Gersius stood motionless his brows heavy over his eyes as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
“You. You are a woman, a human woman?” he finally managed to stammer out.
“I am female if that is what you mean,” she said turning her head to the side trying not to look at him. “But I am no human.” Her words came out as if the term human was filthy in her mouth.
“I had no idea dragons could take human form.”
“We all can, though we seldom choose to do it,” she said as she rubbed her nose with her hand and brushed tears from both eyes. “We don't find this form pleasing.”
“But you are so—“ he caught himself before he finished his sentence. He stared for a long moment as he still didn't believe what he was seeing. Was this Azurastra? Was this woman the dragon he saw a moment ago? She shook from head to toe as tears welled up in her eyes. She repeatedly brushed them away with the back of her hand. It became clear to him that she felt ashamed as she turned her head to avoid his gaze.
“We must find you something to wear,” he said after a long pause. “You can not travel like that. You must be cold.”
“I don't feel the cold,” she said. “I am an ice dragon. It doesn't matter what form I choose to take; I don't feel the cold.”
“Still, where I need to take you a naked woman will lead to trouble.”
It was then that she seemed to understand and glanced up at his eyes for a second before clutching her arms even more tightly over her body.
“Stop staring at me!” she demanded. “How much humiliation must you make me endure?”
He suddenly felt embarrassed and quickly reached for the clasps on his cloak. He pulled it off his shoulder and held it out.
“Here take this,” he said wrapping it around her shaking form. “This will do until we get back to where I camped. I have an extra shirt and pants in my pack.”
Her hands carefully grabbed at the edges of the cloak, and she pulled it around herself. A slight cry escaped her trembling lips, and she had to wipe her nose again.
“We should start walking, the sooner we get to camp the sooner we can get you something to wear,” he said holding out his hand to her.
She swatted his hand away in irritation.
“I don't need your help,” she said her voice still strained and full of pain.
“I did not mean to insult you.”
“Everything you have done to me is an insult,” she spat. “You bound me. Left me a cripple, and forced me to take this inferior form.”
“I was not trying to insult you. I was trying to help you.”
“You call this help?” she cried.
“My lady please, we do not have time for this.”
“I am not your lady,” she barked at him her voice going thin. “I am your slave.”
He wasn't sure what to say to her to calm her down. She had been through much suffering, and the binding was probably the greatest of them. She was a dragon, a creature of majestic might and power and she was now bound, and helpless to a man. She was magically sealed and forced to serve his will. She would not be able to raise so much as a finger against him. That didn't include swatting his hand he mused.
“Please, we have to go,” he said again.
She took a long forlorn look at the cave beside the waterfall tears pouring down her cheeks.
He noticed the gaze and understood the pain she must be feeling. “I promise you. You will come back. I will make sure you come home again.”
She choked on a cry and shook her head. “There is nothing for me to come back to.”
He sighed and felt torn inside. He had come all this way to find her and bring her back. Now he felt like what he was doing was monstrous. He fought to clear his mind and focus on what he had to do even though he hated to do it.
“Please,” he said again motioning her forward. “This way.”
She took one trembling step and then another. Her sobs continued as she slowly began to walk.
They traveled across the lonely valley saying nothing, her gentle cries the only sound made between them. Her arms were stretched across her chest clutching the cloak over her shoulders.
When they reached the cave, he lit the second torch and carefully led the way inside. He watched her as she followed him. She lagged behind him taking small steps and always looking down. He made sure he didn't get ahead to keep her within the light of the torch. He noted the blue light in her eyes and the occasional flicker of blue flame that danced on their surface. Even her tears glowed briefly as they rolled down her cheeks. He began to wonder if she needed the light of his torch. Perhaps her eyes could see better in the dark than his.
He tried to speak to her, but she never responded. She kept her head cast down looking at the floor and gently sobbed. When they finally reached the cave opening on the other side, he offered to help her negotiate the rocky slope down, but she refused.
Twice she stumbled and fell, but she refused his assistance. When she slipped and hurt her knee, she screamed at how weak and frail this form was.
“How do you stand it?” she cried. “How do you rodents endure being so weak?”
He knelt beside her and laid his hand on her knee offering another prayer. He felt a strain as he tried to heal so soon after being drained. It felt like his connection to the divine was overstretched and fading. He closed his eyes and pushed over the limits again, trading his pain to heal hers. A soft golden light spread across her skin, and her wound faded away.
He had to take a few minutes himself now to catch his breath and shake away the sapping pain that he felt inside. He prayed they would need no more healing tonight. When he felt strong enough, he got up and looked at her as she sat huddled on the ground.
He offered her his hand again to help her up, and for the first time, she took it. He looked down at her blazing eyes, and she quickly looked away from him as if ashamed of what she was doing. He helped her to her feet and helped her negotiate the rocky slope of the mountain until they reached the flatter ground. Even here there were many large boulders and stones, and he had to pick his steps carefully.
They traveled for nearly an hour as the world around them slipped deeper into darkness. The sun was getting low, and he realized his campsite was still over an hour away. Looking at Azurastra, he felt his heart sink. She stepped carefully over the broken ground her bare feet testing each step. She was moving too slowly, and they were never going to reach camp by nightfall.
“My lady,” he said as she stepped over a large rock.
She glanced up at him with red-rimmed eyes.
“My lady the sun is setting. We must reach camp before nightfall.”
She didn't respond only continued to pick her way across the broken ground.
“Azurastra,” he said in a stronger voice. This time she stopped and looked right at him.
“We have to go faster. Come, let me carry you,” he said holding his arms open.
“Never!” she hissed sounding more like a dragon than a human.
“We have to go faster! There are wolves in the woods!” he argued.
“Let them eat me then! I don’t want any more of your help!”
He was growing tired of her petty attitude. He understood she had been through much suffering, and he was now dragging her away from her home, but he found his patience with her wearing thin.
“Azurastra,” he said again, this time more commanding. “Come here. I will carry you.”
She glared at him and resisted the command, but the binding compelled her. She felt the chains of the bind tearing at her mind forcing her to want to obey him. She picked her way over to him shuttering with each step as she tried to resist the impulse.
“How dare you command me!” she hissed at him again.
“I tried to ask your permission,” he said wrapping his arms around her and scooped her up. “I have no choice. The hills are too dangerous at night. We must reach camp.”
She shook in his arms as he cradled her to his chest, using the cloak as a cushion between her and his armor. She let out a quiet sob as she shrunk inward pulling into a tight ball as if to crawl away from him.
He carried her over the rocks and into the nearby trees that dotted the landscape at the base of the mountains. As he held her quietly sobbing form to his chest, he wondered if this was really a dragon. This broken, crying creature lacked the ferocity and terror that a dragon inspired. Even now he could feel her gasping sobs in his arms though she struggled to make them silent.
The trees grew denser as he carried her on. The smell of earth and wood came to his senses as he picked his way through the mossy trunks. Fallen and leaves and the needles of pine littered the ground and crunched beneath his feet. He had to lift her to carry her over brambles and thorns in places and struggled to hold his balance when he had to descend a steep hill.
Finally, he passed through the wall of trees into the meadow where he had his camp. He spotted the nearby stream and followed it to the rocky outcropping. There hidden in the shadow of the rock was his backpack and bedroll. Carefully he set her down and quickly set about digging in his pack. Around them, the land was a sea of shadows. The colors were all dark and muted as the suns rays began to dip behind the mountains.
“Here,” he said handing her a simple wool shirt and brown pants. "Put these on." He paused until she began to look at the clothing. "I will wait on the other side of the rock until you finish," he added walking off to give her some privacy.
She waited until he was out of sight before she dropped the cloak from her shoulders. Slowly she struggled to get into the pants and shirt. She fought with the shirt making several attempts and growing frustrated. She briefly considered tearing it to shreds instead of trying to wear it. She had to hold the garment up and look it over carefully to understand. She tried twice more before finally getting it right. The pants were much easier but far too large. She had to hold a handful of the material at her waist to keep them on, and even then they looked like she had bags on each leg. She was not at all comfortable in the clothing, and she pulled at the material trying to make it feel better.
“Are you done?” he called from the far side of the rock.
“Yes,” was all she said.
He came back around to see her standing there, a shirt three times her size draped over her like a sheet, and a pair of pants so loose and poorly fitting that even a beggar wouldn't have worn them.
“Why do I have to wear this?” she asked with contempt.
“It is only to preserve your modesty. I will get you something more appropriate when I can.”
“What is modesty?” she asked.
“In this human form, you are naked. You cannot go into human lands like this. People will immediately take notice of you, and it will attract attention. When we get to the towns and cities, I need you to be able to pass through them safe and unnoticed. You will most assuredly not be safe if you are naked.”
“You rodents don't even have the good sense to grow enough hair to cover yourselves when you clearly want to be covered,” she said insultingly.
“I need you to wear those until I can get you clothing that fits,” he said growing tired of her complaints.
She tugged at the hem of the pants to show him how poorly they did fit. “How am I supposed to walk in this?” she demanded to know.
“I have a belt,” he said reaching back into his pack. He produced a leather strap and walked toward her. “Hold of the hem with both hands,” he instructed her.
She did as she was told and he wrapped the leather band around her waist, twice. He seemed to struggle with it when he realized just how much belt he had left over.
“You are a very thin human for such a big dragon,” he said puzzling the solution out.
“My human form mirrors my Solus,” she said.
“What is a Solus?” Gersius asked confused.
“You rodents know nothing of the spirit world,” she said irritated. “It is my life force, my energy, it is a reflection of who I am,” she stated as she struggled to hold up the pants.
Gersius was pleased that she was talking with more strength and fewer tears. Insulting and belittling the "rodents," as she called them, seemed to bring her new life.
“My form is a reflection of what my solus energy looks like,” she clarified.
Gersius finally gave up with the belt.
“This is not going to work.”
He went back to his pack and discarded the belt. He turned the pack to the side to reveal a small loop of rope strapped to it. He pulled it free and walked back with the rope in hand.
She shook, and her eyes went wide as she watched him he approach with the rope. Her mouth fell open, and she reached up with one hand as if to push him away.
“You have me spirit bound!” she pleaded. “You don't need to tie me!”
He stopped in his steps and looked at her with a stone expression. “This is not to tie you,” he said shaking the rope in his hands. “I just need something I can cut to make you a smaller belt.”
His explanation didn’t seem to help, and she looked down at the rope again.
“What is a belt?”
He sighed. “Let me show you.”
She continued to shake as he wrapped the cord around her waist and pulled it tight. He measured a foot more than was required and cut it with a knife from his waist. Pulling the rope, he tied it in a knot at her stomach and stepped back.
“There, that should hold until I can find something more suitable.”
She let go of the hem carefully, and the pants slid down her hips a little hanging low on her waist, but the rope held it firmly in place. She went to walk, but several inches of the material now dragged on the ground around her feet.
“There's only one solution for that,” he said while pulling his knife back out. He cut the excess material away exposing her feet below the ankles. “I am going to have to find you some shoes,” he said looking at her feet. “I can not carry you all the way to Calathen.”
“I never asked you to carry me,” she said with an angry tone.
“A few long days of walking on your bare feet and you will,” he said moving away from her.
She went silent at his words and suddenly felt frightened. She looked down at the discarded cloak and picked it back up wrapping herself in it and pulling it closed.
“Are you cold?” he asked when he noticed what she was doing.
“I told you I don't get cold! Why do I have to repeat myself to you?” Her voice was strained, but it had a little more strength in it.
Gersius shrugged and walked back to his pack. Behind it was a pile of stick and branches, he had prepared beforehand. He began pulling them out and stacking them in a neat pile. He knelt before the sticks and took up a small stone. Clasping it between his palms, he whispered to it. He quickly opened his hands and dropped the stone into the pile of sticks. It began to change colors and glow with orange light. The sticks around it began to smoke and smolder. In an instant, a flame appeared, and the sticks started to burn.
“You are a fire shaper?” Azurastra asked watching him from the side.
“It is a small blessing of warmth,” he said not bothering to look at her. “If you channel the warmth into something tiny and strong, like a stone, for example, you can cause it to become hot enough to burn.”
“But that is fire shaping,” she said more insistent.
“That is a divine blessing. I told you I am a priest,” he said a strong tone in his voice. “I am not a shaper or a weaver. I do not force magic to do what I want; I pray for blessings.”
“And the divines force magic to do what you want for you,” she said mockingly.
He eyed her with contempt and shook his head. He turned back to the fire a moment and began to add the larger branches building the fire as the sticks burned. When he was satisfied, he got up and walked over to his pack still shaking his head at her callous words.
He turned his back on her and pulled at the straps of his armor. He loosened the buckles and pulled the heavy breastplate over his head. Carefully he set it down on the ground and started on the buckles of on his legs.
Azurastra’s blue eyes glowed with a pale light as she watched him through the glare of the campfire.
He cast his armor aside piece by piece until he stood there dressed in only his shirt and pants. She understood now how they were supposed to fit, and realized she looked foolish in hers. He rolled the muscles in his back as he pulled the shirt off and hung it over the top of his armor.
The firelight glinted off the worked muscles of his upper body. He was strong by human standards and shaped by a lifetime of wearing heavy armor. She noted his body was doted in places by raised marks, scars from wounds long since healed.
He reached into his pack and took out a thick rag and walked past the fire toward the stream.
“Where are you going?” she asked as he walked into the darkness beyond.
“I want to wash. Wearing armor all day is hot and uncomfortable,” he replied as he walked away.
Gersius knelt at the shore of the stream cupping his hands in the water. He threw the water in his face and let its refreshing cool bite sooth his skin. Again he splashed himself imagining the worries he now carried washing away with the sweat.
He thought of the men placed under his command for this mission. He had to evoke a sacred rite of his rank to get these men. It was his right as a Knight Captain to demand men and time to go in a quest to honor their God. In doing this, he had insulted the leadership of his order. The old men had sneered at him for daring to evoke such a right. Gersius had called them weak, and flatly told them they could not deny him. They couldn't of course, but they could decide who those men would be. They restricted the choice to new men who had barely completed their training, and then, only if they volunteered.
Gersius got the thirty men he wanted, but they were raw recruits. He had been denied access to the veterans by the Father Abbot, who stated unequivocally that the elite were needed on the front where the real fighting would be. Gersius hadn't missed the emphasis on the word real, or the implication that was made.
Unhappy with the men he was given he set out. He intentionally took a route that carried him farther south away from the main roads. He didn't want to be seen in any major towns or cities where spies of the enemy might report his position. Whenever possible, they traveled cross country and made directly for the forest of the Greenwall.
He grew fond of these men as they traveled. Young men not yet tainted by war or strife they still had the enthusiasm of youth, and he found their excitement to be infectious. He set himself to leading these men and shaping them into good servants of their God. He knew so long as they had pure intentions and strong hearts they would all be successful.
Most of them were now dead, all but a single man he sent back with a report. He felt the burden of their loss profoundly on his soul. It was a deep guilt that haunted him whenever he had a moment to think about it. Even now he could hear those screams in the night begging him to save them.
Another man would have given up and gone back. Another man would have been too terrified to go on, but he had done just that, pushed on determined to do what he had set out to do. He realized he had pushed on not because he believed in the purpose of his quest or that it would be successful. No, he had pushed on in plain, simple cowardice.
He shook his head as he laughed at the irony of that thought. He had faced a dragon out of cowardice. He had faced a dragon because he feared the shame of defeat more than death at the hands of the beast.
He stared into the dark water and shed some tears of his own. He stole a glance over his shoulder at the camp to see Azurastra was now squatting down, playing with something on the ground beside the fire.
He shook his head as his mind tried to justify his existence. His homelands were burning, and his people being slaughtered. His friends were out on some miserable, bloody battle line suffering and dying. The leaders of his order felt his mission was a foolish waste of resources, and the men they entrusted to him were all dead. No, he hadn't continued the quest in the hopes of redemption. He hadn't pushed on in any faith or belief that he was divinely ordained to succeed. He had pushed on in the hopes that he would join his fallen men. He never believed he would survive an encounter with a dragon alone. He went into that valley to die.
He glanced over his shoulder again. Azurastra hadn't moved, but now she sat huddled in his cloak her eyes red with tears she could no longer cry.
Here he was now, alone and alive. He had found his dragon, or rather he thought he had found a symbol of his own tragic life. A dragon so broken and wounded it had begged him to kill it. A dragon so crippled and maimed it could no longer fly and could hardly walk.
Had he but five of his brothers they could have formed a healing rite. Could have combined their power to focus on the healing and the dragon would be whole. Her wounds were far too great for one man, and soon too much time would pass to heal them. They would forever be beyond any mortal power to restore. He could try again, but he knew he had overspent his strength already. Just healing the small scrape on her knee had been exhausting. Even the blessing of warmth was a strain.
In a moment of supreme arrogance, he thought that maybe he could do it. Perhaps he could return with his dragon after all. He could be the symbol the people and the shattered kingdoms needed. The symbol to unite them and give them the will to fight.
He was a fool, and he threw more water in his face shaking his head to throw the excess off. He couldn't heal her, and he knew it. It was a miracle that her legs had healed, a miracle that her bleeding had stopped. Even he wasn't sure how he had managed that much. The pain from channeling so great an amount of power overwhelmed him and threw him back.
He should have killed her, ended her torment, but no. He saw some chance to redeem himself and return a hero. He saw a chance to avoid the shame of defeat and the scorn of his leadership. There would still be some question raised over the loss of his men, but a dragon would mean victory.
He looked over his shoulder again at his so-called dragon. What victory was his leadership going to see in her? What heroic symbol were the people going to rally behind? When she crawled through the golden gates of Calathen crying as she dragged her mangled wings, what triumph was he going to claim? When he had seen his failure and realized she was never going to be the dragon he needed he choose to abandon her.
He wasn't prepared for what had happened next. He had no idea dragons could take a human form. When she changed, he lost sight of everything he had been thinking and hoping. When a woman stepped out of those mists, he knew that all his plans were for rot.
He took a few deep breaths and dipped his cloth into the water and used it to wipe his arms and shoulders.
He was the last of a failed quest with a wounded, broken woman who hated him. How was he going to return with her? What was he going to tell the Father Abbot? This frail, crying child of a woman was his dragon?
He was sure she could change back, and he tried to comfort himself with that. But what would they think when they saw a dragon with twisted and mangled wings? What would they think when she cried before them? She would never be the symbol of strength and hope the people needed. He would never be the hero that delivered it.
He shook his head and fought back a wave of frustration. He had to try though, had to try and make something of this dragon.
Was this more of his stupidity? Was he piling more mistakes on top of his mistakes? Was bringing her back a symbol of his desperation and his fear? All he had were questions. Questions he could not answer because he no longer trusted his own judgment. He knew only one thing for sure. He had gone into that valley to die, and even in this task, he had failed.
He stood up and walked back to camp. Azurastra had moved away from the fire and was now sitting on top of the rock above it looking up at the sky. He walked back through the darkness and into the light of the fire.
“What are you doing?” he asked her.
She sniffled and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “I used to be able to fly,” she said. “I want to fly again.”
She descended into low deep sobs and turned to look away from him.
He shook his head at the futility of it all. He should have ended her life. He should have returned and faced judgment. He should have never gone on this fool’s quest in the first place!
He sat down leaning himself against the rock underneath her and listened to her cry. His own eyes rimmed with tears at the sound and he closed them and settled in to rest. He briefly thought about food but decided he wasn’t hungry.
"I am so sorry my brothers, I am so sorry my people, and I am so sorry Azurastra," he said under his breath as his weary eyes began to find the blissful peace of sleep.
When the first rays of the sun crept across the meadow, he awoke. With a yawn, he stretched his limbs in the morning cold and slowly got to his feet. He looked around for Azurastra and found her still atop the rock curled up in a ball in his cloak sound asleep. He sighed when he saw her eyes still ringed red from labored crying.
He took a deep breath as he walked out of the camp. He crossed the little stream and headed up the hill on the far side. He needed to feel connected, needed to feel the warm embrace of his faith.
He had been tested yesterday. To what ends or purpose he did not know. His mind was fragmented and uncertain, and he felt his temper with Azurastra still burning short. The pains of his failures weighed heavily on him.
He needed to clear his mind and recover his balance. The night's rest had restored some of his strength. Now he needed to open his heart to his God. Through prayer, he would restore his link to the divine and recover more. It would still be a few days before he was fully recovered, and he felt vulnerable in such a state. He picked a spot on the hill that was clear of brush and sank to his knees.
Azurastra awoke to the sound of a distant chant on the wind. She lifted her head and looked out over the meadow. There she saw Gersius kneeling in the grass his head back his arms held out with palms turned up. He was chanting in a language she did not understand. His voice clear and strong carried a strange power across the open expanse.
She glared at him with rage. He was the source of all her pain now. He should have finished her off, should have ended her suffering. He had offered her hope, said he was a priest, said he could help her. She had given him her true name, her name of power and he had bound her with it.
Even now she could feel the chains of the bind. Inside she could feel something stirring, something of him. It was his control, his presence in her mind. When he had commanded her to walk to him, she had felt the bind take over. Even as her rational mind screamed no she felt an intense desire to obey him. She felt the need to do as he said. What limit did such power have? What command would she not follow? She couldn't help but wrap her arms around herself and rock back and forth at the though.
He bound her and then failed to heal her. Her beautiful wings were still mangled and torn. She would never fly again, never know the freedom of the open sky. The thought brought renewed tears to her eyes. Her life was meaningless now, devoid of any purpose or joy. What dragon would want to live life as a flightless lizard? To soar the sky was a birthright! Dragons prided themselves on being able to rise above all others, to rule the skies! Now she was a worm, doomed to crawl around in the mud like the rodent who enslaved her.
He had failed to heal her fully and decided to abandon her when he saw her broken wings. He would leave her behind because she would be a hindrance to him. She would be too slow to keep pace with a man walking. He had declared her useless and of no value even to him.
In a moment of weakness, she had revealed to him her shiva, her human projection. She regretted it now, regretted ever having believed a word he had said.
Now he intended to march her across the lands as a prize, a living trophy of his conquests. She knew the other rodents would mock her, and throw stones at her. She would be helpless to defend herself bound to him as she was. He would use the bind to command her to perform for them, and she would be sickened as it made her desire to do so.
Far off his voice picked up a new tempo and it snapped her out of her angry thoughts. There was a magic in the rhythm of it, a harmony of divine power. She scowled at the thought of it as the anger returned. She was power manifest, an ice dragon, worthy of being feared and worshiped alike. Still, she was surprised his voice which when spoken sounded coarse and rough, could hold such a rhythmic smoothness. It held a beauty she had never encountered before and was perhaps the first thing about him she begrudgingly liked.
A tear dripped from her eye as she huddled back into his cloak. For some reason, she felt some measure of security in it. She closed her eyes and sniffed as she wrapped it around herself like she would her wings, covering her and keeping her safe.
She let her mind wander as she sat there. Her life was over, and she was a slave now, a trophy to be displayed and paraded about. She had been brought so horribly low by another dragon! She curled her lips back in rage at the thought. Another dragon had attacked her, tortured her, and stolen her hoard. It had mocked her as she crawled on the ground broken and dying before flying off to leave her to bleed to death. All of this pain she now suffered was this dragons fault. That she was bound now was just one more reason to hate him. If she had her wings and her freedom, she would hunt him down and kill him.
It was only then, as she shook with rage that she noticed the chanting had stopped. She looked out over the meadow and saw him walking along the stream a long stick in his hands. He speared the water a time or two, and she wondered what he was doing. Eventually, he pulled his stick out to reveal a fish flapping at its end. He cast it aside and worked at the water again, stabbing and cursing from the sound of it as he tried to catch more. He caught several more and gathered them up. He returned to the camp with three fish and set about rekindling the fire.
“I see you are awake,” he said as she crawled down from her roost above him. “I hope you had a good nights sleep.”
Once he had the fire going, he set the fish aside and started to work on them with his knife.
“Is that for,” she started to say and hesitated. “Is any of that for me?”
“Are you hungry?” he asked turning to look at her with a slight smile on his lips. “You did not think I could eat three fish?”
She looked down at the fish on the rock between them.
“So I can have one?” she asked timidly.
“Of course, just let me—” but he never finished his words.
She reached out and took hold of a fish with both hands and hungrily sank her teeth into it.
“What are you doing?” Gersius said surprised.
She looked up at him with a mouth full of fish. “You said I could haff one.”
“Yes but the fish is raw,” he said. “I have not even gutted it yet.”
She took another bite and hungrily chewed it. “What is raw?”
Gersius almost laughed at the site of her. “We humans prefer to cook our fish before we eat them.”
“Why?” she said taking another bite.
"Because we are not dragons I suppose," he said holding out his hand. "Here give it to me; let me show you."
“You said I could have one,” she replied clutching the fish to her chest.
“I just want to show you what I mean. You can still have the fish.”
She took another bite unwilling to part with it.
“Fine, I will cook the other two and let you try one of those,” he said with a wave of his hand and turned away from her shaking his head.
She watched him as he scraped the fish removing the scales. She had to admit that they were sticking in her teeth and crunched uncomfortably in her mouth. He then cut them open and removed the organs and cast them aside. She wondered if he would mind if she ate them since he obviously wasn't going to.
He rested the split fish halves on a stick and hung it over the low fire. She didn't understand what he was trying to do as the fish sizzled in the heat. She looked back at him as she began to struggle with the bones of the fish she had. Her jaws were human jaws not those of a dragon and the bones resisted her ability to chew them.
“How do you weaklings eat?” she said pulling a bone from her mouth.
“I was trying to tell you earlier,” he answered while shuffling through his backpack.
“Your kind can't even chew its food.”
“We do not eat the bones,” Gersius said pulling a small jar from his pack.
“What a waste,” she added tossing another bone aside.
“I see you are in better spirits this morning.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” she said.
“Therese more fire in your belly,” he said bending over the fish and sprinkling something on them.
“There is no fire in my belly. I am an ice dragon,” she said in a mocking tone.
“It is an expression. It means you are more alive, more energetic.”
“I had a good sleep,” she said casting her eyes down. She shuffled her feet and glanced back up. “What are you doing to those fish?”
“I am cooking them.”
“Why?” she asked again.
He looked as if he was unsure how to answer then motioned with his hand for her to come forward. “Come here.”
She stepped forward slowly and walked closer to the fire.
“Use your nose and take a deep breath, fill it with the smoke.”
She looked at him uncertain but did as she was told and leaned a little closer. She took a long deep inhale and filled her nose with a pleasing scent. She had never smelled anything like it before, and she suddenly felt even more hungry.
She looked down at the fish and knew the pleasing scent was coming from them. She realized she wanted to eat a cooked one and she lost control of herself. She reached down and grabbed at a fish over the fire. With a cry of pain, she dropped the fish into the coals and staggered back shaking her hand up and down.
Gersius scrambled after her trying to grab hold of her hand.
“My hand!” she wailed tears coming to her eyes.
Gersius tried to take her hand to heal the burn, but she fought with him and pushed him away.
“Give me your hand you fool girl!” Gersius shouted his temper finally breaking.
She flailed about forcing him to grab her and fight her for her hand.
“My hand is burned!” she cried.
“Shhhh,” he said to her pressing her hand between his.
His voice descended into a low intonation like the chant she had heard. She felt a warm tingling spread through her hand, and the pain subsided. When he stopped chanting she quickly pulled her hand away and turned it over before her eyes. It was just her hand, no burn, no marks.
“You are like a child!” came a harsh voice snapping her out of her examination.
She looked up to see anger on the face of Gersius, and the look made her uncomfortable.
“You behave like a foolish little girl,” he said again turning to see if he could salvage the fish dropped in the fire.
“How dare you talk to me like that rodent!” she yelled back angrily. “I am above you, high and mighty! I am an ice dragon, I am—” she never finished her words as Gersius whirled around and raced toward her. The look of anger on his face made her stagger back, but she hit the rock wall. He grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and gathered the material into his fist until the collar was choking her.
He dragged her off marching her past the fire and down the hill to the stream. He stopped at the edge and forced her down leaning her face over the water.
“Look down there, what do you see?” he demanded. “Do you see a dragon or a fool girl?”
She looked down into the water and saw her reflection on its surface. She had a panicked look on her face, and her eyes were full of fear. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to see or say so she did the only thing that made sense and started to cry again.
Gersius held her over the water, and he thought about throwing her in; then he heard her start to cry. He realized he had gone too far, that he had overreacted. The pain and frustration of his failures had come rushing out, and she had born the brunt of it. He loosed his grip on her and pulled her gently back away from the water.
“I, I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you.”
She wrapped her arms around herself and continued to cry.
“Look there is still a fish left. I will show you how to eat it, so you do not get burned,” he said trying to soothe her.
“I don't want the fish!” she wailed her mouth open in uncontrolled sobs. “I just want to go home, I just want to fly home!” she cried falling to her knees.
Gersius knelt beside her and looked out over the water. He struggled to think of something to say. Even here he had failed. He had allowed his pain to cloud his mind and make him angry. He realized that he blamed her for not being the dragon he needed. He realized he was not the man he thought he was. There were no words of comfort he could offer her, but at the very least he could share her pain.
“I wish I knew what it was like to fly,” he said softly. “We humans always look up at the birds and wonder what it must be like, to soar through the heavens.”
She descended into short gasping wails as he spoke.
“It must be amazing to see the world from above, to look down on it all. I wish I knew, wish I could appreciate it as you do.” He paused and gave her time to breath. “I am just a man. I can not see the world through your eyes, or appreciate the loss you must feel. Still, I can see the pain of it clearly on your face. I can understand that you are hurting in a way that can not be described in words.” He paused again and listened to her struggling to control her gasps.
“I am sorry Azurastra. I am so very sorry I yelled at you. I am not like you, not strong and sure. I let my fears and worries cloud my thoughts, and I took them out on you.”
He waited as her breathing started to smooth and her sobbing grew farther apart.
“There is only one thing I can do for you,” he said putting his arm around her shoulders. He pulled her to him and held her fast to his chest. He did the only thing he could think to do and held her.
“I am so sorry,” he said his own eyes tearing up.
She struggled to control her sobs as he pulled her in tight. She fought him at first, felt outraged that he was touching her, but couldn't break his embrace.
She felt weak and vulnerable in this rodent form. It had no strength or power to it. She wanted to tear him in half, and her rage mixed with her sorrow and made her body tremble. She wanted to scream at him, to tell him to kill her and end this suffering when she felt something wet on her head.
She sniffed and wiped her own eyes. She got control of her emotions long enough to hear him crying too.
Minutes passed as he held her, his tears gently falling into her hair. She felt such a swell of emotions, rage mixed with fear and formed a toxic poison. She did want to go home. She wished she could spread her wings and fly off. Then she thought of his words, how he said he was sorry and took the blame for what had happened. How he wished he could know what it was like to fly.
She felt something again, something of him deep inside her. It came from the chains of the bind forcing her to share this moment with him somehow. Whatever this feeling was it was entirely new for her, and she could not resist it. She didn’t even mind his arm holding her, felt a strange sense of comfort in it. Again she thought of his words, how he wished to know what it was like to fly.
“It is the most amazing thing,” she said in a strained voice.
He lifted his head when she spoke. “What is?” he asked.
“Flying,” she said. “To feel the wind on your wings, and see the earth passing by in a blur.” She rubbed her nose and took a staggered breath. “I liked, I liked the clouds. When you get above them, and they block your view of the ground. It's as if there is nothing but endless sky.” She sobbed as she remembered it and he held her until she could continue. “I would fly for hours, just to be free, to feel alive. It is a dragons birthright to rule the air, to fly and soar above it all. I have no reason to live without my wings, I don't want to live,” she said breaking down into sobs again.
“Shhh,” Gersius said rocking her in his arms. “I do not know why any of this happened to you, and I hate what I must do. I hate that I must take you away from your home.”
She pulled away from him and looked up into his eyes. She saw that his eyes now were rimmed with tears, tears for her, for her loss. She decided to ask him the question that burned in her heart.
“Why didn't you heal my wings?”
“Because I could not. I was not strong enough,” he answered. He put his hands to her shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “If I could heal your wings I swear to you I would. I would never have left you like this if I could have prevented it. When one channels the power of divine healing the power focuses on the most critical injuries first, the life-threatening ones. The more injured a person is, the more power a priest has to channel. It takes a toll on the priest. There is only so much one priest can do, to push beyond those limits, is to risk death.”
“Can you try again? Can you do it now?” she pleaded with him desperately.
“Azurastra, the healing has to be done when the wounds are fresh. Once the body begins to set the healing will not see it as an injury. It is why we can not regrow a lost limb, or a blinded eye if the injury is even a few hours old. I am afraid too much time has already passed.”
“I want my wings back,” she whimpered looking away.
“I want you to have your wings back,” he said still holding her shoulders. “But I do not know how to give them to you, maybe there—” He paused not wanting to give her hope where there might be none. Still, he knew there might be a way. If he could get her to his brothers, if he could get her to the temple in Calathen, it was a chance, but he didn't dare tell her yet.
He looked up at the sun as it began to climb the sky. “I am sorry I shouted at you. I am sorry I have to drag you away from your home. I am sorry any of this happened to you.” He took a deep breath. “I do what I must do, what duty demands and duty demands that I bring you to Calathen,” he said. “We cannot stay here much longer. We have to be on the road soon.”
“Why?” she asked still not looking at him.
“Because I need you in Calathen,” was all he said.
Slowly he stood up and held his hand down to her. She took it begrudgingly, and he helped her up. She walked back up the hill trailing behind him with her eyes cast down, her breath still quiet sobs.
He packed up his backpack and stomped out the fire. The fish on the stick had blackened in the heat, and neither one of them touched it. He glanced again at the sun as it made its way across the sky and then looked out into the trees.
“We need to head west through the forest for the better part of the day, we should reach the logging road before sundown,” he said not looking back at her.
He then turned and started to put his armor back on, working his way up from his boots to his helmet. His armor was a polished silver color, emblazoned with the red emblem of Astikar in his left breast. On the right shoulder was a golden sun with two white diamonds in it. Further gold decorated the edges of the plates.
She watched him as he worked to put the armor in place and then picked up his sword. It was a long straight blade with a sort of red star at the base and a black handle. She could not see the blade itself as it was hidden inside a leather case that he fastened to his belt. He left his helmet off, putting it in his backpack instead. His pack went over his back, and he pulled the straps tight.
“I am sorry, but we have to be going,” he said.
She stood there her eyes still cast down her toe pushing a small stone across the ground.
“You are very brave,” she said not looking up.
“Why do you say that?” he asked as he turned to face her.
“Going after a dragon alone,” she said in a quiet tone.
He made a snorting noise and shook his head.
“I did not go alone,” he said, his voice full of pain, and walked off.
Support "Dragon Knight Prophecy"
- Eastern United States- Thats all your getting.
- newbie writer, wise old story teller.
I am a fan of fantasy and romance stories. I have been writing from a very early age and love to tell stories. I lack a good education in grammar however and I have been struggling to teach myself.
I love dragons and have for years been working on a story where they featured heavily. This is the culmination of that work. I hope it measures up to some kind of standard and that you the reader deeply enjoy it.
I have no awards to brag about. I have no education to brag about. I haven’t written any award-winning books or articles in major publications. I am just an obscure storyteller shouting his story from the void in the hopes that somebody will hear it.
Thank you so much for reading my story. Sharing what I have and finding a way to focus on it for the future is all I ever wanted to do.