A Whisper in the Wind
Written by Tünde Csobán Illustration by Maggie McToon
The dragon’s roar echoed throughout the castle’s shiny metallic and stone walls, shaking the tall windows and nearly deafening the crowd gathered on the castle grounds. The hundreds of guests, who were celebrating the 13th birthday of the royal Princess Victriana, swiftly reacted with a well-choreographed plan to take cover in response to the giant beast, as if the threat was no more than heavy rains the weatherman had failed to predict, albeit with a bit more panic in their eyes. After all, no storm – predicted or not – had ever brought flaming precipitation.
It had been over 1000 years since the first egg had landed on the planet and in the intervening time the dragons and wyverns, which had proven to be unkillable, had inhabited and taken control of large portions of the land. Human evolution over the past centuries had spurred the emergence of people known as Dragon Dancers and Wyvern Whisperers who possessed the ability to help keep the beasts under control. But they were few and far between.
Britannia, Victriana’s family’s kingdom, was home to a handful of Dancers and Whisperers – more than any other kingdom or city on the planet. Most of them were young and still in training, but the three Whisperers who served with the Royal Guard – Sophia, Aliya, and Edmon – were incredibly skilled and experienced in dealing with the beasts and the circumstances surrounding an attack. Edmon and Sophia got to work immediately, directing guests to safety, while Aliya tended to the royal family. She had been the family’s personal guardian for over two decades and was like a sister to the queen. They followed her direction without question. It wasn’t long, however, before they realized Princess Victriana was not among them.
Aliya scanned the crowd for her, secretly hoping she had already snuck away from the party back into the castle with some of the other kids from her class. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Victriana could never stand sitting through ceremonial gatherings, and her birthday was the worst of all, since the date of her birth was shared with the date of a particularly tragic dragon egg landing. While it was, of course, frowned upon for her to ditch these events, in this case, if she was back in the castle, at least she would be safe. Still, Aliya had to be sure. So, with the queen and king secured behind the outer barrier of the castle, she took a few steps out into the courtyard. Sophia and Edmon were still assisting the rest of the royal guard as another roar from the dragon shook the grounds. Aliya’s eyes darted throughout the crowd frantically, but she did not see her charge. Suddenly she heard a voice…
“Easy boy, calm down.” The whisper was quiet, but there was something magical about it that carried with the wind to everyone’s ears. As Aliya turned around, she saw the teenage girl standing in front of the furious dragon, her shock of hair dancing in the Sun like fire flowing from her head. Aliya was taken aback at the odd sight of the Princess’s tiny figure dressed all in black with gold accents – a color combination that celebrated the day of her birth, while simultaneously commemorating the tragic event that had happened on the very same day. Her face was focused as she concentrated on the dragon, barely noticing her ‘Birthday Girl’ crown dangling from her lush, wild mane, which resembled a living fire with its variety of thick red and orange strands.
“That’s it, it’s alright. Shhh, it’s alright, boy.” The words were almost silent, yet they still pierced the noise of people shouting and the wind from the dragon’s wings whistling in their ears. The queen made a loud gasp and dashed forward from behind the protective barrier, but Aliya intercepted her and gently, but firmly, held her back.
“Alright, now sit! Sit and stay!” The results of Victriana’s assertive but whispered commands on the dragon were remarkable! The movement of its tail slowed, while its head dashed from side to side, breathing fire toward the sky as its long neck bucked against the metaphysical restraints the Princess had cast upon it. Still, she had not gained total control, as the creature’s wings thrashed harshly, banging against the courtyard walls and breaking dozens of trees in half.
Aliya wanted to run into the fray, but she was required to stay close to the king and queen, as their protection was her top priority. Sophia and Edmon were escorting the last of the people behind the protective barrier when they realized what was happening. Without thinking Sophia broke away from her task, leaving Edmon to protect the crowd, and rushed to Victriana’s aid.
“Your Highness! We must get you to safety at once!” she shouted, an unmistakable deluge of anger permeating her pleas. But Victriana remained focused on the creature, her hand outreached as if giving a blessing or trying to pet the monstrosity. Its skin – a mix of purple, green and bronze – was scaly and sharp; shimmering and metallic, iridescent in the way it glistened and reflected the sun. Its limbs were wiry but powerful. Its teeth sharp and menacing.
“Princess Victriana! If you do not move right now, I swear to God you will be writing essays on our history until your 18th birthday! Get to your protector, now!”
This time, she definitely heard Sophia. The Princess cast an annoyed look at her trainer. “Let me do this,” she shouted back with defiance, her hand still outstretched toward the creature.
“Your Highness! I implore you, stand down! Your actions are not only dangerous, but against the laws and traditions that govern Whisperers. If you do this, the repercussions could affect the entire world in ways that you can’t understand. Please, stand down!”
“Forget tradition! I’m trying to save the castle! Why don’t you stop talking and start helping!”
“If you’d had more than a half dozen training sessions you would know that only one Whisperer at a time can link with a dragon. The only way for me to help is for you to let go!”
For the first time, Victriana realized that she may be in way over her head, as she had no idea what step to take next. With her hand still outreached toward the dragon and her face now softening a bit, she looked over to Sophia. “Okay,” the Princess said, with only a hint of contrition in her voice. “I’ll release the dragon to you.” Little did she know that as soon as she took her eyes off the beast, she had already released it! The creature suddenly leapt forward and flung one heavy wing against Victriana.
“Princess!” Sophia screamed in horror, as the appendage crashed into the girl and swept her up. Victriana hung on for dear life as it moved her across the courtyard in one big, sweeping motion. She was forced to let go and went flying into the catering tables, sliding over her birthday cake and leaving a trail of frosting behind. The cake table broke under her and she landed on the ground, covered in food and splinters. She had no time to feel sorry for the ruined dessert, as she looked up to see that the wing was coming at her again. She was ready to roll into the fetal position and accept her fate, when suddenly something clicked deep inside her. Led by instinct, she reached for the cake knife and held it out in front of her. She immediately realized the flaw in her logic – a knife couldn’t possibly provide any type of defense, as no human had ever harmed a dragon, regardless of what they’d tried. Guns, cannons, bombs, advanced machinery, lasers, not even the various incredible powers of hyper-beings… nothing had scratched the creatures, let alone had any lethal effect on them. She knew all of this and still, she bravely grasped the hilt of the piece of cutlery and held it up as the wing smashed into her and knocked her head into the ground. The last thing she saw was Aliya running to her and Sophia confronting the dragon, before drifting into unconsciousness.
Vicky’s head was buzzing when she awoke. She could hear the soft murmur of running computers around her, and the muffled sounds of careful footsteps on the soft carpet – she immediately knew exactly where she was. She opened her eyes to see the sight of her luxurious bedroom, high up in one of the skyscraper-tall towers of the castle. It was the perfect mix of medieval ambiance and futuristic technology. She sat up and was met with a deep sigh of relief from her father standing bedside. He stroked her hair a few more times, before looking over at the queen who sat across the room speaking to Aliya and Sophia. Aliya and the queen were talking in measured tones, she could barely catch a few words from Aliya here and there.
“… surprisingly small… yes, especially the wings… no… not female… age? We think young … possibly a fledgling, just a baby…” They were completely focused on their conversation, while it was pretty clear that Sophia was seething. Victriana wasn’t sure she wanted them to know she was awake, but it was too late.
“Vic! Oh sweetheart, finally! We were so worried about you!” Her mother got up and rushed to her as fast as she could, but as soon as she stood up, it became apparent how much her whole body was shaking. With a sudden flash of shame and guilt, Vicky realized how bad an effect stress could have on her mother due to a degenerative condition she’d suffered from ever since the day she gave birth to the Princess. Her mother’s shaking arms enveloped her in a hug, and she didn’t know what to say. Should she apologize? Should she protest? Say that she’s fine and they shouldn’t have worried?
She then saw Sophia step forward and, fully aware of the scolding she was about to receive, her mind quickly took a defensive posture. On the one hand, this was the first dragon she ever encountered in person after learning about them for so many years, and she felt like she had the situation under control, until her mentor distracted her. On the other hand, no matter how well she felt she might have done, she knew very well that she was in big trouble.
“Ms. Sternberg,” Sophia said, her tone clearly indicating her intention to chastise the young lady. “While I realize you were born with exceptional abilities, it does not mean you are exempt from mastering all the skills of a Whisperer. Furthermore, as you very well know, tradition explicitly dictates that a girl of your age is not allowed to establish a link with a dragon. And today you saw the reason why! Losing control could result in catastrophe! You were incredibly lucky!”
“It wasn’t my fault I lost control!” Victriana retorted almost out of instinct. “You distracted me! I would have figured it out. I had it under control!”
“How could you know anything about control? You haven’t had a single live training session…”
“I know all about live training. It’s not training at all! I won’t be doing anything useful. Just standing there, watching, not training. I’m a fast learner. I want to do something already. I want to help! Not just hide and wait and watch. I’m tired of being just a Princess. I can do so much more. I’m a Whisperer!” she shouted. Victriana had had this fight so many times, it almost felt scripted. She was sitting straight up now, looking like she was about to jump to her feet and show she was war-ready.
Sophia shook her head and just waved her hands in frustration, before bowing to the king and queen and heading for the door.
Victriana folded her arms across her chest and let out an exasperated hmph. “What does she know,” the Princess muttered under her breath.
“Quite a bit, actually, my young liege,” Aliya said with a reassuring wink. Victriana tried to maintain her scowl, but she was defenseless against her protector’s charms, and before long she had a huge grin on her face. “Don’t tell Sophia I said this, but what you did today was pretty darn cool!” Victriana and Aliya shared a quick giggle but regained their composure and etiquette at the sight of the king and queen’s disapproving looks. “But seriously,” Aliya continued. “Behind every great Whisperer in our history there has been years of hard training and study. You will do many great things for this kingdom, and you will help many others throughout the world, but you must be patient. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she said through half-clenched teeth.
“Now, I suggest you find a way to enjoy the rest of your birthday, your Highness, because by the end of tomorrow, I expect a 10-page essay highlighting the historical training techniques of the first Whisperers to be delivered to Ms. Sophia’s desk.” Before the disappointed teenager could mount a protest, Aliya bowed to the king and queen and left the royal bedroom.
With everyone else gone, Victriana looked up at her parents. “So… did anyone save me a piece of cake?”
The king and queen exchanged incredulous looks, before breaking into huge smiles. “Of course we did,” said the queen, as the king removed the covering of a nearby platter, revealing what used to be three huge slices of cake. Clearly one of the royal culinary specialists had salvaged the squashed confections and attempted to reconstitute them. Victriana beamed at the sight. “We were worried about you, Vicky. You have to promise you won’t do anything like that again.”
Vicky waited for a long moment, then lied, “I promise.”
The royal couple smiled and hugged their daughter. “Happy Birthday”, said the king, handing her a fork. “We love you, sweety.” And with that, they ate cake.
Outside the Princess’s door, Aliya turned to head down the hallway, only to be stopped by Sophia. “Did you tell her?” Sophia asked gravely.
“No, of course not.” Aliya pulled out a cloth and unwrapped it, revealing the cake knife Victriana picked up during the attack. It was covered in a metallic, goldish substance.
“Good. If the Princess learns that she is the first human to ever make a dragon bleed, it will only embolden her and put her and Britannia in more danger.” Sophia said with deadly seriousness in her eyes. “My duty is to the royal family; their safety is my biggest priority. I hope it is yours, too.”
“You know you can trust me,” Aliya said, rewrapping the knife. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t find out. You have my word.