Jaranin's storytelling skills are put to work during the summer festival as he tells a tale of a brave soldier and his dragon-slaying lover. The audience is mesmerized; things are going great... until Jaranin notices a certain someone in the crowd.
Jaranin swept his arm across the audience, letting his gaze pan across them again. Their gazes all followed.
“And there, glaring up at the beast with a warrior’s grin, though trapped between the dragon’s paws—”
Suddenly, the words disappeared.
He’d finally noticed Isalaina. There was something about the lighting… the glow of the fire playing in her hair, sparking in her eyes. She leaned forward on the edge of her seat, soaking in his every word.
Move, silly! he scolded himself. You just saw her ten minutes ago! That didn’t seem to matter much to his muted tongue or clouded mind.
Jaranin scrambled to find his place and nearly tripped over the hem of his robe. With a start and stammer, Jaranin extricated his robe and continued. “…Tr-trapped beneath the dragon’s paws was his one true love,” Jaranin swallowed, still unable to take his eyes off Isalaina, “The Dragon-Slayer. Alive and well.”
His whole face felt red-hot. “Together they felled the beast,” Jaranin continued, “he from the back and she from the front. And as she turned to him and smiled… he swore that she had never looked more beautiful.”
Worried he’d completely forget his place, Jaranin hurriedly completed his tale:
The Dragon-Slayer and her lover returned to the city side by side, slaying any dragons foolish enough to remain. And, after such a deep loss, the dragons never returned to the city.
As soon as Jaranin had finished with a flourish and a bow, the spectators erupted into applause. Jaranin dismounted from the stage, nearly tripping again along the way.
Where are you? He wanted to plead as he gazed across the crowd. Where are you, where are you? Tiptoeing to glance over heads, he scanned faces, searching desperately.
And then he saw them: Isalaina and Elun, chatting together. As soon as she noticed Jaranin's gaze on them, Isalaina waved.
“Boy, wus that somethin’!” Elun chortled as he slid down the bench, making a place for Jaranin beside Isalaina.
Jaranin gratefully plopped into the newly-vacated spot between his friends.
Isalaina’s face was flushed. “You were exceptional.”
“And Isalaina, didn’t ya say his entrance was superb?” Elun chortled. “Didn’t ya say that? Go on, tell ‘im. Oi won’t mind if ya say et again, Is.” He elbowed Jaranin’s ribcage, grinning.
“All right, all right! Nothing caused us bodily injury,” Jaranin admitted as he ruffled Elun’s hair.
“This time,” Isalaina added with a giggle.
As if that were his cue, Elun abruptly hopped to his feet. “Well, Oi dunno about you two, but all that entrance-work has left me weak as a salmon in a sandpit.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “So if ya need me, Oi’ll be showin’ Will Junior how to talk with yer mouth chock-full o’ leftovers and not chokin’.” He scampered toward the feast-tables.
“Be sure he knows about the ‘not choking’ part!” Isalaina called after him.
Jaranin and Isalaina shook their heads as they watched Elun go.
“He’s an odd one…” Jaranin chuckled.
“Well, no wonder we’re friends.” Isalaina countered with a smile. “Birds of a feather.”
“True…” Jaranin self-consciously cleared his throat. “You know, I think my performance would have been much better if I hadn’t nearly tripped over my robe…”
To her credit, Isalaina said nothing; but she did giggle.
“You were right,” Jaranin added soberly. “I should’ve let you hem it.”
She dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. “I hardly noticed. I was too busy crying at that point. That story was beautiful; I loved it.”
He felt his face grow warm. “Thank you,” Jaranin replied, nearly cringing as his voice cracked.
Isalaina didn’t seem to notice, however, and silence fell. Fidgeting in his seat, Jaranin struggled to think of something to say. “So… I heard you won the archery contest for the third year in a row. Congratulations!”
“Oh, thank you!” She giggled nervously, and if he didn’t know better, he’d have said she seemed embarrassed. But before he had the chance to comment or tease her about it, Isalaina quickly added, “Although I’ve noticed I do much better when you’re busy gathering supplies for your entrance instead of fidgeting nervously behind me…”
“I’ll try to be more composed next time I can watch,” he rubbed the back of his neck with a hesitant laugh. She remembered? But that was five years ago!
“If there’s a next time!” Isalaina smirked. “I’m not so sure, after that performance. You’re festival storyteller for life now.”
“Well, I’ll have to get Elun started on my next entrance. He’s going to have to get used to topping himself year after year.”
“Just… no fireworks,” Isalaina insisted, the smile gone.
Jaranin chuckled half-heartedly. He could almost feel little embers burning through his clothes all over again. “No fireworks. Promise.”
They shared a laugh.
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]
From Him, To Him