Short Story: Dragon Dust
Mam stepped away from the fire with a pleased little cry.
A small black cauldron filled with a muddy, murky substance came away with her. Isadora peered inside. A luminescent, pearl-like fluid filled the interior. Where it clung to the sides, hints of color remained. A light green. Or was it blue?
Only time would tell.
“I’ve always wondered who first figured out that dragon eggs could be ground to a powder and made into cups, saucers, and plates.” Mam stuck a sharp, whittled stick into the brew and stirred. Rainbows waved int he liquid as it moved. “Odd, isn’t it?”
Isadora pulled a pestel away from the stone mortar where she ground the dried dragon egg shell into a glittering powder. The powder lifted into the air in puffs, making her skin shimmer.
“It’s perfect, Mam. As always.”
Mam nodded to it. “Add the final dusting, Isa. I think we’re ready!”
A little thrill seemed to zip through Mam when she shuddered, giddy with anticipation. Isadora forced a smile.
“Then we can take it to the kiln. Don’t you think Abigail would like a set of cups and saucers? Or should we do a full tea pot?”
“Cups and saucers,” Isadora murmured, using the backside of a knife to scrape the piles of glittery dust together. “She’ll have her mother’s old teapot. The purple laced one that always smells like coriander.“
“She’s a good girl. Just like you.” Mam patted Isadora’s arm, leaving a powdery impression. “She’ll have a lovely hand fasting, just as you will too. One day, amo.”
Isadora fought back a gag. A headache threatened her, starting at the base of her spine, as she dumped the powder into the bowl.
“You all right?”
Isadora touched the base of her neck. “Just a headache.”
“You had one last week.”
“And the week before.”
Mam tsked under her breath. “Hmm . . .”
“I’m fine, Mam. Need to drink more, probably.”
Mam seemed unconvinced, but turned her attention back to the delicate potion. She used a spell to stir the liquid eggshell, watching it incorporate with the rest. Isadora kept an eye on the consistency. Not too much dandelion milk this time, thankfully.
Isadora set a tea towel down and motioned to the cauldron. “Let me carry it to the molds.“
They stepped out, into an oppressive afternoon. Humidity proliferated, soaking everything. Letum Wood flourished in lush, wild clusters. Now that summer had moved in with her living breath, there wasn’t a spare spot of sky. The heavy air pressed on Isadora’s face like an iron.
Ideal dragon climate.
While they walked to an opening tucked into the trees, Isadora’s thoughts returned to the low headache in the back of her mind. I did seem odd that she had regular headaches now. Every six days it came back.
What could it possible mean?
Tree branches rustled overhead, jostling a nearby vine that trailed down one of the massive trees. Isadora tilted her head back, eyes narrowed. She saw nothing above them, but wasn’t fooled.
Sanna was up there.
Isadora jerked out of her thoughts to find herself at the kiln, Mam peering at her with a concerned expression.
“Are you well?”
“Are you sure? I can do this on my own.” She frowned, glancing at the heavy molds. Her hands trembled from the hours of grinding effort from the shells. “I could, ah . . .”
“Just lost in thought.”
“About your headaches?”
Isadora nodded. Mam pressed her palm to Isadora’s face, as if that would taken them away. “We’ll go see Lucey when we’re done. Maybe she’ll have a powder or something for you. So nice to have a healer in our midst.”
Mam pushed her sleeves up to her elbows. “Cups and saucers, here we come!”
Isadora gathered eight blocks of heavy, seasoned wood, taken from a sturdy hickory tree Papa had found, then lay them in a row. Papa had fashioned the molds last winter, leaving them to cure for months in the attic of the shed. She knocked on one. A thick sound returned. Just right. Without the prolonged curing time, the wood burned too hot, turning the cups and saucers into brittle ash. A good waste of dragon eggs they couldn’t afford.
“Isadora, would you do the honors?” Mama asked, her eyes twinkling. She extended a glittering silver ladle. “I think you’re ready.”
Disbelief washed through her.
“Me, Mam? But I’m only fifteen.”
“It’s about time you take over your family tradition. No doubt your grandmam would be proud to see you working so directly with her life’s work.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Just a quick flick of the wrist is all it takes, amo.”
Isadora accepted the ladle, which had been used for generations in her family for this very purpose, with trembling hands. Filling the molds with the right amount of mixture—without wasting a second of time—was an art form. Exposing the mixture to the air for too long ruined it. A waste that couldn’t be reversed. Too many of them and they’d run short and have to eat or drink from wooden plates and cups. Her mouth ached just thinking of the occasional, small splinters.
Not to mention deal with surly dragons who did nothing with their egg shells, but didn’t want the witches to waste them.
Mama nudged her toward the cauldron again.
The once weak headache swelled, stirring through her mind. She hid a wince—no reason to worry Mam further. Swallowing her fear of failure, Isadora dipped the ladle in the murky white mixture and pulled it up. A drop beaded along the side and dripped into the cauldron. She poured the ladleful on top of the first mold, hung the ladle on the inside of the cauldron, and slipped the top of the mold into place. The mixture smoothed out beneath her hand until she locked it with a hook and eye latch. The latch held against great tension, ensuring the mixture wouldn’t shift while in the fire.
Mam let out a long breath. “Very good. Excellent time. An ideal first attempt, I think. Shouldn’t crack, but we’ll find out soon.”
One by one, Isadora moved through the molds, stumbling and ruining only one. The mixture hardened into a congealed mush before she could cover it. Mama peeled it away with a fingernail and pitched it into the forest.
When Isadora finished the cups and the saucers, sixteen molds awaited. With every passing moment, the molds would grow heavier as the mixture solidified. Together, they started carting the molds, one at a time, toward the kiln.
“So,” Mam said, glancing at Isadora from the corner of her eye. “Jesse spoke with you last night at the dinner. What did he say?”
Absolutely nothing of interest, thankfully.
Isadora swallowed the lump in her throat. “Nothing much. We spoke about school and the summer.”
Mam grabbed a few thin sticks from the forest floor and cracked them in half, forming a pile at the wide bottom of the kiln. A metal grate lay a few hand spans above the bottom of the stone kiln. All sixteen molds would lay on top, just above the heart of the fire, and simmer there for days in the heat.Talis would come by in the night and light it for them with his secundum on the last day, sealing the final products.
Isadora grabbed some dried pine needles and piled them on top of Mam’s stack.
“I spoke with his Mam yesterday,” Mam said.
“Jesse is starting to work with the dragons soon. They’re already showing signs of accepting him.”
“That’s very nice.”
“He spoke with your father about it.”
Isadora shoved a handful of sticks on the kindling pile, then reached for the sturdy, thick logs that would slowly burn over the next twelve hours. Could she turn this conversation? Not likely. Mam was stubborn as a troll when she spoke about Jesse.
“No one has said it said it out right, but I believe he’s going to ask permission to start officially courting you this winter. We have lots of preparation for that.”
Isadora’s heart sank. Jesse was kind—very kind. But hand fasting? “Oh. Ah . . . aren’t I a bit young for that?“
“Oh?” Mam reared back. “Is that all you can say?”
“I mean . . . Jesse is wonderful. He’s one of my best friends. But . . .“
“But . . .”
I don’t want to live your life.
Isadora swallowed back the hot shame, rising like acid. She could never tell the truth. It balled up in her chest in a hot, seething stone. She wanted more than Anguis, which was something Mam once had, but couldn’t seem to understand now.
“Come, Isadora. Jesse will be a wonderful husband! You’ve always known this would come to pass. Why are you hesitating now?”
“But I don’t know what my talents are,” Isadora said. “It wouldn’t be fair to Jesse to have a . . . uh . . . companion that has no way to contribute to the families.”
“What about taking over the quilting duties? You’ve always had a . . . decent stitch. There are enough witches around here, not to mention children, to keep you very busy.“
“We both know I’m horrible at it.”
Mam frowned, then fell into deeper thought, eyes narrowed. A few moments later, she snapped her fingers. Her expression brightened as she spread her hands.
“You have this now! You will provide everyone in the Families with plates, cups, tea sets, and saucers. That’s very important. We aren’t barbarians just because we don’t interact with the rest of the Network. We still have manners. And tea.“
Egads, that didn’t work the way Isadora wanted.
Mam sat back with a sigh. “Just until your babies come along. They you’ll have plenty of things to worry about.”
Isadora stared at the kiln, glimpsing a flash of what could be her future. Grinding the sulfurous dragon eggs. Laboring for bread over a hot fire in the sticky summer months. Listening to the roar of the dragons and wondering if one of the Dragonmasters had been caught in their wrath.
A life of frightening uncertainty and boring routine.
“What if I can’t have babies? You almost died in childbirth. What if I inherit that from you?”
“You are much stronger than me, amo.”
The knot in Isadora’s chest expanded. She didn’t want any of those jobs. She didn’t want to be the expert baker, or the witch that organized the family meal every month, or the witch in charge of sewing and clothing repair. She just wanted . . .
The thought ended in a blank.
She didn’t know what she wanted. She just knew this wasn’t it.
“Goodness, but it’s warm today,” Mam said, passing a hand over her forehead, wiping away a sheen of sweat. Rings of perspiration darkened her underarms and neck. Her eyes fluttered. Isadora snatched the firewood from Mam’s hand and guided her to a tree stump.
“Here. Have a rest.”
She settled with a few fluttering apologies. Her face had paled. The heartbeat at the base of her neck raced.
“I’m fine.” Mam waved Isadora back to the kiln. “Let’s just finish here so they can fire over the next couple of days.”
Isadora worked quickly, stacking the wood so it was even, clearing the holes in the side of the kiln to allow air flow, and creating the ring of molds over the top. By the time she finished, Mam’s color had returned.
“Yes,” Mam murmured. “We shall have to find something for you, Isadora. Something productive indeed.”
Isadora stopped fighting the headache warring at the base of her head. She allowed it to flood her mind and drown out Mam’s voice. A spinning gray cloud removed her ability to distinguish between her own thoughts and the headache. She didn’t even want to anymore.
In the end, it was all just dragon dust.
There’s more where that came from!
If you haven’t gotten your copy of FLAME yet, grab it right here. Sink into life with the Servants, dragons, and the heart of Letum Wood.