Chapter 18:

Chapter 18: Uncomfortable Silence (Blake)

Soulbonded Wings

Not long after Josie stormed off, the group split apart. Est and Rafe followed after her, leaving Blake alone with Ramona and the prince. Bookmark here

The three of them stood around awkwardly for a minute, nobody really knowing what to say. It was Lancelus that finally broke the silence.Bookmark here

“I should… catch up with Elly and Reed,” he managed to spit out, heading after the girls and leaving Blake alone with his fiancé.Bookmark here

Ramona glanced at Blake, and he could feel the tension coming off of her. She bit her lip. “Um…”Bookmark here

Did she want to say something? Or was that expectant look on her face because she wanted him to say something? Blake had no idea. He didn’t “get” girls. And now he had a fiancé? He didn’t even really have friends!Bookmark here

Reed’s distinct laugh carried through the noise of the crowd, and it gave Blake some inspiration. “Hey, do you want to go see what Reed and the others are doing?” He asked. At least with other people around, the burden of entertaining Ramona wouldn’t fall entirely on his shoulders.Bookmark here

Ramona blinked in surprise. “Uh… yeah, sure,” she mumbled, shrugging. She didn’t seem enthusiastic about the idea, but her response was good enough for him, and they headed in the direction of Reed’s voice.Bookmark here

Reed and Elly were at a Calode stand with Lancelus when Blake and Ramona caught up to them. Reed’s face lit up and she quickly beckoned him over.Bookmark here

“Hey Blake! Come here, you’re just in time! We’re picking out colors for Elly!”Bookmark here

It may have been the light of the festival lamps, but Elly was looking a little green. “Um… Reed, you don’t need to buy one for me, I told you-“Bookmark here

“Nonsense!” Reed cut her off, tapping Elly on the lips to shush her. “No pal of mine is going around the festival without the best of the best! So come on Elly, what’s your favorite color?”Bookmark here

Elly looked desperately towards Blake, her eyes begging him to save her. Blake just shook his head. He liked Elly fine, but he wasn’t going to mess with Reed for her sake.Bookmark here

Her ears drooped and she gave a resigned sigh. “I… I like brown,” she admitted. “It’s so soft and warm…”Bookmark here

“You heard her!” Reed said, turning to the man running the stand. “Prepare some brown dye!”Bookmark here

The man gruffly nodded and removed the lid of one of the vats.Bookmark here

Calode dyeing was a traditional practice that had been passed down through many families in Saekoria. A pure white Calode would be bound with twine and dipped in colored dye to produce different patterns and images. With nobles, the colors for a Calode would usually represent the sigil of the wearer’s house, like Blake’s was. But Elly was a bastard, so she couldn’t exactly walk through town in royal ivory and gold. So the safer option was choosing her favorite color.Bookmark here

“Brown’s good… what about another color?” Reed asked. Her eyes were shining with quite a few colors of their own.Bookmark here

Elly baulked. “A-Another…? Um… blue, I guess?”Bookmark here

Brown and blue, like her hair and eyes, that was the first thing Blake thought of. But Reed was just getting started, it seemed, already flipping through the rest of the fabric samples.Bookmark here

“Okay, so for the third color-“Bookmark here

“N-No!” Elly gasped. “Two! Just two is fine!”Bookmark here

Reed’s smile barely dimmed at that answer. “Okay, brown and blue it is then! As for me…”Bookmark here

She began to strip off her own Calode, and Blake felt his face heat up with embarrassment. “Wait, Reed, you can’t be-!”Bookmark here

Oh, wait, it was fine. She had a regular tunic on underneath. He sighed in relief. Reed was wild enough that for a second he actually thought she was going to strip naked in public. Judging from the redness of Elly’s face and the look of relief on Ramona’s and Lancelus’s, he hadn’t been the only one.Bookmark here

“I think I’ll have… a little bit of everything!” Reed decided. “Give me all the colors you got!”Bookmark here

“A-All of them?” Elly asked in disbelief. The shopkeeper paused, also a little surprised. But he shrugged and began to open more dye vats.Bookmark here

Blake… honestly wasn’t that shocked. It was a very “Reed” thing to do. And it was certainly going to look… interesting.Bookmark here

Reed began walking Elly through the steps of how to properly bind a Calode in the pattern she wanted, while twisting her own Calode into so many knots and tangles it looked like a bramble bush. Blake was about to say something when he felt something wet and sweaty touch his hand.Bookmark here

He turned to Ramona, confused. She stared back at him with an awkward grin plastered across her pale face, looking like she was about to die of embarrassment. Why was she holding his hand? He felt uncomfortable and weird, but if he shook himself free that would be even worse.Bookmark here

“Oh. Imagine that. Lord Harker.”Bookmark here

A voice Blake recognized nearly knocked him over and he pulled his hand free, moving to return the greeting. It was Audrey Angelique, dressed up for the festival in a black Calode with streaks of red and silver.Bookmark here

She was guiding someone by the hand herself. It was… a mini Audrey. Like someone had cast a shrinking spell on Audrey, turning her into a tiny child. Same red eyes, same stern expression, same silver hair. It was even tied up in the same ponytail! The only difference was that the girl wasn’t wearing a Calode of her own.Bookmark here

“Greetings, my lord,” Audrey said, placing her hand over her heart and bowing. Her tiny clone did the same.Bookmark here

“Uh… thanks, but that’s not necessary,” Blake said, his cheeks heating up. He was dreading returning back to school if this was the reception that awaited him now that he was an archduke.Bookmark here

“I beg your pardon, my lord, but such a greeting is customary to one of a higher station,” Audrey replied, straightening back up. Blake found it notable that in spite of her statement, she hadn’t greeted Lancelus. Bookmark here

The prince cleared his throat. “Audrey, Blake might be bothered by actions like that. Wouldn’t it be best to refrain from treating your classmate too highly? He may be an archduke, but he’s still in our cohort, and putting him up like that could make things uncomfortable.”Bookmark here

Blake felt honest gratitude towards the prince for the first time.Bookmark here

Audrey cleared her throat and nodded. “AS you wish, my lord,” she agreed. Then she gestured to the girl accompanying her. “But if I may make a request, would it be possible to continue showing you the adequate level of respect deserved of an archduke? I would like to maintain a proper example for my sister, after all.”Bookmark here

“Oh, so that’s little Cecilia?” Lancelus asked, surprised. “Wow, you’ve grown up since I last saw you!”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Audrey said, nodding sharply. Then she smiled. It was such a rarity that Blake didn’t even know what to think of it.Bookmark here

“Cecilia,” Audrey said sweetly, turning to her little sister, “would you show my fellow cohort members a lady’s greeting.”Bookmark here

“Okay!” Cecilia brightened, walking forward. She bowed to Blake first. “Greetings, Archduke Harker.” Then she turned to Lancelus next. “Greetings, Idiot Prince.”Bookmark here

Blake resisted the urge to burst out laughing. Bookmark here

Lancelus’s eye twitched. “Audrey…”Bookmark here

“Cecilia!” Audrey sharply chastised her sister. “That was not proper! It’s Lord Idiot Prince!”Bookmark here

“Audrey!” Lancelus snapped.Bookmark here

“Do you have an objection, Lord Idiot Prince?”Bookmark here

Lancelus’s face turned red in a mixture of embarrassment and frustration, but he kept his temper. Blake was just shocked at how brazen Audrey was. Sure, he may have agreed with the sentiment, but calling the prince an idiot in the middle of the crowd?! That was a level of disrespect that he wouldn’t have even though possible for such a stickler like her!Bookmark here

And to his credit, Lancelus handled the situation quite well. He took a deep breath and calmed down, and gave the sisters a charming smile. “I’m sure I probably deserve that,” he admitted. “It’s always a pleasure to see you, Audrey.”Bookmark here

“My prince,” Audrey nodded politely. Insult time was apparently over. “If you’ll excuse us, we have a Calode to dye.”Bookmark here

Blake realized that Audrey must have come to help her sister dye her first Calode. That was weet of her! He was about to say something when the stand caught his eye and stole his attention completely.Bookmark here

Apparently, dyeing a Calode wasn’t as simple as dipping it in a vat. At least, that’s not what the shopkeeper was doing.Bookmark here

He was using magic! The Calode was suspended from a string, and he was controlling the dye with his hands, drawing it out of the vat like a brown-scaled snake. The dark liquid danced and twisted through the air as everyone paused to watch, circling around the bound Calode and pressing against it in various places.Bookmark here

“This is the best part!” Reed said gleefully. “Watch!”Bookmark here

It was the first Calode Blake had seen dyed, and it was clear that it was a performance. The colors danced around the cloth as it was stained blue and brown, mixing together on the canvas in a brilliant pattern.Bookmark here

When all was said and done, the process was scarcely a minute. The dyes retreated back to their vats and the man approached the Calode, taking it down off the line and placing it over a rack of heating orica.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry ladies, it should be ready for you in a couple of minutes,” he assured them with a professional grin, moving on to Reed’s.Bookmark here

The dyeing process for Reed’s Calode was like watching a child with their first paint set. So many colors were flying that Blake found himself getting dizzy, and by the time the shopkeeper finished Blake wasn’t even sure what he was seeing. The Calode was a hodge-podge of colors that looked like a cat had eaten a rainbow and then spat it back out. He couldn’t imagine that possibly turning out good, but Reed was just ecstatic.Bookmark here

Blake just shook his head as she bounced up and down. Reed was just… yeah. Reed.Bookmark here

The owner was good for his word, because after about five minutes the Calodes were as dry as could be. There was a small changing booth set up beside the stands, and Reed practically dragged an embarrassed Elly inside one of them to help her put it on.Bookmark here

“Okaaaaaaaay!” Reed sang from inside. “Here she coooooomes!”Bookmark here

Reed!” Elly hissed. Bookmark here

“Oh, just go! You look cute enough to eat!” Reed urged her, and Elly stumbled out of the curtain, her face pink as a dragonfruit. She straightened herself up, still blushing.Bookmark here

“S-So… yeah,” she mumbled. Elly was looking straight ahead, clearly doing her best to fight the urge to avert her eyes. “…Well?”Bookmark here

Blake was surprised. She actually looked pretty nice. The brown was the same shade as her hair, and the blue starbursts made her eyes really pop. The traces of white from the Calode’s original color gave the whole thing a very crisp vibe, and he found himself nodding.Bookmark here

“You look great, Elly!” Lancelus said, startling his sister.Bookmark here

“Oh! Um, thanks, Lancel- err, I mean, Lance!” Elly said, brightening up a little at her brother’s approval.Bookmark here

“Yeah, not bad,” Ramona agreed. “Very cute.”Bookmark here

Blake hadn’t said anything yet, and to be honest, he wasn’t sure what to say. He really didn’t get girls, so he had no idea what she wanted to hear.Bookmark here

He shrugged instead. “It suits you,” he said lamely. But Elly didn’t seem to mind. She smiled a little and thanked them for their kind words.Bookmark here

“Okay! So what do you guys think?”Bookmark here

All the attention was off Elly, to her delight, as everyone turned to see Reed step out of the curtain. And if Elly looked nice, then Reed was… wow.Bookmark here

Blake was forced to eat his words when it came to thinking Reed’s Calode would turn into some ugly color blob. Sure, he wasn’t wrong that her robe looked like a rainbow had exploded in her face, but the colorful streaks and twists and bursts of energy just… it just seemed to work. He couldn’t explain it further. Dark grey was the color most prominent, nearly eclipsing the white completely, and covering that dark canvas were patterns made of more colors than Blake even knew existed. Countless reds and greens and golds and blues were filled in shades and splotches and streaks of all sorts, standing out brightly across the contours of Reed’s figure.Bookmark here

But brightest of all were here eyes, filled with even more color than the Calode itself. She laughed heartily as she skipped forward, doing a twirl so everyone could see.Bookmark here

“…Wow,” Blake managed to stutter out. “That’s… really something alright.”Bookmark here

He was at a loss for words.Bookmark here

Reed basked in the compliments of the others, Elly most of all. All five now clad in Calodes, they said their goodbyes to Audrey and Cecilia and headed off to enjoy the rest of the festival.Bookmark here

“So what next?” Reed asked, rubbing her stomach. “I’m famished! I could use some dragon-glazed apples right about now!”Bookmark here

“Dragon-glazed what?” Elly asked, confused. The words barely escaped her lips before Reed grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her into the crowd in search of the treats.Bookmark here

Lancelus sighed and rubbed his forehead, following after the girls. Blake pushed the dragon’s cart forward to follow, but Ramona grabbed his arm.Bookmark here

“Um… actually… my feet are getting kind of sore,” she said, glancing down sheepishly. “Do you mind if we… find somewhere to sit down, or something?”Bookmark here

Blake was surprised that her feet were already sore, considering how little walking they’d been doing. But he agreed. They could always catch up to the others later. He escorted Ramona to a park bench where the two could sit for a while.Bookmark here

The awkward silence had returned.Bookmark here

Blake just didn’t know what to say. Ramona was his fiancé now. He was going to marry her in the future. And he couldn’t even think of anything to talk about? A future filled with awkward silences and uncomfortable expressions filled his eyes and he shivered.Bookmark here

For the sake of a good relationship with this girl, he at least had to try.Bookmark here

“So, nice whether we’re having, huh? It’s not that cold even though it’s winter,” Blake said.Bookmark here

Ramona’s face scrunched in confusion. “…Uh, yeah, it’s a little chillier than back home, but still nice, I guess…”Bookmark here

“…Yeah, cool.”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Okay, he could try harder than that.Bookmark here

Then he remembered that he had something else they could talk about! Bookmark here

“Hey, Ramona, have you ever seen a sleeping dragon?” Blake asked, his eyes shining with excitement. Reinvigorated, he removed the sheet from the dragon cage to reveal their sleeping forms.Bookmark here

Blake reached in and ran his hand along rough green scales of one of the dragons, looking expectantly at Ramona.Bookmark here

She forced a smile onto her face. “Uh… cool…”Bookmark here

Well, that wasn’t working either. Apparently not every girl was as easy to win over as Reed. Blake leaned in and lifted the green dragon into his arms, holding her out to Ramona.Bookmark here

“Do you want to hold her?” He asked eagerly. “She’s really warm.”Bookmark here

“It’s… it’s not gonna… bite me, is it?” Ramona asked, staring warily at the slumbering dragon.Bookmark here

“She’s fast asleep, trust me, she won’t,” Blake assured her. ProbablyBookmark here

Ramona tentatively extended her trembling hand towards the small dragon. Her fingers brushed against the scales.Bookmark here

“No! I’m sorry! I can’t!” She wailed, pulling her hand back like she’d touched fire. “It’s just so… so scaly and eeeww! I hate reptiles!”Bookmark here

For a moment Blake forgot he was supposed to be getting along with Ramona, and actually got pissed. “Dragons aren’t reptiles!” He said, setting the dragon back down in her cage. “They’re warm-blooded! They’re more like birds than anything!”Bookmark here

“Okay, but… but scales!” Ramona wailed. She looked like she was about to cry.Bookmark here

They took a breath and calmed down.Bookmark here

“I-I’m sorry…” Ramona apologized. “I shouldn’t have said that… that was incredibly rude, I know how important those dragons are to you.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s… I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that,” Blake apologized. “I just lost my temper…”Bookmark here

They shared a sigh.Bookmark here

“This isn’t working, is it?” Ramona groaned. “I’m really trying here, but it’s like…”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Blake nodded in agreement, totally understanding her feelings for once. “I haven’t really ever imagined having a fiancé, but when I did it wasn’t this…”Bookmark here

“Uncomfortable? Awkward? ‘So embarrassing you wanted to die?’” Ramona guessed.Bookmark here

“Yup, all those things.”Bookmark here

They sighed again.Bookmark here

“But we’re gonna have to make it work out,” Ramona said. “Or dad’s gonna have a fit…”Bookmark here

“I’ll do my best,” Blake promised. It was just about the only comforting thing he could think to say.Bookmark here

“And I guess we’ll just… try to fall in love, then,” she grumbled.Bookmark here

For the third time that night a joint sigh filled the courtyard.Bookmark here

“Sorry about just kinda… shoving one of my dragons into your face like that,” Blake apologized. “I had no idea that you’d- HEY!”Bookmark here

His apology was severed on his lips when the last thing he’d ever expected occurred. The cage with his dragons was sitting peacefully on the cart, with the small creatures sleeping peacefully within. Then, a man burst out of the crowd and grabbed it, ripping it away in the blink of an eye and running down the street.Bookmark here

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Ramona was the furthest thing from Blake’s mind in that instant. He leapt after the thief with a guttural roar, flames blazing in his hands.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.