Flame and Sword: An Arthurian Retelling

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I am Morgen

1 Peter 4:12~

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

***

Chapter 1- I am Morgen

“Hurry, Saoirse! She’s coming!”

The raven-haired girl shouted between short, quick breaths. In the shadows of the dark-wood forest I could hear the crushing of leaves and twigs beneath their bare feet.

Silly little ducks. The forest was my domain, my kingdom. There was not a tree, nor rock, nor cave in which they could hide. My large scaly body slithered through the trees as I closed in on them. The rays of the midday sun peeked through the gaps between the leaves above my head as I closed in on the edge of the forest.

The two girls burst out into an open field near a lake. Snow-white swans trailed along the surface of the waters, creating ripples that sparkled like strings of pearls. The youngest of the two tripped and her light brown locks, dipped in pale gold hues, fell on her face. Her big green eyes stared back at me in terror as I towered over her, blocking the sunlight with my elongated neck. Her eyes seemed to glow beneath my reptilian shadow. At my presence, the swans flapped their wings in a frenzy, leaving a trail of feathers in their wake. I ignored the noisy pests and curled my large tail around the small child, trapping her in place. She screamed at the top of her lungs and my mouth came down on her.

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Morgen stop it! That tickles!”

Isolde shook her head with a smile. “Game over, she caught you.”

“You know the rules, Isolde. I don’t win unless she says it.” I said while tickling Saoirse’s soft, squishy belly with my snout.

“Never!” Saoirse proclaimed through her laughter.

“Say it or be sentenced to death by tickles!”

“Okay! You win! I yield!”

Satisfied, I ceased my tickle attack and backed away from her. My body began to shrink down, my wings were tucked away into the folds of my back and my tail disappeared beneath the helms of the dress that materialized around me. My scales dwindled in numbers, settling around my back, stretching upwards behind my neck to my forehead, and ending at the tip of no nostrils. My claws shrunk as well, no longer long and hook-like, but round and crescent-shaped with pinkish hues. My horns remained, puncturing onwards through the shreds of my crimson hair with yellow and orange hues at the tips.

I pulled away from my younger sister, rolling on the grass as I threw my arms in the air. “Victory, as always, is mine!” I announced, lowering my voice into a slight baritone to sound even more imposing. Though it only served to make me sound ridiculous.

I should have known Saoirse wouldn’t give up so easily. The little duck jumped on top of me and started attacking me with her cursed tiny fingers.

“Now you have to say it!” Saoirse demanded.

“Ah! No fair! Revenge isn’t in the rules!”

“All’s fair in love and war, big sister!”

I tried to control myself, to keep my giggles inside, but failed. Tongues of fire slipped out of my mouth like fiery serpents. “Okay, okay! I yield to Saoirse! The bravest of the brave, the boldest of the bold, and toughest of the tough.”

I sighed in relief but my laughs kept coming even after the little salamander stopped tickling my stomach.

“Victory!” Saoirse cheered as she spun in a circle, the ends of her dress flew around her like a hoop. Her human disguise began to fade. Her beautiful scales came out, sprinkled across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Her rounded ears became long and pointed like me. Her adorable tiny horns grow out of her head. Her scales were the color of the serpentine gemstone, rivaling my emerald ones.

Isolde also shed out of her full human appearance. Her amethyst scales returned and her dark horns sprouted from her head, a couple of inches longer than Saoirse’s. Her hair was dark as a raven’s wings with amethyst tips. The front of her head was braided to perfection with golden lace and tied with a gemstone behind her head. Even at twelve-years-old, she possessed the same ethereal beauty as the rest of our elder sisters.

“Victory tastes a lot like dirt and mud.” Isolde joked as she dusted off her skirt, which still carried dried up paint stains.

“You know what they say: Dirt is nature’s paint,” I told her as I sat comfortably on the grass.

Isolde gave me a raised eyebrow and shook her head. “Nobody says that.”

Morgen!

The three of us froze in place at the ear-curling banshee scream of our sister, Roisin. She stomped towards us from her gazebo by the lake.

Roisin was nineteen years of age, three years older than I was. Her scales were the color of rose zircon which complimented her peach-colored human skin. Her horns, which were a darker shade as her scales, curled up in a shape similar to a swan’s craned neck.

Her strawberry blond hair, with light pink tips, went past her hips, was always curled to perfection with flowers complexly woven into her locks. But right now, her hair looked more like a family of swans tried building their nest on her head. Feathers stuck out like spikes and she blew a tiny one out of her mouth. The pupils of her teal colored eyes became cat-like slits. If that wasn’t a sure-fire sign that she was bloody mad then the streams of smoke puffing out of her nostrils sure did.

Just like when Saoirse was tickling me, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at the sight of her. “Oh, hey Roisin. New look? It suits you. I hear feathers are in this year.”

Roisin growled like a starving lioness and the swans from before returned. Swans were naturally drawn to Roisin, like a moth to a flame, or bees to honey. Roisin kneeled, the ends of her skirt pooled on the grass as she stroked the feathered beasts’ heads and they returned her affection by plucking off the feathers that got stuck in her hair when they flew off.

Everybody else looked at swans with awe and wonder, but for all of their exterior beauty, they were no more than rabid hydras with bills and feathers and only one head.

One swan honked in my direction and Roisin didn’t even bother to pull him back. “Oh, I know, my darlings.” She cooed and then looked back to me with unhinged furry. “What were you doing to frighten my beauties like that?”

“Sorry, Roisin. We were just playing Humans and Dragons,” Saoirse told her. The curls of her brown hair bouncing on her shoulders. “You should have seen how fast Morgan caught us.” She turned to me, “But next time I get to be the knight and you be the ugly human.” Saoirse said excitedly while pounding her fists together.

“Oh, then I better bring my brown pants. You know how weak human bladders are.” I joked and Saoirse crinkled her nose in disgust.

“Alright, that’s enough nonsense,” Roisin said, elegantly moving her arms to command the swans to step aside. “It’s getting late, we should be heading back to the monastery.”

“I hate to say it, but she’s right,” I said. “The only thing scarier than a human’s business is Mum when we’re late for supper.” It may have been sadistic, but I chuckled a little at the way Saoirse’s eyes widened in terror at the thought of our angry mother.

Saoirse was fearless, rarely anything frightened her. The first time she saw a scorpion her first instinct was to grab it for her bug collection. While poisonous bugs and snakes were never really an issue for us, their stings and bites could itch something fierce. No, the only thing that could ever get Saoirse to flinch was the thought of our mother being furious.

Isolde grabbed Saoirse’s hand, sprouting their wings. “Come on Saoirse, let’s get you cleaned up.” Saoirse’s wings also appeared and the two flew back home.

“Morgen, you shouldn’t be filling her head with such nonsense.”

I could never control the urge to roll my eyes whenever Roisin talked. “Don’t get your scales in a bunch, it was just a game.”

“You know mother doesn’t like those kinds of games. Now hold still, you’ve got enough filth on you to make an army of Golems.”

Roisin grabbed my face, licked her thumb, and rubbed it against my cheek. I squirmed and pulled her hands away. “Quit it! If I wanted to get slobbered on I’d have gotten a dog.”

“Don’t be such a hatchling,”

“Don’t be such a priss,”

“Watch your tongue,”

“You wash yours first,”

“Why you little—!” Rosin’s pupils became slits and I noticed her claws were already starting to grow out. For a moment, I was sure she was about to shift into her primordial draconic form but was stopped at the sound of wingbeats above our head.

Our sister, Mairead swooped down, her wings formed tiny gusts of wind that spun up random leaves and flower petals as her barefoot feet graced the grass. The swans immediately started swarming around her.

Roisin prided herself as one of the most beautiful of my sisters, but in my humblest opinion, Mairead outshined us all in grace, elegance, and beauty, despite being the second oldest. Her raven hair rivaled a starless night, with pearls interwoven into each of her curly locks. Her eyes were of the deepest blue with subtle hues of green. Staring into them was like staring into the ocean itself. Her scales were a deep blue as well, and her horns were decorated with strings of pearls. Most of my sisters liked to decorate their horns with trinkets or flowers, but I liked to keep them naked. Too many accessories made them feel heavy in my honest opinion.

Mairead’s wings were longer than mine and Roisin’s which, in contrast to her welcoming and serene demeanor, inspired attention and respect from both of us.

“Put the claws away, Roisin. Wouldn’t want you chipping a nail again.”

Roisin looked down at her claws and quickly hid them behind her back. I sucked in my lips to try, in vain, to fight back the snicker. Roisin hissed at my face. For a priss, she had just as much of a temper as I did.

“Shouldn’t you two be heading back to the monastery? Remember, you’re on dish duty tonight.”

Roisin and I shared a groan. I completely forgot tonight was our turn to do the dishes. Throughout the week, I and my eight sisters would be split into pairs to perform chores around the monastery. I didn’t mind doing the work, but not when I had to endure Roisin’s constant whining and complaining. One would think after nine years she would grow accustomed to manual labor.

“Can’t the twins do it?” Roisin begged. I would admit watching her squirm was amusing at first, but now it was just pathetic. “I... I don’t feel so good. I think I’m—“ she faked a cough, “I think I’m coming down with something.” She wheezed and coughed again.

“Oh, well then I’m sure I can ask Sister Vivian to brew up something for that nasty tickle.”

Roisin’s eyes snapped open. Sister Vivian was a very, very intimidating troll nun who didn’t take likely to sluggish and lazy behavior from any of us.

“You know what, I think it was just... hot air. I’m fine now.”

“Ha! Who’s the hatchling now!” I taunted, earning yet another hiss from Roisin.

“Enough, let’s go before I really lose my patience,” Mairead warned. Roisin and I were wise not to poke on that nerve with a hundred-foot pole. Roisin shot me another glare before sprouting her wings and flying off behind Mairead.

One of the swans waddled towards me, honking and flapping his wings to try and intimidate me. I hissed, showing my fangs, claws, and wings and the honking beast waddled away with the rest of its flock. I huffed boastfully then leaped into the air, spiraling a couple of times to breathe in the cool winds.

***

We flew over the forest and fields of Avalon, known as the Isle of Apples, bypassing several unicorns, centaurs, satyrs, fauns, and goblins hopping along the streams like frogs. Vodniks poked their heads out of the ponds and caught buzzing dragonflies with their elongated tongues. Dryads frolicked and leaped from the trees like squirrels. Their articles of clothing were made up of tree leaves, grass, and flowers that sprouted from their hair. Their skin colors varied but they all shared two common characteristics: their arms and legs were dipped in green hues that began at the tips of their fingernails and toenails, reaching upwards right below their knees and elbows. They all bore floral markings on their faces, and symbols of various flowers across their bodies. Each marking was unique to each dryad, like the pattern of snowflakes.

Naiads too possessed the physical aspects as their tree-dwelling brethren, only instead of green their arms and legs were powdered in shades of blue with aquatic markings, curly-Q designs with pearls and sequin-like scales across their cheekbones, foreheads, arms, necks, and backs, with a sparkly webbing between their fingers. Their hair colors came in either green, blue, white, or black, sometimes mixed in together. Some had colors similar to other fish like yellows-green, salmon pink, etc. Their eyes were pitch black with blue irises, like the eyes of a fish. A group of teenage naiads were racing to see who could reach the end of the waterfall first. When they saw us they waved and bowed, some call us by name.

Mairead was very close to the naiads, who shared my sister’s love of swimming. When we were younger we used to sneak out to the beach in the early hours of the morning to catch the sunrise. No matter how many times we witnessed it, every experience felt like the first. We never saw the ocean again once we settled in Avalon. I knew how much Mairead missed it. I vowed, if we ever got a chance to see beyond the mists, the first thing I was going to do was find the nearest coastline and take her there.

One of the naiads, a handsome young man with hair of deep dark blue and aquamarine eyes waved to Mairead.

“Hello, Princess Mairead.”

“Oh, um, hello to you too, Nereus.” She stuttered while waving shyly as we flew by. The tinted pink hues on her cheeks were not lost on me. Roisin and I exchanged knowing smirks and I flew closer to Mairead, nudging her arm with my elbow.

“You know, if you like him so much there’s no shame in you making the first move,”

Mairead rolled her eyes but the tiny smile was not lost on me. “Shut up,” she said behind a subtle laugh and flew ahead of me.

“What, I can give good advice now and again.”

“I pity the poor fool that follows you home,” Roisin said as she swooped by me, not do subtly bumping into me with her wing.

After passing by the village, the farmlands, and the Apple Orchard park where I spotted a few of Saoirse’s little friends playing ball, we arrived at the Monastery of Avalon. It was a large stone compound with very little variation in color unless you counted the lush greens that naturally sprouted around the edges of the walls and buildings.

Ivory vines spun the pillars of the breezeway and around one of the towers, making it look like a sight from the inside of a storybook. The tower was where most of my sisters and I slept. The rooms came with three beds and were arranged from oldest to youngest. I shared my room with Isolde and Saoirse. The second room was occupied by Rosin and the twins, Aiden and Aisling. The final room was occupied by Brigid, Mairead, and Rhiannon.

The monks of the monetary took great care of the flowers around the area and tended to the small animals that came and went. Brigid was a natural when it came to plants and gardening. She could always be found tending to one of the many surrounding gardens, or out in the fields gathering ingredients for her tonics and medicine. Of all my sisters, Brigid was Sister Vivian’s favorite. Brigid was the most docile and gentlest of us all, rarely getting angry at anything, though we knew for a fact that there was still a dragon underneath her soft brown eyes and dirt-covered smile.

The monetary gates were open throughout the day and only closed when night fell. Avalon might be a peaceful and humble place, but children and teenagers still had a habit of being mischievous. I still remember the red look on Father Chiron’s face when a few elves and pixies purposely peed just outside of the temple walls during prayer hour. The centaur had half a mind to trample them where they stood. The little imps were forced to clean up their mess and the barracks as punishment.

The monetary monks were as close to the authority figures of the island as one could get, for the island had no political leader. The island shouldn’t even be considered a country, more like a piece of land that served as a sanctuary for faeries seeking refuge and safety from the ever-changing world of man.

The monks were not only the keepers of the holy manuscripts from around the globe but were also the ones responsible for the well being and health of the faes of Avalon. The monks worked several jobs, from healers to farmers, merchants, librarians, etc.

I tucked in my wings when the three of us landed at the entrance of the gates. We were immediately greeted by several monks along with the garden that formed a natural pathway towards the monastery. The monks were made up of various types of fae, both male and female. They bowed their heads in greeting as we walked by. We returned the gesture, greeting them by name.

From the corner of my eye, I spotted a familiar full head of chestnut brown hair with ember highlights, pulled up into a messy bun. Her dark amber horns stuck out the most, caked in dirt and tiny flower petals, as was the rest of her modest clothing. Brigid was so engrossed in her work she completely lost track of time.

Again.

I told Mairead and Roisin to go on ahead without me while I tiptoed behind Brigid. I noticed her trowel beside her and quickly snatched it. I withheld a snicker as I watched Brigid tap the ground, searching for it in vain while her eyes were still glued to the flower she was tending to. She finally looked up, her face coated in dirt as I expected, and she laughed in relief when she saw me holding her tool, which I returned without fuss.

“One of these days I’m going to find your body molded into the ground.” I teased.

“Give me a couple of minutes. I’m almost done.” Brigid told me, wiping the dirt from her palms, tucking the soil around the final flower. It was a beautiful sunflower, bright and golden like its namesake. It was thanks to Brigid’s talents that the monastery was sprouting with color. While most couldn’t tell the difference between which flowers were grown by the nuns and which were cared for by Brigid personally, I could always tell.

Brigid inhaled and released a stream of golden flames that surrounded the flowers. The sparks seeped into the soul which sparkled, absorbing the warmth and I could see the flower growing a few more inches before my eyes.

When it came to dragons, the first thing that comes to a human’s mind is our ability to breathe fire. But our flames did so much more than set fire to towns and fields. The fire was not merely destruction, but also life. Like the rays of the sunlight in the morning, the earth required it to survive just as much as it needed water.

I was so engrossed in the beauty of her work that I nearly forgot about dinner. The old iron bell rang, signaling the end of the day. Brigid gasped.

“The dinner bell! Why didn’t you tell me!”

I just lifted my hands and dropped them against my thighs. I helped Brigid up and we hurried inside. I allowed Brigid to enter the bathhouse first. For a monastery with very big bathhouse, sharing one with eight sisters was about as comfortable as it sounded.

Dresses, shoes, accessories being thrown all over the place, and with me being the last to arrive, I was caught in the crossfire, having dresses thrown at my face and accessories landed at my feet. Aisling helped Saoirse out of her dress and into the shower while I gathered the fallen items and placed them safely aside.

I waited for the commotions to die down before I stepped out, got dressed, and headed down to the dining hall. The room was flooded with monks and nuns coming to and from the kitchen, carrying plates with their respected meals. Freshly plucked fruits and vegetables, minced and sliced to perfection, roasted duck and pork, chicken and turkey, burnt bread and cheese bombarded me with their aroma. The benefits of having dryads and trolls being the ones to both grow and hunt the food as something Morgen was always grateful for.

Of course, living on an island, the monks made sure to keep the hunting in moderation, as to not have the population of approved animals to eat to die out or grow too low. Not all faeries coulda survive on vegetables and fruits alone. Some required meat or a balance of both, just like my family.

I could eat apples and watermelon well until my sixties, or one hundreds. But, I knew most of my family wouldn’t. Lord knows Aiden would never be able to survive without the flesh of a freshly killed stag.

As always, when I arrived at our elongated dinner table, my sisters were already passing in their seats. A line of untouched foods laid before us. Isolde had to slap Saoirse’s sticky fingers every couple of minutes. We weren’t allowed to eat until after we said our prayers and until Mother arrived.

I looked around the table, listing each of my sisters, chatting amongst themselves.

On my left were Isolde and Saoirse and on my right were the twins. Aiden was the eldest twin and Aisling was the youngest, though after getting to know them one would assume the reverse to be true. Aiden lived up to her name. She was the fiercest and aggressive of us all. When we were younger, she was always the first to suggest roughhousing while in dragon form. She was as loud and bombastic as Aisling was calm and introverted, always with her nose stuck in a book, sometimes oblivious to her surroundings. More than once she stubbed her toe because she couldn’t wait to turn the next page.

The two were as different as night and day, right down to their scales. While they both shared the same gray colored eyes, fair skin tone and were both blonds, Aiden’s a dirty blond while Aisling was platinum. Aiden’s scales were ruby, Aisling’s were sapphire. Aiden had red highlights, Aisling had blue. They were older than me by one year.

Beside Aisling was Roisin, smoothing down her luxurious hair and delicately folding a napkin on her lap. Next to her was Brigid, now free of dirt and her hair in a sloppily made braid. Roisin rolled her eyes and helped Brigid in looking more presentable. Brigid was twenty-one-years-old and still carried the same overall shyness and sweetness from when she was my age.

Mairead, at twenty-four, was the less chatty, as well as the most patient. While she was not above being stern with us, she was also more open to understanding our blight, making it easy for us to turn to her whenever one of us needed an ear to listen to.

That was more than I could say about our eldest sister, Rhiannon. Twenty-six, eldest and by far the tallest of us all, towering Mairead by ahead with just the tip of her horns. The longest, and more defined of us all. She was a full-fledged adult and she certainly held herself as the alpha dragon that she was. Whenever she walked into the room my sisters knew never to speak an ill word about anything that would displease her. Her scales were an icy teal, her eyes a strong, grayish blue and her luminous blond hair faded to white at the tips. At a glance, she was like a statue carved out of ice, with the frost-breath to prove it. One of the few dragons on earth who possessed this gift.

Of course, she was nothing compared to our mother.

Silence flooded the table when my mother stepped into the dining hall. Even a few of the monks ceased their chatter and bowed their heads in greetings to the second eldest dragon in the room. Nimue moved with the grace of a queen despite her simple, modest clothing. She wore no trinkets on her horns, no rings or earrings. Her neck, ears, and head were completely naked of any luxuries. But what always gathered attention was the long scar that began at the tip of her left brow and continued across the bridge of her nose down to her neck.

She sat at the end of the table, her face unreadable and her eyes distant. “Good evening, girls.”

“Good evening, Mother.” My sisters all said in perfect unison. Their hands folded neatly on the table as they bowed their heads. Aiden gave me a light nudge with her elbow. Not even she was insane enough to go against our mother.

I had my hands on my lap, averting her gaze. When I looked up I felt no fear or sadness. I felt only numbness. Seeing the dull look on my mother’s face has long since stopped affecting me. I have already come to accept it as commonplace now. I sighed and folded my hands on the table and bowed my head.

“Good evening, Mother,” I said with a leveled voice.

The doors opened again and a man with a long white beard walking with a wooden cane stepped into the dining hall. He stood before everyone, his wrinkled features morphing into a smile. His clouded clear blue eyes sparkled as he spread out his arms, the long sleeves of his robes flapping about.

“Praised be the Lord for the food we are to consume this evening. We thank the King of Kings for our blessings, for our friends and loved ones gathered here together, and we give thanks... to the cooks outback. Come on out here, take a bow.”

Everyone laughed as the cooks from the kitchen stepped out and bowed their heads briefly before heading back inside. The old man held out his hand and the noise dwindled. The man’s voice became somber.

“But most importantly, let us reflect on those who do not have the privilege to even so much as a grain of rice on their plates. Let us pray for the end of their suffering, and that one day, when the Messiah returns to usher in the new Kingdom of Heaven, no longer shall we witness an empty plate. That no stomach shall remain empty. Amen.”

The room erupted with a loud “Amen!” Though mine was more of a whisper than anything. I was not against praying, but what good was it when we ate away hidden on this island, away from the rest of the world while others went hungry. That was what I wanted to say, but I frustratingly withheld my tongue and started eating.

Once again, the table was filled with noise. Most of my sisters fought over who got what first, or who claimed the last of what remained. Aiden swore fiery vengeance on those who dared to steal her stake and sheep’s bladder, hissing like a snake.

“Oh, give it a rest,” Aisling said, slamming her book closed and tucked it under the table. “Nobody would be caught dead eating that odious slop.”

“You need to stop reading so many books, little sister. One of these days I’m not gonna be able to understand a word ye’r saying.” Aiden said, flickering her sister’s forehead. Aisling swatted it away.

“Perhaps if you bothered to read at least one book your vocabulary wouldn’t be so finite.”

“Speak English like the rest of us!”

“Get your bloody stag away from my dress!” Roisin exclaimed.

“My soup is too cold,” Saoirse complained. I took the bowl and blew underneath it, unleashing a stream of fire to heat it. Saoirse tasted it and hummed with delight. “Thanks.”

“Morgen, no fire at the table,” Mairead said, taping a sip from her cup.

“Yeah, I don’t want to have to clean up any ashes, thank you,” Roisin said. “I get enough of that from Aiden’s snoring.”

“I don’t snore, you snore!” Aiden exclaimed.

Aisling stretched out her hand and tapped the table to get Brigid’s attention, “Please trade rooms with me.”

Girls!” Rhiannon’s roar silenced us all in the time it took for one of us to blink. “Can we please, for once, have a quiet meal?”

“We could, but that would be boring,” I said, unable to fight the smirk forming on my face, even while Rhiannon was glaring back at me with her angry reptilian eyes.

“Rhiannon, control your temper.” Mother said in a nonchalant tone.

“But, Mother!”

“A lady does not fuel the fires of conflict.”

Rhiannon inhaled and exhaled, what she normally did whenever her patience got away from her. “Yes, Mother. Apologies.”

“And Morgen,” Mother spoke, the slight rise in her tone as she said empathized the last syllable of my name compelled me to spin my head in her direction, as though it held a chain-like hold on me. “How many times have I told you to hold your tongue?”

Looking around six of my sisters shared the same startled reaction, save for Saoirse, who blinked innocently, while Rhiannon and mother gave me the same icy stare I have seen a million times whenever my mouth ran off. I slid my hands down to my lap and hung my head.

“I’m sorry.”

“I am sorry... what?”

I released a bitter breath, swallowing the flicker of fire before it reached my tongue. “I am sorry, Mother.”

Satisfied, Mother returned to eating her meal while Rhiannon kept staring at her. My eldest sister’s stiff exterior softened, her brows trembling and her lips slightly opened as she inhaled sharply. Her gaze fell to her food and I felt the oh, too familiar thing of guilt. After a while, the chatter returned, but less excitable this time around. Even little Saoirse felt the need to remain silent for some reason. Isolde whispered in her ear, saying not to worry about it too much.

The elder man from before swooped and sniffed the air. “I thought I smelled burnt bread. Though that’s probably just my breath.”

I and half of my sisters laughed. “Good evening, Father Merlin,” I said.

Father Merlin was the head of the monastery, and the reason any of us are here right now. He was an... odd sort. At least that’s what Rhiannon used to say. To me, I just found him to be the type of man who lived life to the fullest and didn’t let his old age stop him.

One of his horns was completely cut off, leaving only one in place with subtle scratches, and his silvery scales blended into his skin that he almost looked more human than a dragon. The eldest dragon on the island, and the last of his kind before my family arrived. He welcomed us with open arms, gave us a home and food to eat. To repay his kindness, Mother had us partake in the daily chores and responsibilities around the monastery. It was a very drastic change from the life we were born into before, but I didn’t mind it.

I was never one who enjoyed sitting still and being pampered and spoiled. Though, Roisin would certainly disagree. I liked getting my hands dirty, chatting with the monks and nuns, and especially listening to Father Merlin and his wild stories. Though some of the monks claimed he embellished a few of his tales just to humor us. I liked to believe at least half of them were true. While my sisters seemed to slowly sip into the dread that was a life of isolation and secrecy, Father Merlin seemed to be that one shining beacon of hope that, perhaps, life on this island wouldn’t be so... strangulating.

“And what sort of trouble did this lot get into today?” Father Merlin asked, ruffling little Saoirse’s hair.

“We played a fun game in the forest, and Roisin got covered in swan feathers,” Saoirse said.

Even though I was there, I almost choked on my drink at the memory of Roisin fuming mad with her perfectly flawless hair all tangled up with feathers. My sister’s face turned as red as the scales on Aiden’s face.

“Well, I’m sure even with feathers, Princess Roisin looked every bit as enchanting as she always does.” Father Merlin said. His compliment seemed to do the trick and Roisin flauntingly her hair over her shoulder.

“Always ever so kind, Father Merlin.”

“Careful, Roisin,” Aisling said while cutting up her chicken neatly with her knife. “You know what the Holy Scriptures say; Pride comes before the fall.”

“Well said, Princess Aisling.” Father Merlin said, waving his right hand around with pride. “And very true.”

“Aisling, could you move a little closer, dear?” Mairead asked, “Yes, just as I thought. There’s a plank in your eye.”

Aisling blushed and continued eating. Aiden snickered, but Father Merlin walked on over and ruffled Aisling’s hair to cheer her up.

“Live and learn, child. Live and learn.”

He was the most lighthearted holy man I have ever met. He had a way of almost making me forget about my bitterness towards God.

Almost.

Growing up in a God-fearing family, it was difficult for me to shake away my upbringing completely. I didn’t have the heart to say I renounced God, for I knew He was very much real. Unlike humans, we faes did not doubt the existence of the supreme Creator. It was fueled into our very design to be subconsciously aware of the supernatural forces that surrounded us, hidden away from normal mortal eyes.

While my relationship with God wasn’t gone, it hasn’t been the strongest these past nine years. It was difficult for every time I thought of Him... I thought of my father, and the bitter sting of loss consumed me so much that I had to getaway. It rattled me with guilt and was a common reason for my flaring temper and impatience.

I went through most of the dinner without saying much. Many residents of the monastery presumed me to be the silent type. A loner who kept to herself, but the opposite was true.

I had a lot to say. A lot I wanted to express, to share, to shout, to cry, to scream, to roar if I wanted. But I knew if I did so word would ultimately reach my Mother’s ears and... I’ve been caught enough times to know better now. Though sometimes it looks as if I still hadn’t learned my lesson.

Even as a dragonet, I had always been the rebellious sort. I didn’t always like being told what to do, even if it was for something minor. I once priced myself of this irrepressible spirit of mine, but lately, it’s been giving me nothing but problems. Yet, this side of me refused to stay chained down.

I wasn’t permitted to speak of certain things aloud, that’s why I preferred the freedom and openness of the forest. A place where I could run and fly without constraint. Only a few of my sisters, Saoirse, Isolde, and Mairead knew of my secrets. Saoirse knew of my love of adventure and desire to see the outside world, but I always made sure she was aware of the dangers and painted in her head the image of evil, dangerous humans that killed our kind and hung our heads on their walls as trophies. Brigid thought I would scare Saoirse, but as I said, she was a fearless one.

Isolde was a quiet soul. Spending hours painting in her private study that Father Merlin gifted her. It was an old room, long unused by the monks, perfect for Isolde to display all of her works of art without fear of Saoirse accidentally breaking them with her relentless energy. Mairead, of course, was the easiest to talk to. She never chastised or scolded me for having these thoughts and feelings.

Brigid was a close second, but she couldn’t keep a secret to save her tail. I wished I could share with her more, but I thought it best to have Mairead listen to my woes instead of any of the others. She was the only one who truly understood, aside from Father Merlin of course.

***

After dinner, Roisin and I did the dishes. I worked in silence while trying my best to tune our Roisin’s whining. Curse our akin sense of hearing.

Roisin dropped a dirty cloth in a nearby basket and groaned when she noticed a bloodstain on her skirt. “Ooh. Why does Aiden insist on eating her meat raw? It’s so... rrrrrrrr!

I could feel the room tremble at her growl. “Quit complaining and maybe we can finish early for once,” I said, tossing her another clean rag that landed at her feet and she squeaked like a tiny mouse. I slapped my hand over my eyes and shook my head impatiently.

“Bloody hell. You are a disgrace to dragons everywhere!”

Roisin gasped, her features contorting into a look of pure, adulterated disgust. “I have half a mind to stick this clump of soap in your mouth, young lady!” she waved said clump with her hand, which slipped out and she quickly caught it. It bounced from one hand to another like she was trying to hold a hot potato.

“I rest my case.”

Roisin huffed and tossed the soap back into the water that flooded the sink. “Well, I for one would rather be a decent dragon who acts my age than a brute who still thinks going outside the mist is a good idea.”

A growl erupted from my throat and I sprung out my claws pierced the squishy texture of a nearby tomato.

“Shut up!” I shouted and threw the leftover tomato at her head. But Roisin turned around at the last minute and it struck her face instead. The loud splatter brought me back to my senses and my hands flew straight to my mouth, blocking the horrified gasp that nearly escaped. My fingers still smelled like soapy water and leftover broccoli but my attention was aimed at Roisin’s tomato smeared face.

Under different circumstances, I would have laughed. But I did not find this funny right now.

“Roisin, I’m sorry. I’m—“ I could feel her fire rising from where I stood, behind a counter filled with cooking utensils that also needed cleaning.

“You wanted a real dragon.” The hairs on the back of my neck prickled at Roisin’s tranquil fury, slowly rising higher and higher with every flare of her nostrils. I could picture the fires spinning within her stomach as it always did with me whenever I felt angered. Her wide pupils shrunk into two thin strips and the corner of her mouth slowly opened up to reveal her now razor-sharp molars.

“You’ve got one.” she hissed and lunged at me. Her beautiful, dainty nails became sharp and hook-like, similar to a cat’s. She hissed and pushed me against the counter, locking my wrists in her grip and roaring at my face. My claws sprung out again and I pressed my foot against her stomach, pushing her off of me with a ferocious grunt. Roisin crashed against the opposite counter where a pile of wishes fell and shattered. This time, I pounced at her.

We wrestled on the kitchen floor, our clothes now covered in food stains from head to toe. Spoons, plates, and forks fell from the tables and counters. Roisin grabbed a moldy old pear that rolled to her side and squished it at my face. The juices stung my eyes and her tail coiled around my ankle, pulling me upright. Her claws scratch my shoulder blades and she threw me across the room, crashing against the wall where a row of spatulas, spoons, and pans hanging on hooks quivered and fell around me. I wiped the pear off of my face with my sleeve, grunting in pain at the wound she just gave me.

I rushed for her, wanting to tear her hair out until I felt the strong grip of Mairead hold me in place. Brigid did the same with Roisin.

“Morgen, stop!” Mairead ordered.

“Enough, Roisin!” Brigid said, literally shaking her back to sense. Her slit pupils expanded, overtaking almost her entire iris, and her claws shrunk down. As I breathed puffs of smoke spewed out my mouth like a fog. The liquid remains of the pear she splashed on my face trailed down my neck and I shuddered at the uncomfortable sensation as it seeped further down my chest.

Our heads whipped around to the door at the sound of clicking heels coming down from the hallway. Rhiannon entered the kitchen. When she did my claws shrunk and my pupils returned to normal. My tail, which I hadn’t noticed sprung out during the fight, curled back and disappeared beneath my skirt.

Rhiannon stared at the mess, the broken plates, and the remains of leftover food littered the floor and splattered on the edge of the counter. A few splotches could be seen on the walls too. The tail of a spoon hung on the edge of a small stool and when it fell its metal clang created an echo-like effect that rang in my ear like a gong.

“What. Happened?” She said, punctuating between the two words.

The four of us looked at each other, our widened eyes mirroring the panic rippling through our scales.

“It was a rat!” I shouted before anyone else could word out a syllable. I noticed Roisin’s mouth hanging open.

“What?” Rhiannon asked.

“Roisin saw a rat and... she panicked.”

Confusion and surprise sparked Roisin’s features and she quickly nodded. “I’m sorry, Rhiannon. I... I don’t know what came over me.” She pulled down her sleeve to hide the fresh cut on her arm.

I gave her that.

My tense muscles loosened and my pointed ears flickered anxiously, waiting for Rhiannon to say something. The way her thin browns narrowed cemented that she did not buy this story for one second. She saw Roisin’s scratch. That couldn’t be caused by a rat. Not to mention she walked in and saw Mairead and Brigid holding us both back. I hung my head in shame and just stood there, waiting for the worst to happen already.

“Rhiannon, please, I’m sure they didn’t mean—“ Mairead began but was silenced when Rhiannon held a finger to her lips, poked her head out the doorframe, and closed it behind her.

“Hurry up and grab a mop before anybody else walks in,” Rhiannon said in a harsh whisper. When none of us would move, too stunned with surprise, Rhiannon hissed through her teeth. “Now!

The four of us worked like clockwork, tossing away the broken dishes, mopping the floor, and putting away the plates and bowls that were already cleaned neatly in their cabinets. It took at least half an hour according to the hourglass, but the results were passable.

Rhiannon closed the kitchen door behind her. The ends of her skirt were sprinkled with stains and a smudge of dirt was found beneath her left eye.

“We are to not breathe a word of this to anyone. Is that clear?”

The four of us nodded, though Mairead was the only one bold enough to hug Rhiannon. “Thank you, sister.”

Rhiannon patted Mairead on the back and nodded. A ghost of a smile formed on Rhiannon’s lips but it was gone as quickly as it appeared.

“Go clean yourselves up and get ready for bed. Brigid, tend to Roisin’s arm.” Brigid nodded and led Roisin down the corridor. Roisin looked back at me over her shoulder, not missing the chance to shot one final glare at me before the day was over.

Rhiannon grabbed my shoulder and she stared down at me with a menacing glare, complete with slit pupils. The shadows of the hallway cloaked her sharp features while the lit torches of the ancient halls basked her hair in an almost ethereal glow.

“I better not see this happen again.” She said. The unsaid threat hung in the air long after she turned around and marched down the hallway, her heels clicking beneath the ancient cobblestone floor.

Mairead tugged on my arm and led me down the opposite pathway into the bathhouse.

***

Mairead dapped a white cloth with some liquor and pressed it against the cuts Roisin had given me during our fight. At least we were even now.

I flinched and hissed at the stinging sensation being pressed against the back of my shoulders. I wrestled against the stubborn roar that punched its way up my throat and I forced it down with an uncomfortable swallow.

Unlike humans, the fae folk could not get drunk on normal, human alcohol. It didn’t even taste good to us, but it worked as a good disinfecting solution. My nose crinkled at the stench. Humans must have strong stomachs if they could digest this gunk.

“That’s what you get for provoking your sister.” Mairead scolded as she tended to my injury.

“I lost it, okay. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to. And even if that was the case it’s still no excuse.”

“I just wish she would get off my back. I wish everyone would just...!” I stared down at my hands, noticing the scales multiplying on my knuckles. Mairead held me by the shoulders and guided me through the breathing exercises she taught me.

“Breath in... breath out. In... out. In... out.”

At the third exhale my scales shrunk back and my hands were fleshy again. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My cheeks wore faint remains of rotten fruit and meat and the nasty pear left a visible sticky trail down my neck across my collarbone and I spotted a tiny bruise beneath my chin where Roisin landed a good, firm punch.

Mairead sighed, tucking a wild strand of hair behind my ear. “I know it’s not easy. I was sixteen once too.”

I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “Please, you were never as bad as me.”

“You’re not bad, you’re just—“

“A rotten little brat who can’t keep her mouth shut?”

“Stop it!” Mairead turned me around but I refused to face her. My lips pouted childishly. She tucked her palm under my chin, gently carried my bruise, and lifted my face to stare back at her. As she stared at me with her soft eyes, devoid of any criticism and judgments, I felt a sob punch its way against my chest.

“I know you try, love. I do.”

Another sob made its way out of my mouth, followed by another, and another. Hot tears burned my eyes and I buried my filthy face against her shoulder. Mairead held me close, stroking my hair in a familiar pattern, whispering sweet, comforting words in my ear.

Despite the strained relationship I had with my faith, I would often find myself giving thanks for the small blessings in my life. Like right now, in my mind I gave thanks for having such an understanding sister. So understanding that half of the time I didn’t need to say so many words to convey how I was feeling. Mairead was gifted with a naturally throng empathic soul it was no wonder most of us were drawn to her, even Rhiannon, though she didn’t always admit it aloud.

All of the stress and frustrations of my day melted away like snow in spring. I could still smell traces of greasy soap water on her clothes, mixed with the natural aroma of the riverbank where she often spent her time after finishing her chores, either playing her small harm or chatting with the naiads.

She wiped my tears with her fingers, caressing my cheek and placing a gentle kiss on my forehead before gently pressing hers against mine.

“Let’s finish cleaning you up and get you to bed. I’ll take care of your morning chores so you can sleep in for a little bit.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said. She didn’t have to do that.

“Don’t worry about it. You can make it up to me by doing Roisin’s laundry as an apology.”

“I knew there was a catch.”

The both of us laughed and after I was washed off of the food stains and my bruise tended to, I slipped into my shared bedroom. Saoirse was already sound asleep while Isolde was reading a book by candlelight.

“What took you so long?” She asked.

“There was a little mishap in the kitchen. Nothing for you to worry about.” I said as I slipped out of my bathrobe and into my nightgown.

“Are you okay?” Isolde asked.

I smiled graciously at her concern. “I’m fine. Just tired.”

“I’ll snuff out the lights in a little bit. I’m almost done with this chapter.”

“Please, don’t let me stop you,” I said with a puff. I laid on my bed facing my nightstand. Mairead said I would need to sleep on my side until the scratch in my back healed up. I yawned a couple of times and closed my eyes. I didn’t even notice Isolde snuff out the candlelight at the first snore.

***

What began as a peaceful, idleness sleep would soon spiral into a night of relentless tossing and turning as vivid images of fire, blood and death filled the once empty darkened spaces of my tired mind.

The first sight was that if a beautiful multicolored stone glass window depicting the resurrection of The Messiah shattered before my eyes. Bits of broken glass flew out in all directions, breaking into more pieces once they struck the ground. Followed by the sight of the forest that was once my childhood playground set ablaze. That was the first time I felt terrified of fire.

Echoes of screams and high-pitched wails of anguish quickly surrounded me but I couldn’t see to whom these cries belonged. Gurgling sounds of throats being sliced bombarded my ears and heads rolled on the crimson grass beneath my feet. The final vision was the worst one yet. A large dragon, with tears in his eye, stretching out his claws to me but he was already far beyond my reach. His massive body crashed into the ocean waters below, forming a massive tidal wave that took out the incoming invading ships in one swoop. More blood was spilled, turning the entire ocean read. The face of a one-eyed human with a horned helmet sprung out of the water, swinging his spiked ax at my face.

I gasped and sprung upright. The corners of my eyes still flickered with tiny balls of light from the sight of the fire from my dream. I blinked and my vision cleared. I took in every detail of my room, listing the items in my head.

My nightstand. My window. My books. My blanket. Saoirse on my left and Isolde on my right, hugging her book close to her chest with a serene look. I pressed my hand over my heart to steady my breathing.

In and out. In and out.

I wiped a trickle of sweat from my brow and forced myself off my mattress, ignoring the arching of my limbs. I pulled the covers that reached the floor over the bed. Underneath was a long box made of the purest redwood, adorned with golden edges and a matching gold lock. The original key has long since been lost, allowing me to open it with ease.

I opened the lid of the elongated box and stared at my reflection on the surface of the blade. It was the first sword, forged by dragon’s fire, the fire of my ancestors. Its power was legendary, it could vanquish any beast, and when it swung it formed an arch of vibrant colors. Light as a feather and twice as scorching as a phoenix flame.

This was my family’s symbol. The sword of the Tuatha De Dannan. The last piece of my family’s legacy.

The last link I had to my father and my home.

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