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