It’s long overdue.  I have made the decision that I need to stop trying to make promises about on which days you can expect a new chapter.  I’m terribly sorry, but at this time in life the only thing I can promise is that I will post new chapters as soon as they are ready, and I am still committed to finishing this fairy tale for you.  Thank you for sticking with me!  If you need a refresher, or are just joining us, you can find previous chapters here.

Underneath the verdant leaves of the trees, Trace trudged along on a carpet of leaves in endless hues of brown.  Beside her ambled a horse, one of the bandits’ freed horses that she’d found the day after they lost Noemi and Garrin.  The poor, half-starved beast bore Verrell, whose wounds weren’t able to heal properly on their search.  Sometimes it had to carry Sir Lamarr, too.  After the toxic torture asper’s venom wore off, her new-found beloved had partially recovered, but Sir Lamarr’s skin and joints were sensitive and his strength faded quickly.

Somehow, Trace had become the most capable leader of their group.  She didn’t really know what to do, but she thought maybe if they could just find the princess and Garrin, it would be okay.

They had to find them before the dragon did.  Which meant they only had four more days.

The horse’s harness jingled from the beast’s jarring steps.  Verrell groaned softly.  Trace scrutinized him.  He hunched forward in the saddle, his skin lacking the color it ought to have.  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Verrell glanced at her and straightened his back, only to grimace and clutch his stomach.  “Just my wounds,” he dismissed her concern.

Trace narrowed her eyes and grabbed the horse’s harness.  “Let me see.”

Verrell didn’t argue with her.  He peeled his shirt over his many bandages, and Trace saw what was undoubtedly her least-favorite of her new colors: Crimson.

“They’re open again,” Sir Lamarr sighed.  “We need better tools for treating you.  Even a needle and thread would help.”

No one said anything.  There was no way to get better tools.

After doing all she could to make Verrell more comfortable, Trace patted his leg.  “Hold on, Verrell,” she encouraged.  “Just a little longer and we’ll find help for you.”

“You should leave me,” Verrell said when they recommenced their slow walk.  “I hinder you.”

Trace winced at her next step.  Her feet were little more than blisters.  “That’s not true,” she told Verrell.

“And an honorable knight never abandons a comrade,” Sir Lamarr added.

A scent in the air caught Trace’s nose.  She sniffed to catch more of it.  “Wait,” she held up her hand.  “I think I smell something.”

The men sniffed, too.  Sir Lamarr’s noon-sky eyes brightened for the first time since his poisoning.  It made Trace’s heart flutter.  The knight said, “That is smoke of a house fire.  There are people nearby.”

“See,” Trace squeezed Verrell’s arm.  “I told you we’d find help.”  She sniffed again and tried to find smoke through the thick trees.

Much later in the day, they finally caught sight of a cottage in a clearing.  It was small and rough-hewn, with a wooden door, curtains that reminded Trace of the flowers at the beginning of their journey, and a steady stream of smoke rising from the stone chimney.  “Who do you think lives there?” she asked Sir Lamarr.

“Someone trustworthy,” he said.  “Look at the curtains.”

Trace didn’t know if he was joking, and she was too tired to figure it out.  Instead, she stumbled across the clearing and knocked on the door.  Nothing happened, so she tried again.  Still, no one came to the door.

Maybe no one was home.  She lifted the handle and pushed, but the door didn’t budge.

“What’s wrong?” Sir Lamarr asked.  He led the horse carrying Verrell up behind her.

“No one came when I knocked, but someone must be home,” she explained.  “The door is barred from inside.”

Her beloved rubbed his knees, a sure sign that his joints were beginning to bother him.  “Can you see anything through the window?”

That was a good idea.  Trace went over to the window and peeked inside.  She could see an old man reading in a worn chair and hear a noise that sounded like at least one other person was in the room.  Trace called, “Hello!”

The man ignored her.

She clenched her hands and tried again.  “Good man, we need your help.  We’re companions of the Princess of Jerrett, and we’re trying to save her life.”

He flipped over a page in his book.

Maybe he was deaf.  Trace waved her arms, trying to get his attention.

He finally looked up, and when he saw her he started.  The man jumped up and hurried out of sight.  A moment later, the door opened.  There he stood, pointing a crossbow at them.  Too loudly, he asked, “Who are you?”

Trace started to explain when an old woman appeared at his side.  She pushed the man’s weapon away with one hand and held something out in her other hand.  “There’s a dragon nearby,” she told Trace and her men.  Like the old man, her voice was too loud.  “Put these in your ears, then come in and we’ll write to each other.”

Trace looked at Sir Lamarr for guidance.  He shrugged.  “Best do as she says.  They seem harmless enough.”

The old man with the crossbow didn’t seem harmless to Trace, but she kept her opinion to herself.  She accepted the woman’s proffered gift.  They were little balls of wax.  The woman pantomimed sticking them into her ears, so Trace copied her and saw Sir Lamarr do the same.  Then she pushed the wax into Verrell’s ears and helped him off the horse.  His face drained of color, until he almost looked like he used to back when she only saw in shades of gray.  The rest of the world was still in color, though it was now silent.  Strange to gain a new sense and then lose an old one.

The old woman appeared at her side, wrinkled forehead furrowed, and helped her move Verrell.  Sir Lamarr joined them, and the three of them managed to carry him into the dim interior of the cottage.  They laid him on a straw-stuffed mattress, then the old woman bustled off, setting a pot of water to heat and gathering scraps of fabric from a bag.  Meanwhile, the old man moved around piles of books.  At length, he found a stack of tan paper and brought it with a quill and ink over to a table near the bed.

Who are you? he wrote in scratchy letters.

Trace took the quill.  We are companions of the Princess of Jerrett, and we’re trying to save her life.  My name is Trace, and these are Sir Lamarr and Verrell.

The man took back the quill.  Well-met.  I am Ancel, this is Leala, and your princess left here just two days ago.

Trace and Sir Lamarr looked at each other.  Her heart sped up.  Then they were not far behind.  She grabbed the quill and scribbled, Where did they go?

South.  But your friend is in no state to travel.  Besides, you’d likely be attacked by the princess’s dragon, the old man—Ancel—wrote back.

You’ve seen it?  Trace asked.  Is that why you made us put wax in our ears?

No, Ancel wrote.  But we’re expecting it any time now.  And the Lull Wyrm’s voice can’t make you sleep if you can’t hear it.

That really was brilliant.  Trace wondered why, in all the almost eighteen years of Princess Noemi’s life, no one had thought to mention that the prophecy’s dragon couldn’t do a thing if they simply put wax in the Princess’s ears.

She wrote, Did you give the Princess wax, too?

Ancel answered, Yes, her and the boy.

Relief made Trace’s legs weak.  They had hope.  They would thwart the prophecy.

The air shifted.  Trace couldn’t breathe.  It was like her heart stopped.

Then the air shifted back like a silent clap.  She gasped.  What was that?

Sir Lamarr grabbed the quill and carved out one word: Run.  The roof exploded into flames.

It was the dragon.

Let me know what you think!!  And have a fantastic week.


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