Young dragon rider Amynta returned to her senator mother Timo’s home expecting conflict, the possibility of good food and a very nice bath. Instead she found the lovely Pallas, a mysterious visitor to her mother’s home.
Dinner brought a request that Amynta hadn’t expected along with possibilities that Amynta had given up on years ago. Perhaps with Pallas’ help Amynta might fly beyond her mother’s domain to make her own life.
Dragon Rider’s Song is a sweet fantasy romance between two young women whose lives revolve around dragons and the songs they use to communicate.
Dragon Rider’s Song
By Meyari McFarland
Amynta strode into her mother, Timo’s, home, shedding her helmet and shield with noisy clangs that sent the servants scurrying. Amynta kicked aside her greaves with a sigh of relief that she didn’t bother to hide. Breastplate, pauldron and the heavy leather coat that protected her from dragon fire and freezing at altitude went next. She paused at the threshold of the kitchen to unlace her heavy boots so that she could kick them off.
The low musical word startled Amynta enough that she lost her balance and toppled to the red, yellow and blue painted tiles. A sea foam green floor-length stola filled her eyes as she swept her gaze upwards to a delicate burnt umber hand adorned by slender gold rings. The lovely young woman had a pair of laughing golden-brown eyes framed by perfect chestnut curls.
“Ah, hello?” Amynta said as she scrambled back to her feet. “Sorry, I didn’t know that Mother, I mean Timo, I mean Senator Timo was hosting guests right now.”
She couldn’t help but be acutely aware of the differences between Amynta and her mother’s beautiful guest. While the gorgeous young woman was immaculately dressed, perfectly coifed with stylish curls, Amynta now wore only her partially unlaced boots, breast bindings and underwear. After hours in her helmet, Amynta knew that her hair had to be a bird’s nest of tangles. Sweat had long since soaked through all the layers of her clothes so Amynta had to be painfully pungent.
Embarrassment made Amynta’s cheeks heat. She’d gotten used to stripping as soon as she and Blood Blossom, her dragon, got home to the barracks. It had been automatic to do the same here even though this wasn’t the barracks and her mother hated it when Amynta stripped on the way in. For the first time Amynta understood her mother’s objections, if only because it would have been nice to have made a better first impression.
“Must you scatter your armor everywhere when you come in?” Timo asked as she stalked over, delicate sandals sounding more like heavy boots with the impact of her heels. She held Amynta’s coat in two fingers, extended to arm’s reach, as if it might infect her. “The servants don’t appreciate cleaning up after you, Amynta. You are a woman grown. I would appreciate if you would attempt to learn how to behave like an adult.”
“And you don’t appreciate me walking around the house stinking of sweat and dragon fire,” Amynta snarled as she snatched the coat out of Timo’s fingers. Just like Timo to try to make Amynta look bad in front of someone she might be interested in. “By Blood Blossom’s shell, I’ve heard your thoughts about ‘responsible adulthood’ a thousand times. Guest?”
Amynta gestured towards the young woman who watched the two of them as though she was at the theatre. Fortunately, she didn’t seem upset by Amynta’s semi-nudity, Timo’s hostility or this round of their never-ending arguments about Amynta’s choice of career. If anything, she seemed fascinated.
The foyer carried their words through the house. It opened on the other hallways and rooms and was specifically designed for letting the servants know that someone had arrived. Timo couldn’t have picked a better location to let Amynta know that she had not been forgiven. Not that it mattered to Amynta if the entire town knew that she was still at odds with her powerful mother. Everyone already knew that, from the town mayor on down to the servants who poked their heads into the foyer to frown at Amynta.
“Yes, I have a guest,” Timo drawled as she nodded graciously towards her guest. “Her name is Pallas and she’s come from the Academy to study the copies of Ferenius’ histories in our private library. I presume that you’ll never see her again because of it. There are other guests, as well, who are likely to take you for a prostitute if you walk around without clothing.”
“More likely they’d take me for a warrior or field slave,” Amynta snorted. “No prostitute has ever had my muscles, at least not the female ones.”
Pallas tried to smother a shocked giggle behind her hand, eyes gone almost true gold with amusement when Amynta turned to look at her. She didn’t seem offended at all by the hostility between Amynta and Timo, thank the Fire Gods. Timo glared at Amynta, eyes so narrow that Amynta would have braced for attack if it was anyone else.
“You are a bit exposed,” Pallas commented diplomatically enough that Timo eased back slightly, her shoulders coming down. Her voice was lovely, rich and throaty but with a sort of control that made Amynta wonder wildly for a second what she would sound like if she sang. “Not that I mind but one of the other guests is a vestal virgin.”
Amynta’s cheeks burned. “Ah. Sorry. I’ll just go get cleaned up.”
“Finally,” Timo sighed. “And if you could manage to remember your etiquette before dinner, it would be even more appreciated. We civilized folk have manners unlike your dragon riding friends, you know.”
The insinuation that Amynta wasn’t as serious about dragon riding as Timo was about her work in the senate made Amynta’s teeth clench. It was always this way. No matter what Amynta did, it wasn’t good enough. Even when she had tried to follow in her mother’s footsteps all Timo had for her was scorn, disapproval and ‘lessons’ about how far she was from perfection.
Amynta turned and waved one hand at Pallas, signing ‘my apologies for what will follow’ the way Blood Blossom often did before tearing into her squealing and kicking dinner. It was pure habit as there was no way Pallas could understand the little gesture. Most dragon riders didn’t catch onto those sorts of gestures until they’d been riding for several years.
Before Amynta could turn back to yell at her mother in earnest, Pallas dropped her hand from her mouth and smiled so brightly at Amynta that the anger drained straight out of her. It was a beautiful smile that stretched Pallas’ lush lips and wrinkled her eyes up so that it illuminated Pallas from the inside out. Amynta’s heart pounded against her breastbone suddenly. She licked her lips, entirely too aware of Timo’s fierce glare at them both. A lump settled in her throat as her mouth went dry.
“I’m pleased that I got to meet you, Dragon Rider Amynta,” Pallas said. “I hope that you do come to dinner. I’d love to talk to you further.”
“Ah, I’ll… I’ll be there,” Amynta said. She swallowed against the nervous, excited lump in her throat. Her throat burned as she tried to push down the nervousness so that she wouldn’t embarrass herself in front of Pallas, much less Timo. The nervousness slid all the way down to her stomach, settling there to make her stomach flitter like new hatchling wings fluttering.
Wine mixed with honeyed dates on Amynta’s tongue as she silently listened to the conversation flowing around her. She hadn’t expected dinner to be a semi-formal affair. Timo had sent a proper floor-length stola to the baths for Amynta to wear. Amynta had ignored it in favor of a much more comfortable chiton that reached to her knees.
Part of it had been the desire to rebel against Timo’s ever-misplaced expectations but a bigger part of Amynta had simply not wanted to wear a stola that made her look like a scarecrow dressed in one of Timo’s cast off garments. As simple as Amynta’s chiton was, just a piece of fabric twice as long as Amynta’s arms stretched out, it draped around her muscular body far more attractively than the too soft, too pale, too womanly stola.
Amynta didn’t really care what Timo’s other guests thought of her. Most of them probably had already been warned, privately or publicly depending on Timo’s temper at the time, that Amynta was anything but a proper daughter of nobility. Really, it had been pure pride that made her choose a garment that looked good on her for the dinner even if it was inappropriate for the gathering.
It wasn’t as though Amynta had ever had much of a womanly figure. Training to ride dragons gave her enough muscle that people frequently mistook her for a man. She just didn’t want Pallas to look at her and giggle at how much she looked like a too-old cheap actor playing a woman’s role in a stola that had been stuffed with apples to fill it out. Not that Amynta would have padded out the bust of the stola even if she had worn it.
“At least I took the palla,” Amynta muttered into her wine cup before tugging the long end of the draped shall so that her right thigh wasn’t naked. “I don’t look a total idiot.”
The rest of the dinner party reclined comfortably on their couches. Amynta did her best not to fidget nervously. She would have preferred eating in the kitchen to this but Timo would have come after her with a whip if she had. Not to mention that Amynta wouldn’t have gotten to watch Pallas enchanting the room with her presence and lovely voice.
Pallas had the one farthest from the door, making her the center of attention for the room. Timo had changed into a stola embroidered with so much gold thread that the hem of her stola didn’t drape over her feet; it lurched, awkward and stiff in its attempt to impress. Unlike Timo, Pallas wore the same sea-green stola that she had before. She’d added a soft white palla pinned at her left shoulder with a tiny golden dragon in flight but that was all she’d done to prepare for the party.
She held everyone’s attention with ease, smiling and laughing as though she was a nightingale turned human for the event. It seemed that everyone thought she was beautiful. Amynta gritted her teeth as two sixty year old male senators took turns trying to come up with poetry that would describe Pallas’ eyebrows well enough. Pallas laughed, waved one hand as she accepted their extravagant compliments and then gracefully turned the conversation to a discussion of the latest legislation going through the senate.
Amynta was just glad that she’d been granted a couch close enough to hear what Pallas said. Her unexpected return home most certainly would have justified Timo exiling her to the couches closest to the door where what was left of the food always arrived cold and the wine was nearly gone before it was poured. That had happened often enough in the past as Timo tried to show Amynta just what she was losing by not following Timo into politics.
No matter how many times Amynta told Timo that she was happy as a dragon rider and miserable dealing with politics, Timo tried to remind Amynta of her place. She should be here, working to rule their country. Amynta was noble. Her duty to family should override duty to country. Joy had no place in the discussion as far as Timo was concerned.
None of the guests paid Amynta any mind but she was more than happy to be ignored. Senators always bored her. The one general who had attended was infantry. They ignored each other entirely rather than snipe at each other’s worthlessness in the field of combat. There were two other scholars who had apparently come with Pallas but they looked as uncomfortable at the party as Amynta felt. All they did was eat and drink while nodding at whatever Pallas said.
That was fine. It let her stare at Pallas and simply enjoy Pallas’ voice rather than trying to come up with something appropriate to talk about. It had been entirely too long since Amynta had read Ferenius’ histories and the only laws she paid attention to were the ones related to dragons. Most of the less flirtatious discussion at dinner had gone straight over Amynta’s head.
“Amynta,” Pallas said, startling Amynta so badly that she nearly dropped her wine cup. “I’ve heard that dragon riders sing in battle to encourage their dragons. Is that true?”
“Yes?” Amynta asked.
Pallas giggled at Amynta’s blank stare which only made the other guests stare all the harder at Amynta. As the seconds stretched Timo’s arch look became a ferocious glare at Amynta’s complete lack of self-possession. Amynta cleared her throat and blushed as she smiled shyly at Pallas.
“Ahem. I mean, yes, we do,” Amynta finally said. “Dragons communicate in song, you see, so if we want them to understand us then we have to sing too.”
“Really?” Pallas breathed, lovely lips parted and eyes darkening into deep brown with so much delight that the rest of Timo’s guests also smiled at Amynta.
“Would you… consider singing for us after dinner?” Pallas asked so shyly that it made Amynta’s cheeks flare brighter red still. “I would love to hear a dragon rider’s song. I have a cousin who trained to ride dragons but he had to stop after his voice changed. It went too deep for him to sing properly.”
Amynta glanced at Timo. The one time she’d dared to sing to Blood Blossom during a visit Timo had been so unsettled that she’d ended up screaming at Amynta in public. Granted, this time Blood Blossom had flown back to the barracks so that she didn’t have to deal with Timo, but that didn’t mean that Timo would approve.
She obviously didn’t. Timo glared back at Amynta, lips thin, eyes narrowed with anger that Amynta would dare to disrupt her dinner party in any way, much less one that so clearly highlighted the fact that Amynta hadn’t followed her mother’s path. In contrast, the other party guests looked curious. Pallas bit her lip when Amynta turned back to her. Amynta’s fingers trembled on the edge of her couch as she leaned closer even though several couches lay between them.
“I’d be honored to,” Amynta replied.
“You cannot do this!” Timo hissed at Amynta as the servants cleared the couches and tables.
The other guests had drifted out into the garden following Pallas the ever-shining sun around which they all orbited. This left Amynta alone with her mother. Amynta shifted her feet, toes subconsciously curling down in her sandals in preparation for a physical attack from Timo. Such violence hadn’t happened since Amynta grew taller than her mother but the old need to defend herself remained deeply ingrained.
“She’s your guest, Mother,” Amynta replied quietly so that no one else would hear their argument. “How many times have you told me to be polite to the guests?”
“That’s not what this is about,” Timo snapped. She raised her chin and smiled stiffly when one of the guests, a senator with an elaborately embroidered palla draped over his ankle-length chiton, glanced their way with worry in his eyes. “You’re worse than a bitch in heat,” Timo said once the senator was gone. “Pallas is virginal, Amynta. You will keep your hands to yourself.”
“I’ve not so much as touched her,” Amynta growled back. “And I won’t. I have to be back on patrol in three days, Mother. Pallas already said that she’s leaving tomorrow. There isn’t time for anything to develop.”
Amynta shook her head. Timo strode off into the gardens to entertain her guests with the same determined political smile that spoke of deals to be made and people to be convinced to take Timo’s side. It was exactly what had driven Amynta out of the house and into the dragon rider corps. They were far too much alike despite having such wildly different desires and dreams.
Not that it mattered now. Even if Timo had convinced Amynta to abandon Blood Blossom, give up her post among the dragon riders and join her in politics, Amynta was far too tightly tied to the dragon riders to be effective in politics. She would never be an effective senator like her mother.
Amynta joined the others outside, walking slowly along the edges of the small groups of chatting people. Most of them nodded to her, some respectfully, some with disapproval obvious in the set of their shoulders and tightness of their lips. The general snorted and jerked his chin at Timo as if to say he understood totally why Amynta had chosen to be a dragon rider. She shrugged at him, smiling wryly because what was there to say.
The garden was cool, lush with all the plants the servants had cultivated. Pallas had drifted to the fountain, perching on the wide rim as if she truly were a nightingale. In her pale stola she looked like something from a dream rather than anything real. Amynta slowly walked over, her heart beat faster as Pallas smiled in greeting.
“Amynta,” Pallas said, her eyes wrinkling around the corners in ways that made her seem older than her apparent years in a smile that barely quirked her lips. “Will you sing for us now?”
“I’ll sing for you,” Amynta said. “The songs are communication, you see, not just entertainment. They’re the dragon equivalent of a conversation.”
Amynta could see Timo’s expression out of the corner of her eye. She looked furious, a disapproving scowl making her face dark and cruel despite the other guests relatively congenial curiosity. Timo’s anger didn’t compare against the look in Pallas’ eyes. It had been a long time since Amynta felt like a coltish girl who’d never been kissed. Pallas brought it out so easily. All that mattered as Amynta shifted closer to Pallas was the pretty blush that crept over Pallas’ dark cheeks as she nodded that she would like that.
“Does it matter what you say?” Pallas asked.
“Of course,” Amynta said. “It always matters what you say and who you say it to.”
The moon peeked over the garden wall, spilling silvery light over the olive tree in the back by the wall. The ferns by the house seemed to sway in the moonlight despite the lack of wind. It turned Pallas’ sea foam stola into spun silver. The hem on Amynta’s palla shaded to black under the combined torch and moon light. As the guests quieted, Amynta took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Perhaps they would only have this one night. If so, Amynta decided that she would make the most of the time she had. Timo didn’t understand the language of the dragons so Amynta could say whatever she wanted. And right now, all Amynta wanted to do was tell Pallas how beautiful she was and what it joy it was to see her here in Timo’s house.
Dragon song was high and thin, sung in registers that most humans struggled to reach. It wasn’t pleasant on the ear like true song. Amynta was grateful that she’d eaten lightly, that she’d only drunk one glass of sharp wine. Her throat was clear, allowing her to sing her best.
“Alone in a crowd,” Amynta began, “unseen except to disapprove. Blood binds sometimes when it shouldn’t. Flight becomes freedom except the ground always calls.”
She let her voice start out soft, thoughtful despite the effort it took to reach the high notes of ‘flight’ and ‘freedom’. Around Amynta the other party guests stirred, discomfort on their faces as they edged further away from the painfully high notes.
That was normal. Humans didn’t enjoy dragon song even when it was sung by a human throat. It was too high, too alien for comfort. The only one who seemed untroubled was Pallas. She stared up at Amynta with a bright, curious expression. Her golden-brown eyes were like wells of night gently urging Amynta on.
“Family becomes a burden when hatchlings are bound too tightly,” Amynta sang.
She allowed all of her frustration with Timo into the long rising sequence of notes that formed ‘burden’. It sounded just like a dragon struggling skyward with a heavy load on its back. Pallas frowned at that, drawing in a startled breath that almost made Amynta believe she understood what the song meant.
“Yet the nest always calls,” Amynta continued more thoughtfully.
She looked around the garden she’d known since infancy, allowing ‘calls’ to stretch so much that it became ‘welcomes’ then ‘shelters’ and finally ended it when it became ‘buries’. All of the words were right. It just depended on how hard she’d fought with Timo, and on which word/description felt most right at any given moment.
Pallas lifted a hand, moonlight glimmering on tears that gathered in her eyes without falling. Behind her, behind the fountain, Timo’s face hovered in the darkness like an angry ghost Amynta looked at Timo, regret filling her.
“Parenthood can be a burden to one who does not desire it,” Amynta mused. The thoughtfulness took the song lower, into the register that dragons could barely hear but which felt less painful to human ears. “It comes and makes its demands even if mothers are not ready. The price is high and the burden long. Some accept that burden and find joy flying with their young. Others cannot.”
Timo’s chin went up defiantly as Amynta sang to her, towards her, about her. All Amynta could see was hostility in her eyes. She slashed one thumb across her throat, telling Amynta to stop singing at once. Amynta winced and sighed. Truly, some mothers couldn’t accept the choices of their young.
Pallas blinked several times when Amynta winced. She looked sharply over her shoulder, just in time to catch Timo dropping her hand from her throat. Amynta stepped back from Pallas, from the other party guests. She shouldn’t have come home today no matter how much she missed this place.
“Adulthood comes when fledglings fly free to make their own nests,” Pallas sang in much too low and earthy tones for true dragon song.
Her voice was beautiful, rich and warm like being wrapped in a blanket on a cold winter’s night. It was far too low for a dragon to hear but it sounded like heaven in Amynta’s ears. How she knew the song was a mystery until Amynta realized that Pallas must have learned from her cousin. Or maybe, Amynta thought as Timo gasped, the cousin was a polite fiction to hide Pallas’ past among the dragon riders.
Amynta stared, her heart thumping hard in her chest as Pallas stood to take Amynta’s hand. “Few fledglings successfully make their nest the first attempt.”
“Yet every nest attempted teaches new skills,” Pallas laughed. Her fingers were warm and encouraging in Amynta’s palm. “The fledgling who stays in the nest will inevitably die. Only by flying free can a fledgling become an adult.”
The old saying was one that Blood Blossom had told her over and over since they started working together. It had become something of a private joke between the two of them. Amynta laughed, her knees shaking at hearing that same old advice from an all new quarter.
It felt like her first flight with Blood Blossom, like something new was being built but that was nonsense. Amynta shook her head. She didn’t get to have relationships like this. None of her lovers had ever stayed with her, unwilling to compete against Amynta’s bond with Blood Blossom. But Pallas didn’t look as though she had any problems with the fact that Amynta was a dragon rider. If her smile was anything to judge by, she approved.
“What are you saying?” Timo demanded as she strode around the fountain to pull Amynta away from Pallas. “What is going on? When did you teach her dragon song, Amynta?”
“Amynta didn’t teach me dragon song, Senator Timo,” Pallas said so sternly that Timo winced visibly. “I knew it already. I’ve known it for years.”
“If you want to know what I said,” Amynta huffed as her mother turned to glare at her, “you might consider asking me politely without assuming that I was rude or disobedient towards you. I said nothing improper. Dragon song sounds most hostile when it’s most thoughtful and sad.”
Timo started, staring up into Amynta’s eyes. Amynta could see her turning ideas over in her eyes, quickly flipping between responses that would be appropriate before her guests. Timo’s mouth moved but no sound came out at first. After a second, Timo snapped her mouth shut and rubbed the sharp arch of her nose. Amynta stood still, waiting. Interrupting her mother’s thoughts never went well for anyone, especially for Amynta.
“What?” Timo murmured so quietly that it was doubtful that Pallas heard it, much less anyone else.
“Just… regret,” Amynta replied equally quietly. “I didn’t know she knew dragon song otherwise I would have said something else entirely.”
Timo hid a two-second smirk behind an upraised hand, her eyes abruptly amused at Amynta’s embarrassment. The smirk disappeared immediately after that as Timo waved her hand at Pallas’ angry expression. She bowed her head towards Pallas as if it would make up for her accusations.
“Well, if that’s all you’re talking about then I suppose I might owe you an apology,” Timo said. “Really, dragon song is so unpleasant to listen to that I always assume the worst.”
She sauntered off to talk to her fellow senators on the far side of the garden, leaving Pallas and Amynta alone. The other guests followed, some quickly as if relieved to be allowed to escape, others more slowly as if they were curious to see what Amynta and Pallas might do if freed from Timo’s disapproving supervision Shortly, though, Amynta was alone with Pallas by the fountain.
“That one is horrible,” Pallas sang softly, warmly, far too deeply for a dragon to hear.
“That one had never wanted motherhood,” Amynta explained in her own version of a low, deep tone. The uncommon deepness made the dragon song into something strange and absurdly intimate. “That one wished to lead, to fly into battle, to explore the world. Motherhood killed all those dreams.”
“Sad,” Pallas sang.
Her tone changed the single word from a statement of understanding into a question. Amynta shrugged, gently tugging Pallas further away from the other party guests and their political talk. She had her own questions about Pallas and her ability to sing dragon song. Her mother’s regrets over Amynta’s accidental conception were something that Amynta could never ease so there was no point in spending much time discussing it.
They settled together on a bench under a bower of draped wisteria. The bench wasn’t hidden. Timo and the other guests could still see them but at least it was dark enough that their expressions wouldn’t be immediately obvious. It was the best that Amynta could do short of hauling Pallas off to the library or her bedroom.
“This one feels sorrow for what was lost between this one and her mother,” Amynta explained. She gestured discretely towards Timo and her clique of senators. “That one was never allowed to fly free. That one will never build the nest that was dreamed of. That one will die still trapped in a nest built by that one’s parents.”
“You’re far more compassionate than I would be,” Pallas murmured. “Sorry, I can’t sing for very long anymore.”
“It is hard on the throat,” Amynta agreed. “And I’ve been told that. My dragon frequently complains about my excessive kindness. She says that I would praise and enemy before killing them.”
Pallas giggled, wrinkling her nose as if she knew exactly what it was like to have a dragon nagging you about something. Amynta bit her lip and cocked her head so that she could stare more deeply into Pallas’ eyes. Some of the older dragon riders claimed that they could always tell when they met someone who had trained with dragons, who had ridden them. She’d never been able to do so before.
“You rode,” Amynta whispered. “It wasn’t your cousin who trained. It was you.”
“Ah…!” Pallas gasped and then stared at her toes, kicking them out from under the hem of her stola like a little girl. She swung her feet as she nodded shyly. “I lied. I hate it when people say that I’m so much better off away from the dragons.”
“Ought to punch them,” Amynta grumbled. “You must have ridden messenger. As small as you are you wouldn’t have weighed them down. They’re the wildest fliers I’ve ever seen.”
“I did,” Pallas said. Her smile was wicked and sly as she looked up through her lashes. “You’re obviously a warrior. I almost forgot what it was like when the warriors would come back, smelling of smoke and clouds, stripping their armor as they stomped towards the baths. It was like… being home again.”
Amynta blushed and laughed, rubbing the back of her neck. Even Timo’s head snapping up to glare at them didn’t diminish the joy making her heart sing like a dragon in flight. Pallas laughed with her.
She sat up and reached out to take Amynta’s. As soon as she did so Timo’s voice rose, carrying from the other side of the garden like the sound of a rogue ocean wave crashing against the shore. Of course, her guests followed suit, laughing and talking more loudly in covert disapproval for the forward behavior.
“I think…” Amynta stopped, shaking her head no. “I think I want to build my own nest. I think I want to fly free but I do not want to fly alone.”
“I would enjoy flying with you,” Pallas replied, her tongue flicking out to touch her upper lip for a second just like a dragon scenting the air for lightning. “That is, if you can keep up with me.”
“I think I would like to try,”‘ Amynta said and laughed at the joy in Pallas’ beautiful dark eyes.
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