Short Story: Innate Flaw
This story takes place during FLAME. If you haven’t read that book, I would suggest grabbing a copy before you read this, as this short story contains spoilers for that book. For those of you that have read it, this was a scene I wrote to flesh out the fate of Isadora and Jesse, as well as what it would be like for Isadora living in the Families after her decision at the Selectis.
I hope you enjoy!
Adelina smiled with all her teeth.
The fixed expression on her face didn’t waver, as if she’d been carved into a piece of wood. Isadora sat across from her later that afternoon with an uncertain half smile. Adelina’s Eastern Network heritage showed through her shiny locks of black hair, olive skin, and umber eyes that stared right into Isadora’s soul, as if she could peel back layers and see Isadora’s beating, bruised heart. Mam sat next to Isadora on the bench, back rigid. She held her tea with both hands to keep it from rattling.
“Thank you for having us over,” Mam said, her lips pinched into a smile. “It’s such a delight to be in your lovely house again.”
“Always a pleasure.”
No noise interrupted the fragile conversation, which meant Adelina sent her three youngest children away. The rest of the six would be in school—or traipsing around Letum Wood with her husband and Dragonmaster, Elliot.
“How are you doing, Adelina?” Mam asked, lifting her tea cup to her lips. She wet her lips, but never sipped.
The careful game of cat-and-mouse between the Servant wives was rooted in tradition as old as the dragons themselves. Though the men became the Servants—with a few historical exceptions for women taking the role out of necessity—the wives truly controlled the three Families.
“And your studies, Isadora?” Adelina asked.
“Because of my headaches, I finished Babs lessons a year early and have been learning at home from the Chronicles.”
Mam let out a subtle, relieved breath. No wife could dispute a girl that studied from the Chronicles daily, certainly not one that accomplished school a year ahead of everyone else.
“I see,” Adelina murmured. “And your headaches?”
“Do you still have unremitting headaches?”
“We are trying different remedies.”
“Indeed.” Adelina lifted her fine brow. “Some sort of familial flaw, no doubt. Inherited?”
Mam opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out. Isadora curled her fingers into her palm.
“Ah, n-no,” Mam said. “I . . .”
“Oh, certainly it may not be obvious. But such a flaw is a risky venture,” Adelina said. “One never knows what such a thing could mean.”
Mam sucked in a sharp breath. Isadora’s raged swelled. This game required a cat and a mouse. Fortunately, Isadora was willing to be both.
“Similar to Jesse’s lacking height, I think you mean,” Isadora murmured, meeting Adelina’s frosty gaze. “Or your husband’s issue of falling asleep unexpectedly. That kind of flaw, you mean? In a dragon world, such lack of control is dangerous, isn’t it?”
Adelina shifted, tea sloshing over the side of her cup. Her eyes tapered to slashes. “No,” she murmured. “Not at all.”
“Then I suppose you meant a weakness in our family,” Isadora continued, “but I can’t believe that would be possible. My father is Drago Servant and has been for years. Do you disapprove where Drago approves?”
“Isadora!” Mam hissed.
Adelina held up a hand. “No, Roxy. I won’t avoid the topic. Isadora, you have betrayed the Families, my son, and most of all, the dragons. I think it’s clear why I brought you here today.”
“I made that decision.”
“A poor decision on your part.”
“I did what I felt was best for Thyris and my sister.”
Adelina scooted to the edge of her chair, her lips thinned. “That’s not the worst of it. The dragons didn’t want you, which shows an innate flaw in your disposition. Dragons never make mistakes.”
Isadora bit her teeth together. Adelina continued, setting aside her tea cup, her voice growing in volume.
“Can you offer the truth on Drago’s altar that you wanted to train? If another had stepped forward, would you have taken it?”
“Of course she would have!” Mam cried. “Isadora isn’t—”
“No. I wouldn’t have.”
The worlds fell like boulders on a fragile skein of ice. For a moment, no one spoke. Mam stared straight ahead, unblinking. Adelina smirked. “So I thought. Tainted temperament. Dragons can smell disgust, you know. Drago sees all our hearts.”
“Should I have lied and incurred Drago’s wrath?”
“Of course not.”
“So I am judged by Drago for the truth and for the lie? Is this the god you speak of?”
Adelina opened her mouth, but closed it again. For a long, interminable pause, the air thickened. Mam’s gaze darted between Adelina and Isadora.
“You should have sacrificed for the sake of the dragons,” Adelina said.
“When none of them wanted me?”
Adelina sat back, nostrils flaring. “I would never presume to question Drago. He removed me from abject poverty and near starvation and allowed into the safety of the Families. The dragons, and Drago, have my ultimate allegiance.”
“So I see.”
Her words tinted with ice. “I commend you for caring for your sister, Isadora, but you are now a witch without respect. You will never gain it back. I cannot allow you to handfast my son. How would Drago bless him if he married you? You even speak of Drago with disrespect.”
“I asked you a question about Drago. One you didn’t answer. That’s hardly disrespectful.”
Adelina fumed, her eyes wide. “I officially break—”
“You don’t have that power.”
A broad, strong figure filled the doorway from the back of the house. All three women glanced up to see Jesse standing there, hat in hand. Dirt marred his cleft chin. His gaze burned like flint. Adelina stood, pushing the chair behind her.
“Cannot withdraw a courting that was never made official.”
He advanced two steps into the room. “I will act in my best interest and the best interest for our dragons regardless of your personal prejudice and opinions. You have no authority to act in my stead. Isadora, I apologize.”
Frost and heat rushed through Isadora at the same. The pit in her deepest stomach gained weight, sinking all the way to her toes. No! Why had he come in? She looked away, afraid he’d see the war of gratitude and annoyance on her face. She didn’t need him to save her, but she was desperately glad he did at the same time.
“We’ll discuss this later, Jesse,” Adelina said.
“No. I am in charge of my courting. I am a man. If the dragons trust me, so must you.”
Adelina lips blanched milky white. Isadora’s heart hummed until Adelina held up two hands. She whispered something in a foreign tongue that sounded resigned.
“Fine. It is your mistake to make.”
Jesse turned to Isadora, softening into a semblance of a smile. “Thank you for coming over, Isadora. It’s always good to see you. You as well, Mrs. Spence. I apologize for any inconvenience.”
“None at all,” Roxy murmured.
“Yes. Thank you, Jesse.” Isadora looped her arm through Mama’s and tugged her to the door.
“I will call soon,” he said.
Isadora turned to Adelina. “Thank you for the tea and your hospitality. We will extend the same soon. Alay.“
Adelina remained rigid as a board, staring at the floor. Isadora turned to leave, her stomach heavy. It didn’t feel right, and she didn’t know why. She thought of Jesse’s indignation. Adelina’s suppressed fury. The way her arms trembled when Jesse put her in her place. Yet again, women at odds to the Dragonmaster culture. Who was right? Jesse, or Adelina?
Jesse lifted one hand in farewell. “Alay, Isadora. Roxy.”
The words brought Isadora out of her reverie. She turned and pushed Mam through the door, leaving as swiftly as decorum could carry them.