Editor’s Note: “Lily and Ink” takes places alongside Amanda Cook’s story “Weaving Serenity” in Wyngraf #1. Check out the magazine for more of Lily and the Calmers of Leafside.
Golden afternoon sun slanted through Mummy’s workroom window as Lily finished chasing cobwebs from the corners. She paused at Mummy’s worktable and ran a linen cloth along the rough grain, remembering how Papa had carved the table for Mummy before he left Leafside to calm dragons. It felt like ages since Mummy and Rhoda followed him into the mountains, their horses laden with provisions to last them several months at least. The trees had been crimson and canary yellow then; they were already budding anew. Lily wondered if she would still be cleaning the empty cottage all on her own when the leaves started turning again.
She sighed wistfully and tucked the cloth into her apron pocket before heading back to the neighbor’s house for dinner. Mistress Fern was nice enough to care for her while her family was away, but it still felt strange to sleep in someone else’s loft every night. Lily missed the room she shared with Rhoda. She missed how her own straw pallet smelled sweet and earthy, how Mummy’s goose-down quilts kept her warm in the cold seasons. She missed murmured giggles and secrets with her older sister as nighttime breezes and the sounds of forest creatures lulled her to sleep. Mistress Fern’s loft had no window through which to check the moonrise, and the shadows from the dying embers in the kitchen hearth made for creepy bedfellows.
As Lily trudged through the meadow between her cottage and Mistress Fern’s, idly gathering bluebells and snowdrops along the way, a low growl near her feet froze her in her tracks. Papa would have said it was a warning to not come any closer. Uncertain whether to back away or remain still, Lily turned her head slowly, eyeing the tall grass for the mighty beast ready to pounce at any moment.
A ray of sunlight between fluffy clouds flashed on a pair of emerald, serpentine eyes blinking in a patch of dandelions. The creature growled again, to Lily’s surprise sounding more like a frightened cat than a rabid fox or raccoon. Wringing the fear from her hands, she drew up the hem of her skirt and crouched low to get a better look, mindful of her mother’s admonitions to never touch stray animals. A scaly snout, sparkling like onyx in the waning sunset, poked up between the weeds and sniffed at her.
“What are you?” Lily mumbled. In response, the creature sneezed and a candle-sized flame shot from their nostrils, causing the girl to leap back with a startled squeal.
The creature growled again, but remained hidden in the weeds. Undeterred, Lily pushed aside the taller grasses and got a glimpse of a pair of leathery wings and a twitchy, snakelike tail.
“Oh, my goodness!” she breathed. “You’re a hatchling! But what are you doing so far from the mountains?”
The hatchling half-growled, half-mewed in response, instantly melting Lily’s heart. Her parents had always told her and Rhoda stories about the ferocity of dragons, especially their hatchlings, but this one was so tiny. How could they possibly do her any harm?
She fought the urge to bundle the creature up and take them home with her. Mummy and Papa would have told her to leave them alone in the meadow. Or Papa would have woven serenity on their little head, putting them into a deep sleep. He would have found a cave for them in the mountains far away from Leafside.
But Mummy and Papa were already in the mountains with Rhoda. There were no other Calmers left in the village to do the deed.
“I could do it,” Lily said, a thrill tingling the back of her neck. Hadn’t she spent hours hiding behind fence posts and trees watching Papa teach Rhoda how to calm? Hadn’t she practiced her own weaving skills on frightened birds in the oat fields when she should have been finishing her chores? She wasn’t as accomplished as Rhoda, but she was efficient enough.
With her mind made up, Lily stretched her hands toward the hatchling and pulled a trickle of earth energy up through her feet and out her extended fingers. The thin weaving was clumsy and not as taut as Papa would have liked, but the tenor of the hatchling’s growl soon shifted to a contented purr. When she couldn’t hold her weaving any longer, Lily tied a loose knot and allowed the energy she had pulled to leech back into the ground. She plopped down into the grass, weary-limbed and sweaty, and waited for the hatchling to either move or fall asleep.
After a few tense, silent moments, the grass trembled and bent as the hatchling trotted to Lily, their wings folded as though they were too tired to attempt flying away. Lily held out her hands, and the hatchling gave her fingers a gentle sniff. With a trill, they stepped into her open palms, their belly cool and slick against her skin. She brought them up to her face and let them sniff her cheek. It felt like an airy kiss.
“You are the most darling thing!” Lily squeaked with delight. “I want to keep you forever! I think I’ll call you… Ink.”
Ink mewed in response. They stepped onto her shoulder and turned in a circle before settling against her neck like a purring, scaly kitten.
Lily walked carefully back to her family’s empty cottage. The wash tub in the kitchen would make an excellent nest for Ink, she decided, and they would be a great help keeping the small house free of mice and bats and any other animals that might try to take up residence.
Proud of herself for thinking up such a practical solution for keeping Ink, Lily couldn’t wait for Mummy and Papa to return. They would be so happy to see how responsible she had become in their absence.
— Amanda Cook