For what felt like the thousandth time that morning, Thæon sent another bitten curse towards the Scorched King and his patrolling soldiers for having set up a blockade along the main road that crosses the Bodeive River; the river that stands as the southern border of Ered Naur.
In all honesty, the soldiers and their fickle orders hadn’t really prevented Thæon from crossing into Nadhras. Instead, all the bastards were able to accomplish was simply delaying his journey, not forcing him to turn tail and trek back through the rotten kingdom to his own clanlands in the North. If he had really wanted to cross the river, then he very well would have done so.
But knowing the other party and knowing that he would’ve been the one to start the fight with some poorly-trained, weak-hearted soldiers that barely understood the basics of their own magic would be certainty to igniting the war that King Ruihyn has been salivating for, long before he claimed Ost’Aura’s throne.
Thæon knew that he could leave Ered Naur without bringing unnecessary attention to himself; that he should leave Ered Naur without bringing unnecessary attention to himself, so as word would not get back to the corrupt king that a clansman from the north had; firstly, entered his kingdom of Ered Naur without invitation or permission; secondly, had travelled the length of the kingdom without an escort and; thirdly, upon trying to leave said kingdom, had wiped out a company of soldiers that were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time, following orders from the wrong king.
Needless to say, it would give King Ruihyn the cause he was searching for the spark the war between their kingdoms.
But Thæon had reasons for his actions. He didn’t want any more eyes on him than necessary.
The near-encounter at the river crossing was days passed now, and still it left a bitter taste in Thæon’s mouth.
There was little he could do to quell his anger beyond intermittently cursing the Scorched King, with the odd insult directed at himself where his own stubbornness saw him pushing through the wildlands of Tvawklaad’s numerous valleys, having turned away from the river crossing and the main road, instead taking the directions of a farmhand to follow the Bodeive river back upstream where he could fair against the untamed mountain slopes and navigate the valleys for a harder trail into Nadhras, but one that wasn’t patrolled by King Ruihyn’s men.
As Thæon’s journey led him deeper into the mountains’ shadows he found the villages grew steadily smaller; the animals outnumbering the people that tended to them, with fewer buildings gathered together to form village squares.
The last village that he passed through could’ve hardly been home to more than four hundred people, most of whom harboured the familiar suspicion of all native Naurn when they were faced with a barbarian stranger; easily spotted in the crowd where he only had the past few months of heavy sun to tan his skin while the locals had been bathed in the southern sun since birth.
And yet for all the expected hostility, Thæon is simply greeted with an air of brittle despondence that fogged the crowed; finding no outright hostility presented to him that allowed the outlander to pay for three full bags of grain to feed for his mount.
Even the blacksmith was willing to make repairs to his saddle before Thæon could present his thinning vise, having thought that he would have to barter a steeper expense from a village not but two moons turn from the capital.
There was still risk venturing into Naurn settlements, and while he took it as a rule to avoid populated areas where possible, in order to sway the current of gossip that would follow his passing, Thæon made the seldom exception when he was closer to the outskirts, knowing that there were very few merchants and travelling caravans that would reach the poorer districts to carry the news of his sighting, and even less that would bring news that may or may not interest him. At least here the risk was manageable.
Thæon got nothing from the vendors in the market, simply wanting the man’s coin as long as it was of value to them, and while they weren’t hostile, they weren’t loose lipped to help ease the vise from between his fingers.
The blacksmith was more forthcoming with gossip, but he spoke nothing about soldiers or rumours of what town the King’s men had ransacked in his name, speaking only the humbling tale of the seamstress’s son, who had been lost to the wolves—and a word of warning when it became clear that Thæon would be taking the same path in his efforts to find a valley pass that would allow him entry into Nadhras without the botheration of soldiers.
Wolves didn’t concern Thæon.
The north was a challenging world to navigate; the snow bitter and cold that stayed long after Thaw had returned the rest of Brærn into soft meadows and fields of budding flowers; a ready trial awaiting the children to challenge themselves before they were old enough to be Tsaü: an initiate ready to undertake five trials that would grant them their adulthood.
From a young age it is expected of the children of the clanlands to hone their skills to better aid them for their trials; Thæon especially having taken training himself in each and every aspect that he thought would better improve his own chances to complete all five of his trials and spend the remainder of his free years learning how to better advance his people and protect them from the war-hungering king.
Thæon himself had more pressure on his shoulders from his lineage as a descendant of the first son of Angrenost and the next in line to be Tæ’adanaï; not simply heir to lead his own clan, but to rule and govern the five clans of Medellin.
The gods have held him in favour so far, no matter the challenge of his future; his first trial having seen him slay an akrren; a large feline hunter that dwelled in the valleys and mountains of the Grey Slopes; Thæon’s victory over the lion having proven his strength and aptitude to his clan, to his mother and the elders. Slaying an akrren was no easy feat, and being one of the youngest few to start the years of trials—to start Miiannila N’namun—at the dawn of his twelfth summer had certainly garnered praise and acknowledgement to his strength and promising future.
Over the years, Thæon’s reputation could only grow.
Even the Naurn should know he was no mere traveller, what with the hunting regalia adorning him in trophies; fangs of his kills strung between carved beads that told tale of his adventures; tattoos inked around his wrists in depictions of battles won, often shared with a scar or two that decorated his skin; unashamed of the stories that showed he had faced battle and conquered.
One trophy that he treasured above all others, was his cloak. His mother had gifted it to him after he returned from the hunt of the lioness; the cloak having been an heirloom passed down from his ancestors, imbued with the same magic that burned in his chest, and in acknowledgement of his feats. It had been adorned with the fur of his first kill; the soft down of fur lining the collar and hood making his treasure all the more precious.
Wolves did not concern Thæon.
His calf neither, who trailed along behind him; humming and gurgling and entirely unaffected by Thæon’s lingering irritation that has kept them moving at a quickened pace for most of the morning; his brow furrowed and his magic broiling in his palms every time he remembers why he was having to take the long way around.
Bröder, or course, just keeps a steady pace only a few steps behind, somehow still able to swing out his trunk to catch hold of berries growing on low sweeping branches and stuff them into his mouth with gurgles and hums and happy little trumpeting sounds.
All the while the elephantine keeps pace as Thæon leads them further uphill, the sound of the river to their right and the chaos of fleeing animals tracked into the mud.
If there were any wolves around, at least they might think twice about hunting when faced against the kioea calf; a sturdy little shit who was little older than a juvenile, who would be a difficult prey to take down, tough hide or no.
Not that they’d get close, what with the Fireheart that walked beside him.
The further the pair of them climbed, the harder it was to traverse the wilds.
While deer, wolves and all other manner of beasts showed frequent activity along the riverbank, the paths they had carved through the underbrush were thin and winding. Thæon wasn’t so much challenged as was Bröder, who was big and cumbersome, and whined irritably at the underbrush where it was thick and overgrown, tangled at his legs.
Creepers and bramble thorns snagged on Thæon’s cloak, but they only managed to tug at his neck once before the northerner was bunching his cloak in one hand, the other hooking around one of Bröder’s stunted tusks and veering him closer to the river, batting away low hanging branches and keeping his grumbling to the minimum—only deigning to do so when Bröder spied some fruit here, or a clump of berries there, jerking his head sharp enough that Thæon’s shoulder begun to hurt.
“Asbris guide me, Bröder, can you just walk? You can eat when we stop later,” he hissed, when Bröder yanked his head again, Thæon’s patience beginning to fray in tandem to the sharp pain that shoots through his shoulder, but at least the kioea listened to him, grumbling under his breath before falling back in time to Thæon’s pacing and chasing the river upstream in search of the valley pass.
With the sun high and the air warm around them, the trek was tiresome, and Thæon was loathe to want to rest again so soon where it felt like he hadn’t broken camp not too long following the fade of the golden hour, but he knew that pushing Bröder too far would only slow them down in the long run.
While he was a strong, energetic calf, his kind were best suited to the flat plains; to even ground and short grass that didn’t catch at his legs and the trailing roots of the evergreens that threatened to trip them both.
And so, when the two of them finally pushed their way into a golden-grass clearing nearing the craggy slopes of the eastern mountains, Thæon decided this was as good as any place to rest for the time it would take for them to catch their breath and fill their stomachs.
Or at least Thæon could fill his stomach. Bröder could devour every piece of greenery in this valley and he’d still whine for more.
The meadow was serene and peaceful, as if Eloustun, God of Spring had set seed to the meadow himself; dressing the field with an array of colour in blues and purples, yellow and whites; a thousand flowers set adrift on an ocean of green.
A small herd of deer grazed on the far side of the winding river that neatly cut the meadow into two halves, lined with slate grey pebbles in the shallows; shelved in by large rocks further upstream that curled into the trees and underneath the brush that crept from the forest edge.
It reminded Thæon a little of home.
Of course, back in the shadows of the towering Grey Slopes, it was a lot colder, and were he this high up upon the mountain slopes back home than he would see his breath misting the air and a touch of frost lingering in the shade beneath the trees. But nonetheless, the valley held within it the same kind of beauty that would halt Thæon’s feet mid hunt, and lull him to sit a while and breathe in the world around him.
Bröder was less admiring of the meadow’s beauty, and when he caught sight of the gurgling river, he lets out a triumphant squeal and goes charging towards it, mindless of the deer that he scares away, heading straight for the shallows and thundering into the shallows to cool himself off.
It’s an appealing idea to Thæon as well, but at least he shows a little more tact than his calf; picking his way through the sea of flowers, hands trailing over the tips of the grass as he followed behind.
“Come here you oaf, and let’s get that saddle off of you,” Thæon called when he was shoreside, waving a hand to motion Bröder closer to him so that he could unhook the leathers straps and set their belonging to one side before Bröder forgot himself and laid down in the river and proceeded to soak everything.
While the weather was warm, Thæon would need a fire to dry everything out, and while it was no chore to summon his magic, he didn’t fancy forfeiting time that could be better spent travelling.
Once the saddle, blankets and supplies were all piled near one of the rock shelves—far enough away from the river itself to remain dry—Thæon grabbed some of the longer grasses and gave Bröder a quick yet thorough rub down which, was pointless considering he was about to bathe himself in the stream, but it was a routine for the pair of them, and Thæon didn’t mind spoiling his calf now and then.
Now, more than usual it seems, as Thæon bends to the river’s edge to drink his fill of the cold-flowing water, rubbing the grime from his hands, running fingers through his hair and over his skin to rid it of the lingering sweat.
Then, there was little else to do but relax and drink in the peace.
A glance to the sky tells Thæon it’s a little past midday, far enough from the growing dusk that would allow them to press on for another few hours, hopefully long enough to push south enough to be at the border of the second valley, from which Thæon could venture off by himself to seek out a vantage point that would show him the easiest route, through both this valley and the next, rather than forcing Bröder over unsteady terrain and delaying their journey for longer.
But that is for then and relaxing is for now, and Thæon settles himself on the bank of the curving river, far enough away from Bröder’s splashing to keep himself dry, whilst making the odd biting remark towards his foolishness.
He drinks in the peace of the afternoon, eyes scanning the world around him as he is wont to do when in unfamiliar territory; watching the grass dip and sway in the wind; wondering of the names of the flowers that spring up amongst the hassocks and ferns; eyes following the winding trails that reveal often-followed paths of animals frequenting the shore.
There were usual deer tracks pressed into the mudded bank, Bröder’s own feet trailing back and forth, as well as something large and clawed, weighty—by the depth of the impressions that led along the shore and up to the rock ledge and into the grass of the meadow—
Bröder lets out a chirp of happiness, ears flapping all of a sudden; the reaction something so familiar to what he would give to Torra when she would come into the plains where the kioea roamed that Thæon turns, expecting to see her too, as if it were natural that she would be here, months of journeying away from Angrenost’s lands.
But it is not Torra.
It’s not even human.
“It can’t be,” Thæon mouths, his breath catching in his throat in a mix of awe and something icy as he drinks in the sight of the red scaled beast that watches him from the shadows on the edge of the clearing.
At first glance, Thæon had thought ‘bear’ and his hand was on his sword, palms warm with his magic before he had given it any real thought, but the realisation of what he sees catches in his mind and he freezes, half poised on his knees.
Because the creature, impossibly, is a dragon.
It is blood-red and white-quartz; caught as if in mid-crouch, its head tilted in mock curiosity with wide fire-light eyes blinking back and forth between Thæon and his calf.
There’s a sound on the wind; a faint rumbling growl that sets Thæon’s heart thundering in his chest. His mind feels clouded, as if in a daze, and while he knows it is not fear—he has been hunting since he could hold a dagger, he has conquered akrren, lræslí and briarbock to name a few—and still Thæon’s steel remains in its sheath and the heat of his magic flares unruly across his forearms as if he was nothing more than an undisciplined, unskilled child.
Akrren and lræslí were nothing to a dragon.
History claimed them to be extinct: wiped out when King Troth, the then-reigning king of Ered Naur, grew too greedy in his search to empower himself and his kingdom, and took things too far when he waged war against the dragons; gatekeepers of Alpas and the first teachers of magic.
The stories of dragons had been passed down in song and story for thousands of years to follow; written in detail in the scriptures; the story of the White War carved into each mountain hall of the five clans.
Thæon had grown up listening to those stories, listening to his parents weave each tale as they tucked him into bed; listening to them before he went on his first hunt, and how the dragons had taught the first clan to hunt but now they were extinct because of the war—but no, that can’t be. Not when there is a dragon, here, and Thæon—
Bröder lets out another excited squeal; the dragon’s head snapping towards him instantly, turning back to him where it had been turning away—why, why would it be turning away and why is Bröder just excited to see the damned creature like it was Torra with a handful of berries, or Soln, having snuck away from his studies.
He hears the splash of water, but he doesn’t think as to what it means until suddenly Bröder is charging across the meadow green, ears flapping, trunk lifted high, feet carrying him quickly across the flat, even ground.
Thæon’s stomach turns itself inside out.
“Bröder, Bröder come back!”
He scrambles to his feet, one hand drawing his sword in preparation because his stupid elephantine calf is charging right up to a dragon as if he weren’t about to be torn to shreds by its claws.
In practiced movement, Thæon reaches with the other hand to unclasp his cloak, tossing it aside to free up the movement of his arms in preparation for the fight to come, and while he isn’t scared—he’s not, he refuses to be, even in the face of all those teeth—Thæon’s mind is still caught in fog and there’s no spark of fire beyond his panicking, rising up like smoke, choking him as he calls for his calf again.
“Bröder! Get back here!”
Bröder does not listen.
Thæon’s feet drag him closer a step, a step in a half, but the usual instinct to leap forward into the unfolding fight doesn’t find him; buried somewhere beneath the fog and the taste of fear that sits heavy on his tongue.
It feels as if the air around him is stifling, but cold on his skin and Thæon’s words die in his throat as he watches the elephantine lift up his trunk and—pets the fucking dragon.
Unbelievably, the damned dragon lets him.
Bröder, unafraid by the hulking size of the beast before him, rubs his trunk over his muzzle; gurgling and chirping, flapping his ears like he was wont to do in excitement when Torra would fuss over him. They are of similar height, although the dragon is taller, and Thæon can feel his heart in his throat when it huffs at Bröder’s antics, a growl rising from the back of his throat.
But the dragon doesn’t make to retaliate.
In fact, if Thæon wasn’t quite so overwhelmed with what was unfolding in front of him, he might even say that the creature was fascinated; eyes wide and watching with remarkable intensity when Bröder stomps his feet and flaps his ears like how he acts with his brothers and sisters, grabbing for the horns atop the dragon’s heads rather than tusks he—she?—doesn’t have, and Thæon is worried that he’s going to go far.
He can’t quite wrap his head around his thoughts to begin to try and understand why the dragon hasn’t taken a swipe or two but either way, Thæon gives thanks to all the gods for the patience this creature possesses.
But he knows that that can change in an instant.
“Bröder!” he hissed, just as the idiotic little shit made to grab for the dragon’s neck. He didn’t think the creature would take too kindly to that, and while wolves would have great difficulty in piercing Bröder’s tough hide with their claws, this dragon would face no such difficulty.
He calls out, taking another step closer to the pair, still too far away to protect Bröder should the dragon strike—confused and panicked by the realisation that he was actually considering fighting a dragon—the very same dragon that turns its fiery eyes on Thæon, his gaze thorn-sharp and piercing; freezing Thæon where he stands with its fire-filled eyes.
Somehow, Thæon was able to find his voice, swallowing back the desert that had filled his throat. He tries to flex his fingers where they’re crushing the hilt of his sword, but they don’t respond; his magic cracking in bursts of light and sound that he struggles to hold control of.
“Bröder, come,” he commands with a waver he can’t swallow, eyes not leaving the dragon; repeating the words when Bröder doesn’t obey at first; still caught up in the joy he has found at meeting a creature that he has seemingly mistaken to be kin.
Thæon watches, wordlessly when the beast back peddles a few steps; a sound similar to a whimper, braying; the creature tripping over its own tail in its effort to draw back and Thæon realises, with a start, that the dragon is afraid of him.
A hard thing to believe, seeing as the creature is nearly three times the size and protected by a cloak of scales that Thæon doubts his sword would be able to cut even with his entire weight and the blade swathed in his flames, and yet the dragon cradles a whine in its throat and its eyes are cast wide in what could only be described as fear.
Fearing the beast’s reaction to defend itself, Thæon calls to Bröder once more, this time daring angry to colour the calf’s name, and finally, finally, he listens, turning back to his keeper with a triumphant squeal and comes trundling back to him.
The boy reaches out with one arm, imitating the greeting kioea give to one another, with Bröder quick to wrap his trunk around Thæon’s arm and give him an anchor to hold on to, in hopes to stop the calf from heading back to the dragon’s side.
A cornered animal will bear its fangs when it feels threatened, and Thæon doesn’t want to risk Bröder to the beast’s claws.
In truth, the dragon isn’t cornered.
It can flee if it wants, into the forest, into the skies, but there’s the risk that Thæon has stumbled into its territory and while the dragon is scared, it might not be willing to give up its home to a wandering traveller.
Not that Thæon wants to take it. His mind is telling him to run; fogged, confused, and there’s a spark of childish excitement deep beneath his fear because it’s a fucking dragon, and Thæon—
Thæon levels his sword when the dragon takes a step.
But it does not move towards him, but away; Thæon releasing the breath he had been holding, Bröder whining beside him as he watches his newfound friend leaving too soon.
Thæon is just happy that the dragon hadn’t decided to chase them off, but he doesn’t want to risk pushing his luck and, with a prayer to the four dragon gods that their brethren will leave them be, tugging on Bröder’s tusks to lead him back towards the rock shelf where his saddle and the supplies wait.
The dragon has not left them completely.
Thæon can still hear it; the crack of branches underfoot; the creak of the trees that are pushes aside. He can still see it in the shade of the trees; its tail adorned with spikes, swinging back and forth, snaking behind, yet to completely vanish amongst the bracken.
He feels his stomach twist when the dragon turns back towards them, his hand curling tighter around his sword that he brings up between them: a measly defence in the face of such strength, but Thæon acknowledges that steel might have a greater effect on the beast over the magic that warms his palms.
There’s something in the dragon’s mouth.
A branch: green-leafed and bearing fruit.
And now it’s coming closer.
Thæon’s feet are stuck fast, his breath caught in his throat as the dragon moves, deliberately slow, eyes wide and watching. It doesn’t walk right up to Thæon, but instead skirts around him slightly to edge towards the rock shelf near to where Thæon had been trying to lead Bröder, glancing at where his bags are piled and hoping the creature isn’t going to tear them open in search of the cured meats that he has packed away.
But the dragon pays no mind to the bags; setting down the branch on the edge of the grass a few feet in front of him; a hum of noise in his throat before the creature takes a few steps backwards and sits itself down, head tilted, eyes blinking.
Thæon can’t tear his eyes away. His hand hurts from where it holds an ice-white in the grip of his sword, but in his clouded confusion the tip has dropped; the slow understanding beginning to dawn on him that, while this beast was mighty and dangerous, there was no intent to turn neither claw nor fang against him.
And the branch was… an offering of some kind?
They are at a stalemate: the dragon expectant and waiting; Thæon trying to remind himself how to breathe because he thinks—he thinks—that the dragon is challenging him, or testing him, and there is the very real consequence of having to defend himself should Thæon get the answer wrong.
The stalemate grows heavier; Thæon’s mind racing for too long; unwillingly having stressed the dragon’s patience.
It growls, almost, but the sound is softer; a vocal portrayal of what it would feel like for Thæon to rub his hand over the dragon’s scales—and he doesn’t know why he is thinking about petting the damn dragon, treating it like a dog when it is clearly far more intelligent because it is trying to talk to him, almost.
“The fuck?” he whispers to himself, not sure what it is that draws him closer, but Thæon finds that he is; his foot taking a tentative step forward without him even deciding to do so. It is only one step, perhaps less than that, but at least the dragon hasn’t made to attack or to do anything remotely threatening. Instead, it shuffles back a pace all of its own, settling down onto its haunches on the ground. It lowers its head; arms folded in underneath its neck; wings laid flat to the ground so that the crown is laid flat on the grass.
Thæon doesn’t get why, but the dragon is staring at him with that same challenge in its eyes and she—he?—waits for Thæon to make his next move.
“The fuck?” he whispers again, with feeling; panic like a knot in his chest, confusion clouding like a storm in his head, fear like ice under his feet and yet there is something warm and alive that flutters inside his chest, right next to his soul, and Thæon is drawn forwards again.
The dragon huffs air at him, lips quirking up in a simulacrum of a human smile; his wings shifting, body trembling when Thæon unwinds his arm where Bröder and takes another step—larger—towards the branch. It bears fruit; three round spheres of pale yellow blushed with a warm pink. Does the dragon want him to eat it?
It wants him to do something, certainly, ears flicking to the sounds that play around them, head tilting almost in question as its eyes flicker back and forth between the offered branch and Thæon, within reach to take it, as the dragon seemingly wants him to do.
With a deep breath, and in internal prayer sent to any god that was willing to listen, Thæon drags his eyes away from the creature and, slowly, slowly, bends down to pick up the branch.
As soon as his hand wrapped around the bark, the dragon raises its head, wings shifting, a hum in its throat almost melodic, and if Thæon was crazy, he might even say that it smiled at him.
He feels as if he is on a precipice, teetering above an abyss of razor teeth that would tear his flesh and bone to ribbons, were he to lose his balance and fall.
But he cannot deny the something that flickers beneath everything; firelight much like his own heartfire that burns warm and comforting in his chest.
There’s no name he can find, no word ready on his tongue when Thæon looks upon this creature of garnet scales and its crown of midnight horns; drawn in by its presence; the dragon mighty and formidable and terrifying in every way, and still Thæon can’t help but yearn to know what it would feel like to stroke his fingers across its maw; what strength the creature must possess in the rippling muscles beneath its hide.
For as long as Thæon can remember, he was in love with the idea of dragons. He had seen their likeness carved into the great halls of his home; having re-enacted the battles depicted in stone alongside his friends, and sworn his hatred to King Troth when Mother had told him that he was responsible for their fall when they were thrown from the skies.
The dragons were the children of the gods. They were the first teachers of magic; the ones that taught the first children of Medellin to harness the magic that lived within in them, and from their teachings grew the five great clans. Without the dragons, Thæon wouldn’t be the warrior he is today.
And here he stands before one, who, could very well be the last of its kind.
There was only one thing Thæon could do.
He sheathes his sword.
The dragon purrs its approval instantaneously, standing as sudden as the winds that carry the voice of the whispering trees.
Thæon gathers distance in hurried steps, but he is ignored, his fear cast aside as he watches with wonder-filled eyes as the dragon spins on the spot, shaking its wings, churning its nails through the stone beneath its feet as easily as Thæon could wade through water—a shudder rippling through him at the vacuous show of strength.
In hopes to appease, or maybe it’s because Thæon’s hands are full and he’s not quite sure what else he should do, he lifts one of the fruits—branch and all—to his mouth; sweet juices filling his mouth when he takes a bite; the dragon churring its approval in another display of rippling muscles, swishing tail and clattering teeth that sounds enough like laughter that Thæon echoes his own.
It makes juice dribble down his chin and onto his chest.
Bored with being left to watch from the sidelines when he believes there is a game unfolding, Bröder charges back in with unbound excitement—maybe a little too much when he charges directly into the dragon that was gambolling on the grass, and Thæon, still worried for his idiotic calf hisses at him with panic in his throat.
He is ignored of course, because why would Bröder bother listening to Thæon when there is a dragon to play with?
Thæon stares mindlessly, watching terrified and intrigued and more than a little amused at the sight of the Bröder chugging along after the dragon, who accepts that he’s been pulled into a fame by the little calf; darting out of the way of his weight when the elephantine tries to knock him off balance; shunting and shoving him with his shoulders; grabbing at him with his trunk while the dragon nips playfully at the air near his knees, making Bröder squeal and dart towards the river.
They are like children, the pair of them.
And it gets Thæon thinking.
Bröder is, in all aspects, still a child; barely a few years from his infancy, not even a year from his mother’s side before Thæon saddled him up and took him from his home; the young calf still entitled to be wilful when he doesn’t want to listen; playful by nature and curious enough to lead himself into trouble without fear, or thought, of the consequences.
And the longer Thæon watches the two of them, the more he sees that this dragon acts similarly. Not the same, but still playful when he chases Bröder into the river and the pair of them splash one another.
The dragon is holding himself back, Thæon notices. He’s been forgotten about while Bröder keeps the dragon’s focus; which allows himself to climb up onto the rock shelf that overhangs the shallows, his feet hanging just above the water so as not to soak his boots, mind completely absorbed by the dance before him.
The dragon is clumsy in its movements—tripping twice over its own tail, and slipping in the shallows where a sudden jerk of its head unbalances it enough to send it crashing into the river water—and Thæon’s eyes sweep its scale coat for signs of injury or reason. He finds none, but sees more when Bröder rocks his bodyweight into the dragon and, when replied in kind, Thæon can see the way he does so half-heartedly.
And again the second time.
The third time, he is a little more forceful, and by the time Bröder is back to the irritating game of trying to grab hold of the dragon’s horns to shake his head, the dragon is full-on headbutting the calf, rolling his entire weight onto two legs to topple him into the water, all the while laughing and gurgling and purring.
He must be young, Thæon thinks. The sight of the two creatures playing has calmed him more than he realises, leaning forward with a grin when Bröder fills up his trunk and squirts a jet of water directly into the dragon’s face. Mother’s tales told of dragons being taller than the trees; mighty, powerful creatures that commanded the earth and skies, but this dragon, while dawn-red and beautiful, was no bigger than a large workhorse.
His horns are a deep blue, deep enough that black tendrils of shadows spill onto his scales to fade into quartz that runs the length of his underbelly; the colour playing patterns over his face, from the tips of his wings and the length of his tail, as if he were bleeding colours.
Which lead to the question: how old could he be? —and, if he was indeed still growing out of his dragonling years, then where was his family, why was he alone—
A large wave of water knocked Thæon out of his thoughts; cold seeping into his skin and drenching his clothes from where Bröder had squirted a jet of water at him, and was now splashing his feet in the river and laughing to himself because he had caught Thæon off guard.
“Bröder, you little shit!” Thæon roared, forgetting himself when he jumps to his feet in an instant, fire crackling in the palms of his hands in familiar warning—Bröder too often splashing Thæon in streams whenever he gets bored, despite the fact that he’s got a friend to play with this time.
The dragon freezes where it had been skipping on the far bank, eyes wide and wary in the face of Thæon’s anger, and Thæon might feel guilty for scaring him once more, but he’s wet and soaked, and despite the warmth of the air around them, the stream is particularly cold. He doesn’t think between jumping into the stream and carving his hand through the water to send a wave splashing into the calf’s face.
“Serves you right, you asshole,” he laughed, hands on Bröder’s head and giving him a shove, batting against the kioea’s trunk when Bröder swings at him, grabbing for him and yanking on his arm to knock Thæon backwards into the stream. If he wasn’t soaking before…
Even the dragon is laughing, and Thæon’s own amusement spills into a smirk on his face.
“Alright, you asked for it.”
Thæon never thought, for a second, that he would ever come face to face with a dragon, let alone chase and play with one in an open meadow. A meadow he would never have passed through, had it not been for the Naurn blockade that patrolled the river border of Nadhras. A blockade that wouldn’t have been an issue, had it not been Thæon the one trying to cross, because King Ruihyn wouldn’t have cared beyond a tantrum and more slander to the clanlands should he have heard that a simple barbarian from the north was in his lands.
But had he heard that it was none other than the son of the Tæ’adanaï and heir to the five great clans of Medellin…
Someone, somewhere, wanted Thæon to come to this valley. A god or goddess that kept a watchful eye, had wanted Thæon and this dragon to meet, he just knows it.
He doesn’t know which god is weaving his story, but it is being led down a path unforeseen, and while Thæon has little choice but to follow it, he can’t help but be curious as to where it will take him.
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