The world lay quiet under the long shadows of the night.
But Thæon, laid out on his bedroll, could not sleep. He stared up at the star-filled sky, colourless and as never-ending as the thoughts that crowded within his mind, each vying for attention, and keeping him dreams.
Curled around him, the dragon snores peacefully, his mind free from dark designs, dreams painted in the place of shadows and a fear conquered to carry him through it all.
Thæon wished he knew more about dragons. He wished that there were more to the tales than that which was carved into the stone of the great halls; that there was more than the stories that had been passed down, father to daughter, mother to son; lessons in songs and tales; histories recorded that tell of what happened thousands of years ago, and yet none of what Thæon knows is useful to him.
He has questions—of course he has questions—but he has no one to answer them.
There’s an ease in knowing that the dragon seems to understand what Thæon says to him, but how far that actually goes, he isn’t sure.
Far enough for the dragon to grumble and croon back at him, as if he should know how to speak Thæon’s language, but has simply forgotten how.
“This isn’t going to be easy, is it?” Thæon asks, more to himself than the sleeping dragon; reaching out to trail his fingers along the length of his neck, feeling the nodes and bumps underneath his fingertips; a heat buried deep beneath them from the dragon’s heartfire.
Somehow, he had forgotten he possessed it, and held a fear of fire, having reared back in fright when Thæon first lit the campfire with his spark. It had taken every measure of patience he possessed to coax the timid dragon from where it had cowered on the far side of the river, wary of the fire but trusting enough of the human that was barely able to grasp the situation to understand.
That in itself gives rise to more questions, and Thæon can feel it echo on his face; the furrow of his brow and narrow eyes that roam the dragon’s face in the lambent fire light.
When Thæon had watched him this afternoon, the dragonling had been clumsy, almost as if regaining his strength from an illness, or healing from an injury of some kind. But the only one Thæon had been able to find is a small cut just above the dragon’s right eye. Nothing to indicate that the dragon had been struck with weakness.
It was too late in the year to consider that he was shaking off the lingering ache of hibernation; Thaw and Rising Star having long since been and gone with Young Summer warming the skies.
If his lack of gracefulness had been due to something else, Thæon had no answer. He didn’t know enough about dragons. He didn’t know if they even hibernated in the colder winter months; or the exact years their lives spanned; whether they got sick; whether a broken wing could heal over time or one fatal crash would ground a dragon for the rest of its days; not knowing how long a wound would take to heal if it was to heal at all….
In his answerless-frustration, Thæon snatched his hand away from the dragon’s neck and buried himself beneath the furs, rolling over so that he was staring instead at the mountain slope of its body; scaled, stone-shale and protective.
The thought makes Thæon’s stomach twist, poisoned by pride; vaunted, almost, by his own achievements from such a young age, and the desperation to be strong, to not need anyone to rely on enough that it was a natural reaction to turn a cold shoulder to anyone offering help or aid.
Thæon had come to see the offering of assistance like an insult, and seeing it now given from a beast makes his hackles rise and his magic flare—
The dragon heaves a stuttered breath in his sleep, turning with a whimper, curling; and Thæon is struck by ice when the beast’s head presses into his back.
His breath is hot, pleasant in a way that was unexpected, as much as the sigh of relief that rolls through him; what remaining tension fading in chorus to a purr as he nuzzles the boy that lays beside him, and Thæon feels himself stiffen at the sought-out comfort. It reminds him of how Bröder shows fear in a thunderstorm—brave and headstrong against the greatest of threats, but when the gods argue in the skies above, he shows the truth of being a meek and timid calf only a year from his mother’s side.
This dragon has been separated too; now without his family, and young enough that he hadn’t learnt the horrors of what humans were capable of: young and innocent in this world where many would rather see him dead, if not out of fear then for their own greed; the Naurn, Ouran and Laeg all responsible for the massacre of his kind and would certainly be just as eager to see something they considered a mindless beast to be slain.
Unless, maybe this creature knew who he could trust, and those he couldn’t; maybe having recognised Thæon was of Medellin—the northern clans having been born of the dragon’s kindness to the Evis Anaïyr and have thus since revered and honoured them—and the dragon knew that it was safe to reveal himself to a descendant of the first clans.
But there were so many questions that rose with every new maybe, every might—because how could the dragon know to trust Thæon if he was as young as he thought him to be, with no one to teach him otherwise; unless he wasn’t young, unless he hadn’t always been alone—
Thæon scrubbed at his face, his head beginning to hurt with the torrent of thoughts as he tried to think up an explanation to this auspicious, albeit near impossible meeting.
The gods had their reasons, and maybe it wasn’t something mortals were meant to understand, or to question, but Thæon couldn’t help by want for answers. There was a reason for their meeting. There was a reason the gods had entwined their threads.
Thæon simply wanted to understand why.
It was the earth moving that woke him; Thæon reacting to his dreams of crumbling mountains turned reality; earthquake tremors like lightning in his limbs; magma heat eroding peace for the tumultuous confusion of waking.
His hand is curled around the handle of his sword before he’s fully woken; hands warm with sparks as they cling to the familiar wrap of leather that he had tucked underneath the numnah that doubled as a substitute bedroll on nights the ground was too rough to bare; his eyes wide and searching in a rush of adrenaline that came from being woken suddenly.
It all came collapsing down when Thæon’s mind caught up to the world around them and he realised that the crumbling mountain was none other than the dragon that had appeared as if from a dream all itself, and had curled around him like a doting puppy soothed by the hearth-fire.
Not a dream, he thinks groggily, releasing the white-knuckle grip on his sword, blinking tiredly to where the risen sun should be. Yet he is greeted instead with a dull violet of before-dawn.
It sparks anger beneath the tiredness.
“What in the nine realms—?”
But the words barely get past his lips before he is silence by the thunderous voice of the dragon when he lets loose a growl that echoes across the meadow with the strength of lightning.
It was so jarring to the visage of a playful, timid hatchling that he had shared company with the day before that has Thæon stilling instantly, eyes searching to see the flash of teeth that are borne in threat.
The dragon isn’t looking at him but towards something else; his body shifting, wings lifting to make itself bigger as he defends his territory from a predator that prowls the pre-dawn for a sleeping meal.
It won’t find one here, but Thæon considers that maybe he can take this opportunity to claim himself his own food—having run out of deer meat that he had hunted back near the floodplains of the Bodeive River, and now—
There is a voice.
Thæon can hear it like a hum beneath the wind—too soft to discern spoken words, but he knows the difference between a warning growl and a human voice—to which the dragon snarls viciously.
Bröder is snapped awake in an instant, shocked awake just as Thæon was; but instead of understanding what is happening, the calf scrambles to his feet and flees to the treeline, crashing through the bracken and leaving an easily followable trail should he not return by himself after calming down. Its preferable, really, because if the stranger poses a threat to himself or the dragon, then Thæon can be free to unleash his fire and irritation at being woken at the crack of dawn.
But before can charge, a monstrous hand grabs him out of nowhere—the dragon not having forgotten he’s there for a moment—and Thæon has no hope of fighting against him, his curses falling on deaf ears when the dragon snarls again, torn with a roar of stormy skies and a pitched keening above it all that betrays only one emotion.
The dragon is afraid of the intruder, just as he had been of Thæon.
But where the crimson beast had shown his meekness and a want to befriend the northerner, now he shows only his fangs, bared wide and bright, snapping with an intensity that strikes Thæon unpleasantly; a staggering force that reminds him that the dragon is, in fact, a dragon; fierce and mighty despite its young age and inexperience of the cruelty that the world can possess.
Yet not enough to delay the raising of his wings; bellowing with a ferocity that shakes the birds from the trees and the world around them shuddering.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t sneak up on you while you were sleeping,” the voice says, loud enough in the quiet that Thæon can hear; the man’s voice like mud in the gutter; thick sludge that found itself home in putrid bogs and stagnant marshes, “but then again, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?” and, oh, how Thæon hates him, like he’s never hated anyone before in his life.
He doesn’t care who the man is, he doesn’t care for his reasons for being here: the Ouran might have collectively disregarded the beliefs of their ancestors, and the Naurn might have grown lax in their worship of the gods, but none were as stupid as this fool that thought he could set prey to a dragon—to a child of the gods—as if he were above the old laws.
Thæon was going to kill him.
Well he would, if the dragon would let him go, but try as he might Thæon couldn’t shake himself free of the monstrous hand that holds him; not squeezing or hurting him, just tight enough to pin him to his side and keep him there.
Protecting, Thæon thinks, the word like poison and it sparks anger in his hands before he can fully comprehend what it is that he’s doing; fire erupting in an explosion of sparks and embers, palms touched to the dragon’s paw and the claws are withdrawing.
Thæon only allows himself to feel guilty for a second, snatching up his swords as sparks crackle in this palms; rounding the dragon’s chest to take on the bastard that dared to think—
There are three of them, armed to the teeth, donning thick-leather armour that betrays their value in coin and status as more than just a local farmer, but certainly not one of King Ruihyn’s soldiers. Their weapons are too large for their feeble statures; each blade rusted; each spear-tip blunt.
They are no one with nothing but scrap metal and whatever feeble control they have on their magic.
“You’ve got three seconds to fuck off,” Thæon spits, wasting no time in threats as the other three work through a multitude of clashing emotions at the sight of the blond and his swords steadied before him, wanting for blood. They shouldn’t fear an outlander if they were willing to hunt a dragon, but Thæon knows that superstition can hinder the most logical of minds, and he’ll use any advantage he has.
“Who are you?” the closest asks, like that matters.
Thæon just shifts the grip on his sword, much to another’s amusement and even in the pre-dawn darkness he can see the way they grin at the realisation that it’s only one outlander, no more than the dragon, and confidence returns to them.
“It doesn’t matter. The dragon is the one we want,” the other says; tall, gangly, sporting a saxe-blade but holding it like one would a short sword.
“I dare you to try it.”
Thæon’s distaste towards his inability to properly hold a blade is drowned by the man’s audacity to claim the dragon as chattel, anger causing his fire to flare, watching as his adversaries let loose their own magic in reaction to the sparks: one being a Greenseed commanding the grass beneath his feet to flatten and bend away so as not to trip him and his comrades in preparation to their charge; another a Stormchaser that calls the winds to blow, but the wind is wilful and the man is pathetic with his control and he can’t sway the breeze to do more than card it’s fingers through Thæon’s fringe.
The third was a Fireheart, like himself. Thæon knew only from the familiar feeling of something pulling on his flames; the feeling kin to cobwebs against his skin that tugs with pitiful effort—disconcerting him more than disturbing the flow of his magic—and his smirk ignites dangerously.
They’re not competent in their magic. That’s why they wield weapons, and judging by the way they hold them and themselves, Thæon thinks it’s safe to suggest that they fair no better with metal than with their innate magic.
“I’d be careful if I were you, barbarian,” the Greenseed taunts, daring to take a step closer, as if he hadn’t just shown Thæon what little strength he possessed. “If we’re prepared to kill a dragon, do you really think we’re going to think twice about killing a savage from the north.”
The words are meant to insult, Thæon knows, but he can’t help the way the word savage pricks him like a thorn in the sole of his foot; the barb not often enough tossed at him for it to blunt itself on his indifference and Thæon snarls low in his throat in reaction.
He is warmed by amusement when he hears the dragon echo him; the two of them facing down the Naurn scum together, and it sends a thrill of excitement racing through him that sharpens his grin; still caught in half-shadow that the bandits cannot see, and so they do not feel the fear they should as they prowl closer.
Confidence rising, alongside an impatience that wants to see this fight fought and finished, Thæon spins his blades in his hands, sparks bursting into flames that sheath his swords.
The opposing Fireheart stalls for half a heartbeat, his own confidence wavering. Thæon has faced enough to know how their mind is racing to find the answer as to why he is wielding flames with the same ease of wielding his swords, but it doesn’t matter.
Thæon will use any advantage he has.
It is his turn to taunt them.
“You know, I’ve had the displeasure of knowing idiots in my time, but you three amaze me that you’re still breathing,” he says, his voice near enough a shout just so that he can be heard across the divide. The three are approaching still, but slowly. “You can’t kill the dragon. Are you really willing to incur the wrath of the gods for killing their child?”
As he speaks, the words burn Thæon’s throat.
These bastards were just like those that hunted the dragons when Troth sat on Ost’Aura’s throne at the end of Seventh Era. They were the same idiotic, brainless fools that thought they should shake off the will of the gods when the very world around them shows their power still remains, even now while the gods reside in their realms far from the reach of mortals.
“You’d willingly bring down the wrath of the Enaran by hunting down their brother, as if he were nothing more than an animal?”
Thæon gives a humourless laugh, blades spinning in his hands once more. “And the three of you actually seem to think that you’re strong enough to hurt him? You’re more stupid than I thought.”
“The gods don’t exist,” the Fireheart shouts, and Thæon would have loved to see him struck down by his insolence. “You savages are still scared by bedtime stories thinking they’re more than tales. They’re just silly little stories someone twisted to make people sound like heroes. You forget that they’re long-since dead, killed just like any mortal.”
“And that there,” the Stormchaser says, raising his over-sized sword to point it at the dragon that stands behind Thæon, “isn’t a child of your so-called gods. It’s an animal that can be slaughtered and skinned just the same as any wild dog.”
Thæon’s rage ignited into fury; flames racing up his arms and along his shoulders to dress him in a cloak of power. He held his sword with both hands, standing side on, ready to face the three, his voice a growl; “I’ll kill you before you can lay a hand on him.”
All four of them charged at once.
The Greenseed struck first, reeling an arm back to launch one of his spears—iron-tipped and, were it sharp, deadly in the right hands—the trajectory bringing it down, not where Thæon had been standing, but to the dragon that stands behind him. He bellows in horror, darting backwards and out of the way; Thæon’s focus allowing him to take note that the spear did not strike scale before he’s launching forward, carrying himself and his growing rage across the meadow, meeting the downward strike of the first, breaking defence and deflecting the second to follow with bitter laughter on his tongue.
“You’re dead,” he promises all three of them; his anger as sharp as ice and barbed in insults as their steel clashed iron beneath the dragon’s outrage that sets the sky ablaze with thunder; the mountains around the echoing his fury and Thæon’s alike as the fight presses them across the meadow grass.
The Greenseed is the most competent with his magic—long strands of grass grabbing at Thæon’s legs, holding him, and weighing him when he tries to spin into a feint—but he is no match for Thæon’s skill with his sword, or strength over his heart-fire; the boy dressing himself in a cloak of flames that only the Fireheart doesn’t have to fear, but he still has to defend against the barbarian’s swords.
The dragon bellows again, his voice keening with panic and Thæon turns in time to see a curved knife glance off of his scales where the Stormchaser had thrown it in a moment of; the blade scaring more than hurting, but Thæon’s chest seized with a nameless emotion as the dragon bleated fear like a lamb.
His eyes widen in understanding, mind racing as he realises far too late that, while the creature was mighty and magnificent, the he wasn’t making a move to fight back. He was terrified of these three—just as he had been terrified when he’d first come face to face with the outlander—and even when the need to fight was for the sake of his own protection, the dragon was far too caught in his own fear to raise a claw.
Thæon turns away from the attackers, knowing it’s foolish but not caring. “Fly!” he yells again, his voice pitched in an emotion he couldn’t name, voice tight for reasons he doesn’t have the time to understand. Not now, in the middle of this fight, while the meadow burned hot like the peak of summer and the dragon turns wide fearful eyes on the barbarian in the midst of it all.
“Fly, you stupid dragon, fly! They’re trying to kill you, so get out of here!”
Something tugs at the fire in Thæon’s hands and he turns back in time to catch the Fireheart’s raised sword mid-blow, redirecting the motion as he withdraws his father’s short, broken-handled spearhead from the sheath on his back, to hack into his unprotected midriff where his stolen leather armour doesn’t protect vital weaknesses. The Fireheart’s magic isn’t strong enough to power through his defences and Thæon can feel the rhythm of the fight beneath the soles of his feet; spinning in an arch to dart out the way of the Stormchasers knives; a glance to the Greenseed who darts in, his spear in hand—
Thæon hasn’t got his weapons on him; they’re still in Bröder’s saddlebags and no use to him so far away near the rock shelf and half-obscured by the dark.
But he knows the Greenseed’s target, and he’s not about to stand by a let a Naurn lay harm to a creature the gods have led him to, for the sake of protecting him, and Thæon lines up his target in a heartbeat, arm back, elbow up; his sword flying across the divide and carving across the man’s arm—the worst of the damage barred by his armour—but it was enough to force him to drop his spear and grab instead onto the wound that spilt blood into the meadow.
Thæon wastes no time, turning back to the dragon, his anger erupting in a volcano of fire and thunder: “GO!”
Thæon can’t watch his retreat, turning back in time to parry a sword with the one that remains; fist bunching with power, a prayer sent to the Ashen Goddess as he lets loose more fire than he would normally dare, but he has handicapped himself by discarding his sword instead of his father’s spearhead, (but there was no choice, how could there be a choice?), and the Fireheart he faces is impervious to the current strength of his magic. He can overpower him if he dares to channel more strength into his inner fire, to bring it from the depths of himself and into the air.
There’s a risk in his flame burning out, but that dragon won’t fly and Thæon can’t lose anyone else—
They shouldn’t be as difficult to fight against as they are—low-level thugs that follow someone else’s orders and rarely think for themselves—but Thæon is protecting and fighting at the same time.
His mind is divided.
“You can’t save him,” the Fireheart taunts, dancing out of reach of Thæon’s sword. “You’re outnumbered.”
“You’re outmatched,” Thæon snarls right back, throwing himself forward, flames burning around him with an intensity that even he could feel the uncomfortable warmth of the air.
But he was at home within the flames, his body moving like inferno itself; fluid and deadly and with a scorching heat that knocked back his bandit foes and kept even the offending Fireheart at bay.
He heard the whistling pitch of a knife in flight, heard the dragon bleat fear and panic as the whistling grew louder; spinning on the ball of his heel, his free hand reaching up to block the knife, forgetting he no longer wields his sword, having to change his grip mid-motion.
Thæon bites back a curse when his fingers caught blade instead of handle, but it was a weapon all the same and he took its momentum, took the course of the turn and, knocking aside the Stormchaser brute with the splintered shaft of his father’s spearhead, turning stolen knife in hand until the blade angled down; biting into the flesh of the Fireheart before him, steel stabbing into the leather, the blade piercing deep.
But not deep enough to kill.
The dragon hadn’t run far enough.
For some dumb reason, he had halted his retreat on the edge of the meadow, head turned back, pain in his voice as he calls out to Thæon as he holds his own against two; the third charging the dragon while their opponent is tied up.
Thæon snarls, turning for him, snarling louder when the grass under his feet snags at his ankles and holds him fast; the barbarian forcing his fire to ignite the ground beneath him, to reduce this meadow to tinder and ash even though he knows that dragon is still terrified of his flames.
He can’t let them hurt the dragon.
He refuses to fail this trial sent by the gods.
“Run, damn you!” Thæon roars, dragon-rage in his voice, no longer having the luxury of turning to the creature; no longer able to keep the fear from his voice when a sword glances off of his gauntlet, the deflection not strong enough and the first wound curves up his forearm in a bloody line that burns like acid. The bastard responsible gives a cry of cheer, the Greenseed beside him sharing his triumphant grin, but his eyes are focused on the dragonling, finally, finally having turned tail towards the treeline and—
“Leave the dragon. We found him once, we’ll find him again,” the Fireheart yells, his voice rising over the sound of the meadow blaze, of the clashing steel and Thæon’s fury as the grass is reduced to ash and ember. “He can’t get far if he can’t fly. I want to finish teaching this meddling savage a lesson first!”
“You should’ve brought more men,” Thæon teases, his confidence slipping as he parries with the stole knife; the fight resuming with unbridled fury. The playing field has been levelled with the exchange of bleeding wounds, Thæon’s fallen sword and their comparatively weak magic, but Thæon can feel the ache growing steadily heavier.
He had been pulled from sleep and flung into a flight; fuelled by anger and adrenaline, unprepared and still ready to face whoever dared to think that they could slay a child of the gods. He was a descendant of the bloodline that had fought side by side, shoulder to shoulder with dragons since they first clan.
And now that the gods had led him to the last dragon, Thæon would do everything in his power to protect him where he could not fend for himself.
Out the corner of his eye, the Greenseed launches a knife. It was nothing like Thæon’s own throwing knives, or one of his iron-tipped spears; this being a simple knife found on a fisherman to cut his line, or that a boy would take on his hunt of long-ears and wood pigeons, and yet its rusted blade was a danger that Thæon was forced to dodge.
Again and again, between the rise and fall of the remaining two’s desperation and hunger, sensing Thæon’s growing exhaustion that becomes a fourth enemy to fight against.
“What say you, savage?” they tease, cocky enough in having thought this battle almost won that they waste their breath in taunting him. “You think Líala will suit you an akrren, or will this fire magic prove you to be a stronger dragon than your newfound pet.”
“The fuck are you talking about?” Thæon snarled, not understanding what they’re threatening him with, only knowing that it is a threat. They don’t answer, only charging in; forcing him to parry, deflect. Try not to think about how his breath is coming hot and sharp, his burst of adrenaline beginning to fade. He hates himself for having given up his sword, with its longer reach and advantage over the blunted blades that swing for his neck, but there’s no point mourning its loss now.
Not when all three adversaries are closing in. Not when exhaustion weighs heavy on Thæon’s arms and his wordless grow tears from behind clenched teeth, knife swung wide, fire exploding outwards.
He didn’t even see when the wind mage threw the chain.
Swept by an unnatural current of wind, curving through the air in a way impossible without the wind to direct it, the chain looped suddenly around Thæon’s extended wrist, halting the downward cleave of his knife that would’ve struck a killing blow to the Fireheart.
But now his hand, his arm is trapped in the binding of the iron serpent—crushing, biting—unmoveable even when the Stormchaser darts in with his machete, one hand wrapped around the other end of the chain, tugging an unexpecting Thæon off balance and into the path of his stabbing blade.
Blocked, when Thæon tosses his sword to his free hand; held suspended against Stormchaser’s knife while he searches for a way to free his arm.
Blind to Greenseed’s fist that collides with his skull.
The burnt ground rises up to smack into Thæon’s face.
Suddenly, there’s a grip on his left arm, a foot stamping down to crushing the grip of his right hand but he knows them both to enemy and he doesn’t waver as he readjusts his hold and thrusts the blade blindly upwards, barking a triumphant yell when he meets resistance and a pained shout that descends into anger.
“You’ll pay for that,” one of them curses, and there are hands, flames, smoke. The iron serpent constricts around Thæon’s left arm and he grabs for it, but his fingers can’t cut through metal, only caught by it, and he struggles as the men that he had sworn death upon bind both of his arms in the thick iron chain.
Fuck, fuck, no, this wasn’t how this was supposed to go. Thæon was stronger than this. He was stronger than them.
They were Naurn scum, nothing more than bilge rats, nothing more than thieves in the woods and Thæon will not—cannot—fall to them.
Something strikes Thæon’s head again, and the ground rises up to meet him once more. A different, blunt pain erupts between his eyes, tears mixing with blood as it drips from his nose, but still he fights back.
Around him, the world screams its ire. The earth shakes in thunderous rage, the skies darkened and Thæon’s eyes open as the mountains collapse around him—
But no mountain stone is red like the dawn.
No mountain stone screams with sharp teeth and sharper claws, and Thæon feels something kin to pride igniting in his chest as he watches the dragon crashes atop of him; a hair’s breadth between him in the scaled armour where it stands over him, protecting; bellowing fury in the same moment it leans forwards and swallows the screams of the Fireheart in one swift snap of his teeth. Thæon watches as he rears back, neck snapping like the crack of a whip and the man’s mangled, bloodied body goes flying across the meadow, slamming into the trunk of a watching elm.
The outlander doesn’t feel an ounce of pity for him, too focused on struggling against his bonds as the dragon returns to his primal roots, shaking loose the chains that the Stormchaser had thoughtlessly thrown around his horns; the iron links that ensnare him snapped as easily as twigs, their other weapons like sand in the wind compared to his tempest might.
The Greenseed is killed as quick as the Fireheart, crushed underfoot and forgotten; the dragon turning his bloody maw on the third that has attempted to flee and Thæon couldn’t care less as he fights the chains. There’s a flicker of fear, barely noticeable in the violent destruction, but he would be a fool not to acknowledge that had he raised a weapon in his and Bröder’s defence, then he too would’ve felt the full might of the dragon’s power.
Now he can only yell for it, needing himself to be heard as the creature hunts the last of the trespassers. He has answers to Thæon’s questions; the only one left alive to tell him why he was hunting the dragon, how had he known where the creature claimed its territory, and more importantly, how many more of them were out there, still on the trail.
Thæon’s struggles start anew.
Both of his arms are trapped in the same binding coil of metal; the end of it slung around his neck to bite painfully, only cutting off his air when he strains too much, making things all that much harder as he fights against his trappings and the sand-timer of his dragon’s anger, who stalks the third, ready to kill.
“Don’t kill him, don’t—Dragon, don’t kill—Fuck, fuck!”
Thæon wrestles the iron snake but cannot find a release. He calls out, again and again for the dragon to hear him, to not kill the man, but there’s no name on his tongue he can readily give, beyond those that he has spoken aloud a thousand times before when he played pretend alongside his friends.
But none of them spark recognition, or anything in fact, and Thæon roars outrage directed to himself as he watches his dragon rear up on two hind legs, and in a flash of light, the meadow is a field of fire; glorious reds and golds, a tincture of white sparking in Thæon’s mind as the dan peaks the horizon and the entire world is set aflame at his command.
“Stop. Dragon, stop!”
This time, Thæon was heard.
Too late, but heard all the same.
At the sound of his voice the dragon drops back down onto all fours once more, the fire in his mouth snuffed in an instant.
The meadow flickers for a moment, and then that too begins to dwindle and fade; Thæon still straining against the heavy chain around his neck, stomach turning involuntarily to the kneeling charred husk of what was once a human being.
But the dragon doesn’t share Thæon’s sentiments, and he watches as he begins to choke; standing rigid and unmoving as it gasps for air. He’s unresponsive when Thæon calls out to him, attempting to calm where he can see panic rising; the dragon’s wings shifting, his tail sweeping side to side, a whimper keening through the silence, stumbling—
“Hey, hey it’s okay, they’re all dead, you’re—fuck.”
He pulls too hard against the chain, gasping for breath from where he had inadvertently choked himself, still wrestling, still calling out the dragon that stumbles back clumsily, paw crushing the remains of the second bandit beneath his palm, and when the dragon looks down, gods there is a pain in his eyes, deep and unrelenting.
“Hey, you’re fine, you did nothing wrong.”
But the dragon can’t hear him.
He has begun to roar, guttural and torn in pain, head lifted to the crimson dawn, wings stretched out wide that lift him on a sour wind, and still he roars; voice tearing up his throat, the pain potent enough that it brings tears to Thæon’s eyes and he curses the bindings, the thugs and all those that had ever brought harm to such a pure-hearted creature that is torn in despair for having been forced to defend itself.
He sheds tears of pain and anguish, and Thæon hates the way it twists at his heart, hating that he’s still pinned to the ashen earth and he begs the gods to give him the strength to break these chains, prays to his own strength to hold out as he cuts off his own air in the struggle, trying—trying—
It takes him too long to realise the creature has stopped crying. His breathing still comes hot and heavy, his lungs rattling with every breath, but the light of intelligence has returned to him, and—it takes Thæon a second too long to realise—he’s making his way over.
Something clenches in his stomach at the sight of his blood-stained teeth; drool and spittle around his maw made ugly with blood and dirt, and Thæon is reminded again that this is a creature of earth and fire; a beast so strong that it could summon a tempest with its wings and crack the earth with the whip of its tail.
He looks disorientated. Confused. Lost.
That flicker of fear is strong now, and Thæon knows he wouldn’t be able to defend himself if this creature looked upon him and saw the same ugly greed that warped these men into the monsters that prowled the dark-before-dawn; the strength of his struggle dying in an instant and he cannot help but hold his breath, eyes scrunching when the dragon leans in, mouth wide, teeth bared—
The iron chain clinks when the dragon snags his teeth between the links, tugging lightly at first, tugging harder when even he cannot find release, and Thæon sets to work to free himself once more, inwardly berating himself for the thought that the dragon would hurt him when all it has ever shown him is a meek curiosity and playful timidness.
The two of them work together, slowly, having to stop a couple times when the metal coils too tight around Thæon’s throat and he’s left panting for air when it loosens again, but somehow they seem to manage; the dragon far more intelligent than Thæon had previously given him credit for that sees him free one of his arms before lumbering away, leaving him to extricate himself from the rest of it.
Anger returned then, all-consuming and exhausting; sparking in Thæon’s hands like a wildfire wanting to be free.
He allowed it; held smoking palms and burning arms that curved up his muscles, licking away the blood that had dried from all the times his defences had wavered and blades had cut into him.
All because Thæon wasn’t strong enough to take on three thieving Naurn.
Bastards, the lot of them. The world was a brighter place without them in it.
Noise bubbles from the river, Thæon turning as he watches the dragon haul himself up from where he had slumped in the shallows, burying his snout in the water.
He drinks noisily, like a creature starved of water for too long, and the boy feels his emotions flee like the racing wind as he is reminded, once again, of the beast’s true nature despite the scales and horns and sharp teeth that would make any lesser minded creature look upon him and see a monster.
There is disgust in him, clear in the way he drowns himself in the river, only to vomit it all back up; again and again to rid taste and guilt.
Thæon is familiar with the need of self-inflicted pain, but defending oneself isn’t a cause for it, and it’s this that pushes him from the blackened earth, stumbling on unsteady feet towards the shallows.
The dragon doesn’t hear his approach, too caught up in washing out the taste of blood. He doesn’t feel Thæon’s hand on him, doesn’t feel the way he trails a hand over his flank; stilling only when the boy calls out, his voice as soft as a feather, not knowing how the dragon will react.
He knows that he won’t hurt him—he’s proven that already—and proves it again when he turns to face Thæon, eyes filled with heart-breaking sadness that jerks painfully at the boy’s chest.
His arms move of their own volition in the invitation to offer comfort, the dragon whimpering meekly, but he goes willingly, pressing his face into Thæon’s chest as he wraps his arms around the dragon’s jaw, cheek rubbing against rough scale, voice as soft as the wind as he hushes him.
“It’s okay. You’re okay, now. They’re gone,” whispering over and over. And as if Thæon had given him the permission he needed, the dragon lets himself go in great heaving sobs, tears cascading down his cheeks.
He pushes forward heavily; Thæon moving in conjunction until he is pushed to sit on the grass, the dragon curling his neck, his body around him in similarity as to how they had lain in the grass to sleep. One of his paws is hooked over his leg, a claw snagging at his trouser leg in an attempt to hold on; the dragon’s head buried in his lap as he weeps, long drawn-out whimpers bleeding from his lips; sour croon staining the air and Thæon can hear the pain in his voice.
“I know, I know,” he says softly. “It’s okay. Sssh, you’re okay now.”
He repeats the words as often as the dragon needs them, whispering to him, hushing him, until he finds an old song warming his throat and Thæon hums the song of the stars and the sun, and the first dawn Agoutima gave.
While there are still tears, he sings the song of how the akrren’s got her snow-white coat; how the valerian bloomed at the fall of Asbris; how the gods welcomed humans at the dawn of the fourth era and were responsible for their divide in the twilight; Thæon’s voice soft and sweet and melodic, until the dragon’s tears dried and his whimpers softened into deep, even sighs.
As he sings, Thæon’s eyes roam across his snout, fingers tracing garnet scales, scratching at mud and blood flecks that have begun to dry beneath the heat of his flames. They stain his perfect hide, and make Thæon’s chest twist ugly inside his chest; enough that he doesn’t want to see it any longer than he has to, and when he confirms with himself that the dragon has calmed significantly, he coaxes him with his idea to bathe in the river before the dragon can return to panic.
Thæon doesn’t mention the blood that still covers his face, but he thinks the dragon understands him, complying when he urges him to return to the shallows, telling him that he’ll be right back, needing a cloth to help scrub away the worst of the blood and—oh gods, there’s human flesh stuck beneath the dragon’s paw and—okay, Thæon isn’t thinking about it, he’s just heading to Bröder’s saddlebags to fetch something to help him clean up.
While he is knelt by his belongings, far from the destruction of the burnt meadow grass, Bröder himself comes creeping out of the woods, the danger long since passed and the silence ushering him closer.
Thæon calls to him too, pointedly ignoring the way Bröder takes a wide birth from the dragon. It’s not his fault that he startled the elephantine, but the time for repairing that trust can come later.
For now, Thæon soothes him with a hurried petting, fetching qualla berries from inside his pack—a rare treat—before deciding that he might as well use the old square cloth that had held the berries, and heads back to where the dragon has once more slumped onto the ground; shadowed with heartsore pain, his body slow and lethargic as he drags his head to meet Thæon’s eye.
“C’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up,” Thæon says, pushing past his own daunting feelings, taking charge as he arranges the dragon and himself to sit beside one another on the shore bank, sitting cross-legged close enough to pull one of his paws into his lap so that he can set about cleaning the blood, grime and slithers of flesh, desperately trying not to think about how easily this could’ve been him had the dragon been in a vastly different mindset than to the one that he had found him in.
The dragon lets him work, a huff in his throat when he moves to the second paw and Thæon can’t wash away the blood quick enough.
“You did nothing wrong,” he says, because the dragon still thinks that the three’s death was something he should feel responsible for. “They came here looking for you, and they were going to kill you. You heard them. We both heard them, and don’t tell me you didn’t,” he says, eyes meeting his in an unspoken challenge, “because I know that you can understand what I’m saying.
“Don’t know how you do, you just do,” he mumbles as an afterthought, dunking the rag in the river. Maybe the dragon possessed the same magic as a Silver Tongue. Maybe he had learnt human’s speech from afar.
Or maybe it was from before… before whatever happened to him happened and fear of humans took seed inside of him.
Silently, Thæon curses the bandits again. Dead although they may be, that doesn’t heal the pain they have inflicted. It doesn’t mean the dragon is suddenly no longer scared, or that he’s not going to be looking over his shoulder for humans just like them and those that slayed the dragon thousands of years ago.
The very thought makes Thæon’s blood boil. He doesn’t realise he’s scrubbing too hard, until the dragon huffs at him, bumping his nose against his shoulder.
“Sorry. Guess I’m angry. Not at you,” he adds quickly, when the dragon pulls away from him, the ridges of his brows peaked in guilt. “I’m angry at them. You shouldn’t bother feeling sorry for them. Those bastards deserved it. I didn’t hold out much hope that the Naurn were any better than their Scorched King. Their land is twisted compared to ours; its broken and unbalanced. I haven’t met many that are worth remembering their names because too many are like those bastards.”
Thæon knows that his anger is spiking again—he can feel it like coals on his tongue—but he can’t quite bring himself to snuff the flame.
“They think they’re above the trials of their ancestors—they’ve disregarded the gods and the old laws, and-what the hell were they thinking trying to take on a fucking dragon,” he snaps, hands stalling as he glares at the shattered corpse of the Fireheart;
“Look what good that did them. It got them fucking killed.”
The dragon purrs, soft and apologetic, but Thæon won’t have any of it; those bastards deserved their death and he’ll stand by that fact until his throat is hoarse and his fire is nothing but smoke in his lungs.
“I won’t say I’m sorry to them dead. But I’m sorry you had to do it.”
The dragon doesn’t need to say—to croon or purr or growl—anything. Thæon knows what he did, and why he did it—the word protect still sharp in his mouth, but there’s not the usual taste of poison to accompany it—as he returns to his self-appointed task to get rid of all the blood, dirt and grime of the fight, something warm and alive flickering next to the fire in his chest.
Yesterday, he had wondered why the gods had led him here, to the last of the dragons.
Today they had shown him that red needed someone to look out for him.
Tomorrow, Thæon would take on the responsibility to care and nurture this gentle giant, reversing the relationship the dragons had shown to his ancestors, and rekindle the once unbreakable bond between dragons and the clans of Medellin.
Copyright © 2021 by Dragonire. All rights reserved.