The days are coming colder now.
Thæon can feel it in the dead of night, when his cloak slips from his shoulders, or when Obí turns his face away, shifting his wings and a cold touch of night air wrapping itself around him, disturbing his slumber. He can feel it in the ground beneath his feet, and the pale touch of fading colour in the meadow grass; in the way the leaves are beginning to brown and the flowers in their private meadow open up for one last beautiful display of colour before wilting with age.
High Sun is turning old now, soon to wither into Gold Fall: the light dusting of rain soon to become heavy snowfall that will settle sooner in the mountains than the valley. It is not an ideal place to settle for the cold winter months—Thæon knowing that once the snow starts falling, then the mountain passes will close and they’ll have no choice but to follow the deer north into the cradle if they are to keep Obí fed through Deep Snow.
And that is why Thæon renews his efforts into encouraging Obí to fly.
After the incident with the crest-bear, Obí grew a little more confident. At first it was nothing more than unfurling his wings as they chased down the mountain slopes on the way to the lake; Obí leaping and bounding and jumping mere meters into the sky and yet with Thæon settled behind his wings, with the wind chasing around them and that steady juddering feeling of Obí’s feet pounding the earth vanishing for the time he hung suspended in the air…
Thæon could feel Obí’s want right alongside his own. But there was something holding him back.
The lake became more than a drug to soothe the heat of the summer days; becoming a safe place to land with Obí taking a running leap off of the cliff face that he and Thæon had fallen from, throwing himself off time and time again, levelling his wings out and trying to focus on gliding smoothly down to its glittering surface.
Often, he would fall, his wings folding around him and he’d plummet the last few feet into the water, quick to resurface, quick to run back to the cliff edge where Thæon stands waiting for Obí to jump off all over again.
And as much Thæon wants to climb up and settle behind Obí’s ears and hold on as they fall into the sky, he can’t ask that of Obí when the dragon is still growing into the control of his wings; content to be there to welcome him on the shore, pointing his attention to the birds as they take flight and waiting behind as Obí watches, and tries to follow.
Shakily, unconfident, but follows all the same.
Red prefers to fly close to the ground, or a breath above the trees, bunching up his legs beneath him so that his claws brush the leaves, the downdraft so his wings parting the branches like waterfalls part stone. Yet as much as Obí grows confidence as taking off and staying up high, he struggles with landing when it isn’t settling down into the cushioned lake; his claws always catching on the ground when he tries to land, legs folding beneath himself and he tumbles down into a heap of limbs.
And always there, running to catch up to him, is Thæon sat astride Bröder, chasing Obí down the mountain as he untangles himself and races off, gambolling and galloping and leaping up into the open air, flapping his wings as hard as he is able in an effort to leave the embrace of the earth and take to the skies once more.
After long days of hard work, the two of three of them returned to the nest to curl up with one another; Thæon dragging his bedroll closer to Obí’s muzzle to that he can hold him in the twilight hours, praise fountaining from his mouth that raised Obí’s spirits and distracted Thæon himself from the growing fear as the days passed hurriedly; a countdown until the first frost and the day that they must leave this valley.
And Thæon begins to consider what will come after. He had set out from his own home to learn, if not to prove to himself that that which was granted to him by birth was something that he was worthy of—that no one could say he would not uphold his promise and duty—and yet his path had been taken into the hands of the gods to bring him here.
To this valley. To Obí.
He wonders if Obí had run away from home too. That it was fear of rejection that held him in restraint and he wouldn’t allow himself to return, despite the longing that wakes him in the deep hours, tears in his eyes and emotion crooning his voice much like a lone wolf that howls to the moon.
Thæon wants to ask. It is the question that sits heavy on his lips when he is woken, hands reaching out to hold, to soothe and calm; words spilling out of him, and yet none of them are the ones he wishes to speak.
But Obí has always enjoyed his stories and if at least it distracts him from his own pain, then that is enough.
And so, Thæon talks.
It isn’t simply after being woken in the middle of the night, or when Obí isn’t feeling the tug of freedom into the shortening days—his head hung low, non-apparent hunger weighing like an anchor where he is slow to leave the nest—but sometimes when it’s just the two of them floating on the lake or when Thæon leans against Obí’s horns and lets him dictate what part of the forest they were going to explore that day.
Thæon tells Obí all about his homeland of Arkeríon; about his clan of Angrenost and the four other clans that he has visited on many an adventure, traveling with his mother and father. He talks at length of the Grey Slopes, the Tall Pines and the rolling fields of the farrows where he and his friends would hunt once they grew too old for pretend.
He speaks of Torra, a friend from Clan Malq’otra and one of the very few people that he trusts, besides Bröder and Obí of course.
Perrin wasn’t considered a friend, more of an irritating magikless that had followed Thæon from near the borders of Medellin and to the outskirts of the capital, where Thæon had left him, having fulfilled a service of debt, proceeding forward with the desire to have nothing to do with the overly-eager knight-hopeful.
Maybe Morak could be considered a friend.
The two of them had crossed paths before, back before Thæon had left his home. And while Morak wasn’t a son of the five clans, he held a great reverence to the Twelve that Thæon hadn’t seen beyond the borders of his homeland; the boy himself enjoyable company with stories from his own travels. Maybe their paths might cross again.
Emboldened, or maybe simply curious, Obí had nuzzled at the claw marks scarring Thæon’s hip, one day when it was just the two of them at the lake, Thæon bathing himself, having thought that Obí would climb to the cliff face and jump off in practice of gliding.
But when he mouthed at his hip bone, Obí’s purr soft and rising, Thæon had folded his own fingers over it, a little grin pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Remember when I told you about the briarbock? Well this is the scar I got,” he had said, bearing his nakedness to Obí, fingers mapping out more scars and more tales, most of them stories of hunting the wild boar, except for the white slugged scar on his thigh, when he fell out of a tree, probably five years old, and half-impaled himself on the way down. More humorous than boasting, but Thæon didn’t mind, reassuring Obí when he nuzzled lightly at the scar, as if in worry that it still hurt him in some way.
It was the same concerned affection that wrapped tight around Thæon that night, when finally, finally, he dared to lower his walls and tell Obí the truth of why he left his homeland; why his path had derailed from the straight and narrow of heir to the five clans and why he chose to leave.
All because Thæon had grown too prideful, too confident and too cocky.
“I killed my father.”
Thæon may not have been the one holding the knife, but that didn’t negate the fact that it was his actions, his foolishness that got him killed. His father had been forced to protect him after Thæon endangered them both, and it had cost him his life.
“We were hunting in the farrows together. He’d been away for a few months, having been with the other clans and I wanted to spend time with him. Just the two of us. I begged for him to hunt with me,” Thæon had explained one day, sat beside Obí, his feet hung over the side of the cliff, watching the way the setting sun set the lake a flame in a myriad of reds and golds and sparkling diamond whites.
“It was only us two. He had heard while he was away that I had begun to teach my friends what he taught me, and he wanted me to show him what I had learnt, and I was so… I don’t know, excited maybe? Excited or cocky or I was just eager to show him that I knew what I was doing, that I was one step closer to being the heir everyone expected me to be…
“There were pawprints in the grass. Predator tracks. Akrren tracks.”
He had taken pause, let his fingers play a melody across Obí’s scales as the water glistened beneath them, the sunlight reflecting off the surface, making his eyes water.
“I kept on seeing them, again and again, but I never said anything. Dad was protective, and sometimes it was smothering. One time we were hunting and we neared a herd of kioea, thirty-strong. But then Dad saw that they had calves and he made us return to the shorter grass, just in case our passing spooked them and they defended their young. I thought it was stupid but he said he was protecting me and even though I had seen the tracks, I just assumed—I fucking assumed—that they were old, because akrren rarely leave the mountains and no one in Arkeríon shared word of having seen one leave the Grey Slopes.
I didn’t fucking mention it, thinking the damn beast had already ran off but it hadn’t. It was fucking lying in wait and I led Dad right towards it.”
Thæon’s anger had taken rise in his tone, the reflected light still blinding, words heavy with self-hatred, guilt, anger and a thousand emotions that he had never given himself the time to lay to rest.
“He told me to run. He told me to warn the clan hunters. He told me—and I— I fucking ran,” he had said, knowing that he couldn’t blame his tears on the reflected light anymore, hands curled into fists, teeth bleeding his gums while the words finally spoken aloud shredded his soul into a thousand threads. “I fucking ran, but I got—I got lost, and I—there was just, everything, and suddenly I could run and there was—and I didn’t—I wanted to, but I just—couldn’t!”
He knew he hadn’t been making much sense, having tried to explain what he remembered.
But after so long, having pushed the memory from his mind it was hard to dredge it all back up again and speak aloud the truth that he had hid, like a fucking coward. He had tried to run for help, had run screaming at the top of his lungs for the hunters or the kioea herdsmen to hear him.
But he had stumbled, caught his foot on the bank of a dry riverbed or a stray root, or maybe his ankles had just given up underneath his racing heart and he’d tumbled. Down into a ditch, deep into mud and tall grass.
There had been a thicket of brambles, tearing at his skin and his clothes as he pressed himself underneath it, curled his body up like a newborn fawn and lay trembling, shaking, crying.
“I don’t what it was that made me go back. I was still scared, but I couldn’t go back to Arkeríon, so I searched for him. But, there was nothing left to find. There was just… blood. Scraps of his clothes. His spear, splintered. I found his betrothal necklace, and it had a crack running down the middle of it, and I just… didn’t understand. I sat there for hours, until the sun set. Then there was yelling, and most of the clan had come out to find us.
“They found me. They never found Dad.
“They thought I had survived the attack. I was covered in blood and holding his spear, and they thought that I had fought the damn thing off. They thought it was a miracle from the gods, and I don’t know if it was, or if being left alive was a punishment for having killed my own father, but he was dead and I was to blame. They said I was a gift from the gods and suddenly everything I had worked hard for over the past few years meant nothing, that that was to be expected of me.
“Suddenly everything felt false. I thought I had been working hard to achieve something, but in the end, they were just going to hand it to me anyway. And I was angry. I took my Dad’s broken spear and spat on his memory when I took up the hunt of the akrren that had killed him. I was so, so fucking angry and swore off the gods and burnt the forests as I hunted her. She had taken the only person who truly saw me for who I was and I hated her.
“I ignored everything my father taught me about the balance of the hunt, about the gods and the world’s design. I found her and I killed her.
“And then I killed her cubs.”
This was the truth that Thæon had never revealed to anyone before: that the shaft of his father’s spear had gouged her stomach, that the akrren was already dead long before Thæon stole her final breath with his knife, and gutted her cubs one by one and threw them from the mountainside with such rage that the world tore the sky into a terrifying storm; the gods weeping for such senseless death for six days and six nights.
In the aftermath, Thæon heard that three children had drowned when the flooded river broke its banks.
Three children. To balance the murder of three akrren cubs.
“When everyone learnt that I had slayed the akrren, they ignored my disrespect and praised me. I dragged her carcass back down the mountain, and they praised me and threw me a damn feast. Mother gave me her forefather’s cloak. She had the akrren’s pelt enchanted to be immune to my magic, and lined the cloak with it and I didn’t want it because I didn’t earn it. She wouldn’t let me hand it back and it was almost like she knew what I had done—that I had hunted the akrren out of revenge rather than stumbling across her and she… Well. Our relationship changed to say the least.
“For years I pushed myself, trying to get stronger, trying to do things that no one else had done, because I needed to prove, if no longer to my clan, then to myself that I deserved to be the next leader. I needed to earn that right and after years of being frustrated with everyone just accepting everything I did as fortune from the gods I had to leave. I didn’t want to, Angrenost is my home, but I couldn’t breathe there.
“I left before I could complete my fifth trial. I knew that as soon as I did there would be nothing from the elders forcing me to take the burden of Tæ’adanaï from my mother. Before the akrren I would’ve still had until my twenty fourth year before I had to take my place, but it’s not time yet and they would take my freedom away from me on a whim of the gods.
“As soon as I heard, I told my mother I was leaving. I gave the elders some bullshit premonition from the gods and set out with Bröder so that I could use my years to learn, to grow stronger. It felt like I was searching for something – something that I felt would allow me to accept my duty as Tæ’adanaï.”
Red had purred his encouragement, saying nothing as Thæon wiped away his tears, staring out at the darkening sky and the peaking moon hung suspended above it all. It wasn’t lost on him that it was his own decision that had forced himself out of his homeland, and it was the gods that had woven his fate to bring him here, to Obí’s valley.
He had left Angrenost to grow stronger, and the gods had faced him with a challenge that wasn’t to be conquered with his newfound rage towards the world, or his burning anger, and as the days gradually grew colder Thæon wondered if it wasn’t a challenge, but an opportunity. Not just for him, but for the pair of them.
Because somehow, the world always looked so much brighter when he sat behind Obí’s crown of horns.
Thæon wants to find Obí’s family.
He refuses to believe that Obí is the last of his kind. The world might believe dragons are extinct, killed off when the then-reigning king of Ered Naur waged war against them, thinking that he would learn secrets that they coveted, and while history told the tale gruesomely, and falsely, because Obí’s entire existence negates what everyone has been told to think.
And if Obí is alive, then who’s to say that there aren’t more out there.
It’s a thought that wakes Thæon one early morning, when the sun has barely brought dawn and the clouds are thick with the promise of afternoon rain. It is cold and unpleasant, but Thæon’s excitement untangles him from where Obí had tucked his arm around him, snout nuzzled in close, eyes flicking beneath his eyelids where he dreams.
On his other side, Bröder snores lightly, leaving Thæon to slip his cloak around his shoulders, a hand fisting into the teal weave to draw it tighter around himself as he grabs a hold of his pack and makes his way to the ash pit that has grown considerably since he first created it, months and months ago.
There’s not enough light as Thæon would like, and while dawn is coming, he isn’t the most patient of people; a hand sparking with fire as he buries it into the faintly warm ash from last night’s campfire, tugging at his inherent magic and warming the embers once more until they’re all glowing and hot. That way he can roll a sizeable log onto the pit rather than having to build the campfire up slowly.
In no time at all, Thæon is surrounded by the warming air from a fire. He staves off his growing hunger with the last of the berries that he had collected while Obí had been hunting yesterday; autumn well and truly beyond the mountain rise.
It was a rare occurrence for either of them to hunt without the other, but Thæon wasn’t about to disturb Obí’s sleep and so sets off by himself, bow notched loosely with an arrow, his father’s knife on his hip and magic pulsing through his eyes to give him the sight of world lit up the sun. An edge that saw him slay a wild pig east of the meadow, close enough that he barely broke a sweat on his return; the carcass lung over his shoulder and a skip in his step as he hopped the river rocks to keep his boots dry, carving a hind leg to roast, leaving the remainder for Obí when he wakes.
While the boar cooked, Thæon dug his map out of his bag and set it out on the grass in front of him, close enough to the fire that he could steal it’s light but far enough that he didn’t have to worry about any embers burning the fine fur.
The map was a gift from Soln, another friend left behind in the mountains of Angrenost, but unable to follow when he was learning the scriptures of the elders and Thæon was escaping the weight of a thousand eyes upon him.
Somehow, Soln had caught wind of Thæon’s plans to leave and caught him on the road before the border, presenting with him the map. He had said it was to be presented to him after he completing his final trial of Miiannila N’namun, but with Thæon heading south he might get more use out of it as a tool rather than something to decorate a home he was leaving.
As expected of Soln, the artistry was immaculate.
And as expected of Soln, the precision of his cartography was impressive, as was his ingenious decision to thread the map onto fur rather than paint parchment, having said that trying to add so many enchantments to protect the paper was difficult and too far above his skill level for now, but that fur and thread was already waterproof and much more durable than a roll of parchment.
Silently, Thæon thanked his friend once more, before burrowing away any want of home and instead trailing the familiar black thread; finding the Bodeive river and following it south to the Tvawklaad mountains, home to Obí’s valley. There was nothing to indicate a village, and so Thæon pulled out his book, turning to the page where he had dedicated it to making notes for Soln’s cartography and added a little reminder so that he could show him when he returned home.
But more pressing was Thæon’s wonder of where in the world dragons could still be living in secret from humans.
His eyes were drawn to the Tvawklaad mountains, how they curled the southern coast of Ered Naur and into Nadhras, providing plenty of valleys and mountains to hide amongst, with a difficult to traverse landscape making it an ideal place. But Soln had marked diamonds along the southern shore where fortresses and lookout villages dotted the coast in case of an attacking force sailing the Sommeil ocean.
So maybe not.
Ered Naur itself was expansive, with dozens of rivers, low mountains and dense forests that could easily hide a small dragon clutch. But the Naurn were the ones responsible for waging the White War and Thæon highly doubted that any dragon would risk hiding in the very same territory that was responsible for the near-annihilation of their kind.
Lefnui and her five territories to the east were another possibility, made more probable of knowing that the western continent held no love for Ered Naur’s greed, accepting trade and passage only between those of the five great clans and Velvala in the south. Falathren, Lefnui’s largest territory, was almost completely covered in thick jungle forests with only low hills towards its northern quarter.
Thæon wasn’t sure what climate or what territory dragon’s preferred, but he’s seen Obí try and navigate the forest as he runs, knowing that their forest was far sparser than Falathren’s rainforests and at least here there were wide open meadows where Obí could touch down and take off. He didn’t expect the same to be waiting across the ocean.
Thæon looked over his map over and over, picking out places that might hide dragons and then found himself thinking of instances that wouldn’t make it practical or would endanger them; human settlements for example, or border patrols, or hunting grounds or—
Thæon dropped his head into his hands. He didn’t want to admit defeat, but after staring at the map until the sun was well and truly risen had done little but to reveal to him that there were very few places that a dragon brood could hide.
And it wasn’t like they were migrating, if not someone somewhere would’ve seen something and there would be rumours of dragons having not been killed off.
In Thæon’s concentration, he doesn’t realise that it has grown late enough in the morning for Bröder to wake, Obí right beside him, disturbed by the elephantine’s gratuitous gurgling as he heads to the river to drink his fill and wash away the dirt of the nest.
Red purrs his thanks for the boar, nudging Thæon as he passed him to slump in front of the offered meal and sink his teeth into it, only getting so far before his mind wakes alongside his curiosity, turning a bloody nose towards Thæon’s map.
Inquisitive, Obí abandons his food and comes sniffing.
“Oh no you don’t. Obí, get off,” Thæon snaps, more worried than angry, a hand coming out to catch Obí’s snout before he can wipe the wild pig’s blood all over the fur and add the chore of Thæon having to try and wash it out. His shoving becomes a game, of course, as Obí shoves back, humming his laughter under his breath even as he pins Thæon beneath him, crooning in mock-fawning when the boy can’t shove his weight, hissing an insult as he finally lets himself flops backwards into the grass, Obí’s head heavy on his chest.
“Alright, alright, you win, you oaf. Will you let me up now?”
Obí pretends to think about it for a second, Thæon rolling his eyes at the show, lifting a hand to scratch behind the ear he can reach. At this, Obí bequeaths his trophy, but not before dragging his tongue up the side of Thæon’s face and into this hair, making his fringe stand on end.
“Gods, no, no Obí, that’s gross! There’s blood in my hair, you little shit,” he curses, the words falling out his mouth as he scrubs at his face, a hand running through his hair to feel out the damp. Gross.
So bloody gross.
Rather than heading to the river and taking an unwanted bath, Thæon empties his waterskin into his hands and cleans himself up, quick to dry any remains with his fire, all the while cursing out his stupid dumb dragon. The licking thing isn’t new, nor is it entirely unwanted, but the blood is unpleasant because it’s sticky, and once it dries, the smell is horrible.
Looks like Thæon will be having a bath later whether he wants to or not.
With Obí once again occupied with his meal, Thæon returns his own attention to his map. He could see a hundred places that would be perfect for a dragon to reside, but there is always a city-marking diamond too close, or a border line, or a village that Thæon has passed through that isn’t annotated on Soln’s map. He makes more notes in his book, listing down every possibility despite those which should counter his consideration.
When he had left Angrenost, it had been in search of something to prove to himself that he deserved his father’s title. After weeks in Bröder’s saddle, it felt like he was searching for something more.
And when he leaves this valley with him and Obí both, he will be searching for the other dragons that have survived the White War massacre.
It doesn’t take long for Obí to devour the remainder of his food, having cleans his muzzle in the grass, using his tongue to catch the last of it, wandering back over to where Thæon still pours of his map. He crouches down so that he’s eye level, head cocked to the side with interest.
“It’s a map,” Thæon tells him, spreading the fur out once more so that Obí can see all of it, pointing to the border of Medellin and the thin black thread that dances back and forth across the fur to lay the lines that mark the border of the clanlands.
“That’s Angrenost, my home,” Thæon says, moving his finger to the large diamond at the base of Fellfrir’s Peak. “Here is Arkeríon; the clan’s homeland at the foot of the Grey Slopes. And these are the other five clans, look, see,” he says, pointing to each of them in turn, speaking their names as he does so; “Malq’otra, Lukarth’kí, Erehn and Erynlorn. The five great clans of Medellin.”
He points out the other territories of the western continent, slowly moving down the map until he reaches the Tvawklaad mountains, the word barely leaving his lips before Obí hums in deeper interest, moving his head closer. Thæon, cautious of Soln’s gift to him, and a very important tool that he trusts far more than any other, hooks a hand around one of Obí’s smaller horns to help gain leverage into pulling him back a little.
“Obí, cut it out. The map is delicate.”
Of course the dragon is bigger and stronger, nudging purposefully at where Thæon had pointed; Thæon too familiar with the dragon’s games of imitation to find it cute when it’s his map that hangs in the balance. It only takes for Obí to raise a paw, one clawed-finger extended and Thæon shoves him harshly.
“I mean it Obí. Be careful, this is important to me,” Thæon says, louder this time, when it’s obvious that Obí wasn’t keen on listening to him, and still isn’t listening to him, shrugging him off with a roll of his shoulders and pushing back in, following when Thæon tugs the map out of reach. He crosses the line when Obí opens his fucking mouth.
“Obí watch it!” Thæon snarls, yanking the map completely out the way, his fire sparking in his hand as he grabs a hold of his horns with the other to stop him from chasing after it. “I get that you want to look at it, but by the gods, don’t touch it. You’ll end up tearing through the fur and needlework isn’t my forte so if you end up ruining it, I’m going to have a hard time trying to fix it. It’s not like I want to head to any nearby settlements to replace it either, just because you got a bit too over excited.”
Thæon’s outburst seems to have done the trick, and Obí concedes, pulling back and slumping down into the ground in near perfect imitation of Bröder of when he sulks. But Obí likes to his teeth behind his hands and furrow his brow so that he’s glaring up at Thæon.
“Don’t sulk. It’s not my fault you were born with sharp-ass claws and absolutely no damned patience.” Obí rolls his eyes, grumbling to himself, but accepting defeat.
“Damn right,” Thæon says with a satisfied noise, folding his arms and glaring, daring Obí to backtalk him once more.
Instead he unfolds his hands and rests his muzzle on top of them, eyes flickering to the out-of-reach map.
Thæon raises an eyebrow, but Obí doesn’t move.
Taking that as his cue that he can show the dragon his map and know that he’s not going to try and grab as he had done so before, Thæon once again points at the southern mountain range, one hand idly reaching out to curl his fingers behind Obí’s eyes, pressing beneath the little bump beneath his eyebrow that always melts whatever stress binds him, enticing hums of content with every slow caress of Thæon’s fingers. Almost immediately, Obí begins to purr, leaning into the boy’s touch, eyes lidded with peace, Thæon softening his own voice as he explains.
“This is us, now.” Tvawklaad, west of Nadhras, on the in between of Ered Naur’s border and a difficult valley to leave considering that Obí still can’t fly confidently for long, and it’s not like Bröder has suddenly spouted wings.
“Gold Fall isn’t a long way off, and although I’m not familiar with the weather in the south I certainly felt it this morning. There was frost on the ground.” Which had been surprising and cautioning all the same. If a cold front hit them earlier than usual, they’ll be cut off and have no choice but to push north or see if they can find a pass that leads to the coast. They’d have to avoid the road and keep an eye out of the lookouts. While they may be keeping watching for a coastal raid, it wasn’t like a dragon sighting would go unreported.
“I know the mountains are hailed with snow and the passes close in the winter months, although of course the road out of the valley to the north will be open,” Thæon continued. “But that’s just the thing. It’s a road, which means lot of people and I want to avoid going anywhere near populated areas as much as I can. Not to mention heading north means heading back into Ered Naur, and the reason that I came this way in the first place was to avoid the king’s soldiers that had set up a blockade by the river.”
He knows he’s rambling, eyes skimming the map for an answer, words seemingly falling from his lips with little thought while his fingers trace the feeling of thread across the silken fur. “As far as I can figure, heading east would be our best bet, before the rains can come after Harvest. I don’t know exactly where the pass is—it’s the one Bröder and I were heading towards before we found you and- well, you know how that went,” Thæon says, flashing a smile at Obí as he stares up at him, inquisitive eyes widening.
“I want to cross the mountains before Weeping Season well and truly hits. Bröder might be stronger than he looks, with the stamina to match, but he’s ungraceful and I don’t want to risk him on a difficult path that will only become all the more dangerous with heavy rain. There’s always the risk of mudslides but if the weather takes a turn, I don’t want to force him through snow.
“If we set out tomorrow, then we’ll be able to cross into Nadhras before the last turn of the moon. After that it wouldn’t take long to reach the border of Velvala before the Weeping Season. If I’ve kept track right, then Winard is six weeks from now. We’d reach the coast long before the cold came, and even if not, even if we managed to get into Nadhras, and the snows would block off the passes. Even if the soldiers happened to see us, the snowfall would make it difficult to follow, and they’d struggle just as much in getting word back to their own. We’d be gone long before a search party could be arranged.”
Thæon trailed his fingers along the thread that depicted the Tvawklaad mountains, following their curve along the south and the broken coast of Aegliruin; hundreds of small islands, each birthed by young volcanoes and… and hard to reach by sea, with the unpredictable storms of the Southern Ocean, only the first three to be somewhat inhabited but the remainder left to the wilds.
Hard to reach by sea. Easily reached by flying.
Ægilruin. It was perfect.
But before Thæon can get too caught up in his own excitement, Obí is shifting beside him, pushing himself to his feet.
“Oh, was I boring you? Well, sure, by all means, don’t wait for me to finish talking. Go please yourself and I’ll make all the plans about how the three of us are getting out of this valley before we get cut off by a storm; or worse, we run into travelling sell swords that want to take a swing at your neck,” Thæon calls after him playfully, as Obí heads towards the river to where Bröder is digging up roots.
And yet the expected curdled huff doesn’t come, Thæon turning back to his dragon, confused, eyes wide to the way Obí’s head hangs low, wings dropping, tail dropped and dragged behind him.
“Obí? What’s wrong?”
Thæon doesn’t need to hear his mourning whine to know something is weighing heavily on his mind, but it’s the spark that ignites the fire beneath his feet and he’s up, chasing after, catching him as he begins to pace, settling his palms on the dragon’s jaw where he knows Obí likes to lean into his embrace.
Only this time he doesn’t, trying to pull away, eyes drooped and tearing at Thæon’s heart.
“Obí, talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong?”
And Obí tries.
He whines again, long and slow, pitching in tune as if in attempts to imitate sounds, Thæon’s fingers continuing to circle lightly beneath his jaw. His voice breaks on a whine, longer, sadder, tugging his muzzle from Thæon’s embrace to gesture towards the map, turning to Bröder, up at the sky and then back to Thæon.
When it is obvious that he hadn’t picked up on what he’s being told, Obí repeats the motions; whining at the map, flicking his chin to Bröder, and then lifting his head to point towards the eastern peaks before turning back to Thæon and letting his sadness rise in a whimper.
Thæon feels something inside himself crack.
“You… you’re not coming with me. You’re staying here.”
Obí pitches another whimper, and Thæon wants to think that he’s wrong, but his dragon tips his head in an obvious imitation of a nod.
The something in Thæon’s chest shatters.
Why? Why not?
Why does he want to stay here?
Obí has pulled away, pacing back and forth between the riverbank and the campfire, tears unshed in his eyes, gaze focused on the footprints he leaves behind and it is obvious that he doesn’t want to stay, it’s obvious that there is a decision here, but it’s already been made, or maybe it isn’t that Obí hasn’t made it and something is keeping him from—
“Obí I don’t understand,” Thæon says, because he doesn’t.
He steps into Obí’s path to stop him from pacing, forcing the dragon to lift his eyes from where they hug the grasses. “You told me that your family is still out there, Obí, and I think I know where. They have to be out there somewhere. I can help you find your family. I want to—Don’t you… don’t you want to find your family?”
But what if it isn’t that Obí not only misses his family, but has been cast out by them? What if he hadn’t run away like Thæon, but been chased out?
What if he was abandoned as a dragonling, and that’s why he didn’t know how to fly or to hunt and fend for himself?
Obí shakes his head, letting another whine fill the air between them, and Thæon knows, gods he knows that Obí is trying to explain it to him, but he can feel his frustration growing because all of his dreams, all of his thoughts to the future; of the two of them together, or him behind Obí’s crown chasing the wind, all of it has been snatched out from beneath his feet leaving nothing but a prickling anger that tastes too much like the gods’ amusement.
His anger rises.
“Then why the hell do you want to stay here?” He’s not shouting, but close. Obí reels back at the sudden torrent of emotion, and it’s not his fault, Thæon knows but he can’t quite get a grasp of his emotions to pay attention to the way Obí is pleading with him; Thæon’s anger drowning him out:
“Why Obí? It’s not like you can stay here anyway! The Deep Snow will come after the rain does, and it will chase away the animals you hunt to survive. They’ll leave the mountain and head to the cradle of the valley and its lower slopes. In case you had forgotten, oh mighty dragon, there’s a town down there, and the humans that live in it will be hunting the same woods. If you’re seen, by any of them, they won’t hesitate to hunt you down, just like those bandits that you killed when they came to kill you.”
Obí turns his face away, eyes closed.
He looks pained. Resigned.
Cold fills Thæon’s chest.
“By the Twelve, Obí, you can’t stay here. It’s not safe.”
Obí snarls, but it is aimed at his feet, anger towards himself and whatever it is that’s holding him back, noise building gin the back of his throat like a tidal wave—
“Obí, stop being stubborn,” Thæon snapped, his own patience fraying. He doesn’t even realise he’s unleashed his fire, until there’s smoke in his eyes and the unmistakable warmth racing up his arms—Obí’s ears flattening to his heads, tears finally trailing down his cheeks and it’s not the first time that Thæon has wiped them away, but something here feels different, no matter how gentle Thæon demands himself to be, no matter how many time he runs his thumb under Obí’s eyes, hushing him, voice trembling, leaning in to kiss their foreheads together.
“You’re not safe here.”
Thæon whispers to him, over and over, lips pressed to his brow in a heart wrenching plea, each word tasting like blood in his mouth, almost as if somewhere deep inside him, he knows that his words will do nothing to shake Obí’s stubbornness.
The words sound too much like a final farewell; the pain in his chest too much like mourning; the tears racing down his cheeks a mirror of those he had shed at the burning of his father’s shroud but—no, no, Thæon cannot lose anyone else. He can’t.
“Please, Obí. Please come with me. I want you to come with me. I need you. I need you.”
I’m sorry. I can’t.
It is almost as if he can hear Obí’s words.
And that, more than anything, is what hurts the most; the knife that cleaves his heart in two; the empty shroud with no body to burn, because this isn’t something that as burnt up and faded to ash, but grown cold and left to be claimed by the frost. Thæon’s heart hurts deep in his chest, as if his own fire had been stolen by the frost.
Before he even knows what he’s doing, his hands are cast in fire, his throat sharp like razor rocks and his anger as violent as poison.
“Fucking fine then, you stupid, overgrown lizard. Stay here. See if I care! But don’t you go blaming me when you don’t even last a month after the snow comes. Some hunter will see you and the next thing you know, he’ll be drinking ale out of your horns and selling your teeth as jewellery!”
Thæon snatches his hands away from Obí’s maw, stomping back to the fireside to snatch up his things, ignoring the way the world is a blur behind unshed tears. He grabs Soln’s map, grabs his swords, his cloak, his bag, gives Bröder a sharp whistle he’s been trained to respond to with no questions.
The elephantine comes bounding over, gurgling, but as soon as Thæon fixes him with a silent glare, Bröder drops his trunk, lets it fist loosely into Thæon’s pant leg and lets himself be led to the nest in the peach grove.
Thæon pointedly keeps his attention far away from Obí. He packs up all his gear, snuffing his fire and refusing to wipe the tears that creep down his face. If the bastard ain’t coming with him then what’s the point in waiting another day for the weather to turn. Gold Fall isn’t far off and Thæon is loath to give the gods any more time to fuck with him.
They’ve had their fun. They took his father from him, killed the children in the village as penance for his revenge, made his achievements feel nothing more than participation trophies and now that the dragon that they had entrusted him with can fight and hunt and nearly fly all by himself, they’re taking him away too.
It was meant to be the two of them together: Descendants of an age long since passed.
The two of them were supposed to be the strongest defenders; true protectors of the northern clans; unbeatable when they fought side by side.
The dragon and his rider.
The barbarian warrior and the child of the gods.
Obí keeps his distance as Thæon saddles Bröder; the calf remaining dutifully silent under the weight of his master’s anger; Thæon’s movements sharp and forceful until it is that Bröder stands, his numnah laid on his flank, saddle strapped up and the outlander’s belongings hung from the various hook on either side.
Thæon doesn’t immediately climb up himself, taking a hold of one of Bröder’s tusks to guide him, allowing the calf to curl his trunk around his arm as he leads them out from underneath the peach trees, hanging right so that they can follow the river upstream.
He can see Obí still in still the campfire, can see the cautious step he takes, reacting unwillingly to the soft croon rising in his throat and the pain he shares in that one note. But it’s not that Thæon is allowed to simply leave, Obí taking another step until he stands in Thæon’s way, tilting his head, calling to him.
The outlander refuses to look.
Bröder, not understanding what’s going on, doesn’t see the tension between the other two. He unwinds his trunk from where the blond leads him, taking a step close to Obí so that he can reach up and grab hold of his horns like he normally does, chirping and gurgling; batting his trunk on the tip of Obí’s snout in invitation for him to nip playfully at the air like they always do—
“Fuck off dragon,” Thæon snarls, his palms smoking with warring emotions.
Obí halts his game, lets Bröder whine in frustration to the sudden lack of response before turning, deliberately, to meet Thæon’s gaze.
This time, Thæon holds it.
Slowly, and as delicately as he can manage, as if giving Thæon enough time to step away, Obí slowly places his noise against the boy’s shoulder. He’s not wearing his cloak, having thrown it over Bröder’s saddle, meaning that he can feel every bump, every touch of smooth scale, the faint whisper of his breath against Thæon’s skin as he takes a deep, shuddering breath. All of his pain comes flooding out in a bitten sob, nuzzling into Thæon’s chest as he has done so often before, and Thæon’s fingers twitch in response to the want of holding on and never letting go.
Obí’s apology sinks beneath them, Thæon’s fire flaring painfully in his chest as he takes another deep breath, much like Thæon does when he grounds himself, preparing himself for something arduous, and it’s not like Obí wants to say goodbye either, but he’s drawing back, their farewell bitter and painful and their time together over far too soon—
“You’re a fucking idiot, Obí,” Thæon whispers, arms up with the surety of knowing that both their hearts are breaking. He doesn’t hold back his tears, doesn’t hold anything back from the one that truly, deeply knows him, knows all of his secrets, knows all of his weaknesses and not once did he think differently of him.
Thæon cries openly, burying his face into Obí’s scales, ignoring the grating of the sharp edges on his skin as he sobs silently, Obí crooning in soft comfort.
He doesn’t want to say goodbye.
And maybe he doesn’t have to.
“I know I can’t force you to leave if you don’t want to. And I know that—I know, I just…” He takes a deep breath. Presses another apology to Obí’s brow. “I know that you have your reasons as to why you won’t leave. Or can’t leave.” Because it’s not by choice, that is for certain.
“I wish that you could tell me what it was so that I could at least understand, or maybe that I fix it if there was something to fix.”
Obí whimpers, echoing the same pain that sends tears cascading down Thæon’s; falling to mix with those that the dragon sheds.
“I don’t want to leave you. But I can’t stay here either, Obí. Just know that, if you’re ever in danger—if the humans ever come this far up the mountain—promise me you’ll run from them. I know that you don’t like violence. You’d probably try and survive on grass if you could,” he says, a little chuckle pressed against his lips as they hover a breath from Obí’s brow, something in him not quite letting him close the divide.
“Please, please promise me, Obí. If you’re no longer safe here, or if you ever choose to leave this valley, head north. At the base of the highest peak of the Grey Slopes is Arkeríon. My homeland will welcome you. Dragons have always been sacred to the clans of Medellin. Always have and always will. No human would ever threaten you there. You would be welcomed. You would be safe.”
He says it like a prayer, daring to utter the gods’ names in his mind in the same breath of hope that would see them deliver his dragon to safety, wherever he may choose to go.
“I’ll send word to my clan as soon as I am able, but at least I can guarantee you safety if you were ever to find yourself without anywhere else to go. My homelands will always be open to you. Tomorrow, the day after. Even in a hundred years. You will always be welcome.”
He swallows his tears.
Takes another breath.
“I wish you luck, Obí. I give prayer to all the gods that they may watch over you and keep you safe.”
There’s a small ledge on the ridge that overlooks the valley and the sloping hills of two mountains that create the passage that leads Thæon and Bröder on to Velvala. The rain falls light around them, in promise to a heavier downpour in which Thæon will be forced to lead Bröder to shelter before they can challenge the mountain pass.
But for now, Thæon takes his feet to the very edge, unfearing towards the tumbling cliff that hangs beneath his when he searches the sweeping green mountainside for the touch of pale grass and the silver river that carves its way towards the sea. The landscape itself is not as lush and green as it first was when Thæon came to this valley; a touch of brown and pale sweeping in from the north, as if Gold Fall were already here and it had made the choice to sweep past their meadow peace and the sanctity of the lake for as long as it was able.
From the ledge, Thæon can see their lake.
He can see the river to the far north where it becomes the Bodeive. But more importantly, he can see the feeder as it cuts through a light-grassed meadow, and he can see the tumbled rocks that make up its banks and the wide-open space that held so many memories. It felt a kin to looking upon his home, and in truth the meadow had almost become that for him, as much as it was home for Obí.
Thæon cannot see his friend. He is too far, his eyes too weak and the rain has chosen to stand between them.
But like the voice of the wind, Thæon can hear him.
He cries, howling like a wolf separated from his pack. Like a child separated from his family.
Thæon’s heart clenches painfully in his chest, and he wants nothing more than to race back down the mountainside, to gather Obí in his arms and not leave until he has conquered that which holds Obí to that meadow clearing. But deep down, he suspects it is nothing he can fix. Nothing to be broken, or bullied or burnt with fire.
It is a challenge Obí must face himself.
With rain tracing down his cheeks, Thæon turns away from the mountain ledge, arm reaching for Bröder to curl his trunk around it once more, their path taking them eastward, to Velvala.
And beyond that, to the Ægilruin and the rest of Niviend, where he will scour the East and West until he has found Obí’s family.
Only then can he return, and fix the bond that has been broken.
Copyright © 2021 by Dragonire. All rights reserved.