“Say, Say Zal,” I whispered to my only friend, “Say, Say.” Zal neighed for me, prodding her hoof into the dirt and her snout into the gate in front of us. I fingered my hand through her black mane which cascaded down her neck in hundreds of braids.
We were playing our weekly waiting game for the last time. This would be the last time I’d race for the Hunter Line. I had to take an internship. Every 18 year old on Eldoris was required to branch out with their specialty into another land. I was headed to the Orva province in the Southern Lands.
It is hot in Orva, all palm trees and beach, but the key to Orva was the dragons. Just like the Darcy province in the Northern Heights, Orva was the only province that held dragons in the Southern Lands. I would be across a sea from the Hunter Line. Far away from Master Kento, from the only person who knows the truth about who I am, about what I did.
I suppose being stuck in between this gate and the race was a metaphor for my life: always stuck behind an invisible wall, always ready to race. Lord Viktor, he was the invisible wall. Viktor has been head of the capitol in Ugary for thirty seven years. He was now 67 years old and slowly dying of kidney disease. How do I know this? I’ve been waiting for word from his son Markus for four years.
Flashback to Spring Age Fourteen:
“I’m worried about her,” my father, Ahren, said to Markus. I was peeking around our kitchen window with a bucketful of fish I had just caught at the lake near our house. My father’s forehead was creased into what seemed like a thousand lines. Why was he so worried? His thick eyebrows burrowed into middle of all the creases. In the violet eyes that I inherited I saw somberness beyond the depths of human emotion. His strong, tan hands were fidgeting with his beard. Every muscle was tense. Something bad was about to happen.
“There is no need to be worried sir. I will protect her until the end. I will right the wrongs of my father with her by my side,” Markus spoke without hesitation, his dark hand pushed through the tendrils of his back curls. His gait, normally strong and upright, was shifted like he was ready to fall over with the invisible weight he was holding.
I had no idea what they were talking about. What does it all mean, why would Markus need to protect me?
“Are you sure you can handle this? I’ve been planning this out since she was four; I have to save my daughter Markus. I have to save her from this evil. She is special. She sees the good Markus; she even sees the good in Viktor. I don’t know how but she does. I have to believe that your father will trust you, and that she will be okay. This isn’t one of you dragon games Markus…” his voice faded off, and he turned away from Markus for a moment. Then, in the same speed a dragon’s fire drowns a forest - he became grim, “This is war, and the price is my daughter’s head. You swore to me at fifteen that you would protect her. She decided to put her full trust in you at twelve Markus, and the two of you have been best friends since. I need to know that this isn’t a lie… because … because I can’t come back from the dead to make sure the plan works out and my daughter lives. I can’t come back from the dead to kill you if you fail Markus.”
“Sir, I swore an oath to protect Ugary at six, an oath to protect your daughter at fifteen and an oath to protect and serve with a dragon by my side at eighteen. I will do this. I will protect her life with mine. Maia has a gift. I would die before she ever did, I promise you Ahren.”
“You must never tell anyone her secret Markus. They would spear her through the heart; burn her while she’s still alive,” his voice softened at the latter.
“I will keep her safe Ahren, she saved me from the darkness.” Markus looked down and away. His fingers fiddling with the bracelet I made for him when I was twelve and he was fifteen. It was made of dried poppy stems and painted red with crushed cranberries. I remember him telling me all of his troubles the night I made it. His heart had been torn that day. Viktor killed his wife, Markus’ mother, for treason.
“She saved us all from the darkness Markus,” my father paused. His teary eyes shifted to the floor. His next words altered my entire existence.
“When will the ambush be Markus? When are my wife and I going to die?”
“They have it planned for Tuesday, during the capitol’s festival.” Markus got up quickly after he admitted my father’s fate. He left out the back door, and dropped his riding gloves, which made him turn towards me. His thick eyebrows lifted high on his forehead, and his hooded, pitch-black eyes became large. “Maia,” he sighed.
He must have seen the tears running down my face, the fish lying around my feet from the bucket I had just dropped, and my always steady hands shaking from wrist to fingertip. Today was Monday, and tomorrow I would be left an orphan.