April 5, 2008
It’s a strange thing, she thought.

Two boys practiced swordplay in a small clearing, using blunt, wooden staffs.

Do I feel it, or don’t I? Maybe I do feel it. The young girl leaned against the railing skirting the open platform, watching the boys display their skill.

One of them looked up, his golden hair catching the sun, and saw her standing there.

She jumped away, trembling.

“What is wrong, child?” A dragon stood behind her.

“Mama!” She spun around. “I didn’t hear you coming.”

“Did not, Tiriel.” The dragon’s golden eyes showed slight disapproval. “Mind your contractions.”

“I’m . . . I mean, I am sorry, Mama.”

“Better.” She led Tiriel from the high platform edge. “Why did you jump away from the railing, child? It was most ungainly.”

Tiriel lowered her head, embarrassed. “I do not know. Felarof saw me watching him, and I did not want him to see me.” She clenched her fists in frustration. “I cannot stop thinking about him. Everything about him makes me feel strange, in a wonderful way. Why does it?”

The golden-yellow dragon’s tail twitched. “Perhaps you should retire to your chamber, Tiriel. I must speak with Ceralon.” She gave a low, rumbling call.

Tiriel sighed. “Yes, Mama.” She started towards the stairs, but paused as a larger dragon swooped towards the open platform.

“What is it, Vatara?” He looked concerned.

“I am not sure yet, but I think Tiriel has discovered her stronger emotions early.”

“It’s Felarof, isn’t it? I can’t imagine her feeling that way for Aleroc. Don’t get me wrong, Aleroc’s a nice boy, but, you know, definitely not her type.”

Vatara twitched her ears in annoyance. “I wish you would mind your contractions, dear, as well as your use of slang. It is Felarof, if it is anyone at all. Are you quite sure he has a noble parentage?”

“Absolutely,” Ceralon said carelessly.

“This is not a trivial matter, darling.” Vatara stretched her neck to look her husband in the eye. “Their dear Majesties would not be pleased if they found out that we had allowed their daughter to be attracted to a common orphan boy from the country.”

Tiriel had heard enough. She ran up the stairs, sat on a velvety, cushioned stool, and pulled out her journal from an elaborate desk drawer. Dipping her quill in the inkwell, she paused. Dare I write it down? She shrugged aside her doubts and began to write.

Tiriel Mavian
July 23,
In the 57th year of the reign of my father, Kiranor Mavian

I have had the most curious feelings all day. Everything about Felarof I find wonderful. His smile, his laugh, how he talks, and even the way he spins his sword before going into en guarde. I have always admired his eager yet gentle spirit, but now I notice it more than ever. We have been friends for more than five years. Why am I feeling this way now? Vatara said that I might have discovered my deeper emotions early, but I do not think it is early. After all, I am fourteen, and he is nearly seventeen. What if this is love? Is this what it feels like?

Tiriel sprinkled powder over the page to set the ink. I wonder if he will ever feel the same way for me.

A loud, rapid knock sounded outside her room.

She shoved the journal into the drawer and slammed it shut while shouting, “Who is it?”

“It’s me and Aleroc,” answered a familiar voice. “Vatara wanted us to ask you if you wanted to go riding.”

“That would be lovely, Felarof. Please give me a moment.” Tiriel quickly changed into a green riding outfit and tied her long, raven hair back with a matching ribbon. Gliding down the stairs, she spotted Vatara watching her graceful descent with a pleased expression.

“It seems that your lessons on poise have finally been remembered.” She glanced at Tiriel’s attire with appraisal. “The color suits you. Now go have fun, remember to mind your manners, and never sit astride the horse.”

Tiriel gave her a quick curtsey and walked as gracefully and as quickly as possible to where the boys waited with the horses.

Felarof handed her the reins of her beautiful paint mare and, out of courtesy, helped her mount.

Aleroc mounted a skittish, white mare and seemed as eager to start as the horse itself.

Felarof mounted his own horse, a tall, coal-black stallion with a frisky spirit. As soon as Felarof’s hands touched the reins, the horse took off at a trot.

Tiriel steadied herself as her mare pranced beneath her as they started, sensing her excitement. She stroked the paint’s mane to soothe her. Breathing in the sweet, fresh air, Tiriel gazed around. Although she rode often, Tiriel never ceased to marvel at the beautiful forest and the marshes surrounding it. Tall, airy trees towered above her, swaying in the wind. Their leaves floated down like feathers and created a soft, pale green carpet for the horses’ hooves. Birds darted across the path in flashes of color, filling the air with sweet chirps and trills.

Felarof rode ahead, whistling a tune of his own. Suddenly, he halted his horse and twisted to face her.

Tiriel studied his expression. He seemed worried, but also fiercely excited.

“I’ve found a derkinas track.” He strung his bow. “It’s not safe for you anymore. You should go back.”

“I want to come.” Tiriel grinned, eager to throw caution to the wind. “I have never seen a derkinas before.”

Felarof frowned. “You really don’t want to.”

“Why not, Felarof?” Aleroc interrupted. “It’s just to break away from a boring routine. You know that. It’ll be fun!”

Felarof fidgeted nervously. “This is a mistake . . .”

Aleroc had ridden ahead and motioned for them to follow.

Tiriel looked down, fiddling with her reins. He is probably right. It could be dangerous. “If you really think I should go home . . .”

“I’m going to regret this, but I won’t stop you.” Felarof kicked the black stallion into a walk to join Aleroc.

As Tiriel caught up to both of them, she glanced at the ground and saw the tracks, catlike with four inch claws. She shuddered to think of the creature that made them.

Aleroc stayed a few lengths ahead, a wild, adventurous light in his eyes.

Felarof checked his horse to match the paint mare’s pace, keeping an arrow ready. The farther into the forest they went, the tenser he became.

The forest, so peaceful before, seemed sinister. Dead silence had replaced the twittering birds and even the graceful trees could harbor fearsome beasts in their shadows.

Tiriel opened her mouth to speak, but Felarof held a finger to her lips and jerked his head to the right.

She bit her lip in fear.

A dark, cat-like creature darted among the trees. Its yellow eyes glinted savagely as it bared its long fangs.

Felarof turned Tiriel’s face away. “Don’t look at it. We don’t want it to know we’ve seen it.” He spoke softly, not wanting to attract the creature’s attention.

“How long has it been following us?” Tiriel’s voice quavered.

Felarof shrugged slowly. “I noticed it about half a mile ago.” Slipping a hunting knife from his belt, he handed it to her. “Just in case,” he whispered.

The knife felt strange in Tiriel’s hand, and she wished she knew how to use it. She squeezed the weapon tighter to keep her hands from shaking.

At that moment, Aleroc turned his horse. “The tracks turn and head the way we came, but we would have seen it . . .”

The derkinas, startled by Aleroc’s voice, pounced. It knocked Aleroc to the ground, but raced after his fleeing horse instead, tearing at its flanks with long, cruel claws.

Felarof loosed the arrow as the derkinas darted past, but his shot only grazed the tip of its fox-like tail.

It spun around, hissing at him. Ignoring Aleroc’s mare, it hurtled towards Felarof.

Felarof fired again, striking the derkinas’ chest.

The animal screamed and spat, throwing itself against Felarof’s horse.

Felarof fell as the stallion reared and twisted away. He drew another knife and held it towards the hissing creature.

Aleroc snatched up his bow and one of his scattered arrows. He shot it at the derkinas, striking its shoulder.

The creature gave a gurgling scream and dragged itself towards Aleroc as Felarof raised his blade for the final blow.

It collapsed, lifeless.

Tiriel, who had dismounted, hid her face in her horse’s mane to block out the sight. She felt sick and wished she had never come.

Aleroc shouted, “It’s a good thing you held onto your horse, Tiriel. Can we use it to bring the derkinas home? I hear they taste very good . . .”

The next thing Tiriel knew, she was sitting with her head between her knees. Strong hand gripped her shoulders, keeping her upright. She heard Felarof’s voice saying, “Why did you say that, Aleroc? You saw as well as I did that she was about to fall over and then you had to mention eating the thing!”

“It’s true. They do taste good,” Aleroc defended.

“You didn’t have to say it out loud.”

Tiriel stood slowly, fighting a wave of dizziness. She pressed her hand to her head, red with embarrassment. “Did I faint?”

“Yes, you did.” Felarof released her shoulder. “Are you going to be alright?”

“I am fine.” She spotted her horse. “Ugh. You did put that creature on her.”

Aleroc grinned boyishly and rubbed his stomach. “Crunchy and good with ketchup…”

Felarof shrugged apologetically. “I tried calling my horse, but he and Aleroc’s are both probably back home by now.”

“It is alright.” Tiriel took another glance at the cat-like animal, shuddering.

Felarof glanced at the sky. “Can you hear flapping?”

“I can.” Aleroc pointed at two flying figures appearing from across the forest. “There they are!”

Tiriel placed her hand on Felarof’s arm to get his attention.

He flinched slightly, and she pulled away.

“Is it the dragons?” Tiriel asked. “They would be looking for us since your horses went home without riders.”

Ceralon and Vatara folded their wings and plunged into a steep descent. Braking at the last second, they landed beside the three adventurers.

Aleroc held tight to the paint mare’s reins. He had no intention of letting the horse run off with the derkinas.

Ceralon arched his long neck to sniff at the dead creature. “Is this what you’ve all been up to?”

Vatara thrashed her long, thick tail in motherly anger. “I never want any of you to do this to me again. When Aleroc’s horse returned with claw marks all over it, we feared the worst. Do you know the danger you put yourselves in?”

Impudent as always, Aleroc looked up at her with an innocent face. “It attacked us first. What were we supposed to do?”

She shook a claw at him. “If I know you, you leaped for joy at the first sign of the beast. And Tiriel, you should have known better. If anything happened to you, who knows what would become of the royal family. You are the only heir.”

Tiriel could only think about how glad she felt that Felarof was too decent to say I told you so.

A few minutes later, Tiriel gripped the base of Vatara’s wings tightly as the dragon soared over the treetops.

Aleroc and Felarof both rode on Ceralon, who clutched the dead derkinas under his belly. After giving Ceralon a dramatic retelling of their adventure, the boys had persuaded him to do some dives.

Tiriel gazed at Felarof, watching him smile as the rush of wind whipped his hair around his face.

He caught her gaze.

She did not look away. Suddenly, she knew she loved him. Perhaps someday, when they were both older, she would tell him of these feelings.


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