Zal’s food had been laced with soporific weed to put her to sleep. She was strapped in the cargo bin and it was time to leave on Aiden’s dragon. The giant red being was at least fifty feet tall. His scales ranged from a deep burgundy to a bright blood red. His eyes swirled in a rainbow of colors. The most curious part about the dragon was his name, Throne. The throne of Eldoris was something Aiden would probably never have. Dragon riders generally lived into their second century, but could not usurp the throne past the age of one hundred. It was the North’s way of keeping the region culturally present. Lord Liam was forty-seven, and unless his health or fate were to suddenly fail him, Aiden would never sit on the throne as king.
I watched Aiden with caution as he fastened the last buckle on the cargo bin, and wondered if that fact was something that cut into his core in the middle of the night. Was this why he tried so hard in the war games? His jacket was decorated with badges of people beaten, and feats won. I whispered words to myself, under my breath, “Does his father’s life tear him apart as much as my parents death?”
No, this man with clear blue eyes, eyes that seemed shallow – they lacked not in intelligence, but in the same labyrinths of impassioned emotion that circumvented my own – he could not have those thoughts.
I brushed the thoughts away, and waited to begin my four hour journey to Orva. What would I talk about with the son of my enemy? Would he be untoward and indifferent? He spoke, “I’m pretty excited about interning aren’t you?” I got cozy in my seat, knees near my chin, and golden curls pulled back in a tight bun. I would be completely cramped after this ride.
“I suppose so. I can’t wait to get going, but I just don’t feel quite ready to leave. Yet, this is part of the plan.”
“What plan?” He asked so matter-of-factly it startled me.
To save my people I wanted to say. I lied instead, “To win the world cup.”
Aiden chuckled. His tie-dye cloth lift up with the heavy laughter. I could barely see his face the sun was shining so brightly.
“Why is that funny,” I countered, and swore that if he made a joke about women in the world cup I would kick him in the back of the head.
“First woman to not only make it to the world cup, but win it eh?”
“You’ve never seen me race.”
“I’d like to.” He turned and chagrinned at me. I couldn’t see the grin because of the cloth, but the grin reached his eyes. I turned my head slightly, burying myself further in my seat. I didn’t know how to feel about this man.
We fell silent for twenty minutes. His hands continuingly fidgeted with the rope reins. I knew why he was fidgeting. He was finding words to say, places to take this conversation without mentioning who he was. Being the woman my father and Master Kento had raised me to be, I took the conversation there anyway. “How are the Lord and Lady?”
His grip rested, “Well, they are very well.” I watched as his whole body looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. This must be how it felt to have someone know your secret. This is how it felt for Master Kento to know my story.
“You know, I met Lord Panyin once.” I offered more information, better to keep my dragon rider not tense so we wouldn’t crash into the ocean.
He was being shy; it was dreadful. I hated having to be the one who kept conversations going. However, the word Panyin made him perk up. Older brother to Liam, his father, yes I knew Panyin, and I had watched him die.
Aiden’s shoulders raised slightly, his whole body lifting, “Really? Where did you meet him?”
“Near my home.”
Lie Maia, keep on lying, “No, the Southern Lands.”
“So this is like a homecoming for you.”
“I suppose you could say that.”
Yes, I was crossing an ocean again. In reality the Southern Lands at the Orva province was a six hour ride by horse from Ugary. I wouldn’t be an ocean away anymore. At any point, in the middle of the night, I could ride back home when I received the okay from Markus. In that moment, I felt relief. I wanted to see Zak again. I wanted to lie in the field of yellow poppies. Perhaps somewhere, they both could hear me, “I’m still here,” I volunteered, “I still love you.”
The warmth filled my heart. And with those beautiful thoughts, and the lack of sleep from the night before I nodded off.