Dragontide's Daughter by Strewnpapers | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 4: Moonglow Masquerade

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Every breath was agony, like her chest was being crushed by an immense weight. Ellie winced as Tyler finally set her down on the soft sand near Lake Dragontide, well beyond the treacherous Thornveil Wilds they’d narrowly escaped.

“You okay?” Tyler steadied her with his hands on her shoulders. “Do you need to see Dr. Bennett?”

“I’ll live.” Ellie uncurled her fingers to reveal the delicate Moon Flower cradled in her palm. Its pale, luminescent petals pulsed.

Tyler’s eyes went wide, then narrowed. “After all that, you still want to keep the blasted thing?” He shook his head incredulously. “Ellie, we nearly got killed by those . . . those tree monsters! Just leave it in the Wilds where it belongs.”

“And risk letting Grandpa down after coming this far? This flower is the key to winning that prize money for the Elixiron cure. I won’t give up now.” Ellie paused, then said, “Can you get my box and bring it here, please?”

Tyler exhaled deeply in resignation, then exited and came back carrying the battered box.

As Ellie moistened the malleable clay, she handled the blossom with the utmost care, gently coating its stem and petals with a thin layer that still allowed the moon-kissed glow to radiate through. Once satisfied, she nestled it safely back in the box’s cushioned interior.

“I can’t believe that flower is still glowing.” Tyler looked at his watch. “We better get going, the competition is about to close to new entrants.”

Ellie hugged the box with the fragile Moon Flower tightly to her chest. She and Tyler raced through the bustling village square, weaving between clusters of people.

Up ahead, Ellie spotted the judges’ booth just as the main adjudicator, a stern-faced woman draped in an official-looking sash, was closing the humble wooden shutters.

“Wait!” Ellie called out, raising her hand. Tyler skidded to a halt beside her. “Please, you have to let me enter!”

The judge paused, mouth set in a hard line. “I’m afraid the window for new submissions has passed, young lady.”

Ellie opened her mouth to protest, but another judge, a warm-eyed elderly man with a neatly trimmed beard, leaned over and whispered something in the woman’s ear. She pursed her lips, considering, then turned back to Ellie. “You wouldn’t happen to be the granddaughter of Mr. Joe Harper, would you?”

“Yes, that’s my grandpa.”

The woman’s expression softened slightly. “Very well, we’ll make an exception.” She unlocked the shutters and swung them open once more, gesturing for Ellie to approach.

With trembling hands, Ellie gently lifted the flower from its padded box and arranged it atop the round, rotating display stand. The judges gathered around, murmuring in admiration as the Moon Flower’s petals cast a pale glow through the thin layer of clay.

“It’s quite exquisite,” the bearded man remarked, carefully rotating the stand. “What is the name of your piece, my dear?”

Ellie chewed her lip, considering. She had been so preoccupied with retrieving the actual bloom that she hadn’t even contemplated a title. Her eyes fell upon the flower’s moon-like luminescence, and the words came unbidden to her lips.

“Moonglow Reverie.”

The judges methodically recorded Ellie’s entry title, their pens scratching against clipboards. One of them—the stern-faced woman—gave Ellie a curt nod before swinging the shutters closed once more.

Beside the humble wooden judging booth stood a long table adorned with a dazzling array of artistic creations. Ellie’s breath caught in her throat as she drank in the staggering talent on display.

Tyler nudged her gently. “Come on, let’s get a closer look.”

They wove between the gathered throngs until they reached the front of the table. Ellie scanned the diverse entries, her eyes wide with wonder. Near the end, nestled between an intricate ice sculpture and an oil painting of the Thornveil Wilds enshrouded in mist, sat her own modest clay creation—the Moonglow Reverie. Even with the flower’s subtle glow filtering through the clay casing, it paled in comparison to many of the other breathtaking works.

Near Ellie’s entry rested an ornate wooden carving depicting a spritely eldengrove nymph frozen mid-dance, vines and blooms twisting up her lithe form. Its exquisite details and life-like quality were simply spellbinding.

“Wow.” Ellie exhaled, shaking her head slowly. “That woodcarving is incredible.”

“You’re not kidding.” Tyler leaned in closer, examining the piece with admiration. “This is some world-class talent here.”

They drifted further along the table, taking in each offering. An elaborate ship fashioned from what appeared to be salvaged scrap metal and driftwood, an ode to the village’s maritime heritage. A huge canvas emblazoned with a striking vista of Crystal Shores’ cliffs dappled in the first light of dawn. Every single entry seemed to out-dazzle the last.

As they reached the end of the table, a judge stepped forward. The bearded man who had advocated on Ellie’s behalf raised a Triton’s Trumpet, a conical shell, to his lips and blew. The deep, resonant tone sliced through the clamor like the call of an ancient mariner commanding the waves to stillness. Gradually, the crowd quieted until a hush fell over the square, yielding to the mythic summons of the Triton’s Trumpet.

“Greetings, one and all!” His voice boomed through a makeshift amplifier. “On behalf of my esteemed colleagues, I wish to extend our deepest admiration for the outstanding artworks you have presented here today. Each piece is a stunning celebration of our humble village’s natural splendor and rich cultural tapestry.”

His face grew solemn. “Regrettably, only three entrants may be named winners on this occasion. But make no mistake—every creator here is a victor, having poured their passion and talents into these magnificent offerings.”

Ellie found herself holding her breath as the man paused, sweeping an appraising gaze over the table laden with masterpieces.

“And so, without further ado . . .” His chest expanded as he drew in a preparatory breath.

The stern-faced judge and one of her colleagues stepped forward and positioned themselves beside an entry near the middle of the table—a breathtaking oil painting rendered in rich, vibrant hues. It depicted an idyllic meadow scene, complete with frolicking woodland creatures amidst a tapestry of wildflowers. The brushstrokes were so lifelike, Ellie could almost see the delicate leaves trembling in an unseen breeze.

The bearded judge’s voice rang out once more, his Triton’s Trumpet amplifying his proclamation.

“In third place . . .” He paused, sweeping his gaze over the crowd before settling on the painting. “Emerald Meadows, by local artist Marjorie Fleming.”

A murmur of appreciative applause rippled through the spectators as the woman emerged from their midst, color blooming in her cheeks. She approached the judges with a bashful smile, eyes shining behind her thick spectacles.

“A truly breathtaking landscape that captures the essence of Eldengrove’s lush splendor,” the judge praised, gesturing to the artwork with an open palm. He nodded at his fellow adjudicator, who produced a coin pouch that jingled promisingly with the clinking of metal. “For your exemplary effort, you shall receive this purse containing twenty-five silver Thornveil pieces.”

The crowd’s applause swelled as Marjorie accepted the modest prize, holding the bulging pouch to her breast with a look of heartfelt gratitude. Ellie found herself clapping along, moved by the woman’s obvious joy.

The two judges relocated further down the table, pausing before the intricate wooden carving that had so captivated Ellie and Tyler earlier. The bearded man raised his Triton’s Trumpet once more, and the enthusiastic clamor subsided in anticipation.

“For second place . . .” He turned, admiring the exquisitely-crafted figurine of the whimsical forest nymph. “The entry Sylvan Serenade, by local artisan Tobias Underhill.”

A young man with an unruly mop of sandy hair emerged from the back of the assembled masses. He approached with a swagger, grinning from ear to ear as he basked in the crowd’s cheers and whistles of admiration. Tobias took his place before the judges, arms crossed casually over his chest.

“Your meticulous craftsmanship has captured the wild, fey essence of Eldengrove in stunning detail,” the bearded man said, gesturing to the carving. “Truly, it is an honor to name you this year’s second place champion.”

The stern-faced woman revealed a leather drawstring pouch, its contents clinking heavily. “For your achievement, you shall receive one hundred silver Thornveil pieces.”

A roar of thunderous applause erupted from the onlookers as Tobias snatched up the generous purse, grinning wolfishly. He raised it over his head in triumph, clearly relishing the accolades. Ellie couldn’t help but join in the raucous cheering and clapping, buoyed by the infectious swell of revelry.

After the din had ebbed somewhat, the bearded judge lifted his hand, and an expectant hush fell over the square once more. He allowed it to linger, milking the dramatic pause as he surveyed the remaining entries and the teeming throngs before him.

“And now . . .” His voice swelled with ceremonial pomp. “The moment you have all been eagerly awaiting. This year’s grand prize shall be awarded two hundred and fifty gleaming silver Thornveil pieces, a small fortune that could enrich any young artist’s dreams of higher pursuits and travels beyond our humble shores.”

Ellie sucked in a sharp breath at the staggering amount, her pulse pounding with anticipation and giddy hope. She turned to Tyler, practically vibrating with nervous energy and exhilaration. “Oh my. That has to be enough to buy the Elixiron cure ten times over!”

Tyler leaned in close. “Just try to stay calm, El. No matter what happens, I’m proud of you for giving it your all.”

The crowd fell into a reverent hush, every eye trained upon the bearded judge as he cleared his throat once more. The anticipation almost too much to bear. This was it—the moment that would determine if she’d secured the means to purchase her grandfather’s cure.

“This year’s grand prize winner . . .” The man paused, his gaze sweeping over the assembled masses before settling directly on Ellie. His eyes beheld her humble clay creation, the Moon Flower softly radiating beneath its delicate shroud.

Ellie drew in a sharp breath, scarcely daring to hope.

“The entry Moonglow Reverie . . .” He turned back to face the crowd, raising the Triton’s Trumpet to amplify his declaration. “By the talented young artist Eloise Harper!”

A massive cheer exploded from the onlookers, but Ellie barely registered the thunderous roar. She stood dumbstruck, utterly disbelieving even as the news washed over her in crashing waves of euphoria. After everything she’d endured to reach this moment, it was almost too much to process.

“Ellie!” Tyler seized her by the arms, breaking through her stunned trance with an ecstatic laugh. He shook her gently, eyes sparkling with shared triumph. “You did it! You actually won!”

Reality came slamming back into razor-sharp focus. Ellie blinked, then let out a whoop of unbridled joy. She flung her arms around Tyler, squeezing him in a fierce embrace. The two friends jumped and spun in a celebratory dance, drunk on the intoxicating rush of victory.

The stern-faced judge cleared her throat pointedly, piercing through the raucous cheers that still echoed through the square. Ellie and Tyler broke apart, faces flushed but beaming as they approached.

“Young lady.” The woman fixed Ellie with an appraising stare. “A most impressive creation.” Her expression softened ever so slightly into something resembling pride. She reached into her sash and withdrew an impressively bulging coin purse that fairly strained against the confines of its drawstrings.

Beside her, the slim man in a severe black robe leaned in closer, peering intently at the glowing Moon Flower through a jeweler’s loupe. His brow furrowed as he scrutinized every delicate petal and nuanced curve.

The stern judge held out the prize purse, then paused. She glanced sidelong at her robed colleague, arching one severe eyebrow in a silent query.

The slim man lowered his jeweler’s loupe, his frown deepening into a scowl. “That’s no mere clay replica.”

All the blood drained from Ellie’s face as a sickly sense of dread curdled in the pit of her stomach. The reverie of triumph evaporated in an instant, leaving her reeling with stark dismay.

He knows.

Moonglow Reverie
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