December 15, 2023


by Penndry Dragonsworth

“Only Contrary could run away from home with nothing but the fur on her back, and end up in the lair of the single magical creature able to thrive in this horrible, magic-twisted place.”

The lioness had misplaced her sister. Not her pack-sister, pride-sister, or blood-sister; not her hunt-sister, heart-sister, or sister-in-the-mysteries: her sister, full stop. The fact that the lioness had been away at University studying sorcery for the last three years made no difference at all to the matron-mothers when they contacted her through crystal — at great expense and inconvenience they were sure to mention. They told the lioness: “The only tie Contrary claims is yours, therefore you must bring her home.” The divinatory-aunts had named her sister Contrary and either through fate or parental expectations, she lived up to that name with verve and enthusiasm — at least until she vanished.  The lioness wondered why they would want such an adept provocateur returned to the pride-castle, but the matron-mothers were adamant: “She is ours, and we did not give her leave to go.”

The lioness wished (not for the first time) that her beloved Contrary had claimed allegiance to anyone else. There was no way she was going to convince any of her hunt-sisters or travel-sisters to leave the familiarity of home territory and the safety of the pride-castle for one who took no place in the family. The lioness sighed, begged forbearance from her advisors, and hied herself home to look for clues.

If there was anyone who could provide a counteragent to the whims of her mothers, it was her divinitory-aunts, but they shut the chapel on her arrival so quickly she very nearly lost a whisker to the doors.

Her father just said, “Then don’t. It’s one less mouth to feed, innit,” when she asked as a last resort.

Easy for him to say, but it was her hide the matron-mothers would shred to ribbons if Contrary wasn’t found.

* * *

Contrary had gone to the Stormlands but left the lioness a clue in the form of a small carved figurine. The bird with thunder in its wings smelled like dolphins, lightning, flooded dreams, and wet bird. It rattled when the lioness shook it. It could only have come from one place. How she hated the Stormlands! Any sane person avoided the wet, violent, chaotic, wet, dripping, wet place. But. Always but.  “She is ours, and she had no leave to go.”

The lioness sighed again. Even plain-sisters-full-stop were family, and family belonged to the matron-mothers. She informed the matron-mothers of her destination and thought longingly of her sorcery research as she pulled her heavy-weather gear out of storage.

* * *

Finding Contrary in the Stormlands was a slog. The rocs and thunderbirds who ruled the Stormlands disrupted the aether with their very existence and the lioness’ waterproofing spell failed within the first week. By the time she finally tracked down her sister, her shoes squelched, she’d been through two hurricanes, fifteen major thunderstorms (apparently they only counted as major if you were struck by lightning and oh! How she hated this place!), had muddy hail thrown in her face by a waterspout-surfing dolphin man, and was pretty sure her fur was growing algae.

Only Contrary could run away from home with nothing but the fur on her back, and end up in the lair of the single magical creature able to thrive in this horrible, magic-twisted place. That this so-called “lair” was a mansion and the magical creature was a famous ice-dragon and an artist just added to the unfairness of it all.

The lioness sighed as she looked up at the mansion’s decorative pillars, green with algae; she sighed again as she looked higher at the extensive gutters with corner statues, fanciful grotesqueries spewing water like fountains; she looked at the long winding pathway to the door, overhung with picturesque mossy trees dripping yet more water. But. Always but. “She is ours, and she had no leave to go.”

The lioness sighed a third time and started walking. A piece of wet moss fell on her head.

* * *

“You,” she said to Contrary, and that small word spoke pages on how she felt about this situation, “are coming home.”

“No,” said Contrary, twirling her ice wine by its stem and dangling a paw off the opulent chaise lounge. She looked at her sister’s sodden, drooping whiskers, took in her squelching shoes. The lioness really had tried to do right by her, but was too enmeshed in the family to understand why she couldn’t stay. “Sister, tell the matron-mothers I am muse to an ice dragon. Surely that will be enough status to satisfy them.”

The lioness shook her head. “That’s not how it works.”

“You left for Uni,” the ice dragon pointed out. She was smudged with paint and magical reagents. The lioness sniffed. Artists.

“The castle had need for a wizard.”

What actually happened was this: first the lioness had confessed her sorcery to her heart-sister; then they both petitioned their hunt-sisters with charts and maths; then they and the hunt-sisters begged blessings from a divinatory-aunt who eyed them skeptically but cast the auguries anyhow; and by the time the lioness, her heart-sister, her hunt-sisters, and the divinatory-aunt took her cause to the matron-mothers, the sisters-of-the-mysteries had already whispered in the matron-mothers’ ears and it was a good thing the lioness was here because the matron-mothers had just decided the north tower needed a wizard.

The lioness looked at the ice dragon. The lioness looked at Contrary. Was it fate or expectations that brought them to this. She thought of her time at University. She thought of the matron-mothers and their proud, noble lineage (she thought of the matron-mothers and their sharp, strong claws). She thought she was dry enough for at least one containment spell.

“Sister, you had no leave to go.”


* * *

About the Author

Penndry Dragonsworth lives in the Midwest with two cats and collects small vintage cameras. In the summers, Penndry does low-key urban foraging to make jam.


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