Birthright

Prompt: They painted her in shades of crimson for the ceremony, until every inch of skin blazed like a dying ember written 25 January 2021

She didn’t understand why they painted her skin with such tenderness. She was about to burn, and the paint would neither protect her nor survive the flame. One look from her mother kept the thought to herself. It was an honor, they said. Her birthright. She believed it, but she couldn’t get past the idea of so much pain.

Her family paraded her to the temple, singing prayers for her future and praise for the bravery she had not yet accomplished. The priestess spoke no spells over her, only more prayers, and led the procession to the courtyard, covered in snow but glowing orange from the line of torches surrounding it.

Dressed in a single layer of coal-black linen, she fought down a shiver and shouted her lines at the sky, calling down the dragon she had never seen.

Her birthright, they called it. A wish granted by some godlike thing claiming to be her ancestor. A wish, in exchange for burning.

Her doubt held only until the dragon appeared in the sky, floating weightless despite his great size. She was on her knees even before he landed, blocking her view of all else and revealing the cold earth below the snow.

“Great One.” she recited. “I call you here to claim my birthright.”

“What is your name, girl?” his breath felt hot against her back.

“Jyn, daughter of Roshani, Great One.” she replied.

“And what birthright do you claim, Jyn, cowering in the snow before your pyre? My wealth? My domain? My claws?”

A strange anger ignited in her. This dragon who claimed familial ties, who scarred each member of her family for a single wish, dared to call her a coward. And not only that, he sounded bored. She stood up in a jerky motion, raising her head to meet his golden gaze.

“It is customary, Great One, to introduce oneself before raising judgement.” she spat, hands curled into fists at her sides. She heard her mother gasp in horror. Jyn braced herself to be bitten in half, or burned to ash, but as the dragon opened his mouth it was not a growl that rung through the air.

It was laughter. Identifiable, human laughter. “Finally!” the dragon cried. “Progeny who has inherited my spine!”

“Jyn’s anger died in the wake of her confusion. She stared, open mouthed at the grinning beast before her.

“Did you all think I hated my human spawn so much that I would insult them as they burned? Did you think I reveled in your pain?” he asked, and as he spoke, his form shrank, until he was just a man, in robes no finer than Jyn’s simple linen. His eyes sparkled, still golden, but his grin now showed teeth no sharper than her own. He held out his arms wide, as if inviting them all for a hug. No one moved.

He returned his attention to the girl in front of him. “I will make you a deal, Jyn. If you can make a wish I have not yet bestowed upon your family, I will spare you the pain of the flame.”

Jyn lifted her chin stubbornly. “Your name.” she replied, then added sweetly, “Great One.”

He grinned, and bowed with a flourish. “I am Rion, son of Ach. How do you claim your birthright?”

Finally, she smiled back at him. “I ask for neither your gold nor land nor even your great wisdom. The only thing I desire, great Rion, is your scales.” she announced.

His expression became harder to read as his grin faded. “I will grant your wish, and hold my bargain that you will not burn on the pyre. But I am afraid it will spare you no pain.” he warned. “If you scream, you will be consumed by far more than flame. Do you accept this?”

She nodded, jaw set. He held out his hand and she stepped forward. In two fluid movements, he clasped one hand around her wrist, and cupped the other on her cheek. Where he touched, lightning followed, and scales bloomed from her skin.

And when Jyn opened her mouth, it was not to scream. It was to sing.

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