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. The girl was nearly sixteen years old. Those that knew her would have described her as distracted and jumpy. Those that knew her better called her intense, hyper, preoccupied and somewhat withdrawn. Her parents and little brother just called her Lessa.
In all honesty Lessa would have agreed with the description of her. Although, only she could have told you that she was often distracted and withdrawn because, deep down Lessa did not feel as if she belonged. All through her school days Lessa had felt like the odd girl out. She had some friends, but she was different from them. Although nobody could ever put their finger on why, it was the universal feeling that she was weird.
When Lessa was younger her teachers would often schedule conferences with her mother and talk about how the other children seemed to drift away from her. Lessa was well aware that the kids did this, she didn't care, but her mother did. The years to follow the girl's mother spent trying to teach her how to fit in. Lessa didn't understand why, but it seemed important to her mother so she did as she was told. Lessa no longer volunteered to be the one to sneak in and explore the basement of the school, she didn't play swords with the boys, she tried hard not to fidget when she was supposed to be sitting still and quiet, she didn't ride her bike over the jumps the others were too afraid of. The result of this was the girl who was quiet, felt numb and often drifted into daydreaming.
The truth about Lessa was that she often longed for something different, something exciting and adventurous, her whole life she felt as if she was waiting for something to happen. But of course Lessa spoke nothing of this for her mother would have reminded her that she should be grateful for what she had and shouldn't be wishing for more.
"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 said from the family room where he was playing games. He was used to her riding when their parents were gone and he didn't care because he felt grown being left by himself.
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. Until Lessa heard Brody scream, her head whipped around toward the direction of the house. Storm's ears swiveled toward the noise too, sensing the urgency she became as tense as Lessa. "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 were climbing up the acre long back yard slope. Now Lessa could hear Brody calling out her name, “Brody! I’m coming!” She cried 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 on 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, and less a heartbeat later they were just gone.
Storm screamed out heavily in shock and Lessa tried to reign her to a halt. It was too late though. 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 for as her head made contact with the ground, her eyes opened wide when she gasped in pain trying to recover from the blow. Somewhere close horses screamed and there was a great clutter as a couple of them bolted from the area, 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 hurt little brother.
She scrambled off the ground and scooped him up only then did she look around to assess the situation. There was a boy, around her own age fighting one of the men who had kidnapped Brody. The other man was already laying on the ground.
The last piece of the chaos, 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 movement.
Fearing for Brody’s safety Lessa scooped him up and 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 sword 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 won't 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 evaluated the boy. 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 her side and shoulder she shook her head and turned to Brody. “Are you okay?” She asked him rubbing his arms.
“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 said standing and looking around now that she had a moment to breath. She disregarded the bodies of the men that were lying on the ground.
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…” She said barely audible. Sure enough, her saddle that was laying on the ground, must have snapped when her size multiplied. From Storm's back Lessa had fallen just moments earlier.
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 stated 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 slow, 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 took Brody by the hand and turned on the stranger who was watching her. “How do we get home?” There had to be a way back.
“The portal will take about twelves hours to recharge.” The stranger responded.
“We are stuck here for twelves hours?” Lessa asked shocked. Her first thought was her parents. They would freak.
“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 it 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 picked him up and the sobbing continued on 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. And she added that Lessa owed the stranger for saving them anyway.
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 keep Lessa as a hostage.
“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.” Lessa mumbled, sitting on her broken saddle. She noticed that where her hunting knife had been was a much larger handle. It seemed like it belonged to a sword. “Twelve hours?” She asked the stranger who had slowly wandered closer.
He nodded, looking from the ground back up to Lessa. She sighed. Twelve hours and we can go home.
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 already found herself planning on ways to get away from the creature when the time was right to go home. 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 crushed 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?” Lessa asked the teen who was looking rather apprehensive about being so close to Storm. “She is not going to hurt you.” Lessa told the him as the pulled her brother closer on her lap.
“Well, they took him to use as leverage.”
“Leverage?” Lessa asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yes. Against you."
"Leverage against me?" She didn't think her eyebrows could go any higher. "Why would someone want leverage against me?"
He seemed to become uncomfortable, running his fingers through his hair. "Because of the foretelling."
"Foretelling." Lessa repeated incredulously.
"Long ago there was a good king that ruled Kathardra.” The boy squatted on the ground.
“Ruled what?” Lessa asked confused.
“Kathardra.” He answered patiently. “it’s the country we are in.”
“Oh.” For some reason Lessa found it disturbing that there was a name for the place her insanity had taken her.
“In the veins of this king ran the blood that has been tied to Kathardra, even from the beginning. His people loved him, there was little wickedness in the land and the country was wealthy and happy. But another man looked upon the success and happiness of the king with lust in his eyes and heart. Through deceit and lies the man killed the king and took the crown.
“Because the blood of the king is tied to Kathardra only the bloodline can rule. Once the man, Norlathar, took the throne Kathardra changed. Her people started to starve, the land that was once rich and lush became dry and infertile, the seasons unpredictable. The land has become wild and started to turn on the people.
“But Norlathar, being a wicked king, but a smart man had built a secret militia; any person who spoke out against him was hastily killed. And so the people of Kathardra felt they had little choice but to submit to his awful rule.
“But, in all his misdoings Norlathar killed the son of a witch. Publicly. The witch prophesied that someday a hero would emerge from the southern woods on the back of a dragon, wielding a black blade she would destroy Norlathar’s line, ending his reign. That this hero would restore the bloodline to the throne and crown the rightful king.”
Lessa nearly laughed out loud swallowed her laughter when she saw exactly how serious he was. One of her eye brows 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.” Lessa said scoffing.
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.”
“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 pointed to the long handle sticking out of her saddle. “I have never held a sword in my life!”
“I can teach you.” His serious tone said that was all there was to this.
“This is ridiculous!” Lessa said glaring away in a random direction.
Storm had come over and watched her with unblinking eyes.
Lessa again 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 at an assassin.
“I can see how this is hard to understand.” The teen started as he stood.
“No, this is impossible to understand!” Lessa said loudly in frustration.
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. She was still being held hostage by a dragon. Lessa just shushed her. Nobody else needed to know that.
The girl grabbed the handle of the sword and all eyes stared intently at it, the strangers certainty had her doubting what color the blade would be. She took a deep breath before giving it a yank.
The blade came free of the sheath smoothly, and fell to the ground nearly immediately. For the feeling of the blade in her hand felt as familiar to her as Storm’s conscious. It fit in her hand like a glove long broken in, that startled Lessa as much as anything on this strange day. Her eyes strayed to her hand and arm that had briefly held the sword. Something felt too natural about holding it, 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. This 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 heard dropped as fast as the sword had. A sigh escaped Lessa’s 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 slowly 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 the black blade.” He whispered reverently.
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 on 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.”