The tavern door swung open with a bang. Most of the men in the room blinked and recoiled from the bright sunlight streaming in. Some even got up from their seats and went upstairs, shooting nasty looks at the newcomer.
“You’re in here early.” Moll, owner of the Lissome Lady, stood at one of the tables with a rag and bucket, shooting a crooked smile to the figure in the doorway.
He scowled. “Mornings suck at our house. Between the noise from the forge and the smell coming out of the dragon pens, we’re all grumpy and nauseous before we finish breaking our fast.” He strode to the bar and sat down. “I just needed to get away.”
Moll put down her cleaning supplies and made her way to him. “Did you eat at all?”
When he didn’t respond, she clucked concernedly. “I think I can fix something for you, if you don’t mind stale leftovers from last night’s supper. Stay there.” She ruffled his hair and skipped into the kitchen, humming quietly.
Lief, son of Lief, firstborn of the clan Baldragon, blushed and straightened his hair. If Moll only knew who he was, she wouldn’t treat him like a boy. He knew he was younger than most of the patrons of the Lissome Lady, but he was still a man, and an important one, at that.
Moll returned with a plate piled high with food. She set it on the bar. “It’s not fancy fare, but it’ll get you through the day,” she said. She pointed to the different items in front of him. “Yak cheese, homemade goat sausage, and a little bit of snake jerky.” She leaned in closely, wisps of auburn hair falling across her face. “If I tell people it’s dragon meat, I can charge three times as much for it.” She laughed and ruffled his hair again.
He jerked away from her. Her words offended him more than her touch did, but there was no way he could tell her why. From the corner of his eye, he saw her hurt and confused expression, so he avoided speaking at all by stuffing his mouth full of anything and everything on the plate.
After a few minutes, Moll shrugged and returned to her cleaning, but she brought the bucket and rag to the bar so she could talk to Lief as she worked. “Did you hear? Priests of the Golden Eye are coming to Dragonfall tomorrow.”
Lief almost choked. He had come to this dusty, forgotten town in the middle of nowhere six months ago because he was trying to get as far away from the Golden Eye as possible. And now they were coming here? He doubted it was a coincidence. “The Golden Eye?” he said between mouthfuls. “All our dragons are domesticated. Have been for generations. What do they want with us?”
“They come around here every few years to recruit.”
Lief’s heart was racing. Recruitment meant the priests of the Golden Eye would be looking for young, strong men like him. But they would also be testing the men for signs of magic, poking and prodding them with staffs and wands, instruments of torture to anyone without the gift to withstand it.
Moll stopped working and looked directly at Lief. “Don’t get any ideas. Not many around here take kindly to their ‘recruitment’ techniques, mind you…but the priests are only looking for the brightest and strongest. Besides, there’s not much we can do to stop it. The Eye sees everything.” She gestured to the gilded relief depicting the Ever-Watchful Eye above the door, folded her hands in prayer, and dipped her rag back in the bucket.
Lief folded his hands in prayer as well, looking at Moll out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to have lost her earlier liveliness, now going through the motions of cleaning with slow, robotic movements.
What most people didn’t know is that magic-users were resistant to the hypnotic power of the Eye. Those people, when found, were tried publicly as witches and executed.
And Lief was one of them. He was a dragonsinger, like his father before him, one of only a handful still living. And if he didn’t want to meet the same fate as his father, he needed to find a way to leave town before the Priests of the Golden Eye arrived.
He wanted so badly to tell her his secret, but if he did, he could be endangering both their lives. He looked back up at the relief above the door and shivered.
“I…I think I’m done with my food. Thank you.”
When Moll came close to clear his plates, he reached out and kissed her. Not a lingering kiss, but one that conveyed his dreams of a future with her. Dreams that could be shattered by the Golden Eye.
Moll stepped back, her mouth agape.
“Thank you for everything, Moll.” He strode quickly out the door into the sunlight. He paused briefly outside the tavern, willing himself not to look back. It was time to look forward, to make plans, to buy provisions.
He would be leaving Dragonfall before dark.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Jester Queen challenged me with “Mornings suck at our house. Between the noise from the forge and the smell coming out of the dragon pens, we’re all grumpy and nauseous before we finish breaking our fast.” and I challenged Lance with “struck by lighting”