Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

10. The dragon and the snow

There came one morning where Adrien happened to wake up a bit earlier than usual. Opening his eyes for the first time that day, he stared aimlessly at the blue shadows of the stone ceiling; then he sank his head underneath the blankets again, breathing against the fabric to gather warmth around his face. It was so cold outside - and the weather had grown very cold in those last few days of October, but right then it felt chillier than ever.

Glancing towards the window, he realized why.

Adrien rolled out of bed and ran to the window. Beyond the glass, a new landscape revealed itself in fairylike white. The branches of the trees bent underneath the weight of the fresh snow; graceful frost laced their limbs and turned them into shimmering sculptures. As the sun rose on the opposite side of the tower, the darkest remnants of night disappeared below the horizon; and where the light of dawn touched the tops of the trees, the snow shone pink and gold and purple beneath the clouds.

Adrien washed and dressed himself as quickly as possible, then ran downstairs and slammed the door open in his excitement - which caused Val to leap in his seat and almost drop the book he was reading.

"Oh, sorry", Adrien rushed to say - and he closed the door as gingerly as possible. "Uh -- good morning".

Val chuckled. "It's alright. Good morning to you. I assume you saw?".

Adrien smiled. "Of course I did".

Val slid a bookmark between the pages of his book and set it on the table; then he walked towards one of the windows and seated himself on the stone ledge that was in front of it. Adrien went to stand at his side. The soil outside was covered in snow so blinding white that Adrien had to shield his pale eyes from the glare.

"I've never seen so much snow", Adrien whispered, excited. "And never so early. That's amazing".

"Actually, it made itself wait this year", Val said. "It usually comes sooner than this".

"Really?".

"Yes. And this is just the first snow; you should see how much there will be in a few months".

Adrien stood still, wide-eyed. "Wow. Back home, classes would be cancelled for much less".

Val looked up at Adrien, chuckling. "Are you trying to say something?".

"What?", Adrien gasped. Then he understood, and he laughed as well. "No! That's -- not what I meant", he giggled. "Besides -- I mean, the point of cancelling classes is for students and teachers that won't make it because of the weather, and --".

"-- Right, right", Val giggled. "I was just messing with you. But still, you are not wrong... My master, too, would have called the day off. To be honest, today I was hoping to go out and play in the snow".

"Play in the snow?!", Adrien laughed, looking at him in half-disbelief.

"Why not?", Val smiled. "This is when the snow is freshest, and the weather is still not too cold yet. It's a great time to go outside".

Adrien chuckled. "You know, actually, you don't need to convince me".

*****

After breakfast, Val and Adrien went to have a short walk in the snowy forest; they'd gone in a loop that brought them back to the tower's stone steps. Looking down from the top of the hill, the clearer sky now revealed a view even more stunning than before - nothing but white and white until the distant horizon. The snow-covered landscape was so immense in its openness that Adrien's eyes failed to make sense of it; the furthest mountains flickered into his perception as if he could leap over them if he only tried, and yet as if they only barely existed as an unreachable backdrop for his imagination to wander.

He had been aware of it before, but it was in that moment that Adrien found himself struck by the full realization of how remote of a place this was.

His train of thought was interrupted by the impact of something on his right shoulder - something cold and wet; he looked at it - it was snow, as he had thought. He turned around: Val was standing a few meters behind him with a silly grin on his face.

"Hey!", Adrien laughed. He wiped his shoulder where it had been hit by the snowball. "What was that?".

"What do you think?", Val chuckled. He scooped up some snow and threw a second snowball towards Adrien, who shifted to the side to dodge it.

"Hey!", Adrien exclaimed again. He kneeled down and made a snowball, which he threw at Val - hitting him on one arm. Val looked down at where the snowball had landed, amused, and then wiped the snow off his jacket.

"Oh, so you rise to the challenge", he whispered, a grin appearing on his face. He gestured at the ground, and a snowball rose from his feet, already fully formed; he swung his arm and hurled it at Adrien, who only managed to dodge it narrowly. A second and a third snowball appeared - Adrien dashed behind a tree for cover, with one of the snowballs hitting him on a leg on the way there. He tried to reply to Val's attack the best he could, but, for each snowball Adrien could make with his hands, Val had already flung five at him.

"No cheating!", Adrien laughed from behind the tree.

"Oh, but this is not cheating - it's all skill", Val said with a smirk; and, with that, a dozen snowballs rose from the ground, spun around him, then pelted the tree behind which Adrien had been hiding - making it shake so hard that some snow fell from the branches onto Adrien's head.

"Hey!", Adrien laughed, shaking the snow off his hair. "Cheater! Cheater! You're such a cheater!", he sang from behind the tree. "Really! How unfair is that: the master sorcerer hitting his poor, helpless apprentice with magic he hasn't even taught him yet! Come on!".

"...Helpless? You?", Val giggled.

"My point still stands!", Adrien laughed.

"Alright, alright. I will play fair", Val said, chuckling as he kneeled to the ground and made a snowball with his hands. "If I must".

"Yes, you must!", Adrien said, reinforcing his point by throwing another snowball at him - Val ducked, and the snowball landed on the last step in front of the tower instead.

"How do you keep on dodging them all, anyway?!", Adrien yelled.

"How do you keep on missing me?".

"Hey!", Adrien shouted. "Excuse me! This is just the first time I do this, and you're --".

"-- I'm sorry", Val chuckled.

"You better be!", Adrien laughed.

They kept at it for a while; it wasn't long before Adrien figured out how to make better snowballs that he could throw more accurately; soon, most of his projectiles came to connect with his target. He and Val became evenly matched. At one point, Val happened to move his head at the worst possible moment; the snowball that had been coming his way landed right on his nose.

Val wiped off the snow and looked at Adrien, who had been laughing and cackling and snorting. "Adrien! What do you have against my nose?".

Adrien laughed even louder. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!", he wheezed between fits. "I didn't do it on purpose! I swear!".

"Do I believe you?", Val chuckled. "This is not the first time this has happened!".

"It was unintentional -- well, this time, at least --".

"Adrien! You're awful!", Val laughed - and Adrien exploded once again in a fit of giggles; and it was a while before he could stop.

Their game continued until Adrien's snowballs began to fly lower and weaker; when that happened, Val suggested to end their battle there and return to the tower. By then, it was already a quarter past noon. They went back to the main hall and sat on some pillows by the fireplace, each with a mug of hot chocolate to enjoy.

"What you did before with the snowballs looked pretty cool, though", Adrien commented as he stirred his chocolate. "I've seen you move things around magically before, but that was especially impressive".

"Thank you", Val chuckled. "I admit that I was making a bit of a show out of it".

"Is it something you can teach me?".

"Eventually", Val replied, "but perhaps not in the coming months. Magical kinesis is somewhat advanced...".

"Aww", Adrien chuckled.

"But I am sure that you will get there one day, if you continue on this path", Val smiled. He took a spoonful of hot chocolate, and it was a while before he spoke again. "By the way, thank you for the snowball fight. It has been... it has been a while since the last time I've had one".

"Really? But you said it snows a lot here".

"It's not a matter of snow, as much as a matter of company", Val said. He didn't explain any further. Adrien remembered the conversation he'd had with the tavernkeep the day he arrived; she had said that the sorcerer rarely had guests. He had never heard him mention any close friends, either. Curious as he was about this, Adrien knew better than to ask. He warmed his hands by the fire, then picked up his mug again.

"I hope you are comfortable", Val continued. "Should I stoke the fire?".

"It's fine as it is", Adrien said.

"If you ever need it to be warmer, let me know. Is it cold in your room at night?".

"Well", Adrien started, "actually, a few nights, it's been a little bit colder than I'd like. Nothing serious, but --".

"It doesn't have to be anything serious", Val said, stirring his chocolate. "It's not a problem for me to change the heating enchantment a little. I'll do that later".

"Thank you", Adrien smiled. "Actually, I think the main problem is -- I think the main problem is me", he chuckled. "I'm always cold, and, uh -- I wish I had known that it got so cold here, I would have brought more warm clothing".

"How much do you have?".

"Like, two sweaters", Adrien said with a weak shrug.

Val's eyes went a little bit wide. "Only two?".

"Yeah, I know -- I wasn't really thinking -- besides, I didn't have a lot of room in my bag", Adrien chuckled. "I really wasn't expecting to need more than that".

"It's alright. The weather here can be quite surprising, I can imagine", Val smiled.

"Did you have to get used to it, too?".

"Oh - no", Val replied, "I used to live far north in Thandice. I was already used to the winter there".

Now it was Adrien's turn to widen his eyes. "You lived in Thandice?", he gasped. He had never been there himself, but he knew it as one of the most beautiful cities in the world - it rose on the shore of a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, its buildings of white stone shimmering against the water. "And -- and you came here?", Adrien said. Then he caught himself: "I -- sorry, it's just --".

"It's alright. This is not the first time I've heard this", Val smiled.

Adrien's brow furrowed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to --".

"-- Really, it's alright. It is rather strange", he said, placing one hand against his mouth, "Why would anyone want to move from a wonderful city to - well, let's be honest - the middle of nothing... It really is strange. However, life in the city was simply not for me".

"Too overwhelming? It distracted you from your work?", Adrien asked.

"Yes, but -- I'm not only talking about work. It was tiring to -- to me, as well. Here, instead... It is so peaceful. I like it here. Perhaps I don't have all the conveniences of the city anymore, but I have plenty of other comforts that I find more important. This place fits me best, after all", Val said.

Adrien smiled. "I can understand that", he said. "And this tower is amazing, anyway".

"It is", Val said, looking around the room. "Quite the odd building, isn't it?".

"Yeah... You said this was a hunting lodge, right? Made to fit who, exactly? An entire army?".

Val chuckled. "The way the person who sold it to me told the story, it was apparently built by a marquess to fit his whole family and entourage. He had quite a taste for extravagance, as you can imagine", he smiled. "When he died, his eldest son inherited it; but he loathed having to take care of this tower that he considered pointless and garish. He sold it to get rid of it. For a while, it was empty and managed by the person who sold it to me. They had much trouble finding a buyer... By when I purchased it, it had fallen in disrepair, and they were desperate to sell it".

"So you swooped in, and got it for peanuts?", Adrien said with a cheeky grin.

"You could say so", Val smiled. "Nobody else was interested in a tower in the middle of nothing".

"Yeah, well", Adrien chuckled. "Anyway, I think it fits you far more than it would have fit that marquess".

Val chuckled. "Of course", he said with a little grin, "Who could fit a tower better than a sorcerer?".

"A dragon!", Adrien laughed. "Or a princess".

"Maybe you're one of them", Val said with a little smile.

"Really! Which one do you think I am?", Adrien chuckled.

"That's hard to say!", Val laughed. "You don't look like a dragon to me, so - a princess, I suppose".

Adrien giggled. "Though, princesses are usually locked in the tower - and I'm not, so maybe I'm a dragon, after all".

"Who is to say that the dragons are not locked in their towers, as well?", Val said with a faint smile. Adrien looked back at him; he blinked, then lowered his head for lack of a better answer. He sat still for a while before taking another spoonful of chocolate. Val was staring into the fire; the light shimmering through his black eyes revealed the depth of their darkness.

Adrien looked up at the clock. It was one thirty in the afternoon. Outside, it had started snowing again.

"Should we go to the practice room?".

"No, not today", he replied. "We will resume tomorrow. Today, we rest".