Genre: Young Adult: Fantasy
Title: Milka & the Ice Dragon
“What?” Xander jolted mid-stroke. “I don’t see anything.”
Milka gasped, the adrenaline still coursing through her body. Just a bit farther and she would have won the race for sure; but something unsettling had disturbed her. The two friends stood waist deep in the stream behind the village, momentarily halting their daily swim challenge. A look of annoyance flitted across his elfish face. Choosing to ignore it, Milka focused on the embankment behind him.
“Did you hear that?” Milka spun her head around.
“Nope. Sounds pretty quiet to me”—he rolled his eyes—“unless of course you consider the noisy stream and, oh, I don’t know ... the birds chirping and other sounds usually found in the forest.”
She opened her mouth for a snarky retort but closed it after another rustle caught her attention.
“Shh.” Putting her finger to her lips, she slowly emerged from the water and crept toward the bush beside the giant rock.
Sighing, Xander trudged behind her, shaking his sagging mop of curly red hair, causing droplets of water to splash around. On the bank, he peered over her shoulder into the bush. Nudging Milka out of the way, Xander wiped his eyes and stuck his face in. He pulled it out just as fast.
“Well, there’s nothing in there.”
Shrugging, he did a neat front flip onto the rock, landing on his hands. He then proceeded to hand-walk to its edge, peering over with semi interest.
“And ... there’s nothing around here either.”
“Hmm.” Milka nibbled the bottom of her lip looking about the clearing: Starting with the gem-like stream, gurgling and babbling as it swerved in a zigzagged pattern between the trees, she followed its flow down behind the village to the lower fields; took in the limestone rocks and pebbles sparkling in the water; roamed her gaze over the soft grass with sprinkles of bright wildflowers; finally settling on the tall pine trees all around. The green tops towered against the backdrop of a cloudless sky, as if an artist’s brush had painted it so.
The rays of sunlight filtered through the branches filling the area with a warm, pine scent that tickled her nose. However, she felt strange today; she couldn’t quite explain it, but something was definitely amiss. Milka brought her focus back to the bush by the big rock. Narrowing her eyes, she observed every little detail.
“I could have sworn I saw something move back there.” She wrinkled her nose.
Just then two squirrels darted out from the trees, fiddling with some dried pine cones lying on the ground.
“Oh,” Milka sighed, relief flooding her senses. “Guess it was just some animal searching around for food.”
Xander’s face went blank. He glanced from Milka to the squirrels then back again.
“Let me get this straight. You stopped our race moments before finishing because you were spooked by a few hungry squirrels?” He held out his palm mockingly. “You just couldn’t face losing, now could you?”
“Lose, you say?” Her eyebrow raised in contradiction.
An hour earlier the two friends dove into the challenge of swimming three times up to Brook Knells and back. Petite and athletic Milka enjoyed a good game of practically anything, except archery. Running, swimming, wrestling whatever sport they conjured, she was always willing. It took away from the drudgery of her chores at the manor.
“Yes. I said lose. What’s the matter? Did the squirrels spook your hearing too?”
Milka knew he was only teasing, but if she conceded a loss she’d never hear the end of it.
“Alexander Mayfield, you know well and good I beat you twice since evening and was on my way to winning for a third time. Fair and square.”
The grin started first at his mouth, then slowly spread to his freckled nose, making its way up to his mischievous hazel eyes.
“Uh, no. By my calculations, I was just about to swim past you when you supposedly heard a ‘noise’ you simply had to investigate. It seems a flimsy excuse to get out of what would have been certain defeat, don’t you think?” A snicker escaped his mouth.
Milka was not impressed. The gall! To say he was going to win when he jolly well knew she’d beaten him. She lifted a finger to give him a good telling off but was side-tracked by Xander’s full on smile.
“You know I’m right. Come on … say it.”
When he smiled like that, Milka fought to resist. “I’ll do no such thing.”
She tried valiantly to swallow the giggles bubbling up inside, but Xander cocked his head and stuck out his tongue. Just like that, Milka was undone. The giggles spilled out into contagious fits of laughter. They both laughed so hard they doubled over holding their sides.
“It’s a blessing, it is, that I’m not an Orgait. Or I’d have you spinning in the air for speaking such blatant untruths.” She spoke lightly, not wanting to dwell on her lack of magical powers.
“Well, sooner or later my luck is bound to run out, so until then, I’ll just continue to hassle you,” Xander countered.
“Quite optimistic of you to think I’ll ever be able to do magic.”
“Hey you know me.” He grinned openly.
“Well, more fool you.” For his sake, she put on a smile. “Anyway, you know I don’t care about all that stuff anymore. It’s okay, I’m fine,” Milka tossed out the words, careful to avoid looking at Xander. She knew from experience his gaze missed nothing.
For as long as she could remember, the Miller’s son had been her best friend: always her partner in crime, fellow sleuth, or trouble companion as Grandma Esme liked to call him. As much as he drove her crazy, he always knew what to say; she just didn’t want to talk about her magic problems today.
“Come on, we’ve stayed long enough,” his voice brought her back from her thoughts.
They picked up their meager belongings and Milka gazed at the stream, wishing they didn’t have to leave. The water, the trees, and even the hobbit rock—this was truly her most favorite place in the world. Here, she could forget about her parents’ death. The fact she barely remembered their faces bothered her. Sometimes she’d stare at the stream, hoping if she looked long enough she’d see her mother’s reflection instead of her own. Needless to say, it never worked. Milka’s blue eyes would pierce back, her oval face clouding with sadness.
“You ready?” Xander asked.
“What’s your haste?”
“Well, we stay any longer and your grandmother will have the whole village out scouring for us.”
“Do explain why you’re suddenly concerned about causing my grandmother worry?” Milka placed a hand on her hip. “That’s never bothered you before.”
“Err, I was only trying to prevent us from getting into trouble. But, seeing that you're not worried ... do carry on. I mean, don’t blame me if Esme gives you the scolding of your life for failing to get back as expected. I’ll be sure to inform her, that I, the good lad that I am, kept urging her stubborn granddaughter to return to the manor on time.”
He ended with a loud growl from his stomach. Xander, turned his head to the sky and whistled.