The Daughters of Krull, by Mayumi Hirtzel
Women and dragons in the world of Krull. They’re more similar than anyone would care to admit.
Written for the 2006 NaNoWriMo, my second outing. I was a bit more prepared that time, though I did cheat a bit, owing to the fact I was writing in the safety of fan fiction. But it’s fan fiction for a mostly-forgotten (and forgettable) film from the 1980s, Krull.
You can read the first part of the story below!
Once, long ago, the world of Krull was filled with dragons.
These were not the simple marsh lizards of the deep swamps; these dragons were nearly human. They were strong, intelligent, beautiful, and cunning. They ruled the cloudless skies of the Overland; the churning blue seas of the Great Expanse; the fierce, fiery depths of the volcanoes of Bel’Halur; the snow-capped mountaintops of the Cyrnwyn Heights; these and all in-between.
But rules end.
The dragons could be noble, but they could also be weak and petty. They waged war against the other races, spreading ruin across all the lands of Krull with their fury.
Until they were challenged by a boy.
The boy woke from a shiver. Very slowly, he opened his eyes, blinking away the last vestiges of his dream with his long lashes.
His name was Titch, and of late, he often dreamt of dragons.
His Master had told him once that his dreams were keys to another plane, another way of thought. Titch hadn’t really known then what his Master had meant by that, and he wasn’t sure he had any better inkling of the idea now. At any rate, his Master was gone now.
Titch shivered again.
He thought briefly about snuggling beneath his blankets again, but the sudden urge to relieve himself took precedence. So he got up out of the bed, being careful not to make noise even though there was no one else in the room to hear him. He left his feet bare – he liked to feel the cold stone beneath his toes, even on a morning as chilled as this one – and padded over to the pot in the far corner.
While his body busied itself with this morning ritual, his mind took the opportunity to wander. He thought about the circumstances that had brought him to this place, this great white castle in the South.
Little more than a year ago, he had been a simple orphan, an apprentice to the blind Emerald Seer, who was the last of his kind. Then the young King of Turold had come, asking the Seer’s help, and Titch had followed the King – Colwyn by name – because he could think of no other life than with his Master. Then his Master had died (murdered, really, but Titch didn’t like thinking about that, especially when he was alone), and he had followed Colwyn, because he could think of no other life than following someone else. Now, he was not so certain.
Oh, he liked Colwyn. In the deeper parts of his heart – the ones that he had never known how to examine overmuch but that his Master had said were the most important ones of all – he knew that he loved Colwyn. Colwyn had accepted him then as an aide and a companion, and that had never changed; more than that, though, Colwyn had welcomed him into his family. Titch could not remember the last time that he had felt part of a family. His Master, nurturing as he was, was more like what he imagined a kindly old uncle to be. Colwyn was like a father. And while he was enormously grateful to Colwyn, Titch often wondered (especially lately) if perhaps his own path did not lie somewhere other than the White Castle of Erig-ken.
Titch tightened his britches around his waist, stooped to pick up the large pot, and opened the heavy door to the hall. The sewer feed was at the end of the hallway, so it was not much of a chore to dispose of his own waste. His Master had been fond of telling him that the cycle of feed and use was common to every creature. Titch had never been quite sure what his Master had been trying to teach him there, but Torquil, the King’s Lord-Marshall, had told him that “a man who cleans his own shit stays humble,” and Titch had understood that sentiment well enough.
He dumped the pot into the waste sluice and started back to his rooms, when he bumped into a young woman about half again as old as he was.
She gasped and giggled, and Titch recognized her as Pfara, one of the maids from the castle’s kitchens.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and Titch smiled at her. She was pretty; not overly so (certainly nothing like beautiful Queen Lyssa, who could make the clouds part with her radiant smile), but enough to get his attention. She had been in the middle of a struggle getting her hair into a bun and she hadn’t noticed him coming her way.
Titch was wondering how she couldn’t have noticed him (he wasn’t that short; he had grown nearly five fingers’ worth in the time he had lived in the castle) when a voice called from behind her:
She turned, and her shoulders relaxed as she walked back down the hall. Titch didn’t follow her, but he looked around her rustling skirts to see Oswyn leaning against an open doorframe. The young outrider was dressed only in a pair of low-slung britches and naked otherwise. He was dangling a knotted kerchief of some sort from one finger and beckoning to the girl.
Titch watched the young lovers talk and tease for a moment, and then he dropped his eyes to the floor and walked back to his room. Just as he made it to his door, Pfara walked past him again, offering him a parting if cursory salutation.
Titch looked up and followed her with his eyes. He gave a little wave at her back as she rounded the corner of the hall. When he turned back around, Oswyn was looking at him.
“You were staring,” the older youth said with a grin.
Titch shook his head. “I was not,” he said emphatically. He stuck out his chin. “But I am curious if Pfara knows that she isn’t the only one to leave things in your room.”
Oswyn chuckled at the younger boy, preferring to ignore the jibe at his brazen infidelity. “Go ahead. Hide your jealousy.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I can wait.”
Titch squinted at him. Ordinarily, he and Oswyn stayed out of each other’s way, but on occasion interaction was unavoidable.
On the whole, Titch preferred the castle’s keeps with their tomes and scrolls. He had a great propensity for reading, and his keen mind devoured new texts of all kinds. He had even found a secret studying companion in a most unlikely peer; Queen Lyssa herself was an interested student in arcane lore. She had said once that she found the lyrics of history as important as the events themselves, but Titch fancied that she simply shared the same interests as he did.
Oswyn, on the other hand, could only barely stand being confined in the castle. After the first week of habitation, he had begged both the King and the Lord-Marshall for some duty – any duty – that would allow him to come and go as he pleased, at least within reason. Torquil had eventually given in to the youth’s badgering and given him the charge of a royal Outrider, responsible for guarding the kingdom’s boundaries, a task at which Oswyn actually excelled. The job called for long stretches of riding from one boundary point to the next, with little companionship except for a steed.
For himself, Titch had not been surprised that the older youth was so good at that particular assignment. Oswyn’s level of mental sophistication seemed to be about that of a horse. Although, it did make his skill with the fairer sex all the more puzzling.
He was about to say as much when who else but Torquil himself came from around the corner, making an impressive amount of commotion for a single man.
“Get dressed,” Torquil ordered, looking at Oswyn. “We are expected in the High Council Chamber.”
“When?” the addressed youth asked, as he straightened into a posture more fitting for the Lord-Marshall’s presence.
“Now,” Torquil replied curtly. He shot a glance at Titch, as well. “You, too.”
Titch, struck suddenly dumb, blinked. “Why?”
Torquil jerked his head at Oswyn. “Because you’re smarter than he is.” He stopped, glanced between the two of them, then barked, “Well? Get to it!” As Oswyn ducked inside his door, Torquil added, “And bring your swords.”
Titch was standing in his own doorway, still holding his pot. He had never been summoned like this before, and definitely not with Oswyn at the same time. All of a sudden, he felt very small and frightened. “I-I have no swords,” he stammered in a tiny voice.
Torquil turned to face him fully. He took a deep breath, and his muscles seemed to relax. He rested a calloused hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Just bring what you’ll need for a journey. And be quick.”
Titch nodded dutifully. He didn’t have much in the way of personal belongings, but there were a few choice items that, without which, he knew he couldn’t leave the castle. He turned in to his rooms without saying another word, trusting that he would see Torquil again soon enough.
Upon entering his main room, he set down the pot and walked over to his bed and sat down upon its rumpled surface. He knew that he should hurry (already, he heard Oswyn in his boots clattering down the hall in a rush), but he needed a moment. What journey could demand his skills? What skills, exactly, did he have that weren’t covered by someone more experienced? Or, at least, someone bigger?
In a kind of anxious, urgent daze, he started collecting his things. He put on his clothes – a set of grey-green jerkin and pants, and a pair of walking boots that were still a little big on him – and unconsciously set about fixing his bed, when he remembered that he probably shouldn’t be wasting his time with such mundane chores. Still, it calmed his nerves to engage in something so familiar in the face of the unpredictable.
He picked up a few choice books from beside the bed (one was his Master’s old bestiary, the other was a book of maps with the binding coming apart in several places), stuffed them into his satchel, and was about to leave when he spotted his Master’s staff in the corner. He contemplated leaving it (it was the only remnant of his Master that he still had, and he suffered under the thought that he might lose it), then reconsidered.
When he had joined Colwyn on his quest, he had done it as much for his belief in the ways of the Seers as for his Master. The staff was a symbol of that ancient order, still respected and revered by some if mostly-forgotten in most circles. He grabbed it and held it against his side, secretly amazed at how much smaller it seemed now. At one time, the top of his head had barely reached the middle band of the staff; now, he could almost see above the top of the thing without rising on his toes.
He got to the door, and glanced back into the room. Just four plain walls, with a simple bed and a slightly cluttered floor. He shouldn’t miss it. But he knew that he probably would.
Titch arrived in the High Council Chamber only a few moments behind Torquil and Oswyn, but it looked as though everyone there had been waiting for him for quite some time. While having the Seer staff with him had given him some confidence, he found that he lost most of it upon entering the high-domed chamber.
Both King Colwyn and Queen Lyssa were in attendance, a rarity these days given the Queen’s delicate nature; she was almost seven months pregnant, her audience gowns having been let out to accommodate her growing belly. Even so (or perhaps because of this), her radiance was unsurpassed. She smiled in greeting to Titch, bowing her red-tressed head ever-so-slightly.
Sitting beside his lovely Queen, Colwyn nodded to him, as well. He extended one arm to a seat at the round Council table, and Titch found that he had to actively will his feet to move toward the table. He had not been invited to the table before, and he wasn’t sure what to do.
“You can sit down,” Colwyn said in a quiet voice. He smiled in assurance, that gentle, compassionate smile that Titch had come to love so dearly.
With a shallow bow that Titch hoped would be suitably formal given the circumstances, he took one of the empty seats that faced the Queen.
To the King’s left sat Ergo, who was one of Colwyn’s closest advisers. Though a simple hedge wizard he may have been at one time, Ergo had proven himself as one of the royal family’s most valued advocates. He had acted as an emissary to his native Hill People and persuaded them to become the King’s allies, and together the two nations controlled passage through the Eastern Tribelands to the Masa’a River.
Ergo grinned widely at the boy. It had been too long since they had spoken. At one time, Titch had considered becoming an apprentice to Ergo and perhaps training in the transmutative magic of the Hill People, but Ergo’s duties had taken him away for long stretches of time and in the meanwhile Titch had discovered the allure of the tomes in the Southern Keep.
Titch nodded back at Ergo and offered a cautious smile. Then he turned to the last seated attendee.
Torquil sat beside the Queen, on the side opposite Colwyn, in the semi-ornate chair designated for the Lord-Marshall, the kingdom’s highest-ranking official after the King and Queen. His axe was laid before him on the table, holding down one end of a large, detailed map. He offered Titch a cursory nod. Behind him, Oswyn stood with his arms folded, looking distinctly more imposing in his coal-colored battle livery than he had a few moments ago in the upstairs hall. The youth only blinked, then looked back at the King.
Titch followed his gaze and looked at Colwyn, too.
The King half-stood from his seat. He laid his palm on the map, his fingers stretched across the representation of the Andmortis Sea. Still looking at the map’s calligraphic writing, he said, “Emissaries from the city of Bellan say that they have found some sort of…artifact.” He paused, and Titch wondered if perhaps the young King was recalling another of the ancient Relics scattered across Krull.
Colwyn continued: “The Bellan emissaries didn’t seem to know much about it, but they believe that it is magical in nature.”
At the mention of magic, Ergo leaned forward over the map and Torquil snorted audibly. Titch looked from one to the other, then back at Colwyn.
“Is it?” Titch ventured in the long silence that followed. “Magic, I mean.”
Colwyn exchanged anxious glances with both his adviser and Lord-Marshall before turning back to the boy. He lowered his head and looked up from beneath his furrowed brow. “That is what we need to determine.”
Titch nodded in agreement. He waited for someone to say something more, but everyone simply continued to stare at him. Finally, it dawned on him. “You want me to investigate this artifact?”