Chapter Six

Life on the road was simple and repetitive.

Familiar.


Whether the town has a name or not, Thæon avoids it, unless he has no other choice when he in need for supplies and food. It’s not often he can’t hunt long-ears or shoot down birds from the trees, but the further south he travels, into the territory of the Gledaibelann veld where the world rolled out into a pale meadow of sandy-blond grass, Thæon found his hunts to be less and less fruitful, forcing him to venture closer to villages that he would wish to visit.

Before too long, there were hardly any trees or bushes; only those that grew sprouting up amidst rock outcrops and decorated with coloured sashes, acting like road markers where there was no road through the veld; only that which travellers made themselves, following the trail of sashes between tree and rock spire alike until they were to come to a village.


The veld was beautiful in its own right, but when Thæon sat astride Bröder and looked out across the swaying grasslands, and saw how the distant horizon seemed to stretch on unending and forever out of reach, he felt very alone in the world.

To his right, the Tvawklaad Mountains continued to reach for the sky, (only now they were in Nadhras, the mountains were known as Kustedaiveron, ecumenically; Kustdutedai Tveirown locally), a black wall of rock stretching as far south as south could go and would accompany Thæon’s journey alongside a hundred dotted rock outcrops, of which had been decorated with colourful ribbons and the odd bird that would circle overhead for a while, before moving on; always keeping far out of range of Thæon’s arrows.


Hunting became more and more time consuming; plains hunting for small game best to be done with snares and traps and an afternoon of waiting. But Thæon wanted to reach the coast before Harvest and while he didn’t like to parade the gossip of a Medellin Clansman so far from his home, Thæon detested an empty stomach all the more.


And so, when he saw the smoke pillaring into the sky, Thæon bit his tongue and pushed Bröder onwards, trying not to think about the want of his winter cloak with its hood and how in the colder climates he could cover his face and it wouldn’t earn him a second glance or suspicious eyes.


They were still too close to Ered Naur’s border for him to lower his guard to any degree, not wanting to open himself up to the possibility of letting Bröder get carted off to work the fields for the rest of his life; himself gutted and left to bleed out in a ditch near a village wall, all because some suspicious greedy filth wanted the fat coin purse that hangs off his belt, right next to his swords.


But as the days folded into weeks, and the weeks gave way a parade of reds, golds and royal bronze, Thæon found there to be less and less Naurn, finding himself to be surrounded by hard working Nadir and Droll alike, his guard settling one evening of unexpected heavy rain to pull Bröder underneath a straw-woven shelter that was the Nadir’s version of a stable, tossing a coin to the Droll kid that had tending to his herd of goats after he had offered to rub the calf down.

Before setting off to find food for himself, Thæon dug into his satchel and plucked the last of the fruits from within, ignoring the way they gave a little under his fingers from where they’ve been off of the tree too long—Bröder was never picky when it came to fruits, but Thæon is sure that Obí has spoiled him with how many times he fetched him a peach or two whenever he was asked.


It’s been two weeks since Thæon left his dragon behind.


The weight on his chest is getting no easier to carry, but at least Thæon’s knows its name and knows the reason for it to weigh upon him. He finds himself wondering, as he sits with his back pressed up against a sleeping Bröder, as to whether or not he had made the right decision.


He’d been angry when he had left, in those few fateful minutes of Obí having told him no; of having crushed his thoughts of the two of them together, fighting side by side and he hadn’t thought about stopping to talk or to listen or anything else and had just grabbed everything and packed up. They’d said farewells, Thæon’s anger flickering brief enough to not storm from the valley like a spoiled child, but still he’d let himself get swept up in emotions and disappeared. Of course he had been hurt by Obí’s refusal; rejection bitter and twisted inside his own chest, cold as it raced down his cheeks, hurting even now, two weeks passed. But Thæon can’t help but wonder, over and over, his mind coming back to the same thought that he shouldn’t have left at all, spurred on by dreams.

Not dreams. Nightmares.


They had started the night Thæon left; each night since waking up with only Bröder and the stars for company.

They weren’t so bad in the beginning; just a restlessness that held him tired and saw him withdrawn for an hour longer than usual that would see Bröder a little gentler when it came to curious prodding; Thæon pulling himself into his saddle instead of walking the first stretch of the journey after breakfast; the lingering ghost of unsettlement slow to be chased off with the warming day.


By the end of the first week, the nightmares were waking Thæon in the middle of the night; body pressed against Bröder’s map of rough skin instead of smooth scales, a fire in his throat as he shoved the heavy-tog blankets off of his body, feeling suffocated and confined underneath the rain shelter with little more light than the dwindling campfire, his spark in clammy palms and the millions of stars that blinked and shone and whispered in fractured light.

More often than not, Thæon wouldn’t bother to return to his bedroll afterwards; simply drawing his cloak tighter around his body, tugging on his magic to pool beneath his skin to combat the wind and the chill of the night, and listen to the gentle sounds of his kioea snoring.

It reminded him of home; of nights snuck out from the feasting hall with Torra and Soln, meeting Eidan in the fields away from expecting eyes; of the farrow plains rolled out around him much like the veld, held in vigil by the kioea herds that roamed and the stars that watched from above.


But the week progressed into two, and now it feels as if every night, Thæon jerks awake with panic in his lungs and a scream suffocated in the back of his throat; Bröder’s trunk gentle and wrong when he nudges the boy’s shoulder, flinching back when a volley of sparks erupts in Thæon’s hands when he can’t see his calf, only blank faceless knights that had stood before him in his nightmares, their swords levelled at Obí’s neck, his dragon crashed in the grass, scales glistening around him as his colour bled across the grass until Thæon was stood in an crimson ocean, Obí whimpering on pained breath, the knight raising his sword—


Thæon shook his head roughly, pushing down his fire where he could feel emotion burning in his chest and smoke cloying the back of his throat. There was no point inviting the nightmares to unsettle him when they haunt him in the twilight hours regardless.

But Obí remains a fixture in Thæon’s thoughts he can’t so easily pull his attention from.

They’d been together for the better part two seasons; the only humans venturing close having been the bandits that already knew of Obí, maybe having chased him, having hunted him after the found tracks or a sighting. There had been plenty of time since to be attacked again, but no one else made the journey up the mountain. And besides, Obí was strong enough to fight back now, or to fly where he hadn’t been able to before, so it’s not like he’s defenceless and it’s not like he needed Thæon to stay….


The thought feels like a stab wound to the gut.


The ration of dried meat Thæon had been chewing on is tasteless in his mouth, the ground beneath him cold and he can’t curb the rising anger that sharpens his movements like punches; food shoved back into his pack, cloak snatched to wrap tighter around him as he curls into Bröder’s shape and scrunches his eyes up tight, willing his mind empty and hoping sleep would find him soon.


That night, he dreams of flying; of open skies and the world stretched out around him, of the feeling of smooth scales beneath his fingertips and the gentle crooning of Obí’s voice, twisted in pain, pleading for Thæon to return.

By the time he reaches the city on the coast, Thæon has been forced to spend all his remaining coin on food and an extra blanket to stave off the cold, because while the days are warm in the south, it is the season of Harvest and the nights are still bitter where Thæon refuses to lower his guard and settle for a bed behind four walls, preferring to bunk besides Bröder in the long grass or tucked down amongst rocks that keep the head wind off of them.

The Gledaibelann grasses are dry this time of year; their bi-yearly rains still a few weeks off and Thæon has already stood witness to how quick a plains fire can catch so there’s no chance he’ll risk a campfire, or even a faint wisp of flame to warm his skin, meaning that he could spend the extra coin to chase away the chill and ache with each sunrise. Or he could give a finger to the God of the Fields and set Nadhras to burn until the entire steppe is nothing but smoke and ash.


The choice isn’t as easy as it once would’ve been, but is made easier each night with the strengthening scent of salt on the breeze that marks Thæon’s destination.