by Amanda Cast
The day had seemed very long. Pandora sighed tiredly as she trudged down her home street. All she wanted was dinner and some sleep. She did have the sinking suspicion that she was in deep trouble, but she also thought that her mother might be so furious with her father that she just might get off the hook for wandering off. The dragon scales might help as well.
As she neared her home from the portal center she could hear her mother screaming at her father and things flying. She wasn’t quite close enough to hear what she was screaming about, but she could guess. Her mother was probably swearing and demeaning him. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, but she always toned it down when she knew that Pandora was around.
Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately—Pandora’s mother rarely knew when she was around. Pandora just melded into the background. The neighbors were filtering out of their homes grumbling about the noise. They didn’t even notice her as she walked passed them. Everyone around her had lived around her all her life. Yet even when she could understand every word her mother was shouting no one said anything to her.
She sighed as the realization of how small and insignificant she was in this world and on this very street—even in her own home.
Her mother’s voice was so loud that she was anxious about opening the door. She looked around and some of the neighbors were looking at her in disbelief. It had to be the heavy shield shape object hanging from her back in a pack that felt close to ripping and the blue dragon scale tucked under her burning over stretched arm. Everyone else was used to her mother’s antics by now.
She pushed the door open and the noise of her mother made her frown. The fury was flattering but annoying. She stepped inside of her own home and gently closed the door behind her. For a moment she pondered putting the scales by the door but decided to take them to her room instead. Her mother was still yelling and she heard something hard hit the wall.
She hoped her mother didn’t put another hole in it.
Pandora’s room was tiny and bare. She was never the sort to collect trivial little items. She had a bed that was nice considering the current economic standing of her family. There were two levels of it. The lower level was straw and the upper level was stuffed with feathers. She even had a few feather pillows. The mattress was on a plain frame made of square posts. The top of the four posts didn’t even make it a quarter way up the mattress. It was dressed in plain linen that had not been dyed or bleached. They were rumpled but clean underneath a quilt that Pandora had earned from returning an old woman’s diamond.
There was a battered dresser that in her childhood Pandora had drawn all over. Pandora was also the one that had to scrub the paint off of it with something that was a little too caustic for the finish. Pandora plopped the blue scale on top of it and then dropped the pack next to the dresser and propped it against the wall.
“Time to face the fire,” she mumbled and trudged out of her room and into the kitchen where her mother had her father backed into a corner and was beating him with a wooden spoon. Her father was trying to shield himself with his forearms.
“Mother,” Pandora said evenly, “Please stop hitting Father. It’s not his fault.”
Her mother turned to look at her with wide eyes. “Where have you been?” she asked angrily, but didn’t rush the room and start hitting Pandora. For all her violence Pandora had never been struck by either of her parents. There never really had been a need.
“I was talking to dragons at the Faire. I’m sorry I made you worry,” she said, turning her dumb brown eyes onto her mother. Her mother stared at her in confusion. It occurred to Pandora that her mother and the elf girl looked terribly alike.
“Talking to dragons?” her mother said, incredulous.
“I’m sorry I made you worry,” she said again. “Please leave Father alone. He doesn’t deserve to be beaten like that. He was only doing what you told him to do. There is no need to punish him because of what I did.”
Her mother looked back at her father and then turned her gaze back onto Pandora. She lowered the spoon slowly. Pandora realized that it smelled like bred and beef stew. There was celery in the stew. Pandora liked celery.
“Mother, I did get something from the dragons. We might be able to pay taxes and then some with what we get for it.”
“And what is that?”
“They gave me a scale apiece. I have a red one and a blue one. I think the red one is fire. It burns when I touch it. The blue could be ice or water. Or that could be the same thing, I don’t know.” Pandora watched her mother but noticed that her father was slowly edging away from the corner. He was a good and patient man. Her mother did not deserve him.
“Where are they?”
“I took them to my room. They’re heavy.”
Her mother rolled her eyes and brushed passed her and went to see what Pandora was talking about.
“I’m sorry Father,” she said softly. “I never meant to get you into trouble. I was distracted while I was looking for the portal center to get home.”
“Well, it will make your mother happy that you brought the scales, sweetie. Don’t worry, you know that your mother doesn’t mean it when she gets like that.” He gave her a sad smile.
“I think women are supposed to be the ones making excuses for their spouses,” Pandora said sadly and hugged her father.
“Well, as long as she never hurts you, sweetie. Please don’t run off like that again though, not without telling her first. You know how she gets.”
“I’m sorry, I know you’re right. I was only supposed to look in the Temple District. I’m sorry.” Pandora snuggled against her father, and though he winced with pain she didn’t back away and he didn’t push her away.
“Stop apologizing. It might work out for the best. Your mother would kill me if we lost the house because of taxes after what happened.” Her father sighed. He didn’t want to over burden her with such things.
Pandora’s mother came back into the kitchen looking more pleased now than angry. “Good job, Pandora,” her mother said. “I’ll start looking for buyers. How did you convince dragons to give you anything? They’re greedy, stingy creatures.”
“I just talked to them mother. They were quite polite to us, if not a bit childish towards one another.”
“There was an elf girl, Mother. She and I relayed messages back and forth for them. Do you think the scales will do us well?”
“Yes, I do,” her mother said with a pleased nod. “They’re common scales since those dragons don’t bury themselves under ground and hide from us, but even common scales are had to come by since you have to convince a dragon to give on to you or kill it.”
“Why would anyone want to kill a dragon?”
“Because people are just as greedy and selfish. Go clean up and be quick about it or you won’t get any supper tonight.”
Pandora nodded and hurried out of the kitchen.
She was excited—so incredibly exhilarated. She had something new to show her father. It was something she had never seen before and couldn’t wait to show it to him. Her heart raced and her breath was short, but still she ran. She couldn’t wait to see her father.
When she burst into her three story mansion and passed her servants she was calling for him. “Daddy!” she cried as loud as she could, over and over. She was winded, but she could always call for him.
“What is it, pumpkin?” her father said appearing at the entrance of the family library. She always thought it was a poorly planned library.
“I met dragons!”
“Oh, did you now?” Her father was an elf. He was four hundred and sixty four years old, to be exact. Serene was his first and only child and a half breed. Her mother had been from this city and he could never bring himself to leave it.
“Yes! They talked to me and gave me their scales! Isn’t that amazing? I want more of them, father. I want a scale from every dragon! Please Daddy, help me find them?”
“Well, some of the dragons are dead, pumpkin. You’d have to steal some of them.”
“Well, Daddy, we could do that, couldn’t we? You’re terribly good at stealing, aren’t you?” She threw herself at him when she was close enough and hugged him tightly.
The tip of her father’s ears turned pink and she knew that she had him. “Please father.”
“All right, all right,” he said and ruffled her hair affectionately. She looked so much like her mother. He could deny her nothing. “I’ll do a little bit of research.”
“Great! Oh, and Daddy! I made a new friend.” Serene danced away. “Her name is Pandora. She looks strong, but I think she’s poor.”
“Well, that’s too bad, pumpkin. Do you know where she lives?”
“I think she lives in… well, I don’t know, but how many girls out there are known as Pandora? Certainly we can find her. Please Daddy?”
“Well,” he grimaced. He was uncertain about finding a girl named Pandora. The name sounded familiar to him and he couldn’t remember where he had heard it before. However, it didn’t bode well.
“Please, Daddy? She’s nice, I promise. She’s a little slow, but she’s nice and she talked to dragons too. I want to talk to her again. She had to go home and wouldn’t come home with me. Please, Daddy?”
Her father sighed. “I don’t know, Pumpkin.”
“Oh please?” Serene pleaded. She knew that if she pleaded long enough he would give in. He always gave in.
“All right,” he said softly. “I’ll find your friend for you, but next time be sure to exchange important information like where they’re from and their last names. Those are always important to finding someone.”
“But you love the challenges, Daddy.”
He sighed. “Well, that is true. Fine,” he caved, “I said I’d help.”
She squealed in delight and then gasped when she remembered what had excited her so much. “But you should look at them father.” She untied the pouch from her belt thought hard and then spread the opening apart so that the two scales thumped onto the floor. “Isn’t it great?”
“It certainly is,” he agreed. “Let’s put them in your vault and then we’ll start our research.”