I’ve always found it funny how Tellers are never wrong.
My best friend’s older sister, Kyteari, was Told when she was nine. She was Told she would become a dragonrider; which everyone laughed at, because dragonriders must be unwed, untouched, unbound, virgin, clean, free; and Kyt was long since betrothed to the Duchess of Aolderen’s secondborn son. Even as her parents laughed the Telling off, there was uncertainty in their eyes, but they laughed nonetheless. “Preposterous,” they said. “A dragonrider, our daughter? Never.”
And then Kyt was seventeen, and she’d been a dragonrider for twenty-two months. The Duchess’ son married a Lheffo girl, and his mother tried to make it look like it was supposed to be that way all along.
The betrothed always find a way of messing things up, they do.
My parents never bothered to seek out my match. My mum got visited by a Teller before I was born. She’d go into labor in just a few days, but at that moment, she was in the washroom, soaking her feet in hot water. When the Teller appeared, Mum quite literally knocked the water over in her shock, but didn’t dare call someone to clean it up. The Teller locked the door and turned back to Mum. Small, brown, and winged, it made several revolutions around her, studying her large belly and muttering contemplative “Hm”s from time to time. Mum just sat there, terrified. She had three other children who’d never had run-ins with Tellers, and she hoped I would be the same. Of course, she was wrong, as they all are.
Finally, the Teller stopped buzzing around and hovered in front of my Mum’s midsection. “It’s a male,” the Teller told her. Mum, of course, was relieved; my three older siblings are all female. The Teller continued, “He will help to restore the kingdom to its former glory and old-fashioned customs, but this transformation will come at a price. He will begin when he is eighteen, and no one will be ready for him.” The Teller fixed its ever-seeing eyes on Mum. “Not even you.” And just like that, the Teller disappeared.
Mum took a deep breath as soon as it was gone--she hadn’t dared move since it began speaking--and sighed. Hardly anyone was ever glad for Tellings, even if they seemed remarkably fortunate, because Tellers had a way of twisting words and events to make the seemingly best things happen in horrible ways. Nevertheless, Mum was relieved that the Teller didn’t predict, say, that I’d be the downfall of the kingdom. And going back to the old ways--who wouldn’t want that?
January 5, Q/0/Y3, 6:35 AM, Enchtean Central City Time
I awoke with a start, shivering. The fireplace was black and cold. I slipped out of bed, went to the window, and drew back the curtains.
The view was spectacular, as always. The sun was just beginning to rise. Our estate, full of well-tended gardens, plazas, fountains, stables, and courtyards extended for a few miles around the house, then gave way to snow-covered fields, where in spring and summer the farmers planted their crops. To my right was the village, to the left, the pine forest, and far, far off in the distance ahead, the Cyan Mountains stood, jagged and grey.
I rubbed my hands together and watched my breaths in the cold air. If you looked closely, you could see patches of yellow all around the mountains, which is where the dragonriders lived. Small flickers of orange came in spurts, surrounded by white, the fire of the great winged beasts as the riders practiced their craft. I wondered if Kyt was one of the few up this early, spurring her dragon on, her face red in the intense cold of those altitudes.
Someone knocked at my door. “Jasequim? Lord Jasequim, are you awake?” a woman’s voice asked softly.
I shook my head and turned again to the window. After a moment, I heard footsteps retreating.
I needed to get away. This was undoubtedly the first of many instances that I’d be bothered with throughout my day. Now that my eighteenth birthday was approaching in less than a month, every waking moment was filled with ceaseless attention to make sure that I’d “restore the kingdom to its former glory.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
Quickly, I got dressed in warm clothes, my outfit completed by knee-length boots, gloves, and a long, warm green cape over my button-up tunic and trousers. I opened my door a crack and peered both ways down the dark, empty hall. In a flash, I was out of my room and making my way down the corridors to one of the back doors. I exited quietly and stepped into the early morning air.
I’d remembered correctly; I came out just behind the stables. I wrinkled my nose at the smell and entered through a back door here, as well. I walked throughout the stables, looking for one of my horses--in particular, Breayn. I found her without difficulty, fitted her with tack, and led her quietly out. Once under a tall tunnel of leaves and ferns, I mounted and rode to the edge of the estate, staying under cover whenever possible.
Once in the fields, I was an open target, obvious as a bloodstain on a pure white garment. However, I was far away enough from the house that I hoped if anyone glanced out the window, they wouldn’t recognize me.
Breayn and I rode through the field, barely feeling its shallow furrows in the hard, frostbitten dirt. My cloak billowed behind me, and I felt the front pin to make sure it was latched. I urged my horse on, and she galloped faster, faster by the second, away from the royal family’s mansion.
That is, mine.
I don’t know how long we trekked through the endless snow. I felt the cold, but didn’t acknowledge it. Anything has so much less power over you if you just refuse to give in.
At least, that’s my theory.
Eventually, we slowed to a trot, then stopped completely. Breayn bent her head to shuffle her nose around in the snow, and I realized with a pang that she probably hadn’t had breakfast. To be fair, though, neither had I.
I heard a faint flapping sound, as if something large and thick were being rapidly paddled through the air. I looked up, and Breayn did too, just in time to see a dragon fast approaching.
Breayn froze for one split second, then bolted.
I didn’t bother trying to make her stop; I just hung on and prayed we wouldn’t die. The wind snatched my cape away and I didn’t look back, continuing to cling to Breayn’s neck. The whooshing sound became louder by the second.
And suddenly, the dragon dropped down right in front of us.
Breayn skidded to a stop and reared, nearly throwing me. Ordinarily, I’d wonder how such a professionally trained horse could be acting this way, but dragons had a way of making everyone panic.
I assessed the beast. It was normal dragon-size and deep purple, and terrifying even though I’d seen plenty of dragons before. Not this close, though. Not unchained.
I patted the side of Breayn’s neck, trying to get her to calm down, and wondered if it’d be worth it to run, when I heard a laugh.
Somehow, this scared me almost as much as the dragon had. Every muscle in my body tensed, waiting for the worst. Who was laughing? Why? Were they going to kill me?
“I’m not going to kill you,” a voice informed me, the edges of each word laced with humor.
“That’s exactly what a murderer would say,” I replied. The dragon pawed the ground and spat a bit of fire into the snow. It shriveled to reveal the damp brown ground beneath.
The speaker laughed again, their--her?--source hidden behind the dragon’s large head. “So you’re a skeptic, eh?”
There was only one person I knew who said that.
“Kyt?” I asked incredulously.
There was a moment of startled silence. “Jase?” she called out haltingly.
I fumbled out of the stirrups, landed on the ground, and launched myself up just as Kyt’s head appeared from behind the dragon’s arm. We ran towards each other, smacked chests in some attempt at a frenzied embrace, and spun around a few times before falling, laughing, in the snow.
“I can’t believe it’s you,” I exclaimed, sitting up and pushing the hair out of my eyes. I studied her as she came up with a response.
She seemed so much taller, and freer, and more beautiful, then when I’d last seen her. Dark brown hair fell in thick waves far past her shoulders. Her eyes were an auburn-hazel color, wide open and alert. Freckles were spread brightly across her cheeks, despite the fact that it was the dead of winter. She looked almost like a foreigner--so different from what she used to be.
Kyt laughed and gathered her hair over one shoulder. She looked at me. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you! What, two years?”
I nodded. “Yeah. You left when you were fifteen.”
Kyt made a face. “Seems like forever ago.” She tilted her head like a dog. “Well, you’ve certainly changed. Have I?”
I felt heat creep into my cheeks, and I tried to will the blush away, hoping she hadn’t seen it. What does she mean? Good change? Bad? I pretended to look her over, like I hadn’t just been doing so. “From fifteen-year-old you? Yeah, I’d say.”
Kyt shrugged and crossed her legs. “How old were you, then?”
I thought back. “Sixteen, right? I’m less than a year older.”
Kyt nodded. “I forget how close we are. It seems like so much more of a gap.”
I ignored the snow’s wetness seeping through the seat of my pants and frowned. “What do you mean?”
The question seemed to take her by surprise. Kyt glanced over at her dragon, who was now lying down, an expression of seeming boredness in its face. Breayn was shifting nervously a few feet from my right.
Finally she replied, “You just seem so much older, I guess. With your Telling, and all, of…” Kyt avoided my eyes. “Well, you know. You’re the Prince. You’re supposed to bring back the kingdom’s old ways, and all. I never…” She sighed. “It’s just that that’s not really…” She trailed off again.
“Well, I haven’t done anything, yet,” I reminded her. “I’m still not eighteen.” Looking closely at her face, I still sensed unrest. “What’s wrong? What were you going to say?”
Kyt looked off to the side, hiding her face with a long curtain of hair. “I just don’t want that for you,” she said in a small voice.
I frowned at her, though she couldn’t see. “What? Why?”
Kyt looked back at me, her eyes shifting nervously. “It didn’t used to be like this, Jase. This life is wonderful for me, and I love it, more than anything.” She gestured towards the mountains. “But I remember how it used to be. When Treptohn and I weren’t in lessons, we’d come over, and play, and laugh with each other. You just seem so much more serious now. And your Telling--” She bit her lip. “Probably no one but me thinks this, but it’s bad, Jasequim; it’s really bad. Have you ever thought of what the ‘old ways’ and your ‘ancestral traditions’ means? Not a hundred years ago, dragonriders were sentenced to death as witches and sorcerers. And girls, and women, like me…” She sighed. “We’ve made so much progress over the history of the country, and we’ve done so much, but going back to the way things were would make us lose our footing faster than anything else could. Did you know that as recently as T/9/Y1, Tellers wouldn’t visit females because we ‘weren’t worthy’ to be Told?” Kyt looked at me pleadingly. “There are so many other examples of how far this country has gotten, and how going back would mean almost a death sentence for so many. I really thought I was past begging, but it turns out I’m not, so Jase--” She stared at me. “You don’t have to do this. You can still break free.”
I’ve always found it funny how Tellers are never wrong.
This time, it’s my turn to look away. “You should understand better than anyone, Kyt. Tellers are always right. There’s no getting out of it.”
Kit narrowed her eyes, examining my expression. “Isn’t there, though?”
January 5, Q/0/Y3, 7:15 AM, Enchtean Central City Time
I screamed and held tighter around Kyt’s waist.
She laughed and urged the dragon on, faster, with words I didn’t understand. “Having fun?” she yelled back to me, her words nearly lost in the wind.
I gripped her tighter and wondered why she didn’t have a second set of stirrups.
“We’re almost there!” Kyt shouted, and a few moments later, the dragon skidded to a stop. I cracked open one eye, then another, and saw that we were at the very top of one of the Cyan Mountains’ peaks. The dragon took up most of the small plateau. Kyt unharnessed herself and pulled me off its scaley back. We stood only a few feet from the edge.
I looked down, and immediately regretted it. We were so far off the ground I wasn’t sure any measurements even reached this high. I breathed deeply, trying to intake some amount of oxygen in the thin air. The estate was a mere brown speck in the distance.
Kyt laughed--she seemed to be fond of doing that--and combed her hair over her shoulder, loosening the tangles and knots. “Pretty great, eh?” she asked, taking in the view. “I come up here every morning.”
“Yeah, great,” I managed weakly, sinking into a sitting position.
Kyt sat down beside me and dangled her legs over the edge. “So how’s life?”
I thought. “Stressful. And boring, at once, somehow. I’m hardly allowed to leave the house, and my Telling is supposed to come true any day.” I remembered what she’d said about that and quickly asked, “What about you?”
Kyt smiled and glanced back at her dragon. “I don’t know how I lived without this. This is the best life anyone could ever ask for. I just wish…” She made a sweeping gesture with her arm, indicating the inhabitants below. “They don’t know what they’re missing.” She looked at me and cocked her head. “You’re bored, eh? Would you like to change that?”
January 31, Q/O/Y2, 12:03 AM, Enchtean Central City Time
We stood on a mountain peak separating our country from the one bordering it. Morjlay, it was called. Everything below was dark, and everything above, brilliant. The stars, which I’d grown accustomed to seeing every night, seemed to be brighter than they ever had before.
I thought back on the last few weeks. Every day or night was something different, an adventure; but no matter what it held, I spent it with Kyt. Without even saying a word, she’d changed my mind on so many things; and when she did speak, her influence was all the more powerful. I was convinced that my destiny could be changed--Tellers were never wrong, but they were, this time. I didn’t have to be who they said I would become. I could change my future. I could twist my fate.
Kyt turned towards me. I looked at her out of my periphery. Her lips were slightly parted, and she looked otherworldly in the harsh moonlight; half of her face was illuminated, half of it in dark grey shadow. There was something in her eyes I’d never seen before. Almost like--longing?
Kyt glanced back at her dragon, who was sleeping several meters away from us. She bit her lip and stared at her hands, twisting nervously in her lap. Then, slowly, she leaned forward and kissed me. “Happy birthday, Prince Jase,” she whispered. “Define your own destiny.”
And in that moment, I believed that I could.
January 31, Q/O/Y2, 4:20 PM, Enchtean Central City Time
Breayn and I stand on a hill overlooking the village. Screams drift up to us, accompanied by sounds of clashing metal, collapsing wood, splashing water. To my left, the Cyan Mountains are on fire. Faint colorful shapes spiral through the air amidst the flames. The world is so loud, but somehow, inside myself, it is quiet.
Breayn whinnies uncertainly. I turn her around and glance at the forest, then the mansion. Glass breaks and more people sceam. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something small, brown, and winged crouched in a tree at the edge of the estate. It catches sight of me and disappears.
I look again at the mountains, and I see--I think--a small flash of purple, for one second. Then it disappears into flickers of red, orange, and black. I think back over what’s happened in the past fifteen hours and smile.
I’ve always found it funny how Tellers are never wrong.