Authors: Mell Eight
Tags: #fantasy, #M/M romance, #Dragon's Hoard
The Eldest came stomping over a second later. He also had long hair, but he shared the same golden shade as Toel and Nyle and it was smooth without any ornamentation. His human form appeared to be in its mid thirties, but he stood proudly tall in such a way that made age seem irrelevant.
"Your kind is supposed to be extinct for a reason," the Eldest snarled. It took Kam a long moment, and for Lor to yank him backwards protectively, before Kam realized the Eldest's ire was focused on him. "You're an empath, one of those animal-speakers from the Wilds. Your kind helped start the war that nearly threw this land into total chaos. Dragons fighting dragons, dragons destroying humans, and the Wilds burning: all because of some clan of animal-speakers who wished to rule rather than converse!"
The Eldest took a threatening step forward, but Lor was in the way, joined quickly by White.
"You know the pain they caused!" the Eldest snarled at White. "Our own eventual separation occurred thanks to the machinations of the animal-speakers!"
"You are projecting your pain on this child of ice," White replied calmly. "This is not the Eldest I knew. Have you changed so much over a few hundred thousand years?"
The Eldest seemed to draw in on himself at White's words, his outward rage and inward fear both cooling sharply. He glanced around at everyone gathered in the lee of the hill. Tori was clutching tightly to Jerney's arm, who had his hands up protectively with some sort of spell on his fingertips. Gail was standing at Toel's side, both in human form, staring at the Eldest as if they had never heard him raise his voice before, let alone start a fight. Bast and his soldiers looked torn between their gut reaction of drawing a blade in battle and recognizing to do so would be treasonous at the very least.
"My rage overcame my sense," the Eldest apologized in a calm voice that seemed to at least relax the dragons.
"You and I," White said to the Eldest sharply. "We are Riven."
"I never wanted to be," the Eldest disagreed immediately. "But circumstances dictated the necessary direction to halt the war. I took those needed steps and humans and dragons have lived together peacefully ever since."
White scoffed. "You forced the humans to leave their settlements in the grassy plains. They had two options: flee to the Wilds and almost certain death or attend to your whims in one city, ruled by one human king under your dictates. It wasn't a choice I could condone!"
"It brought peace! No dragons have been slain or have killed in the name of some worthless cause! I saved our race, and I have saved the human race as well. We have allies in the Wilds now, too. Only you and your ice people refused to comply. Now look at them, look at you!"
"It brought you peace, but it lost you what I thought was the most important thing in your life," White replied, his voice soft and almost betrayed. "You caused the Riving between us, Eldest, when you forced peace on the lands. I caused the devastation of my people when I was willing to abandon them in return for not losing you!"
Kam couldn't help feeling like the conversation was quickly degenerating into a violent lover's spat. He had seen his fair share of those on the docks, when a woman took a knife to her cheating husband or when a man hit his girlfriend when she refused to heed his orders. Neither scenario ended well. Usually someone was dead or in jail, or both. There would be more blood spilled if something didn't break soon.
The out of control rage in the Eldest was beginning to spiral again and White was starting to feel futile and helpless.
It wasn't Kam's place to be speaking with dragons: he certainly wasn't powerful like Lor and Jerney, or a dragon with the right to speak to the Eldest if they needed to. Bast seemed lost in the emotions guiding the fight. There was no one else to try to stop the situation before it got considerably worse.
Kam knew the Eldest had been ready to kill him just a moment before, but he stepped forward anyway.
"If I'm an animal-speaker then let me speak!" Kam said loudly over the sounds of the two dragons arguing. "The Eldest," he continued as politely as possible when both dragons turned their heads towards him in surprise, "feels betrayed. He thinks you should have supported his plan and him," Kam said directly to White. He turned to the Eldest next. "White also feels betrayed. You knew his hoard was comprised of ice witches and that removing them from the ice to join the human city would destroy his hoard entirely. Yet you still asked him to give up what he couldn't.
"You both feel angry because you feel slighted by the other, yet you fear what speaking those emotions will cause as well," Kam finished softly, aware that both dragons were staring at him incredulously.
"There has to be a compromise," Lor agreed as he stepped up to support Kam. His warm hand came to rest comfortably on Kam's shoulder as he spoke, and Kam couldn't help leaning into Lor's side. "It is too late to undo the peace the Eldest has created with the humans, not that we should," he added when Bast made an indignant sound. "They live happily in the human city under their king without qualm. We of the Tribe of the White Dragon have no wish to leave the ice either, but our presence out here doesn't cause any strife to the peace you're trying to enforce. We are not the problem! You both are, with each other."
White seemed to take Lor's accusation in stride and the Eldest kept his face blank as he looked at Kam and Lor. Kam could tell White felt satisfied with the outcome of the fight. The Eldest felt cautious to Kam's probing. He backed away from the gathering until he found a lot of space before shifting forms and shooting into the air.
The Eldest didn't fly south, back to his hoard. Instead he shot straight up into the air until Kam couldn't see him.
White chuckled. "He really hasn't changed. He always has to be right, and he is always so calm when it comes to making decisions for others, but when he's wrong and it's about himself … He does sulk very nicely," White said with another laugh.
"Will he be okay?" Tori sniffled, blinking his red-rimmed eyes up at White.
White nodded and gave Tori a gentle smile of reassurance. "He'll be fine. We managed to finally get the problem aired without any mistaken assumptions clouding the issue. I think, this time, we should be able to just sit and talk like rational creatures. I have been waiting for my Eldest to return to me for so very long. I won't give up this chance. If you'll excuse me?" he said politely.
Kam watched as White, feeling quite satisfied and almost anticipatory, walked away from the gathering and shifted forms. He took off into the air, flying after the Eldest with pointed determination.
"Well, that was interesting," Mae finally remarked into the silence left behind as everyone continued to stare in the direction White had flown.
"Was it just me, or did you feel a heck of a lot of sexual tension between those two dragons?" Tomm asked one of the awkwardly shifting soldiers. They were all standing together to one side of the hill, as if White and the Eldest had been on stage and they the captivated audience.
"That's one way to put it," Mae agreed when the soldier just blushed. "So, about those trade and peace agreements?" she asked.
Tori and Jerney went home. Jerney had an apartment over a shop he owned and ran where they lived together. Bast just sighed at that admission, grumbling something about messy hoard rooms moldering in castle basements before he and his troop mounted up to make the long ride south. Nyle also flew home, Leon perched comfortably on his back, with Toel and Gail leading the way. Bast, Toel, and Leon all had copies of the signed trade agreement so the King, the Eldest, and the Alpha living somewhere very far south could all see what had been agreed to.
"For whenever the Eldest reappears," Gail said with a giggle that showed Kam exactly where Tori got his sense of fun.
"I suspect builders will begin arriving at this location within the next few days," Bast had explained to Lor and Mae before leaving. "King Felix and I want to have this school up and running as soon as possible. The faster we can have a regulated system of witches in the city, the happier we will both be."
It was with a sense of accomplishment that Mae, Lor, Hern, and Tomm returned to the sleds. The trade agreements would bring in essentials like vegetables and grains, which would greatly improve the quality of life out on the ice. The new school was planning to set up a mentoring program where witches had to spend a year on the ice perfecting basic skills as part of their graduation and certification requirements. Some witches might even choose to stay, perhaps adding more witch blood to the Tribe. More witches meant more protections against the elements, which meant more hunting parties could go out, which would support more children. The clans would finally begin growing again.
Kam busied himself hitching the dogs back up to the sled. Each dog had to be reassured that the big dragons were gone with a lot of petting and attention before they were calmed enough to be hooked up.
The constant reminders from the dogs of the fighting, of Kam standing up and speaking to two dragons, had him shivering slightly in reaction. He felt plenty happy about the success of the trade agreements, of course, but the memory of the Eldest snarling at him and of Kam standing up to the Eldest in return put a damper on any excitement Kam felt.
Kam had just hitched the last dog onto the sled when Lor pulled Kam backwards into his arms.
"I felt something of what you did to stop that fight," Lor said gently into Kam's ear.
"I can't believe I spoke to dragons that way!" Kam gasped in reply.
Kam felt Lor smile against Kam's neck. "I was talking about that neat package of magic you formed and fired at those dragons, but it was also nice seeing you stand up against the dragons for being stupid," Lor explained.
"Oh," Kam finally said after a long moment to fight down his blush. Lor wasn't being subtle about just how nice he thought Kam's actions had been. Lor's body was pressed firmly against Kam's back, his hips tight to Kam's bottom, and it was impossible for Kam to get any other conclusion from Lor's statement given just what was poking him in the butt.
"You'll have to practice," Lor continued, but Kam wasn't sure if Lor meant practice his magic, which Kam had already been planning to do, or practice tumbling down in their sleeping furs. Both sounded like fun, but the latter wasn't something they should be thinking about when they were in plain view of the three people waiting impatiently for them on the sled.
"When we get back to our tent, I'll practice," Kam agreed. He pushed his hips seductively back into Lor's and craned his neck around until he could press a chaste, yet still promising, kiss to Lor's lips. Kam pulled away and joined Mae on the sled, hoping his fur coat hid his own visible reaction to Lor's suggestions.
After a long moment, Lor climbed onto the back of the sled next to where Hern was holding the guide whip. Moments later they were off, gliding over the snow as fast as the dogs could carry them.
It was only a short journey of a few hours, but they were racing the sun home. Originally they had decided to sleep in the in the small house or barn to avoid being out on the ice after nightfall, but the fiasco with the dragons as well as the fact that the negotiations had ended much earlier than planned, meant that if they hurried they could sleep in their own furs that night instead.
The sun was just a sliver above the mountains, heading past dangerous into deadly for those still on the ice, when the camp finally came into view. Kam immediately noticed something odd. There were many more tents than usual!
Lor and Mae both groaned at the same time and didn't seem surprised when Cara, Ness, and Lenny all came running when the sled was spotted.
"Bay is here," Cara explained when the sled slid to a stop closest to her.
"I guessed," Mae grumbled dryly. "Any particular reason why Bay decided to move his entire clan south to join ours?" she asked.
"The White Dragon," Ness explained. "Apparently White decided to inform Bay that the clans were going to be one again. Bay's been raging about food supplies and hunting parties since."
"The clans were divided for a reason," Lor grumbled, stepping off the sled first. "We couldn't sustain a large Tribe hunting the same ground, so we separated far enough that our hunting circles wouldn't overlap. It's a three day journey from their camp to ours."
"White must have made them move first thing after he left us four days ago," Mae agreed as she joined Lor off the sled. "Might as well get this over with," she added as she pulled the packing tube containing their copy of the trade agreement off the sled.
Kam hurried to free the dogs from their traces so Hern and Tomm could put the sled away. The dogs happily trotted off to explore the new people Kam could see seated around the central fire, but Kam headed directly to where Lor was quickly getting into an argument with a tall man next to the fire.
The man stood like Lor, as if he had power and the authority to use it. His hair was also long and intricately braided, but it was the more natural faded blond color shared by most members of the Tribe. Kam could see his eyes were snapping blue, which made Kam believe that the man must be related to Lor in some distant way.
Then Lor snarled, "Father, please listen!" just as Kam stepped up next to him.
"Bay," Mae added, "we have a solution if you'd just care to listen!"
The strange man was Bay, the leader and witch of the only other clan camp out on the wastes, and he was Lor's father.
Bay snorted. "Listen to my deserter son? I see no reason to lower myself that far. I am here because White ordered me to come, but I am not happy about it."
"Well, that's too bad," White said, clearly faked sadness in his voice. He was in human form on the far side of the fire, almost hiding behind one of the new tents as he took the time to study Bay and Lor's argument.
Kam, as well as a number of other people who had been equally intent on the argument, jumped in surprise at White's sudden appearance.
"I never would have guessed my own Tribe would be Riven as well," White continued as he stepped closer to the fire. Then he blatantly turned his back on both Bay and Lor, focusing his hard, golden eyes on Kam. "No magic," White said quickly, throwing up a hand to hold Lor off. "I have no wish to enspell our young empath or incite your ire."