lifetimes. King Aldred decided that he was not going to build a castle on the scale of the former splendour. He would scale it down, and live modestly; as modestly as a rich King could.
Queen Esta did not like the King’s thinking but was forced to accept the smaller palace along with the smaller staff numbers; still more than enough to wait on her every whim at any hour of the day or night.
The Voldresse family had always been at the centre of dragon life. Two of the ancestors had been Ruby Dragon Masters, several had been dragon lords or ladies. The old castle was built to accommodate dragons on a vast scale, but now, there were none at all, not in all of the kingdom of Voldresse. Not having dragons, after being the hub of dragon life and highly regarded for this position, was a social stain and a banner that told why.
The old King, far advanced in years, began to see the dragons as a threat to his family. He felt that there were far too many of them and they would one day rise up and destroy the whole of his family. This view was nurtured by the royal court, for the King could never be wrong. From thought to war with the dragons was a quick and deadly plunge.
It soon became a war no human could win as the dragons of Voldresse had allies in astronomical numbers.
After a very rapid series of battles the dragons had driven the Voldresse family back to their castle. Along the way the humans had been killed or driven off. Whole villages were decimated. The battle of Voldresse Castle was one of superior dragons, and when it was over most of the dragons were satisfied with the punishment that they had mete out. Those responsible for the death of innocent dragons had paid for their crime with their lives.
The sapphire dragon leader was bent on destroying all humans and driving them out of dragon society forever. This did not sit well with the other dragons, the ruby, the jade, and it was known that the gold dragon would never support such brutality.
The split came and the sapphire dragons were slowly driven back to Azdam and there they were largely contained, but no more. Sapphire dragons continued to raid human and dragon settlements as the whim took them. All the while growing in numbers and fighting skills. When the sapphire dragons came under the leadership of Arvan, the division grew far worse. A dragon had never been a dragon master before and it was only through cunning and a great knowledge of the magic world that Arvan was able to bend the fabric of magic so that he could create his own Dragon’s Breath and pass through it. Arvan was an aberration in the weavings of the magic realm, and when he gained sorcerers powers he became barbaric. Masters had tried to stop the division by going to Azdam in an effort to speak with Arvan. Some died for their diplomacy. Arvan became almost recluse.
When Princess Carmen became a Dragon Lady and was given her own ruby dragon, Elrey, all thought that the division would soon be over and dragons would soon be returning to Voldresse. It was also thought that as soon as Carmen went through the Dragon’s Breath, she would become a Dragon Master, all would be made right and peace would be restored.
Queen Esta envied Carmen’s rise to Dragon Lady and openly desired the position and sought dragon mastery herself. It was never going to be. The world of magic had seen the mercenary Queen and rejected all of her supplications.
On the evening that Carmen was summoned to the Dragon’s Breath, Carmen believed that she was alone. As she stepped towards the swirling, shimmering tunnel of dragons breath, a savage blow sent her reeling, unconscious to the hard, stony floor.
As Carmen awoke a few seconds later, she was horrified to see her mother, Queen Esta, entering the golden vapours of the Dragon’s Breath. The Queen was dancing, writhing, folding the magic mists about her body in an ecstatic, evil joy. A thin ribbon of red fire leapt out of Elrey’s mouth, igniting the Dragon’s Breath as it flew towards the usurping Queen.
Carmen would never forget the short-lived scream of the mother as the flames consumed her.
Elrey, Carmen’s beautiful ruby red dragon, turned her sad eyes upon Carmen and flew out of the dragon gallery and away from Castle Voldresse. Carmen ran to the verge of the gallery to see the sky over Voldresse filled with departing dragons. Carmen knew that the ancient wizard law had called the dragons to leave. The sorcery world would, forever, ban her from becoming a dragon master.
Carmen felt crushed and betrayed.
Deep despair and guilt gripped Carmen’s father and he fell into its deep, devastating abyss.
Carmen sought with all her might, with all her being to get a second chance from the wizard world, but it remained unmoved, unmoving, silent. The Princess of Voldresse felt further betrayal and collapsed into the despair that she had hovered over, and let go of everything.
Carmen let go of life.
Magic saw the turmoil of twisted regret, of distorted shame. It saw through to the real heart. It then saw the golden sphere, but it did not move towards Voldresse. It went unerringly towards Karavon and rested on the slight, gentle form of Joanna, Princess of Karavon.
A clear and vital message was given to the Princess of Voldresse, by the world of magic to attend the Princess of Karavon. A Golden Dragon Master would be chosen. Carmen was also told that, great and mighty things would follow. With a renewed hope, Princess Carmen obeyed the enigmatic message. She was not told what the ‘great and mighty thing’ would be.
She would not have believed them if she had been told.