Allie’s view was limited underneath her umbrella. All she could see was the passing landscape and the behinds of both her horses. She still couldn’t believe that… the horses belonged to her.
“Miss Allie,” called a voice from behind. “The pigs are panting again!”
Allie kept her hands on the tethers as she glanced behind her. In her cart were eleven pigs and a boy a few years younger than her. “Just put the blanket back over him, Olly.”
“It’s not just him, though,” he said, starting to hyperventilate himself. “They’re all starting to pant. I think they’re too squished together.”
Allie sighed. “They just don’t like change,” she called back. “You know what you have to do.”
“But I can’t sing worth a lick,” The boy complained, “you should do it.”
“I did it last time,” she said, concentrating on keeping her horses steady. They were last in the caravan and had already fallen behind twice that day despite the slow pace.
When Olly didn’t answer, she just sighed again and took a deep breath. “Oh when the wind blows softly down the willow’s path, and the trees sway nice and low, the moon sings sweetly down the sun’s wrath, and in the coolness grow.”
Allie glanced backward as she continued to sing and smiled as she saw Olly sway with the song. She suspected he could sing just fine. Already, the pigs were growing calmer, likely recognizing her voice.
Suddenly another voice chimed in. “And the death shall cease the narrow crease, a voice softly calling, the voice of night keeps grip tight, and bended knee still crawling.”
Frank appeared around the cart in front of her’s as he finished the tune, paper in hand as always. His voice wavered on the high notes, but he sang the tune without shame.
Olly laughed, clapping for Frank’s performance as the large man gave a mock bow.
“Afternoon, Lady and gentle-boy,” he said, smirking. “Serenity would like to see you at the front.”
“What about my cart?”
“I’ll take care of it, Miss Allie,” Olly said as he hopped into the seat next to her. “I’ve got loads of practice.”
“It’ll be in fine hands,” Frank said begrudgingly. “Don’t you worry.”
Allie hesitated, looking back at her pigs before eventually hopping off the cart.
“Come back soon, though” Olly yelled after her, “I’m not gonna sing for ‘em.”
Allie shook her head as she walked with Frank, picking up her pace.
“Take your time,” Frank chided, placing a hand on her shoulder. “She hates it when we hurry. Especially on her account.”
Allie furrowed her eyebrows as she focused on matching his pace. “Why should that bother her?”
Frank shrugged, his hands clasped behind his back as we walked by the other slow-moving carts.
Taking that for as much of an answer as she was going to get, Allie allowed herself to focus on their surroundings. Dozens of carts followed each other in a single line, some led by horses, others by donkeys, all moving at the pace of a crawl.
Kids laughed and chased each other around the carts, their parents busy either leading the carts or talking amongst themselves.
Even at their leisurely pace, she and Frank passed several carts in a short amount of time. Each one had at least two or three adults walking beside it, most of them working on some sort of craft as they talked.
“She doesn’t like to see us suffer,” Frank eventually said, frowning to himself.
Allie cocked her head to the side, “what do you mean?”
Frank sighed as he carefully chose his words. “She’s not like the others. She’s seen so much… been through so much. She doesn’t want us to go through the same.”
“But we’re not,” Allie said, gesturing to the people around them. “Running isn’t suffering. And neither is bowing for that matter.”
“No?” Frank said, eyeing her. “Does your body not experience stress when you run? And what is bowing, but allowing someone power over you?”
Allie frowned in silence, thinking over his words they passed yet another cart. “What if you’re in danger?” She eventually asked. “Would you not run to save yourself? What if the person you bow to can offer you protection?”
Frank nodded thoughtfully. “It’s true,” he said. “Life works against us. But Serenity does what she can.”
Allie went silent once more, lost in thought. Something wasn’t sitting right with her, but a part of her wanted to agree with him. After everything she’d experienced…
“My dear Allie,” Serenity said suddenly as they rounded the front cart. She was leading the caravan herself, setting the slowest pace possible.
“Serenity,” Allie replied, bowing ever so slightly before remembering to stop herself. “…Sorry.”
“It takes time to break bad habits,” she said, smiling. “Just try not to do it again.”
Allie nodded, feeling uneasy as Frank left her to walk back down the caravan. “You wanted to see me?”
Serenity waved for Allie to walk next to her, her chin raised toward the horizon over the next hill.
Allie obliged, matching her pace. “What can I do for you?”
“How well do you know this area?” Serenity asked, her eyes still on the distant sky.
Allie thought for a moment. “Decent enough. There’s a city about two days away if we’re going in the direction I think.”
Serenity nodded. “And anywhere else to stop for the night? A town perhaps?”
Allie frowned. “No.”
“Are you sure?” Serenity asked, her eyes seeming to pierce Allie’s soul.
Allie squirmed internally. “There may be a ghost town nearby, but there’s nothing there.”
Serenity frowned. “I’ve heard otherwise. I wonder how this ghost town came to be…”
Finally, Allie relented. “Okay, yes, there’s a dragon hole in the town. And it’s not safe.”
Serenity suddenly stopped walking and grabbed Allie by the shoulders, their face inches apart. “Do not lie to me again, you understand?”
Allie nodded. Her throat suddenly too dry to swallow her guilt.
Serenity continued to gaze into her eyes until her face finally softened. “I apologize for scaring you, but you must understand that lies only bring pain.”
Allie nodded again, trying not to shake in Serenity’s hands.
After a moment, Serenity brought her into a hug and started gently stroking her hair. “Trust me, my girl. I won’t hurt you.”
Allie nodded again, her head stuck against Serenity’s shoulder.
“Tell me you trust me,” Serenity whispered in Allie’s ear.
Allie hesitated, fighting the shiver that threatened her spine. “I trust you.”
Serenity smiled at Allie as she finally released her from the hug. “Good, because the town is right over that hill.”
Just then, a deafening roar erupted from over the hill, involuntarily buckling Allie’s knees.
“Oh, get up, my girl,” Serenity chided, grabbing Allie’s hand. “The fun is just beginning.”
Against her will, Serenity led Allie to the top of the hills, the town emerging into view.
The town that Allie once knew was no more. Even the shell that had remained had collapsed into rubble, creating a landscape of ash heaps.
And amidst the ash heaps were five dragons, each larger than the houses they’d collapsed.
Even as Allie watched, the dragons dove in and out of the Earth like Leviathans swirling through the Ocean. Their changing colors glistened in the sunlight, turning from black to blue to white in a matter of seconds.
They were indistinguishable from each other, recognizable only by the way one was struggling against the attacks of the other four. The roars quickly became more distinguishable as the fight became one-sided. Four, the roars of victory. One, the roar of agony.
Then they disappeared inside the maws of the Earth only to re-emerge together. The lone defeated dragon had turned pale, discolored only by its own blood. The other four dragons had the pale dragon clasped in their jaws, one around its tale, two around its front claws, and the fourth around its neck, together dragging it toward Allie and Serenity.
As the dragons drew closer, Allie could hear the whimpers of the pale dragon. Allie tried to pull away from Serenity’s grasp, but she held tight, her eyes transfixed on the dragons.
“Aren’t they beautiful?”
Allie didn’t answer, her eyes shut against the horrific scene.
“Didn’t this dragon cause you pain?” Serenity asked, brushing her hand against Allie’s cheek.
Despite herself, Allie opened her eyes.
“Do you not want revenge for the grief it caused?”
Allie kept still, unsure of her answer. Still, she couldn’t look away from Serenity’s intense gaze.
Eventually, Serenity sighed and turned toward the dragons as they approached. Their giant jaws still clasped around the defeated dragon, they stopped directly in front of Serenity.
Beaming, Serenity released Allie’s hand and stepped forward, walking right up to the dragon’s desperate maw. It tried to snap at her, but was held tight by the jaws of her dragons.
“Geleo,” she said soothingly. “I’d wondered where you’d gone.” And without a hint of fear, she climbed up his wing and placed her hand between his eyes.
Geleo roared in pain as his scales rapidly changed colors, squirming against the hold of his siblings. Then he finally went still as the other dragons released him.
Humming delightedly, Serenity hopped off Geleo’s back just as all five dragons decreased in size.
As soon as the other dragons removed their jaws, Geleo’s wounds healed, his scales reforming even harder than before. As he slowly regained his strength, he stood taller, the other dragons licking the blood off his scales.
Serenity chuckled. “Welcome back to the family.”
Before we get too much further into the story, I want to talk about writing a story with meaning.
Too often there is no meaning in media. Either for fear of offense or isolating an audience, writers will write purely to entertain. And while we should write to entertain, the best stories are filled with meaning.
Now, there are many ways to write a meaningful story, but here is a really good way:
Focus your story on a theme.
A couple of ways to do this:
- have your main character (MC) believe a lie… usually about themselves
- Give your MC a major flaw regarding the theme
So let’s take this story. My theme is on suffering. I won’t go into specifics yet, but suffice it to say that all of my characters believe a different sort of lie about suffering. This is a really good way to create tension between characters. Which brings us to character relationships…
Once you’ve chosen a theme, your characters should challenge each other on that theme. Here’s a breakdown of what that usually looks like:
- The main character believes a lie
- Multiple side characters vary in beliefs, either supporting or dissenting against the lie, but it doesn’t change the MC’s mind either way
- Mentor and/or love interest challenges the lie (hence the story) and eventually the MC changes his/her mind
- The MC is the only one who believes the truth
- Everyone else/Society believes the lie
- MC eventually changes everyone else’s mind (hence the story) – This is usually in dystopian stories
However, it’s important to note that no one’s mind should ever be changed by argument. It’s good to write dialogue regarding the theme, (hopefully in subtle ways) but these arguments shouldn’t be one-sided or decide the fate of the MC. Because here’s the thing:
Everyone thinks they are the good guy.
This is true in life and should be true in stories. Everyone has what they think is a good reason for the things they do. Show that. And let the results of the story be what convinces the MC/audience.
Example: Black panther. (Spoilers ahead)
- Black Panther believes in hiding to protect his people
- Killmonger believes in using what they have to help others
- Black Panther has multiple conversations about this throughout the movie, but he doesn’t change his mind until Killmonger tries to usurp him
- The result is the bad guy being right and changing the MC’s mind not with arguments, but by proving by example that his people have a responsibility to help others
- It’s important to note that Killmonger is still the bad guy due to the fact that he is willing to commit evil actions in order to “help” people – and the writers made sure this point got across by having him kill his girlfriend
- This story is all about the theme of “with great power comes great responsibility” (thank you, Spider-man)
So if you want to write a good story with an impactful message, be mindful of the theme of your story. Write characters that believe in something and let the story itself do the talking.