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The Dragon Tamer Part One

The desert can be unforgiving. Its sand can burn you during the day and freeze your every limb at night; the dunes can eat you alive if you think you’re their master.

The desert can be your friend too; only if you don’t betray it. It lets you in on its terms.

The same can be said about dragons.

Miko carried the fruit on her head, in the little basket her mother gave her, her footsteps heavily and unevenly stamping the sand behind her. It had been market day that day, and she could finally buy some pomegranate that you could only get a month a year, from the village of Abdia.

Miko’s feet were sore, mainly because in her excitement about finally going to Abdia for pomegranate, she did not wrap her feet up properly and now the heat coming off the scorching sand was blistering her skin.

‘I see you’re limping again’ her mother spoke conversationally, walking behind Miko.

Miko tried to redress the cadence and rhythm of her pace, unsuccessfully. If anything, she only managed to look like Tabahir, their pet antelope, when she was still a newborn.

‘Miko, in the name of the desert, stop. Stop, girl, you’re going to hurt yourself and then we’ll need to skin a pig and fix your ruined heels.’

‘Mama!’ Miko protested at the thought of wearing pig skin, as her mother reached inside the long and airy folds of her dress and retrieved some fabric she used to wrap her own feet with.

Pig skin grafts were her mother’s way of both teasing and admonishing Miko. Excitement did this to Miko’s feet almost every time. When her brother Shamel got married, Miko did such a poor job of wrapping her feet and fastening her sandals that she broke the little toe on her left foot whilst carrying the rings. The ceremony had to be stopped for the child to be seen by a healer. The first time in six months when her father came back from Takhesi, where he worked as a bookkeeper at a copper mine, Miko’s feet-wrapping technique had been so lousily executed, that he ended up piggy-backing her all the way home from town, where the camel caravan had left him. They did not want her to break any more toes or, in fact, any limb at all.

She had a good, passionate heart, but her head was too light on her shoulders sometimes, her mother would tell Miko’s father.

‘Her passion will lead her far, Orma. Let her be, she is only a child’ would be the words of Orma’s husband.

‘I promise I’ll be more careful next time, mama!’ Miko smiled at her mother, almost boyishly, rubbing the tip of her nose.

Orma looked up at her daughter, while gently wrapping her abused feet in soft, grey cotton. It matched Miko’s robe and her light green eyes that sometimes looked blue. She met Miko’s smile with one of her own, then caressed Miko’s wind-swept cheeks.

‘My sweet girl, you say that every time. Now, get those feet walking, or else we’ll not be home in time for dinner.’

Miko opened her mouth in protestation again but changed her mind midway through and decided to just pay heed.

She sped up, her feet much steadier. Her fruit basket, however, was not firmly secured over her head, and one of the pomegranates rolled out of it.

‘Oh, mama!’ Miko exclaimed, running to catch the now travelling pomegranate.

The fruit seemed to have a will of its own, and that was directed towards exploring the area. It rolled and it rolled, until an intrepid sandal stopped its journey.

Someone’s foot was holding it in place.

Miko grabbed it and thanked the stranger who helped stop the rogue fruit.

‘You are very welcome. We don’t want wandering fruit, around here’ The woman’s voice was deep but distinguishably amused. ‘Who knows what they might be up to?’

Miko’s hands moved up and placed the pomegranate back in the basket, but her eyes remained fixated on the woman, in a half-curious, half-fascinated stare.

She looked strange but enthralling. To begin with, her robes were absolutely stunning; wrapped around her tall and strong-looking frame, they were the fullest tones of emerald and amber, unlike Miko’s and her mother’s, light blue, brown or grey. Their folds looked wide and rich in texture.

What Miko thought to be the most peculiar about her, however, were two things: she covered her head with what seemed to be a hood and did not wrap it, like all the women Miko knew. The girl could see the dark curls of the woman’s hair, fat and luscious, coming from under the fabric. She also had a face tattoo.

That might have been the strangest thing about her. It looked like ornate writing, but Miko had never seen those characters before.

Miko wondered where the woman was coming from, who she was, and what was her story. What was the writing saying?

Suddenly, her mother’s arm stole her away from her visual exploration of the helpful stranger. Orma grabbed Miko, and stepped in front of her, for a second obscuring the girl’s view completely.

‘Step away from my daughter.’ Miko heard her mother hiss for the first time in her life. She looked up at her face, and she could see sheer fear and determination. There were lines on Orma’s face that her daughter had not discovered before, much harsher than when Orma got upset with her father, or even Miko herself.

Miko looked back at the stranger, for some kind of rebuttal, but the woman took a step back, lowering her head. When she looked back at Orma, her eyes were the nuance of the dunes, golden and radiant. They looked respectful, but not apologetic.

‘Let’s go, girl. Let’s go.’ Orma then pushed Miko away, taking the pomegranates from her and carrying them herself. ‘You’ll get me into serious trouble one of these days, girl. You will, I tell you, get me into serious trouble. What business have you got bothering other people, eh?’

Orma was suddenly very angry, but she would not let go of Miko’s hand. In fact, she held onto it like there was some nearby danger. She did not seem to seek solitude and mental respite, like other times when she got angry, but wanted to keep Miko as close as possible.

The girl remained completely quiet and submissive, no thoughts of protestation even crossing her mind this time.

She knew there was something rattling her mother, and she suspected the helpful stranger had triggered it. She chewed over that thought in her mind all the way back home. She was silent and her mother was silent too.

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