I stood quietly but restlessly under a bedazzling sea of gold and diamonds. The sparkling ceiling of the temple came alive as it devoured the fires that warmed us below – but despite the golden radiance, malicious shadows danced freely among the rafters.
My knees ached. I had been standing here far too long, and I was tired, but the ceremony was nearing its end. Opal climbed across my shoulders, her talons scratching my armour and occasionally piercing my skin, but I didn’t mind. She was remarkably heavy for a creature so small. I did what I could to make her more comfortable, and myself; the slight shift of my feet, the subtle rolling of my shoulders. I could tell by the way her sapphire eyes darted around from face to face, by the way she craned her neck and ruffled her indigo scales, occasionally spreading her wings and then closing them again, she was as restless as I was.
As was my company; a rowdy bunch of bearded men and sharp-eyed women, with an appetite for blood, among other pleasures. They weren’t what one would call ‘court material’ but they were my friends, and I belonged with them down there, not standing by the altar. I took note of their shuffling about. Ale was not permitted within the temple, nor was food, and my company required constant supply of both. A large beetle buzzed towards me and Opal hissed, ensnaring the insect in a net of magnificent blue flame before snapping it up in her jaws. At least she got to have a meal, although I doubt it satisfied her.
The head priest hobbled towards me, leaning heavily on his golden emerald-tipped sceptre. He was an incredibly old man, with pale wrinkly skin and sad grey eyes. His shoulders were bulbous and slightly deformed and his back was bent so low that his straggly white beard almost brushed across the ground at his feet. Two young servants were needed to help him walk.
He tilted his bearded chin at me; the glowing fire cast upon his beard like a sunset painting fresh snow with a glaze of orange. His voice was shallow and broken; those in the back would have struggled to hear it. His tired grey eyes ran me up and down, and then swept over to my father, who occupied the throne on the far side of the altar. “Present the crowning sword!” the head priest demanded, and more of his servants came forward.
The sword once belonged to my father, and his father before him. It was mesmerising to say the least; a weapon so ancient that its stunning golden hilt had discoloured into fiery copper. Its pommel bore a gleaming red dragon-stone that drank the fire from the hearth. The blade was the colour of the stars; polished so finely that I could see myself in the metal, as if glancing into a mirror. I smiled. I was honoured. A fine sword for a fine warrior. No, I thought, this is a queen’s sword.
My days as a warrior were done. I was a queen now, although I suppose my new role would bear no shortage of bloodshed. I glanced at my father. He sat, tall upon his throne, glistening in golden armour, enflamed by the hearth. He had dark eyes and a heavy brow, like the face of an eagle; stern features for a stern man. How many men had he killed? I wondered. My mother sat beside him, clad in a silky green gown embroidered with silver. She had a warm face, the face of a mother – soft eyes and a small nose, and gentle lips – but I knew from experience that she was just like me. We shared a certain fire, she and I.
After I accepted the sword the final part of the ceremony – the crowning – was to take place. It was a test of faith, for the crown rested within the centre of the hearth, in the very midst of heat and fire. The head priest called and raised a trembling hand, and his servants rushed towards the crown. Of course, it was too hot to touch, and when they raised it from its home using long metal pincers, the fire swirled and danced angrily.
In the light of the temple my crown was the sun, hot glowing dragon-steel that was too bright to even look upon. I winced as they held it over my head and Opal flapped her wings, but I had to be brave. I was soon to become the dragon queen. I was no slave to fire. Slowly, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I felt the weight of the dragon-steel upon my head, but nothing else. The temple erupted with cheers and applause. I was now the dragon queen.ns22.214.171.124da2