Armies in the Mountain

“I want my home, my own bed, my family safe by me. King Drakon.”

Drakon heard the sneer behind the words and thin smile the Vagari presented. He was perhaps Berey’s age, this glaring biggish and thickish-armed boy, and yet a yaeger in buckskins already, such as depicted in the histories, a hunter. And he shouldered a curved greatbow.

“My want is not Cwen’s plan,” he said. “I’m sent to safeguard the outlander king in my own land. Maybe die here – dancing my last ‘round your fire – one moth among the many that are coming. And you play cards!”

Over in the scrub, Marron huffed and puffed. Urska’s girl-feet crept, then quickened. The cub mewled, just the once. Drakon’s hand had tensed about the deck of cards.

Eyes gleaming in the firelight, the yaeger’s stare flitted past Drakon's shoulder, took in Borysko as the man decided then to stand up, scraping sword from battered scabbard: his logical first answer to a slap across the face.

"Churl needs knockin'bout his big ears!" Bory barked.

The yaeger: "You are Borysko. Who guards."

"Aye — both my Kings!"

"Bory, be still," Alastor muttered, sounding oddly jolly; and his hand there that instant, solid and warming Drakon's shoulder, the hand that once held the world. "You see his three, son? Magnificent, eh?"

A careless eye might have mistaken the yaeger’s three for the stunted trees, grey along the brushy brim of the hollow. Each standing apart from the other beyond the shadows tossed by the cooking fire sighing at Drakon's back.

A careless ear would not have heard the yaeger’s urgent warning: Drakon had heard. “You said COMING.”

“Not only we saw your fire, King. Come now, or die here.”

Urska swept between, dark hair flying and girl-skin aglow in that accursed firelight.

“You.” The yaeger’s mouth opened, closed. Blinking, his eyes betrayed him: evidently unused to manifested magic.

“Am BEAR. Go. GO.”

Marron shouldered by after her, huge and puffing, swinging his shaggy head. The yaeger stepped back, his eyes wide: then was knocked back by the cub tramping past. Nightcries, distantly, prickled the hairs over Drakon’s neck: men – clearly men – growling fiercely, fighting not far enough away. They were surely Berengar’s, drumming their shields like hearts beating. He imagined Vagari arrows whistling down over them from the stars.

“NOW.” The yaeger started away from the firelight, toward the brim of the hollow.

Borysko put his hand in Drakon’s back, shoved him along after his father: they rushed for the horses. “We’ll leave ‘em the fire burning, eh? They’ll come for where we aren’t.” And Bory chuckled.

He turned to his customary cussing, though, with his horse. It was an old animal: they were all old; all of them cantankerous with any demand made of them after dusk. They had never been to war, these given by the seers. And were not deaf. Wild-eyed, snorting, the three tossed their heads: plainly wanted to be anywhere but here. Borysko planted one boot in a stirrup: his grey began turning and turning under him as he lifted himself by saddle horn and fistful of mane. He swung the other leg over at last. Father reined around his mount’s head, pointed him after the Vagari, waiting. Drakon turned with him. But Borysko was no longer there.

“Up, man, up.” Alastor gestured with both hands: turning his horse with both his knees.

Drakon’s heart tumbled over and over. Borysko lay in the scrub, on his back, groaning: he should have been cussing even louder.

“Go,” Bory managed, his eyes shut.

“Up. Bory. Up,” Drakon said, the words sticking in his throat, his eyes tearing. Father swept between him and Bory on the ground, turned both their horses for the waiting Vagari.

“Up, man – I can’t stay for you,” said Father.

Firelight flickered over the scrub, and Borysko.

“Can’t stay – I can’t stay!” Father’s horse screamed at his heels dug in its flanks: it sprang away, carrying Drakon along with it.

They were in a mad gallop, like there was no going back: Father held his reins, too. Drakon blinked hard. “Father. Bory.”

“His back’s broke!”

The End

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