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Nightingales (a short story)

NIGHTINGALES

by Melody Robinette

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(I DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS TO THIS PICTURE)

 

Aria sheathed her blade on her hip before slipping out of the cottage she shared with her mother and three sisters. No men inhabited these woods. At least not for a fortnight. But beasts did. Best to be prepared.

The men of Arsondower worked down in the valley between the mountainous hills. They were miners of sorts; only, instead of coal…they mined dragons. They were known as Dragon Keepers. Aria’s own father was there even now, carrying on the tradition passed down man to man to man.

It sounded like a tale of old. How lovely and magical, you might think. But Dragon Keepers had only one aim.

Gold.

Dragon scales were worth their weight in it. And dragon eggs were worth even more.

Aria knew the way to the small creek that cut through the dense woods by heart. She’d been there more than any other place in her life, carting her bucket. Sometimes she liked to pretend she was traveling far away, to another land. She loved her family, but being cooped up in a cottage wasn’t exactly the dauntless life she longed for.

The women of Arsondower were kept safe in the mountains, tucked inside the shadows of the trees. They weren’t to venture down into the valley. It was dangerous. It was a man’s world.

A time or two, when Aria was too young to know better, she’d asked her father why she couldn’t help with the dragons.

It’s man’s work, Lamb,” he’d said. “You stay in the cottage with Mommy where it’s safe.”

You can help with the butter,” Mommy had added. “Won’t that be fun? You love helping with the butter.

Aria did, in fact, love helping with the butter. Mostly because she’d swipe the side of the churn with her finger while her mother wasn’t looking and pop the creamy glop in her mouth. But, the older she grew, the more curious she became. Not about butter. Curious about the dragons.

So, one night, she snuck out of the cottage to follow her father and brother into the mines.

What she saw there still haunted her.

Fire-breathing beasts the size of redwood trees were chained to the ground with heavy, steel manacles. Their hides, usually known for their slick sheen, were dull and bleeding where the miners had stripped off their scales. Tortured despair hovered like a ghost in their eyes.

Aria was petrified. And outraged.

Her father had always taught her to be kind to the animals of the forest, to treat them with respect and reverence. Only to shoot with the intent to kill and consume.

Never hurt.

But there he was, hurting the creatures whose profiles were sewn into their town’s flags. She couldn’t make sense of it. She wanted to ask him why he’d do such a thing. But she never did. She’d snuck back up to her house, claiming to her worried mother that she’d gotten lost in the woods.

 

Remembering this now, Aria looked over her shoulder as she knelt beside the cool stream, bucket in hand. Sometimes when the wind blew through the branches, she swore she could hear the tormented cries of the dragons kept chained in the mines below.

Golden hair spilled forward as she leaned down to scoop up the water, her red cloak dragging on the ground.

Ripples appeared suddenly on the water, followed by a great, undulating wind. The hood of Aria’s cloak blew back as her face pointed skyward.

Seven winged grey animals, streaked with blue, landed on the bank across the creek from Aria. Hopping to her feet, knocking the bucket full of water over, she unsheathed her knife, holding it before her and wishing she’d thought to carry her bow.

Once the wind created by the animals’ wings died down, Aria realized what they were. Peryton. Majestic creatures with the head, forelegs, and antlers of a stag. Their hindquarters, wings, and plumage were that of a bird.

A rather large bird.

This wasn’t what caused Aria to unsheathe her knife, though. For, atop the creatures were figures dressed all in black.

“Who are you?” Aria demanded, sounding much braver than she felt. “What do you want? I have nothing for you. Unless you find yourself in need of a water pail and a dull hunting blade.”

One of the figures slid off their peryton and stepped into the light, causing Aria’s knife hand to fractionally lower.

It was a woman.

Skin the color of the tree bark behind the woman brought out the intense green of her eyes. Her hair was pulled back in a tight braid down her back. Shining black armor darker than coal covered her slim frame.

“Who are you?” Aria asked again, only this time in a voice of awe rather than anger.

“I am Zinnia. And we are Nightingales.” Shoulders burdened by horned armor straightened with pride. “Protectors and saviors of dragon kind.”

“Dragons,” Aria said in a whisper. “But the dragons are down in the mines in the valley. Why are you here?” She swept her hand over the water and gestured to the trees.

“To collect you, Aria Seaweather.”

“Collect me? But…what—”

“You have a hunger for adventure and a tender heart for dragons, do you not?”

Mouth opening and closing, Aria looked over her shoulder, down at the mines she couldn’t see. Remembering. Feelings from that night long ago crept across her skin, raising hairs.

“Yes,” she said in a breath. “I do.”

“Then come.”

***

Aria was given armor and weapons and a peryton of her own. She left her clothes, red cloak, and bucket in a pile near the creek. Standing beside the water, she peered down at her blurry reflection and felt a fire ignite in her core.

Oh. This was what she’d been missing. This.

“Ready, Seaweather?”

Weaving her golden hair into a secure plait, Aria turned to face the Nightingales. “Ready.”

Riding the peryton felt like traveling on a cloud of air, soaring smoothly over the ripples of wind. The atmosphere grew warmer as they neared the mines in the valley. A squirming worm of nerves twisted in Aria’s gut.

“Seaweather,” Zinnia called out. “Take this.”

Turning just in time, Aria caught the black weapon tossed her way. It looked like glowing coals shaped into a sharp sword.

“What is this?”

“A sectar. It will cut through metal. Use it on the dragons’ chains.”

“It cuts through metal?”

“And flesh.”

Aria gulped.

The Nightingales swooped down unseen on the valley, leaping from their peryton, and moving stealthily into the mines. Aria clutched her sectar as she moved forward, into the dark holes of despair.

Bellowing dragons—three of them—thrashed their heads as the Dragon Keepers went at their hides with scrapers. Glittering scales fell like teardrops onto the mine floor at the men’s feet. Aria skirted the edge of the wall, the darkness of her armor blending in with the night. Her hair on the other hand…

“You lost?”

Turning on her heel, Aria’s gaze landed on a young man about her age with hair the color of speckled sand. His sapphire eyes shown in the dim light of the mines. Tucking the sectar behind her, Aria flashed a bright smile.

“I was just curious about the dragons,” she simpered.

Curious?” The man’s mouth tugged upwards in amusement. “This is no place for a woman. It’s not safe.”

She nodded, eyes moving over the other men. “I agree… There are many dangerous creatures here.”

He looked her over. “Why are you dressed like that?”

Suddenly shouts and roars sounded from behind Aria, coming from the other mines. The Nightingales had released the first dragons.

The man looked wild-eyed at the scene in the center of the ring of mines where Dragon Keepers were now running. He turned back to Aria, his expression changing.

“I’m a Nightingale,” she murmured, answering his earlier question. Lunging around him, she bolted towards the first dragon, slicing her sectar through one of the thick manacles holding the creature down.

The dragon protested at first, then, seeing that one of its four legs were free, stood completely still, waiting for her to release the other three. The sandy-haired man ran at her, but she ducked under the dragon’s emaciated belly.

The beast kicked out its free leg, connecting with the man’s torso as Aria ran the sectar through two more chains, sprinting for the fourth.

“Aria!” a familiar voice shouted.

Hand raised, weapon at the ready, she looked up. Her father stood in the mouth of the mine, gaping at her in horror.

What do you think you’re doing?”

Men began to surround her, approaching slowly. She clutched her sectar tighter.

“A woman’s job.”

And then she brought down the sectar, cutting the final tie. The dragon reared its head and thrashed its tail as the men tried to keep it from leaving the mine. It trampled over them as if they were nothing more than scurrying beetles.

Aria ran like a spark, a streak of fire, burning through the mine. Sectar met metal, slicing through as easy her mother’s knife cutting freshly churned butter.

One free, two free, three free. Go.

“Go!” she shouted to the dragons. “Hurry!”

The Dragon Keepers ran about the valley like ants whose home has just been invaded by a human foot.

The final dragon began to leave, but turned back to look at Aria. “Go on,” she urged. “You’re free now.”

He retreated, coming closer to her. She knew she should probably be afraid, but she felt nothing more than awe at the beauty of this beast. The dragon lower his head and Aria saw that his snout had been tied shut as well. Guiding the tip of her sectar, she delicately cut through the thin chains.

Opening his mouth widely, Aria could see inside, waves of heat at the back of his throat and the bubbling of flames.

She took a step back, but the dragon closed his mouth and lowered his head again, indicating Aria should climb up. Men were closing in on the two of them, wielding swords and bows and angry faces. Aria climbed up, clutching onto the dragon’s neck as he turned, opening his mouth again.

The Dragon Keepers who’d been charging towards them halted in their steps…and then ran like Hades in the opposite direction, trying to outrun the wave of flames rolling after them.

The dragon let out another burst of fire and a growl that almost sounded like he was chuckling. And then he stepped forward, emerging into the clear air, spreading his leathery wings out, looking up at open sky.

“That’s all of them, Seaweather,” Zinnia called from the back of another dragon. “Let’s take them home.”

Aria nodded, patting the beast beneath her. “Fly, boy. Fly away from here.”

A puff of smoke furled out of the dragon’s nostrils and he ran forward, pumping his wings until they both lifted up. And then they turned towards the light of the moon, leaving the chains of the mines and forest behind.

Both soaring towards an unmapped freedom.

West Texas A&M Writers’ Academy

Every year I escape to a writer wonderland in Canyon, Texas. The Writers’ Academy. It’s a week-long, intensive workshop setting where writers come in as one person and leave as somebody completely different.

When I completed my first novel, I didn’t even know there were other people like me out there. I mean, I did. But I didn’t know there were any close by. I reached out to a creative writing teacher I had when I attended Wext Texas A&M in 2009 and asked her for some advice on publishing. She gave me the contact information for a local writer named Jodi Thomas.

I did some research and learned that Jodi really knew her stuff. She was a New York Times Bestselling author and she was living only a few hours from me. I emailed her, not expecting to get an immediate response, but within a few days, I’d received a follow-up from her. She said that she would be in Lubbock the next week and asked if I wanted to meet for dinner to talk about writing.

Um. Yes, please!

So, we met and I got to talk to someone who was just like me. Someone who breathed writing like it was her life source. Then she told me about the Writers’ Academy. I had to come, she said. It would change my life.

And it did.

Imagine. An entire workshop of 50 or so people that are obsessed with the same thing you’ve been obsessed with for years. People who don’t think it’s strange to carry around journals or to jot down interesting names to use for a character. People who are filled with words just like you. This was my idea of paradise. And now I return every single year.

This year I will be taking Bethany Claire’s class on Self-Publishing. As a self-published author, you might think it would be pointless for me to take such a class. But I know I have so much to learn about this craft that is truly a business. Sure, I can write a book. I can write several books. But getting them out there when no one knows (or cares) who you are is more difficult than I ever imagined.

I’m excited and nervous. Nervous because I know I’m going to learn about the things that I should have done with my first four novels. I’m nervous because I know this class will be the catalyst I need to get my email list up and running and all the other stuff that goes along with publishing a novel. Self-pub or traditional.

I’m nervous. But I’m ready. 11048719_1092639154083643_1582680029528583240_n

 

Giving it All Away (Free E-Book Option on Amazon)

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Okay, maybe not giving it ALL away. But I did set OAKEN to FREE for 3 days. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I still don’t know how all of the math-related statistical whatchamacallit stuff works on Amazon. I just decided to set my book to free when I released my second book, ASH, blindly hoping that maybe some people would download it and then go on to get the next book. Maybe. What happened, though, blew my mind.

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People started to download it.

I’ll admit, the first day I probably refreshed the “sales” page and my book’s page a million times to see the numbers go up. By the end of the first day, 2,844 people had downloaded Oaken.

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Then, somehow, I managed to go to sleep. I randomly woke up at 1:33 AM, and, of course, checked the page to find that Oaken was #1 in the FREE Paranormal Fantasy category. What’s very strange to me, though, is that I never put my book into that category…because it’s not really paranormal in any way. This is one of the things I need to find out more about because it’s truly fascinating to me. It was almost as if Amazon was putting my book into the category it would do best in–the category where it would be ranked the highest.

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In the Young Adult Fantasy category, I reached the #2 spot and stayed there for the next two days. (Damn Relic wouldn’t budge.)

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And in the TOP FREE 100 I reached #46! MY MIND WAS BLOWN.

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On the very last day, I received an email from ebookdaily.com that my book would be featured that day in their Fantasy selection of free e-books.

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I’m telling you guys, I have whiplash from how fast and hard all of this hit me. So, I wasn’t making any money off of Oaken? So what? Look how many people saw and downloaded my book with the potential to buy my other books later. It was so incredible to experience. Truly.

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By the end of the last day (and apparently 49 units after midnight) 7,414 people downloaded OAKEN. 7,414 people that, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t have taken the leap to actually purchase the book for $3.99. I get it. There is a lot of self-published crap out there. But there are also a lot of jewels, hidden in the mountain of books online. It’s an overwhelming thing, really. So, I get why people wouldn’t want to take a chance on a self-published author like myself. But there is nothing to lose when they can download the book for free. And, if they like it, maybe they’ll keep coming back. 🙂

One of the coolest things, though, is that, even after the FREE period ended, I saw an enormous jump in sales. (45 PAID units total by the very end of the day on the 20th)

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As it stands–wait, lemme go refresh the page and give you the latest–Oaken is #82 as of 9:00 AM the morning of June 22nd in the Top PAID 100 of the Young Adult Fantasy category. (This number changes every hour. Yesterday it bounced around from 98 to 117. This morning it was 76) The top 100 is golden, though, y’all, because this means your book is visible. Amazon only displays the top 100 books per category and many people won’t venture much further than this.

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So, if you are self-published, or thinking of self-publishing, and are unsure of whether or not you should take advantage of the FREE book promotion Amazon offers, I can say from personal experience that there is NOTHING you can lose by doing this. It’s basically free advertising for you, thanks to Amazon. Whether 100 or 1,000,000 people download your books, that’s just that many more people who now know who you are, who know about your books. By setting your book to free, you have nothing to lose and SO MUCH to gain.

Trust me. Just do it.

I’m Melody. Nice to Meet You.

Hello all–or perhaps no one,

I’m Melody Robinette. 27-year-old author and wife to a very handsome and equally kind beer-expert/musician.
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Writer of young adult, new adult, fantasy, paranormal, lgbt, contemporary, all sorts of fiction. I’ve recently self-published and I am so happy I made that decision. It has put the power in my hands and I can make every decision for my book every step of the way. You can visit my Amazon author page: HERE. I already have a blog on my website, but it has very little activity or traffic, and a fellow writer friend recommended wordpress. So, here I am. I’m sure this blog will be as random as I am. I’ll likely post about writing-related things, maybe personal things, random musings, short stories and blurbs and flash fiction. You know…all that jazz. But, anyway. Not today. Just wanted to say, nice to meet you…and I’ll talk to you soon! 🙂 ❤

Melody

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