Chapter Five

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…