Ametrine laughed. “I know a place, its a bit of a walk but … “ He always kept to the right side of the path, it hid the purple stain that covered his cheek and ear. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed, far from it. He kept it away from his companion, because it suited him to do so. His secrets were his own.
Hook pulled up hard. He sounded, as though he was choking, “If we don’t go to the Needle and Thread there’ll be no dinner. Nothing, do you hear me Ametrine. I might just as well bury this bloody piece of silver in the ground and hope that it grows overnight into a plate of stew. We’re on the bones of our ass friend, no savings, no spare nothing.”
Ametrine turned. The purple splotch darkened and the eye inside changed. It paled to a creamy gold. “Do you believe in magic Hook?”
“Magic? If I believed in such stuff I wouldn’t be fingering my last silver now, would I!” He shifted the mandolin on his back.
There were many words to describe the man next to him, and mediocre was one that remained constant. The man in question was known as Hook, a musician and sometimes juggler. They walked in mutual silence. Around them whistled the wind and birds, the swishing of overhead leaves and off, in the distance, the faint sound of running water gave the warm afternoon a surreal feel.
“If you could choose two wishes out of three Hook, what would they be? Suppose, for arguments sake you were given the pick of wealth, power or happiness. What would the two be?”
Hook frowned, his thin face screwed up in puzzlement. “You’re an odd fellow Ametrine, very odd indeed, but if you insist and if this means we can get back to walking, I’ll humour you. Let’s see,” He dug a toe into the soft dirt. “Wealth of course, I’ve got but a single silver. I’m worth more than that, but here I am, penniless and standing in the middle of the road playing games, while inside my guts is dying from hunger.” Brooding and mediocre, the list for Hook was growing.
Ametrine’s right eye paled further, it took on a reptilian look, “One more Hook. You can choose one more.”
Magic filled the spaces without sound. Hook looked up at Ametrine anew, somewhat fearful at the change in his companion’s appearance and the strangeness he felt that was in the air.
“Fine – power! It would have to be power, with both I’d find happiness. Now are you satisfied? Can we go to the Needle and Thread, I need to eat.”
Magic thrummed and the with it sealed Hook to Ametrine along with the musician’s wishes.
“It is done,” he muttered. “Come Hook, we have to hurry.”
Ametrine turned off the road, kicking up plumes of dust in his wake. The man cut a fine figure in a dark purple outfit. Flashes of pale gold reflected off the studs and buckles strewn across his coat. Hook grumbled but ran after his friend.
“Hoi Ametrine! Hoi, where are you going? The Inn’s this way.” The Minstrel waved a flaky hand toward the road they had been traveling on. His companion didn’t stop, didn’t turn and Hook having grown comfortable by the strange man’s side, rushed after him. “I’ve never seen this road before and I’ve been all over.”
He was met with silence, a deeper quiet than he was used to. They walked towards the sound of water. Hook painstakingly trying to keep up. It felt as if his every two steps matched Ametrine’s one, crashing his way through undergrowth and grabbing at the trunks of saplings to pull his way along. He looked up every now and then, shocked at what he saw: the saplings leant away from Ametrine as they passed and the flower heads, bright spring joys, bowed when he neared.
“Who are you?” Hook’s voice held the first sound of doubt since their meeting, but the silence remained and the walk continued.
Fat cows chewing thick bladed grass in rich field set his mouth to watering. His strange companion never slowed just walked faster. Soon the fields dropped away, and the land began to rise.
Ametrine dropped to a crouch and grabbed at Hook’s thin leg.
“What’s wrong?” His brown eyes narrowed with over-rated fear. “Are we being followed? Then they widened to exaggerated distrust “Are we being watched. I knew this was a mistake, look perhaps we should reconsider this idea of yours, after all…”
Turning his head to face the Minstrel, the purple blotch stood out as Ametrine’s eyes raked Hook’s appearance up and down. One eye was human, slightly gold in appearance, but the other was now reptilian. Slit and almond shaped setting the musician to scrambling on his backside into a mess of shadows. “Nothing’s wrong, I needed to think that was all.”
“Who the hell are you? I take it back, all of it. I want to go to the Needle and Thread. I don’t want a part of anything you are planning, I don’t want to be here at all!” His voice was rising and the skin on Ametrine’s face changed into soft scales and as Hook stared, the purple ear shrank, disappearing to leave a hole.
“You will have your two wishes Hook. It can be yours if you will but trust me.” His voice carried a slight lisp now. Gone was the strong northern accent – in its place was something else.
“What you will give me is a hole in the ground, a deep one and a pair of shackles to match. No! Wait! A death sentence is what I’ll get. Shit, who are you Ametrine, if that is your name.” Hook’s composure was cracking.
“It is my human name but not my true one.” The hand Ametrine held up looked less human as the minutes wore on. Nails became talons, skin became scales and the colour turned to a dark purple hue.
“What in the hell is that all about?” screamed Hook. He looked left and then right, up and ultimately down fearful that demons were upon him.
“Oh stop your yabbering Hook. I’m still me, it’s just that I’ve changed somewhat to what I have always been,” Ametrine continued changing until Hook’s human companion was no more. Standing over the quaking musician was a reptile man of sorts.
Time ticked by and Hook sweating a little less eyed his new companion with speculative interest. “This trickery may be well and good but it still doesn’t put food in our bellies now does it?” He smiled that greasy leer of an idea budding and Ametrine shook his head.
“Not likely Hook. I’ll not parade myself in some convenient freak show so you can fill your pockets with coin. Didn’t I say you would have your wish?” Gone was the long black hair in its place a clean baldpate shimmering with a tinge of gold on the tips of his scaly head. Gold eyes reflected the sun, fierce with power and knowledge.
The ground suddenly seemed important to Hook: his toe worried a patch of yellow bells growing along the dirt track. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
Hook sighed and his stomach growled, the skinny man scowled, uncertainty was his waking shadow. “If not the Needle and Thread, where then?
“We had best get moving my friend for we have a ways to travel before nightfall, it won’t be in our interests be caught outdoors when the sun goes down.”
“Why ever not. The skinny musician lovingly fingered his instrument, slinging it to sit comfortably on his back for it was his livelihood and only love. “What in the blue blazes happens when the sun goes down? Are there bandits about that I need to be aware of? Should we find a place to hide?”
“No not bandits. There are worse things in the dark than bandits Hook and the closer we get to what I have promised you, the nearer we are to being preyed upon.” Ametrine began walking away from the path that would have taken them to the Needle and Thread and instead he struck to a new road, unbridled with suspicion and the unknown.
“Preyed upon? Preyed upon?” Hook’s voice rose. “For the sweet love of all that’s holy, what have you gotten me into? Let’s go back and catch a cow. What do you think of that? I’m sure we can come to some arrangement where you kill it, skin it and then I’ll help you eat it, I’m not very good at the other sort of thing.” He shivered.
“We’ll do no such thing and stop acting the coward…”
“Acting, whose acting?’
Ametrine merely shook his head refusing to continue with such a ridiculous line of conversation: with a snorting sound Hook’s companion turned and stomped off.
For hours the road swallowed them up, Hook played the mandolin to tease his mind away from the growls of a hungry stomach and moaned incessantly about everything else when his fingers fell still. His companion’s skin was all scales and iridescent shine, Ametrine was not a fellow after. Silence was comparative to the awkwardness of this new fellowship. Hook was sulky by nature and couldn’t find it in himself to readily accept this unexpected change. They turned a bend and the skinny man gasped, stretching out from left to right stood a forest, so thick that not even the sun dared pierce its solid canopy.
“You’re seriously not going to tell me that we have to go through that! Surely there is nothing in there that will fill our sore bellies, nothing but air I say and now you want me to follow you into god knows where and trust that in the end all will be right with the world.”
“You’re a complainer Hook. Not that I blame you for it is your nature that drives the weaker side of your persona, but I swear even my patience is wearing thin.”
The skinny man opened his mouth with a ready-made retort and thought the better of it. Well I never! Insult after insult is what I have to put up with. Not only am I on my last penny and hungry but now I’m told I might get preyed upon. He poked out his tongue.
Ametrine turned his head, gold eyes smoldering with frustration at the man he knew to be a fool. “Keep your thoughts still. You scream them as loudly as you do whine about every other little thing.”
Hook’s eyebrows shot up, “You heard what I was thinking?”
“Of course I did and I’ll tell you something. If I could hear you then there’s no telling who else can. We are about to enter Waltzing Woods, it’s not a place you want others to know you’re visiting, and these days it’s a dark and gloomy corner.”
Hook pulled up. “I just sing songs Ametrine.”
“No you’re more than that Hook. I asked you if you believed in magic, do you remember.” Those gold eyes blazed and Hook stiffened, he felt sick and more than a little dizzy, the world teetered and then the pain began.
It pulled him along and his feet no long hesitant walked beside Ametrine as they entered the woods together. Day became night as the sun disappeared overhead, an unnatural silence descended upon the pair: mushrooms with black blotches on white soft stalks grew in abundance, sometimes towering to great heights. To Hook it seemed another world, smeared with the goings on of someone else’s life.
They walked many paths, overgrown with the most unfriendliness of bushes, stabbing branches that stuck him at every turn but he didn’t seem to mind. Ametrine’s enchantment carried him along, it kept him safe and best of all silent from those shouting thoughts he very much loved to throw about.
Within the bowels of Waltzing Woods stood a stone house, it was not big by any means but looks can be deceiving and in this instance, it was most certainly true. Behind the red door was a world beyond imagining, rooms and galleries, gardens and secret holes where treasures bridled the need for greed.
It was in one such hole that a mountain of gold coins stirred, the snoring of an uninterrupted green dragon rose to the upper levels of the gallery, flooding the neighbouring rooms to spill out into the prettily laid garden. It was the sleep of one who believed themselves safe, confident in its ability to defend what he considered now his.
In truth the green dragon was a thief, an overbearing, nasty piece of work that held a temper as mean as the hardest storm. Verdigris shifted and an avalanche of gold cascaded over the beast’s shoulder, exposing a white-boned horn. An eye lazily opened, but the gold was fading and the speckling of black showed as he took stock of a dim cavern.
How long had it been since he had defeated Amaranthine, the memory was hazy at best and the shifting irritated the scars that were refusing to heal. Victory wounds of deception and cold miscalculation, Verdigris had never before suffered such harm from another of his kind and especially from one so much younger. Thousands of years he had lived gathering an insurmountable wealth filling holes like the one he sat in now to the brim, but the life his so loved was slowing winding down and the void that needed filling was never full. The hunger that gripped the soft belly under the coating of scales ached with the want of more. He was becoming restless yet leaving this wonderful cache was not possible. Age was a grueling mistress even to those with lifespans of thousands of years, Verdigris had aches where there were once none, a mind clouded with fading memories and still the void of greed never stopped screaming.
Hook shook his head and the pain dispelled along with the binding enchantment.
“What is wrong with you?” He faced Ametrine all shivery and blew his cheeks out in exasperation. “What in the blue blazes did you do to me? How do I know I won’t be permanently scarred by your misconduct? I follow you on the promise of you making me rich and you feel it’s quite suitable to bewitch me with your unholy arts.”
“Be quiet you fool,” hissed a very angry creature. “Isn’t it enough that I’ve given you two wishes as a reward for helping me! So shut your mouth and do as your told.”
“Well I never…” Hook never got to finish the rant for Ametrine walked on leaving him looking like the fool he had been accused of. “Fine, but if you get me killed…” His mutterings faded along with another black look from his companion.
Hook quickened his step to catch up, eager to resume his whining despite the warning his strange companion had bestowed upon him, and almost slammed into Ametrine’s back. At the end of the path was a stone house. Its red door an inviting entrance to a tired and hungry mediocre musician.
“Is this the place you told me of? It doesn’t look as though anyone’s home.” Hook remained behind the safety of his companion’s back.
“Oh, don’t worry someone’s home.” Ametrine flatly said. “This is your first wish Hook, you are here because I need your help.”
“Me?” quaked the whiner. “What the hell can I do? I ain’t got no magic in me, I’m no good at fighting nor standing my ground if the truth be told, so why in the gods am I here? I just want a full belly and a place to sleep, preferably in a bed.”
You told me you wanted wealth and power.” Ametrine rounded on the remedy of his woes. “There is magic in you Hook for I put it there, and by the time the sun sets you will have your first wish.”
Hook stared and a shiver of fear took hold of him, his knees felt weak and the world around him blurred. “I still don’t know what your talking about, but it doesn’t sound fair.”
“Fair!” Ametrine hissed the word. “I will tell you what is not fair my friend. Having another come into your home as a friend and in that friendship steal everything that was yours and all that you hold dear. That’s not fair and today I intend to get it all back.”
Tears misted across his eyes. “But what can I do?”
“Listen carefully Hook and if all goes to plan you will live to not only be a rich man but a powerful one as well.”
The door opened easily enough and the room beyond looked empty but it was no comfort to the terrified man. All his life he had been nothing of importance, scraping by with only ‘ a just this’ and ‘one day I will do that’. Hook had taken solace in his music, making it his refuge for all other failings. None of it helped now, alone and facing an iniquity that not even Ametrine dared provoke.
The reptile man refused to speak of what lay inside the house, no amount of whining had produced a single clue, not a scrap of help for all his troubles just a pat on the back and a shoved ‘you’ll be right’ to get him on the way. The musician felt the weight of his mandolin against his back as he walked the passage.
He had asked Ametrine how it was that he would know when it was the right time to play and the infuriating creature had merely replied, ‘oh don’t you worry, you’ll know.’
He turned a corner and came across a set of stairs, from the outside the house didn’t look this big, shrugging Hook gingerly make his way down and gasped as he stepped out into a gallery, so large that the end of the room was lost in darkness. A vaulted ceiling inlaid with gold stars shone above as if he was standing under a night sky of brilliance, it took Hook’s breath away and in his mind, a tune began.
It danced inside his head, trampling the fear: stirring up a fierce passion he had not known possible. He continue moving, through a doorway at the back of the room and to his astonishment out into a lengthy courtyard where stone archways boarded a well-manicured garden and water tinkled cheerily in a central fountain. Hook blinked back the bright sunlight and the music built itself into a crescendo. There was a seat under a tree, its leaves a rich golden colour and flowers hung with heavy perfume, it was perfect, peaceful.
Taking the mandolin off his back and sitting on the seat under the low tree Hook allowed the music to take shape, note upon note, softly at first like the first flakes of a snowfall the song settled over the garden inviting any and all to listen.
For the first time since stealing what he now considered his treasure, Verdigris lifted his head from out of a cover of gold coins, somewhere up above music was being played. Such a sad and haunting melody, the green dragon shook himself trying to dispel the binding hold, and a mountain of heavy gold showered the room. Old age and the magic that went with it was not a match for younger blood, his rival was close, the green dragon’s bones ached by Amaranthine’s presence, so he struck up a mighty roar. It challenged the purple dragon to step forward but the opposing dragon had sent another, Ametrine was using Hook as a weapon.
The magic Ametrine had bestowed upon Hook bound the green dragon like a baited fish, the giant beast rose from the hole bellowing and lumbering through the galleries and corridors. He pushed and pulled at the binding weave, anger and determination shook the fabric of Amaranthine’s house but the mediocre musician was no longer ordinary and the lofty tune held fast.
Verdigris emerged into the garden pushing his bulk forward, green scales catching the sunlight and he swayed, tricked by Ametrine into leaving the hole, the treasure. Hook’s fingers danced on the strings, notes swept around the green dragon and despite it all Verdigris remained secure.
Ametrine put his hand on the door and the touch of his near human skin did not burn, the reptile man smiled, smug in the knowing that he was home. “You think Verdigris that all your years can save you that stealing my gold is worth what I intend to do.” He knew where to go: after all it was his home.
Through the room and down the stairs, across the gallery of stars and the music so eloquently played warping the air ahead, even he struggled against the binding weave. The sunlight blazed over him in welcome glory, his world and his light. Hook sat on the seat under the low tree still playing and the green dragon quivered, the large head dipped downwards, two long horns slightly curved and patterned with magic long gone swayed back and forth.
Darker green eyes smoldered at Ametrine as the reptile man walked the neatly manicured path towards the pair, coming to stand almost up against the thief. “Verdigris my once familiar friend we are together again. You didn’t think I would be able to come back now did you? Taking my gold and my home, changing me into this!” The gold eyes flared with indignation. “How dare you. I trusted you.”
Ametrine reached out and touched Hook’s shoulder, the music changed. The melody took on a seductive tone and the green dragon lowered his head further to the ground, panic echoed in Verdigris’s eyes. Calmly the reptile man bent down and with a crunching twist removed a horn. A roar turned into a whimper, as the life Verdigris so loved began to slip away.
The reptile man felt the change, the strength once taken away flooded back and he laughed. Sweat lined Hook’s face, the music began to slow, Ametrine had one last thing to do and with smug redress, Verdigris’s other horn was ripped away. The dragon slumped to the ground and Hook sagged over his mandolin, the music had ended and the green dragon was dead.
“Hook we must be quick for it won’t be long now.”
The musician shook his head. “Was that me? I’ve never played that well.” He was slipping back to the mediocre whiner he had always been.
You need to follow me and Hook.” Ametrine’s eyes were lit up with joy, “be quick about it.” He set off, squeezing past the cooling bulk towards the hole he loved so well.
Hook couldn’t help it, curiosity overwhelmed his morbid trepidation and with trembling fingers touched a hard plated scale. Verdigris’s body sank in on itself, deflating and leaving an opening for the musician to pass unhindered, dry reaching he hurried after Ametrine.
The reptile man stood on the lip of an enormous cavern. It was a stranger that looked at Hook: Ametrine was changing. “You are to have a horn Hook, power was one of your wishes and with this, as a dragon hunter you will be respected and honoured among your kind.” He tossed the long boned horn Hook’s way.
The skinny man fumbled like he did most things, flapping his hands in the air, but some how managed at the last minute to grab it close to his bony chest. The wide grin was a first in many days. “Oh my!” He didn’t know what to say.
“Your second wish was wealth, you chose this over happiness so I won’t be offering you a life by my side. You would have experienced such joy my friend if you had so chosen differently, but instead I will give you a treasure that few will ever dream to own. What you do when you leave here is not my concern.” Ametrine’s voice was also changing: the lisp was deepening.
The reptile man closed his eyes and for a moment Hook thought he had nodded off. “Do you really think you should fall asleep on the side of such a hole?” The man’s voice rose disrupting the changing creature.
Ametrine was growing, morphing into something else and Hook took a few steps back clutching the horn as if that would save him. “Still your tongue, there’s not much time, so if you wish your gold let me finish this.”
Minutes passed and the companion Hook knew as Ametrine became no more. In his place was a purple dragon, glittering scales and the cool stare of gold eyes took in the quaking man.
I don’t wish to use your speech any longer so heed me in your mind Hook, I will give you a gold piece and for as long as it remains with you wealth will follow. Lose the coin Hook and your wealth will go with it.
Hook nodded, speechless at such turns of event.
“I asked you once what your name was and you told me it was Ametrine, but isn’t your true name is it? Hook sounded hopeful.
The purple dragon snorted, a fine sheen of clear snot hit Hook in the face, his eyes widened in disgust. Leave here Hook, there will be no other warning and don’t think to come back for neither myself or the house will be here.
This time the skinny man caught the gold coin, snatched it from the air and turned his back on the beast. He knew when he wasn’t welcome. The doorway where Verdigris had lain was empty and the musician faltered.
Hook turned one last time to wonder at the dragon, his constant companion these many weeks.
It’s Amaranthine. For our time on the road together, but you had best forget it when you close the door for it will never do you any good.
The skinny man nodded. “A good day to you Amaranthine and good luck as we say in the south.” He left the dragon, the horn a proud place inside his shirt as it tingled against his skin and the coin, warmly tucked safely in his hand was a new beginning.