Chapter Four

Thæon dreams of flying.


He dreams are filled with the expanse of open skies stretched out far around him; an ocean of blue warmed by the sun and painted with the teasing breeze. He can feel the clouds against his skin like the breath of a kiss; the world and the skies his to command as his dreams take him soaring above green fields and silver rivers; a canvas of a thousand colours spread as far as the eye can see.

It is the wind that holds him, and keeps him. Here in his dreams, Thæon doesn’t feel fear, and he can chase the ends of the world without the tightness in his throat that finds him on the cliff edges; trusting his dreams not to let him fall as he chases the rising sun, swimming amongst the stars, skimming the bowing grass of the vast plains as the world blurs into a myriad of colours.


When Thæon awoke, he was left with a longing for open skies; the feeling of the wind whipping through his hair familiar in a way that was impossible; his longing foolish considering his deep-seated fear of heights.

It was the familiarity that caught him in confusion as he leans against the curl of Obí’s neck, eyes heavy in the early hour, snug with his wing draped over the pair of them, cocooning, protective in a way that he had grown accustomed to as the weeks grew into months and Young Summer’s heat begun to reach near-unbearable levels that would see the pair of them retreating into the river’s shallows to escape the worst of it.


Early, before the sun can climb high enough to wash Thæon’s body with sweat and burn the air in his throat, both he and Obí have taken to venturing from the claimed territory. Sometimes the two of them wander through the trees side by side, hunting down deer, wild pigs or long-ears to fill their growing hunger; sometimes Thæon follows the animal trails and Obí skipping amongst the trees, following scent trails and trying to follow the birds in the canopy.

But mostly Obí carries Thæon as he runs, wings spread out to catch the barest caress of the wind. He thinks that that may be the cause of his dreams.


It happens often enough that Thæon can recognise Obí’s restlessness in the shaking of his wings; the way he paces back and forth like a caged bird and it’s not like he can’t run without Thæon riding him, but Obí has yet to leave the meadow without him, or yet to stay behind when he decides to go hunting.


Now is one of those occasions, with Obí shaking out his wings, nibbling at the spines that protrude from the crowns, stretching them out wide only to tuck them back in again, over and over, as Thæon rushes to cover his bag and Bröder’s saddle underneath a blanket of green leaves.

Their exploration is taking them further and further from the meadow, and while Thæon has yet to see signs of humans that isn’t himself, he can’t abandon his guard completely; not wanting to debate the plans of chasing down whatever opportunistic thief came searching through his things. It wasn’t like he could ask Bröder to keep guard when the petulant calf likes to please himself, sometimes following along, sometimes wandering off to find entertain until the others get back in the late afternoon, seeking the refreshment of the shallows.


So Thæon hurries to disguise his belongings, just as Obí churns at the ground, his gigantic talons gouging dirt and stone with the ease of giants, leaning his head down to catch Thæon before he can fall into his shadow, his hand hooked around Obí’s largest horn, the dragon already straightening to stand before Thæon has settled himself.


He barks a farewell to Bröder, snaps his tail at the ground and bounds forward at an alarming speed that has Thæon clawing for a tighter hold, laughter rippling freely from his mouth as the trees envelop around them and he ducks lower into the feel of Obí’s neck so that a stray branch can’t knock him from his sitting.

(It has happened before and Thæon isn’t keen for it to happen again.)


Red runs without purpose, but with speed, and it isn’t long until they pass the glade that they have so often found to be comfortable to rest; sprawled out beneath the bending branches of the lining aspen while the sun climbs steadily higher, far above.

But Obí doesn’t stop, nor does he slow, continuing to barrel forwards single-mindedly, deaf to Thæon’s questions as he eats the ground beneath him, darting gracefully between the thick trees, curling into the wind when they break through the treeline, leaping over the oceans of grass fields; Obí’s wings widening out to carry them for a heartbeat, another, before they touch the ground, Obí veering left to slip back into the forest again; path curving westward along the gentle slope, the sun at his shoulder and the world at his feet.


Each time they break out upon mountain meadows, the wind buffets around them, steady and warm; Obí’s wings stretching wide to meet them, seen out the corner of Thæon’s eye and he turns to look in a mix of curiosity and nervous excitement, leaning closer into the smooth scales, letting the rocking lull him into burning excitement that when the next gust comes Obí just might try to take flight—


Suddenly, Obí squawked in loud surprise, a moment of fear tearing through his voice as his wings opened up completely, spread out and up around him like gigantic crimson sails; his feet stumbling beneath him and Thæon hanging on with a death-grip as his dragon stumbles in a sudden, unexplained attempt to stop himself.

His wings catch him, holding him as he breathes heavily impart to having run so far so fast, and what could be fear.


A fear Thæon shares when he sits up higher on Obí’s neck to find what had caused the sudden halt, and feels his stomach twist itself into a cold knot of shock at the sight of the cliff edge his dragon is unsteadily perched upon; himself tucked tight behind Obí’s horns and held, suspended in the air, above a terrifying drop.


Beneath them, Thæon can hear the clattering of stones that have been shaken loose, watching them tumble and fall, fall, fall, before splashing into the glistening waters far beneath them.


They have found themselves looking out across a mountain lake, crystalline and perfect despite the pervading winds that shook the canopy trees and sent leaves racing to the water’s surface: thousands of boats set adrift on the expanse of dark water, radiating soft ripples that widened in expanding circles until they disappeared.

The shores stretched far, lined to the south and west by towering cliffs where pine and deciduous trees stood vigil, watching their own reflections dance far below as the wind raced east; Thæon forgetting the sheer drop beneath him when he looks to the far shore and the bending slopes that cradled the lake; stones and boulders rolled into a shore that stretched like white ribbon where the trees had retreated away from the water’s edge.


It was beautiful.


Thæon hears a rumble, suspiciously sounding like an apology, and then the stones that Obí had carved his talons into peel away from the rock face, tumbling into the lake below.


The dragon and his rider go tumbling with it.


The impact with the frigid water was like a punch to the gut, forcing all of the air out of Thæon’s lungs in one blow, lungs seizing, jaw clenched when there was only water to draw back in. His body spasmed on instinct, clawing at the water like it would drag him back to a world in which he can breathe. He feels something hard beneath him, Thæon twisting to plant his feet against it, using it to kick away; his head breaking the surface, gasping for air from shock, the fall and the freezing cold water that had caught him.


Despite it being late enough in Young Summer that, each morning the sun has warmed the air enough to make Thæon sweat and ache to shed all of his clothes and not move from the shade; the lake itself was too vast and too deep for the sun to have heated it to any measure of warm. It might’ve been refreshing had he dipped his feet, or wandered slowly from the shadows. It is not refreshing to have been tossed, full-bodily into the freezing depths.

Nor is it amusing when Thæon’s teeth begins to chatter, his body aching from the sudden change of hot to cold; one side of his body stinging from where he had hit the water forcefully.


Thæon’s teeth continued to chatter as he forced himself away from the cliff face, taking a moment to be thankful that the drop was sheer enough that they hadn’t caught it on their way down, and begun to swim towards where the ground slopes softly; a bay of stones and wild grass that was a much more inviting than the rocky cliff.


It was hard to begin with; Thæon’s trousers and boots soaked and heavy, making kicking his legs a trying task, but manageable when he found a rhythm and a small current that helped to carry him. He was thankful he hadn’t bothered bringing his cloak with him, having thought the only danger would be if it got caught around a branch and sought to strangle him. Things could’ve gone a lot worse than an impromptu bath had he had his prized cloak wrapped around his neck.

He shook the thought from his head and pushed himself up the sloping bank, igniting his fire with a fierce determination when his teeth began to chatter once more; steam rising from him in curls and patterns when he set alight his arms, letting his spark race across his back, more to take the edge of the cold from his bones, curses warming his own tongue as the force of smacking water redoubled its efforts to wind him.


Thæon strips off his boot and his trousers swiftly, ignoring the way his hands trembled ever so; laying his clothes in the sun, hoping its warmth would dry off what it could before he measured his own magic to stamp out any remaining dampness.

It wasn’t like they hadn’t been woven with magic to counter Thæon’s own burning fire, but the strength was nothing compared to his inherent flame and, if he weren’t careful, he’d be left with a pile of ash and a long walk back up the mountainside in nothing but his skin.


A pathetic sound caught Thæon’s attention, burying past the northerner’s growing irritation.

He turns his head to be met with a very pitiful, very apologetic dragon that still remained to stand in the lake’s shallows; his hung low that his snout scuffed the ground, refusing to meet Thæon’s eyes.


The same unpleasant fluttering sparked to life in Thæon’s chest, and, while he had every right to be angry at the foolish beast—he was soaked to the bone from frigid water; had been flung off the side of the cliff due to Obí’s clumsiness, had been held in suspense above a good thirty foot drop that could’ve seriously injured him had he hit the water wrong; had Obí not crashed into the water first, arms and wings curled around Thæon in his effort to protect him; had Obí not dived back under the water to find the human and given him something to springboard off of in his attempts to resurface…


Thæon had every right to be angry, and yet the emotion fizzled out like a small fire beneath rain. He let his frustration roll through him, letting it all out in one long drawn-out sigh. “Well. At least we know that you can swim,” he says, flashing Obí a tired smile, who returned much the same accompanying a crooning sigh.

And stolen attention as a pair of dragonfly flit about in front of him and he goes chasing them, as if he were a puppy and not a great hulking beast strong enough to topple the entire forest.


Thæon watches him go, smiling to himself and brushing off any lingering irritation before turning back to his sodden clothes, wondering if it’s worth the risk in drying his trousers at least. It’s just, there’s something about Obí’s intelligence, far above that of a wild beast, far above that of even Bröder that has Thæon thinking of things such as modesty and propriety and reserve that he may not have given two fucks about before.

The clothes were soaked, of course, and other than those thoughts, there was no real need to hurriedly dry them; no pressing need to return to the meadow either when the stone bay was just as peaceful and seemingly just as devoid of humans. Thæon would have to venture further, looking for signs to be certain, but for now he can allow himself a moment of found peace.


Relinquishing himself to the idea that he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon, Thæon settled himself onto one of the large rocks near the lake edge; sun-warmed and smooth, inviting him to lie out upon and bask just like he might on the rock shelf’s back up in their meadow.

The rock isn’t large enough to drape himself over, but it’s comfortable enough to sit on and look out across the serene landscape, watching the lake surface glitter like a thousand white diamonds, half his mind paying attention to Obí who gambols along the shoreline and even less paying attention to the prospect of approaching footsteps of predators.

With Obí’s noise, he wouldn’t expect any animals to venture from the shelter of the surrounding forest, but it always paid to be prepared.


Thæon remained on his rock, overlooking the shallow bay while Obí entertained himself nearby, following scents and digging at the ground, and taking lazy dips in the waters when he felt himself growing too hot. Thæon joined him in that regard, simply wetting his skin and washing away the sweat before climbing back out and resuming vigil.

He let his mind empty; content to embrace the serenity of this mountain treasure. He was mesmerised by the dance of dragonflies, the rippling of insects that skimmed the surface for a drink, watching the shadows of fish that darted about beneath them, a smile on his lips in predatorial fascination as he watched a sudden flash of silver break free from the world of water as fish swallowed up the unsuspecting insects whole.


Across the lake, on the western side, beyond where he and Obí lazed and the sweeping cliff face, Thæon saw a herd of deer slip from the shadows of the tree line to the water’s edge to drink. Some of them had their heads down, lapping quickly at the water, whilst others kept their heads high, on look out. A few of them were staring in Obí’s direction.

When the dragonflies returned, more fish leapt from the depths, glittering scales that reflected the rainbow arching with splashes of water, rippling out, merging, forming beautiful circular patterns with a beauty Thæon had learnt to appreciate. It was the intricate magic of the gods: details in the world he was a part of in every essence of his being.

Even his own fire magic; passed down from the Fire Goddess herself; her gift shared countless ancestors ago and Thæon’s to wield now in his venture to become stronger, for the sake of, not only his people, but those that will come after and the world they will all share.


It was Thæon’s title and future responsibilities that had governed him into maturing quicker than the other children his age.

Years ago, when his friends played in the river shallow and swam in the rivers, Thæon would spend his time fishing, hunting and exploring the lands of Angrenost. While his friends sang songs around the campfire and chased one another between the Arkeríon’s streets, Thæon’s father was already teaching him how to track and hunt, teaching him of balance in hunting and the balance of people that would one day become his; to care for and protect.

While Thæon’s friends played pretend with tree branches for swords, Thæon could already wield steel like an extension of himself, his heart full of anger and pain that saw him chase the snow trail into the mountains, seeking vengeance and setting aflame the path that had been carved out for him.


But here, in the peace and quiet of solitude away from the pressing weight of Thæon’s duties, he could allow himself to fall back into that childish innocence he had deprived himself of. He watched the leaves sail across the lake water, listening to the cracks of stones shifting beneath his dragon’s might, watching the clouds caressed by reflected light.


When the sun reached its mid peak, and Thæon’s hunger was sated by the summer berries that grew in abundance around the trunks of the aspen and conifers, he shed his now-dried trousers once more and took to the water.

He had learnt of the water reeds growing in the shade of the cliff from his last swim and stayed clear of them; not fearing what may hide amongst them, but simply not wanting to taunt their slimy hands into latching around his legs and dragging him under the water. Drowning wasn’t a fear Thæon faced as often as his fear of heights, but it was certainly just as unpleasant and he gave the reed forest a wide birth, swimming out a ways; not too far for the depths of the lake to swallow the lake bed beneath him; but just enough that when he dives beneath the surface and claws the water down to the bottom, it takes him a full breath of air.


Then, returning inshore a little—an eye cast to find that, yes, Obí was still on the shore, arms folded and head pillowed on them, sending jets of fire out to steam and hiss the lake’s surface—he began diving down to scour the bed for treasures, like flint or sharp rocks weathered by the water’s flow. It became a game of sorts, with Thæon challenging himself to find however many before the air called him and his lungs began to burn with the tension he placed them under each time he dived down.


When Obí came searching for him, huffing air underneath the water to cause giant plumes of bubbles rising; and only when he disturbed the mirror peace with his hulking body and slapping tail, did Thæon deem it had been long enough to been in the water. The dragon teased him into a race back to shore—that the beast won only because of his size—the pair’s hunger calling them to the hunt, with Thæon hurrying himself into his clothes, Obí gathering him onto his back before Thæon had completely finished tying up his boots, and they were off again, racing across the mountain slope beneath the aureate light of the summer sun.

 

The lake was a drug to soothe the heat of High Sun.


Day after day, Obí would race to the open water with Thæon settled behind his horns, remembering the path and remembering the cliff face, remembering to hang east so that they broke out onto the shallow bay and not thirty feet up with the tremendous fall that still made Thæon’s stomach swoop every time he looked at it.


When he stands at the edge, there is something inside of him that calls him to jump. To plummet the fall and splash like a stone in the lake far below, but Thæon has yet to take that leap.

Instead he conquers other challenges, having taught himself to swim amongst the water weeds, clawing with his hands, his ankles crossed and legs immobile to stop them from getting caught; watching the minnows and little fish that took shelter in the green.

He learnt to ignore the fear of water filling up his lungs, pushing himself further from shore, diving deeper and deeper until the burning was a comfort as he kicked swiftly to the surface.


Some days Thæon wouldn’t swim at all. He would just sit, idle on his rock with his knife to sharpen tall shoots of hazel, that he had found hiding amongst the conifers where they grew in competition with other shrubs and trees. He would strip them of their bark and bundle them together into arrows for when he and Obí would take to the hunt. Hours could be spent with Thæon lost in the process of whittling the wood, using sharp stones from the lake bed to tip them.

There was something mindful with the craft of smoothing the wood, and yet the task was something Thæon had often laboured himself with back home and out in the wilderlands of Ered Naur. He had found a mindlessness to be sure, but never the same peace that he finds now. Perhaps it was the lake.

Perhaps it was the company.


Soon, it became a daily ritual to venture down from the meadow. They would hunt together in the early hours; small game for Thæon that he could cook on an open fire in the bay; an ash pit that slowly begun to grow with each time he roasted his kills, or fish that he caught from the lake itself, sometimes indulging in Obí’s pleading and feeding him too.

Thæon would save cleaning and bathing for the lake, preferring the steady water than the rushing of the river that always felt far colder, slowly becoming accustomed to the paths along the lake’s basin with each adventure below the surface, familiar with the stones and underwater currents as much as the paths that brought Thæon and Obí to and from this haven.


Now Bröder comes with them, chugging along behind at a steady pace that, while slowing their own, was speedy compared to that of Thæon’s feet alone and they’d break through the treeline as the sun peaked the sky, Obí and Bröder racing to the lake to cool while Thæon let himself be carried, and washed off by the white water waves when the lake swallowed all three of them up.


Days passed much like they first had; with Thæon taking to the water like a bird to the sky while Obí chased the white waves on the shore, kicking stones and watching the ripples echo from his play; watching Bröder pick up pebbles in his trunk and toss them far out into the water—Thæon having to swim further out in case his idiotic calf brained him.

Sometimes Obí would follow Thæon out to deeper waters and they’d dive and splash, and sometimes the dragon would float lazily, Thæon laid out on his back or he would circle around the cliff face, near to the crumbling stones and lay amongst the conifers, eyes on the horizon, simply watching the world go by.


It is where he sits today, wings close to his body, the end of his tail coiled around an elder spruce, resting his head on his folded paws so that he may doze lightly. Bröder was filling his stomach with grass and berries, certainly never full, while Thæon, with tiredness dragging heavy at his limbs, dragging himself back to the shallows with a large black rock that shone like glass in his fist. He had found it in the depths, near to where the lake bed acts like a shelf, beyond which lies a black shadowy pit that Thæon does not like.

Regardless, he had finally beat back his childish imaginings of lake monsters and had picked at the stones near the shelf, having found the obsidian glass that had granted him all wonder of ideas when he had seized it; knowing that it would make a fine blade when sharpened.


When Thæon climbed from the shallows, his fire magic warming his skin enough to set the dripping water to steam, Bröder wandered over, still chewing on a mouthful of grass, simply to inspect that which Thæon carries. He chirped his greeting, trunk nudging at the black rock when Thæon held it out to him, chirping, batting his ears and reaching out to grab, probably with the intention to throw it into the lake and gurgle at the resounding splash.

“Nope, this is mine,” Thæon tells him, expertly snatching the rock back before the elephantine could get a grip on it. “If you want one, you have to fetch it yourself. Or grab one from underneath your feet,” Thæon says, heading to his clothes, ignoring Bröder’s less-than-excited reply, who begun to kick at the stones beneath him in a sulk.


Thæon shimmied into his trousers, hopping up onto the rock ledge to begin work at carving his black stone, watching Bröder return to his berry bushes, and an eye cast to where Obí still lays sleeping, and beyond; admiring what he never thought to appreciate before.

When his father taught him how to hunt, he had also taught him the patience of waiting. But here the reward was greater: herds of deer, and even a few elk that resided higher up the snow peaks, would often approach the expansive watering hole; young wolf pups splashing on the far shore under the vigil of the pack.

Birdsong, uninterrupted, filled the air with life, telling stories of distant lands, sharing tales that Thæon only dreamt of understanding while river otters nursed their young that swam in the safe haven of reed-beds, the pups called away from exploring when the darting of the dragonflies teased them into play, always hovering just out of reach.


Thæon watched the wind teach the leaves how to dance on the lake’s surface; pushed along like little canoes without a paddle, only to be sunk by curious creatures underneath.

It was peaceful and calm, and so far from the guaranteed of his duty-filled life before that he found himself wanting the summer months to never end. Come the Gold Fall and colder months he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stay. There wouldn’t be an excuse he could find to allow him to remain in this peace—no excuse holding him now except the knowing that the gods had set him the task of protecting the dragonling.


Now Obí could hunt for himself. Now he was no longer scared of his fire. With the way that he chased the winds down the mountain slopes, Thæon knew that it wouldn’t be long until Obí could fly. And when he could, Thæon knew there would be no more reason holding him back from his own carved path.

But maybe, just maybe, when it came time to depart their mountain meadow, Obí would come too—


It’s Bröder’s cry of shock that grabs his attention. Not the sound of the bracken snapping beneath the might of a hulking body, not the cracking of the stone beneath mighty paws, not the rumbling growl of a predator on the hunt. Thæon had been caught too deeply in his mind, turning only when Bröder bellowed his fear; a monstrous beast bearing down upon him.


The crest-bear was huge, it’s fur sandy and complimentary to Thæon’s own colour, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying when it was twice the size of the elephantine at least.

That was no reason to back down and Thæon was yelling, charging, hands swathed in flames. He didn’t have time to consider why there was a crest-bear this far west, didn’t have time to consider how foolish it was to challenge the beast with nothing but his fire, knowing only that Bröder was in danger and Thæon wasn’t about to stand back and do nothing.


Yet he was still too far, helpless to watch as the beast raise its monstrous paw, and took another swipe at his calf.

Bröder screamed.


“Fuck, no— No!” Thæon roared, his charge slowed by the sharp stone under his feet and the laziness that hadn’t seen him pull on his boots. He doesn’t have his swords either, or his knife, but he has a half-sharpened black rock in his right hand and his fire magic burning murderously. He’s never been good at throwing things, his aim poor when it’s not flying free from a bow string, and yet today the gods hold him in favour it seems, when Thæon launches the rock with surprising speed, surprised again when it catch the best on its shoulder—it’s thick blond fur protecting it from pain, but not feeling; the hulking creature turning snapping jaws towards him with an anger that could rival Thæon’s own.


Bröder, whimpering, was forgotten; the sight of blood on his flank setting seed to fear even as Thæon was faced with the sharp rows of teeth, yellow, bloodied and a promise of pain and even death should the crest-bear get a grip on him. But it wasn’t a new enemy; the northerner having taken down fiercer thrall than that of a bear. But then, Thæon had been armed. Prepared, if not at least joined by those he would deem friends were it not for status and duty and birthrights.

In his hunts, Thæon was the hunter, not the hunted, and he isn’t used to the feeling of fear growing in his chest as the crest-bear turns full-bodily towards him with another snarl, snapping its jaws and, in the same instant, launching forward, not at all slowed by the stones underfoot.


Thæon only had seconds until the beast was within striking distance. He swung with a fist, letting his fire explode dangerously as he brought his arm around, enough to spook the beast off its charge, but that didn’t mean Thæon had scared it off completely.

As the bear passed him in a circular motion, revising its attack strategy, Thæon back-peddled not daring to take his eyes off of it for a second, feet carrying him to where Bröder was struggling to his feet, crying out in pain from the slash mark over his rear right leg, forcing himself to bear weight in the hopes of escape as the predator snarled and snapped and growled angrily at the sparking fire that kept it at bay.


Unintimidated, the bear stood on its hind legs, towering, keeping its black, beady eyes on its prey and the furless creature that defended it, lifting its head to roar—


The sound that filled the forest skies was that of thunder, of a tempest storm at sea and an anger as deep and old as the earth. Thæon looks up just as the bear turns, his heart seizing with countless emotions as Obí stands tall atop the cliff, clinging to the edge and poised, his wings held wide, body trembling with the force of his rage.


He doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t hold himself back as he tips forward, not daring to tear his eyes away from that which threatens the boy and his elephantine; falling into the open air, dropping sharply.

And then, he unfurls his wings, the winds catching him, his fall smoothening out into a curve and Thæon watches, mesmerised as Obí skims the lake water, eyes alight with fire, scales lustrous and glistening in the sun.


He’s flying.


Or more so, gliding, the act shaky and uncertain, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Obí is soaring through the air towards them, holding himself above the water by sheer power rather than know-how.


The crest-bear lets loose a whimper of noise, dropping back onto all fours as Obí reached the bay. He doesn’t so much as catch himself and settle gentle on the stones, but rather slide through them, struggling to keep his feet until the momentum burnt up on entry and he was close enough to cage Bröder’s trembling body beneath his own, standing abreast to Thæon, the pair of them turning on the bear with teeth bared and their kindred fire magic burning hot in imminent threat.

It didn’t take anything else for the bear to realise this was a battle not worth fighting, turning tail and fleeing into the forest.


Thæon can’t help the grin that brightens his face, turning to shower Obí in praise, heart still elevated from the rush of adrenaline of seeing his dragon in flight and facing off against a predator that had come out of nowhere.


But there would be time for celebrations later when Thæon and Obí turn to Bröder when he lets out a pitiful whine, slumping down into the stones, batting his ears and breathing heavily, still chasing the adrenaline from his blood while a dark smattering dribbled down his leg.

The bear had gouged four punctures in his flank, having chipped at Bröder’s skin rather than tearing it open, thankfully.

That wasn’t to say it wasn’t painful, and Bröder whimpers again, wrapping his trunk softly around Thæon’s arm when he sinks to his knees, finger’s ghost-like as they breathe across his skin, assessing the damage to be sure that he isn’t overlooking anything.


Obí approaches slowly, a question in the rumblings of his throat. He is limping, Thæon notes; one paw held off the ground where he had been injured during his less-than-graceful landing, but when he catches Thæon’s worried gaze, he shakes it idly and sets it upon the ground, biting down on a hiss at the ache.

“Try and lie down. It would do to stress it further,” Thæon tells him, gesturing for him to sit as he hushes Bröder, pulling his arm free so that he can grab his waterskin and at least clean the wound of any mud or dirt that might’ve been left behind. The gashes aren’t bleeding profusely, so there’s no need to cauterize it—no need to put Bröder through any more unnecessary pain—and rather than worrying about who to blame or where to place his anger, Thæon sets to work.


Obí wraps his body around where Bröder lay, his chin underneath the calf’s head to allow for him to wrap his trunk around Obí’s horns as he is wont to do; proffering comfort while taking it for himself in the way he encircles them both in the length of his body, wings tucked out the way, allowing Bröder to rest against him more than the sharp stones undoubtedly digging into his skin.


“There’s my brave boy,” Thæon cooed softly, suppressing his guilt every time Bröder whimpered in pain when the water pooled over the cuts, dragging out dirt and splintered bark that had been under the bear’s nails, having been sharpening them perhaps. Thæon’s stomach tightens when he catches sight of his calf biting his lip, putting on a brave face. He hurried through his task, and when satisfied that there was nothing still under Bröder’s skin that might bring the risk of infection, he orders him, with no uncertain terms, that he is not to move (completely and entirely ignoring the fact that Bröder can’t exactly understand him), an eye cast to Obí in silent question that he will keep his foolish, brave elephantine from pushing himself.


Obí gives him an affirmative purr, curling his tail tighter, and arm slipping to further cuddle closer to the calf while Thæon set about finding wood to start a fire. Tonight they would spend the evening by the lake to give Bröder a chance to rest his leg, and return to the peace of the meadow in the morning.


Thæon knew the blame would find him, but maybe he’d be able to stay one step ahead of it if he kept himself moving, if he kept himself busy with tasks. He worked well beyond dusk with the effort of building up a substantial fire that stretched out to act like a protective wall to deter any other predators that might be lurking in the vicinity.

Afterwards, he used his cloak to gather grass, leaves and as many fruits as he could get his hands on without wandering too far from the bay, bringing it back for Bröder so that he could eat; helping himself to the leftovers when the calf grew tired and fell asleep.


Staying on guard wasn’t distracting enough to keep Thæon’s mind away from the reason as to why Bröder was hurt, but it wasn’t like Obí was a gripping conversationalist. But it was better than nothing.


“You hungry?” Thæon began; the question of food the first thing to come to mind, turning to nudge at Obí’s head, half leaning against it from where he was sat cross legged on his arm; the dragon having offered it when he realised that Thæon was uncomfortable sitting on the stones.

Obí, in answer, shook his head in miniscule movements as not to disturb Bröder, who was still using his muzzle as a pillow.

“I can catch fish if you want. Or go find something small so you don’t have to move,” Thæon offered again, his own gaze falling on the brutal wound and the dark stain of blood; black in the thickening twilight.


Still, Obí does not want food and Thæon doesn’t have the energy to hunt for himself, his mind filling with the fear of other creatures far larger, far mightier than the crest-bears that might lurk in the dark, to smite when his back is turned, and for such reasons he doesn’t depart from his nook of Obí’s arm, finished off the last of the scavenged food and curling into the warmth emanating from Obí’s scales.


It isn’t a mistake that Thæon’s eyes fall upon the darkness of the forest, watching the shifting shadows of the trees.

Despite the threat that looms with in his mind, he had always appreciated the feeling of being surrounded by nature; away from the prying eyes of the hunters and Thæon’s own people, watching him with the anticipation of miracles or some other trite that he had hefted onto his own shoulders after having succumbed to his rage and sought the akrren beast despite having been unapt to slay such a creature.


The five clans had marvelled afterwards. They called it auspicious, and a mark of strength. Thæon knew it to be unnoble; having hunting the creature out of revenge and anger, having cast aside every lesson his father had taught him in his want for vengeance.

It would’ve been kinder if he had simply spat on his father’s grave.


While Thæon doesn’t want to entertain the thoughts of self-blame, neither does he want to let his mind linger on his father’s passing, shifting where he lay, wrapping his cloak tighter around himself so that he was facing Obí now. But his eyes refused to close, leaving him tracing the patters of silver light cast upon the dragon’s scales, and how different Obí looked in the night; his body a deep ebony black and glittering like obsidian.

The dragon’s eyes are open. Bröder is no longer using his snout as a pillow, Obí’s chin held up on his other paw as he narrows his glare towards the trees that breathe and the rustling of the wind that gives life to all manner of sound beyond their sight.


Thæon watches him, a smile on his lips.

“You know you flew, right?”


Obí blinked, eyes widening infinitesimally as he continued to stared ahead of him for a heartbeat, and another, before huffing air and rolling his eyes. A touch of heat rippled beneath his scales. If Thæon didn’t know better, he might’ve thought his dragon was blushing.

“Okay, you’re right,” he laments, letting his eyes close, even as he tries to supress the snarky grin that stretches across his face. “I mean, it was more of a fall than anything.”


Rather than giving Thæon a glare as he had expected, Obí just shrugged his shoulder, shaking Thæon loose. He managed to get a leg out before he could completely roll off of his arm and end up on the pebbled shore, digging his elbow into Obí’s arm, which probably bruised him more than irritating the dragon. But Obí huffed at him so Thæon took it as a win.


“If you keep at it, you might be able to teach yourself how to fly,” the boy says as nonchalant as he was able, tucking his cloak around himself—petulantly deciding that he’s not nuzzling, he’s just making himself comfortable. “That cliff isn’t all that high up, and you have the entire lake to catch yourself in, which beats the ground and risking hurting yourself like you did today. It’s not bad though, is it?” Thæon adds, lifting his head, eyes open to find Obí staring at him. He glances down to his paw—to the injured one—and give a slight shake of his head.

“That’s good.”


His words and mind trail into quiet; tiredness dragging heavy at Thæon’s limbs. Obí’s arm might not be the most comfortable of beds, but it beat the stones. He curls in closer, eyes too heavy to open when he hears the dragon move beside him, a touch of warmth pressed up to his other side as if to stop him from falling; the boy already beginning to dream as he buries himself into Obí’s scales, feeling their touch against his cheek, surrounded by his scent and his touch and the deep purr of his chest.


Obí is asleep, Thæon realises, only dimly aware that he had also been earlier, and will be once again soon; his eyes drifting down, merlot fading to black, sleep embracing the three of them.

All too tired to dream.

 

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