Authors: Mell Eight
Tags: #fantasy, #M/M romance, #Dragon's Hoard
"We are here to ask for your help," Jerney explained.
"Well," Mae cut in, "this calls for some tea." She glanced around the circle of watchers critically before continuing. "Cara make the tea. Kam, guide our guests to the communal tent."
"This way," Kam said as he stepped forward. Everyone else quickly dispersed, but Kam had no doubt that the rumor mill would be running rampant until the full story of why the two strangers had suddenly appeared came clear.
Kam led Jerney and Tori away from the main fire into the area where the largest tents were set up. The communal tent was in the very center of the camp where it could be shared and used by anyone for anything.
"Are you some sort of guard?" Jerney asked politely as they settled onto cushions on the floor to one side of the tent, well away from anything else stored there. On the other side of the tent some of the women were setting up frames to stretch skins, but this little sitting area was kept clear for anyone to use.
Kam couldn't stop a quick laugh from escaping. "I'm from the human city so I'm probably the most used to dragons out of all of us," he began explaining before he was forced to stop. Tori had left the security of Jerney's arms and was slowly creeping closer to Kam. Those bright, golden eyes were fixed on Kam's face.
Tori felt curious and so very young to Kam. He wasn't an animal, not entirely. There was more human in him than in the white dragon frozen in the mountains. Kam wondered if that was because Tori was in human form or if something else was odd about him.
"What are you?" Tori asked, tilting his head slightly to get a better angle to stare.
Kam giggled awkwardly. "I think I'm an animal-speaker, which means I can understand animals. You're nothing like the white dragon, though."
"An animal-speaker?" Jerney asked, surprise clear in his tone. "I thought those were just a bedtime story."
"You've met the white dragon?" Tori asked, curious and almost vibrating in place in excitement. "Can I meet him?"
"Lor thought it was just a bedtime story too, before he met me," Kam answered Jerney. "The white dragon is frozen in ice in the mountain range, so I didn't meet him really," he added to Tori.
Tori spun around and bounced back over to Jerney. "Hey, Jerney. Can we go see the white dragon before we go home?"
"That's probably not a good idea," Lor said as he pushed through the tent flap and walked over to join them. "It's a difficult journey over a lot of ice."
Mae pushed through a moment after Lor, holding the tea. There was a pause in conversation as everyone took a cup and settled onto the cushions.
Lor spoke up first. "Mae, Kam. Jerney and Tori are the two I met before the snowstorm. Jerney had come to rescue his sister and Tori came to rescue Jerney. We had a bit of a disagreement, but the matter was resolved. Why," he asked as he turned to where Jerney and Tori were curled up on the same cushion, "have you come here, then?"
"King Felix and Prince Bast have given Tori and me a task to complete," Jerney explained. "They don't appreciate the fact that all the witches in the city have haphazard training and that there is no force to regulate their actions. They want me to set up a school where witches can train and can learn rules on proper use of their powers. We don't want another witch like Harold to be able to take advantage of the crown without repercussions or a proper policing force to stop him before he became violent."
"So I went to talk to Toel," Tori cut in. "He's my hatch-father and he said he'd organize some dragons to fly around and look for a good place to start building. They're going to make me a big hoard room!"
"They found a perfect place just north of the royal forest," Jerney continued. "It has a very large hill they can hollow out for Tori's hoard room, a large flat area nearby to build the actual school on, and a good access route to the city. The only issue is that An'dadean and Baine found a small house and barn already on the site with an older man in residence. He directed us to speak with you. I was already hoping to ask if you would come teach at the school, but now I also want to know if we can take your hill? We'll make sure there is an area kept there for you and for the man watching your horses, but we don't want to start building without your permission."
"Every fall, before winter confines us to our camp, we go south to trade our furs for the goods necessary for our survival," Mae explained. "That hut is our stopover point between the human city and the ice wastes. We cannot survive without it."
"But on the same token," Lor cut in, "we could benefit from a closer human settlement to trade with. I cannot leave my clan, because without a witch they would be defenseless on the wastes. Mae and I will have to discuss this ourselves before we can give you any decision."
"I understand. We don't need a decision today, but we would like to have the foundations built before winter," Jerney explained. "I can mention to the king that perhaps a more permanent trade route could be set up and I would be very willing to send students to you here for training. We can work out all the details as we go along."
They finished the tea and Kam was left in charge of entertaining the two guests while Lor and Mae called a meeting of the elders in the clan. Kam decided to show them around the camp. He led them back to the main fire.
"Do you need a coat?" Kam asked Jerney as they reached the flames and Jerney quickly held out his hands. Jerney was dressed warmly, but without thick furs he could easily get frostbite. Tori headed off to the other side of the fire as they spoke. He started giggling happily a few moments later, so Kam didn't worry.
"I'm using a bit of magic to keep myself warm," Jerney admitted. "And I know you've never hugged a dragon before, but when their internal flame is burning they tend to run a little hot."
"You're using a dragon as your coat?" Kam said with a snort of laughter, remembering the way Tori had clung to Jerney so tightly. There had been something more than warmth in that embrace though, something that showed a deeper connection that, while not sexual, had all the makings of a future relationship blooming.
"Hey, Jerney!" Tori called as he trotted back around the fire. In his arms was an unhappily squirming Runt and one of Runt's brothers. "Can I keep one?"
Before Kam could say anything, Jerney stepped forward and took Runt out of Tori's hands. "Not this one. She's already bonded to Kam. If you want the other one you'll have to ask Lor or Mae first. For now, put him down."
Runt got all four paws underneath her with as much dignity as a puppy with her eyes barely opened could do and toddled quickly to Kam's side, her nose working furiously to locate Kam. She collapsed at Kam's feet with a grunt and a glare in Tori's direction.
"All right," Tori sighed. He gently put the other puppy down, who quickly headed back in the direction of his mother, and reattached himself to Jerney's side. "So, where is this white dragon again?" Tori asked.
The feeling of stubborn curiosity flared again. Kam couldn't stop his grimace and wondered just how Tori's parents managed to keep him in line. Probably with judicious use of Jerney's patience, Kam assumed as Jerney gently cuffed Tori on the side of his head.
"That's not why we're here," Jerney admonished.
Tori pouted, his lower lip jutting invitingly in Jerney's direction. Kam watched as Jerney's face softened in the face of Tori's onslaught. Before Jerney could break down entirely, Kam spoke up.
"It's about a two hour sled ride in that direction," Kam explained as he pointed towards the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Kam had asked Mae how far the mountain range was from the camp and apparently when you weren't trying to frantically outrun a blizzard it was a lengthy trek. Their return trip back at an easier pace had taken two hours. "You would need a sled, some dogs, and someone to show you the way."
"See?" Jerney said gently to Tori, smoothing his hand down Tori's head as the pouting continued. "It's much too difficult."
"It's actually not a bad idea," Lor's voice came from behind Kam. Lor's arm came to rest around Kam's shoulders as he drew Kam in to his chest. "Tomorrow we've called for a clan meeting, which would be very boring for you both to sit out for. I can provision a sled and send you on a day trip to see Old White. It would be easy enough for you to have lunch in the caves and be back before nightfall."
"We could?" Tori asked, bouncing excitedly in place. "Can we, Jerney?"
Jerney laughed. "If Lor says it's okay, then it might be fun," Jerney agreed.
"Excellent," Lor said with a smile. "Kam, if you go with them I know they won't get lost. I'll send Hern to guide the sled. Is that okay?"
Kam nodded, strangely pleased with the idea that Lor was willing to let him go alone. Considering all the admonishments Kam had received from Lor about safety in the snow and Lor's worry about Kam's health, it was flattering to know that Lor still trusted Kam to take care of himself and their important guests.
"It'll be fun," Kam said with his own smile at Lor.
"Umm," Tori said shyly. Kam turned away from Lor and almost jumped. Tori was standing about three inches away and was gazing hopefully up at Lor. "Can I have a puppy?" he asked carefully.
During dinner, Tori spent the time fluttering around and introducing himself to the clan. Breakfast the next morning led to more of the same as Tori fought to meet every single person around the fire at least once.
Kam could tell the clan was absolutely charmed by the child-like dragon. Jerney just watched and smiled, which made Kam wonder just why such a peculiar duo had been sent to ask the clans for help. Certainly there must be other qualified people with connections to the human king and any dragon a little older than Tori could have spoken just as diplomatically about the issue as Jerney. Yet, every time Tori came gamboling by, talking a mile a minute and looking so excited about the snow and the tents and everything else in the camp, Kam couldn't help smiling and laughing along with Tori.
It wasn't an act either. Kam could feel Tori's genuine excitement and happiness reverberating in his wake. Kam couldn't help wondering if the clan might vote on behalf of Tori just to keep Tori from losing his overwhelming cheer. And that thought led to all the answer Kam needed about why Tori and Jerney had been the ones sent. An adult dragon or a trained envoy would have set the clan on edge, but a baby and his keeper did the exact opposite. There was someone very shrewd in either the human court or the dragon mountain dictating behind the scenes.
Kam hooked the last sled dog into the harness of their sled and gave all six pairs of fluffy ears a good rub. Hern had finished lashing their supplies down to the sled and was demonstrating to Tori and Jerney how to hold on to the safety straps.
"You'll be careful," Lor admonished as he wrapped his arms around Kam's waist from behind.
Kam craned his neck upwards and smiled at Lor. "I won't go running off into the snow by myself. It's two hours there, two hours for lunch and to see Old White, and two hours back. We'll be home before the sun starts to set."
"Good," Lor said. He bent down and pressed his lips against Kam's. Kam felt some sort of spell thrum through him at the contact, but Lor didn't pull away after the sensation faded. The kiss deepened, Kam's tongue eagerly meeting with Lor's even in the awkward position.
They finally drew apart. Lor kept one hand on Kam's shoulder for a long moment before he nodded resolutely and walked off towards the central fire. Kam watched him go for a long second before turning and climbing onto the sled.
"That's quite the protection spell," Jerney murmured. "He must care about you a lot."
"We're sharing a tent," Kam explained with a shrug, warmed by the knowledge of just how much Lor cared about him. To waste so much magic just to keep Kam safe?
They set off, Hern guiding the sled out of the camp and pointing the dogs towards the mountains. Tori was almost vibrating with excitement, clearly trying to rein himself in and not bounce on the sled and disturb the dogs. Jerney had one hand casually pressed on Tori's shoulder as a reminder.
It wasn't long before they were adrift in an endless sea of snow, only the mountains in the distance giving them a landmark to follow.
It was a long two hours for Kam before they were suddenly in the shadow of the mountain, the sled gliding up through the final curve into the entrance of the caves.
"Wow!" Tori gasped when the immense opening came into view. "Looks just like the mountain at home!"
"Definitely a dragon cave," Jerney agreed.
Hern stopped the sled outside the opening where it could stay safely on top of the snowpack.
"I'll stay with the dogs," Hern grunted. "Kam, you know the way?"
Kam nodded. "I'll show them."
Tori was already inside the mountain, heading off down the corridor by the time Kam led Jerney inside. Tori stopped at a far turn off, looked both ways with a small frown, and bounced back to Jerney's side when he couldn't decide which way to go. Kam led them along the left hand turn and into the gigantic cave that housed the clan during terrible weather.
The large room looked different without the small clan inside, but there was no mistaking the space for somewhere else. The fire pit was cut in the center of the main cave, evidence of a recent fire still inside, and nearby, the charcoal drawings of the Tribe's few children remained.
"This looks like the Eldest's meeting room," Tori said as he looked around. "No pretties or treasures to magic anywhere."
"It could just have been emptied of treasure at some point," Jerney pointed out. He was studying the cave carefully, his hand brushing along the wall where Lor's protection spell kept out the snow and cold.
"The White Dragon is this way," Kam explained, leading Tori and Jerney across the cave towards the uneven wall. They all slid through the opening into the smaller room eerily lit from within the ice.
Tori sucked in an excited breath and rushed to press his hands against the wall of ice, staring at the gemstones encased inside. If Tori had a tail, it would be wagging, Kam thought as waves of curiosity tried to do battle with the loneliness that pervaded the room. Kam decided to let Tori find White on his own.