At her hip, Hearthorne groaned, while the dragon-mound reared up its head on its snakelike neck. “So, not only a thief, but an insulting one as well.” Bits of white fire foamed up along the edges of its lips.
Kya’s knees knocked together, and she wanted nothing more than to throw herself on her face and hope dragons had a well-tuned sense of mercy, but the rest of her had gone all stiff from fear, so she stood her ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. It’s just how things are done where I come from.” She frowned even as the words left her lips. That wasn’t quite true. The other plants and insects and animals had never been as preoccupied with names as her keeper and her keeper’s friends had been.
“The second immutable law is that if you wish to know a name, you must earn the privilege.” The dragon leaned its head down until it was only a breath or two away from Kya’s. “And few there are who ever truly earn that honor.”
Hearthorne made a choking noise full of indignation. “That isn’t the second immutable law!”
“No?” the dragon challenged with a mouth full of moonfire and rows of sharp, sharp teeth. “It is like enough that it ought to be.”
Hearthorne puckered a sour face at the dragon before snapping her petals closed and prickling out a few more thorns along her stem.
“Well?” The dragon eyed Kya with a bit too much interest. “Have you nothing to say? An education is an expensive thing, and I’ve given you the benefit of my experience thrice.”
“Thank you,” Kya squeaked, hoping she was observing proper dragonian etiquette.
The dragon snorted. “For a thief, at least you try to be well-mannered.”
“Please,” Kya said, feeling as though she’d been caught in the eye of a particularly curmudgeonly storm, “I didn’t know I was a thief. I’ve only just become a girl, and—“
“Horatio sent you after my apples, did he not?” The dragon huffed another fragrant steam.
Kya dropped her gaze as she felt a blush scorch its way across her cheeks. “He required apples, but he didn’t say I was to steal them.”
The dragon drew back its lips in a terrifying grin. “Oh? He wanted you to come by them honestly, then? That should be infinitely more interesting.”
Kya wanted to point out that he hadn’t said that either, not exactly, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to try the dragon’s temper any more than she already had. Instead, she made a sound that was part noncommittal, part interest, and part question the way her keeper often did when she didn’t seem sure of what to say.
“My apples are the special sort,” the dragon said, gesturing to the apples glowing softly on its back. “And as such, will cost you.”
Kya gulped, but nodded. Of course they would.
“To be fair,” the dragon said in a tone that inferred it did not expect things to be fair at all, “I shall give you three apples in exchange for the correct answer to one question.”
Though she had spent most of her life as a flower, Kya had still overheard enough tales to know to be wary. She glanced at the needle sharp teeth, at the hungry gleam in the dragon’s eye, and shuddered. “And if I answer wrong?”
The dragon laughed a long, low laugh that sounded like crumpled leaves blowing past each other in the wind. It ran a long, pink tongue over its teeth. “It has been a thousand years since last I ate.”
“Oh.” Though the dragon’s answer was fairly standard, it still felt like a jolt to her stomach.
The dragon narrowed its eyes to slits and flared its nostrils. “My question is this: what would you do with the apples?”
“I—“ Kya frowned. Telling the dragon breathing warm vanilla air at her that she would take the apples to the mouse she’d met earlier sounded completely inadequate. She hadn’t missed the fact that the dragon didn’t sleep on anything other than a bit of dull rock. There were no gold or gems or precious things to line its bed. Instead, the apples rested along the ridge of its back, the roots of the tree stretching down, down, down.
You will find the dragon at the heart, Hearthorne had said.
At the heart . . .
Kya’s eyes widened as she hazarded a guess as to why exactly these apples were so special. Why they were worth her passage into the moon’s country, and more.
“The Moon Queen.” She licked her lips, trying to grip the tendril of an answer that was doing its best to slip away. It was only right to pay her respects, after all. Despite the terror pounding away at her heart, she smiled. Horatio the mouse would have approved.
The dragon raised its brow ridge and hissed in anticipation. “You would give all my apples to the Moon Queen?” It had leaned in even closer, its tongue flickering at the corners of its mouth as though it couldn’t wait to see how a girl that was once a flower would taste.
“Just one,” Kya said after a moment’s thought. “And I would tell her it is a gift from you.” The answer felt right, and it was the most true thing she might have said. Never before had she realized just how dear some gifts could be.
“Interesting.” The dragon leaned back a little, considering. “And the other two apples? What would you do with them?”
Kya looked into the gleaming eyes of the what might very well be her doom, and knew the second answer. “I would give them to you. You must be hungry.” The words were pale on her lips, and as she spoke, she was certain of how ridiculous they sounded. Surely if the dragon wanted to eat them, it could have stretched its long neck up and snapped a few from the tree a long time ago. Still, regardless of how foolish her answer might have been, this, too, felt right.
The dragon’s eyes widened big enough to fill the skies, and a choking sound rumbled low in its belly as it made its long trek up the dragon’s throat. Kya braced herself, certain she was just about to find out exactly what moon dragon fire felt like. Her heart withered in her chest at the thought of the bright flames curling round her as she blackened and broke, but she had given her answer and she couldn’t take it back, even if she’d wanted to.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2014 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
Join me next Monday to see if the dragon accepts Kya’s answer to his riddle or if he’s about to get a fairy-sized snack. >:) They’re such a curious thing, apples. A simple fruit on the surface, and yet they have wrecked more havoc than nearly all the other fruits and veggies combined. o.O Why is that, I wonder. #applesinfairytales