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Story 2

Rhonda Eudaly

Some people really do light up a room when they come into it. Rhonda Eudaly is one of those people. She is bright, talented, funny, and fun redhead, and a gifted writer. Fortunately she has chosen to use her talents for good, creating fantasy stories that are also funny and fun.

4 Star Stories is delighted to present Rhonda's story, “DEFIANCE.” Enjoy!


By Rhonda Eudaly

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. A bargain struck with a beautiful woman over too much ale and sealed with blood magic. She'd had the plan. I had the "equipment" to pull it off. We'd be rich and powerful with no one getting hurt - too much - and none the wiser. And for a while, it worked. Slowly, surely it started crumbling like aging stonework, but there was no way out. Blood magic is funny like that.


"Where have you been? You were supposed to be back hours ago!"

"Out." My voice was a low rumble that left most mortals quaking in their footgear. But not Miranda. Never, ever Miranda. She stood there, half-dressed, hands on her well-shaped hips, impressive chest thrust out, staring me down.

"Out? OUT? That's all you have to say for yourself?" She took a step closer and sniffed my muzzle. "Oh, no, you haven't! What virgin have you been eating now?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." But the words came with a huff and a puff, and even I detected the smoked meat aroma on my steamy breath. That and the barrel or two of ale I'd downed. Dragoning is thirsty work, or I wouldn't be in this mess.

She smacked me right above the left nostril. "Don't do that! I spent a lot of time on my hair to have you steam it all frizzy again. How could you? You know what virgin meat does to you! That pimply-faced third prince from the Netherealms will be here in a couple of hours, and you're going to look all gassy instead of menacing."

I lifted my wing blades in shrug. "Oh, I don't know, Miranda. Gassy could actually be a lot more dangerous. More sound effects that way."

She rolled her eyes and sighed with an awe-inspiring heave of her bosom. "Just as long as you're not so full that you fall asleep rather than scaring the life savings out of that rube."

Okay, I'd had enough of this. Who was this slip of a mortal woman to talk to me, James Lawrence Taylor William Thomas Allen - a fully mature Silverback Dragon named after every knight my blessed mother ate while I was in the egg - like I was an errant hatchling? Besides, I was older, bigger, and had sharper teeth than she did. And my fire? Not just of spirit, let me tell you. I could crisp a squirrel at 100 yards with one belch. She should not be talking to me like this. And I said so. She didn't take it well.

"I beg your pardon, Al?"

Yes, she called me "Al". When I'd introduced myself, she'd said, "I'll never remember all that. From now on, I'm calling you 'Al'." I should've eaten her then, but did I listen to that little voice of reason? No.

Miranda continued as if I was listening. "But just who rescued whom from that Knight of St. George before he ran off with your hoard and head? Not that it was all that impressive to begin with."

Hoard or head? I wasn't about to verbalize that question. This really wasn't going the way I thought it should. And besides I had some suspicions about that so-called "rescue". I've never quite been able to put my claw on it, but there was not quite right about the guy's surcoat.

"Are you listening to me?"

I blinked my eyes and focused once more. "Apparently not. What did you say?"

She harrumphed and started pacing. "I said, we're running out of time, and you still need to burnish your hide. I can't believe we're going over this again. How long have we been doing this? Over a year now? Get your head in the game, or we're going to lose everything."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

Her ivory skin went further white before flushing bright red. "I can't believe you just said that, Al. I'm going to finish getting ready. Don't blow this, I mean it!"

She stormed off then, and I know it's not "dragonly" but there was such venom in her voice that I was a bit frightened. Well, maybe not frightened, but definitely taken aback. I lumbered off to burnish my scales. She did have a point, I do inspire a certain level of fear and awe when I'm all groomed and gleaming. And it drives the chicks wild.

Two hours later the stage was set. I looked hot - in all senses of the word - against my back drop of gold and glittering jewels. Torchlight along the stone walls brought out the iridescent undertones to my scales. I also stoked my inner fires, causing my eyes to shimmer and shift colors and wisps of smoke to filter out of my nose and the very corner of my muzzle. All very storybook, all very proper.

"Would you stop staring at yourself in that mirror, Al?"

I whirled toward Miranda's voice, my barb tipped tail sweeping aside a mound of coins and gems. An unexpected yelp told me I'd nearly taken her down with them.

"Be careful! We have an image to maintain, you know."

"I know. I know." I lowered my voice to a mumble. "It's not like you let me forget."

"Did you say something?"

I put on my most innocent expression. "Who me? No. Of course not."

Miranda eyed me suspiciously. "Okay, then. Let's get in our places. The prince is on final approach through the pass. He'll be here shortly."

With a slow, deliberate nod, I settled my large but lithe form into the hollow made in the pile of riches designed for the purpose of bilking more riches out of the unsuspecting. It made me look even more impressive, so I didn't mind the discomfort too much. You try sitting on a pile of cold metal and pointy jewels. Get one of those lodged in the wrong place, well, it's just painful and let's leave it at that, shall we?

Miranda swept past me to the wall where a set of prop manacles were embedded at just the right height and position to best display her...assets when properly attired. She was a genius about the cut of her wardrobe for this very purpose. I have to admit it did work on the hormonally charged young men who came to us. But it was all an act.

Or was it?

A thought formed in my hindbrain and wormed its way forward. I would need help, and it would have to be quick and subtle. She would know if I hatched an elaborate scheme - a side effect of the blood magic, we're bound together in this agreement that the only way to break it is by death (and not by each other) or bond transfer. There had to a way out. A way to freedom, and I thought I heard the first sounds of it coming through the front gate.


"Stand, monster, and prepare to be defeated."

I looked down my muzzle at the most unimpressive member of princedom ever to grace our halls. He was short and skinny with long, stringy, mouse-brown hair and a long, acne-scarred face. His hose bagged around knobby knees and his shield rattled against his chain mail shirt from his violent trembling. And by the way he swayed, his armor, shield, and sword must've weighed more than he did. He was perfect!

"Did you hear me, beast? I'm going to slay you and rescue the fair maiden."

I let out a roar of laughter that shook dust off the ceiling and let a gout of flame escape. Unfortunately, it scared our intrepid hero so badly he fell over in a dead faint and a clatter of second-hand armor. I laughed even harder.

"Oh, good grief. Did you have to do that? Couldn't you have just stuck with the plan?"

"Did you hear what he called you? A maiden! That's richer than we are."

Miranda squirmed out of the manacles and picked her way through treasure to the spindly prince. She knelt down beside him and checked for signs of life. She kept throwing me scathing looks over her shoulder the entire time.

"He's fainted. He's not dead," I said.

"Lucky for us, since he hasn't ponied up any money yet." She rolled her eyes in my direction. "You just had to laugh at him."

I gestured with my foreclaw. "Look at him! Like he's even going to be able to draw that sword, much less kill anyone with it. It was funny, and what he said about you..."

"Laugh it up, scale boy. They're all funny, Al. That's why they're sent on these things, to either make storybook heroes out of them or make them less of a burden on society."

"Well, this one might surprise us. I have a feeling."

She gave me a cold, calculating look. "Why?"

"No time. He's coming around."

Miranda's head whipped back to see the young man starting to stir. She slipped and slid back to her place and into position just as the prince's eyes fluttered open. I controlled my next round of laughter as he struggled to sit up. He had to make several attempts to gain a full and upright position.

"I'm still alive."

"You seem surprised by that." I cocked my head at him and watched his reaction.

"Well, yeah. I figured you would've eaten me."

"Now why would I do that? Dragons eat mostly Virgin Meat since it's the most tender and juicy. Surely a prince of your, um, stature, wouldn't qualify for that. Am I right?"

"No. Yes. No?" He looked puzzled as he sorted out the right response to the question and each one sounded less certain. "Yes, I don't qualify?"

I bit back a grin as our hero blustered, squirmed and then blushed. Of course he qualified. I could smell it a mile off. Besides, he was practically a hatchling. He needed another decade or so to mature, and then we'd talk. Besides, he was much too stringy for food - a toothpick, maybe, but not dinner. I like more meat on my, well, meat.

"There you go, then, what's your name, son?"

His predominant Adam's Apple bobbed convulsively. "Aesop. Aesop Jones. My parents read a lot. And they kinda ran out of the good names after my brothers and sisters."

"That's a lot of information, there, Aesop. Now, let's get down to business. You want to rescue the pretty girl, right?"

Aesop's head bobbled up and down so rapidly I thought his neck would snap. I needed to stall. My plan was building, brick by brick, in my mind, but I needed a little more time to perfect it. "Okay, here's what you're going to do. You're going to go make camp outside and come back tomorrow."

"What?" Aesop's question took on an odd, outraged echo as Miranda said the same thing at the same time.

"And when you return tomorrow at Mid-Day, I will have three tasks for you to accomplish in order to win the girl."

"Tasks?" There was that odd double tone again. Miranda was going to explode soon if I didn't get this guy out of there.

"Well, duh. You didn't think I was just going to give you the girl just for showing up, did you?"

Aesop blushed. "Couldn't you just?"

I looked at him like he was an idiot. "Didn't your parents teach you any work ethics? I swear all you princes have got to get out of this entitlement thing. You have to learn that for something to really matter you have to earn it."

"So what do I have to do?"

"If you complete and survive three tasks, then you get the girl. Ba dah bing. Ba dah boom. No muss. No fuss. Except there will be."

"Will be what?"

"Muss and fuss, of course. Now hurry along. I'll see you right back here tomorrow at Mid-Day. And not a moment before. I need my beauty sleep, you know."

Aesop did his head bobble thing. He turned and fled as quickly as his piecemeal armor would allow. I have to admit he was the most amusing of all the knights, lords, and princes to come down the pike. That's kind of a feat in and of itself, not many things amuse a Silverback Dragon. We're a pretty stodgy lot. I'm an exception, which is probably how I got myself into this mess to begin with. I was born with a sense of humor.

And now that Aesop was gone, it was time to face the music. Miranda was already staring me down. I've never seen her move that fast before in my association with her.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm still following the plan, Miranda. I'm just being a bit...creative with it at the moment. Think about it. This one's the runt of his litter that means they stuck him with the priests and tutors."

"What's your point, Al?"

"He's smart, Miranda. Think about what we could get if we started sending the smart ones out on mini-quests. We could net three times as much."

I hit Miranda where she lived, in her avarice. I saw greed gleam in her eyes. "Okay, you may have a point. Just tell me ahead of time before you pull a stunt like this. We're in this together, you know."

"Like I could forget. Now, if you'll excuse me, I wasn't kidding about the beauty sleep. I was up all night. I need a nap."

She rolled her eyes and flounced out in a cloud of soft perfume and black hair. I, too, headed out to my den. The golden hoard is all fine and good, but nothing beats a nice soft pile of fur, feathers and blankets for a decent napping place.


Aesop was nothing if not prompt. Straight up Mid-Day he stood before me once more. To his credit, he seemed a lot less shaky than the day before. He still had the Adam's Apple thing going on, and his eyes kept dancing around, but he showed up.

"If you're looking for Miranda, you're wasting your time."

Aesop struggled with his sword. "If you've harmed her in any way, beast, I'll...I'll...I'll do something harmful."

"Ooh, I'm scared. Dude, you can't draw your sword and your threatening banter really needs work."

Aesop's bravado evaporated. "Yeah, I know. My brothers got that training."

"Let me guess, you're the family accountant."

The little man grinned and shoved his oversized helmet back off his forehead. "And an attorney! In the corporate realms they call me Aesop the Terrible. I've been responsible for a half dozen hostile take-overs. I've got my family fortune in so many tax shelters no Imperial Auditor will ever find it all. I never met an investment risk I couldn't handle."

"If you're such a genius, why are you here? Why aren't you back at home cooking the books?"

Aesop's face, which had taken on a bolder, stronger countenance as he talked about money, fell. His proud, straight back slumped forward. "It's tradition, and I have an old-fashioned family. Rites of passage and all that, you know."

I studied him more carefully. It was hard to lie to a dragon. Not impossible, mind you, just difficult. Our intimidation factors work better than most lie detectors. He wasn't lying, but he wasn't telling me the whole truth, either. "And?"

"What do you mean, 'and'?"

I just looked at him. "Smart guy like you? You'd find a way around tradition and family ritual unless there's something else involved. Spill it."

"Trust fund." He blurted out the words, looking surprised to have admitted it. But, like I said, it's almost impossible to lie to a dragon.

I nodded. The trust fund made the final piece fall in place. I love it when a plan comes together. "Aesop, my boy, how would you like to have it all? Money. Prestige. The girl..."

The spindly prince's eyes glittered. I could almost see the calculations running behind his eyes. "What do you have in mind?"

I beckoned him forward with a claw tip. And to his credit, Aesop's curiosity won out fear and he came closer. I draped my wing over his shoulders and looked around conspiratorially. It wouldn't do for Miranda to hear us.

"Tell me, Aesop, what do you know about bargains and blood magic?"

He looked at me with wide eyes. "Are you kidding? What idiot would do something like that? Oh. OH! So is this all a scam?"

I winced. "Scam is such a harsh term. And in my defense, I was younger and stupid at the time, and, well, Miranda can be very persuasive."

"I'll say." Aesop sighed in that special way reserved for lovesick puppies.

"So here's what I propose..."


"You're really sending him on a ridiculous quest?" Miranda wasn't happy with me. There's a shocker. She hadn't been happy with me since the first few days of our agreement when she'd discovered dragons snore - much to the detriment of her wardrobe at the time.

"Well, technically three, but he agreed to the terms."

"And what happens if he dies along the way? What do we do then?"

"He's leaving collateral - everything he brought when he thought he could just buy your way out of here. So see, it's win/win. I told you he was educated. Trust me."

"Yeah, right, about as far as I can throw you. What are you up to, Al?"

I blinked at her innocently. "Me? Why would I be up to anything?"

"Because you're almost as scheming and conniving as I am, that's why." Miranda studied me. "I'm going to go talk to him."

"Too late. He's already gone."

"What time frame did you give him?"

I shrugged - which is actually quite impressive with the wings and all. "When he's done or dead. Whichever comes first."

"So what do we do in the meantime? Wait?"

"Pretty much. You might be surprised by this one. I have a good feeling about him."

Miranda studied me for a moment. She knew I was up to something. And if I played this right she wouldn't figure it out until it was all over.


"What ho, Dragon! I have returned with the successful completion of the tasks set before me!"

"You had to teach him to be pompous?" Miranda asked as Aesop strode into our den. She was once more in a skimpy costume, including a decorative chain attached to a collar leading into the jewels at my paws. Lucas had to get the idea somewhere, you know.

"That wasn't my doing," I said. "Well, not really. I just told him to work on his banter. He must've been practicing along the way. And he has had a month. At least he isn't stuttering any more."

"There is that."

I turned my attention to Aesop. "Come forward, Sir Aesop. How fared you?"

Aesop strode forward with a new found confidence, until his boot toe caught on some obstacle and he sprawled headlong with a crash and clatter. I tried really hard to suppress my rumble of laughter. I didn't want to destroy what he'd worked so hard to build - not when he held my future in his hands. So I waited patiently while he extricated himself.

"I meant to do that."

"Of course you did." I could afford to be gracious. "You understood the requirements of the task?"

"I did"

Aesop pulled a jewelry-sized casket out from under his cloak and laid it at my paws. Miranda narrowed her eyes at it, and then glared up at me.

"It's awfully small."

I grinned at her. Aesop went a bit pale when I did. Dragon smiles aren't necessarily encouraging-looking. It has to do with teeth the length of a human forearm. "Miranda, darling, aren't you the one always telling me size doesn't matter?"

Miranda opened and closed her mouth without saying anything. She wanted to, I could tell, but my argument shut her down. I smiled more and heard Aesop gulp. Time to move on.

"All righty, then, Sir Aesop. Show me your results."

In a rattle of armor, Aesop came forward and retrieved the small trunk. He made a great show of opening it.


Miranda and Aesop both froze and looked up to stare at me. Neither expected me to make such a command.

"What? Is something wrong?" Aesop asked with a barely audible nervous gulp.

"No, no. I just wanted to make sure we were clear on the terms."

"Sure? I successfully complete the tasks put before me and I win the girl."

"What are you up to, Al?"

I couldn't miss the warning note in her voice. I spared her a quick glance and didn't like the look developing on her face. Her smoky eyes narrowed and her lips were pressed in a thin, hard line.

"Continue, Aesop, please."

Miranda made a low, strangled sound deep in her throat. She didn't like the fact I ignored her question so blatantly.



The young man looked between Miranda and me and then down at his box. "Do I continue now?"

I nodded once, slowly. It was a regal nod. I was proud of it. "Please do, Aesop."

He opened the small trunk and looked inside for a moment. Then he reached inside and pulled out the first item. It was small, green and even Miranda had to strain to see what it was. He set the bit of greenery on a flat surface and turned back to his box.

"Excuse me?" Miranda interrupted his task. "What is that?"

"A four leaf clover plucked at its prime and set in a protective spell to never decay. Good luck in perpetuity for the bearer."

"Good luck?" Miranda's tone was surprised and slightly strangled. "Are you serious?" She turned on me. "That's what you sent him to find? A four leafed clover?"

I shrugged my wings. "Among other things. There's no such thing as too much good luck."

Her lips pressed unbelievably thinner. "What else did you decide we couldn't have too much of?"

"True love."

Miranda's eyes went wide in disbelief. "What's love got to do with it? This is business!"

"It's what?" Aesop sound thoroughly shocked, dismayed, and heartbroken. I was surprised. I hadn't expected acting skills to be part of his repertoire. But then he had said he was an attorney as well as an accountant. "But my lady! You can't mean that! True love is one of the most powerful forces on the earth. Without love, what is there?"

Ooh, nice script. I wondered who his speech writer was.

"Oh, please, its' a second-hand emotion at best. It gets in the way of what's important."

"Then I truly feel sorry for you, then, my lady because without someone to love, I would have no one to lavish the riches of three kingdoms on." He polished his fingernails on his surcoat.

Miranda sat up a bit straighter, eyes glittering. "Three kingdoms? What size?"

"So size does matter! Well then." Aesop tapped his chin thoughtfully. "One's really too big. One's actually too small. But the middle one? Oh, boy, that one's just right."

"Really?" Miranda let the rest of the thought dwindle.

I had to get the party going again. "You might want to continue Aesop."

He nodded and dug into the box and pulled out a perfectly symmetrical heart-shaped red rose, also perfectly preserved. "You see? How can anyone not believe in true love when there are things like this in the world?"

Miranda's eyes narrowed again and then went wide. "I don't believe it. What spell-caster gave you that?"

I didn't want Aesop answering that question. Not until we were done. "Move along, Aesop. Move along."

"And finally a vial of pure, clear, water from the Eternal Fountain. For, well, purity of spirit and desire. And with these three things I have completed the tasks set before me to seal the agreement between man and dragon. The tasks alone are not sacrifice enough."

Then, before Miranda quite knew what was happening - because I saw the questions and the solutions as they formed behind her eyes. Aesop bolted forward with greater speed and dexterity than either one of us could imagine. He had a dagger drawn and ready. He nicked his palm with the blade and then slid the knife in between the scales of my closest claw - much like Miranda had. And I yanked on Miranda's chain, pulling her closer to us, and the knife flashed again. Blood welled up between all three of us, and Aesop slapped his hand over the small wounds.

"No! Wait!" Miranda cried out, but it was done.

The power of the blood magic flowed out of me and settled on Aesop. The bargain transferred from me to him. Miranda was his problem now. I was free! Free! Woo hoo! Free! I would've scampered about my chamber if it had been possible. But I still needed to be gracious a bit longer.

"What just happened here?" Miranda demanded.

"We're finally free of each other, Miranda, without either one of us having to die. Aesop took over the bargain, and seriously? You can do a lot worse. Between your cunning and his financial acumen, you two are going to rule the world. You don't need a big, old, smelly dragon in the way. Who knows, you'll probably even come to like him."

"But how is that possible? The terms of blood magic bonds are complex and unbreakable."

"Not for Aesop the Terrible. He's not only an accountant, he's an attorney. He's a double threat. Give him a chance, Miranda, even you will be surprised. Now, you don't have to leave this instant, but I'm sure you'll be anxious to start your new lives together. So don't stick around on my account. Bye bye then."

And with that, I handed over the unsecured chain to Miranda's decorative collar and turned on my tail - quite literally - and lumbered off to my sleeping chamber. I curled up on my sleeping furs and let out a smoky sigh of relief. I felt tons lighter than I had since I met Miranda.

"It's about time. I thought you'd never get rid of her."

The red head came out of the shadows and curled up next to my muzzle and stroked the ridge by my left nostril. What can I say? I'm male. It's the nature of the beast. Besides dragons prefer red heads. And this red head? Well, she's a whole other story.



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