The story so far:
The fog was dense as Anash went to draw water from the well that morning. Just a few years ago there had never been any fog ever in these woods. That was before the little creek nearby became a wide raging river. Anash’s father Mordell had to work with others living nearby to prevent homes further down from being washed away. They had to chop trees and move boulders and dig a deep trench to channel it over to the far side of the valley. Even with over a hundred men working, many homes and lives were still lost and several men died in the effort.
It was days after they had finally gotten control of the river that word came about this being an attack on the Dragons. Anash remembered how his mother wept when they heard that most of the dragons had been killed when the waters flooded their lairs. Anash had felt sad then, but not like he felt now. Everything felt so much heavier now. He worked harder around the cottage trying to work that feeling off of himself.
He was first up this morning. He had to get all the work done. He had been lax with the chores up until a week ago. Now that he knew his father would never be coming back to take up the slack that he left, he felt everything was all up to him. His mother worried about how he did so much work and didn’t take time to play anymore. What was a boy of eleven to do since he was the only man around?
Even though Anash knew every tree, bush, rock and crevice for miles around, he still would have had trouble walking to the well on this foggy morning. It was a good thing that he and his father had laid down a stone path from the small cottage to the well. Anash’s father had built the cottage by digging into the side of a hill and using stones and trees to make a two room cottage with a loft. Anash had the loft to himself until his sister Sorlasha was born. Before Mordell joined and the Honor of Dragon, he built a wall so that the loft was like two rooms. Sorlasha didn’t start sleeping in her side until only this past year. She would soon be four and already she loved to play in the woods. This past week as soon as the sun rose she was out in the woods until just before the sun set. It seemed to be her way of dealing with the death of their father.
His mother Marchalla had been distant this past week. After Garthlac and the two soldiers had brought their father’s body home, she had been spending most of her time in the garden. She was able to see spirits and the night before the dragon brought home their father she had seen him standing by the fireplace. She had known then that Mordell was dead. She cried most of the night.
Anash was almost to the well when he realized he was not alone outside. He stopped, listened and tried to peer through the fog. Even though he was only just twenty steps from the well, he could not see it. He heard breathing, but it was too heavy to be a person. Something big was there. His heart began to thump hard. It had to be a dragon. His eyes searched deep into the fog as he hoped that it was, “Garthlac!”
“I am here, but not alone.” The heat of his breath helped disperse the fog. Anash began to see the young dragon and the man standing beside him, “I brought Torlene today. He wants to see what you know.”
He still could not see the dragon as he moved on to the well. It was eerie and exciting hearing the dragon’s voice coming out of the fog. He asked, “To see what I know?”
“Yes I’d like ta see if y’are worthy of being taught ma skills,” a tall man with a patch over his right eye and wearing dragon scale armor stepped out of the fog in front of Anash. His bright red hair was pulled back and braided into a tail that hung down to his waist. “So boy, do ya ‘ave a practice sword?”
“Yes I do.”
“Then ya betta get it boy.”
A little startled he hesitated a moment then straightening up, “I have to draw the water first. Mother is expecting it.” Anash quickly drew the water and marched back to the cottage.
“For a moment there I thought he was going to falter on that decision.”
“Garthlac, he still a boy. And he will ‘ave moments like that. But he do show promise.”
“What kind of promise does he show?”
“Good leader need good training. It will take more than me ta do that.” He stood there a long moment staring into the thick fog, “None o this talk ina front o the boy. Ita mislead him.” Garthlac nodded in agreement.
Anash soon returned and then found himself under the tutelage of Torlene and with the watchful eye of Garthlac. Torlene had him run through the woods with him in the heavy training leather armor that was brought for the boy. He also loaded him with other items that would give him weight of full armor. Torlene wanted him to be used to this and also made him do his chores all the rest of that week in this outfit.
When Marchalla was not cooking or in her garden she would come and watch her son. The only complaint she had during the visits that Garthlac made with Torlene and other people that the dragon felt could teach the boy about being a soldier and a leader, was how Sorlasha avoided the Dragon. Marchalla loved to talk with Garthlac and she so wanted to ride him. She also wanted Sorlasha to ride, but that never occurred.
Marchalla soon was able to get Garthlac to give her a ride practically on every visit he made. Torlene once teased that Garthlac was coming to visit her and not the boy. For Garthlac it was like having a family again. He had lost his bride and newborn when the floods had filled the lair where they lived. He had been away for more than a day when the attack had come. He returned home to never see them again.
Ever since then he had put his time into duty and had not even attempted to find another mate. His parents worried about him. They didn’t know about him spending time with Anash or they would feel better about him.
Every week Garthlac came with either Torlene or Rosin and sometimes he came with both. Torlene and Rossin not only came for the boy, but they were both a bit smitten with Marchalla and they especially enjoyed her cooking. Rossin was usually quiet in his manner and liked to show what he knew instead of explaining it. Torlene seemed to never keep his mouth shut. This kept up for about four years. During that time Anash grew much taller, stronger and wiser. But he still had many questions.
One summer day after a very good practice session, they all sat down to rest and eat. Marchalla brought them their meal. Anash as usual sat next to Garthlac. They had all been quiet for awhile eating when Anash spoke up, “Why don’t the dragons go burn the forest where the Dryads are and just end this war?”
“Such a silly question.”
“Torlene, that question was raised in the council at the beginning of this war,” Garthlac spoke.
“Glad dey didn’t do it.”
Anash acted puzzled, “Why not?”
“Burning the forest would also harm all the other creatures that live there and then that would in turn create a shortage of food for the people that live off of the forest. It would eventually cause more problems than it could solve. So we dragons have had to resort to other means in dealing with the threat of the dryads.”
“Why did they attack the dragons?” Anash asked.
“There are many rumors to that, but the one I strongly believe has to do with the missing daughters of their Empress.”
“What about her daughters?” came the concerned voice of Marchalla. They had not noticed her returning from the cottage. Torlene, Rossin and Anash stood up. Torlene and Rossin bowed to her as she sat upon a large rock looking at them expecting an answer.
“We do not know much about this. We are not sure how much of this is true or if it be just tales being passed around,” Garthlac answered.
“So what did happen to her daughters?” Anash asked and then took a quick glance at his mother.
“They were taken when they were born. She never even got to see or hold them.”
A disgusted look came over Anash’s face, “Who took them?” He then walked over and sat with his mother.
“One tale that has come to us is that the dragons are holding them deep in our lair teaching them to hate dryads.”
A moment of silence passed around before Marchalla spoke. She was looking at the ground when she said, “They cannot be there.” There was something of finality in her voice, giving all around the uncomfortable urge to change the subject.
It was Anash that broke the silence, “Torlene, will I be a great swordsman?”
Torlene was drawing circles on the ground with a stick. He looked up at Anash and raised his eyebrows. He wondered why such a question, “Ye ‘ave to stay alive to be great.”
“How do I become great?”
He raised the stick and pointed it at Anash for emphasis, “If it makes ya scared, then do it and remember this. Evra one ye fight is thy teacha. Whether they be ya enemy in war, ye friend in practice or a race in pealing tators. An then more important than that is ye got ta stay alive.” Then he stabbed the stick into the ground for emphasis.
“I’ve heard of someone a bit younger than Anash, that has many soldiers talking about how no one can beat her.”
Anash’s eyes brightened and he looked up at Garthlac, “A girl that can fight with a sword?!”
“Yes, that is what I have heard.”
“Where is she?” Anash and Marchalla spoke together.
Torlene smiled big. He loved an audience and he love to prolong a tale. He reached up and scratched his face as if thinking. Marchalla and Anash watched with anticipation. Garthlac had seen him do this before and knew that a simple tale was about to get well stretched. “A river is near, I believe. . .”
“You were at that tavern just over a week ago and I was told she knocked that sword out of your hands and caught it before you knew what happened,” Garthlac said smugly and then smiled.
Torlene looked up at the dragon with a moment of disappointment, and then he grinned from ear to ear.
Marchalla muffled a giggle and Anash became excited, “She really beat you Torlene. Is she really that good?”
“I tink I ‘ad a few beers that night. Twern’t really ready.”
“I was told had one beer and you were fully rested,” Garthlac grinned in amusement down at Torlene.
“Garthlac! Next time I’ll come here alone.” Everyone chuckled.
“I bet you would, just for some of my cooking. But what would your wife say about that?”
Torlene looked from Garthlac to Marchalla and then to Anash, “Boy, they gangin up on me. Gonna need your protection.”
“I don’t think even that girl at the tavern could protect you,” Rossin actually spoke and more chuckles went around.
Anash smiled real big, then something came into his eyes and he stood up straight and tall before Torlene, “You must tell me about this girl.”
He had seen it and it caught him off guard. He knew then and there that he hoped to never get in trouble with this boy. For a moment he didn’t speak as he looked with interest at the young boy before him. “She is a pretty lass and she ‘as a sister. They are both at the Fire River Tavern.”
It was now obvious that this girl with sword ability was something that Anash was interested in and it brought out something that Torlene felt would someday be a trait that Anash would find useful as a leader.
“Where did she learn to use a sword?” some of the kid was back in Anash’s voice.
“Right at the tavern, she learned. Ev’ry time she is challenged she is takin on a teacher.” He put his hand on the boys shoulder and looked deep into his eyes, “Whether ye do so in practice or in battle, all that ye go against is thy teacher. Never forget that and ye got a chance at stayin alive.”
Anash nodded, letting that sink in and then asked, “Her father actually let her learn to use a sword.”
Torlene looked away a moment and squinched his face a bit. Without looking back at Anash, “Her father died in the floods. She is,” he paused a moment. Then looked up at the boy before him, “She and her sister are slaves.”
Anash pondered this a moment. He had never met a slave. He had heard about them, but this puzzled him that a slave girl could be so talented with a sword. He wanted to see her fight. “Will you take me to see her?”
It was Garthlac that answered, “When ye join the Honor of Dragon, you will get your chance to see her. All of our soldiers get to spend time at that tavern since we have camping grounds near there.”
Anash went and sat in front of Garthlac, “Do you think she will like me?”
“That is something that I cannot answer. Each person likes things differently and I am a dragon, we don’t court our mates the way you would.”
“Who is your mate?”
A sadness came over Garthlac’s face and Rossin finally spoke in a solemn tone, “Dragon’s mate for life and if their mate dies, they very rarely ever mate again.”
“I am sorry Garthlac. I did not mean to sadden you.”
Garthlac tilted his head a bit, “She was a good mate. I miss her very much. My memories of her are such good ones. They make me sad and happy. And yes it is hard for me since I am the son of Gynyorra the leader of the dragons. I will be expected to take his place someday and that will mean that I must find another mate, so that I can also have a child to grow up and take my place.”
Anash stood there before Garthlac and took on a manner of a man with many years, “I believe you will have a son and you will be very proud of him.” He paused a moment, looked at his mother, “My father liked to take us up on the hill to look at the stars. When he did, he told us that something greater than us put those stars up there to guide us.” Anash then looked up into the sky. The sun was just about to touch the mountains in the west. “It will be dark soon and the sky is clear. We should be able to see many stars tonight. Do you like to look at the stars, Garthlac?”
“Yes I do very much. They are even more inspiring when I can look at them while flying high above the clouds.”
“I would like to see that. Have you ever flown high enough to see who put them there?” Marchalla asked.
“There are dragons that have flown far beyond the moon to other worlds and none have seen who or what put them there.”
Anash looked disappointed for a moment then looked up at the darkening sky, “What does he want of us?”
“I do not know if the being is a creature or a he or a she, but I do believe this being wants us to always strive to be better.”
“If He wants us to strive to be better, then why does he allow so much evil in the world?”
“You ask such deep questions for one so young?” Rossin said.
Anash looked at Garthlac with a look that let the dragon know that the young boy needed an answer.
Garthlac rubbed his chin, “I do not know all that I need to know. But I believe that looking for answers is very important in becoming wiser. I cannot answer what you have asked, but it is possible that someday we can know about that. The answer may be just what we need in dealing with the evil in the world or maybe the search for the answer is our best defense in fighting for good.”