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Servants bustled around Scarlet, preparing her for the night ahead. Lively dance music drifted up to her from the ballroom below exciting her ladies. The young girls giggled as they bustled around the room chatting amongst themselves. Scarlet, usually more than willing to engage in their idle chatter was silent, her thoughts elsewhere tonight. She watched with a critical eye as they dressed her in her finest silk gown, designed just for this occasion. The dress, layered with purple and gold fabrics, displayed her wealth elegantly. The corset shrank her trained waist and pushed up her bodice, and the skirts hung elegantly yet modestly about her hips and legs. One of the servants, a young girl no older than 13 struggled with the princess wild red curls. The girls heart shaped face was contorted into a scowl as she wrangled a particularly disobedient curl into place behind Scarlet’s jeweled tiara. The music below changed to another dance, reminding her of her obligation and bringing her attention back to today’s significance.
The commotion around her, usually so familiar now made her anxious. Every step or sigh, or laugh of one of her servants grated on her nerves and shortened her temper. She took a deep breath, as deep as her corset would allow, recomposing herself; princesses didn’t lose their temper. A servant brought her her jewelry box, and asked what she wanted to wear. She thought hard, every detail had to fit today, she couldn’t afford to slip up. She chose earrings of amethyst ringed in gold, and hairpins to match. She almost chose a ring, but thought better of it. Just before the girl walked away to prepare the jewels Scarlet spied something in the back of the box.
“Wait,” She called.
She reached into the box and pulled out a pendant on a delicate gold chain. The pendant glinted in the candlelight, well polished by use and age.
“This too.” She said, marking a suspicious glance from the servant.
The pendant had been her mother’s prized possession. According to her father, she wore it every day, for every occasion. She thought of how her mother must have felt, leaving her home to marry a stranger. Putting the pendant on, she felt closer to her, despite never having known her.
There had been a painting of her mother and father in the great hall as she grew up, and that oil on canvas made up much of what little Scarlet knew about her mother. Her daughters had inherited their mother’s wild red curls, a trait unique to the crown family of Nazar (And now Stedor.) Behind her soft eyes, Scarlet always thought she could see a mischievous sparkle, but that may have just been the painter’s touch.
The music downstairs changed to a slower tune, a slight reprieve to give the guests a chance to drink and talk. She looked herself over critically, not wanting to miss a stray lock or loose ribbon. Her corset hugged her body closely, giving her an attractive shape. Her jewelry glinted in the candlelight of her room, finishing the look. She looked perfectly the part, and why not? Every day of her life had been leading to this moment. She waved off her servants and prepared to face her future. Another careful look at herself in the mirror to ensure every lace was tied, every ribbon secure, every hair in place. A few slight adjustments and she sighed, she couldn’t hide up here any longer. She moved to the door, her slow steps more fitting with a dirge than the light music actually present. Before she could reach the handle, however, her sister burst through.
“Scarlet!” She admonished, “What are you still doing up here? It is your party you know.”
Isabella looked very much like Scarlet, as twins often do, but there was something a little more wild about her. Her curls came away from her sloppily pinned style. Her skirts were crooked, and her stockings were drooping. Scarlet sighed and smiled a bit, she could always count on her sister to lighten her mood.
“Have you been dancing or wrestling? Goodness sakes girl, look at you!” Scarlet said, beginning to straighten her sister out.
“Don’t change the subject, Scarlet, you can’t stall any longer.”
“I’m not stalling, Izzy. Don’t be silly,” she said scoffing, but averting her eyes.
“Liar. I saw him you know. He’s terribly handsome. He has these dark piercing eyes that seem to look right through you. He’s burly too, with this dark hair and-“
“Izzy please!” Scarlet said harshly, harsher than she meant. “I’m sorry. I just, I’m not sure I’m ready for this, you know?” She finished, wringing her hands.
“What? Seriously?” Scarlet thought she heard a touch of anger in her sisters’ voice, but when she looked into her face it was gone. “You’ve been preparing for this your whole life. You’re marrying a handsome prince, you’ll be queen. It’s every little girls’ dream!” Isabella said, grabbing her arms.
“But I’m not a little girl anymore,” Scarlet thought. Instead, she forced a smile, “You’re right. Let’s go.”
She followed her sister out to the grand staircase. Isabella traipsed lightly down the stairs, all cares forgotten in her eagerness to dance again. It’s true that when Scarlet was little she couldn’t wait for this, to marry this man and become queen. As the time for that got closer, however, she felt more and more trapped, her fate closing in around her like a bird in a cage. There was so much she had yet to do with her life. She knew nothing outside her own kingdom, indeed she had only left the city a few times on trips with her father.
Her name and title were announced and she descended the staircase, putting her thoughts aside. Her chin high, and her face a mask of elegance she began her decent. The grim determination that had fueled her first few steps had fallen away, and were now replaced with apprehension. She knew nothing about this man. She had been told that he was stern and strong, like a proper king. She wondered if he would be kind and gentle, if they could truly learn to love one another, or if she was doomed to a life to duty. She had no idea if he liked to laugh, if he was good horseman, what if they had nothing in common. Panic rose in her chest squeezing her lungs even more than the corset and her vision blurred as it threatened to overwhelm her. She placed a shaking hand on the bannister and closed her eyes. She took a few deep breaths before opening them again. The party had turned all eyes on her and she thought she might throw up.
The ball room glistened before her, lavishly decorated in gold and marble. It had been her father’s mother who designed this room, mainly to display the egregious amount of wealth that her husband had accumulated in his reign. Her eyes scanned the crowd, both searching for her betrothed and also hoping she wouldn’t see him. The women were dressed in elegant gowns, the men in intricately embroidered vests. No expense was spared by the guests, and they formed a patchwork sea of silk and glittering jewels. Hundreds of candles suspended from massive chandeliers bathed the room in a warm yellow light, banishing the dark and cold of the night outside. The smell of many perfumes mixed with candle smoke made her head swim slightly. From her position above the room she could see her father, his eyes glistened with pride as he looked at her. Her heart broke at that gaze, she knew she couldn’t disappoint him. She took the first few steps knowing it was for him.
It was only a few steps down when she saw them. Two strangers had entered, unnoticed until now. She froze, knowing who they were. Brothers of Alatian, the god of Prophecy. The brothers were emissaries of the god Alatian, tasked with the care and protection of dragon eggs. When a prophecy was revealed to them they would take the eggs to their destined riders, then take the pair to Rosewood Academy to be trained. The Dragon Riders would then act as guardians of the land, keeping the peace between the kingdoms. The brothers wore black robes with prayers embroidered in silver runes along the hems. They stepped into the room, and a hush fell over the previously jubilant crowd. They followed her gaze and saw them. The crowd began to part, allowing them to pass. Whispers hissed through the crowd, and suddenly she was no longer the center of attention for a moment she could breathe again. The brothers took slow deliberate steps towards the center of the room, right where the staircase ended.
Scarlet’s breath caught in her throat, “They’re here for me.” She realized, or maybe she simply prayed for it. She would be whisked away from all this and free to live a life on her own terms. Her heart raced, hot excitement flashed in her chest while icy fear poured into her stomach. She descended the staircase hurriedly, proper decorum forgotten. They reached the bottom of the stairs at the same time, and one of the Brothers held a letter out to her. She took it slowly, hands still shaking slightly. It was thick yellowed parchment, sealed with red wax bearing an eye, the symbol of Alatain. She carefully broke the seal and unfolded the parchment. It read:
Dear Scarlet Hawthorne,
You have been chosen by the Gods to uphold the peace in this land. Your destiny is tied to the fire dragon Fintan. You will relinquish all titles and be released from any bonds of servitude, or oaths of fidelity. The Brothers will escort you to Rosewood Academy, where you will be trained to harness the magic inside you as well as the martial skills needed to carry out your duties as a dragon rider. May the Gods smile on you.
Head Priest Arman
Headmaster Mathias Bedell
Scarlet re-read the letter. It was brief, but it wasn’t as though there was much else to say, she supposed. In the time it had taken her to read the letter a second time, the brother on her right had produced an egg. The egg was large, the length of her forearm and as big around as her head at least. It was red and flecked with gold, it seemed to dance in the candlelight. She reached out to it, acting on instinct. Something about the egg called to her. She lay her hand delicately on the surface of the egg. It was warm to the touch and seemed to almost hum under her hand. She shifted her grip to take the egg from him. She cradled it gently in her hands, watching in rapt attention as the egg began to shake. She set it down and stepped away, the shaking getting more intense, and small squeaks and scrapes being heard from inside. A crack appeared in the egg and she silently cheered on the small creature inside.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, the crack encircled the egg and the top popped off. A small dragon, about the size of a large house cat, came tumbling out. Its scales were as red as the egg and its eyes as yellow as the candle flames. It coughed, and a small burst of smoke came from its nostrils. Its wings slowly unfurled, reaching nearly twice the size of its body and still covered in a slimy membrane that he began to clean off. “Fintan,” She called, kneeling down to him. He cocked his head slightly and Scarlet was confused. No, she wasn’t confused, he was. The thought was there, in her head, but it was not her own. “Fintan,” She tried again, this time the word was broadcast in her mind. He squeaked and recognition flooded her head. He wobbled unsteadily towards her and she offered her palm. She lifted him slowly as he found a stable perch on her arm, as she did she happened to look up for the first time. She saw the brothers, and past them the room full of partygoers. During Fintan’s hatching they had all seemed to fall away, but there they were. Some looked frightened, some of the older folks seemed almost angry. She held him tightly to her chest, finding comfort in the warmth emanating from him. Her father pushed his way to the front of the crowd. He was a large man, grown fat from the feasting being a king entailed. His purple doublet stretched uncomfortably around his belly and his crown was awkwardly tilted on his head. His face was a shade nearly matching his outfit, the rage nearly ready to explode from within him.
“Father, I-” She began not sure how to explain.
“Upstairs. Now.” He said through clenched teeth.
She bowed her head and carried the small creature up the stairs. She knew this had consequences. She was no longer the heir to the throne, the Kingdoms fate was now uncertain, unless…
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