Editorial note: Welcome to the fifth installment of To Live a Dragon’s Age, the second of two web serials running on Geek Eccentric. To Live A Dragon’s Age, written by author MAJK, edited by Dionne Lister and illustrated by Lydia Kurnia and Isaia , will be published one installment at a time on the third Sunday of every month. For more exciting fiction check out DinoLand, written by author A.J. O’Connell and illustrated by artist Max Farinato. Dinoland appears the first Sunday of each month.
Cirrus stared at Amanda from his spot on the bed then looked at her brother and rolled his large eyes, before making a face at her. “Pickled fickle pig feces! You didn’t really think he’d be able to see me did you, girl? He’s not you. You are more like your Father than I expected. You never believe a thing I tell you.”
Her father stopped pacing and glared in the direction of the squat dragon. “Of course she doesn’t. You aren’t supposed to even exist in this world. You can’t just pop into a person’s life and expect they will immediately accept your existence, you confounded stubborn lizard! I told you to wait. I asked you to let me talk to her before you began harassing her. But no, you had to go stick your nose in her life at a traumatic time. It’s a wonder she’s not gone mental, the poor child. I’ll bet she’s been thinking you were a fevered hallucination brought on by stress. All this time that she’s been polite to you, she was just hoping you’d go away.”
“Pfft. Polite?” Cirrus made a noise somewhere between a hiss and a cackle. “Have you been in the same room as that child? She’s rather ill mannered. As for sticking my nose into her life, her life happens to be my business just as yours is, short though it may be. Besides, I had kind of hoped with them being twins that the boy would be able to see me as well. He’s better tempered than she is. Did you know she pushed me out a window? ”
“I can’t blame her. There’ve been more than a few times that I would’ve liked to do exactly that. You have a talent for getting on a human’s nerves, you pompous brat.”
Amanda looked from her father to Cirrus. “Father’s right, you know. I had rather hoped you’d simply vanish and I am not ill mannered.” “Mandi,” Nicholas tapped her arm. “I’m not sure we should be humoring him.”
Amanda looked at her brother’s worried face and then at her father. Her father leaned toward her and spoke to her in a conspiratorial stage whisper baiting her brother. “Nicholas can’t see or hear him?”
Nicholas gave his father a scolding glare. “Of course not. I can’t see him because there is nothing and no one there. There is only the three of us.” He stepped between the two of them in a gesture of protection. “Father, Mandi is already overwrought from stress and expecting her to humor you is not helping her. Dr. Pierce says you are suffering from hallucinations resulting from your illness. I need you to calm down and stop talking to whatever or whoever you think you see. There is nothing… no one here.”
Darian’s eyes narrowed. “Dr. Pierce also says I am blind but ignores me when I explain that my vision comes and goes. He’s far to convinced that he knows more than he does. I can see you both just fine at the moment, and given the situation I see far better than you do.”
As Amanda reached towards her brother, Cirrus fluttered up off of the bed and circled Nicholas, appraising the blond mage as one might a horse for sale. “He’s got more than a bit of magic but most of his is learned. I dare say he’s made it this far in the Academy on sheer determination.” He startled Nicholas by tapping on the young man’s temple. “Lots of head knowledge, but he’s not a natural at the craft at all.”
She let her arm drop and watched as Nicholas tried to identify the source of the touch he’d felt. Darian shook his head and smiled at Cirrus, who was settling himself on the narrow shelf just below the face of the grandfather clock. “No, he’s more like his mother. You remember what she was like – excelling at the magic of creation and invention. Like her, his true passion is tinkering, though he feels it is his place to attend the Academy. He’s also smart as a whip and loves a challenge but relies too much on logic.”
Nicholas paused and blushed at the mention of his similarity to late mother. The softened expression lasted only a moment. He gripped his father’s shoulders firmly and addressed Darian sternly, “Father, There is no one in the room but Mandi, you, and I. I need you to come back to your senses. Come sit on the bed and rest.”
Darian’s eyes blazed with anger and he pulled from his son’s grasp. “Don’t patronize me, child! You have no idea what is really going on. You think I’m crazy, I suppose Pierce has said as much. I love that man like a brother but he’s a blasted fool eating straight from the trough of ignorance. He knows his medicine but I doubt he knows much else. There’s more to this than you or your sister realize. Being on the cusp of adulthood is only the start. The fact is, you and she are on the edge of so much more. I’ve failed you both in ways I can’t even begin to explain.”
“Corsets and Codfish! Darian, you’re so dreadfully over dramatic.” Cirrus piped up from his reclined position on the ledge of the clock. “No wonder the poor girl’s stressed out. You babbled on all doom and gloom without actually saying anything useful.”
Darian shook his fist in the direction of Cirrus.”Be silent, you winged rat! I’ll handle this myself.” Amanda frowned. To Nicholas, unable to see or hear the object of their father’s tirade, he’d look quite mad.
Nicholas turned to Amanda, his expression pleading. She patted her brother’s shoulder then moved to her father and took his arm. “Daddy, stop it. You’re scaring me and I refuse to hear any rubbish about you failing either of us. There is plenty of time for you to explain things – whatever they may be. Now let’s sit.” Darian stood firm; his face drawn, and his eyes sunken yet wild. She tugged his arm. “If you won’t return to your bed then come and sit by the fire. You can tell us stories again like you did when we were young.”
Her heart broke at the confusion in his voice as he searched her face for some sign she believed him. “Mandi, you know so much more than your brother. How can you- ?”
“I think I’d like to hear the story about the mage and the red dragon again.” She interrupted nodding meaningfully while leading her father gently to the settee. “It’s been years since I’ve heard it. Knowing the things I’ve learned now that I’m grown, I’ll bet I’ll understand it so much better now. ”
“The story about the red dragon?” Her father mused as he allowed her to settle him in front of the fire. “I see. You are right. That may be the best place to start. If nothing else it’s important to hear the tale in present company. I imagine I’ll be corrected on more than a few details.”
Cirrus made a rude noise as and left his perch to hover in the air with his small arms crossed. “You’ve never told that story right, even when they were small. I doubt you can remember the right version, daft old fool.”
Not hearing a word Cirrus had said, Nicholas responded coldly. “I’m not likely to correct you. I barely remember the tale myself. We were barely nine when you last told us that tale.”
As Amanda placed a blanket over her father’s lap and tucked a pillow by his side, she called to her brother. “Nicky, come sit and let’s have a bit of story time, the way we did as children. It’s been forever. Where’s the harm in a bit of fantasy by the fire.”
Nicholas looked at her confused. His expression fell somewhere between skeptical and exasperated. She motioned for him to join them. “Come along, Nicky. You asked that Father rest. He can rest here before the fire with us to watch over him the way he used to watch over us. When he gets tired, we can help him back to bed. All will be well.”
Cirrus cocked his head regarding her with an amused expression. “Quite clever. I may have underestimated you.” Amanda checked the urge to answer him with a barbed retort and instead settled herself on an ottoman at her father’s knee.
Nicholas for his part gave a defeated sigh and an indulgent smile. “Fine,” he tossed his hands up in surrender and flopped down in a chair opposite his father and sister. “We’ll sit for a story but afterward he goes back to bed to rest properly. Though I’ll admit, Mandi, after our talk earlier I’m none too keen on you indulging in tales of dragons.” The remark stung but she let it pass.
Cirrus flitted over to the group and settled himself on the couch close to Amanda. “Pity, he’s grown. As a child, your brother was most fond of dragon stories. I caught him more than a few times acting out those tales among the garden hedgerows. Though to be fair, your father doesn’t ever tell them quite right. I’ve got more than a few really good dragon stories that I could tell him being as I am a dragon.” Amanda moved as if to adjust her father’s blanket and elbowed Cirrus in the stomach.
“Blast it, woman!” Cirrus groaned then glared at Darian. “Did you see what your child did?”
Darian’s eyes flicked to Cirrus and then he smiled at Amanda. “Thank you for adjusting that. It was becoming an annoyance. Now then, you’d like to hear the tale of the red dragon and the mage. Did you want to start with the one about how they met?”
Amanda nodded. “Absolutely, unless you think there’s another that you feel more inclined to tell, perhaps even one you haven’t yet told.”
He patted her hand and smiled. “No, my dear. I think this particular tale is as good a place to begin as any. It’s best to start any tale at the beginning.”
Cirrus snorted. “The beginning? That’s not even close to the beginning and you darn well know it. If you really want to start at the beginning then you’d start before you silly humans appeared here in this world. We were around long before you were.”
Amanda was about to shoot Cirrus another glare when she noticed her brother studying her. The intense concentration reminded her of the way he’d looked at her in the study earlier. Was he reconsidering their discussion earlier?
Her father cleared his throat, as he did before every story. “Now, every well-educated person knows there are no such things as dragons in Si’karra. They were eradicated in the Dragon Hunts more than 200 years ago. What many people don’t know and those who do know, don’t discuss is that long ago, before the Dragon Hunts, before the Great War, even before the Firestorm – Dragons roamed Si’karra freely and in large numbers. There were many Dragon clans but only the heads of the most powerful clans were giving seats on the Council of Clans. There were seven seats and the clans that held them were the Reds, Blues, Whites, Greens, Blacks, Bronzes, and the Grays.”
Nicholas tapped a foot impatiently. “Father, we don’t need the fictional history lesson. We’ve heard it a million times. We know about the Council of the Clans and that they acted as advisors to the Matriarch, who is effectively the queen of the dragons.”
“Hrmph! For a boy who thinks he knows so much he doesn’t seem to know that we don’t refer to our clans by color nor would any dragon degrade the Matriarch by calling her a mere queen.” Cirrus leaned one chubby little arm on Amanda’s shoulder and wrinkled his nose.
Without thinking about it she shushed Cirrus. “Don’t pout, he’s just being impatient.”
Nicholas shot her a quizzical look. “I’m not pouting.”
Realizing her mistake, Amanda patted her father’s hand. “I was talking to Father. He looked annoyed at you for the interruption.”
Darian coughed heavily then nodded. “I wasn’t pouting so much as I was mortified at my son’s lack of manners.” He wagged a finger at Nicholas. “How can you ever hope to run this household, if you can’t even remember the basics of polite society?”
Nicholas looked duly chastised. “My apologies, Father.”
“Nicholas, my son, old men like to ramble and if you don’t let us ramble then– .”
Amanda watched as her father’s eyes glazed over. His mouth hung agape mid sentence. Nicky was out of his chair checking their father’s pulse and breathing. She held her breath, ready for the worst. “He’s breathing and his heart seems fine, if a bit weak but it’s like he’s gone catatonic. I should get the doctor.”
“Oh, you and your foolish reliance on doctors!” Before Amanda could stop him the squat little reptile lifted himself into the air and hurled himself, feet first, toward Darian’s back. The flat of his feet landing with an audible thud in the center of the gaping man’s back. Suddenly, their father inhaled sharply then let loose a racking cough.
Nicholas reached for Darian. “That’s it, Father. Enough of this foolishness. I’m putting you right to bed before you exhaust yourself. I’m not having your death on my head for allowing you to pretend there’s not a thing wrong with you.”
Darian pushed his hands away. “The bloody hell you will, son. I’m no less rested seated in front of the fire than I would be in that blasted bed. If I’m going to die anyway, what does it matter if I do so lying in a bed alone resting or seated with my beloved children reliving the joy of telling them stories? Has it ever occurred to your terribly logical mind that I might prefer to enjoy as much of the time I have left as possible? You’re not yet the master of this house, young man.”
“Mother wouldn’t have wanted–.”
“You can’t say what she’d have wanted! You seem to forget she was my wife long before she was your mother. What she would have wanted is for me to spend every waking second enjoying what time I have with my family before this illness robs me of the sense to do so.” The two men stared at each other a long moment. When Darian spoke next his voice was kinder. “What happened to your proclamation to Arthur? I believe you stated something to the effect of I refuse to spend his last few days mourning him. I shall endeavor to make the remaining days of his life pleasant. You should know Arthur tells me everything, even now.”
For the second time that evening, Nicholas blushed, though now from embarrassment. Amanda caught herself wondering at how their father’s illness seemed to have changed each of them. Suddenly, she missed the days of sitting in the garden with her brother, giggling as her father embellished his tales with faces and voices. Nicky must have felt it as well because he bowed his head for a long moment and when he lifted his head his face had cleared.
“Father, you’re quite right. I’m sorry to have been so selfish.” He rose and strode toward the door. “Let me fetch Arthur and order another tray, you should eat while you are feeling better to bolster your strength. Once it arrives, we’ll start your story fresh.”
Darian shook his head with wry smile. “You really are so very much like your mother–always ready to scold me or feed me.”
Nicholas paused for a moment, his hand on the door knob. Without turning around he said, “If I was as like mother as I should be, you’d not have to scold me for my selfishness. Mother always put others first. Mandi, keep our stubborn father settled while I find Arthur.”