After a long hiatus after the birth of our daughter, hubby and wifey are back to writing. This prompt came from hubby's Pinterest board and was a blast for both of us - quite out of hubby's normal line of writing! (He's been writing horror short stories lately - let me know if you'd like to read them!)
Here's the picture!
My thin, cyan flame perfectly scorched the pudding in front of yet another happy customer.
“Enjoy your dessert,” Jun bowed, smiling, and carried me back to the kitchen.
I flicked a wing discontentedly as the steam from Jans’s soup wafted into my eyes.
“Creme Brûlée! You’re up, Jun.”
Jun turned right back around, took the pudding from Jackson, and grinned.
“Busy evening, eh, fella?”
I rustled my wings again.
“Not having a good time, Goodwin?” Jun smiled at me and bumped his arm up gently so I bounced. Usually I liked that. Tonight I just smelled the air and grumped. “Ah, that bad, huh?”
It was migration week. I always got restless during migration week. I could feel it in the air, smell it on my tongue, see it in the hundreds of dragons that flew past our treetop restaurant. The very air quivered with the excitement of it - an excitement that I never shared. No, my best friends were humans. Stick-in-the-mud, stay-where-you-are, work-till-you-die humans. Usually I was content with this, with the life I led, with my unorthodox purpose...but not during migration week.
At least Jun was sympathetic.
“Let’s just get through the night, huh, buddy?”
I finally looked up at him, and he smiled again. "We can go home and get some sleep soon. I promise. Just a few more customers.”
Then we were at the table.
Jun put the dish down with a flourish and held me out dramatically. From my perch on his forearm, I took a breath, activated my fiamma glands, and let out a steady, blue flame. The Creme Brûlée glazed just right.
I looked up. The happy little enchantress in front of me clapped delightedly. Jun bowed and smiled, as always, but this time, I couldn’t take my eyes off the customer. There was something bewitching about her. Her black eyes twinkled as she picked up her fork to spear the Creme Brûlée; in her smile was something that drew me.
As Jun turned to go, I pivoted so I could gaze at her as we left.
Once we were back in the kitchen, Jans punched Jun lightheartedly and said, “You two stars can take a break. There are no more desserts on the docket for now. Get some air and come back for the late rush.”
Jun was glad to take a break. He and one of the waitresses had a little flirtation going, and he was happy to get back to it. I watched him trot off to the back porch and then stealthily headed to the front where the little enchantress with bewitching eyes was still enjoying her dessert. Peeking at her from behind a potted plant, I watched the way she closed her eyes before taking each bite, reveling in the taste so much that her feet danced a little bit under the table. I crept a little closer, wanting to feel her aura again.
When I was a table’s width away, her fork stopped in midair, and her face turned toward me, eyes still closed, but with a grin on her lips.
“Come all the way, Little One,” she whispered conspiratorially. “I might even share this sumptuous fare!”
I couldn’t help it – I leapt into her lap and stared up at her face.
“You’re a bright one, aren’t you?” she said, opening her eyes. They sparkled at me like little black diamonds. “Why the long face, though?”
I ducked my head and then looked out at the stars, where dark shapes blotted out the little lights now and then as dragon after dragon flew by.
“The migration. Of course.” She nodded, smiling. “But why aren’t you happy about this time? Isn’t it exciting?”
I rustled my wings, feeling self-conscious but wishing with all my heart that she would know.
Her brow furrowed. “Aren’t you going, then, Goodwin?”
I jumped in surprise, and she giggled.
“Once I look at you, I know your name,” she explained. “I’m a dragon-empath. But why aren’t you going on the migration? Are you afraid?”
I felt overjoyed to be known and humiliated to be understood. How could a troupe-less dragon migrate? Impossible. Without a troupe, one wasn’t a real dragon.
“But of course that isn’t true,” she chided me gently. I looked up at her beseechingly. “Not at all,” she said firmly. “You are you, and Goodwin is a dragon, troupe or no troupe.” She looked sympathetic. “Though of course, it must make your life harder, right?”
I ducked my head again.
“You’re not ungrateful – I know that.” She smiled, and I felt the utmost gratitude toward her for understanding. “But naturally, humans can only satisfy a part of your desire for a family. After all, most humans can’t even talk dragon!” She giggled again.
I lifted my wings hopefully.
Her face turned serious and thoughtful.
“Do you enjoy your job here, Goodwin?”
I bobbed my head.
“The humans are good to you?”
I bobbed again.
She smiled hugely. “I’m so glad!” Her face turned thoughtful again. “Then all that remains is how to match you. Come along!”
I opened my eyes wide and backed up.
She laughed. “Silly. Of course we’ll talk to your boss. And then we’re going to find Laceny the Elder and explain your problem. He’ll get you matched up in no time.”
I didn’t see how this would do any good at all, but I perched up on her shoulder as she finished the last four bites of Creme Brûlée and then pushed back her chair with a happy squeak and padded back to the kitchen.
“Boss?” she called hopefully. “Boss!”
“Can I help you?” Jans asked, coming over and wiping her hands on a towel. She peered at me curiously. “Ah! Goodwin has taken a liking to you, eh? You’re lucky.”
“Not at all!” the enchantress beamed. “I was born this way. No skill or luck required. Julia,” she said, putting out her hand to shake.
Jans obliged, looking bemused.
“Well, Julia, what can I do for you?”
“Goodwin needs to migrate,” she said bluntly, beaming at Jans.
Jans looked taken aback. “Goodwin never migrates,” she said.
Julia nodded seriously. “But Goodwin should,” she explained. “He can come back and be your flamoir for half the year on an annual basis. It’s an easy arrangement. But he really must migrate with a troupe.” She stared the older, taller woman down. “He’s a dragon after all.”
Jans scratched her head. “He’s never shown any need to migrate,” she said. “Jun picked him up as a baby off the coast. Hatched him out of an abandoned egg and all. Never had a family but us. He’s not a normal dragon.”
Julia shook her head with a smile. “Of course. But an abnormal dragon is still a dragon, yes?” She clapped. “And this dragon needs to experience migration! It will do him ever so much good. Please, Jans,” she pleaded suddenly, turning her bewitching black eyes to the tall matron.
It was as if Jun appeared out of nowhere. “Migrate?” he exclaimed. “But Goodwin...what will I do without you?”
A bubble of joy rose up in my heart. Jun was a true friend. I was glad to have a true friend. I let out a little pocket of flame.
Julia beamed at Jun. “You are lovely,” she said. “Are you free on Tuesdays?”
At his flabbergasted look, she went on. “Goodwin loves you very much. You must be a wonderful friend.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t worry. He’ll come back to you. You mean very much to him.”
“How do you know?” he looked at her wonderingly.
“Are you an empath?” Jans asked shrewdly.
Julia winked at her. “It’s time to let this little one go for now,” she said. “He’ll be back, don’t worry. And in the meantime, I’m free Tuesdays.”
As she turned to go, I looked back at Jun, who was still staring at her, a little smile on his slightly-opened mouth.
I would see him again.
I puffed out a little flame, then gazed back at the stars. It was time.
I had a family to find.
(Please enjoy this extended track from Studio Ghilbi's "Howl's Moving Castle" while you read.
"And your name, Miss?"
A faun waited expectantly for the young woman's reply. She however was lost in the sights and sounds around her. "Umm, Ma'am?"
"Oh, yes, sorry! Uh, Sharandra."
"Sha...ran...dra..." The faun mouthed as he wrote her name in a small space in a large, leather bound book on the pedestal in front of him. He set his feather pen back in a small ink bottle and gestured. "This way please, Sharandra. Your waiter will be with you shortly."
"Thank you," she replied excitedly.
The faun walked her the short distance to the table and pulled out one of the thin, wire-framed chairs. Sharandra nodded and sat down. She had only just glanced the menu when a tall, thin elf appeared silently beside her.
"Sunleaf tea Ma'am?" He held a finely made tea pot in one hand and an empty tea cup in the other.
"Oh, yes please!"
The elf half filled the cup and set it delicately on the table. "And would you like anything else?"
Sharandra quickly scanned the menu almost losing the feathered, pointed hat off her head. "Yes, the uh...ooh, the creme brulee, please."
He gave a short bow before heading off to another table. With a quick flick of his wrist, another cup appeared out of thin air in his free hand. "Sunleaf tea?" he asked another customer.
Sharandra took a sip of her tea and looked back at the busy street beside her. The tea was good, but the finer details were lost on her as she watched all the different people go past. This capitol city was usually busy, but this being the Mid-summer's Eve Festival brought people from all corners of the Marian Empire.
A red dwarf with a beard reaching nearly down to the ground was haggling the price of some piece of jewelry with an avian street peddler. The avian, a hawk or small eagle Sharandra guessed, waved off a nosey gnome child who seemed all too interested in her shiny wares. The child ran off across the street in front of a herd of minotaur parading the streets in their custom smithed armor. Their shouts caught the attention of a human cleric wearing the symbol of Shau, the sun goddess. His armor was rather old and well-worn in comparison to the minotaur's. He watched the herd go by wide-eyed and quickly pulled out a coin purse. Taking stock of its contents, his shoulders fell slightly. He closed it back up and shoved it regretfully back into a traveling pouch.
Across the way on a small stage, a troupe of dryads and nyads had just finished performing a beautiful dance set to an enchanted string quartet. Onlookers clapped and cheered as the group gracefully made their way off stage and the instruments packed themselves away into their carrying cases. A small, well dressed goblin in a top hat stood on a small box on stage and announced the following act. "Herr Hans Güschermann the Mighty shall now perform a feat of strength unlike any you have ever seen. Behold!"
An incredibly thick and well built cyclopes walked up on stage carrying a small iron ingot. The crowd pointed and laughed playfully. From the other side of the stage an old man in dark purple robes approached center stage. The old man waved his hands dramatically and cast a spell. With a flash, the iron brick began to grow. It grew and grew until it was nearly half the length of the stage. The framework cracked under its increased weight and size. The crowd gasped in amazement and anticipation. Hans slapped his bare chest and knelt down to secure a firm grip on the enormous piece of iron.
"Your creme brulee, Ma'am."
"Oh, thank you!" Sharandra was surprised to see her treat brought so quickly.
A human man in a nice waiter's uniform laid the creme brulee down on the table in front of Sharandra. He placed a thick cloth over his arm and gave a short, high-pitched whistle. Moments later, a small pigmy drake swooped down and landed on his outstretched arm. Sharandra gave a small squeak of excitement. The corner of the waiter's mouth curled ever so slightly in amusement as he gave an order in draconic, "drisch," and pointed to the custard dish.
The dragon gave a knowing snort and let forth a small jet of blue flame with all its might. It was just enough to glaze the sugar topping. The tiny drake looked up imploringly at the waiter who chuckled and scritched its back just between its wings. The drake gave a subtle shiver before looking at Sharandra and extending its neck. Sharandra glanced at the waiter eagerly and reached halfway. The waiter gave a warm smile and nodded. Sharandra reached out and gently itched the dragon where the waiter had done so. The drake made a sound somewhere between a purr and a sigh and rubbed its scaly head against her wrist. Sharandra watched wide-eyed in amazement as the tiny beast huffed a satisfied puff of smoke and flew off somewhere toward the roof of the bistro. The waiter gave a polite half-bow and returned to his duties.
It didn't take long before the creme brulee was all but gone. Sharandra leaned back in her chair savoring the last bite when she heard a voice calling out from somewhere in the crowd, "Arianna? Arianna, where have you gone off too?"
An older woman in unmistakable royal robes was making her way through the ruckus of the city in the general direction of the bistro. Recognizing the voice of her tutor, Sharandra - Arianna - quickly swallowed her last bite and made her way to get lost in the crowd. A hand caught her arm firmly from behind. The faun host glanced toward the calling voice and then back at Arianna.
Desperate to leave, she tried to explain, "I'm sorry, I just don't ever get out of the castle because I'm busy studying month after month to become a court wizard and I only get to see the outside for field study or research and today is the Summer's Eve Festival and there's so much to see but Madam Fillistra," she glanced toward the voice, "wouldn't let me go so I snuck out and I just want a few more hours to see the city and..."
The faun raised a hand and interrupted Arianna. "The creme brulee is twenty-five rupees." He let go of her arm and held out his hand.
"Oh, of course!" Arianna dug through her robes and pulled out a five and two ten pieces.
She turned to run but the faun called out after her, "And please..." Arianna turned back with a sheepish look across her face, "do come back again, Miss Sharandra." The faun winked and turned back to his book.
Arianna smiled wide and shouted back, "I will!" before running off into the sights and sounds of the festival.