Line-A-Day Short Story (April: An Easter Story)

April 2021 Prompt: Easter/Ostara marks the start of spring when dragons lay their eggs.  It is an Easter/Ostara tradition to brave the birthing grounds and claim your egg before it hatches.  {Prompt from writing.prompt.daily Instagram page}  As well as attempting to write my pets’ personalities as human children; if you know my animals, please place your bets in the comments which is which.

It was a bitingly cold day in The Crag; the wind whipped and howled, the snow swirling in funnels around Ivar’s shoulders.  But the rays of sunlight reached further up the mountain that loomed above the village than they had in previous weeks.  Just a few weeks ago, Ivar was fetching the evening firewood in the dark of the afternoon.  Ivar tugged the fur collar of his cloak higher, tightening around his throat as he knelt for the last log he could manage in his young arms.

            As he turned back toward home, the snow was hard from afternoons of melting in the higher sun and refreezing in the night, and it crunched beneath his boots in a deafening barrage of sound in the quiet air.  He watched the flakes of snow glitter in the late afternoon sunlight as he trudged back toward home.  When the sun emerged from behind its veil of clouds, pale twin rainbows twinkled on either side of the star.

Normally a boy known to take his time in everything he did, Ivar’s feet carried him faster than normal across the frozen snow.  His boots slipped and slid across the crust of ice and twice he had to stop to adjust his arm-full of logs to keep from dropping them across the snow.  His heart was skipping in excitement; the village’s annual celebration of Ostara – the arrival of spring – was being held this weekend. 

Ever since he could remember, he looked forward to the Ostara feast day.  The night before – this very night – was a night shrouded in tradition in his family.  His father would tell the tale of when he had been a boy and accompanied his father – Ivar’s grandfather – into the Stone Nest of The Crag, the nesting grounds of dragons, and retrieved the family’s dragon egg.  It was a tale that Ivar had always begged to be told on other nights, but his father always insisted it was a special tale, meant only for Ostara and the arrival of spring.  Ivar was getting old enough now to understand the reason: the winters were long and hard, spring and summer were not guaranteed to be prosperous, so the village needed something else to look forward to and to lift their spirits for the upcoming hard work required for the growing and harvest season.

            After his father’s tale, and sometimes during, Ivar and his family would spend the evening mixing paints from different berries and decorate their dragon egg for the next day’s Feast of Ostara.  It was a sign of the family’s luck if they had possession of an actual dragon’s egg, and it was not a thing that every household had.  And Ivar considered his family very lucky indeed.

            Inside his family’s home, his mother was anxiously stirring at a stew bubbling on the stove while his two little sisters fought over their father’s attention while his father laughed at the girls’ antics.  Ivar stacked the logs carefully in the basket beside the hearth, near where his father was sitting.  He gave his sisters a wide birth, not wanting to be dragged into their fighting, and crossed the room to stand beside his mother.  She had to stand on her toes these days to kiss his cheek, he had grown so much. 

            Squeezing his arm gently, she said: “There’s my good boy,” his mother said softly.

            “Everything going alright,” Ivar asked her.  His mother rolled her eyes towards his sisters.  “Yes,” Ivar continued with a hidden smirk, “I see Father is still not dissuading Eydis and Astrid from fighting.”

            “It would indeed seem that way, wouldn’t it?” quipped his mother, folding her arms in front of herself as she watched her two daughters.

            Astrid – only thirteen months younger than Eydis, though a full head taller – shoved Eydis unceremoniously off their father’s lap.

            “Astrid!” snapped their mother, striding across the room.

            “She bit me first,” Astrid stated, matter-of-factly.

            “I don’t care who started it, Astrid.  We’ve talked about this: you don’t finish it.”

            “You smell like a barn,” Eydis hissed, picking herself up from the floor.

            “Finnan,” said their mother warningly, eyeing their father pointedly.

            Their father let out a boisterous laugh.  “Girls, girls,” he chuckled, “you’ve heard your mother, it’s time to stop.”  The girls, however, took note of their father’s laugh and escalated their scuffle.  Astrid calling Eydis a dragon turd, Eydis declaring Astrid a mermaid booger.

            “GIRLS!” their mother snapped.  Ivar could not help but smirk at his sisters’ attempts at insults.  Despite their constant fussing with one another, they were both far too whimsical for their own good.  Their mother herded the two small girls out of the room; having to result in placing herself between them as they would not stop tugging on one another’s braids.

            The main room felt deafeningly silent in the immediate aftermath of Eydis and Astrid’s battle, Ivar’s ears were left ringing.  He moved across the room to sit on the chair opposite his father by the fire. 

            “Are you ready for tonight, Ivar?”

            “I gathered all the flowers and berries that Mum gave me on the list,” Ivar said eagerly.  “As well as a couple she didn’t list, so I’m not sure if they’ll work but the colors were too enticing not add.”

            His father chuckled, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his eyes.  Ivar noted how heavy his father’s dark eyes looked, exhaustion creasing his brows.  It had been a hard winter, caring for the livestock and his father only had the grueling task of the upcoming harvest season ahead of him.  He knew last year’s harvest had not been the best, and that his father had spent many late nights fretting about his herds.  Ivar had even sat up with his father one night, during the worst winter storm of the season, the pair of them spending the night in one of the barns to keep the animals warm.

            “What is it, Ivar?” his father asked quietly.  “You look very far away.”

            “Just hoping that this year’s harvest will be better, Pop.”

            His father’s brow crinkled as a chuckle escaped him.  “Now, what are you doing worrying about a thing like that?  You’re far too young to be worried about such a thing.”

            “But it’s what you worry about, isn’t it?” Ivar replied.

            “It is,” his father nodded sagely.  “But I’m the father in this house.  It is my job to do the worrying.”

            “I just want to help, Pop.”

            “Oh, hush,” his father scolded gently, leaning forward.  “Who’s brought in all that firewood over there?  Who gathered all the herbs from the garden last year and dried and pressed them to keep over winter?  Who helps his mother with the mending?  Who fixes my tools?  And most importantly,” his father jerked his head toward the opening of the hall where his mother was returning with Eydis and Astrid on either side of her, “who helps his mother with those two wild things that we pass off as daughters?”

            A rogue grin lit his father’s face as Ivar bashfully said: “I do all that.”

            Rising from his chair, Ivar’s father ruffled his dark hair.  “You do indeed, my boy.  You do indeed.  You’re more of a help than you know, Ivar.”  His father knelt and held his arms wide to his two daughters, who eagerly ran and flung themselves into him.  “Celia, what have you done to my little wildlings?!  They seem near tame!”  Their mother rolled her eyes.  Rising from the floor, a daughter on each arm, Ivar’s father winked at him.  “Why don’t you go up in the attic and fetch the egg?”

            Ivar’s face lit up.  “By myself?” he exclaimed, clearing his throat to return his voice to its normal octave.

            “Aye, I think you can handle it, my boy!”

            Ivar jumped up, his chest puffing out in pride as he dashed across the room and down the hall.  At the end of the hall, he stood staring up at the trap door in the ceiling.  He had never been up there by himself before.  Standing on his tip toes, Ivar’s fingertips just brushed the small chord hanging down from the latch.  He jumped, and the leather slipped through his fingers.  Emitting a low growl, Ivar jumped again.  This time, his finger clasped around the leather chord and his body weight pulled the trap door open above him.  Pulling the wooden ladder the remainder of the way down with a small ‘whoop’ of triumph, Ivar was unaware of his parents watching him proudly from down the hall.

            He took a torch from the wall and clambered up the ladder.  Once he was at the top, Ivar remained still for a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust.  The flickering light from the torch cast dancing shadows across the expanse of space that ran along half of their house.  The attic was not a crowded space; they were not that wealthy of a family to have a need to store many things.  It was primarily out-of-season things, a few sentimental bits and bobs his mother had not been able to discard from their childhood, and a few crates of family heirlooms.

            Ivar spotted the one he was after immediately, its gilded edges glinting in his torchlight.  It was not too far out of the way, only under some spare crates of hides.  Carefully settling the torch in a bracket on one of the beams, Ivar set about to moving the crates aside and giving the handle of the ornate cask that held the egg a tug.  It was heavier than Ivar remembered from when he had helped his father bring it down for last year’s Ostara Feast. 

            Steadying his feet a bit better, Ivar gave it another tug.  This time, the ornate cask slid towards him, grating along the floorboards of the attic.  Ivar found himself thankful that he was not far from the trap door.  He still was not certain how he was going to manage the ladder.  At the lip of the opening, he gave the cask a heft; it was going to be tricky, but he thought he would be able to manage.

            Slowly, descending the ladder one rung at a time, the cask balanced precariously upon the edge of the attic opening, Ivar clambered down.  When he finally hefted the cask off the floor and onto his chest, he very nearly pitched over backward, but a pair of tiny hands steadied him.  He continued down, the little hands patting him steady on occasion; and then, once he reached the bottom rung, Astrid helped him lower their family’s prized possession.

            Ivar eyed her uncertainly, he never knew Astrid’s motivation to do anything.  “Thanks… I guess,” he said finally.  Astrid just beamed in response before scurrying off down the hall back into the main room.  Ivar lifted the cask again and lugged it down the hall after Astrid.  Setting it carefully down on the table, Ivar turned to see his father watching him with a smile.

            “Atta boy!” his father exclaimed.  “I was wondering you were going to need some help!”

            “It was a little hard coming down –” Ivar began.

            “But he did it all by himself,” Astrid declared jovially, cutting him off.

            Their father nodded his approval.  “That’s my boy, always proving he’s up for the task!”

            Ivar felt his cheeks growing hot.  He was not sure why Astrid was concealing her part in helping him, but it was gaining him higher praise from their father.  A thing Ivar would never turn down.

            After their dinner of stew and rolls, their mother began to get out the small bowls for them to begin mixing their paints.  Their father took the dragon egg from its gilded cask and washed it in the basin.  Ivar began crushing his snowberries, Eydis worked on her snowdawn blossoms, and Astrid her juniper berries.  Once everything was properly crushed, their mother began to mix them all into thick paste-like paints, including her honeydew blossoms, and their father’s flax seeds, while their father patted the grey egg dry and then drew parallel lines with charcoal around its outside, denoting all the spaces to paint.

            Astrid started on the crown of the egg, being the youngest, covering the entire portion of her area with her thick, blue-green juniper berry paint.  She went back over it with a shimmering gold from one of their mother’s special oil-based paints that sat atop their berry and floral based paints.

            Their father cleared his throat dramatically.  “Alright,” he said, “I’ll be off to bed, then!”

            “What?  Pop, no!” Ivar exclaimed.

            “Daddy, you can’t!!” Eydis wailed, tugging his sleeve.

            “You made me mess up!” Astrid shrieked, smearing a swipe of the gold paint on Eydis’ cheek.

            “Astrid,” their mother said warningly.  “Don’t tease them, Finnan,” she added, flashing a stern look at their father.

            Laughing, their father scooped up Eydis, moving her to the other side of him so he sat wedged between his two girls.

            “I’m joking, I’m joking,” laughed their father.  He helped Astrid blot off her mistake before clearing his throat once more.  “Alright, little ones, gather round and listen to your old father’s tale, for it is the only night of the year you ever listen to me.”

            “What?” Astrid asked, looking up, doe eyed.

            Their father pinched the end of her nose, pretending to pop the end off between his fingers.

            “When I was a young lad, a little younger than Ivar here,” began their father, “I went on the egg hunt of a lifetime, with my father and brothers.”

            Ivar settled in to listen to his father while he waited his turn with the egg.

            “It was a bright and sunny morn when I set off with my father and brothers for the Stone Aerie,” began their father.

            “Was Uncle Cedric there?” asked Eydis.

            “And Uncle Elam?” Astrid chimed in.

            “Yes, yes, they were both there,” their father laughed.  “And Dagin and Barick, too.”

            “What about Uncle Arthir?” Eydis asked.

            “Eydis,” their mother said, “enough.”

            Their father rumpled Eydis’ copper hair.  “No, love, your Uncle Arthir was wed by then and had moved off to live with Mathilde and her family.  They don’t have an Aerie near them, so I imagine the tradition hasn’t carried on with Arthir.”

            “So, now, as I was saying,” their father continued, smoothing his beard.  “The sun was high and bright, and Elam and me were always lagging behind, searching for rock gems as we used to call them.  Cedric was the only one waiting for us, Barick and Dagin making sure to keep up with Pop, to get the stories and drink off him.  By the time we got to the Aerie, half the village had already passed Elam and me by, even though my family had been one of the first to go.  Elam and me had pockets waited with our fancy gem rocks.  Our boots slid and slipped on the shale-coated path that led up to the ridge of the Aerie; and thrice we almost slid back down, had it not been for Cedric.

            “When we finally crested the stone ridge of the Aerie, the massive, glittering crater spread out before us, nearly as far as the eye could see.  Pop immediately found a friend or two from the village and went to go socialize, while my brothers and I all set off.  Dagin, Barick, and Cedric all scattered in different directions, scouring the land and rock formations looking for the perfectly hidden-in-plain-sight dragon eggs.  Meanwhile, Elam and me continued our rock hunting.

            “Descending into the Aerie and amongst the glimmery bits of shale, we soon realized that the glimmering, sparkling bits were not rock at all.  They were shed dragon scales.  Hard as small stones, but they glimmered like the most precious jewels in bright sunlight, even in the shadows.  Elam and me soon pulled off our boots to get at our make-shift satchels we had brought along for an overflow of rocks: our socks!”

            Their father paused as the girls erupted into mountains of laughter as they imagined their father and their Uncle Elam sitting on the ground in an Egg Hunt, pulling off their boots and socks.

            “Once our boots were back on,” their father continued when the laughter subsided, “we set about to gathering up dragon scales.  It did not bother us one bit that all the older boys, our brothers included, were scavenging the more exciting locales in the Aerie.  Barick and Dagin were both tempting fate and scouring the lava plain on the far side of the Aerie, and Cedrick was busy climbing cliffs to get higher vantage points.  But Elam and me kept to our hunt of the scales.  We were not old enough to believe into the myth of the actual dragon eggs and the prosperity they would bring our family.  As far as we were concerned, life was always good, and it always would be.

            “Elam found a crevice in some rock and said we should try and get inside.  By that point, the sun was beginning to set back in the direction of home, so I was wondering if we should start finding Pop.  But when I considered the fact that the other villagers were still scouting, I decided why shouldn’t we?  So, I squeezed my little body through the crevice, going first to make sure there was nothing in there to eat Elam.  When I determined it was safe, I beckoned him in.  You would think it would have been as black as night in that little cave we found, but do you know something?”

            “I know lots of things, Daddy,” stated Astrid.

            “That’s not what he means,” hushed Eydis, swatting her sister.

            “Girls,” their mother said wearily. 

            “Dragon scales glow,” their father continued.  “And when you get a cavern with them scattered all across the floor, it lights up like it’s in sunlight.”  Their father spread his hands wide, to indicate the breadth of the scales’ glow.

            Both Eydis and Astrid gasped in amazement, their eyes widen in wonder.

            “Is that where Mummy’s Ostara Day necklace is from?” Astrid asked, her willowy frame wiggling in excitement.

            “Don’t spoil it, Astrid!” Eydis shrieked.

            “You know how this story goes already, Eydis,” Ivar finally chimed in, rolling his eyes.

            “Ivar don’t antagonize your sisters,” said their mother, rubbing her temples.

            “They started it!” Ivar howled.

            Their father raised his hands.  “Alright, alright,” he said loudly, “lets all just calm down.  We’re almost to the end, lets just see if we can make it there without any more interruptions.”  He wrapped his arms firmly around his daughters, pinning them to his sides.  “In the glow of the scales, we found the remains of an old nest.  The branches brittle to the touch with age, disintegrating if you so much as breathed in their direction.  Elam and me crept forward, our pockets and socks clattering loudly.

            “There, in the center of the nest, sat six perfectly intact dragon eggs,” said their father, his voice a hushed tone of wonder.  “You could tell because they were heat reactive, glowing when the warmth of your skin met the exterior of their shells.”  Their father reached out a finger to touch the egg, but it was already coated in paint.  He looked disappointed.  “Oh,” he said, “you guys are getting faster at this.”

            Grinning, he pressed on.  “So, Elam and I sat staring at those eggs, thinking we were hallucinating, so we kept touching them.  There were a couple that had turned to dust over the years, but six sat gleaming.  Enough for me and my brothers.  I raced to the cave entrance, squeezed back out the opening, and went racing to find our father.  In the end, he was on the slope leading out of the Aerie, chatting with some other men from the village who were bidding their time until their own children were done.  Or the sun set, whichever came first.

            “At first, my father was reluctant to leave his friends, but he finally noted how agitated I was.  When we finally got back to the cavern, Pop’s eyes went wide with wonder, just as Elam and I’s had.  He could not believe his eyes at first, and then he left to gather Dagin, Barick, and Cedric.  When they returned, we each chose one.  Elam and me getting to pick first, being we found them.  As we exited the cavern, and headed for the path out of the Aerie, half a dozen parties fell silent, watching us in awe.  And then cheers went up, people calling ‘Look at that, Loffbjorn’s found one for each of his boys!’  Some of the closest children went scrambling to the cavern they had seen us exit.  It was silent for a while, but not too long after we had crested the ridge, we heard the joyous shouts of dozens of others.  There had been more still in that cave.

            “When we returned home, the sun was just disappearing of the horizon, it’s last fingers of sunlight trailing across the inky sky.  Our father’s face beamed with pride as he walked along with five of his sons, all carrying a dragon egg.  Our mother cried with joy at the sight,” their father finally finished.

            He beamed, tousling the hair of each of his children, reaching hard for Ivar.  “I’ve never forgotten the look on my mum’s face when we got home,” he said.

            “She had to have been so proud,” sighed Eydis, wistfully, cupping her chin in her hands.

            “How many families found eggs that year, Daddy,” Astrid.

            “Thirty-seven houses found eggs that year.  Over half the village.”  Their father’s voice was soft with memory, a smile lighting his face.  “And it was that very summer that your mother’s family moved to the village.”

            Ivar watched his mother and father smiling at one another, as though none of their children were present.  Perhaps the myth of the dragon egg was not as far-fetched as he had once thought.  He studied the egg in the center of the table.  It looked like a jewel with its bands of blue-green, dusky purple, ruby red, honey yellow, and smooth cream.

            His mother began to gather the girls, Eydis protesting she was not sleepy and Astrid declaring she needed to guard the egg from intruders.  The true testament to their exhaustion, however, was made clear from the fact that they did not protest much from their father carrying them off to their beds.  Ivar lingered alongside his mother, cleaning up.  He rinsed out the various small ceramic pots of their remaining paints, his fingers coming up lightly stained in the colors of his family.

            Gently, his mother pried the final pot from Ivar’s hands, he had not noticed its return to spotlessness, and she nudged him off towards his own bedroom.  “Off to bed, love,” she said softly, kissing his cheek.  “Get yourself some sleep before tomorrow.”  Ivar nodded shallowly before returning his mother’s kiss and heading off to bed. 

            Pausing outside his sisters’ bedroom, Ivar saw the girls already asleep in their trundle beds.  They both lay on their stomachs, faces away from one another, an arm of each girl outstretched towards the other, dangling over the edges of their beds, their little fingers intertwined in sleep.  A smile stole across Ivar’s face; the girls fought tooth and nail every day while the sun reigned, but when the moon rose, the girls were gentle with one another.

            The next morning, Ivar rose nearly before the sun, his mind racing with excitement and anticipation for the coming day’s festivities.  He helped his mother prep the dishes their family would be bringing to the feast, the distraction seeming to move the sun faster across the sky.  Even Astrid and Eydis lingered to help, the girls on their best behavior of the year.  Their father was already in the village square, helping set up the tables for the Ostara Feast.  There would be a table for every family, and for those lucky enough to have an egg, there would be a place of honor for it.

            When their mother finally declared it time to depart for the square to join their father, Ivar eagerly carried the cask with their freshly painted egg.  He grunted, hefting it up off the table; it somehow felt heavier than the day before when he hauled it down from the attic.  Ivar finally relented to allowing Eydis and Astrid to share the weight of one end of the cask.  At first, he bristled at the amused chuckles and comments from other villagers, but then Ivar noticed the way his little sisters puffed with pride.  Ivar made a point of making a show then, of his little sisters’ great assistance.

            As the night’s festivities wore on – food eaten, drink drunk – Ivar felt a warmth of happiness and contentment he could not recall having felt before.  His sisters were getting along, his mother and father were laughing, and Ivar was enjoying himself.  The night was pure magic.

It was some time before Ivar noticed a persistent, faint tapping sound.  By the time he determined where it was coming from, though he certainly could not believe it was the source, a small piece of shell popped off the dragon egg, landing on Ivar’s plate.  Through the hole, a glimmering amber eye focused upon him.

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