Yes, please. I’m sure it’s beautiful and informative, but the story gets kind of stuck in the mud.
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Once Upon a Dragon – by Natasha
(Rewrite of an older post – http://www.theauthorschair.com/2015/09/11/critique-group-once-upon-a-dragon/)
War always arrived in the footsteps of greed and tomorrow, greed would arrive in a mahogany airship.
King Amancio reflected on this as he stood on his castle flight deck, a gentle breeze giving him some relief from the humid jungle air. His gaze drifted out past the flat expanse of the flight deck, beyond the spreading branches of the great tree-castle he called home, and across his kingdom. The faint lights of distant stars and planets were beginning to appear in the eastern sky. It took him only a few seconds to pinpoint the light of the planet Arrden. He glared at it. From here, Arrden was just one speck of light among many. But Arrden rivaled even the planet Eremita in size. As of late, its armies had grown as well.
Would their planets be allies or enemies after tomorrow? Kerr could not afford a war, especially with a planet so large as Arrden. Amancio needed a compromise that would satisfy King Balios without hurting Kerr further. And he needed one now.
King Balios’ son, Ilarion, would be arriving tomorrow for peace talks. If a solution could not be found before then, tomorrow would mark the start of the first interplanetary war in centuries.
He looked around at the flight deck. The quiet shapes of his kingdom’s airships filled up either side. Overhead, the branches of the castle formed a protective canopy. What would tomorrow bring? Would he be defending his castle, or celebrating with his kingdom? Would his fleet be mobilized for war, or his knights sleep in peace?
Amancio drew his greatsword from a sheath at his back and began to practice combat techniques. Practicing always helped him think more clearly, not to mention he might soon be called upon to fight alongside his kingdom. He wanted to be prepared for either outcome.
“Care for a sparring companion?”
Amancio stopped and turned around in surprise. He had not heard anyone enter the flight deck. His wife, Queen Zarita, stood a few feet away, her own sword in her hand. She had already adopted a fighting stance, her weapon raised. Unlike him, she wielded a light one-handed sword.
Amancio smiled. “Certainly.”
They engaged, their swords clashing. He was careful to keep his movements slow, as was his wife. He preferred to focus more on technique when they sparred, and he had no intention of letting any accidents happen. He opened with a feint and swung at her side.
“So did you come up with anything to appease Balios?” she asked, blocking his strike.
He shook his head. “No. Perhaps I could offer him another trade discount. But I fear he will not accept it. Besides, I cannot give him too large of a discount or Kerr will suffer.” He dodged a jab from her and swung for her leg.
Zarita countered with a slow swing that he parried. “We could give him access to some of our best medicines.”
“Perhaps. But we have already given him a large discount on our herbs and fruits. Any more and Kerr will suffer from that as well.” He blocked an overhead strike.
Zarita lowered her sword and rolled her eyes. “King Balios is a greedy fool. Can’t he just be satisfied with his own planet? I mean, it’s a planet! How much more can he possibly need?”
Amancio growled and lowered his sword. “I don’t know. But we cannot afford to give him much more. I have already sent word to all the heads of the provinces, as well as our military base. They are making preparations if the peace talks tomorrow don’t go well. Which they won’t, knowing Balios,” he added under his breath.
There was a long moment of silence. Zarita sheathed her sword. “Sometimes I wish Asar’el would just show up in his physical form and slap Balios.”
Amancio chuckled. “Yes, I suppose that would be nice.” Another pause stretched out. “Honestly, I’m afraid. I know we’re supposed to trust Asar’el but I fear the worst. Balios does not follow the Nine Decrees as we do. Or if he does, he surely has a different view of them than us.”
Zarita nodded in silent acknowledgement, then pulled him into a tight embrace. He hugged her back. The tension in his muscles eased slightly.
A soft chime and a faint swish signalled the flight deck doors opening. Amancio drew back and looked up. His daughter, Basilia, sprinted across the flight deck towards him. “Dad! Mom!” She grabbed them both, hugging them tightly. Then she pulled away, a wide smile stretching across her face.
“What is it, Sprout?” Amancio asked.
When she spoke, her voice grew quiet and serious, though a smile still tugged at her lips. “I’ve figured it out. I know how to avoid a war with Arrden.”
Amancio tensed and his eyes widened.
“How?” Zarita demanded.
“I’m going to unite our kingdoms by marrying Prince Ilarion!”
“You’re gonna what?” Zarita shrieked.
Amancio choked inwardly and gaped at his daughter. “No,” he muttered. He shook his head. “No! I refuse to allow you to do this!”
Basilia’s smile faded and her posture faltered. “But it makes sense! If we were united as allies, then we wouldn’t have to go to war. And if I marry Ilarion, Kerr will be protected under laws too, so you won’t have to keep paying Balios. I researched everything and-”
Zarita began to nod but Amancio shook his head violently. “Absolutely not! I will not allow-”
Zarita placed her hand on Amancio’s shoulder. “Hold on. She might have a point. If-”
He stepped away. “No.” As he continued, his voice grew louder, until he was shouting. “It doesn’t matter! Marrying Ilarion is out of the question, period. We will find another way or I will go to war.” He stopped himself, taking a deep breath. “I am sorry for shouting. Please just… leave me be for a few minutes. I need time…” his voice trailed off and he shook his head.
Basilia gave him a long look. “But-”
“Not now Basilia,” he said, holding up his hand.
Basilia turned and walked slowly away. Zarita started to follow, then looked back. “You should think about it. Basilia would not say such a thing on an impulse.”
Amancio gave her a nod of acknowledgement and watched her leave. Once again, he was alone on the flight deck. He turned around and gazed at the sky. “What now, Asar’el?” he whispered. With heavy steps, he walked out to the far edge of the deck, up to the low barrier that ran around its border. He knelt down and stared at the night sky, now pitch black and ablaze with stars.
The stories told how millennia ago, the great dragon Asar’el had created those stars and galaxies with just a single flap of his mighty wings. They also said Asar’el would always walk with those who sought him. He believed those stories, with all his soul. Yet sometimes he couldn’t help but feel powerless and alone. He loved his kingdom, but even more so, he loved his daughter. A war could destroy Kerr, perhaps even take away Basilia. But to marry someone like Ilarion? How could he allow that?
“I am afraid, Asar’el.” His voice came out as a hoarse whisper. “I am afraid for my kingdom. I am afraid I will lose the only people on any planet whom I truly care for.”
Amancio looked about, wondering if Asar’el might appear to him as he did sometimes, but he saw nothing. His gaze returned to the night sky. “What should I do?” His plea was met only by the cries of insects.
For a long time, he sat there, thinking. In some small part, he knew what he needed to do. He had to talk to Basilia and hear her out. And ultimately, he needed to allow her to make this choice. The thought sounded crazy. Yet if there was one thing he had learned from his years as a king, it was that Asar’el communed with everyone differently. If he had called Basilia to do something, Amancio would not stand in her way. Still, he continued to wait, hoping Asar’el might appear and tell him otherwise. Finally, he gave in and rose to his feet.
Categories: Critique Group