Child of the Serpent (Pt II)

Go here to read the first part of the story!

“Deryn! Are you awake?”

Her grandmother’s voice came floating from downstairs.  Now that Lissa was gone, Gran was her only living family.  Her mother died when she was young, and her father left before Deryn’s birth, not the type to stick around. The only lasting sign of his parentage was the fact that Deryn and Lissa were both a bit taller than other girls her age, and had thick, dark hair that stood out among the slightly fairer hair of their neighbours. Pressing her fingers to her closed eyes, she collected herself and descended the staircase, sniffing appreciatively at the smell of eggs and fresh bread that now wafted up to greet her. 

A cookfire was crackling merrily on their stone hearth, casting a warm light through the room. Her grandmother had just set dishes of food on their small, wooden table. “You slept late…I’m surprised the storm didn’t wake you sooner!” The old woman said with a warm smile. Gran was a short, spry woman with silky white hair that she wore tied back with a woven scarf.  Bright, lively green eyes were set in a kind, but weather-worn face.  The smile soon faded, however, when she saw her granddaughter’s face, and lines of worry added to the existing wrinkles (or “experiences”, as Gran liked to call them). “Deryn, what’s wrong?” Deryn shook her head self-consciously. “I just didn’t sleep well.” A pause, then “I’ve been having the dreams again.” A mug of tea seemed to materialize out of nowhere to be placed on the table in front of her.  Gran firmly  her into the chair before taking her seat across from her.  “Tell me. What did you see this time?”.

Gran was of an age that seems to naturally grant a wealth of wisdom and insight typically inaccessible by those without grey in their hair, but, in Deryn’s opinion, she still managed to avoid the frailty that took the other elders of the town.  She was the matronly herbalist and midwife of Capall and had a plethora of superstitions that led her to grow certain plants in the garden that weren’t for cooking, brew tea at odd hours, and believe that dreams were messages to be deciphered.  Not every dream, Gran would often caution, but the ones that went through the trouble of visiting more than once, like an acquaintance with too much time on their hands and who always seems to be out of milk. When Deryn was younger, she would sometimes have dreams about a neighbour, or events in other villages.  These would often result in little more than a raised eyebrow from Gran.  But every now and then, they led to hushed conversations in the kitchen when a young Deryn was assumed to be asleep, or a surprise gift of fresh cakes on their doorstep.  This, however, was different.  It felt different…the way the laughter still rang in her ears when she awoke, the way she could almost feel the intense heat of the dragon fire.  She took a breath, a scalding sip of tea, and began to recount the dream.

“There was…an old castle, all in ruins…and this laughter. Horrible  laughter. The laughter of someone who has done something awful, and is happy about it.” Gran’s face was still, unmoving. “Go on.” She urged. Deryn took another sip of tea, her breakfast remaining untouched. “Then, a dragon flew out of the ruins, towards where I was standing. There were soldiers marching against it, and they started attacking each other. I don’t really remember anything else, but through the whole thing, this laughter just kept getting louder and louder…” She trailed off and watched Gran’s face warily.  She had hoped that her grandmother would dismiss it as a fantasy, assure her that armies and dragons were of an age long past.  Instead, the old woman’s eyes grew distant, and slowly drifted towards the window and the still-thundering storm outside.  Eventually, she spoke, still gazing into the distance: “Did you see which colours the soldiers wore?” Deryn blinked, confused. “I—which colours they wore?”  Gran turned to her now, her voice quickening, urgent. “Colours. Or perhaps a banner? A pennant of some sort?  Any emblems on their shields?”  Deryn was silent, a little stunned.  “Gran, there was a dragon in the sky and you want to know what the soldiers were wearing?”

“It is important, child. Perhaps the sight wasn’t clear enough.”  Gran stood and retrieved a few oilcloths from the cupboard. “Here, wrap up your breakfast, and pack some extra bread and cheese.  And get your cloak.  We’re taking a short trip.”  Deryn’s mouth dropped. “A trip? Now?” she gestured outside with incredulity. “Yes. Now.” Her grandmother said firmly, wrapping her own cloak around her and walking out the side door towards their stable. Once the old woman was safely out of earshot, Deryn muttered a curse and did as she was bidden.  Within minutes, the food was wrapped, and Deryn was tying her hair back in front of a small mirror in her room.  Her green eyes stared back at her, filled with uncertainty, framed by a pale face dotted with freckles.  I’ve passed my nineteenth harvest and I’m still having these blasted dreams, she thought bitterly, finishing the braid of dark hair and tucking it within her cloak.

She cast one last, rueful glance towards her bed, as if it was all its fault, and went back downstairs to meet her grandmother.

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