Ilse remembered that day for the rest of her life as the day her life changed. Noises woke her, not the bumbling clash of swordfights because the prince, many thought she was destined to marry him but she'd known even at that age that other things were intended for her, had injured himself the previous night and the court healers had enforced bedrest and bloodlettings. As the prince's best friend, they had let her into the boy's room, standing beside her father, the wall at their back. She'd needed her father's hand while she watched the prince's skin sicken to turn bone white.
No, Ilse woke to thrumming voices, low bass rumbles like thunder rolling up the stairs or bumblebees alighting on flowers. The latter probably explained why for the rest of her life Ilse remembered that day through an amber haze. Sleep glazing her eyes, wearing only her nightgown, she sought the sounds, rising from her father's workrooms, encompassing the entire floor of the room below them.
On the workroom's threshold, stone ground against stone and Ilse gazed upwards at the slab falling towards her like a solid portcullis. Later, they would say it was the gods' and goddesses' will for her to attend, but her heart beat like a butterfly captured in her hands and she shrank into the shadows.
Her father stood within a circle of men, they all wore flowing robes like her father's court magician robes. A man with a twining beard held a finger-sized dragon in his hands. Fingers pinched the tail and the front paws. Rainbow shades of color mostly reds and purples shimmered across the scales. Her father mirrored the man's bow holding forward a blue and purple dragon. At the bottom of the bow, the man's eyes watching each other, the dragons leapt from their hands.
Light swirled through the room. Smoke puffed as dragon chased dragon circling between the candle mounted chandeliers and weaving along the walls and over the floor as bright scales burned black with ash. The other man's dragon, the red one, had fled at first, but now turned and the jaws caught the tail of her father's dragon. Blue tail twitching from its mouth.
The red dragon belched a smoke ring after chomping the tail. It's claws scratched along the floor as leather wings launched it in pursuit. The mouth unhinged as it flew forward to swallow the her father's dragon whole.
The man with the twined beard crouched to lift the dragon, the form now motionless. In the silence that emerged with the end of the battle, she heard the man's robes rustling. With a flick of the wrist, the dragon disappeared. Ilse couldn't tell where it had disappeared. The man turned to her father, bowed deeply and presented a flask with a cloudy yellow liquid in the base of it. Then the wizards in the room disappeared in columns of smoke leaving her father. Ilse coughed, breathing the smoke.
"Ilsebet!" Her father only used that name when he was angry. The bridge of his nose pinched with pain. The slab behind her groaned as it rose and she fell without the support. "You must forget everything."
She shrank from his extended hands, an intuition that they came not to help but to soften the memories leaving them wisps of dreams. "Are you okay?" Ilse's voice shook.
"You mean the dragons. You must forget what you saw. It was only a ritual form of greeting and I told you too much, but you must realize there is nothing to worry about."
"No..." She meant the frightened way he looked with his eyes dashing to and fro like the dragons that had fled about the room.
"Don't worry about the dragon. I owe Mage Connolly a favor and if he has need of me he will release my dragon and it will come to me and I will know his need. He has provided a potion that will heal the prince unlike the childish healers that do nothing but weaken him." He moved his hands towards her again. "You must forget."
"No." Ilse raised a finger, flattening the folds of flash creasing her father's face. "I want to learn what you do."
"It is not the world for you."
Ilse felt her blood buzzing in her hands and she opened her palm flat and a bee appeared and buzzed around her father's head. "I think it's chosen me now."