So this was the second part of the dragon adventure series I wrote for my boyfriend. Part one was written for his 19th birthday, and part two was written for his 20th. It’s full of all the things we love: fantasy, dragons, magic, mages and gods. It was lots of fun to write, especially as I wrote it with one audience in mind. This is still all for you, Ben.
“Stop fidgeting,” I laughed as the not-so-small dragon squirmed under my oily hands. Don’t get me wrong, I loved living on the very top of a mountain where no bad guys or gods could find us, but the constant dry wind did horrendous things to a young dragon’s skin and, as the so called Dragon Lord, it fell to me to keep her well oiled, twice daily. Not an easy job. The size of a large pony, Kaida had grown greatly over the last year. Every day she seemed to grow another head taller, yet Faith continued to reassure me that she was still a baby.
“Pff, baby my…oof,” I grunted as Kaida broke free with a ‘gentle’ nudge of her head and took off towards the mountains edge. Her skeletal wings flapped madly as she attempted to do the seemingly impossible, lift a few dozen tonnes into the air. With a sigh, I pushed my hair from my eyes with the back of my hand and watched in bemusement.
Watch! Watch! Watch! Kaida’s voice squealed in my head as she panted and puffed. I was used to hearing voices in my head and Kaida’s was usually a chaotic rush of words, images and smells, but right now her focus was absolute.
She reached the edge and, for a brief instant, her scales glinted an oily pale gold in the setting sun before she vanished from sight. My heart leapt to my throat despite knowing that the young dragon was safe.
“You okay, Kaida?” I called out to her anyway, strolling to the edge to peer down at the disgruntled dragon caught in a giant spider web of my own creation.
Almost! Did you see? Did you see?
Gently, the web retracted and deposited Kaida beside me where I immediately grabbed the squirming dragon by her neck frill before she could escape again.
“Every day you get closer, my dearest, but right now,” I ignored the pleading blue eyes, “I have to finish rubbing in this gunk before you begin to flake and then flying will be completely out of the question.” I tried to sound authoritative, but couldn’t quite pull it off. Unlike Faith. She scolded with practiced ease.
“What are you calling gunk?” The young goddess frowned as she emerged from the little stone cottage, drying her hands on a cloth. The smell of dinner wafted tantalizing from the open windows and my stomach growled. Where did the time go?
The stuff Ben rubs into my scales. You know? You know? It smells. Images of pale lavender and freshly churned butter assaulted my senses as Kaida gave up on words. Faith must’ve received the assault as well because she sneezed twice and broke into a smile.
“Well if you don’t like the lavender fragrance I can change it,” she suggested before Kaida shook her big head ferociously.
It’s good good good good.
“I’m almost done anyway,” I said to Faith and then turned back to Kaida who was already beginning to wriggle. “Lie on your back, I need to do your belly and then we can have supper.” Satisfied with the promise of food, she rolled over and bared her soft dusky-pink underbelly, purring happily.
As I finished, Faith handed me her towel and gestured for Kaida and me to wash up before eating. Kaida splashed her talons happily in the barrel of water as I scanned the quickly darkening sky. “Have you seen Meena?” I asked the dragon and she too craned her head up.
No. Not since breakfast. Not a second before or after. Nope.
The water was cold and I briskly washed up, slightly worried. When Kaida nudged me in concern, I shrugged off the thoughts and proceeded to playfully wrestle the dragon into the kitchen.
That night, after Kaida had drifted off to sleep in her nest of wool blankets, Faith and I both stood outside in the dark, heads tilted back to catch any sign of the falcon. In the complete isolation that we lived in, it was easy to forget that a war was coming. Everything here was routine and changes were viewed as dangerous, threatening the safe world we’d created.
“She should be back by now,” I voiced our fears and searched Faith’s face. Her amber eyes were dark with a sadness so deep I was suddenly reminded that this was no normal girl, but a god, countless years older than me. Me, a barely tested youth from the mountains, expected to save the world and become the first Dragon Lord. Me. A hero. Ha!
“I thought we’d have more time,” Faith whispered. She shut her eyes and sighed heavily, a heaviness settling round her slight shoulders. She straightened, accepting the weight and I reached out to touch her arm.
“What do I have to do?” I asked. A shrill shriek answered me, the only warning before a weight of my own descended upon my shoulders. Meena panted, her feathers ruffled and painfully flexing her claws nervously. Faith stroked the massive birds breast in an effort to comfort Meena and slowly, but surely, the bird settled, the feral glint in her eye fading as she calmed.
Tell me everything. Faith murmured in unspoken words and I waited, slightly impatiently, listening to the one sided conversation. Suddenly Faith’s unfocused eyes snapped to mine and in a moment my safe world ceased to exist.
“You must leave. Tonight.”
My backpack was packed with lots of magical goodies. A cloth that supplied an indefinite amount of food, a small pouch that was much larger on the inside and filled with Kaida’s oil, and the other important bits that one needed on a journey, especially one with an unforeseeable ending. Meena napped briefly beside the still slumbering dragon as Faith pulled forth the magical map that had led me to this, although short lived, paradise.
“What did Meena see?” I asked quietly, careful not to disturb the others.
“Destruction. It’s close too. Cities are preparing for a rough winter and the king has stupidly issued a proclamation for war. The armies are preparing to march and they are all congregating here.” Faith tapped a slender finger on a decent sized township that was protected on the east side by a wide river and the north side by a seemingly impenetrable mountain range. In spidery letters it was named Kullaberg.
“So that’s where we’re going,” I said and then glanced at the peaceful Kaida. “Are you sure Kaida is ready?”
“We’ve no choice. What kind of Dragon Lord are you if you don’t have a dragon?” Faith smiled weakly but she couldn’t disguise her own concerns. Strangely that made me stronger as I took the goddess into my arms and hugged her. It was strange to think that may be the last time I did. Sure she was coming with us in spirit as her physical form could not risk being exposed, but I would miss her warmth.
“We’ll be alright. Together we can do anything,” I murmured into her ear before pulling back. Without another word, we gently woke our companions, Meena settling onto my shoulder and falling asleep again.
It’s dark. Nighttime is for sleeping. Where we go? An adventure? An adventure?
“Yes my dearest.” Faith kissed the sleepy dragon on the head and slipped a dazzling gold chain embedded with blue sapphires around her neck. It was a comment on Kaida’s drowsiness, as she didn’t notice. I led the dragon by her ear to the mountain path, the moon illuminating our way. Faith did not follow us, but stood in the doorway of our home.
Stay safe. Faith thought and disappeared inside. With resolution I stood straight, Meena chirping her displeasure in being wobbled, and we set out into the unknown to create a legend.
It was well into the afternoon by the time we reached the plains and Kaida was exhausted. Her bulky size and inability to fly yet made the descent slow and, despite her sharp talons that discovered or created cracks and crevasses to cling to, my heart raced in fear that she might fall. Meena happily soared above our heads, calling out encouragements and, more often then not, getting distracted by game. Sure enough, when we made an early camp with the mountain at our backs, Meena had a large collection of rodents, which she thoughtfully shared with Kaida. I went without.
It won’t kill you, Faith said and I breathed a sigh of relief. She’d been absent during our long climb down and my concern for her had been hard to conceal from Kaida the ever curious.
Where’ve you been? I’d thought something had happened. I thought to the goddess, not wanting to interrupt my two companions. From my pack I pulled forth the magic tablecloth and selected a light meal of cheese and hot bread.
I’ve been busy elsewhere. I’m a goddess, remember, and I’ve been neglecting my people of late, she gently reminded.
Well let me know if you’re going to disappear. I’ve enough to worry about thank you. As if to prove my words, Meena let out a shrill warning and I turned in time to see Kaida take off across the fields of grass, hot on the tail of some unknown beast.
“Kaida!” I shouted both out loud and in my mind. She hesitated slightly before her curiosity got the better of her.
What is it Ben? Faith cried alarmed.
“I dunno,” I replied and took off after the dragon. “Kaida! Wait!”
What is it? It moves! Why won’t it say hello!? Kaida said and sent images of a small reddish creature with a long bushy tail and coal black eyes.
“Kaida! Stop! It’s just a squirrel and they don’t speak human. You’re scaring it!” That stopped the dragon in its tracks and the poor beast escaped into the grasses.
Am I scary? I didn’t mean to be! I’m sorry! And Kaida began to keen loudly. It hit me then how young Kaida was. Everyone expected her to be this powerful being. Unstoppable. Dominating. Destructive.
She needs to get use to the idea that she is capable of great force. Talk to her. Faith murmured, but I needed no prompting. Gathering the young dragon into my arms as best as I could, I soothed her until she was ready to hear the reality that we faced.
“My dear Kaida, you’re a dragon and no one has seen a dragon for hundreds of years,” I began once I knew she was listening. “You’re must stronger than everyone else and that scares people and animals.”
“Especially squirrels because they’re one of the smallest creatures around. It’s your job to look after them.”
I can do that. I don’t want to scare them.
“You’re the world’s protector. We both are, but Kaida,” I turned Kaida’s head until I was looking directly into her blue eyes, “sometimes to save the world we might have to scare it a bit. I’m here to help you so you know when it’s one of those times.” I could see Kaida wanting to deny scaring anybody, but she nodded her head anyway and I didn’t have the heart to push the subject. “It’s a big job protecting the world. Are you up for it?” I asked cheerfully, tapping her on the nose.
Sure am! Sure am! Let’s go and protect! Off she went, all worries forgotten and we continued on our journey. We left the plains two days later, reaching the Forest of Illusion. Kaida had grown another two feet in height.
There’s somebody watching us. Kaida said quietly, shrinking into herself and trying in vain to hide her bulk behind Meena and me. Meena perched grumpily on my shoulders as the thickly woven tree canopy made it impossible for her to fly.
“It’s ok, dearest. They’re friends,” I reassured her yet remembered my own trepidation when I’d first met the tree dryads. The forest seemed more haunted then I remembered and despite my confident stride into further darkness, something gnawed away at the back of my mind.
Back…dragon lord…Ben…saviours… Whispers faded into the wind until one wondered whether they’d existed at all.
I feel it too, Faith whispered quietly.
“Hello? Kirra?” I called out loud, more to break the suffocating silence then to gain any reply from the elder dryad.
Eep! People! Mini people! Kaida cried out in distress and flared her nostrils nervously. The tiny tree dryads had materialised along branches and raised tree roots wielding unstrung bows and glowing bulbs of some sort.
“We’re friends,” I repeated mainly to convince myself as the blank unfriendly eyes of the dryads bore down on us.
“Come with us,” one little girl, possibly hundreds of years old, gestured and we fell in to step, surrounded by hundreds of glowing lights.
“What’s wrong?” I asked quietly to the leader and she sighed sadly, her hazelnut eyes tearful.
“Kirra will tell you more. We’ve waited a long time for your coming and we fear it may be too late.” The dryad then turned to Kaida who still hid behind me and bowed to her. “You honour us, almighty dragon.”
Kaida looked at me in confusion, blushing a deep pink and snorted softly. When the dryad looked at me uncertainly I said, “Kaida has not met many others before.”
When we reached the very centre of the forest, Faith cried out in alarm. I stopped quickly, Kaida bumping into me. The beautiful oak tree, that had stood so tall and proud for thousands of years, had been split straight down the middle. Surrounding trees supported its massive branches, yet anyone could see that the tree was dying. At its base lay the disheveled heap of Kirra, thin and broken just like her soul mate, the oak tree.
By the light of glow bugs trapped in transparent flower husks, we ate a meat free meal so as not to disturb the dryads. Kaida was happy enough eating berries and tomatoes, her favourite, but Meena grumpily went without. When we’d eaten, I settled Kaida down for the night with Meena to watch over her and joined the dryads that gathered around the dying queen.
“What’s happened Kirra? What went wrong?” Carefully, I crouched besides her, taking her tiny hand in my own. She was clammy to touch.
“What went wrong was the extinction of the griffons, but that was many years ago. The lack of their guidance and the disappearance of the great dragons have gradually brought the darkness down upon us. They left a vacuum and it’s being filled by Dresdner.”
“The god of emptiness,” I interrupted, fear finally condensing into a tangible form. I glanced over to the softly snoring dragon and wished…well it didn’t matter anymore. We couldn’t change our future any more than we could change our past.
“As odd as it may seem emptiness filling emptiness, Dresdner has slowly been corrupting those in power, the magistrates, the army leaders and has even reached the king’s court though the king himself is greatly devout to the goddess Aurelia,” who I knew to be the goddess of life, power and fertility, “which has kept him safe from Dresdner’s clutches.” The poor little dryad paused, her frail chest cracking like ancient wood as she breathed deeply. Light dappled across her face in patches making her look bruised and peering at my own hands I appeared blue and purple.
“Maybe we should have a break. Could I get you something? Water?” I asked, patting her hand, but she shook her head.
“Time is what we’ve little of.”
Despite her words, her fellow tree dryads hurried forth with a wide flat basin filled with fresh water and placed the queen’s bare feet in it. Immediately her parched skin seemed moister.
“Kirra, what happened to you?” I asked once I was certain she was able to answer.
“When you and your companion falcon received aid from us while fleeing the four, the mage struck me down,” she said referring to herself and her oak as one.
“But that was over a year ago! The wounds are still fresh and green! It could hardly have happened more than a week ago!” I exclaimed, confused.
“Dragon Lord, you passed through our forest eight days ago with the dragon egg still safe in your arms,” Kirra explained as my mind reeled.
You have many questions, my dear, and I’ll answer them all, but now is not the time. We’ve more important things to discuss, Faith murmured as I convinced myself that Faith had kept this from me for a good reason.
“Please, Kirra. Tell me what I must do,” I said finally. The queen dryad smiled softly, leaning forward and touching the acorn that still hung round my neck.
“You’ve a long way to go yet and little Kaida,” little my foot, “has a lot to learn. You must teach her, but you’ll not be alone. You must travel to the town, Kullaberg, and reunite the armies of Aurelia where you will face Dresdner’s beings.”
“What do you mean by beings?” I asked, but she ignored my questions.
“I’ll send you twelve of my best warriors to assist you including my own daughter Anais. They’ll guide and teach you as much as they can.” Kirra withdrew her touch from my pendent and sighed sadly. I felt the acorn around my neck begin to burn my skin and with a yelp I jerked it away from my chest. It glowed softly, a deep earthy gold that cooled until it was only warm to touch.
“Kirra, thank you so much…” looking up to find where the queen had lain was a new oak shoot, green and flexible, enthusiastically growing in the place of the now dead oak. More amazing was what lay beneath the leaves, a tiny baby, its skin dusted with pale green. The dryads did not mourn the passing of their queen, but celebrated the birth of a new dryad, Kiran in honour of Kirra.
“Come,” said the dryad who’d first led me to Kirra and I left the joyous festivities to rejoin Kaida and Meena.
“You know my name, but what’s yours?” I asked as I settled down next to the still sleeping Kaida. Meena opened one eye suspiciously, ever watchful, before closing it again once satisfied it was me.
“Anais. I’ll be accompanying you on your journey,” the graceful dryad said carefully and turned to leave.
“Wait! You’re Kirra’s daughter!” I stated rather obviously and she smiled in amusement.
“So it would seem.”
“Not meaning to sound rude or anything, but how’s that possible.” I blushed, recalling my Master’s own attempt to teach me about the birds and the bees, just as embarrassed, if not more so, as me.
“It’s hard to explain. All dryads are related to one another, yet we each belong to a set family. I belong to the House of Oak like Kirra. When each elder returns to the earth, a new dryad is born and she becomes a younger sister to all dryads and a daughter to her House family.” She noticed the clouds of confusion in my eyes and she laughed, a beautiful sound.
Bedtime Ben. Faith prompted, sounding slightly odd and I nodded.
“It’s late Anais and I don’t think I could cram any more knowledge into my head tonight. I assume we’ll be leaving early tomorrow?” She nodded in agreement. “Then I must get some sleep. Good night and I’m sorry… about Kirra.”
“It’s okay. I’ll see her again,” the dryad softly said and vanished into the trees, leaving me to my thoughts. Buzzing like bees, options and possibilities, dangers and consequences kept me awake until I finally tucked myself under Kaida’s wing for warmth and drifted to sleep to the sound of her rumbling breathing.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I’m bored! Kaida grumbled as she trailed behind me, wing tips dragging on the ground. The dryads scouted ahead, invisible in the trees and always ready with their bows and spears.
We’d reached the outskirts of the Forest of Illusion two days ago and we were still in the so-called outskirts. I was beginning to wonder if the dryads were leading us in circles. Meena was flapping valiantly above our heads, managing to avoid branches as the trees began to thin out and the ground became shrubbier. While keeping an ever-constant eye on Kaida, now two heads taller than me, I completed the toy I’d been working on all day. Magic toys never worked out well with Kaida as she tended to either devour them ‘accidentally’ as they apparently tasted nice or she added a bit of her own untrained magic to make it a bit…well, bigger and better.
“Here Kaida. A present.” I tossed the spiky ball made of pinecones and twigs towards the unwary dragon and she shrieked as it bounced off her nose.
That wasn’t very nice, Faith reprimanded as I doubled over with laughter. The poor dragon’s face was a picture of innocent shock before she smirked, an odd look on a dragon indeed, turned and used her tail to bat the ball right at me. With a yelp, I ducked just in time and the toy rushed into the trees…collecting a dryad on the way.
I was horrified. Kaida hadn’t even noticed. Faith mentally gasped. Another dryad fell from a tree. Then another. I was confused. Then I realised they were laughing at the poor dryad, who was dusting of her pride as best she could. This was the first of many training sessions that developed over the following days, intending to teach Kaida the art of warfare. Faith pointed out that Kaida could already aim, intentionally or not. All we now had to teach her was the difference between good and evil.
“Shouldn’t be too hard,” I said to Faith, supervising the commencing ‘ball game’ between the dryads and Kaida.
Her problem will be learning that not everybody is good and just, Faith murmured in the back of my mind. I’m afraid she’ll be hurt.
“Hush. People approach,” Anais said as she swooped down from a branch, an unspoken command sending the dryads into the trees after gently, but quickly, herding Kaida towards me.
What is it? A surprise? The young dragon questioned as I firmly gripped her spiked head and pulled her to the ground. Even laying flat on her belly, her chin on the ground, she was hard to miss despite the dense foliage.
Hush Kaida. We don’t know they’re friends, I whispered in her mind and her blue eyes widened. Somehow she managed to keep still though, to compensate, her mind was wriggling at a formidable pace.
Will they hurt us? What’ll they do? Can they see us? Are they like the tree folk?
Kaida, can you smell them? I asked, trying to focus and calm her mind. A figure moved above our heads and Anais stood posed, every muscle straining as she waited.
Metal. I smell metal and not able to describe it she sent the image of me running and the smell of my sweat.
Sweat, my dearest. That’s what it’s called. Maybe armoured men? Something’s hiding them from me. What else do you sense? Faith stated, apparently able to receive Kaida’s thoughts as well. I glanced up at Anais; she still stood frozen, head slightly cocked as if she could hear something. My leg began to cramp.
I smell hair and dung. They’ve an animal with them. Almost my size! Kaida exclaimed, sensing the men’s horses.
Ben, there must be a mage with them. A powerful one. There’re few who can hide themselves from me.
“Ben,” Anais whispered next to my ear. It took all my control not to yelp with surprise. “There’re at least two hundred of them. Knights, all well armoured and weapons at the ready. They’re heading this way and there’s no chance we can slip away without them noticing us.”
“Stay hidden in the trees. Be ready. Kaida and I’ll continue on. We’ll make sure we’re noticed, as I doubt a patrol of soldiers that size would hesitate not to strike first, listen later. There’s at least one mage with them. Find them and disable them if there’s trouble. Who knows, they may be friends and can help us,” I whispered and Anais nodded, disappearing into the trees.
“Okay Kaida, we’re going to go meet these people. I don’t want to surprise them so go nice and slow and stay with me,” I said standing up. Kaida excitedly rose too, towering over me and waited enthusiastically, bounding on the spot.
Are they friends?
“Let’s go find out,” and we began stomping towards the strangers. Kaida whistled through her teeth and I sang, though horribly, as loud as I could.
“They’ve noticed you,” Anais called from the trees, her voice disguised by the wind in the trees.
They’ve stopped. Are they afraid? Like the squirrel? Kaida asked, nervously. The incident with the squirrel was still bothering her.
“They’ve never met someone like you before. You’re one of a kind. Special. When they get to know you, they won’t be scared anymore,” I comforted yet slowed down as I began to pick out brightly coloured feathered helmets and glinting chain mail amongst the trees.
“Hello there!” I called out once we were well within hearing distance. The troop had taken up ranks in a small clearing, lances were lowered and bows raised. Horses shuffled nervously as they smelt the exotic scent of Kaida. Kaida was just as curious about them.
A tall dapple-gray stallion stood proudly, his rider encased in dulled steel, well worn and used. They stepped cautiously towards where we’d stopped in clear view of all two hundred men. Kaida sat curiously on her hind legs, appearing twice as big. Everywhere we looked there were an unfriendly face peering back at us and I began to regret leading Kaida into this.
“I’m Sir Nicholas Graywolf. Who’re you and your companion?” bellowed the knight, loud enough for all his men to hear.
“My name’s Ben and this is Kaida.” I felt inclined to bow, but the tension was so thick I feared to move. Kaida though felt no restraints.
Is that a horse? And before I could stop her, she settled down on all fours and approached Sir Graywolf’s horse. To everyone’s surprise, the stallion didn’t even blink. In fact, he in turn gave a friendly nudge to the delighted young dragon who squealed in pleasure.
The sight was so amusing that I couldn’t help but laugh and Sir Graywolf chuckled quietly. The tension dissipated, hands unclenched swords and I approached the knight.
On closer inspection, the knight was quite young, strongly built, and he moved with the grace of his namesake. He rested his gloved hand upon his horse’s neck, keeping a wary distance from Kaida, and looked the dragon up and down.
“Well isn’t this unexpected. Here my men and I are searching the impossible search and the impossible lands right at our feet. Who’d have thought?” The knight laughed again and held out his hand. I shook it.
“Kaida is definitely one of kind,” I proudly boasted while firmly taking hold of her neck frills.
But I want to meet Wolf’s friends. She whined, tugging gently towards the other horses that no longer appeared frightened. It should have surprised me that Kaida could talk to animals, but then again, Meena and I communicated. Speaking of Meena. I looked up and sensing my thoughts, Meena’s shadow fell across myself, Sir Graywolf and the sulking Kaida, landing delicately on my shoulder.
Sir Graywolf startled back, hand reaching for his sword before laughing at his own actions.
“This is Meena,” I said and the falcon pierced the knight with her eyes before turning to preen her feathers.
“Anyone else you should introduce me too?” Sir Graywolf asked and Anais, perfect timing as always, dropped down beside me, barely reaching the knight’s chest.
“Anais of the House of Oak. Sir Knight, you’re a long way from home,” she stated to the pale man. He took her appearance in stride.
“My lady. Perhaps we should make camp. We both have a lot to discuss and it would be more comfortable around a nice fire with a hot meal in our stomachs. Your warriors can come out now too.”
Ah, so he hadn’t been completely oblivious.
After a wonderfully miraculous meal supplied by me to two hundred odd men and their horses, Sir Graywolf, Anais, the rest of the dryads, Kaida, Meena and myself (and let’s not forget the ever present, omniscient Faith) retired to Sir Graywolf’s tent to discuss important matters. To my pleasant surprise, a magical non-burning fire glowed cheerily in the centre surrounded by rugs and pillows. The mage Faith had sensed had turned out to be Sir Graywolf himself and he’d created the fire at the request of Anais whose kind didn’t take well to actual fire.
“So Sir Graywolf, where should we begin?” I asked after we’d settled. Kaida grumbled tiredly behind me having had to crawl on her belly to enter the tent. Her wings were clasped tightly to her back yet even then they brushed the tents roof. It was like ever time I turned around she grew another six inches!
“Please, call me Nick. Let me explain our purpose for being here in the Forest of Illusion,” Sir Nick started, back straight as he sat cross-legged. Even without armour this was a formidable man, his hands calloused and his neck bulging with muscles. “King Peter the Formidable has ordered his army to begin marching to the township Kullaberg, the last station before the Unknown, Dresdner’s territories. His dark forces are slowly encroaching ever closer to King Peter’s borders and penetrating the King’s arms. It’s hard to know whom to trust nowadays. King Peter sent my men and me to discover if the rumours were true, that our salvation flew on wings and that the Dragon Lord had been resurrected. And here she is.” Sir Nick gestured exultantly at Kaida and she snorted softly her amusement.
I sure hope I meet their expectations. I’m sorta small for a salvation, Kaida frankly stated, nostrils still flared. I laughed, stroked her affectionately on her snout resting on my lap and glanced up into Sir Nick’s startled eyes. I watched him, my grin fading as his eyes darted between Kaida and myself in confusion.
“Is there something wrong, Sir Nick?” I asked. Anais shrugged slightly from where she sat beside the hulking knight, curious as well to the friendly knight’s sudden peculiar behaviour.
“Pardon me but…surely you’re not the prophesied Dragon Lord?”
I was gobsmacked, tossing up between whether I should laugh or be terribly insulted. Okay, so I may not look overly warrior-like, remember I was only twenty summers old but I was proud of my muscular though lean frame and my lightness would make it easier for me to fly on Kaida. I mean really! Who was he expecting? A giant?
”‘Fraid so. Not what you’re expecting?” I said, noticing Kaida had fallen asleep and her soft breathing was sending sparks of magic fire up into the air.
“Please forgive me, my lord. Just the stories led me to believe…well it’s of no importance. The fact that we’ve found you at all is a miracle. Please accept my apologies for any insult that I’ve uttered.” He bowed his head in reverence causing me to shift uncomfortably on the spot. Kaida grumbled, the sound reverberating the ground itself, but she went back to sleep.
“Please Sir Nick, call me Ben and I wasn’t offended. I can understand your expectations of Kaida and me are high. I need you to know, though, that Kaida is still only a child. She’s only a year old and, yes, dragons do mature quickly, but she hasn’t experienced the world like we have.” I watched as Sir Nick nodded and then whistled softly.
“How big’s she going to get?” he asked.
“I don’t know if she’ll ever stop growing,” I laughed, clearing the air somewhat.
“How far until Kullaberg. I assume that’s where we’ll go?” Anais piped up.
“Six weeks at a steady pace,” Sir Nick informed us and my heart constricted painfully. Only that long?
Will that be enough time? I asked Faith, her comforting presence always in the back of my mind.
It’ll have to be.
Kaida snorted again heavily, one eye slit open to watch me.
I’m not at all comfortable, she informed me.
“Yes my dearest,” I acknowledge her. “Kaida needs some rest. She’s not that comfortable in here.”
“Yes, rest would be excellent,” Anais agreed and her fellow dryads followed her out into the night and into the native trees, quite possibly to meet up with relatives.
“Let me guess, we head out first light?” I muttered to the remaining knight and he laughed, a deep bellowing bark.
“You’ll soon get used to moving with an army, small though ours is.”
I gently woke Kaida and led her half asleep to a clearing set-aside just for her. Some of the soldiers had made a nest from spare blankets and Kaida happily fell into a deep sleep.
Remind me to thank the soldiers for the blankets, I asked Faith as I snuggled up beside the snoring dragon. Kaida automatically lifted a wing over me, almost protectively and for the first time I saw that she wasn’t a baby anymore.
Sweet sleep my dears. Faith whispered.
The dawn greeted us with rosy fingers and, with a grumble, I arose to the clunking of metal and soft snuffing of horses.
“You arise my Lord!” Sir Nick hailed me. There seemed to be no doubt on his face that I was the Dragon Lord and I wondered what had changed his thoughts.
He still doubts you, my dear. I’m afraid you’ll have to prove your birthright as Kaida’s rider, Faith commented and I could sense her disapproval. She obviously believed that my mere presence would be enough to believe in.
Kaida’s rider? I’d never really thought…well…she wouldn’t be big enough for a while yet! I glanced at the stirring dragon, one eye the size of an orange slitting open warily.
I’m afraid that time will be sooner than you think, Faith informed me as BAM! Something flew out of nowhere, tackling me to the ground and near squashing me. As I struggled to breathe, Kaida giggled into my head, you’re it! And took off through the startled knights.
Kaida! You almost broke a rib! I yelled, but took off after the chortling dragon. Her bulk didn’t slow her down and soldiers happily got out of her way as she sprinted out of camp, wings flapping excitedly. Within moments we’d left the camp behind.
To be honest, I was impressed with my own fitness as I was not only able to keep up with the dragon, but actually gained ground until my outreaching arms grasped her tail.
Look out! Faith called out. It was too late. It took a moment to realise we’d run out of earth and we plummeted fast.
“Kaida! Flap!” I shouted, watching as the faint silver thread beneath us became increasing wider as we raced towards the river. Hopelessly, I tried to put together some spell, but my mind was addled, confused and my heart was in my mouth. Pulling myself up onto Kaida’s back, I clung on tightly, exhilarated despite our rushing doom, the wind racing past as Kaida desperately flapped her wings.
Then we were flying. Kaida got the rhythm and we were soaring, higher and higher.
“Yeeha!” I shouted in delight, my fear instantly replaced by elation as my beautiful Kaida flew up towards the clouds.
Look Ben. I’m really doing it. Her thoughts no longer jumbled and overwhelming, Kaida had become a young lady and together we flew. They were my wings that pumped the air, it was her hands that grasped smooth scales, it was our tail that twisted and curved and our eyes that viewed the patchwork landscape beneath us.
We rock! I crowed, throwing my arms back in sheer glee.
You need to head back. Faith finally interjected. She sounded proud of us, yet I sensed that she was slightly disappointed.
Yes indeed. Anais and Sir Nick will be concerned, Kaida agreed and we turned towards the thin trails of smoke that marked our camp.
Are you okay Faith? I asked quietly to her so Kaida couldn’t hear. It seemed the dragon and I was even less separable now, her emotions and some thoughts wafting over my own. In a place reserved for Faith alone, I asked her.
I wish I were with you, she whispered, barely a thought. I knew what she meant and I hugged her with my mind.
We’ll be together soon, I promise.
Our arrival back in camp was impressive. The only thing that could’ve made it more so was if Kaida was breathing fire (of which Faith had promised would happen eventually and probably in the worst situation possible). Our flight had meant we’d missed the process of packing up camp, which to be honest I was relieved about because I’m not one for chores. Kaida didn’t wish to walk and I encouraged her to keep practicing, but as we walked, her shadow always hovered over me protectively. Sir Nick’s horse, which walked along side me, was not the least perturbed but his rider, Sir Nick, was constantly glancing upwards. My horse was as thick as a brick and didn’t notice a thing.
Anais was thrilled that Kaida could fly and her and her sisters raced through the treetops within shouting distance to the dragon. At some moments it seemed that the dryads could fly themselves, using acrobatic leaps and death defying moves to cross the treetops in steadily thinning woodland.
“We’ll be reaching the edge of the forest within three days,” Sir Nick informed me. He still looked down on me as, despite having borrowed a horse, I was still quite a bit shorter than him. It was odd and somewhat tiring to be riding a horse for hours on end, something that required plenty of practice and experience. As I recalled the earlier flight with Kaida, I was as snug and as comfortable as a doona bug.
Lunch was no big affair. Food was shared on the run (or actually the horse if you wanted to be literal) with a very short break to water the horses before we continued at our seemingly neck breaking pace. We must’ve travelled kilometres! As much as Kaida and I would travel in at least two days! Well possibly not anymore.
Come fly with me, Kaida cooed and how could I resist? With a well-calculated leap, that surprised even myself, I jumped upon Kaida’s back as she flew down low to get me. She impressively bugled her happiness, startling more than a few men and horses and took off into the clouds. Her practice had obviously paid off.
The Forest of Illusion goes on forever! Kaida said, awed by the blanket of green beneath us, spotted and striped with lakes and rivers. Behind us, the trees were impenetrable, but here we could see the light refracting off armour as Sir Nick’s troops road through the trees.
What’s that on the horizon? I asked, confused, a silver shimmer almost blindingly bright.
That’s where we’re going. To the land of Whiteness, Faith informed us both.
Pfft, how inventive, Kaida said bemused.
Sir Nick is right. We’ll get there in three days. That’s plenty of time, Faith continued thoughtfully.
I frowned. Time for what?
Three days later we left the Forest of Illusion. It simply ended. The trees continued almost indefinitely behind us and far off into the distance to our left and right. Yet in front of us was a world of silver and ice. We paused briefly and I shuddered, glancing up at Kaida as she hovered above us. What would the future bring?