Title: Nervous

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: original characters of some sort

Rating: G

Notes: Written for the 132 Moods of Sneezefic challenge. It just sort of popped into my head.




     I shiver in my uniform as I try to keep my eyes on the darkened skies and my mind off the cold. This would, of course, have to be the coldest night of the year so far. When I glance down, I can see frost forming on the grass beyond the outer wall and its surrounding moat. The moat itself might have been frozen had it not been for the myriad of torches lining the castle's wall at its base. They flicker at the gentle gusts of wind, but the chill in the air does nothing to harm them so they stay lit, much like the fires accompanying me here at the top of the guard wall.


     Up until now, it was my job to keep the fires lit and fed throughout the night. Ever since I'd been a boy old enough to fly I had been on fire duty. I knew the way from the posts to every storeroom in the castle so intimately I that could navigate the passages in my sleep if needed. Since my fourteenth year, I've attended the fires every night and trained every evening. Like my brothers and father and his brothers and father before him, I would be a watchman. I was born into the life, yes, but I craved the duty like I needed air and water. I had spent my whole life until now waiting for this night when I would stand watch at my very own post.


     This morning I had barely been able to sleep from the excitement. I kept waking and had to count and finger my arrows before I could relax and fall back to sleep. I'd been too on edge to eat much at evening meal, and my fingers had trembled when it came time to don my uniform. Pulling the leggings on had been easy enough, but two times it had taken to tie them at my waist. Then came the three layers of tunics, pulled down to my thighs, and the vest and outer coat with the shrieking dragon on the back and the buttons down the front. With shaking hands, I had tried to button it myself, but I kept skipping holes and winding up with one extra at the top or bottom. After the fourth try, Roland stepped in and did it for me. Then he patted my back as I shouldered my quiver and picked up my bow. "Worry not, little brother. You will perform admirably and make us all proud." His thin, dark eyes looked just like my own but held reassurance that my own did not.


     His words had initially helped calm the butterflies fluttering in the pit of my stomach. But now that the sun is set and I am officially on duty, the nervousness is back and stronger than ever. My eyes stay trained on the thick grey clouds plastering the heavens. It is just my luck to have the skies overcast with a chance of snow on my first night. Clouds complicate my job, but they will not get the better of me. And neither will my nervousness.


     "Ahhh-Tichhhhh!" I run a finger beneath my nose and then alongside it, rubbing hard until the tickles die away. Eventually they do, as always. But I still shiver, and not just because of cold.


     I hear laughter off to my right and sigh to myself. Jenyoun's post is next to mine, and Roland's is just beyond his. "You're sneezing again," Jenyoun calls over to me, his eyes sparkling with laughter. "Getting sick?"


     I shake my head. I don't get sick. "Ihhhh-KTchhhh! ehhhKTchhh!"


     To be honest, that's not entirely true. I do get sick... on occasion. But I refuse to get sick tonight of all nights. I am determined to do my job.


     "HihhhTShhh!" Rubbing my nose always helps alleviate the tickles. But all the rubbing makes my nose feel sore on top of ticklish. Soreness is certainly better than the sneezing, however. Sneezing distracts me from my job and takes my eyes off the skies.


     "Blessings to you," says Jenyoun. "Though I suppose you shan't need them if you're not sick."


     "I'm not, Jen," I insist.


     "He's not," comes a voice to my other side where my brother, Harmon, stands guard. I know the words are meant for Jenyoun but it travels over me and I cannot help but hear. "He isn't sneezing because he's sick. He's sneezing because he's nervous. He always sneezes when he gets nervous."


     Ashamedly, I run my hand through my short, wavy black hair. Then I rub my finger at my nose. "ihhh-hihh-IHHChhh!" What he says is true enough, and I know it is cause for amusement. But the laughter from the watchmen on either side of me makes me even more nervous and uneasy. "Is it possible for us to keep our attention on our work?" I ask with annoyance and concern. I sniffle, my nose dripping and tickling, then rub my nose hard into my sleeve.


     There is chuckling, but I ignore it. I know we have a long night ahead of us and it will not hurt to talk or joke a little. But I do not want to be distracted or make a mistake on my first night. I rub vigorously at my nose. It is tickling again. I wish I had thought to bring a handkerchief.


     "Hitchhhh! ehhhKShhhhh!" As I scrub at my nose, I unfold my wings, stretching them out to the sides. The black feathers shake at the force of the stretch and my neck cracks as I roll my head from side to side.


     It could not have happened at a better moment. I see movement in the clouds and I am certain it is not just the natural movement of clouds. I sniff hard, then press my tongue against my front teeth and whistle.


     The dragons swoop down out of the clouds at the sound. There are three of them-- no, four-- and they come at us with blazing eyes and thunderous roars. Any other night, at this sight, I would be darting for a passageway and crouching down just inside, hoping not to be hurt and not wanting to get in the watchmen's ways.


     But tonight I am one of the fighters. I spin my bow around and hold it up at the ready as I pull an arrow from my quiver. I string it on my bow but dip the tip into the fire burning just to my right. The tip of the arrow bursts into flame and I spend only a moment aiming as I pull it back. The release is quick but meaningful. It grazes the side of one of the beasts and it howls in pain. I hit it. My first real shot as a watchman and I hit it! Or close enough, at least.


     Though the darkness makes colors fade, I can tell this dragon is green. Its wingspan is at least six times my own, and it is clearly not as excited about my hitting my target as I am. It snorts and charges at me. My black eyes narrow. Leaving the others to deal with the remaining three, I watch this one's jaw and its chest. I have studied dragons for so long that I know just what to look for, and I see it several seconds later. The dragon is taking a deep breath. My boots press down on the cold stone of the wall, my knees bend, and then I spring upwards. The dragon breathes out in a blaze of fire, striking right at my position on the wall. But, with my wings spread, I soar out of the way. Nonetheless, I can feel the heat of the fireball upon my face and it spurs me onward.


     I will not let it past our defenses. This is what I have trained so long for, and I will not let my people down. I will do everything it takes to keep the dragons away from the castle. I will fight with all my power and skill as though it were my last battle instead of my very first.


     I draw another arrow and swoop down to catch the tip in the flames of the fire, which is dancing high thanks to the dragon's interference. I do not pause in my flight and merely release my next arrow the moment I have it pulled back. It flies through the air and right past the dragon. He swerves to avoid it. My heart sinks.


     As I pull out two more arrows, I glance about. Most of the other watchmen are still standing on the wall and those on the far ends have gathered in the middle to help make a solid front against the four dragons. Alone it is just one arrow at a time, but together we fire a barrage of fiery arrows at the dragons. We are close to bringing down the small blue one, but the green one continues to avoid our shots and the twin red ones are staying back, out of reach, waiting for their opportunities.


     With two arrows this time, I pull back on my bow. My arm strains at the tension and my wings flap to keep me in the air, making me bob up and down in place. Still it is second nature to me, just as if this were part of my training. And when I fire the arrows, they fly true. They strike the dragon in its chest and it screams with terror, doing a summersault in the air.


     With eight arrows in it from my fellow watchmen, blue dragon plummets downwards, right into our moat. The green one is flying unevenly as it starts its retreat. The other two dragons go with him, disappearing back into the clouds. As I land back on the wall, my eyes are still trained on the sky. I notice, far away, the green dragon dipping down below the clouds, clearly struggling to stay in the air as it heads back towards its lands. I know it will be dead by the dawn.


     The fact that the dragons are gone does not truly register until there is cheering and patting of backs around me. Roland takes me in a rough hug and Harmon rubs his hand upon my head to ruffle my hair. Jenyoun congratulates me and my smile is wide as I beam with pride. The dragons will not be back this night.


     "You're not sneezing any more, Aaryn," Harmon points out. I nod back. In my haste to do my duty so well, I had forgotten about my nerves. Now, even as small snowflakes fell lightly all around us, cleansing us after the battle, I do not even shiver.