by Susanne Thomas
Soros stretched his large frame and then curled back into a heap, scales glinting in the sun. His wings were stretched out on the ground, dark red and relaxed. He laid his massive head on a patch of thick vegetation and closed his eyes for just a moment. The dragon lay in the full noon sun, waiting on a grassy patch for his partner. He had considered resting in their small, thatched hut, but the cramped space there did nothing for his mood. The warm ground was comforting as he stewed over his failure of the day.
His current job was factoring goods bought in too much bulk by merchant traders and selling them when other merchants just happened to need them. It wasn’t as exciting as he thought it would be when his uncle had suggested it. Uncle Belfort had insisted it was a gambling creatures’ job. Soros found that there was rarely money in it for him. And the risks always seemed so high for such small gain. He had little acumen for the business. Or for any other job that he’d tried.
Security made him restless, waiting for things to happen that never came to pass. It was boring and uneventful. He’d even tried to work with the carpenters, but had no delicate touch for finishing work. That left him lifting and hauling all day long. He just hadn’t found anything he succeeded in yet. His frustration at this floundering was ever increasing.
“Soros, Soros, are you awake?” a soft voice disturbed the giant. The voice grew in volume, “Soros, it’s almost time to go to school. Look, the sun is setting. Get your stupid dragonhide up. We have work to do.”
“Isbella, shush. You smell like flour. I’m not sleeping; I’m thinking,” Soros answered. He snapped his wings in irritation and opened his eyes.
His companion stood with her hands pressed against her hips; her foot tapped in frustration. “I smell like flour because I just finished at the bakery, making money to pay for classes.” She looked around at his apparent indolence. “Did you even work today?”
“I started to, but the West Spice Merchants had a fleet sink this afternoon. So now I have to hold onto their shares for a while until someone is willing to buy them again.” The deep red of the dragon’s scales hid the blush creeping over his body. His claws dug into the grass with the remembered anger.
“Another dud?” The dark woman frowned. Her black hair was chopped and framed her head like a halo.
“I got a poor tip; it wasn’t my fault this time. It was supposed to be a sure thing. Braddon, from Bathory’s dock, said that a massive fleet was within a day’s journey. It was coming to buy his fabrics and novelties. But he had to leave for the next town over before they could dock. I thought it would be easy money. Then, not an hour after I bought all of the goods from Braddon, news came that the whole fleet was in trouble. At least half of the ships were lost to sorcery.”
The girl stared at him. “You bought stock for one of Bathory’s fleets? Was that safe or wise?” Bathory was a known merchant, powerful and wealthy beyond anything that Isbella or Soros had known. But rumors were that he’d made his fortune using black magic.
“Why? Because he’s some evil sorcerer?” the dragon asked. “An evil sorcerer that just happens to own an estate and businesses in the town of the University? Do you think the Masters would allow that?”
Isbella took in her partner’s stiff tail and straightened scales. “Twenty different people will tell you that he only owns his merchant businesses to hide his other ones. And that he hordes Mage artifacts from around the world. Illegal artifacts, or why hide them? Sal, from the bakery, told me that Bathory has murdered before.”
“Bakery gossip, that’s always a sure thing.”
“From Sal? He barely speaks. When he does, it’s always with purpose. I trust him.”
Soros took in her stance and decided to change tactics. “Come, let’s get ready. There’s no use waiting to face the music.”
“Why are you so pessimistic? This is our chance. We won’t have to scramble for coins to last the week anymore. No more stupid fleets taking your money with them. Or dealing with rowdy bar customers. No more loaves to bake before sunrise. It is going to be so much better.” She scrubbed her face and hair and tried to keep her voice upbeat.
Soros hung his head down, scratching at the ground a bit. “If we can pass, which I doubt. We’ll be a poor dragon and a tiny elf baker forever.”
“I’m not an elf; I’m just short. You’ve met my parents; you know that.” She was maybe five feet when she stood as tall as possible, and the comparison to the smaller elf race always helped to distract her.
“Do you have the ingredients?” Soros asked.
“Of course I have the ingredients,” Isbella answered. Her more dexterous hands made the gathering of most supplies her job. Any items far away or difficult to gather were the dragon’s responsibility, but Isbella also took charge of those once they had been collected.
The dragon frowned, steam escaping from his nostrils. “What if we fail? We haven’t gotten every spell right, you know.”
“It’s been months since we got a spell wrong, and longer since we missed anything major,” she answered with confidence. “Besides, I can’t bake another loaf of bread. I just can’t.”
Becoming a wizard was difficult. But the magician’s guild was the sole free one to join. You had to show an aptitude for the power and a willingness to learn. To be apprenticed to wizards, you had to prove yourself. Initial lessons were not cheap but helped the hopeful tell if they were even able to use magic with any degree of control. Soros and Isbella had both taken many jobs to pay for those classes.
Both had proven capable of doing magic, though they had certainly needed a lot of coaching.
Casualties and injuries among the students were the highest in the land, but even apprentices were wealthy within months of beginning.
Soros stood all at once, towering over his friend and partner. “I’m ready to go.” He shook his body wildly as the words boomed out.
His wings spread wide, and Isbella marveled at their delicate strength. Their veins stood out as sunlight played through them. After a moment, she cleared her throat. “Hey, Soros, could I maybe fly with you?”
A small smile played on the dragon’s toothy face. She did not often ask and would bristle at any of their classmates’ suggestions that he was just her pack mule or horse. He paused for effect before dipping his front leg for her to climb.
Isbella leaped to his back. “You’re the best, Soros. You know that, right?”
Without answering, he sprang from the ground and reached flying height quickly. The setting sun colored the ground grey-blue. Farms and small village homes held his silhouette for seconds each as they sped through the air. A pack of griffins flew near them. Soros went a little higher to avoid them.
* * *
Small huts and wood buildings melded into cobblestone roads and bricked buildings as they approached the University of Magicians. Wealthier estates fanned out from the home of Wizards.
Soon the towering university appeared. The main buildings were obsidian and said to have been built with spells more years ago than anyone could remember. Wizards living within ruled the land, their power created peace and justice throughout the cities and towns.
The pair landed near the school and walked the rest of the way to their building. Tonight they would be given their final test to graduate as a pair and be accepted among the apprentice class. Isbella shouldered the bag of ingredients, and they sped up their steps.
Outdoor lights lined their path dimly leading to the dark building. Leaves crunched beneath their feet. A silent female figure, robed in black, met them on the steps. She would be the guide to take them to their test.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by Susanne Thomas