You’re Looking at a Winner!
Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Where does that come from exactly? Who says, “I am awesome. I’m going to treat myself to the most common, boring food I can think of. I know: chicken!”
Don’t get me wrong. I like chicken, but I eat it at least once a week. Often, more than once, in a variety of forms. For a celebration dinner, I’m thinking more steak or mussels…
Anyway, I digress. Ahem.
Announcing the winner of the Houston Writers Guild Spring Contest in the sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal category: me! When my name was called, I jumped up and rushed to collect the certificate before they changed their mind. My limbs tingled as I walked back to my seat.
No, this does not mean that I’ve made it. No, it is not a contract and will not be published anywhere…yet. What this win tells me is that I am not crazy, that I can do this. It’s a push to keep me motivated, to not give up, to keep plugging away at the keyboard.
The HWG April Conference this weekend “entertained, educated, and motivated” as Christie Craig would say. I’ll fill you in on later posts. Right now I’ve got to finish my short story on Las Vegas to submit for publication.
I won the contest for Gabriella and Periwinkle, a fantasy about a girl and a dragon. This will be the second book I write after I finish Tarbin’s True Heir. Instead of suggesting a book to read this time, I offer the beginning of this new adventure. Enjoy!
Gabriella Talbot thanked the farmer who kindly gave her a ride in his wagon. The wisp of a girl, no more than ten years old, stood before her favorite live oak tree amongst the dozens of oaks, sycamores and long leaf pines lining the road into Heidel, her hometown.
Gabriella’s father, Rex Talbot, owned the only inn in town. The young girl heard many adventurous tales from the bards, dwarves and knights who frequently spent a night in Heidel on their way to bigger places. The innkeeper’s daughter loved her life. Hearing the tales told by the temporary residents satisfied her meager portion of wanderlust.
Yesterday, her friends scampered up the branches of the oak behind the Heidel Inn to climb onto the roof. When Gabriella refused to follow their lead, the children took up chants, calling her a coward. Today, she was going to climb. Standing on the dirt road, Gabriella estimated the live oak tree at four times the height of the two story inn.
The determined young girl knotted her skirt on her right hip to allow free movement of her legs. She tied her light, almost white, hair at the nape of her neck. Gazing up into the dense collection of branches, Gabriella wondered if the upper branches would hold her weight as easily as the collection of chatting black birds staring at her. She studied the best way to start her climb, her lips pursed and grey eyes squinted in concentration.
The kids teasing Gabriella mistook her hesitation for fear. The sensible girl never acted spontaneously. She needed to plan out how she would get up the tree and how she would get back down again. Gabriella wished her first climbing experience to be with the tree she loved most. The ancient live oak would not allow her to come to harm. Gabriella did not know why she felt secure around this particular tree, but she chose to trust her instincts.
Route sketched out in her mind, Gabriella approached her conquest flexing her arms with nervous energy.
A heavy thud resonated behind the young girl sending the blackbirds noisily fleeing from the tree. Gabriella froze midstride. She felt a blanket of silence envelop the forest, quieting the cicadas and finches that were chirping a second ago. She knew she had to turn around, but her body refused to cooperate.
Warm air brushed her back, sending her hair and skirt forward with the wind. An unidentifiable odor filled her senses, a bit of salt with a touch of metallic. She wanted to run, but she was paralyzed.
“Hungry.” One terrifying word assaulted Gabriella’s senses. She slowly pivoted.
Gabriella’s eyes grew to saucers as they witnessed the image before her. A beast twice the size of a horse with glimmering purplish, blue scales crouched on the clay packed road. The spiked tale almost the length of the rest of the body swished back and forth. A set of wings, folded neatly on the back, slightly masked the spikes trailing along the beast’s backbone. Its long neck extended a serpent-like head with one horn above each grey eye. Gabriella found herself staring into the eyes of a blood thirsty, human predator.
“Dragon.” She exhaled the word as she released her breath.
“Human,” said the dragon. Gabriella could not tell if the dragon was mocking or threatening.
“Are you going to eat me?” asked the young girl.
“Hungry,” replied the dragon taking one step closer. It nudged her apron pockets with its warm snout. Gabriella suppressed a scream as sweat popped up on her skin from the heat of the dragon’s head.
“I would not be tasty.” Gabriella pleaded with the beast wondering if it was too late to change her mind and run.
The dragon rolled over on its side exposing its underbelly submissively. “Please, hungry.”
Gabriella reached out with her shaking hand to pat the top of the dragon’s head. The beast nudged her flesh gently with no sign of aggression. The girl realized this dragon must be young. It was acting like a puppy, not a vicious killer. Her experience with dragons was limited to the tales she heard which described dragons to be as big as turrets, able to swallow whole armies. Bards did live on hyperbole. She never knew what to believe.
“What do you eat?” asked Gabriella, taking a step back in case the dragon decided she looked tasty after all. An image of a lamb popped into Gabriella’s mind causing her world to spin a bit. Where did that come from?
“Lamb favorite,” repeated the dragon rolling over onto its strong limbs, hinged like a horse but with massive claws at the ends instead of hooves.
“I don’t know if I can…” Before Gabriella could finish, the dragon scampered up the live oak tree hiding in the branches. “Where are you going? I very well cannot feed you up there.”
“Who are you talking to, young miss?” asked a deep voice. Gabriella wondered if something mysterious would pop up behind her every time she looked at the tree. Tired of the interruptions, she turned around immediately.
A young knight in full armor minus the helmet sat astride a large, black warhorse. Beside him rode his squire holding a green banner with a castle on it. Gabriella recognized the symbol as the King’s. She curtsied, as required of a servant of the King to one of his guards.
“I have a fondness for trees, Sir Knight,” answered Gabriella, head still bowed. The knight smirked derisively.
“I was told there was an inn in Heidel. Can you tell me how much farther I must travel to arrive?”
“It is but an hour along the road, Sir Knight.” Gabriella wondered if she should ask for assistance with the dragon. “What brings a King’s Knight to our little town? I have heard the brave men that protect the King only leave his side for dangerous missions.”
“The King has demanded a baby dragon,” replied the Knight, holding his head up with pride. “The Knights cornered one but had to kill the mother first.”
The branches at the top of the oak tree trembled. The squire stared up at the branches then down at the girl then back again. The Knight, lost in his heroic tale, noticed nothing.
“During the battle, the wee dragon escaped. He flew in this direction. Some of the Knights lay in a Monastery recovering from their wounds. Those of us who fought well enough to escape harm are following his trail.”
Gabriella saw the squire roll his eyes at the last statement. The Knight’s armor showed no signs of scorch marks or teeth indentations. Gabriella imagined this Knight stayed much out of the fray.
“Have you seen a baby dragon fly in this direction?” asked the Knight, oblivious to his squire’s disrespect.
“No, Sir Knight. A sighting of that kind would surely be the talk of the town.” Gabriella felt the need to protect the young dragon rather than hand it over to the nefarious intent of the King.
“Yes, I suppose it would be to a tiny hamlet in the outskirts of the kingdom.” The Knight steered his horse back on the road toward Heidel. “If you see anything unusual, report it to me at the inn.”
“Yes, Sir Knight.” Gabriella watched the Knight head down the road. The squire studied the tree one more time before following his master. The young girl waited until the two travelers passed the curve in the road. Feeling exposed, she left the path moving to the back of her tree.
“You can come down now.” Gabriella tried to sound soothing to the obviously terrified baby dragon. She sat on an outcropping of granite to seem as non-threatening as possible.
The dragon crept slowly down the trunk of the tree, jumping down the last 15 feet. It crawled to the young girl resting his head on her lap curling the rest of his body around the granite.
“Mommy,” the dragon said. Deep sadness overwhelmed Gabriella as she remembered losing her mother. The girl tried to comfort the dragon by petting its neck, careful not to get her sleeves caught on its spikes. “You lost mommy, too?”
“How did you know that? I didn’t say anything…” Gabriella realized the dragon had been talking in her mind the whole time. It sent images and words in a mix of emotions, no vocal communication at all. How had she missed that?
“Can you read my mind?” Gabriella thought without speaking.
“Mouth opening for eating and fire. Images for thinking.” The dragon explained to Gabriella as if everyone knew this fact. That must be why it was so afraid of her when she first said something on the road.
“Did you think I was going to eat you?” thought Gabriella.
“Mouth open. You eat.”
Gabriella hugged the little dragon and kissed its forehead. No, not ‘it’, ‘he’ she realized. If she opened her mind, she could see more images the dragon tried to send her.
“Humans communicate with their mouths. We can’t hear each other’s thoughts.”
“Sometimes, it is.” Gabriella imagined communicating by thought would end a lot of misunderstandings. “Do you have a name?”
“Name.” The dragon showed an image of himself.
“Humans have to be called something that represents us as a whole. We cannot draw a picture of the person we’re referring to every time we want to talk about someone. Mine is Gabriella.” She brought up an image of herself for the dragon, then thought of her name.
“Now what should I call you?” Gabriella studied the animal before her trying to find something fitting. “Periwinkle. That’s what color you are. How about Periwinkle? Do you like it?”
“Too long,” thought the dragon.
“Okay, how about Wink?” The picture of the dragon looking at her and winking with his right eye won him over.
“Wink!” The dragon sat up and winked at the girl, clearly pleased with her suggestion. He fell back down on all four legs. “Still hungry.”
“The only place I know to get lamb is Shepherd Ringe’s pastures. It’s on the edge of the forest. Maybe you can stay undercover and I can bring a lamb to you?” Gabriella offered.
“Lamb favorite,” reiterated the young dragon.
“It’s quite a walk from here. And we’ll have to stay off the roads. We can’t risk you being spotted by the wrong people.”
Gabriella saw an image of the dragon soaring through the clouds. “Well, you may be able to fly, but I can’t.”
Wink sent her another vision with her riding on his back, immediately in front of his wings, with her hair and skirts blowing in the wind and a huge smile on her face. Gabriella felt a stone in her stomach at the thought of the height from the ground. She changed the image to her clinging for dear life, but slipping anyway, tumbling to the ground. Wink maneuvered himself underneath her descent catching her. The girl understood Wink was trying to communicate that she would love it and he would keep her safe.
Gabriella stared at the oak tree behind the dragon. Were her friends right? Was she a coward? Her gaze fell back on the dragon who stretched his wings to their full width, at least twice the size of his body. Wink bent his front legs to give Gabriella a mount. The girl rode horses bareback since she could remember. How different could this be? The dragon, seeing the hesitation in her mind, winked at her.
Gabriella laughed. She climbed up Wink’s right leg, grasping a spike at the base of his neck, and swung her legs over. She found a comfortable spot between two spikes in front of the wings at what would be the withers of a horse.
Gabriella wondered how she would tell the dragon where to go. “Think path. I follow.” Wink explained. The girl closed her eyes and clung to two spikes on the dragon’s neck. Her thighs gripped with all the strength she could muster. She thought about the tree line leading to Shepherd Ringe’s pasture, but she did not know what it looked like from above. That detail did not seem to bother Wink. He began to flap his wings sending the musty smell of the leafy ground cover into the air. The rough take off forced Gabriella to abandon the spikes. Choosing to hug the dragon’s neck, she wrapped her arms all the way around its circumference.
“Breathe.” Gabriella loosened her grip only enough to allow Wink to breathe normally.
“Stay close to the trees, Wink. We don’t want anyone to spot you.” Gabriella cautioned. The girl found, to her dismay, she had to open her eyes to keep sending course corrections to Wink.
After a few minutes in the air, the young girl felt exhilarated by the wind in her hair, free in a way she never imagined. She loosened her grip on Wink’s neck, choosing to go back to holding the spikes. The dragon returned the image of Gabriella riding Wink with a huge smile on her face. “Is that dragon for ‘I told you so?’” asked Gabriella sensing mirth in her mount.
Reaching their destination, the dragon landed right behind the fence of a two acre pasture. He bowed, allowing a quick dismount for his rider. Gabriella showed Wink an image of the trees to demonstrate where he should wait for her. The dragon walked to the tree line, tail swishing back and forth with his gait. As soon as Gabriella could not see his shiny scales, she climbed the fence to chase down a lamb from the herd. The sheep had scurried to the other side of the pasture when the dragon approached, making the girl’s thievery that much harder.
More to come soon! Meanwhile, read more books!