by Amanda Cast
Her arms and legs were wrapped in silk. It was so smooth, but not really soft, not like her linen. The sun light warmed her cheeks and hair. Birds sang outside, but it seemed so much farther away than what she was accustomed too. The sounds were muted.
She opened her eyes slowly and then blinked. The room was blue. No, it was just tinted in blue. She turned her head. The curtains were blue. The light that filtered through them was blue. The walls were painted a pale blue. She must be in “The Blue Room.” She heard that nobles and rich men would name their rooms after colors and stations.
Her uncle was a rich man.
She couldn’t fit into any of Serene’s clothes. She was a giant compared to her cousin. She had to wear her uncle’s shirt. It fit her for a night gown, but would not do for several more years for an everyday shirt.
When she finished dressing into her clothes from the day before there was a knock at the door. “Yes?”
The door opened and a servant entered the room. He was a balding and thin human man. She thought that he was cliché for a servant, but didn’t say as much. “Oh, you’re awake and dressed, miss. I was coming to wake you for breakfast. Then, my master—your uncle—would like to take you out to get you a new wardrobe. It wouldn’t do for his new ward to be dressed like a peasant girl.”
“I’m a free citizen. I’m no peasant,” Pandora said with a frown.
The servant shrugged and gave her a sideways look, but did not dare be rude to the new mistress of the household until her welcome began to wear. “I suppose I’ll take you there now since you won’t know the way.”
She nodded and followed after him. She was fully dressed, but something made her feel naked and vulnerable. She couldn’t figure out what that could possibly be, but she didn’t feel right. The linen was too light and soft. She was too aware of it.
The halls were tacky. The walls were papered with gold, blue, and purple. The bottom and top were lined with green painted wood. Tables carved out of jade and decorated with gold handles and lines were placed in wide increments against the wall. Clearly expensive vases from cultures that Pandora couldn’t imagine sat on top of them. She shuddered and longed for her plane home that was filled with essentials.
This was far too frivolous for her. Even soft carpet was hard on her eyes.
“Pandora,” Serene exclaimed enthusiastically and launched herself from out of nowhere. “You’re awake already! Leave us Ulrich. I’ll take her the rest of the way.”
“Good morning, Serene,” Pandora said politely. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did. How ‘bout you?” she asked, fairly dancing. “How do you like my home? You were so tired when you arrived you went to sleep. But how do you like it? It’s wonderful isn’t it? My father collected all this stuff from his travels. He’s very adventurous.”
“It’s colorful,” Pandora said when Serene paused for breath.
“Daddy put you in the blue room because he thought you’d be more comfortable there, but I wanted to put you in the Empress’s room. It’s gorgeeeeeous.” She twirled around and walked backwards for a moment before turning back around and following Pandora’s languid pace. “It has paintings and little statues and… well, it’s wonderful. Almost as nice as my room, but you’ll collect your own stuff. I guess that’s why Daddy wanted you to be in our less adorned room.”
“It’s perfectly all right,” Pandora said. She was already weary of Serene’s constant babbling. “I’m not used to having much. It’s almost too much already.”
“Oh, don’t be silly! You’re one of us now.”
“I’m afraid I’m just me,” Pandora mumbled and let loose a heavy sigh. Why was it so hard for her to understand?
“I can’t wait to take you out to get dresses.”
“I don’t wear dresses.”
“Why not? They’re great. They swish and move with you and all sorts of things. Plus, they’re pretty.” She took a deep breath. “You’d look pretty in a dress. All that natural linen does is make you look plain.”
“But I am plain,” Pandora said with acceptance. She was content to be ordinary.
“You’re only plain because you dress so drab. We really have to fix that.”
Pandora bit back a sigh. She had nothing new to say to Serene so she just shut up and shut her out. Serene was terribly tiresome.
Breakfast was a more fair affair than she was used to. It almost made her lose her appetite. Almost.
Pandora managed to keep herself out of dresses for the most part. Her uncle had demanded that she have a couple in case a special occasion should arise, but she was more than welcome to wear what were more comfortable outfits on every day. It pleased her well enough. He was easy enough to rein in when it came to styles and colors so long as Serene didn’t get too excited.
Then he would just buy it to shut up his daughter. He told her that she didn’t have to wear the clothes if she didn’t want to.
Pandora wondered over and over how he got so much money, but then the conversation with Serene always came back to her. Her father was a thief. In her half-asleep daze Pandora could not bring herself to believe that her uncle actually stole from people. Stealing was wrong. Her mother always said so.
But then of course beating her father up on a regular basis was also wrong. Hating people because of things beyond their control was wrong. Telling a little girl she was an abomination was wrong. The memory of that made Pandora feel sick. Serene could be annoying, but she wasn’t an abomination. As far as appearance went Serene was the closest thing to perfect Pandora had ever seen.
Pandora was wise enough to never say that to Serene though. Serene would never shut up.
Pandora groaned quietly.
“You should come read this book. It’s about dragon scales. You’ll love it, I swear!”
Pandora pondered there being a magical voice system through the house. She knew that Serene was calling from the library. Serene was obsessed with dragon scales and Pandora since she received the gifts from the dragons. She was also sad that Pandora had given hers away to her parents. She offered to get them back but Pandora had refused. Pandora wasn’t a thief.
She also wondered where Serene got the patience to even hunt for information on the scales. Pandora had tired of it only a few minutes in and went out into the garden to spar her uncle. It seemed like a better use of her time.
“I know you don’t like looking things up,” Serene babbled matter-of-factly, “But I bet you’d still like to read it. It didn’t take me long to find the book, really. It’s in a language I don’t remember seeing before, but it is interesting. Do you read Pandora? Oh, I’m sure you do. You’re not that stupid.”
“Ignorant,” Pandora said. “People who can’t read are not necessarily stupid.”
Serene blushed, but Pandora only caught it from the corner of her eye. She was looking at the book. It was written in a strange language. At first the symbols and scratches didn’t make any sense, but after a minute of staring at it she was finally able to form words out of it. They felt odd when spoken, but they rolled off her tongue as easily as her own language.
“Wow, you sound really pretty when you say that,” Serene said dreamily. “I wonder if I do too. It’s so hard to say.” She gave a wistful sigh.
“Why don’t you read it aloud and we’ll see,” Pandora said. She had no desire to read out loud. It always made her nervous, and she didn’t want to sound like a fool in front of her cousin. She talked too much.
Serene made a fuss about clearing her throat and shifting her body so that she stood up straighter and looked more important. “There is nothing more useful than a dragon scale. All dragon scales have different properties. Their properties are generally denoted by their color. The most common types of dragon scales are elemental. Fire is the most common among those and earth is the rarest due to the fact that earth dragons tend to burrow themselves deep into the earth and only come out to mate. A conversation I had with an earth dragon long ago revealed that earth dragons prefer to help keep the world alive and fertile. They’re almost cultish in their devotion and rarely if ever breed with other types of dragons.”
Serene gave her cousin a smug look and then continued reading, “Fire dragons are hot headed for their race, but the most sociable. For any errand they will shed a scale for a mortal who will bother to listen to them. Their scales are often used to create enchanted swords for cutting through flesh with fire. Sometimes healers use flaming knives to cauterize wounds. Their power can also be used to create fire stones which are used for many things. The persons control over the stone is all that really limits the possibilities.”
“What about the blue one?”
“I’m getting to that.” She cleared her throat again. “Water dragons come in array of colors between blues and greens and can often be mistaken for other types of dragons. With blue scales and green scales it is incredibly important to know what type of dragon you got the scales from. Where fire dragon scales will heat up when they touch flesh water scales give no indication. Once I saw a very experienced enchanter try and make a water skin of endless water for trips over the desert. Instead he made a water skin that was so cold he froze off his hands. It was very tragic.”
“So dragon scales are used for enchanting,” Pandora said, proud of herself for picking out something important.
“And that’s not all!” Serene smiled smugly again before skipping over some paragraphs. “Some dragon scales are good for making armor—or should I say all dragon scales are good for making armor? If all or not some are definitely better. Elemental armor will make you resistant if not immune to magic of that element so long as you’re wearing the armor. Earth type dragons and war dragons make the best armor. There is an earth dragon that is commonly called a stone dragon that if formed properly will never crack or damage. You’ll fly before you feel a blow that lands on the armor. It’s stiff if crafted by non-dragons, but if you can ever get a boon from a stone dragon to enchant the armor you’ll never know anything better.”
Serene looked at her cousin with excitement. “We should get you some of that, Pandora. You like to fight!”
“I like to spar. I never intend to be in a situation where armor like that is necessary.”
Serene gave her a skeptical look. “Anyway, that’s the best part so far. If I read anything else that’s that interesting, I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks,” Pandora said and stared at the book. “What language is that written in?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Let me look at the introduction.”
“It sounds like a old man mage wrote it,” Pandora said and crinkled her nose. “He babbled a lot.”
“I didn’t notice. I thought it was interesting. Dragons do the darnedest things.” She hummed to herself as she thumbed through the pages. Something must have caught her eye because she stopped and flopped the book entirely open again. “Oh, this is interesting too, Pandie.”
“Fine,” she huffed, “Pandora. Anyhow, it says that once now and again a person will be born that can speak Draconic, the language of the dragons. They are highly sought after by enchanters because they can get the most scales from dragons since dragons often favor those who possess the gift. Mages, however, do learn the language.”
“How much of that are you actually reading?”
“Fine,” Pandora said reading the book a little more thoroughly. She decided that whoever wrote the book wrote as much as Serene talked. “Do you think we’re like that?”
“Well, I don’t see why not. It says that only one who isn’t bonded exists at a time. That would make us special. Do you think this is written in Draconic?”
“Maybe. What is the title?”
“Oh, something silly like ‘How to Know What to Do When You Speak Draconic’,” Serene said off handedly. “Mages learn it all the time so that they can run errands for Dragons. The book says so.”
“Do books know everything?”
“Well, some books are wrong, but this guy probably lived with dragons. I bet he knows lots more about them than any mage ever will and a lot more than he wrote. I’m going to read it some more. Do you want to read it with me?”
Pandora shrugged. “Just let me know what you find out. I have to study.”
Serene looked crestfallen. “Oh.”
Pandora stood there awkwardly for a moment trying to figure out what she should say. “I’m just not as smart as you,” she decided on. “I have to work harder in school.”
This cheered Serene up, and Pandora went to her blue room at the reprieve.