Suggested By: Lauren Shearer
Object: Mug of hot chocolate
Ten minutes later, they sat outside the cafe. Miranda cupped her hands around the steaming mug of hot chocolate, grateful for its warmth in the bracing wind. Her companion did not seem affected by it. When she looked up, he was staring at her.
"You look just like her, you know," he said softly.
"Who, my mother?" Miranda could feel the warm blush creeping over her skin.
"No," said he. "Iona." He smiled, as if there was a long and treasured history with a woman Miranda barely knew as anything but a very old woman.
"Who. Are. You?" She seethed through clenched teeth. "Why are you following me? How do you know so much about my great-grandmother?" She emphasized the words carefully.
The man sighed. His gaze dropped to his gloved hands. "Because the man who abducted her all those years ago—"
"Aye." Now the burr came out above the other accents of his speech. "Callum McGowan... was my father."
Miranda flinched so hard that her mug nearly fell off the table. She couldn't breathe. She could barely even see. "H-h-how?" she rasped hoarsely. She stared at those impossibly-blue eyes, in which she found no hint of guile.
He was perfectly serious as he answered patiently, "My name is Courtland McGowan. I am the reason Callum took your great-grandmother to the moors that day. I had been taken by the dragon, you see, and my father wanted to—"
"No!" Miranda leaped up from the table. "What you say cannot be true! You expect me to believe there are dragons?"
Courtland reached out and seized her hand. The ring on his finger glinted in the pale sunlight.
"I expect you," he said urgently, "to listen to my words and understand what I am trying to tell you."
With fear in her eyes, Miranda sat stiffly in her seat.
Courtland began. "The dragon arrived not long before the first Uprising of 1715, when I was just a little boy."
Miranda drew her breath sharply. The man didn't look much older than her own father—and yet he spoke of his younger years occurring more than two centuries ago! She said nothing, and he went on.
"I had always known that the moors where the dragon lived were dangerous. It killed anything that ventured near its den. Soon, all of the moor became off-limits, until one very foolish, very drunk young man got it into his head to play dragon-slayer." Courtland cracked a wry smirk which Miranda did not return. He moved on with the tale.
"It was a dark night, and I do not recall much of it. One moment, I was sloshing my way through the bog, and the next, I was trapped in a small, warm crater which the dragon guarded, waiting for my father to come for me.
Eventually he did, but the dragon would not allow him to see me. It told him—"
"Dragons can speak?" Miranda forgot about listening until Courtland motioned with his hand. "Sorry," she muttered, and lapsed back into silence.
"It told him," Courtland repeated, "that it sought the Ecrivaine, and if my father wanted to free me, he should bring her."
"So your father," said Miranda slowly, as Courtland paused to sip his tea, "thought my great-grandmother was this Ecri-person?"
Courtland shrugged. "Or the next best thing, perhaps. At any rate, my father returned a year later, bearing with him a woman—Iona—who was the famed Bride of Brodgar, and who should have been wearing the Ring of Brodgar to identify herself." He began twisting the ring on his own finger. "But she had lost the ring somewhere, and so the dragon accused my father of fraud. By that point, I knew my father would rather attempt to kill the dragon than be separated from me for a moment longer; the dragon realized this as well, so it grabbed me from the crater—" Just when Miranda had convinced herself that it was just a story, Courtland pulled up the cuff if his sleeve—revealing the same burn marks she had noticed on her great-grandmother's arm! "And before it let me go, it Marked me."
Miranda felt faint; nothing made sense anymore. "Marked you?"
"To the human eye, I am unchanged," said Courtland, "but my reflection—as you so conveniently discovered earlier—discloses my true form. I am cursed to amass the scales of a dragon on my body over the course of a century, and when my whole skin is covered, I enter a brief hibernation-like state, and shed the scales, renewing and maintaining the body I had that day."
Miranda blinked. As incredible as it was, everything made sense now: by all logic Granny Yoyo should have died long before Miranda's primary-school graduation, when the call came. No wonder the family had been so secretive about Granny Yoyo's age! "You're immortal?" She gasped.
"And somewhat invincible, at least where I am covered by the scales," Courtland confirmed. "Believe me, Miss Clarion, it is not as glamorous as the novels make it out to be. My fate since that day has been tied to that of the dragon. If the dragon dies by any hand except the one that bears the Ring of Brodgar, I will die. That is why I need your help."
"I have been following you since I first spotted you in Paris—"
"Miss Clarion, please! When I saw how much you resembled your ancestor, I began to wonder if the dragon perhaps was not mistaken but only a few centuries too early to find the Ecrivaine."
"I don't even have the slightest notion what you're talking about."
"You know nothing of the Ecrivaine?"
Miranda shook her head. "What would a dragon want with her?"
"The Ecrivaine is the one who summoned the dragon to our world in the first place," Courtland explained. "And she would need the Ring of Brodgar to send it back."
"How do you know she hasn't got it already?" Miranda observed. "It's been almost two centuries by now; surely someone would have found it."
"I know it is not found because if it was, she would have to summon the dragon to her before she can send it back, and there haven't been any such sightings yet."
"Is that not it?" Miranda pointed to the ring on his finger: a silver dragon wrapped around a stone.
Courtland shook his head, "I wear this because sometimes when I awake from hibernation there are things I may forget, and I do not want to forget this, of all things. It is a replica of the real Ring of Brodgar; the original has not been seen since its disappearance. I only know what it looks like because Iona described it to me."
"What would you have done if I had been the Ecrivaine?"
Courtland gazed at her very seriously. "I would have stopped you from summoning the dragon."
"Hang on!" Miranda frowned and tilted her head. "I thought you wanted to summon the dragon, so that it can be sent back and lift your curse."
"I did, but, Miss Clarion, there are things that must be done in a specific order. The word of the Ecrivaine is powerful enough to summon the dragon on its own, but if she summons it before the Ring of Brodgar is in her possession, it will draw not only this one dragon but all dragons to her."
Miranda covered her head with her hands. "Ooohhhh boy, how did I ever get stuck in the middle of this?" She moaned.
Courtland sighed and pulled a few bills out of his wallet to pay for their drinks. He signaled that they would walk again.
"I don't know," he said once they had put the cafe a sufficient distance behind them. "All you or I can do is live with what we have been dealt. I must leave shortly—"
Miranda stopped. "Where are you going?"
Courtland pressed his lips. "I will sense it if the Ecrivaine summons the dragon, and unless the Ring has been found, I will enter my last hibernation that will lead to my death. If that does not happen, I must travel to the Stone Ring on Orkney Island off the coast of Scotland. There is where the Ecrivaine must bring the Ring so that she can release the dragon, and me as well."
Miranda stood and shuffled; no doubt her parents were wondering where she was; and Jeremy had promised to take her to dinner and the movies tonight.
"What do I do?" She asked.
"Nothing," answered Courtland. "The Ecrivaine will be in your direct line, but my guess is she has not been born yet. Go and live your life, Miss Clarion, and know that while I am still searching for the Ecrivaine, or waiting for her, as the case may be, I will be living my life as well. Perhaps we will meet again sometime later." He touched the brim of his hat to her and turned to continue down the sidewalk.
Miranda sighed and started the long walk back to her street. What a confusing day it had been!
Had she looked back just then, Miranda might have glimpsed a familiar, round face just disappearing into the crowd.
Pierre the dwarf did not stop till he reached the dark, cozy safety of his antiques shop. There, he reached into his pocket and took out a ring: a silver dragon wrapped around a fiery diamond. It had come to him from a mountain climber who had been exploring craters in Reykjavik. Pierre didn't know enough English to understand exactly what this ring meant, or why it was so important; to him it was just an impressive bauble. But they had mentioned the Ecrivaine, her way with words, and her apparent need for the ring—and Pierre was the only being who knew where, when, and how to find the Ecrivaine. Perhaps she could reward him handsomely for delivering this valuable ring to her. Tucking it back into his pocket, Pierre rubbed his hands together, flexed his knuckles, and picked up his spade. It was an old, bent thing, hardly worth two glances from anyone who came into the shop; only Pierre knew of its special properties, that when the spade dug, it not only cut through dirt but the fabric of time as well. He was headed west, to Marseilles, fifty years into the future, to the modest homestead of Miranda's future daughter, a woman by the name of Arielle...