Artwork by Madame Thenadier
“Why are you still here?” B’frona asked when no one else was near. You have to find your brother! And why are you twitching in that ridiculous manner?”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Gina replied, “and I dance like this when I’m thinking. I have a plan.” She was being tailed by a retinue of volunteers who’d fought over the right to carry the one hundred-plus gifts she’d received. She’d settled it by sagely suggesting each carry only one items, thus allowing as many people as possible the honor of serving her.
She was utterly infatuated with the cobbley, vine-draped Rennou and its handsome, earnest people. She wanted to be their dragonmeer, wanted to be their warrior princess! And why not? She could do it all! Yes, she would find Zack and return to Middleton. But she would also live in Rennou—important people always had homes in more than one place. It was her destiny!
“I could never find Zack by myself,” she told B’frona, “but as Dragonmeer I can send people all over Ismara to search for him, and you can be my Assistant Dragonmeer!”
“I would rather eat my own feces.”
Gina did not hear this remark because the crowd was abuzz about Dragonmirth, the great celebration that would begin in just two hours. “So, this is where I’ll live?” She gestured toward the Dragon Manse.
“Of course,” B’frona sneered. “Are you not ‘the amazing girl knight’ who has broken the curse?” He left without another word.
Gina inspected every corner of her palace, trailed by her dragon whelp Puff, who made it his duty to lick each graven beastie and painted flower. The volunteer brigade of pink-cheeked girls and red-blooded boys distributed the gifts as they went: platters of shrennel-bread, pots of nectair, plaited herbs, satiny capes and bejeweled stomachers, truncheons, swords, daggers and shields!
The heart of the Dragon Manse was its two-floor armory. It was lined with weapons, a veritable Gold’s Gym for knights. One long shelf was filled with artificial limbs made of wood, leather, and hammered rivets. Why would I need these? Gina wondered. She heard two of her volunteers drooling over the weapons: “Rauéill! This must be the finest two-headed ax in all Frenga!” “Yes, and I could wreak glorious havoc with such a mace!”
“Ahhh, mmmm…!” Gina concurred, fingering a lethal looking lance. “And this is the best, um, one of these I’ve ever seen!”
Rennou’s first Dragonmirth in three quarters of a century began two hours later! Glowing lanterns were strung throughout the Marketplace. Children ran back and forth across the Great Porch, fleeing in mock terror from Puff’s sulphured-plum burps, which always ended in colorful showers of sparks. Elders tilted tankards of toogle and celebrated the days ahead when Rennou would once again burst with commerce.
Gina learned to do the utreánn, an addictive dance that began as a series of hops, then exploded into a whirlwind of kicks, and culminated in the hurling of a lucky girl (Gina every time) into the arms of a dozen laughing boys! “I’m never going to stop doing this!” she screamed.
The only sour moment came when Artifíga, the dour boy who’d taunted B’frona earlier, caught her left foot, bit off one of her monster slipper claws, and then, flashing his rotting gums, whispered, “I promise not to tell.”
It was nearly dawn when Gina dragged herself up the magnificent lespinwood staircase to the Manse’s top floor. She giggled and stumbled, falling on purpled knees. By holding onto Puff’s tail she managed to arrive at her bedchamber, and collapsed on top of the massive featherbed, her head on Puff’s belly, his tail draped protectively across her legs.
Her sleep was unperturbed until late morning when her unconscious mind was invaded once again by the figure in the heavy cloak and violet-gold helmet. He came close, secret-sharing close. For the first time Gina could see the intricate zodiacal etchings in the helmet’s surface and the fire inside its numinous gems. She could see his sad, beautiful eyes as never before. And then, for the first time, he spoke:
Thoughts: Have you ever experienced a pampered retreat from everyday life and longed to live that way forever? Who would you be now if you had?
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