Image by Sanhanat Suwanwised
The Wishing Map is a full-length fantasy that is being posted episodically at this site. To read the previous episode, click here. To read the entire novel, begin here.
After being celebrated as a hero, Gina was confronted by blackmailers who threatened to expose her unless she shared her newfound wealth with them.
She made one final effort at intimidation: “This is your last chance. Either leave my house or I’ll—”
“Or you’ll what? Make us leave?” Skelljaip asked. “Oh, please do! We hunger to see your legendary battle skills in action!”
“But then,” Artifíga added, taking another step up the stairway, “if by some miracle we should survive, you will share the Dragon Manse with us. Or…” His sallow lip curled. “…we shall lay bare to all the truth, that—”
“OK!” Gina blurted. “I get it, so, I’ll fight you…only not inside because…because it might damage something.” She pointed toward the entrance. Once we’re outside, Puff and I can get away, she thought. Such was her torn strip of a plan, but it was all she had.
“And if we best you?” asked Artifíga.
“If you beat me, you can stay,” she replied with unveiled disgust.
The two grinned and swept their hands toward the door.
Gina bent over, picked up an iron broadsword and leather shield, and began walking toward the doors with nerves of tinfoil. Puff shambled after her, ducking Skelljaip, who made a menacing gesture at him. The little dragon crashed into Gina, knocking her through the open doorway.
Now! Run! Would Puff be able to keep up? He’d only been out of his shell for two days and still had tiny wings and humongous feet, which meant no flying and lots of stumbling. Still, they had to try; in another second Skelljaip and Artifíga would be upon them.
“Run, baby!” She jumped from the threshold to the Great Porch and fell onto her knees, having misjudged the distance in the moonlight. Hearing Skelljaip and spawn coming down the steps behind her, she jumped to her feet, turned and ran toward the outer edge of the Porch, Puff stumbling along beside her. We can do it! There are places to hide in the Marketplace, or maybe a shrennel field. And then in the morning…
She stopped abruptly.
The twenty-three young helpers she’d enlisted earlier that day stood staring in awe at her, the Dragonmeer of Rennou with her sword and shield, and the Dragon himself beside her! “Rauéill! Rauéill!” they cried, as a bevy of well-wishers behind them, parents, siblings and friends, chimed in.
“So…um, hey, you guys!” Gina vamped. “Guess what. It turns out this isn’t the best time after all for—”
“For weapon training?” Artifíga asked as he sauntered toward her, serrated pike in hand. He punctuated his words with jabs: “CAN’T see well eNOUGH to proTECT yourself, PRINcess J’NAH?”
Gina screamed. She lifted the heavy iron sword, but Artifíga batted it out of her hand as if it were a soda straw. “No, no, no, no, no, no,” she moaned, “this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening!” She pulled the shield up in front of her.
“Yes it is, yes it is!” Artifíga burlesqued. He snagged her shield with one of the pike’s jagged teeth and jerked it out of her hands. Gina put a foot behind her and, like a performer in a vaudeville act, tumbled backward over the little dragon.
Artifíga began stabbing the floor just inches from her and Puff. She curled up into a ball, her arms around the hatchling. “Please don’t hurt us!”
Then Artifíga stopped stabbing and started laughing.
Skelljaip was oddly silent. The audience wasn’t laughing either. By the light of the double moon, Gina could see their expressions of… Horror? Disgust? No. Something worse: disappointment. They’d had such hopes for the great girl knight. Such expectations! It was the Mid-Mid Promotion Ceremony all over again!
Gina slowly rose to her feet. “I was just…just showing Artifíga how to, I mean, how not to…” There was no point in going on. Nothing she could say would restore their shattered expectations. “So, um, I guess this isn’t the best time for… I’m just going to…” She turned and shuffled toward the Dragon Manse, tears streaming from her eyes. The tears of a charlatan, the tears of a coward.
“You stupid strutter,” she heard Skelljaip chastise his son as she walked away, “we could have lived in the Dragon Manse! Now we have lost everything!”
Me too, Gina thought, me too.
Thoughts: Have you ever been honored, only to have it stripped away from you?
To read the next episode, click here.
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