Friday flash fiction – Hearts of Fire

Do you remember where you were the first time I wrote you a sonnet? It was a glade of whispering grass, where the wind drifted lazily and sleepy shepherds tended to their listless flocks. You could never resist an idyllic pastoral scene. So I wrote my heart’s truth where you would see it.

I burned my poetry into the side of the hill in pillars of flame that reached for the sky like outstretched claws. My lungs were my inkwell, my breath was my pen, and the grassy hillside, woolly coats and sun-dark skins were the pages on which I set my words. Man and beast wailed in mortal agony, like a chorus echoing my passionate declaration of love. I roared, they cried, and you heard my heart.

How delicious was your reply!

The woodland city of bronze timbers and eggshell stone has stood for a thousand years, a peaceful and prosperous bastion of human civilisation. Its glittering lake! Its palace fortress! A centre for laws, learning and arts. I made sure to include several of its most famous statues and portraits in my hoard.

You spread your lustrous wings and soared aloft with such grace and power the flame caught in my throat and kindled the ovens within. You turned about on gentle thermals, fanning fear and panic in the scurrying creatures below, until they were feverish with terror. With elegant timing, you set fire to their sky. You painted your answer to my proposal in rains of ash and acid, scourging the insects away and leaving their white buildings streaked with coal-dark woe.

Our courtship spanned a dozen years, but I don’t regret its unseemly haste. Why should conventions and traditions matter to the likes of us? The memories are among my most treasured possessions, and I possess a great many treasures. You’ve seen the size of my hoard.

What about that time you drank dry the twisting river and then flew to the peak of the mountains? You found a rock formation you claimed looked just like me, and let the river gush free in a torrent that fell, you said, like tears of joy from my face.

I was touched, though in truth I didn’t think it looked much like me at all. The people who lived on its slopes and whose huts and bodies washed almost all the way to the ocean in a slurry of acidic mud used to say their mountain looked like a monster.

Do you recall when I raided that caravan carrying the fruits of the king’s silver mines? I swallowed the lot – beasts, guards and carts – and let it smelt in my guts for a whole week. Then I laid for you a great mound of silver, moulded in the shape of your favourite fore-tooth. Yes, a few bits of bone stuck out of it, but you were impressed. You’ve worn it on a chain around your wing-shoulder ever since.

And finally the day came, when we coupled.

I signaled to you with snorts of smoke and flame, catching the tempting emerald glint of my scales in the roaring pyres of companies of soldiers. You knitted your gnarled brows and let out a roar so loud it burst eardrums. I turned a flirting tail and took flight, growling in challenge. You snarled in answer; your lust gave strength to your wings and you gave chase. We circled the length and breadth of the great valley, flashing black wings and setting fresh wildfires with the heat of our passage.

And oh, the legends they’ll tell of the moment you caught me. Entwined, my throat between your slavering jaws, we tumbled to the valley floor. We rolled and thrashed, crushing forests, buildings and the slow-footed, who in their final moments were awestruck with the devastating sight of two shimmering mountains twisting and writhing as one.

We laid magnificent waste to the land. When we were done, our exhalations had cracked every stone, singed every leaf and turned the ground to glass. We basked in that luxurious glow together for weeks.

But those simple mortals lacked the capacity to appreciate our unearthly displays of prowess. They were consumed with petty rage. In their selfish jealousy they could not see past the destruction of their cities, their crops and stock, their fellows numbering in the thousands. So small-minded! They gathered their paltry riches, too pathetic to properly be called a hoard, and procured a grubby band of…oh, I can barely say the despicable words…dragon hunters!

I’d never cared to imagine such a thing. What kind of monster would stoop to such a murderous, ignoble profession? It’s worse than going into politics!

We underestimated their cunning and cruelty. They lured you with a paddock full of fat summer calves, which they treacherously laced to the brim with poison. Dragon hunters are vicious little tricksters.

When I saw what they did to you, it almost broke my heart.

There you lay, weakened and diminished. Your scales pallid and spotted, the fires inside guttering through thin, stretched belly skin. The glint in your diamond eyes was as dim as a winter sunset. You were so drained of magnificence, the air about you hardly shimmered at all.

But don’t worry, my love. I have brought you somewhere safe to rest. Lie still and let their smouldering forests keep you warm. I have followed them to their outposts, their strongholds, their fortresses. I have visited my cataclysmic wrath upon their every last den, hide and burrow.

And I have laid our eggs in the embers.

If any of them still live, huddled in their broken ruins, they will whisper fearful warnings for generations to come of our ferocious love.

Something a bit different this time around – this was the piece I wrote for the Canberra Writers Festival event in which I participated last weekend. The debate-style Romance Gauntlet – the Battle of the Sexes pitted teams of men versus women to ask the question of which of the (binary) genders is superior when it comes to writing romantic scenes in fiction.

Since the event pitted three very smart and successful professional romance writers against three goggling amateur fantasy writers, it wasn’t that difficult to arrive at an answer…

The women’s team all read rather steamy scenes from their various published novels, raising temperatures and eyebrows in equal measure. (The ladies definitely won the unofficial Battle of Bringing the Hot Hot Heat).

Lacking a body of existing work from which to draw – none of the three representatives of the masculine inclination write a lot of romantic fiction, it is fair to say – we men wrote new work specifically for the event.

Mine was written to be performed. Over-performed, if I’m honest. The vibe I was going for was “heartfelt epic romance, but with sly jokes and mildly ribald asides.” Whether it succeeded or not is left as an exercise for the reader, but the applause at the end of my set was polite enough not to leave me feeling as though I’d brought eternal shame down upon my household.

Much to my surprise, my sheer terror of reading in public miraculously vanished as soon as the MC began his introductions. More to the point, I think everyone had a fun time. And as long as nobody asks me to do anything like this again for oh I don’t know about a thousand years, I’m sticking to my story.

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