3rd Place – Michelle Scissom

Once upon a time..

a prince was born.  The king, overjoyed to welcome a second son, ordered a grand feast. People came from miles around to offer gifts and blessings to Prince Jayce and his beloved parents.  The whole kingdom rejoiced….well, except for the firstborn son, Flynn.  Flynn was a jealous 5 year old.  He did not wish to share his parents, his toys or anything else, and he most certainly did not like the baby getting new toys. He sulked in his chair as gifts were placed before the throne.

Finally, just when he thought it was over, an old woman stepped forward and bowed before the king.

“Your majesty, I offer my blessings.”

The king gasped, then stood to embrace her, all protocol forgotten.  Turning to his wife, he said, “Queen Janai, this is Agatha.  She was my nursemaid. Agatha, it is my honor to present my youngest son, Jayce.”

The old woman pulled back the blanket to see the babe’s face. When she caressed his cheek with her withered finger, he grasped it.

“Oh, little one,” she said. “Ye shall grow sturdy as the oak, cunning as the fox, and brave as the lion.  Ye shall rule with the wisdom of your father and the compassion of your mother.”

There was an awkward silence. The king pointed to Flynn.  “Agatha, you have been away for many years.  Perhaps you did not know, the kingdom already has an heir.  This is my son, Flynn.”

Agatha gave him a long look, and Flynn squirmed under her scrutiny. She mumbled something that wasn’t quite an apology and turned her attention back to the baby.

“My king, I have a gift for the babe.”  From her satchel, she withdrew a huge egg.  The court gasped.  Human-dragon relations had broken down lately. Dragons were dangerous beasts, and this old woman dared present the young prince with an egg?

She seized the king’s hand and whispered, “Remember your youth, and the visions that caused me to be cast from your household.  Ye know I have the gift.  Dragons, when raised with a child, can be fierce protectors.  This child will need him. One day, these two will save your kingdom. Accept my gift, and let the babe be the first one the dragon sees.”

The king trusted her. Agatha’s visions had saved his life.  He kissed her leathery cheek.  “Thank you.”

Flynn was beside himself.  A dragon?  The baby was to have his own dragon? What about him?  Later, at the feast, he approached the old woman.

“Where’s my dragon?  I will be king one day.  I want a dragon too.”

“Dragons are dangerous in the wrong hands.”  She tried to move past him, but Flynn grabbed her sleeve.

“Old woman, I want my dragon or you’ll be in the dungeon when I’m king.”

She laughed and stooped to look him in the eyes.  “First, I shall not live long enough to be a victim of your temperament and second, ye shall never be king.”

Flynn gaped at her audacity.  He looked for his father.  When he turned back, she’d disappeared.

***

King Ayrin placed the egg in the crib with the infant.  Already, cracks appeared on the shell.

“Ayrin, you don’t mean to leave that there, do you?” the queen asked.  “What if it hatches in the middle of the night and …eats him?”

He laughed. “He will be fine, my love. Frankly, I am more worried about Flynn.”

“Why?”

“Did you see how Agatha looked at him, or hear her blessing for Jayce? She doesn’t think Flynn will be king.”

“Of course he will!”

He almost told her about Agatha’s visions.  But psychics were as unwelcome in the kingdom as dragons, and he did not wish to bring any harm to the old woman who’d raised him. He kissed the queen and lay down, but it was hours before he slept.

That night, a dragon was born. The king woke before dawn and checked on his sons.  Flynn was sleeping, but Jayce was awake. The baby and his dragon lay in the crib, staring into each others’ eyes.  One chubby hand grasped the claw of the dragon.

What a magnificent creature, the king thought, gazing at its deep purple and green scales.  Its golden eyes looked up at him.

“Watch over him,” the king murmured, and could’ve sworn the creature nodded.

***

The boy and the dragon grew.  They soared above the kingdom, high enough to make the Queen wince and the townspeople mutter.  The beast protected both princes, but loved Jayce best.  To the Queen’s consternation, Jayce would climb out of bed every night, scale the castle wall and go to the stables to sleep beside Bray.  That was what the king had named the dragon,  because of the high-pitched keening noise it’d made when they’d tried to separate them as infants. Servants would find the prince sleeping next to the beast, though now one of the dragon’s talons was as big as the 8 year old.

One evening, Flynn and Jayce lay propped against Bray underneath a tree.  

“Bray, make me a fire.” Flynn grew angry when the dragon ignored him. “One day I shall be your king.  Obey me!”

“Father said no fires in town,” Jayce said.

“Just a small one.  Bray, I command thee!”

The dragon refused.  Flynn stood and kicked him.

“Hey!” Jayce shouted.  

Flynn moved to kick him, too, but the dragon slammed its tail on the ground so hard the impact knocked Flynn off his feet.  Jayce stood and swung astride the dragon’s neck. They soared away, leaving a fuming Flynn behind.

That night, as Jayce started out his window, Flynn burst into his chambers.

“Brother, you have to help me!” he gasped. “The pastures are on fire!”

“We need to get Father–”

“No!” Flynn said.  “It’s too late. I-I started a fire and fell asleep. It’s out of control.”  He pulled up a sleeve to show Jayce a terrible burn on his arm.  “I tried to put it out. We have to tell Father that Bray started it. Bray is an animal. He won’t be punished.  I, on the other hand…..I’m to be king.  Father will punish me.  The people will be angry at me.”

“I won’t,” Jayce said, and Flynn kicked his feet from under him.

“Listen, you little brat.  You will, or the next time you wake in the stables beside that dragon, you will find my dagger in his heart.”

Jayce had no doubt his brother meant it.  He more than anyone had witnessed Flynn’s cruelty.

So, he said nothing.  By the time he realized the scope of the damage, and of his father’s fury, it was too late.  A third of the crops were destroyed.

When he went to the stables, Bray was gone.  His father waited for him.  Flynn lurked in the shadows.

“Son, the people wanted to kill Bray.  This will be a hard winter for this kingdom because of his actions. I banished him instead.”

“No!” Jayce cried.  “Father, he didn’t–”

Flynn withdrew his daggar.  Jayce knew this threat was for him.

“He didn’t mean to,” Jayce sobbed.

Years passed, and Jayce missed his best friend.  He wondered if Bray was hungry, or cold.  Many nights he’d still slip off to the stable to sleep, hoping he’d wake to the smell of stinky dragon breath in his face, but Bray was gone.

The damage he’d caused did not teach Flynn a lesson.  He became more cruel, and Jayce was a frequent victim. He wasn’t the only one.  The townspeople murmured about what would become of them when Flynn became king.  King Ayrin shared their misgivings. He decided upon a series of challenges between the two princes to decide who was to rule.

Flynn greeted the news with wrath.  How dare they try to usurp his birthright? But the king would not be swayed. For the first challenge, he presented his sons with an empty flowerpot and a seed and gestured to a plant in the queen’s garden.

“This plant represents your kingdom.  Your leadership grows with truth and nurture.  Bring these to me in the spring and show me what you’ve grown.”

When the boys returned their plants, Flynn laughed.  His had grown into a big, lush bush, greater than his father’s.  Only a scraggly weed grew in Jayce’s pot.

For the next riddle, the king asked the queen’s help.

“A king must show wisdom.  There are five crowns in the closet,” he said.  “Three with sapphire stones and two with ruby.  You will each go into the closet, a servant will place a crown on your head and  you will step back out. You will not be able to see your crown, but you must deduce its stones from the others’ reactions. He nudged the queen.  “Go first, dear.”

The queen went, then Flynn and Jayce.  The queen looked at her sons and said, “I cannot tell what stone is in my crown.”  Flynn looked at the queen and Jayce and said, “I cannot tell what color of stone is in my crown.”

Jayce thought for a moment and said, “My crown is sapphire.”

“You cheated!” Flynn cried, and the king shushed him.

“How did you know?”

“Well, mother wears a sapphire crown.  When she looked at me and Flynn, she could not answer. Flynn wears a ruby crown. If my crown were also ruby, she’d have said her crown was sapphire, because there cannot be three.”

Flynn threw his crown to the floor and stomped it.  “This riddle was unfair! I see two sapphire crowns.  How could I have known?”

“Maybe your response gives me other answers,” the king said.

For the third and final test, the king asked, “Which of you is fit to rule?”

“I am,” Flynn said.  

“Do you represent honesty, wisdom and temperament?”

“Yes.”

The king turned to Jayce.  Jayce dropped his head.

“Neither.”

“Why do you say that? Tell me the worst thing you have ever done.”

“I told a lie because I was scared. I lost a friend, and a guilty person escaped punishment.”

“Father!” Flynn cried.  “It was Jayce who set the pasture on fire. He blamed Bray.”

“Is that true?”

“No, but I share the guilt because I was too afraid to speak the truth.”

The king nodded.  “I believe you are a truthful person now.  Remember the plants from the first challenge.  The seeds I gave you were not the seeds of the plant in your mother’s garden.  They were weeds.  Yet, Flynn, your plant grew just like it.  You cheated.  As for the second challenge, I knew you could not supply the right answer.  I wanted to see how you reacted when things didn’t go your way. You threw a tantrum.  And you still tell me you represent honesty, wisdom and temperament.  You see, I know who started the fire and about the burn scar you keep covered with your sleeves.  I was just waiting until you repented of your mistake or your brother admitted his lie.  Jayce shows the qualities needed to govern.  You do not.”

Flynn left the kingdom in a rage.  He declared one day that he’d be back, and he’d bring an army to take what was his.

“He probably will,” the king sighed.  “But at least you will not fight alone.”  He led Jayce to the pasture.  An old friend waited under the tree.  Jayce ran to throw his arms around Bray’s neck.

“Will you forgive me? I’m sorry. I’ll never tell a lie again, even if I’m afraid.”

“The truth will stand when the world is on fire,” the king said.  “Remember that and you will do fine.”

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