Authors: Aaron Pogue
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Fantasy
I watched it go until I could hear its rattling wheels no more, and then some compulsion turned me back toward the dragon and pressed me three paces forward out of the shadows of the trees. I looked down on the dragon, and it looked up at me. For a long moment we stood like that, lit only by the flicker of spreading fires in Drew Gail's pasture. I reached out with a thought and crushed the fires out.
Before I could do more I felt that other presence in the back of my mind again. Not just the subtle compulsion that had directed my hand before, not the siren call that had pulled me toward the warring dragons in the night. This was a whole presence, one I remembered from the night long ago when the dragon had dropped me into the sea. I felt its pain. I felt its fading anger, and its growing curiosity. I felt its gratitude, too, and the quiet thrumming thrill of survival.
And I felt its desire, compelling me to come forward and present myself before it. I stopped my feet, swayed for a moment, and then that pressure redoubled. I could feel it swell inside my head, stronger and stronger, but I fought it. The dragon's will pressed hard, driving against my spirit, but my mind had grown strong and my will stronger.
I stood upon the hill above the dragon and forced back that second awareness until it was only a seed in the back of my head. I could not push it any further; I could not push it out of my mind, but I could contain it. For several minutes I stood under the starry sky, sweating in spite of the cold, until I felt the aggressive force relent.
I raised my eyes then, met the beast's gaze, and it only stared at me. Without the overwhelming presence of that other awareness, I felt a flush of animal terror beneath its gaze. I trembled so hard I could not contain it, but I didn't break eye contact. I did as I'd done before, fighting my own emotions as I'd done the dragon's, until I owned control of my mind once more.
Then I took a long step down the hill, toward the beast. It huffed a breath, shifted its head, and waited. Deep inside my mind, I felt a touch of surprise from the beast and just a hint of admiration.
You have grown much, little human
. I could still hear the voice in my head, but now I had some idea how. I could feel the thoughts reverberating from that kernel of his awareness, feel them coming out of his mind and echoing into my soul.
I would not have guessed. But here and now you have my gratitude. You saved me, Daven. I owe you lifedebt.
I took a slow breath, forcing the monster's emotions apart from my own, and stoked the little flame of my fury. It had controlled me. I concentrated on that place in the back of my head, the link between the dragon's mind and mine. "
Hello again, dragon. I have done you a kindness tonight that you did not deserve."
Do not call me dragon. Dragons are many but I am one. Call me Vechernyvetr, Daven. Know my name as I know yours. We are bonded now, closer than I would have guessed possible.
Even in my mind the name felt powerful and strange. I frowned.
"I should have let you die."
Why is that?
The thoughts were accompanied by surprise, offense, where I had expected sarcasm. I almost shouted at him aloud, but I was not sure he would have understood my language. Instead, I spoke in my mind.
Why? You tried to kill me! You dropped me in an ocean to die!"
But you are not dead. You are quite well. Strong. The day I met you, you could not have done what you did today.
I tried to hold on to my anger, but it slipped like water through my fingers. There was truth in the creature's words. I took a step closer, holding myself as tall as I could.
"You are a threat. You are a monster. I would be happier if you were dead."
The dragon answered me with a rolling laugh.
I know that feeling well. But it is as I said. There is a bond neither of us can easily break. And it has proven useful tonight.
"To you, perhaps."
I felt irritation curl my lips.
"It cost me a friend, an easy night's sleep. A meal or two—"
These are petty things,
the dragon said. It rolled its great eyes, and shifted in the mud.
You lost one night's sleep and gained the gratitude of a force of nature
I felt an eyebrow arch. "
And what is that worth?"
"The gratitude of a monster. A dragon helpless and already halfway dead, no less."
You judge too quickly what you do not understand. I will be well enough to pay my debt. I am tired and weak, but far from helpless. Dragons heal quickly. By midnight I shall be well, and then I can settle our score.
I frowned at that and moved closer to the monster. Somewhere far in the back of my mind, near the place where I had tucked the dragon's thoughts, an animal part of me wailed in fear. But mostly I was not afraid. Mostly I was curious. I stepped up to the injured leg, the one stretched out awkwardly at the dragon's side. I raised a hand that didn't quite touch the long, jagged gash that split the dragon's hide and muscle down to bone.
The moon came out then, slipping free from a light band of airy clouds and peeking over the trees. A beam of silver light traced across the earth and fell upon the dragon's hide. From that far corner of my mind I felt a flash of relief so sharp and sudden it broke through all my defenses and washed over me as though it were my own.
When I fought it back, surprise and confusion held its place.
"There is no magic in moonlight
Arrogant little humans,
There is so much more magic than your own. The moon is a mighty power, ever-changing mistress of the chaos night. She is our queen. There is no injury to my kind that cannot be healed between sunset and dawn. I will be well by midnight.
Beneath my hand, the dragon's wound began to heal. I watched ruined flesh stitch itself together again, watched armored hide remade beneath the silver light of a waning moon.
The dragon huffed, an irritated sound that sent a blast of hot air washing all around me.
You are a boring little pet
, the dragon said.
But it is as I said. I owe you lifedebt. What boon will you ask of me?
I thought about that for a long time, and I could feel Vechernyvetr wondering at my silence. Finally, I shrugged.
"It will be midnight before you can offer it, so I will wait until midnight to decide. I must think long and hard on this."
I sensed the dragon's compliance, and then the beast settled down to doze while it healed. I felt its weariness within me, and a little echo of my own, but hunger quickly overwhelmed it. Lunch seemed a long way away, and I couldn't guess when my next meal might come.
I made my way to the pool at the end of the little yard, taking on my second sight as I did so. There were little whispers of life within the water. The farmer's pond was deeper than I'd expected and well-stocked as I had hoped. Short bursts of light blinked through the slow, ancient energies of the water itself as fish darted after prey, away from predator. I reached out carefully with my mind, binding the water into a shell around one of the larger fish, then brought it rushing like a bubble to the surface. With a little smile of satisfaction, I reached out and plucked the fish from the water.
I found the memory of fire among the quiet embers still hot in the farmer's field, but it took more effort than I'd expected to coax them back to flame. I'd nearly succeeded when I felt the dragon shift behind me. I had one heartbeat's warning before it coughed, and belched a tiny stream of fire that washed like water across the ground before it. Hotter than a forgefire, the dragon's flame lit the trampled grass, and I grabbed a thread of it and bound it with my will before the fuel itself crumbled to ash. I heard the dragon's satisfied chuckle deep in my mind, and then it was asleep again.
I cared little about its amusement. I had everything I needed. I cleaned the fish on the pitted edge of a sword abandoned in the townsfolk's flight. One fish and an open fire made a small and simple meal, but after my hunger it was a feast. When I had eaten my fill the moon was already shining high, but Vechernyvetr still slept.
I eyed him for a moment, wondering what favor I could ask of a dragon. My mind returned again and again to the threat upon the king. Whatever else I wanted, nothing compared to that danger. I'd spent two days now chasing blindly after a solution to a problem much too large for me, and here before me was an answer.
I found a place to rest my back against the dragon's warm hide and stared up at the stars while I considered options. I found no definite plan before a yawn cracked my jaw, and soon after that I shook myself from a light doze and tried to focus. The rhythm of the dragon's breathing defeated me. I fell asleep in earnest and only woke hours later when the dragon shifted in place. It hesitated for a heartbeat, just long enough for me to catch myself, then threw itself off the ground with a mighty power. It lunged into the air, huge wings hammering wind down upon me, and thrummed up high into the night.
"You are well then,"
I thought, aiming it at the knot of emotion thrilling in the back of my mind. The beast answered me with joy and with a flood of power that left me almost drunk. I pushed it back.
I watched the dragon dance among the stars, watched it stretch stiff muscles, and I reached out with my own senses toward the spot in my mind. I imagined I could feel its motion, feel that rush of air and movement that even now I could remember.
The dragon soared for a moment longer, then frustration bubbled through, anger, and it banked long and slow and settled once again before me. It stalked slowly closer, cauldron eyes fixed on me, and huffed another forge-hot breath.
I must go
, the dragon thought.
I have other burdens than yours to settle. So decide now or accept the delay. What would you have of me?
"I would have an end to war,"
"The duke Brant has brought rebellion against the king, and the wizard Lareth fights for him—"
A growl escaped the dragon, a low and terrible sound, and I felt a flare of impatience from it.
I have no interest in the politics of man
"This is more than politics,"
"The nation is on the brink of chaos. Lareth plans to kill the king—"
I do not have time for stories,
the dragon said.
If you have a task to ask of me, then ask it.
I clenched my fists. "
I want you to win the war
That sounds like more than one night's work
, the dragon answered.
It sounds a greater threat than the one you saved me from
I shook my head.
"You needn't kill them all,"
"Attack them in a gathering and crush their numbers."
Your rebels do not gather,
My kind can feel a gathering of arms, and only from the sea has that kind come. These are the soldiers of your king, I believe.
I sighed and nodded.
"Then not even a gathering. Just Lareth. Can you kill Lareth for me?"
Can you tell me where he is?
the dragon asked. I didn't even answer, the frustration that flashed through me was response enough. The dragon lowered its head.
Could you kill a single bee within a swarm, if I named him for you? No. I cannot kill your wizard
I scrubbed my hands across my face. The dragon was scarcely any help at all. I caught my breath and shook my head.
I said at last, knowing how much I squandered a dragon's lifedebt.
"I ask you to carry me to Tirah. It will save me two days' travel—"
The dragon's answer came as angry laughter in my mind. The monster threw itself into the air again, battering me with the downdraft of its wings.
Do I look like a beast of burden to your eyes? You silly little man. I am a beast of violence and blood. Ask that of me and it is yours, but I am not a pony you can ride.
With that, it rose high into the sky. I strained after it, shouting in my mind.
"You owe a debt, and this is all I need! I have no use for violence and blood!"
The dragon was a shadow against the star-specked sky, a motion fading north. Its answer came from far away, but clear within my mind.
, it said with confidence.
You humans always do. As much as we and more. The time will come, and I will heed your call.
I heard it, or imagined it say
, as final as I'd ever heard. I watched until I could see nothing of its shadow in the sky, then I fell to my knees. And then I sighed.
I left the farm at a sprint, clutching the rusted, pitted sword at my side and straining to see by the moonlight. The heavy weapon slowed me, and the rutted road tripped me again and again, and finally I abandoned the blade and limped on out to the king's way. I walked for a mile while I caught my breath. My mind raced, trying to sort everything that had happened.
The dragon had compelled me. I knew that. No matter that it had offered me a boon reward, I had not by my own will done anything to save it. I certainly wouldn't have turned the villagers' fire against them.