The dark shadow of the dragon far above flicked briefly over a camp pitched far below on the slopes of the Moutain, causing the three horses tethered there to stamp and toss their heads in instinctual alarm. But it was soon gone and the animals calmed, being by nature steady, unflappable beasts.
They would have to be, to travel with three bears.
Drakon looked upwards, where the dim shape of his namesake soared silhouetted against the washed-out blue of the sky. He frowned, wondering what kind of creature cast such a large shadow when flying so high; but it vanished swiftly into the sunlight, and so was dismissed.
The young king turned his attention back to the campfire where two 'unirabbits' were roasting, spitted on their own three-foot long horns. The group had discovered that, when ambushed with magic so they couldn't attack, they made a tasty meal, especially when paired with a certain root that grew in surprising profusion amongst the scrub.
Drakon and his friends were waiting.
The seers had given them the horses and told them to set up camp a decent way away from the compound. They said that help would arrive, although they had not said exactly what kind of help.
That had been exactly two weeks and one day ago, and help had not arrived. Both Alastor and Borysko were getting increasingly impatient, snapping and snarling at everyone; Urska, who had been withdrawn and strangely contemplative ever since leaving the Seers, returned their snappishness in kind. Her agitation was transferring itself to the cub, which was fretful and whiny like the small child it really was.
Marron and Drakon, for their parts, were sitting tight and enduring it. The old bear spent much of his time napping in the sun, enjoying the temporary cessation of stress and refusing to rise to anyone's efforts to irritate him; Drakon went about what tasks he thought necessary with quiet efficency and truly exasperated both older men by answering their peevish questions calmly and truthfully.
No, he didn't know when the help would come.
No, he didn't know what kind of help it was.
No, he didn't know what his brother was doing.
Would they please let him continue to dig the new latrine?
No, he didn't care that he was royalty. Yes, they were welcome to help if they thought they could do it without arguing with each other.
No, he wouldn't take sides.
The atmosphere in the camp was growing tenser by the day. Even the horses were suffering; grazing was sparse, and they got very little real exercise. If help, of whatever kind, did not come soon, there would be trouble; Drakon could feel it.
That day, becoming tired of the man's grouching, he had allowed Borysko to go a short way to a particular outcropping of rock that gave them a good view for a long way. Unfortunately, it also made the viewer extremely exposed and visible for miles around, so they ventured there infrequently. So far, they had seen nothing, and as far as they knew been seen by nothing.
This time, though, just as Drakon was removing their meal from the fire and starting to portion it out equally (he had to do this himself; every single other person bar Marron in their group would find some excuse to fight over it), his erstwhile bodyguard came charging back into the camp, panting for breath and gesturing with unmistakeable excitement.
"What is it?" asked Drakon in some alarm, assuming not without cause that his half-brother's army was at this moment charging up the slopes of the Mountain to take them unawares. Borysko leaned on his knees, drawing in oxygen with desperate speed until he was finally able to gasp out his news.
"Vagari army-coming this way!"
"What?" snapped Alastor, who had been lying on his back in a patch of scrub. He jerked himself upright and stared at the warrior. "Friendly?"
Borysko sat down heavily, wiping sweat from his forehead. "I don't...I don't know. I think they saw me...but they didn't shout or send out a squad...they just marched on..."
"Maybe it's the help," Drakon ventured. "It would make sense. They are Vagari seers, and they did say that not every Vagari supported Khoreia..."
"We'll find out...soon," Borysko panted. "They're really not that far away..."
"They might not be friendly," growled Alastor. "To be safe, we should hide. Hide the horses, hide the fire, hide everything."
"Yes, but where?" Drakon pointed out. "There is simply nowhere to hide. The only reason we are not found by everyone walking here is that no-one walks here. If we attempted to hide we would be found immediately and simply look foolish. No, we will wait. If they are our enemies, trying to escape will do no good, and if they are our friends, we should not make life difficult for them."
He looked at Borysko and Alastor. "Do you agree?"
Borysko nodded curtly, but a flicker of a smile crossed his face. Alastor paused, then smiled and reached to ruffle his son's hair.
"I am in agreement. I will tell Urska."
"Do not need to," said a gruff female voice, and the girl herself appeared from the scrub. She was naked; she had begun to go without clothes entirely soon after leaving the compound, and refused to say why. The three men had given up being embarrassed soon after that. "She heard. She agrees. She will fight if necessary."
"Then we wait," Drakon said simply. "And I'd eat up if I were you."
He indicated the parcelled-out rabbit. Alastor let out a bark of laughter, and picked up his share.
"My son knows his priorities," he said affectionately, and took a bite.
Armies move slowly. They had been long finished by the time the first scouts arrived in the hollow where they had camped.
"King Drakon?" asked one, a young man with caramel skin and sharp brown eyes. Drakon, who had been playing cards with Borysko in the most affable atmosphere for a long while, stood up.
"I'm here," he said. "What do you want?"