Genre: Young Adult: Fantasy
Title: Milka & the Ice Dragon
Milka’s hands sliced through the water. Ahead by an arm’s length, she could feel him gaining. Adrenaline spiked through her with every fervored last stroke. Lifting her head for a final breath, she glimpsed a shadowy figure darting among the bushes.
Milka jolted mid-stroke. The hem of a cloak fluttered through the shrubs beside the odd-shaped giant rock in the clearing by the water’s edge. She blinked, and in an instant it was gone. The smooth limestone pebbles at the bottom of the stream rubbed against her feet, sparkling as she stared intently at the bush.
"Did you see that?” She turned to Xander who'd stopped swimming abruptly.
“What?” Xander wiped his eyes. “I don’t see anything.”
Milka panted heavily, her pulse still rising. Someone’s over there, someone’s spying on them. The two friends stood waist deep in the stream that zigzagged through the trees, down to the fields behind the village, momentarily halting their daily swim challenge. Milka could tell Xander’s annoyance by the frown flitting across his face. His elfish features scrunched together as he looked towards the embankment.
Leaves rustled to her left, “Did you hear that?” Milka spun her head around, but saw only the clearing, with its soft grass and sprinkles of bright wildflowers, surrounded by tall pine trees.
“Nope.” said Xander,
“Come on you must have heard that?”
“No, I didn’t! Christ, you’re jittery today. How you even heard anything amidst the gush of the stream and usual forest noise is beyond me ... maybe it was just your imagination”
Milka opened her mouth for a snarky retort but closed it after another rustle caught her attention. It’s definitely coming from over there.
“Shh.”Putting her finger to her lips, she emerged from the water and crept toward the bush beside the large rock. Xander trudged behind her, shaking his sagging mop of curly red hair so droplets of water splashed against her skin. Milka shivered, not from the water but by the unsettling feeling they were not alone.
On the bank, she peered into the bush cautiously but was nudged away by Xander who stuck his face in before pulling it out just as fast.
“Well, there’s nothing there.” He proceeded to front flip onto the rock where he hand-walked to its edge. “And ... there’s nothing around here either.”
“Hmm.” Milka nibbled the bottom of her lip, looking beyond the clearing where the green tops of the pines towered against the backdrop of a cloudless sky as if an artist’s brush had painted it so. The scent of the pines tickled her nose. Where did the person disappear to? She brought her focus back to the bush, taking in every little detail.
“I could have sworn I saw someone move back there, he or she was watching us.”
Xander turned about slowly, his gaze roaming over the clearing."I doubt your Grandmother would send a search party for us whilst there’s still sunlight.
Just then two squirrels scurried from the trees, fiddling with some dried pine cones lying on the ground.
Xander lifted his brows, “your ‘mysterious’ culprits.”
“I think I’d know the difference between a squirrel and a person.” Milka snapped. However, his words had gotten to her. Am I imagining things or was it a shadow? The light is fading after all. Yet the prickly sensation on the back of her neck refused to go away. She sighed, “Perhaps I am jittery today.”
Xander glanced from Milka to the squirrels then back again. “Look, all I know, is you stopped our race moments before finishing and you’ve yet to fully explain yourself.”
“What are you taking about?”
Xander held out his palm “It’s that McKinley streak of yours, you just couldn’t face losing 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 these games; not because they brought respite from her increasing manor chores, but she was good at them—especially swimming.
“Yes. I said lose.” Xander smirked.
She wanted to give him a good twat. 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. A thousand arms couldn’t have helped you to beat me.”
“Is that so?” The grin started first at his mouth, then slowly spread to his freckled nose, making its way up to his hazel eyes alight with mischief. “By my calculations, I was about to swim past you when you supposedly saw someone. Am I to believe this person up and vanished into thin air? A rather flimsy excuse, if you ask me.” A snicker escaped his mouth.
Milka wasn’t impressed. The gall of him! She lifted a finger to give him a good telling off but was side-tracked by something close to where she’d seen the squirrels.
“Look!” Milka sped over to the spot. A huge mark imprinted into ground.
“Well, it’s not a shoe mark," Xander said pointedly,
“A bear’s claw perhaps.” Milka suggested.
“No, look at the size of this thing.” Crouching low, he placed his palm in its center. "There isn’t a beast in Pashdom big enough to make this mark. It’s likely a trick of the recent rains and mud.”
“Hmm.” Milka furrowed her brows. “I don’t know ... first a figure in the trees and now this. Something strange is happening here today, I can feel it.”
"Right, a person who vanished and a mark made by the rain … my friend, what you have, is an overactive imagination.” Xander scoffed. "Admit defeat and I'll forgive you ruining the race earlier."
“I'll do no such thing. You’re lucky I’m not an Orgait, or I’d have you spinning in the air for such stubbornness.”
Though Milka spoke lightly, Xander’s whole demeanor changed; familiar sympathy evident in his eyes. “It's only been six months since your fifteenth birthday, I’ve a feeling my luck will run out soon. The left side of his mouth curled into a half-grin. “But until then, I’ll just as soon continue to hassle you.”
“Quite optimistic of you to think I’ll ever be able to do magic.” Milka sighed.
“Hey, you know me.” The grin broadened.
“Well, more fool you.” For his sake, she put on a smile. “Anyway, I don’t care about all that anymore.” Milka tossed out the words, careful to avoid looking at him. She knew from experience his gaze missed nothing.
For as long as she could remember, the Miller’s son had been her best friend, partner in crime, fellow sleuth, or trouble companion as Grandma Esme liked to call him. Though he drove her crazy, he always knew what to say; she just didn’t feel like talking about her magic problems today.
“Come on, we’ve stayed long enough,” She moved towards their meager belongings pausing to gaze at the stream. The water, the trees, and even the gigantic rock—this was truly her 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.