Did you think I forgot that today was Fiction Friday? Would I do a thing like that to you? (I plead the Fifth. Or the twenty-fifth, rather.) Yes, I'm in a silly mood. What else is new? And today's story comes, once again, from Trycanta, though from a totally different area of the world, and timeframe, than the first Fiction Friday story.
Many moons ago, I wrote a Trycanta story (mercifully gone now, and anyone who has a copy, keep it to yourself) which included an intriguing red book. This book transported its owner to other worlds and times, not just figuratively, but literally. Is the book in today's short-short that same magical article? You tell me, O readers...
In the corner of a dusty attic in a rundown townhouse stood a careful construction of ancient chairs and thin gray blankets, tucked so neatly behind the piles of broken furniture that it could not be seen from the stairs, which was all the farther the overworked maids or the tired teachers ever came. Inside this construction huddled three girls in scratchy nightgowns, one listening for the sound of footsteps, the second changing the batteries in a flashlight by feel, and the third caressing a thick book bound in red leather.
"Shh!" the listener cautioned, and both other girls froze.
Step, pause, step, pause, step, step, step, came to their ears, and all three girls let out a sigh of relief. The fourth person in their little conspiracy had invented a number of different patterns to walk in, to give the others some warning of what was coming. This pattern meant something very welcome to two of them, who had spent what should have been their dinnertime copying out a boring and educational poem in their best handwriting as punishment for being rude.
"Cookies!" The welcome whisper went around the little tent as the fourth girl arrived, a plate piled high balanced carefully on one hand, her other one holding a hot-bottle. Once the blanket flap was lowered again, the flashlight clicked on. Its wavering beam was just enough for the girls to see each other's faces, and for the girl who had been listening to take down the chipped, cracked mugs from their storage place on the seat of one of the chairs. The tea in the hot-bottle was poured out, and each girl helped herself generously from the plate of cookies, before Bess, who held the leather-bound book in her lap like another girl might hold a kitten, opened it to a certain page and began to read aloud.
"The dragons of our fair world of Trycanta," she read in a whisper, but with an ease which would have amazed her literature teacher, "are not like the dragons of ancient tales. So far from being fire-breathing monsters who devour knights and maidens, they eat no meat at all, and the only treasures they desire are beautiful works of art. Their society is..." She paused to work out the long words. "Fa-mil-i-al and ma-tri-arch-al—"
"That means families are the most important things, and the women run everything instead of the men," put in Zhewen from Bess's left, around a mouthful of gingerbread. "We learned about it in social studies last week."
"—and they speak among themselves by means of gesture," Bess went on reading, "but not because they cannot hear." She stopped to exchange grins with Thulile, sitting knee to knee with her, before she continued. "Indeed, many dragons are accomplished musicians. The speech of movement among dragons exists for reasons of politeness."
"Not like this one," said Priyanka, poking Thulile in the shoulder and getting an elbow in the ribs in return. "She's never polite."
Thulile stuck out her tongue at her friend, then popped the remainder of her chocolate chip cookie into her mouth to free her hands for speaking. [You shouldn't talk about other people being rude,] she signed swiftly. [I saw what you said to Ms. Swain.]
"Not over the book!" Bess snatched her treasure out of the way just in time, as Priyanka flung a handful of sugar cookie crumbs towards Thulile and hit Zhewen instead. "If you start fighting, I won't read anymore!"
The other girls settled down immediately, and Bess found her place and went on. "Dragons believe that whatever a person chooses to do with their time is—oh, drat. Sac-ro-sanct," she sounded out. "What does that mean?"
[Very important,] Thulile said after a glance at the page to verify the word. [Like it came from the gods.]
"Like 'sacred'," said Zhewen thoughtfully. "I can hear it in there."
"That makes sense." Bess moved back a few words and continued. "...whatever a person chooses to do with their time is sacrosanct, and that speaking aloud is pushing oneself into that person's notice and interrupting their chosen work. Thus, in the society of dragons, words spoken aloud are only to be used in matters of life or death."
[All that, and they can fly, too?] said Thulile after devouring her fourth cookie. [I wish I were a dragon.]
The other girls nodded, and silence descended over the little tent as its occupants contemplated the desirability of wings and jewel-bright scales.