Chapter 15 -
Arvin's Village -- A Brief Education in Dragonology
Despite my desire to get off and explore to new places in Landsphere we soon found out that more preparation was needed. For instance, Leaf's view of the land below was block because he was riding on Red's back. Even sitting in front of me offered only a slight advantage.
To fix this problem we had to make a harness of sorts which we called `the sling' that held him close to Red's belly. The harness also held a board that sheaves of paper could be attached and held firmly to the board by strips of leather string.
While this was being made by one of the craftsmen of the village Leaf set to making his own hardened drawing sticks sort of a cross between a pencil and charcoal sticks. It was fascinating to watch him work.
The village Master Bowmaker presented me with a well crafted bow and a quiver full of arrows. I'm sure he must have blessed it with some kind of magical charm because I swear I could shoot an arrow straight up a nat's ass at 60 meters.
Red would sometimes go on about how Leaf and I would make a fine couple to which I would objurgate against and storm off to be by myself. The thing is I am attracted to Leaf -- physically and mentally. Thankfully, Red would only bring this up when Leaf wasn't present because it would be so embarrassing to Leaf as well as me.
Arvin and the others arrived as predicted on the third day. I was glad to see them. Zen's disposition had significantly changed. At least I thought so when he was in my presence. He definitely had an air of authority and took no os(orcshit) from anyone. I guess you could say he had the mentality of a grown person even though he still had the body of a cute little elfin boy. I knew that I had made the right choice in making him the first Dragon Rider and giving him the title of Sir Zen the Incredible because that's what he was. Incredible.
It was sunset. Red, Leaf and I would be leaving tomorrow. I was at the point watching the sun sink below the horizon when I heard Arvin arrive. He was alone.
"Hey! Sup?" I asked.
"You changed him," said Arvin.
"For better or worse," I asked.
"Not sure, he's different. Not the same little boy that teased and joked around. In ways he's a little like you -- determined and when it comes to getting things done he let's nothing get in his way -- no emotions his or other peoples. It's like in the time it took us to get back to the others he became an adult in attitude. I guess it's good in a way because I can guarantee that by the time you get back you will have two more dragons in the air and spitting fire."
"I'm glad in a way," I said, "I was worried that he might not take this war seriously. He was the right choice to be the first dragon rider. I'm very proud of him. I hated talking to him the way I did but I needed him to realize I am serious about this war. I intend to win it."
"I am glad Leaf has found his place. I saw him practicing archery once. He was pretty bad," said Arvin.
I smiled remembering when I saw him for the first time. "Yeah..."
"He adores you -- it's obvious."
"Yeah, well, he'll grow out of it."
"And what if he doesn't?" smiled Arvin.
I shrugged my shoulders and then said, "I'm here to bring balance to Landsphere not for romance."
"You could be here for both, you know."
"You sound like your father so let's end this conversation now before I get pissed."
"You know there is someone else who adores you and I think would even die for you," he said.
"I said let it drop!" I repeated venomously. I knew he was talking about Zen.
Thankfully he let it drop.
The following afternoon Red, Leaf and I left. I had asked Arvin what was on the other side of the mountains and he said he didn't know because he and Zen had never been able to fly over them. Zen would nearly pass out when they got to high because the air was so thin. We decided that that's where we would start but instead of trying to go over we would go around the coastline. There would be nowhere to land until we got around to the other side but Red felt confident he could fly at least a couple of hours even with all that we were carrying.
The flight around the other side of the mountain range was pretty boring for the first hour. I found myself thinking a lot about Zen mounted on the back of Arvin looking at me with such sad eyes. I thought back to the day I met him. Arvin was right he had changed. Of all the people I would miss the most on this trip it would be Zen... and Arvin.
I had to resolve to not let myself fall in love with Zen. He would get through puberty and I'd be hurt again. I know he was the one Arvin meant last night when he mentioned someone who would die for me. He didn't have to say who it was -- I knew. The thing is from that first day he had my heart. I realized it was too late to try not to fall in love with him because I already had.
"You okay?" I heard Red's voice inside my head.
"Yeah, I'm just pondering stuff," I said.
"He'll be okay. Arvin will keep his mind off you and I will try to keep your mind off him."
"Oh, shut up," I said.
We were almost to the point where we could see the other side of the mountain range when we hit a barrier. There was a strong head wind and it virtually stopped any forward progress. After half an hour I told Red to return to the point as I didn't fancy him getting too exhausted and falling into the sea below.
We ended up flying towards Oannesia. It was Leaf who spotted something below us and asked Red to move to a lower altitude. What he'd spotted was a troop of about one-hundred orcs escorting 20 or so dragons. The dragons according to Red looked fairly young probably around Arvin's age. They were seemed to be sleeping each dragon was hobbled. Ten of the orcs seemed to be on watch and the others were sleeping. They probably were waiting for nightfall to travel.
Taking on a hundred orcs on our own was not an option at this point. Red guessed that they had probably been `recruited' from Arvin's village and that's where we headed to find further information.
A dragon village was something neither Leaf nor I had ever seen much less thought about.
We landed out of sight about a mile from the village. For what I saw of it before we landed it seemed almost like a normal village except the buildings were much bigger. There weren't any houses because everyone lived in a cave. I guess the closest comparison was they were like the row houses you see in England except they were caves not houses. Imagine a bunch of cave entrances one next to the other in the side of a semi-circular rock formation.
Red said that this was probably one of the larger dragon villages in Oannesia and had a family population of around two hundred families or around a thousand dragons. The diameter of the village was easily eight miles across.
Leaf and I were to wait for Red to determine the situation. I figure it was the best situation seeing as dragons here didn't think highly of elfin and I was an elfin look-somewhat-alike. I watch Red leave and turned to say something to Leaf and wouldn't you know it he was nowhere to be seen. I was a little pissed but then that was his duty -- `stealth reconnaissance'.
After an hour and a half Leaf returned with the information I needed.
He ended by saying, "Red needs you to make a grand entrance."
"A grand entrance?"
"Yes. Most believe him but maybe a third don't. Most are upset about the conscription of their sons against their will. Get this especially Arvin's real uncle whose two sons were taken. He actually apologized to Red. Someone saw Arvin and Red flying. Most do not believe that but some do."
I got directions to where Red was and took off like the wind. I guess I should say this that when I take of like the wind most can not see me until I slow down. That's what I have been told. One problem I have is stopping suddenly as my momentum carries me forward and I can end up doing a face plant. So to overcome this I found that if I spring into a high summersault and land on my feet I don't end up looking stupid or breaking my nose.
As I landed in front of Red and hence became visible to the crowd of dragons I said, "Red, Supreme Commander of the Dragons of Landsphere, you requested my presence?"
"Yes. King Gladimhere I wish to introduce you to the elders of this dragon village."
I raised my eyebrow at the `king' part. Later he told me it was a title they'd understand.
Red made the introductions and I politely nodded to each with a half smile still thinking about the title of king except when he introduced Arvin's real uncle. Red may have accepted his apology but I certainly didn't. I guess it was my attitude kicking in.
It was decided between Red, Leaf and I that we agreed to rescue these young male dragons. Those that upon there own free will who wished to join our crusade would be welcomed. Those who did not would be escorted to Tail's End for the time being and then when they could safely return to their village they would be escorted back.
I think Red's brother -- Arvin's uncle tried to apologize to me. I didn't give him the chance. When he started to approach me I turned and mounted Red at which point all of the dragons witnessed Red, with Leaf and I strapped on leap skyward in flight.
We were off to rescue some dragons which were more important than listening to an apology from that asshole.
"He's not as bad as you think," commented Red as we flew in the direction of the teen dragons.
"How can you say? He was an asshole to Arvin, your son!"
"True, but we all make mistakes. Are we supposed to be made wrong for the rest of our lives for them no matter if we have corrected our ways?"
I couldn't answer that question.
"Think on the positive side. Had my brother not been an asshole as you put it to Arvin -- Arvin would have had no reason to have left his home and you would probably never met him. Perhaps you may never even come to Landsphere. Maybe it was his belief that humans existed and your belief that dragons existed that brought you here."
What Red said made sense. Maybe it was my love of dragons and elves and other mythological creatures that brought me here -- especially dragons. Finally after a long silence I simply said, "Thanks."
"Anytime, my friend," replied Red.
After an hour we flew over the small encampment in a clearing where the orcs and young dragons were and then landed in another clearing about a mile from the encampment to discuss our strategy.
"The orcs are sleeping," said Leaf, "which means they probably won't wake for another hour or two."
"True," confirmed Red, "There are four guards near the dragons, three of which are sleeping. The one guard looked pretty young and probably bullied by the older guards to stand watch for them."
"Okay," I said, "Here's the plan. Leaf, take your dagger and cut their bindings. Red, you wake them as quietly as possible and you two lead them away. Again, I repeat do it quietly as possible. I will take care of the guard. As soon as you see I have the guard under control land in the clearing as close to the captives and release them. If anything goes wrong we will defend them by any means possible."
If anything went wrong meant we would have to kill or injure the orcs. I didn't relish that but my intention was to protect the dragons.
I ran along a path that I hoped the younger dragons could use without making too much noise. As I approach the clearing I leapt and landed directly in front of the guard. In a heart beat I pulled his dirk out of its scabbard and had it at his throat before he knew what was happening.
"Make any noise, or any move to wake the others and it will be the last. I don't want to kill you but I will if you cause me to do so. We are taking the dragons to a safe place."
The orc guard watched almost in shock as he saw Red land and Leaf dismounting and then the two of them going about their assigned tasks efficiently and as a team. Once the young dragons were following Leaf out of the encampment in a single file along the path Red came over to me.
"Thank you for not alerting the others," I said to the orc, "but now I have to gag you and tie you up so we can get far enough away from you. It is not right to enslave others. I can not let that happen."
"Please," he whispered, "Don't leave me here! The others will kill me. I know this is wrong I didn't want to be here but I was forced. Please take me with you or kill me swiftly."
I still had his dirk against his neck. A little more pressure and a fast movement of my arm sided ways and I'd take his life. He swallowed and I think he figured it was the end of his life. He could have called out. But he remained still.
"Please, make it a fast death if you must," he whispered. He was scared and his eyes had a sadness.
I looked at Red.
He smiled and said quietly, "Go with your heart, Gladimhere."
"Guard him," I said to Red as I withdrew the dirk from his neck, walked over and pick up some of the binding that had bound one of the dragons and returned to the orc guard.
"You leave me no choice for now. I can not kill you in cold blood nor can I leave you to die a slow death because you complied with my requests for your silence. We will take you with us, but I do not trust you fully so I require your weapon and I will bind you. When and if you gain my trust I will release your bindings and you will be free to choose to stay with us or to return to your people."
I could see he was trying to reign in his emotions but to no avail. Tears fell from his eyes as he managed to whisper, "Thank you. Thank you, Gladimhere. I-I will do all that I can to gain your trust. I have made my decision to remain with you and your friends. I don't know what kind of creature you are but you are of good heart."
I half smiled. "I am human," I said as I bound his wrists together - maybe not as tight as I should have but for some reason I already trusted him.
"Red, can you carry him in the sling?" I asked.
"No problem, but you'd better warn him."
I smiled at that because the first time we landed with Leaf in the sling -- Leaf freaked out and screamed like a baby. It really does look scary when the dragon lands and you're strapped under him. Even I flinched the first time I tried it.
"You are going to ride under the dragon in the sling. It is scary when you land, but I promise you you'll be safe," I said to the orc."
"Land?" he asked in a quaky voice.
"Yes, you'll be flying."
I swear if it hadn't been for the fact that I had to be quiet and not wake up the sleeping orcs I would have roared with laughter at the look on his face when Red leapt into the air and flew off.
I turned, returned to the path and ran to catch up with the others.
I began to pick up my speed and eventually passed the dragons and Leaf as I passed by Leaf he smiled. That meant he saw me or sensed me. I wondered which it was.
Surprisingly I reached the clearing as Red was landing. Again the look on the orc face was hilarious and this time I did let out a wail of laughter before walking over to the two I release the Orc from the sling.
He looked dazed. "I-I was flying...I-I was really flying!"
At that moment Leaf and the others entered the clearing. Leaf saw the orc standing near me. He drew his dirk and the next thing I knew the dirk was coming down toward the orc's heart.
"Stop!" I yelled and jumped between the two. I felt his dirk pierce my shoulder and sink deep into my body. The look on Leaf's face changed from anger to horror as he realized what I had done.
"Why? Why did you jump between me and that foul creature?" He asked.
"It would have been wrong to kill him in hatred. He's is not the one who killed your parents. He chose to be with us...not all orcs are bad," I said. "Do you think you could remove you dirk. It really hurts," I heard myself say.
Leaf removed his dirk from my body and it was all I could do not to scream in pain. "Damn, I hoped this isn't the end," I thought.
One of the young dragons pulled Leaf back a fair distance saying, "Rook was always kind to us. It was the others that hurt us. They would hit him when he was kind to us. He doesn't deserve to die."
Leaf looked down in shame. I walked over to him with my good arm and hand I lifted his head up so that he could see me. "Leaf, it was no more than an accident caused by your anger. I know you didn't intend to hurt me. It was my choice to step in front of Rook or let you do something wrong out of anger. I chose to protect him. I don't blame you for stabbing me. I don't even blame you for acting in anger we all do that sometimes. Learn from this. I need you to be the leader that you are going to be. I need you to lead these dragons to safety in Tail's End. Will you do that?"
He nodded, "Do you hate me?"
"No, I think it would be impossible for me to hate you."
"I will do as you request Commander. Leave Rook here. I promise to protect him too...with my life if necessary."
"Thank you," I said softly. I could feel my body getting weaker. If I am to live I will need the healing medicine of Zahra.
"Listen up friends. I must return to Tail's End forthwith. For your safety you should follow Lieutenant Commander Leaf who will lead you there. When it is safe for you to return to your village we will escort you there if that's what you want. For those of you who wish to join us against those who enslave you will be welcomed and become part of our proud Dragon Force under the charge of Lord Commander of the Dragons of Dragon's Tail and first in flight. You know him as Arvin. I will see you in Tail's End."
I turned and walked back to Red. I was bleeding and feeling weaker and dizzy. The pain was becoming a nuisance. I finally staggered over to Red and said to Rook, "Take care of Leaf. He means a lot to me. Take care of yourself too. You are needed." I pulled out his dirk that I had confiscated and cut his bonds. "I trust you," I said as I handed him back his dirk.
"Thank you, sir. I understand his hatred. I shall do my very best to protect him...even if it means my life."
I nodded, "Could you strap me in to the sling? I really don't feel like crawling up on to Red's back. Okay with you, Red?"
"No problem, sir," Red replied.
I don't remember much of the flight back. I hoped that I hadn't misjudged Rook, but I was pretty sure that I didn't. I think I screamed when we landed though -- from pain not from fright.
"Zayne -- Zahra! Come quick! Gladimhere has been hurt," bellowed Red.
I'm sure half of Tail's End heard that bellow. It worked because in moments I was being release from the sling. I insisted in getting out myself which hurt like hell.
Both Zayne and Zahra gasped when they saw how bloody I was. My wobbly legs started to give way and they moved to support me.
"Red, get Arvin. Convince your village to stand up to those who would suppress them," I paused because the pain was almost unbearable. I knew these might be my last words, "Give the orcs that wish to stay and help defend the village the option to stay but no weapons until they prove they can be trusted. Watch over the future dragon force. Don't let them come to harm."
"How did this happen?" Zayne ask emotionally.
"It was an accident," replied Red as he leapt skyward and was gone.
"Am I dying?" was my last thought as things went dark.