Sovereign of the Dragon (Part 5)
by J.J. Massa
Evening was just coloring the dusky sky as the feathered wings of Reilly's phoenix began to move. In a complete reversal of their last trip into the heavens, Reilly sat in front of Nadya, her arms wrapped around the large bird's neck, while Nadya held on to her.
"Don't let go!" Reilly called over her shoulder, completely unnecessarily.
Nadya was many things, but she was not suicidal. Aside from the creature being Reilly's bird, there was a second reason for her to ride behind her friend. She'd have had to sit at the back because of her hair. According to Reilly, the yellow of Nadya's long hair flowed down her back and merged with the bright gold tips of the bird's lush plumage.
It was an amazing creature, and Nadya didn't try to contain her fascination. The phoenix stood nearly six feet tall and looked a great deal like a peacock, only in different colors. The crown-like crest on the bird's head was the darkest purple, which lightened slightly to burgundy, becoming scarlet, and then a fire burst of red, orange, and yellow, before transitioning to a translucent, sun-bright sweep of gold at the end.
A glance to her left showed Tikan, his arms wrapped around Luke as they rode the sea breeze on the back of Luke's majestic familiar. Tikan's eyes locked on her, conveying clearly that he was less than thrilled with the travel arrangements.
Even as his gaze softened and warmed her, stirring the deep and confusing feelings she had for him, Nadya thought of the morning and her uncle's letter.
Let me begin by saying that I love you, I'm worried about you, and I want you to be okay, but more than that, I want you to stay in touch with me and be honest about how you are. I am trusting you to keep me fully informed.
The paper had been wadded and smeared, after that, making it difficult to read. She might not have been able to read another word but for her dragon, or what Nadya believed was her dragon. A warm, steamy breeze wafted through the room, somehow straightening the wrinkled paper, and somehow clearing the ink blots away.
By now, I am quite sure that your beaux has told you that the crown has been called and I am now king. I suppose, were I talking about someone else, I would have written King, but in reference to myself, I cannot.
Can you tell that I am avoiding an issue? Now that I know about you, Nadya, you are the most important person in my life, and my only remaining relative…and I am all that is left for you in that regard.
What I am saying, badly, is that your father contacted me last night, when the yoke of sovereignty transferred to me. He and your mother are gone. He loved you, Nadya, I know he did. He asked me to take care of you-- "We are safe," he said. "Take care of our daughter."
He said it Russian, of course. That was only right, as he took the time to teach me his mother-tongue all those years ago. He was a good, but hard man, and your mother a beautiful, capable, and just woman. Without her, he was only half-alive.
I am sorry, child. The world has lost two good people, the same two people, twice. They both loved us, very much. Hold onto that if you can.
I will be here for you, in any way you need me, Nadya.
She had been asleep when the letter arrived. The solid thunk it made falling into the box brought her awake instantly.
Just thinking about it--that her father was no longer in the world--she felt the tears prickle again, pulling at the backs of her eyes, slipping past the corner of her eyelids, down her temple, past her nose, and back into the slipstream of tugging wind. She'd barely had him. In her entire lifetime, as much as she'd loved him, he was a thought, a touchstone, but so distant. Their last meeting, with the way he'd hugged her, held her close and spoke lovingly to her, it seemed he was trying to fit a lifetime's worth of love into the handful of minutes allotted them.
Tikan waved at her from her left side, catching her attention. She turned, her heart squeezing in fear as he reached out, wobbling dangerously on the back of Luke's phoenix.
"I'm fine," she shouted over the noise of the pounding wind. The birds couldn’t fly quite as high as the dragons could, not with passengers on their backs.
She couldn't hear his response, but Luke's was clear enough, if too filthy to say, much less do. Having caught Tikan's shirtfront and righted him, Luke turned away again, glancing down toward the water where Jason rode with his own enormous familiar. Nadya couldn't resist a glance and shuddered when she spotted their other friend, wrapped securely from the ribs down in a large tentacle. He appeared to be enjoying himself, so Nadya turned her attention back to her fellow air-travelers.
Reilly didn't move a muscle, apparently missing the entire thing. Tikan shrugged and looked apologetically at her, moving his no-longer-waving hand to Luke's waist.