Gersius stood motionless his brows heavy over his eyes, trying 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 a human form.”
“We all can, though we seldom choose to do it,” she said while rubbing her nose and brushing tears from her eyes.
“But you are so...” he caught himself before finishing the sentence. He stared for a long moment, unable to believe what he was seeing. Was this Azurastra? Was this the dragon he saw a moment ago? She shook from head to toe as tears welled up in her eyes only to be brushed away with her hand. Her shame was apparent in the way she turned her head, avoiding 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 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 she seemed to understand and glanced 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?”
His face flushed with embarrassment as he averted his eyes. Quickly he reached for the clasps of his cloak, pulling it free and walking around her. “Here, this will help,” 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, pulling it tightly around herself. A slight cry escaped her trembling lips, and she had to wipe her nose again.
He paused to consider his next words. She was emotionally devastated and needed some time to heal, but time wasn't something they had. The war would not wait for this dragon to recover; he needed to move now. He ran his fingers through his wild hair and reluctantly pressured her to move.
“We should begin walking. The sooner we get to camp, the sooner we can get you something to wear,” he said, holding out his hand only to be swatted away in irritation.
“I don't need your help,” she spat, voice strained and full of pain.
“I did not mean to insult you.”
“Everything you have done to me is an insult,” she cried. “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?”
“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 regretfully.
She took a long forlorn look at the cave beside the waterfall tears pouring down her cheeks. He understood the pain she was feeling and wanted to offer some measure of comfort.
“I promise 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.”
With a sigh, he struggled with his feelings. He'd come all this way to find a dragon and save a people, but now he felt like a monster, tearing a woman from her home and marching her into slavery. If he abandoned her, she would languish here, crippled and alone. If he took her with, he was using her to unite an empire she cared nothing about. Neither choice was good, but he consoled himself in the knowledge that he hadn't done this. Another dragon was to blame for her condition, and he tried his best to right the situation. Maybe if he could get her to Calathen? He shook that thought away and focused on what had to be done, even though he hated doing it.
“Please,” he said again, motioning her forward. “This way.”
She took one trembling step and then another. Her sobs renewed as she slowly began to walk.
They traveled across the lonely valley her gentle sobs the only sound made between them. Her arms stretched across her chest, clutching the cloak over her shoulders, while her head was cast down, staring at the ground like a broken soul with nothing left to live for.
When they reached the cave, he lit the second torch carefully leading the way. He watched as she followed, 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, perhaps her eyes could see better in the dark than his.
He tried to speak with 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, but she refused.
Twice she stumbled and fell, but 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. The strain to heal even this minor scratch was exhausting and forced him to test his limits again. Until he had time to rest and pray, this would be all he could do. A soft golden light spread across her skin, and her wound faded away.
He had to take a few minutes to catch his breath and shake away the sapping pain that he felt inside. He prayed they would need no more healing until he recovered. When he felt strong enough to continue, he looked at her as she sat huddled on the ground.
Gersius offered her his hand to help her up, and for the first time, she took it. He looked down at her blazing eyes, and she quickly looked away 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, forcing them to choose a careful path.
They traveled an hour as the world around them slipped deeper into darkness. The sun was low, and he realized the 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 understood her suffering and how fresh the wounds were, but his nerves and patience were growing thin. He desperately needed to get to camp where he could rest and clear his mind. There was only one way they were going to get there in time.
“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 the camp.”
She shook 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 into the nearby trees that dotted the landscape. 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 leaves, and the needles of pine littered the ground, crunching beneath his feet. He had to lift her to carry her over brambles and thorns 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 the camp was hidden. 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 set about digging in his pack. Around them, the land was a sea of shadows. The colors dark and muted as the sun's 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 dropping 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 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 pass through 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 leftover.
“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 listened as he struggled but 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 my soul 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, 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 hurriedly picked up the discarded cloak, 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 had more strength in it.
Gersius shrugged and walked to his pack. Behind it was a pile of sticks 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 and quickly opened his hands to drop the stone into the pile of sticks. It began to change colors, glowing 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 firm 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 knew she was only lashing out, but his god was everything to him, and such words dug to his core. He focused his attention on the fire instead, feeding larger branches into the flames to build it up. Satisfied with the fire, he busied himself with removing his heavy armor. Buckles came loose, and the cool night air rushed in as the breastplate was removed. Carefully he set it down on the ground and started on the buckles on his legs. He glanced at her only briefly to see her watching him through the glare of the campfire, her blue eyes glowing with a pale light,
He cast his armor aside piece by piece until he stood there dressed in only his shirt and pants. She sat there, quietly watching him as he stacked it neatly beside his pack.
At first, she didn't understand what the rodent was doing, then realized the metal skin came off. It seemed a silly thing to take such a protective layer away. Why make yourself more vulnerable? If she had her way, she would never wear this pathetic rodent form. Why did dragons even have this curse? What dragon would want to discard strong scales for weak rodent flesh?
Now that the metal was off, she saw what was underneath. He wore the same things she had on, but now understood how they were supposed to fit. She held up her arms and looked down at the billowing material realizing she looked foolish.
His motion caught her attention, and she looked up again. He now stood rolling the muscles in his back as he pulled the shirt away, hanging it over the top of his armor. The firelight glinted off the worked muscles of his upper body. He looked healthy, she guessed, though she had little to compare him with. His body was broad, well defined, and dotted in places by marks, and 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.
She watched him go and then sat alone by the fire. What was going to happen to her? How would she ever be happy again? Why hadn't he just killed her like she asked? Alone with her thoughts, she began to cry as her eyes looked up to the night sky, she would never fly again.
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 soothe his skin. Again he splashed himself imagining the worries he now carried washing away with the sweat.
He thought of the disaster that was his mission, and the men who paid the price for it. The leadership argued against it, citing he was needed for the war. He insulted them all by invoking a sacred right as a knight captain and demanded the men and time to quest for his god.
The leadership sneered and called for condemnation. Gersius was risking his entire career on this one bold move, so sure it was the right thing to do. When they continued to stand against them, he went a step further, calling them weak and unfit for their positions. He pointed out the law was established by Astikar himself, and they had no authority to deny him.
At last, the highest member of their order, a man who carried the title of Father Abbot, spoke. He silenced the councils and leaders, granting Gersius his demand. It was a half victory, however, and when Gersius provided a list of men, he was flatly refused. The couldn't deny him his right to go, but they could choose who he could take. They restricted the choice to new men who had barely completed their training, and then, only if they volunteered.
Gersius was enraged at the decision. Without veterans, the mission would be far more challenging. He rebuked them publicly, causing some to call for his dismissal. The Father Abbot weighed in again, calming the assembly of leaders. He explained to Gersius that the war was the most pressing matter, and the veterans were needed on the front lines. Surely if Astikar meant for him to go on this quest, he would bless Gersius's efforts, and green soldiers would not hinder him. He added a last remark that struck him as a veiled insult, citing the real fighting would be waiting for him when he returned.
Unhappy with the men he was given, he set out. He took a route that carried him far to the 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 came to know the men and grow fond of them as they traveled. Every one of them was young and hopeful, not yet tainted by the strife or war. To them, this was an adventure, following in the wake of a hero of the order. He spent the nights in camp telling them stories of his campaigns and encouraging their hearts for Astikar. He knew so long as they had pure intentions and strong hearts, they would be successful.
His eyes looked deep into the dark water of the stream as he let out a long sigh. They were all dead, and he felt the loss profoundly in 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, to terrified to go on. Another might have fled to try and hide from the responsibility. He chose to go on, determined to do what he set out to do. He told himself it was for Astikar and the safety of the people. He tried to convince himself that he was brave, but he knew the truth. He went on because of cowardice.
He shook his head as he laughed at the irony of facing a dragon out of cowardice. He faced that dragon because he feared the shame of defeat more than death. If he had returned defeated, the leadership would have torn him to shreds. Mocking him and making a spectacle of his failure. He would lose everything, his rank, his command, his reputation. Even his family would be dishonored by the time they were done with him.
He stared into the dark water, shedding tears of his own. The pressure was on him, and he did what he always did, swallowing the pain, refusing to show weakness. He stole a glance at the camp to see Azurastra squatting down, playing with something on the ground beside the fire.
He shook his head, trying to justify what he was doing. Was going on just furthering his cowardice? Was he justified in taking her away from her home? As he asked these questions, he saw what would happen if he didn't. His people would be slaughtered, and his homelands burned. Everyone he knew and loved dead or worse as the Doan swept across all he knew. Even his faith was at risk, the heart of Astikar's faith was spread across the old empire. The Doan would sweep it aside, burning the temples and killing the priests. It would be a catastrophe on a scale he feared to imagine.
He glanced at Azurastra again, watching as she huddled in his cloak, her eyes red with tears she could no longer cry. She was the price of his people's salvation, this shattered creature crying by the fire.
“What am I going to do now?” he whispered as he watched her. He was alone and alive despite his hopes at death. He found his dragon after all, but she turned out to be a symbol of his own tragic life. A crippled dragon so broken it could no longer fly and begged him to kill it.”
Had he but five of his brothers, they could have combined their healing power, 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. It wouldn't matter if he tried again; his power was spent. Healing the small scrape on her knee had been exhausting, and the blessing of warmth had hurt. By the time he had the strength to try again, it would be too late.
It was a moment of supreme arrogance to believe he could heal her fully. He doubted it from the moment he suggested he could but held on to hope. Was this his cowardice again? Did he think he could return with his dragon after all? Be the symbol the people and the shattered kingdoms needed to unit them all, and give them the will to fight?
He threw more water in his face shaking his head to throw the excess off. He was a fool, and he knew it. He couldn't heal a dragon, especially one that size with such terrible wounds. It was a miracle her legs healed, and the bleeding stopped. Even he wasn't sure how he managed that much.
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 questions raised over the loss of his men, but a dragon would mean victory.
He looked over his shoulder again at his broken 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 saw those wings and realized she was never going to be the dragon he needed, he tried to abandon her. He would run away and forget his failure to return home to face his shame anyway.
He wasn't prepared for what happened next. He had no idea dragons could change from, let alone take one that was human. When she changed, his spinning mind grasped at a new hope. Could he bring her back instead?
He took a few deep breaths before dipping his cloth into the stream. He used it to wipe his arms and shoulders, desperate to cast away the sweat and shame.
He went for a dragon and instead found a 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.
The trees rustled as a breeze descended from the peaks above, blanketing the clearing in a cool alpine breeze. Gersius closed his eyes and let his mind go blank to enjoy the soothing gift.
Could he make something of her, or was this more of his stupidity? Was he piling mistakes on top of his mistakes compounding his troubles? 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 walked back to camp, his mind troubled by what he was doing. Azurastra had moved away from the fire and was now sitting on the rock above it, looking at the sky. As he entered the light of the fire, she glanced at him and then hurriedly looked away.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
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 covered her face with her hands.
He shook his head at the futility of it all. He should have gone back when his men were killed. He should have ended her life and returned to face judgment. He should have never gone on this fool’s quest in the first place!
He sat down, leaning against the rock and listened to her cry. His own eyes wet with tears at the sound as he closed them and settled in to rest. He briefly thought about food but decided he wasn't hungry, all that mattered now was sleep.
“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.
He awoke when the first rays of the sun crept across the meadow. 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 in a ball in his cloak sound asleep. He sighed when he saw her eyes were still red from labored crying.
He took a deep breath as he walked out of the camp, crossed the stream, and headed up the hill on the far side. He was looking for a place to be alone and open his heart. He needed to be connected and feel the warm embrace of his faith.
Yesterday had been a trial of faith and will, for what purpose he did not know. All he knew was his emotions were too close to the surface, and his temper was short. The pain of his failures clawed at the back of his mind keeping him on edge. If Azurastra added to those frustrations, he worried he would break.
He needed to clear his mind and recover his balance. The night's rest had restored some of his strength, opening his heart to his god would restore more. Through prayer, the power of the divine flowed through him and restored what was lost. It would still be a few days before he was fully recovered, but he felt less vulnerable. 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.
He was the source of all her pain now, and she glared at him in rage. He should have finished her off and ended her suffering. He offered her hope instead, saying he was a priest, who could help her. In a moment of weakness, she gave him her true name of power, and he bound her with it.
Even now, she could feel something of him stirring inside. It was his control, the chains of the bind sapping her will with a presence in her mind. When he commanded her to walk to him, she felt the bind take over. Even as her rational mind screamed no, an intense desire to obey him washed over her, feeling the need to do as he said and went right to his arms. What limit did such power have? What command would she not follow? What might he ask her to do? She folded her arms about herself, rocking back and forth at the disturbing image.
She was bound to a rodent who promised to heal her and failed. Her beautiful wings were still mangled and torn, aching whenever she tried to move them. She would never fly again and know the freedom of the open sky. The thought brought renewed tears as the memory of what she once was flooded her heart. Her life was meaningless now, devoid of any purpose or joy. Dragons prided themselves on ruling the skies, flying above the world like royalty. It was her birthright to soar through the kingdom of the sky. Now she was a worm, doomed to crawl in the mud like the rodent who enslaved her.
When he saw the broken wings, he tried to abandon her. She was of no value to him, just a hindrance that would slow him down. In a moment of weakness, she revealed to him her shiva, her human shape, and he changed his mind. She regretted it now, regretted ever having believed a word he had said. 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. 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 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 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 herself and keeping safe.
As she huddled there, listening to the tones of his voice, her mind began to wander. She was in this horribly low position because of another dragon. A dragon who arrogantly demanded her loyalty and her name, then attacked her when she refused. The savageness of that attack took her completely by surprise and immediately played into his hands. He beat her, breaking her wings, her tail, and all but one of her legs. He mocked her as she crawled in the dirt, dying at his feet, then flew to the cave to steal her hoard. She was helpless to stop him, and he took from her all that mattered in this world, her hoard.
Gersius's voice changed again, his song weaving in and out of tones of power. She looked up for only a moment before continuing her thoughts. All of this pain and humiliation she now endured was that dragon's fault. Her mind fixated on his image, burning it into her memory. If she had her wings and her freedom, she would hunt him down and kill him
It was only 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 large 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. Once he had three, he returned to the camp and set them aside, before working to rekindle the fire.
“I see you are awake,” he said as she crawled down from her roost above him. “I hope you had a good night's sleep.”
Once he had the fire going, he picked up the fish 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, did you?”
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 sight 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 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 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, 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, taking 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.
“There is 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 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.
“Ow!” she screamed, stumbling away.
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 the 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 on the hill. 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, gathering the material into his fist until it 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 thought about throwing her in. His anger boiled to the surface as his pain threatened to overwhelm him, but then he heard her start to cry. He realized he’d 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 and gently pulled her 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 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 breathe. “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.
Her mind was too lost in sorrow to fight him, and this rodent form too weak to resist. She struggled to control her sobs as her body trembled in rage and sorrow. Her mind implored her to scream at him and beg him one final time to kill her. As she worked up the will to beg him to end her suffering, she felt something wet on her head. She wiped her eyes and sniffed as she got control and finally heard him crying.
Minutes passed as he held her, his tears gently falling into her hair. She felt such a swell of emotions, rage mixed with fear forming a toxic poison. She wanted to go home, wanted to spread her wings, and fly away. Everything that mattered to her was gone, even her freedom, but what had he said? He said he was sorry for frightening her, and took the blame for what happened. He also said he wished he could know what it was like to fly?
She felt something deep inside, something of him something new. 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, instead feeling 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 and feel alive. It is a dragon's birthright to rule the sky, 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 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. 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 at the temple in Calathen. It was a chance, but he didn't dare tell her, not yet.
He looked 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, and 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. 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 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 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.
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 red star at the base and a black handle. She couldn't 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.
“Coming after a dragon alone,” she said in a quiet tone.
He made a snorting noise and shook his head. “I did not come 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.