Shadow Forged Steel
Redbury road led right through a small rural community. It twisted as it switched back and forth, climbing forested hills and bridging rivers. At the near end of Redbury road was a gravel driveway that was almost hidden from view by the thick trees. The driveway led through many wooded acres until it finally emptied onto an open lawn that sloped up to a big white farmhouse. The house was old, but newly painted, white with gray shutters and trimming. A roofed porch circled all the way around the house and upon the porch sat a girl.
The girl sat with her chin on her knees, long, curly brown hair falling forward and covering her face. Her finger was down in the dirt sketching out the trails that led through the trees on the hundred acre property she lived on.
“Lessa, we’ll be back in a couple of hours, keep an eye on your brother.” Lessa’s mother spoke to her back as she walked out onto the porch.
“Yep.” Lessa responded without turning around, she listened to the door swing shut and her parents’ feet walk across the deck, then truck doors slam and an engine roaring to life. Only then did she lift her head to watch the truck start down the driveway and roll out of view, when she could hear it no longer she jumped up and marched through the house.
“Hey, Brody, I’m going to go ride okay? I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She called in the general direction of the living room.
“Ok.” Lessa’s six year old brother, Brody called from the family room where he was playing games. He was used to her riding when their parents were gone, truth be told it made him feel grown up to be left alone.
Half an hour later Lessa was on Storm’s back and they were galloping over a trail enjoying the wind in their hair. Lessa only truly felt at home when she was with her horse riding, it was the only time that she was really happy.
William, Lessa’s father worked in a barn where he bred champion horses, and when Lessa asked for a horse at the age of five he let her pick what horses he would breed to get the foal she wanted. Lessa was there the night her Storm was born and went with her father to work nearly every day for the next year until they brought Lessa’s pony home. Lessa had been the one to raise her horse under her father’s close supervision. Teaching her ground work, how to accept a halter, walk on a lead, stand for a hoof cleanings among other things. When they were both slightly older Lessa taught Storm how to be saddled and behave on a lunge line and after Storm’s bones had settled Lessa taught her how to behave with a rider. After being together for ten years Storm was Lessa’s closest friend and they knew each other better than anyone.
Lessa sat back in the saddle slightly and Storm slowed to a walk.
“That’s my good girl.” Lessa whispered as she patted Storm’s neck. They continued through the trees for a few minutes at a calm pace, content to be riding together.
The peace radiated between the trees until a scream cut through the air. At once Lessa’s stomach dropped, the horse became nervous at her rider’s sudden tension. “Let’s go Storm.” Lessa said hastily using the reins to turn Storm’s head back toward the house and pushed her into a gallop that was dangerously fast between the trees.
Teeth clenched the girl swerved Storm around a tree and over a fallen one. After six years of that boy following her around she knew every noise he made by heart, the scream had meant that he was in immediate danger. She heard Brody cry out again and Lessa pushed Storm into a hard gallop. Every second seemed an hour to Lessa, Storm couldn’t move fast enough to get to Brody, Imagination running as fast as the horse Lessa began to unwillingly call up different scenarios that would cause Brody to scream in such a way.
Finally Storm broke out of the tree line and they were climbing up the acre long back yard slope. Now Lessa could hear Brody calling out her name, “Brody! I’m coming!” She screamed back as she urged Storm toward the front yard where she suspected the yell had come from.
The scene that greeted Lessa was not one that she had been anticipating. Two strangely dressed men were walking across her front lawn, one of them was holding her struggling little brother over his shoulder.
“Stop!” Lessa shouted as she pushed Storm just a little bit faster. The girl and her horse were nearly upon them when the men and her brother suddenly vanished. They were there, right before Lessa, just out of arm’s reach and less a heartbeat later they were just gone.
Storm let go of a skull cracking scream from the shock of seeing three people vanish. Lessa uselessly tried to rein her to a halt. The horse’s hoofs cut deep ruts into the grass as they slid directly into the place where her brother and his kidnappers had just vanished.
Storm was silenced mid exclamation, quite suddenly Lessa felt the air sucked from her lungs and her body frozen to the bone. She felt as if she had been put in a vacuum, every cell of her body was being compressed and pulled all at the same time.
Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. In the moments that followed Lessa felt as if she had been submerged in utter chaos.
The first thing that she knew was hitting the ground, hard. Her side hit the ground with the saddle still between her legs, Storm no longer attached to it. Her vision went black as her head made contact with the ground, her eyes opened wide as she gasped in pain trying to recover from the fall. Somewhere close horses screamed and there was a great clatter as hooves raced away, there was clanging metal on metal, and then all Lessa saw was Brody.
He was sitting on the ground crying loudly. Vaguely Lessa noticed a mass of green that was moving close by but her jolted brain could not fully register it. She only had eyes for her crying, scared and possibly injured little brother.
She scrambled off the ground and scooped him up, eyes blinking hard she tried to take in what was happening. There was a boy, around her own age fighting one of the men who had kidnapped Brody. The other kidnapper was laying on the ground.
The thing that Lessa’s attention finally turned to was the large moving green thing. Massive, scaled, winged and clawed the one word that came to Lessa’s mind was dragon.
Lessa watched in terror as the dragon moved about the clearing in distress. It seemed to trip over its own feet and it’s enormous wings flexed and flared. The small size of the meadow they were all in meant that the creature was threateningly close with every move.
Fearing for Brody’s safety Lessa tried to bolt. Before she could move she was frozen in place by an overwhelming sense of calm laced with concern, a feeling of peace with a little bit of panic. And she knew that the terrifying creature would cause no harm to her or Brody.
The youth who had been fighting the kidnappers turned toward Lessa. She jumped and shoved Brody behind her. An enormous growl filled the clearing as the dragon turned on the teen.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He said backing away from the dragon, his eyes flickering back and forth from Lessa to the creature. The rumbling growl stopped as Lessa looked the teen up and down. A sword dripping with blood was held in his hand. slowly, his eyes on the dragon, he knelt to wipe the blade on the moss and carefully sheath it at his side.
“Were you hurt?” He asked turning once again to Lessa.
Despite the pounding in her head and the bruises she felt forming along the side of her body she shook her head and turned her attention to Brody. “Are you okay?” She asked as she held him slightly away from her, looking for blood or bruises.
“No.” The young boy shook his head as he wiped his eyes. “I want to go home.” He said once again starting to sob. Brody was terrified but not broken. That was Lessa’s only relief.
“I know kiddo. I know.” Lessa held him close, patting his back and looking around. She deliberately ignored the bodies of the men that were lying on the ground.
They got what they deserved. The chill of her own thoughts startled her.
She noticed that they were surrounded by enormous moss covered trees. Each of them taller and thicker than a redwood, stories overhead, their branches were full of dancing leaves the size of Lessa’s torso. The color of it all was amazing, every color distinctly its own, as if painted by a master artist.
The smell shocked Lessa as well; the aroma of the trees was wet, beautiful and intoxicating. She could smell the soft scent of the dew that clung to the red-brown bark, the minerals in the soil, seen in patches under the moss. But more than anything it smelled absolutely alive.
The dragon was looking around just as Lessa was. Their eyes locked. Unable to look away Lessa took a step forward, a joy, and a recognition not her own radiated through her. The gap between the girl and the dragon quickly shrank as they stepped closer together. The happiness and understanding blossomed throughout Lessa, it was bizarre and alien to have feelings inside of her that were not her own. But despite the unusual sensations Lessa recognized something.
So close now was the dragon that Lessa could put her hand on it’s snout. She did. Suddenly Lessa did not see the creature for it’s teeth or claws but she did see how it’s emerald green scales glittered in the sun that filtered through the trees. How it’s eyes swiveled with intelligence and understanding that existed in no mere beast, for a moment Lessa understood the dragon perfectly for what it was. And she knew who it was.
“Storm…” The name came from Lessa’s lips barely audible. Sure enough Storm's saddle was laying on the ground where it must have snapped when the beast multiplied in size.
More feelings of understanding pulsed through Lessa, this time accompanied by a deep confirmation and love.
Storm. It was a voice in Lessa’s mind that was not her own, it was strong and sure and happy, but it was not Lessa.
“I am crazy.” Lessa said out loud.
No. Storm spoke to Lessa.
“Oh yes I am. First hallucinating, and now I’m hearing voices.”
Voice. Just one. Storm responded with timid first time words.
“Oh great now a dragon is correcting my grammar.”
The comment went unheard and Lessa continued to look around, for what, she did not know. She clutched Brody to her and turned on the teen. “How do we get home?” There had to be a way back.
“I’m not sure.” The stranger responded. “I don’t think I can open the window right now.”
“Window.” Her voice was flat.
He looked uncomfortable. “I suppose its more of a doorway, really, into your world.”
“Well when can you open it?” Somehow her voice had gone even flatter.
He looked away from her, passed Storm. Lessa had no idea what he was looking at but he became very focused for several minutes. “Maybe by sunset.” He finally responded.
“Sunset?” She snapped at him. That was hours away!
“Yes but I need you to stay here.” The stranger continued. Lessa didn’t hear him. Her thoughts were distracted by the dragon.
Stay. Was all that she spoke but her feelings painted the full pictured. She liked this place and wanted them to stay here.
We are not staying here. Lessa said firmly back.
Once again Brody started to cry. “I want to go home!” She muffled his sobbing into her shoulder.
What if I don’t want to ‘stay’. Lessa asked the dragon. In return Storm thought about how much bigger she was now, which was true. She was the size of a small house.
You can’t keep me here. Even as Lessa thought it they both knew it wasn’t true. Storm could do anything she wanted now. Including hold Lessa as a hostage.
“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.” Lessa mumbled, sitting on her broken saddle.
“Sunset?” She asked the stranger who had slowly sidled closer, clearly very wary of Storm. “What, three, four hours?”
His shy eyes seemed out of place in the confident youth as he nodded at her.
Not going home. Storm responded, showing off her quickly growing vocabulary.
I’ll cross that bridge when I get here. Lessa thought to herself. She was already planning ways to escape the creature when the time was right. Her heart sank. Even as she plotted Storm squashed her every plan. How was she supposed to get away from someone a the size of a house who could read her thoughts?
The gravity of her situation crashed on her in one swift jolt. With a locked jaw Lessa closed her eyes and held Brody close.
She must have fallen from Storm while she was riding and hit her head. She was in a coma. Did people have vivid dream like hallucinations while they were in comas?
With a somersaulting stomach Lessa opened and closed her eyes several times, hoping that she would not see the massive trees each time she blinked. It didn’t work. She could feel her nerves failing. Lessa knew she had to distract herself or she would soon be screaming.
“Where are we and why did those men take Brody?” She asked the teen. He seemed to be deciding if Storm was going to attack or not. “She is not going to hurt you.” She nearly sighed with irritation. Was it not obvious?
The stranger sat down rigid and wary, half facing Lessa, half facing Storm. “I think, they took him as evidence of your world... Maybe to interrogate him.”
Interrogate. The word echoed through Lessa’s skull. Movies flashed through her head of prisoners held and tortured in interrogation rooms.
“Why would they want to,” The word did not come easily to her lips, “Interrogate him?”
He seemed to become uncomfortable, his fingers ran through his hair pushing the dark locks up messily. “Because of the foretelling.” He spoke tightly to the open air.
“Foretelling.” Lessa repeated incredulously.
When his gaze returned to her he seemed to be weighing her. “Yes.” He answered slowly.
She stared at him. What kind of joke was this? No, what kind of fever-driven coma dream was this?
He went on. "After Norlathar took Kathardra a witch prophesied that some day a hero would emerge from the south on the back of a dragon. Wielding a black blade she would destroy Norlathar’s line, ending his reign. This hero would restore the bloodline to the throne and crown the rightful king.”
Lessa nearly laughed out loud but swallowed her laughter when she saw exactly how serious he was. One of her eyebrows rose. “Riiiight. So. You think I’m this hero who is going to kill some king?”
The boy nodded.
“I hate to tell you this, but you’ve got the wrong girl.” She scoffed.
The boy looked around, as if searching for the reason his allegations were not obvious. “You are the hero. You are the only person to have ever ridden a dragon. The sword on your saddle has not escaped my attention. I’d wager my life it’s has a black blade.”
"Sword?" She asked looking behind her. "Thats a kni-" It was not a knife. Where her hunting knife had once been stashed in her saddle a long black handle now rested, pinned under the saddle. Apparently her horse had not been the only thing changed in coming here.
“So what if it does?” Lessa asked throwing her arms out. “That doesn’t make me a hero! I didn’t ride a dragon, I fell off of one. You think I know how to use that thing?” She gestured vaguely to the ground over her shoulder. “I have never held a sword in my life!”
“I can teach you.” His serious tone said that was all there was to this.
Her mouth hung open in disbelief. “This is ridiculous!” She glared at the trees.
Storm had come over and watched her with unblinking eyes.
"What?" She snapped at the beast.
Once again Lessa started to feel the weight of the situation. She was stuck in a strange place, a dragon as the warden, with a boy who wanted her to play assassin.
“I can see how this is hard to understand.” The teen started as he stood.
“No, this is impossible to understand!” Frustration raised Lessa's voice.
The boy shook his head, “The hero is a girl, she rides a dragon, and she has a black sword. That is you.”
“What if that sword isn’t black?” Lessa asked, knowing that her hunting knife had been plain silver. “Then would you let me go home and forget this ever happened?”
He paused for a moment, “Only if you swear to stay, admitting that you are the hero, when it is black.”
You are staying. Storm said conveying the fact to Lessa that the color of the sword didn’t matter. Lessa shushed her, nobody else needed to know she was being held hostage by the dragon.
All pairs of eyes went to the handle on the ground. Brody even stopped crying long enough to peek his red eyes over Lessa's shoulder. She grasped the long handle and yanked.
The blade came free of the sheath smoothly, and fell to the ground. Shock at the feeling of familiarity caused the weapon to nearly leap from her hand. It fit in her hand like a glove long broken in, that startled Lessa as much as anything on this strange day.
Lessa's eyes fell on the hand that had so briefly held the sword. Something about that had felt far too natural, like she had done it before so many times that her fingers had the details of the hilt memorized. Its weight was so familiar that it was just another part of her body. It scared Lessa.
The inky black color of the blade lying on the mossy ground was almost mesmerizing, it seemed to pull light out of the air, steel forged of shadow. Lessa’s heart dropped as fast as the sword had. A sigh escaped her lips. The stranger had been right.
“May I?” He asked gesturing toward the sword. Lessa shrugged and he carefully came closer and pulled the sword reverently from where it had fallen.
“It’s so light….” He mumbled to himself as he poured over every inch of the sword. “All these years, all the stories and I’m holding it. I'm holding the black blade.” He whispered in awe.
Lessa studied the sword in his hands, resenting it. The blade tapered elegantly in the middle and broadened out again toward the end before it came to a gentle, sloping point. The hilt was simple but was designed with grace and beauty. Under different circumstances Lessa might have thought it a magnificent weapon, but for the moment she hated it.
When the young man offered it back to her, hilt first she took it reluctantly. And shoved it back into the sheath under her saddle as quickly as she could, hating how good it felt in her hand.
I’m really stuck now. She thought to herself miserably.
“I’m Zar.” The stranger said taking his seat on the moss again.“Lessa.”