Fire bird's Dale

fire bird

Dale saw that dream again. There was a monstrous bird made of pure fire. It soared in wide circles above, a creature both fearsome and majestic, not hunting him - yet! - but watching, always watching.

The young prince woke up with a start, gasping for air.

"That damn nightmare again!" he murmured and sank back against the pillows.

He tried to go back to sleep for he knew that his morning dreams had always been peaceful, but he couldn't allow himself such a luxury that day. He had to prepare for a royal wedding, after all. His own wedding at that!

Dale was the King's fifth son, the youngest of all his children. His marriage mattered little, but even a pawn is a valuable piece on a chessboard and he was a royal pawn!

Of his bride chosen for him by his parents Dale knew little. He knew that her name was Marlene and that she was from a noble family. He also knew that they were to rule a little southern province together. Preparations for moving there had been keeping Dale so busy for the last week that he almost forgot about the monstrous fire bird. Almost.

The nightmare left Dale so shaken and miserable he decided to skip breakfast for he knew he wouldn't be able make himself look princely enough that morning and he didn't want to upset his mother, as well as risk making his father angry… again. Neither cakes not hot chocolate were worth it.

Dale started packing his personal belongings instead, the little things precious to him alone. He thought of his future wife as he carefully went through his childhood treasures. Betrothed to each other as little children he and Marlene had never met. Dale wondered what she looked like, whether she was beautiful and kind… he hoped she was kind…

Nobody missed the youngest prince at breakfast. With all the family gathered in the palace for the wedding, there were so many people in the dining hall that even a mere breakfast, the humblest meal of the day, resembled a feast. There were the King’s sons and daughters with their spouses, kids, and servants. The distant relatives and the King’s bastards were there as well. Oh, and wherever the rich and noble go, bards and jesters follow. No wonder it was so easy to forget about one missing young prince.

It wasn’t the first family meal Dale had missed that week. They terrified him almost as much as the fiery bird nightmares did. The King’s youngest child, Dale had never been in the center of his family’s attention before. The attention was terrifying. No wonder he preferred to slip away whenever he could. If he managed to grab some food on the way, he was happy enough to eat it alone in his hunter cabin. Otherwise he just climbed a tree in the garden and gorged on apples there, like a naughty child. On the other hand, he indeed still was a child. Dale had barely turned fifteen when the wedding preparations began.

Skipped meals aside, Dale’s last day in his family home wasn’t much different from usual. He took his usual classes of science, dance, fencing, and other things a prince must know. The schedule never changed. The evening was dedicated to first his father then his mother lecturing him about his future as a ruler and a husband.

Dale was to rule a little province given to him by the King. The young prince had been given a lot of instructions, a couple of warnings, and the King’s blessing. Dale’s mother, the Queen, gave him a lengthy lecture about how he should always treat his wife well and a promise that love will follow.

Alone with his mother, Dale gave in to curiosity and asked her about his bride, yet, unfortunately, the Queen’s lukewarm answer didn’t satisfy his curiosity. That Marlene was a “girl of breeding and refinement” he had heard at least a dozen of times before. These words seemed as empty then as they did now. He hoped to hear something more personal.

“You look unwell, my son,” his mother noticed, “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, of course. I just didn’t sleep well that night,” he replied. He could have safely ended the conversation here, but the curiosity took over again. “Mother, I heard you say once that you can read dreams and that dreams of those of royal blood are often prophetic…”
“Oh, of course I can interpret your dreams, my dear, just tell me about them!”

The Queen smiled and ruffled Dale’s hair as she often used to do when he was little. It felt so good Dale would have answered the gesture with a purr if he were a cat. Now he was hesitant to tell his mother about his nightmares, but she insisted.

“I saw a fire bird in my dream. It followed me,” he explained briefly, just to close the subject, and regretted it instantly for his mother had gasped in horror as he said that.

The Queen held both her hands against her chest, rocking back and forth like a terrified child. For a long time she couldn’t utter a single word no matter what Dale tried to say to console her.

“May the gods forgive us! We tried to save you, Dale…” were the Queen’s words when her voice had finally returned to her. “We thought that joining the Order of Light would remove the taint. We even betrothed you to the high priest’s little daughter. That was his price for allowing you to join and for keeping your taint a secret. But nothing worked, oh, nothing worked!.. That bird! I saw it every night in my own dreams before your purifying ritual.”
“What are you talking about, mother? What is the taint?” asked Dale, desperately trying to make sense of her words. “What did I even do to get it?”
“Nothing, my dear son. You did nothing,” The Queen embraced Dale. Her silent, hot tear fell on his cheek and rolled down. “When you were born, it was a hot, rainless summer as yellow as autumn. Our worst fears came true: one day, amid the dry grasslands, a great fire began. Soon it spread, devouring everything on its path. All the soldiers, all the citizens up to the little children did everything they could, but the fire was unstoppable. It seemed unnatural, evil. Even the mages couldn’t contain it. Your father prayed to gods for help but they didn’t hear him. The sky itself became dark with smoke and ash. So hard it was for your father to watch his land burn and his people die that he turned to forbidden ways. ‘Fight evil with evil,’ he said. He went into the prison dungeon, found all the demon worshippers that were there at the time, three men and a woman, and promised them freedom if they managed to stop the fire. They agreed. Those four then performed a horrible ritual to summon one of the fire demons. The demon promised to stop the fire, but for a price, the same price the high priest demanded later. He wanted to enter the royal family, he wanted a prince to be betrothed to his daughter. A dreadful prospect, yet the fate of all the country was at stake. Your father agreed, hoping to outsmart the demon. He promised him you, the child he thought would not survive. You were so weak, my dear Dale! It took all the healers and mages could offer just to keep you alive back then. Everyone thought you wouldn’t live past your first year. You were like a candle in the wind…”
“So my father hoped I would die and his promise to the demon would then cancel itself,” said Dale in a bitter tone.
“Yes..” The Queen was sobbing again, barely keeping herself from crying out loud like a lowly peasant woman. Silent tears streamed down her cheeks, two rivulets of glistening fiery gold in the candlelight.
“How strange it is that neither water nor magic could stop the fire. Even stranger it is that both the demon and the high priest named the same price for their help. And that I am still alive despite everything the healers said…” stated Dale with a dark frown. “I guess it’s up to me to do something about all that. We can not let the demons enter the royal family, can’t we? I know what I should do…”
“No! No, my son!”

Dale embraced his crying mother. He felt neither anger, nor pity. For the first time in his life he felt important, he felt determined. Brave. He had been just a boy when he entered this room several hours ago. Now there was steel in his voice and fire in his eyes.

He felt ready to meet his fire bird.

(February 12, 2011)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.