I shook his hand. Aiden was the son of my enemy and I shook his hand.
The callouses from his dragon riding rubbed against the inside of mine. I smiled roguishly, because we were matching rider to rider, callous to callous. He nodded at me with a foolish chagrin. I could not tell if he was being pompous, or if perhaps he was shy. I wondered if he was aware that I knew exactly who he was. Aiden was raised in a palace surrounded by servants. He lived his whole life with family, distance and close, cousins and love. He had the life I never, and would never get to have. Yet, my heart was not filled with anger.
As I gave one last nod to Kento, I began to realize that I was jealous of him. All my life I had wanted a family, and a place to call home. I gazed longingly at the stout wooden houses and the small village where horses roamed free along with dreams and ideas as I climbed into the small basket on top of Aiden’s dragon. Hunter Line was the closest thing I had to a home – the other was burned to dust.
I looked down at Aiden while he finished putting my trivial lifetime of supplies into the pocket above the stirrups. He was about my height in stature, with strong hands and arms. His light brown hair stood up at odd ends like his fathers. Aiden had freckles only on his forehead. “What a curious place?” I questioned myself. My thoughts suddenly were inhabited by a bittersweet memory of age twelve.
The day I cheated death – the day I met Markus.
Flashback to fall of age twelve
My hands softly brushed over the yellow flowers of my father’s fields. He bought this plantation thinking that we would grow rice paddies, but these flowers had metastasized over them. To him, they were parasites. To me, these wildflowers meant home. They meant growing tall and staying strong in spite of the destruction around you.
I began humming a short tune, the song of my people.
“Working through pleasure and pain,
It’s the Ugarian way.
In the corner of the world,
Garnered in all black,
Ugary is the pearl…”
The middle of my song was given a screeching intermission by a woman’s yell. I darted my head to the left: gold curls flying, violet eyes darting, and the woven bracelets on my hand slipping up and down my arm as my ears tried to decide where the sound was coming from.
The interruption continued with the bells ringing from the capitol. The deep boom of tympanic drums shook my body, and the collection of sounds from several horns only meant one thing – war. With every ring the bells grew louder in my ears. I could see a vision of my father fighting. I could see the retaliation for the mass murders Ugary had just committed in the Northern Heights.
My heart was beating faster, and I knew I had to run, I had to fight. I burst with speed, retracing my steps through the field of flowers, past the stream and into the woods that flanked my little cottage of a home. My feet led me to the front of my cottage, but as I silently stepped across the side wall I heard deep breathing – that of a dragon.
I crouched and hid behind a set of logs we used to cook food. There was a dragon rider in front of my house, a Northern Heights rider. His red dragon with steam filing out of his nose was in a pounce position. A red cloth was covering his face from the lower jaw to the lower eyelid. Riders covered their face this way to protect against the wind resistance, but they only wore their homeland’s colors when they meant war. Red was the Northern Heights’ colors.
The rider’s left hand held a medium sized axe. The handle was decorated with beautiful and smartly picked rubies. He was royalty, maybe a king or perhaps the brother of a king, and he was here to kill my father.
What he didn’t know, was that my father was at the capitol. My mother was the only one inside the home. Who would protect us? I was twelve, how could I fight a dragon rider with an axe?
But I had to; I had to save my mother.
I needed to get in the house. I crawled to the side and looked through our kitchen window. That was where I saw my mother’s terror. The olive skin of her face was spread flat in fear, and her deep brown eyes were looking straight into my soul. I knew exactly what she wanted. We had gone over this hundreds of times at the dinner table over one of her meat pastries.
If someone were to come to the house that we did not know, I was to run or I was to hide under the trap door that opened to the base of the house. Her hands were clenched tightly around a dagger. My mother despised weapons, but with her dark brown hair flying at odd ends and the fear that looked like it could split her in two; she meant business. She shook her head at me, mouthing for me to go back into the woods where I would be safe. I shook my head at her, “No, mama,” I mouthed. I could see the tears streaming down her face. She had to know what I had to do.
“What is my weapon?” I whispered to myself. How could I fight the man and the dragon in front of my house? All I could do was divert them from burning down the house with my mother inside. I was thinking of some kind of distraction as I crept away from the window and snuck a look at the dragon. I saw the dragon’s head tilt to the side. He pushed his rider in the back.
I knew they were speaking back and forth to each other. I heard the rocks in front of my house crumple, and smelt burning. The dragon had just set fire to the logs I was hiding behind. He knew I was hiding there. My hands grabbed for the roof, I climbed up and perched at the top. Staring the rider down, willing him to follow me.
And follow me he did. I jumped from roof to a tree branch, and back down to the ground. He was close to me, sprinting. How could I ever think that I could outrun a dragon rider?
My tiny legs ached, I looked down briefly to see gashes where I had skinned them climbing on the roof. My feet led me back to the last place I wanted to be, an open field full of flowers. The rider inched up behind me and reached an arm out to my left leg tripping me. His dragon landed in the field behind me. I was surrounded.
I would never get out. He had to know my father was Ahren. So would he kill me – or worse – hold me hostage.
Instead of performing actions that seemed obvious, he pinned me to the ground pulling the red cloth down from above his nose to lie below his chin.
“How?” he asked simply. His chestnut eyes were searching my face and short brown hair sticking up at odd ends. The freckles were only on his forehead, because of the constant wearing of the cloth. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was King Panyin, of the Northern Heights.
Suddenly his fist came in contact with my nose. Blood poured out and it immediately ached, it was reason enough to believe he had broken it. “How!” This time the shout wasn’t a question but a command.
“How what?” I shouted back at him. My father had always told me to never be afraid of my enemy, and this man was the face of all of my enemies.
“How did you sp-...” his unpredictable question was cut short as I watched his confused, eager face go blank. An arrow went through the back of his head. Just as his body fell to the side, I heard his dragon scream. Heart conjoined with heart, and soul with soul, when a rider died his dragon died too.
My face was already swelling so I could barely see the man who had saved my life. He put his hand under the crook of my legs and the base of my back. I squinted as much as I could to make out the features.
The sweet face with short black curls was Markus, prince of Ugary, Lord Viktor’s son.