Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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15. Hiking and Hidden Places

Hiking and Hidden Places

 

                It wasn’t a difficult thing to find a dragon. Walking around the mountain, they easily saw the mass of tree trunks and rubble that was the dragon’s nest. Even more easily they saw a thin streak of flames and a flash of red wings as the scarlet dragon flew around the mountain.

                Melaina couldn’t help but feel happy on seeing the dragon. She knew most people would feel a dark pit in their hearts at the sight of the beast, but the creature had been her savior. Even though Dain was alive, it was because of the dragon that she had at least had one adventure before being tied down.

                The dragon’s nest was near the summit, and she saw that the hike up meant climbing up the side of the mountain that was covered with greenery, making it impossible to see what was under the canopy of trees. They had no other choice.

                “Shall we begin?” she asked. “Who wants to go first?”

                Alex walked into the denser patch of trees in front of them, hacking through the branches that got in his way and trudging ahead slowly. Melaina stepped lightly on the murky soil, observing the dark shadows around her and the occasional sounds that she had no explanations for. She knew the others heard the sounds as well, the way they stiffened at the sounds. It was just easier to ignore them.

                As they walked higher the trees thinned and they could see the ocean. Somewhere in the distance they spotted the small ship that was The Beast. Below them near the edge of the forest there was a little hamlet. From what Neema had told her, Melaina knew it was Little Marsh, a village that was part of Collyria but not a friendly place.

                Alex walked up the steep slope without talking. The mountain was higher than it looked, and he was quickly tiring. When he looked back at Melaina occasionally she didn’t show any sign of slowing and he walked on, not wanting to be the one to ask for rest. Davie succumbed first, slumping down at the roots of a small tree and taking a drink from his canteen.

                She took a seat a few feet away from Davie, refusing to look at him. She wasn’t angry at him, but wanted to make sure that he suffered for frightening her. Davie looked at her dolefully, trying to get her to talk.

                “Alex, tell him to stop looking at me,” she asked. “It’s disturbing.”

                It was actually working. But she wouldn’t lose control. Alex looked over the soldier and shrugged his shoulders.

                “Fine,” Davie said, getting up and walking ahead. “Have it your way.”

                The sun started to set and the shadowy contours of their surroundings grew even darker. When they were almost rendered blind by the blackness they settled down to sleep. Melaina was the first to stand watch. She trusted Aravi to protect them, but she wasn’t trusting enough to take chances. Alex took stand after her, and Davie was the last. By the time they woke up he was asleep, and she kicked him awake lightly.

                “It’s just another hour,” Alex guessed, looking at the distance between them and the dragon’s nest that was their destination.

                She heard a faint roar, far away but loud. She tried to ignore it. It was the probably the dragon picking up her morning prey. Within seconds they flinched as a heavy thud sounded from the nest. She heard the sound of ripping flesh and high-pitched roaring, smelled burning meat mixed with smoke. It was breakfast for the dragonlings.

                Terror filled their hearts at the sounds of snapping jaws, and Melaina had the urge to run back as a thin stream of blood flowed out between the crevices of the nest. She ordered her legs to step forward, and slowly walked even closer towards the nest.

                With a burst of air that nearly made them fall to the ground, the mother dragon took off from the ground once more. Melaina scrabbled up the steep stone face that stood in front of them. The entrance to the cave was precariously close to the nest. She ignored the desire to look into the nest and ran forwards to the cave.

                Alex was a step behind her, and Davie was at the rear. They surged forwards into pitch darkness without another thought. The entrance was a canal and they walked holding onto the walls of the cave for support. Eventually the walls grew farther apart and they stood in what she thought was an enormous cavern. She could tell from the hollow sounds of their footsteps, the way even their breath reverberated back to them. She had matches in her bag, and she reached back for them. She lit the match and looked at her surroundings.

                The walls of the cave were smooth and covered in tapestries. The floor was dry and covered in furs and rugs. In the far corner there was a chest, covered in dust and cobwebs. Even with the fire of the match parts of the cave were still in darkness. She spotted a glint of metal and swiveled around towards it.

                She saw a weapon, a beautiful sword of white steel with a hilt studded with emeralds. Then she noticed that the sword was held at her throat.

***

                Alex panicked as the sword drew a tiny drop of blood from Melaina’s throat. He lunged forward and tackled the man to the ground, grabbing his sword and pinning him to the ground. The man squirmed and reached for his weapon. Davie picked up the sword and inspected it, turning it over its edges and fingering its jeweled hilt.

                “This is old,” he commented. Mel agreed with him. No one used jewels in their swords anymore, it was a custom of centuries before. Jewels did nothing but weigh weapons down. But the sword Davie held seemed to be an exception. She had felt its sharp edge, and knew it was every bit as deadly as it was beautiful.

                “It’s beautiful,” she thought aloud. She took it from Davie’s grasp and fingered its edge. It was Aravi’s weapon. She looked keenly at its surface, surprised that after hundreds of years the sword still looked exactly the same.

                “Let go you foreigner scoundrel!” the man on the ground shouted. “Let go!”

                He tried to bite Alex’s forearm, and Alex punched him in the jaw in response. The man stopped struggling and looked at them in indignation.

                “Who are you?” Melaina asked him, putting the sword to his throat.

                He tried to spit at her, but it didn’t touch her. She stepped back and extended her arm, digging the sword’s point into the skin above his collarbone. His clothes, colorless rags, were ill-fitting and threadbare. His gaunt and aged face was the color of mahogany, and his strong straight nose made him look like a bird of prey. His small hazel eyes were hidden underneath dark brown overgrown hair. She wondered if he was just a beggar that had found the cave as a shelter. But the dulled sounds of roars reminded her that no normal human would make the cave home, not with dragons so close by.

                “Tell me who you are,” she ordered him, pushing the sword enough to draw blood.

                “Margil,” he muttered.

                “What are you doing here?”

                “I guard this place from people like you,” he answered. “When Aravi doesn’t succeed at stopping people like you, I do.”

                “Aravi is the one that sent us,” Alex said.

                Margil snorted. “Aravi sent you? Do you know how many pale-skins have died in this forest?”

                “Just answer the questions,” she warned him. “Where are the rest of her weapons?”

                “You’re looking at one of them,” he answered, smiling slyly. She motioned for Davie to check the man, but he was unarmed.

                “Fools… the weapon is me. And the people like me that will soon kill you.”

                She finally saw the resemblance. His skin was the same shade, his face had the same sharp edges that she’d seen in Aravi. Before she had a chance to move he knocked the blade away from his throat, nearly taking it out of her grasp. He jumped up and stood with his fists in the air.

                “But I’m more enough to kill the three of you,” he commented.

                Melaina dropped the sword, and the man faltered from his fighting position.

                “Aravi really did send us,” she told him again. “She said that we would find her weapons here. She didn’t mention that her weapons were…”

                “Her children?” the man answered, still standing ready to fight with his eyes darting between the three of them. “Or her descendants, to be more specific? I’m not going to believe anything you say until you give me proof.”

                Melaina had no proof. All she had was knowledge.

                “I know about Nashar,” she blurted out.

                Margil’s eyes widened at her words, and his hands started to tremble.

                “We do not mention his name here,” he said solemnly. “It is a sin to do so.”

                All his confidence was gone in an instant. His haughtiness was replaced by dread. Melaina stepped forward as he dropped his fists to his side.

                “The others will not like this…” he mumbled to himself. “No telling what will happened. There’s been talks of separating lately. This does not bode well.”

                “How many?” she asked. Her thoughts kept racing back to the labyrinth of caves present on the mountain. She wondered how many people it hid from the outside world.

                “You’ll see,” he said, walking farther into the room and towards the chest. Shoving it open, he stepped in and started to descend. His voice came back as an echo.

                “Be careful of the stairs!” he called out.

                They stepped into the hidden staircase and stumbled along in the blackness. Finally the walls became less narrow, and their pupils adjusted to the light. The walls were covered with drawings, of battles and beasts that Melaina had never seen.

                From a distance she heard the clanking of pots and pans, of hushed voices involved in their work. She heard the crackle of flames and the smell of warm food reached her nose. They picked up their pace.

                Sunlight hit her face suddenly, and her hand went up to shield her eyes. She saw the faint contours of tanned people working in a large clearing. The rock walls of the mountain surrounded the clearing on all sides. Tents were spread throughout. In a corner some tended to plants, others cooked. Children played around her feet. Men sharpened their weapons, and young boys sparred with wooden swords.

                In all of them she saw some shade of the warrior queen. Some walked with the same confident gait, some had the same stern eyes, some her high cheekbones. Even the young boys moved with the fluid grace of seasoned swordsmen.

                Alex moved closer to her as her eyes took in everything and she let out an audible gasp. He saw it too, the startling resemblance to Aravi that had somehow continued throughout hundreds of years. Most of them were hostile as they looked at them.

                An old man with wiry arms and a peppered beard walked towards them, a sharpened spear in his hand. He stopped in front of Margil and raised his eyebrow.

                “These strangers were sent by Ar-Ar-Aravi,” Margil stuttered out. Melaina saw the way he changed. All his confidence was gone. The old man’s aura ordered obedience, submission. He was used to power, just as she was.

                “Who told you?”

                “They did,” he said unsteadily.

                “You are a fool, Margil,” the old man said. “They could just as easily have been sent by Nashar, or a man like him. You have jeopardized the fate of our people through your blind trust of these strangers!”

                Melaina interrupted, “We don’t mean you any harm. We need your help!”

                “Silence girl!” one of the old man’s followers yelled.

                “Kill them,” the old man said silently, turning around and walking away as if his order did not mean a thing. As an afterthought he added, “Do not do it here, not in front of the children.”

 

                

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