Fairy tale fans! Would you like to win these books? Kill Me Softly and Tear You Apart are modern retellings that take place in a city where people are cursed to live out fairy tales, and Valiant is a retelling of “The Brave Little Tailor” that’s perfect for fans of Shannon Hale and Jessica Day George.
As part of Cuddlebuggery’s Last List blog hop, Sarah McGuire and I are doing a bunch of fairy-tale-related interviews, guest posts and giveaways. Valiant releases April 28, 2015, but you can win an advance copy during the blog hop. Here’s where you can find our posts:
Other authors featured in the Last List blog hop: Mary Amato, Anne Bustard, Ilsa J. Bick, Bree Despain, Kristi Helvig, Patrick Jennings, Matt Myklusch, and J&P Voelkel. You can find the full schedule here.
Five Tales continued. For my beloved highwirecats. I haven’t written with such joy or inspiration since my Ammy-dog died so… I have feels about this piece and highwirecats rn. I literally jumped out of the shower so I could write down the ending of the whole thing and it is rad. Anyway. (EDIT SORRY THIS IS LONG TUMBLR WON’T LET ME DO A READ MORE UGH)
“And where shall we be going now, princess?” the dragon asked after the girl had sent her youngest brother packing back home. Their goodbye had been very tearful and as a result the dragon was feeling peckish and irritable.
“I am not a princess,” the girl said. “And we are going up next, though I have no idea where that could be. Do you know?”
“Well,” said the dragon, “I know many places that are up, but I only know of one place where your brother could go, and that is the Temple of the Sky Shepherds.”
“I have never heard of this place,” the girl said. “Is it veryfar?”
“At the top of the second tallest mountain in the world,” thedragon said.
The girl frowned. “Surely you mean the tallest mountain.”
“I meant what I said,” the dragon huffed. “The tallest mountain
is covered in the frozen corpses of those who died trying to climb it, and that
plays merry hell with the real estate values, let me tell you.”
“Oh,” said the girl. “So what do the Sky Shepherds do?”
“They are monks who roam the skies, herding the clouds hither
and yon, driving the rains before them.”
“Oh!” said the girl, rather more enthusiastically this time.
“When my brother left, we were facing the most terrible drought! But,” she
frowned, “even after he left the drought did not subside and the rains did not
“Not surprised,” said the dragon. “The monks of the temple take
a vow to forget their lives before and to never again set eyes on their
homeland. And just to be sure they comply, the elders steal their memories. The
moment you start up the path to the temple your old life will vanish in the
blink of an eye.”
“That’s terrible!” the girl said.
“Not for some,” the dragon said.
“But why would my brother want to forget his old life?”
“I can’t imagine,” said the dragon.
The girl gave him the evil eye.
“But I suspect,” the dragon added hastily, “that he
wished to bring the rains to you, and did not bargain on losing his memories.”
The girl considered this for a moment, then nodded. “Then we
shall go to the Temple of the Sky Shepherds,” she said, “and seek him there.”
“Let us make haste, then,” the dragon said, “for I am famished,
and you still smell so delectable, I could eat you right up, even though the
day is not quite so fine as the day we met.” And he leaned down very close to
her, his great mouth grinning wide as he bared long rows of pointed teeth. The
girl almost took a step back. “Climb aboard,” he said, puffing smoke as though
to punish her for delaying his meal, but the smoke caught in her throat and
caused her to cough until her eyes streamed with tears, and the dragon only
succeeded in punishing himself. She climbed aboard to the tune of the dragon’s
“I say, is that thunder I hear?” the dragon said loudly to
cover the uncouth sound. “We must be off!”
Between her thighs the girl felt his muscles clench and roil,
and then into the sky they leapt.
“Is it very far?” the girl called out.
“Not so far,” the dragon replied, “for I am the fastest
creature in the world.”
“You are the vainest, at least,” said the girl.
“I strive to be the best at everything I do,” replied the
dragon, and up they went. Then they listed to the right for rather a long
while, and then up and up again, through the cold sea of clouds, through the
thinning air, until at last they broke through the surface of the ocean of the
sky and the girl saw, in the distance, the second tallest mountain in the
world, and, atop it, a strange, shining structure.
"The temple?" the girl asked, though she was feeling
very faint by now.
"That it is," said the dragon, "and a gaudy
thing it is, too! The Shepherds never had a lick of taste between them, and
when I have licked them they tasted even worse." He chuckled at his own
joke, but the girl was too dizzy to laugh. Instead she wove her fingers through
his purple fur and pressed her face to his sinuous black neck and felt the
roaring fire beneath his obsidian scales.
"How will I fail to lose my memories?” the
girl asked as they grew closer. The temple shone out against the flat
black-blue sky like a jewel, gold and turquoise, amber and emerald, shifting
and turning with each dip and dive the dragon made.
"Foolish girl," the dragon said. "You only lose
your memories as you climb the mountain. I shall take you to the very
Now the girl was quite dizzy and very low on breath, and what
she said next probably would not have ever crossed her mind to say had she been
on solid ground. “But if I lose my memories,” said the girl,
“then won’t you be able to eat me up with no one the wiser?”
The dragon was very quiet, and the girl was quiet too, feeling
very foolish, so instead of dwelling on her stupid question she kept her eyes
fixed on the Temple of the Sky Shepherds as it shimmered and danced before
them. Its edges seemed fuzzy, not quite there, and when at last they came close
enough to circle it, she saw that its peculiar appearance was because it was
made of a hundred thousand times a hundred thousand birds, all clustered
together, their wings extending as they strove to catch the air, except
something held them to the temple. Their glorious colors gleamed in the
intensity of the sun, but none could take flight.
"What’s wrong with them?" asked the girl.
"The monks carried them up the mountain, and so they have
forgotten how to fly," the dragon replied, and for the first time she
heard something in his voice that might have been mistaken for pity.
Around and around they circled, until at last the dragon
finally set down at the entrance of the beautiful temple, and all the birds
sent up a cry so great and sorrowful the girl clapped her hands over her ears,
afraid her heart would weep from it and melt like wax in her breast.
So she only felt the not-so-gentle nudge of the dragon’s claw
as he urged her toward the entrance, and the cold wind of a hundred thousand
flapping wings burned against her face as she bent her head and pushed forward,
up the steps of gold and white and through the doors of black and gray and into
the quiet, warm womb of the temple itself.
Darkness surrounded her, and candlelight, and walls of stone
and jade and a floor so dusty it lay gray and still like the skin of a dead man…but
nothing else. No one to greet her. No one to ask after her brother. No one to
tell her to leave.
Slowly the girl lowered her hands and began to walk, through
corridors dark and dim, lit only by fire, while outside the wind howled and the
birds screamed and the sky pressed down. Room after empty room she passed, her
footsteps echoing against the stones, until at last she had circumnavigated the
entire temple and found no trace of life save the wild cry of birds caged only
by their minds.
Determined not to cry, the girl set her shoulders and
resolutely strode toward the doors of black and gray, back out to see the
dragon and to whatever came next, until, just as she reached for the heavy
handle of the doors, the golden brass gleaming dull in the light of the
thousands of candles lining the main hall, something caught her eye.
It was a piece of paper, pinned to the wall next to the door.
It said: SCHEDULE.
It was a very old and very yellowed paper, looking as though it
had been abandoned for a very long time, just as the dusty halls showed no
footprints, just as the rooms showed no sign of occupation. But on the brittle
page, curling with age, were names, and places, and, in a column on the far
right, a grid filled with an assortment of gold stars, rewarded, it seemed, for
a job well done.
The girl studied the paper, but she found no mention of her
brother’s name—which made sense, as she was sure he must have forgotten it—and so
she studied the place names, memorized them until each burned in her brain as bright
as a bonfire.
She left the temple and went to the dragon and climbed onto his
back, shivering all the way. Hunching over, she pressed her body to his,
absorbing the warmth of the fires in his belly.
“Did you find your wayward kin?” the dragon asked, feigning
the girl said, “but I know where to look.”
said the dragon, “is at least better than last time. Where is he?”
girl pressed her lips together and had the decency to look embarrassed.
“Well,” she said, “I don’t know precisely where, but I do know
every place in the world the sky shepherds are sent, and logically he must be
in one of those places. Yes?”
dragon hissed smoke from between his dagger teeth. “You mean to tell me
that we will be going to each shepherd’s territory and asking them if they have
seen your brother?”
said the girl, "I probably won’t bother to ask. I think they have all forgotten
their names, and the temple has been abandoned for many a year. So we must try
all places where they might have gone."
the dragon gnashed his teeth. “Maiden!”he said, affronted, “I hope you realize that
this is certainly not worth it for such a meager meal!”
girl shrugged. “You could leave me here, if you liked. I’m sure I would
cry a very great deal, stranded on top of a mountain.”
great swipe the dragon slapped his tail on the rock beneath him. Then he did it
twice more, just to show his irritation. “No!” he said. “Stop
that! Very well. We will go find your wretched kin, and after you say your
goodbyes do not be surprised if I make a snack out of him for all the trouble
he’s caused me!”
girl shrugged. “You mustn’t take it out on him, for it is I who is vexing
you, and it is you who allowed it.”
dragon smacked his tail on the ground again. “Do not remind me!” he
wailed. “Very well! I am starving, and the more we tarry the hungrier I grow,
so tell me the first place we shall look!”
The girl closed her eyes. “The Desert of Roses,” she said.
“Bah,” said the dragon. “Too far away. What’s next.”
Nonplussed, the girl rattled through her list of far off lands,
most that she had never even heard of on her small dry farm. “The Mountaintops
where the Pilgrims of the Dead reside, then the fields of Saffron, and the Sea
of Spice and the Sea of Sweet, the Forest of Foxfire Trees, the Amber Garden,
the Grove of Twelve Towers, the country of the Copper Palace, and the country
of the Jade Temple, the jungle where the Warrior Saints sharpen their knives
and wait for their foes, the city of Opals where the Gladiators rule and die,
the Woods in the North, where only the Deer and the Blue Women run—“
“Oh, bother,” said
the dragon. “So what you’re saying is he could be anywhere.”
The girl shrugged.
“I know a faster way,” he said, and at those words his
ponderous head swung around, black and gleaming, his horns polished in the
harsh, flat light of the sun at the top of the world, his red eyes glowing as
coals, his scales swallowing the light until he was just a hole cut from the
fabric of the world, and he filled her vision until all the world was dragon.
His nostrils flared like fire and he sat back. “You do not
smell quite so sad as when we first met,” he said, clearly annoyed, “but at
least we can narrow down the direction of your wayward kin.”
“That’s good,” said the girl, who had been under the impression
that she was about to be eaten. “Which way shall we go?”
The dragon lifted his head and smelled the thin air and
grinned. “Oh,” he said, “I think the Copper Palace, or perhaps the Jade Temple.
The Forest of Bones is also a good place, and I think we shall find him within
the day, or I am a very poor dragon indeed!” And with these words he leapt into
the air and the girl, quite unprepared, nearly tumbled from his back as he dove
down and down and down again, until the air thickened and her head slowed its
spinning and the wind howled around them like a grieving mother.
They did not find her brother within a day. The girl almost
said something, but held her tongue at the last moment, for she was learning
that while a dragon’s hide was very thick, his skin was awfully thin.
So on they flew, through the dying of the sun across a desert
of white trees, over a city dull and green under gray skies, past a temple
gleaming and green beneath the sun, and each time they circled the clouds until
the dragon spotted the wandering shepherd who guided the rains. In he would
dive, and the girl would peer into each shepherd’s empty face, and then shake
“No,” she would say. “No, that is not my brother.”
“Well!” said the dragon, “we can hardly go any further east
than we already have without coming back around west, which is very unlucky
indeed. Perhaps your brother has died!” He said this last thought with such
hope that the girl burst into tears again and the dragon felt thoroughly
“Now see, look,” he said. “Look. There is another patch of
clouds up ahead. Perhaps they have a guide, a wandering monk, and perhaps that
monk is your brother, and then perhaps you will kindly shut up?”
The girl scrubbed at her tears angrily. “Perhaps you should not
say such things if you do not wish to listen only to your growling belly.”
The dragon opened his mouth as though to say something, but
then shut it firmly and put in an extra burst of speed, and before she knew it
the clouds were piled high around them and the dragon dove in and out of their
damp chill like a needle stitching through gray cloth.
And then there, quite suddenly, was the girl’s second youngest
brother, standing on a cloud and looking quite serene—or stupid. It was
difficult to tell, and always had been, even before he had lost his memories.
“There!” the girl cried, and the dragon touched down on the
cloud as though it were simply soft ground.
“Finally,” the dragon huffed. “May I eat him?”
The girl smacked the dragon’s scaly neck in response, ignoring
his indignant cries of, “Oh! Oh, I say! Ohhhhh!”
and slid off his back. Her feet sunk into the wet damp, the tendrils of cold
curling about her ankles and calves and sending shivers down to the marrow of
Her brother stood, wrapped in thick cloth stained gray and
streaked with white, staring out into nothing as the clouds beneath him roiled.
A storm was brewing beneath their feet, and the staff he carried was made of metal.
The girl wasn’t sure what to do with the blank eyed man in
front of her, for he did so look like her brother, but no recognition came to
his face, and he was as still as ice. Slowly she stepped toward him, but he
made no movements, and beneath their feet the thunder rumbled, shaking her
At last she stood before him, and he before her, and the sky
lit up with light and dark.
“Brother,” the girl said. “Brother, it is time to come home.”
But her brother just stared at her and it seemed an age passed
before he moved.
“Home,” he said. “I have no home. I am a nomad of the skies.”
“You are my brother,” the girl said.
“I have no family,” the boy replied, and his eyes, which once
were blue were now as gray as the clouds around them.
“No,” said the girl. “No, you are my brother.” And she stepped
forward, words spilling from her mouth, of summer days with her six brothers,
and their mother and father, of harvesting the land, of milking the cows, of
swimming in the silver stream by the cottage, of counting the stars, of
slipping between the golden stalks of wheat, seeking and hiding, hiding and
seeking, and that one time, the time when he spilled the milk and he had been
so afraid of mother finding out that he could think of naught else to do but
roll around in it until it was soaked into his clothes and when their mother
appeared he said—
“Stop!” cried the dragon. “I’m bored!” And he clucked his
tongue, loud enough to be heard over the thunder, heavy enough to not be
whipped away by the wind.
The girl whirled around and stalked over to her irritating
companion. “Well,” she said, “how else
shall I have him remember?”
“If I recall,” the dragon said, “our agreement was that you say
goodbye to your brothers.”
The girl flung her hand at the blank-eyed young man in swirling
robes. “How is this my brother?” she
said. “How can I possibly say goodbye to someone who doesn’t even know who I
The dragon rolled his eyes. “Then give him your memories of him. How is this so complicated?”
“That’s what I was doing.”
"Bah!" the dragon said. “You were merely chattering. Did you learn nothing from the gryphons?"
The girl scowled. “I learned that they are very forward
and taste like a barnyard when they kiss you without warning!” she said.
The dragon waved a claw. “No, no, no,” he
said. “The kiss, the taking of dreams…Did you not pay any attention at
all? How he did it?”
Pursing her lips, the girl cocked a hip. “He kissed
me,” she said. “His tongue felt like paper.”
"That," the dragon said, "was not a detail I
needed to know. Oh, for heaven’s sake, kiss your brother and give him your
memories of him so we can be out of this wretched place! The lightning plays
merry hell with my mane, if you know what I mean."
The girl, who did sort of know what he meant—his lavender fur
was looking a bit bushier than normal—just threw her arms in the air. “Well!
I have no way of giving memories through a kiss,” she said. “I am
quite sure of that.”
"Do I have to do everything myself around here?" the
dragon huffed, indignant. "Just open your mouth like so—” And here, the
dragon leaned in to her, his great lips parted, his teeth gleaming like
daggers. “—and take or send memories, like so…”
And then the dragon leaned in and kissed her, scales to skin,
and there was breath so thick with smoke the world went gray.
For a heartbeat there was nothing, and then there was
—wind in the face, in the
mane, the sinuous curve of her body, his body, the exultation of climbing to
the sun and falling to earth, the joy of fire, the crush of bones and the gush
of blood, and even the deep and dark secrets of dragonkind, hidden away in
great stony hearts—
The dragon leapt back as though burned. “I say!” he cried,
almost shrill, “that is quite enough of that!”
The girl thought so, too.
The dragon tried to recover his dignity by breathing a bit of
fire, which billowed and bloomed in the gloom like a crimson flower. “There,”
he said after a moment. “Do you understand now?”
“No,” the girl said. “All I felt was a rush of—”
“Yes, well, perhaps I
will help you just this once,” the dragon said hastily. Then, without further
ado he turned to the girl’s blank-faced brother, pressed his great scaly lips
to his, and breathed into him all the memories the girl had given him.
Her brother’s eyes went wide and blue, and lightning flashed. “Sister!”
he cried, and at once the clouds gave way beneath their feet and all three of
them—dragon, girl, and brother—were plummeting through the gray mist and into
the raging storm below.
The girl and her brother screamed. Wind and water and the
sizzle of lightning swirled around, darted past them, and the thunder roared so
loud that all the world was sound—
Then black scales and lavender fur appeared beneath her and the
girl reached out without thinking, one hand knotted in her brother’s robes and
the other brushing against the dragon’s back until suddenly the dragon rose and
she and her brother were safe astride him.
“What a bother!” she heard him cry over the storm, and between
her thighs she felt him quiver with indignance. The girl decided to keep her
mouth shut until they were safely on the ground. Her brother, on the other
hand, squealed like a pig the entire way down.
At last the dragon’s talons touched the earth and, as a dog
shaking off water, he flung the girl’s brother from his back, sending him
squealing through the air to land in a bush twenty feet away. Above them the
thunder rumbled, but, without a shepherd to guide it, the storm was petering
out, and it was not quite so wet and miserable as it had been.
The girl scrambled from his back and ran to her brother,
helping him out of the branches.
“Sister!” her brother said. “Sister, what has happened? Where
are we? What…?”
“You ran,” the girl said, accusing, before taking a deep breath
and attempting to calm herself. “You left,” she said. “You joined the Order of
the Sky Shepherds, leaving me and your youngest brother behind on the farm.”
“I did?” said her second-youngest brother. “That doesn’t sound
“Slap him,” suggested the dragon.
The girl sighed. “Well, you did. And after you left, the farm
dried up and there was no one to work the land but me. Please, brother, come
home. Even without mother and father, there can be a family there again. Our
youngest brother is there even now, working the land, tending the flocks…tell
me you will go.”
And her second youngest brother, seeing her eyes so bright with
hope and love, felt ashamed for having left.
“Of course, dear sister. Of course. I will start off right
away.” And with that he turned his heel and set off resolutely toward the
“Other way, brother,” the girl said, exasperated, but fond. “Home
is the other way.”
“Right,” he said, and he came back, embraced her, and set off
again. “Goodbye, dear sister!” he called. “Until we meet again!”
The girl raised her hand and watched until he disappeared.
“Do you think he’ll be all right on his own?” the dragon asked
The girl shrugged. “He muddles through somehow. I’m sure he
will be fine.” At that moment a chill breeze cut through her and the girl
realized she was soaked through and as cold as a stone beneath a winter moon.
She began to shiver.
“Oh, bother,” said
the dragon. “Maiden, you had better be very tasty when at last I eat you, and
you are not permitted to die before I can!”
“Sorry,” said the girl through chattering teeth.
The dragon clucked his great tongue and moved her toward a tree
sitting at the edge of a wood. “Sit there,” he commanded, and she did as he
snaked off into the forest behind her.
In short order the dragon was back, having killed and roasted—probably
at the same time—an enormous beast the likes of which the girl had never seen
before, with horns as wide as a tree’s branches and twice as tall as she. “Eat!”
the dragon said. “You’ll not waste away when you are still so delectable.”
“I’m also cold,” the girl said.
The dragon rumbled and grumbled, and stomped off again before
returning with an uprooted tree, which he then set on fire without ceremony
before wrapping his long, sinuous body around the girl and their feast and
began to eat.
For a long time they were quiet, filling their bellies instead
of the silence, until at last the girl said: “So…When you…Those things…the things I thought and saw…when
you kissed me…”
A bloom of flame from the dragon’s mouth startled her into
silence. “Do not dare to think you know me!” the dragon said. “A kiss is not a
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said the girl, folding her arms and
feeling cross. “In that case, don’t presume to know me, either, whatever you saw!”
There was a silence.“Well…I do know one thing about you,” the dragon said.
"And what is that?” the girl asked, irritation sparking in her chest.
A strange, sly smile slid across his fearsome face. “I know
that you have not been kissed nearly enough times in your life! That is a thing that
should be remedied posthaste, my tasty little maiden.”
“What do you mean—?” the girl started to say, but before she
could finish the dragon leaned in, his great teeth gleaming like stalactites,
his smoky breath wafting over her, his heat rising like a flame, and kissed her
soundly on the cheek. It was a great scaly kiss, and dragon mouths are not made
for kissing, so it was also somewhat wet and stinking of burnt meat, and when
it was done the girl found herself with a damp cheek and hair dripping with
Peeling the strands from her face, the girl huffed. “Well,” she
said, “if that is what kisses are like, then I am glad I have not experienced
The dragon just threw back his head and laughed his great,
booming, stony laugh. “Haha!” he said. “But I assure you, the kisses of
fumbling boys and inbred princes with more tongue than brain are far worse!
Count yourself lucky to have received the kiss of a dragon as beautiful and
fine as myself!”
“I’ll try,” said the girl.
“Good, good,” the dragon said. “And now we sleep! For tomorrow
we go West, to find your third errant brother and I shall be one step closer to
“Oh joy,” said the girl, but she curled up next to the dragon,
and his heat was a balm on her tired soul, and within moments she slept.
dragon, for his part, stayed awake all night. But his heart was uneasy in his
breast, and his eyes never strayed from the dancing flames and all the secrets
that dragons see within them.