A few years ago I published the start of a story I wrote. This is the second volume in that story – at least it’s the start of it. I am actually more than half way done but decided to start posting sections of it as I go. These have only been partially proofed and may very well be different than the final, published version later.
Wuldaq reclined upon the top of the cliff sunning himself. His wings were spread wide to soak up the waning light. His turquoise scales glimmered in the last rays of the day. Today the three of them had stopped early in their travels so that the two dragons might be able to do some hunting before it grew too late. Having satisfied his own hunger, Wuldaq now watched over the human female while Arisa did her own hunting.
It had been only five days since he begun traveling with Arisa and this fourteen year old girl. Shortly after meeting them he had learned of the pair’s shared past. A series of events that left both Arisa and Elànde with many unanswered questions, but had forged a strong bond between the two unlikely companions. Since his escort mission began the pair had talked about their past, though it was Elànde that did most of the talking. Arisa was not much for idle conversation, especially with him.
Still, he supposed he couldn’t really blame the other dragon for being cautious. She had lost some of her memories years ago and to this day had still been unable to fill that troubling gap in time. He could understand her reluctance in talking about such things with those she had only known for a short period.
Wuldaq had been tasked with guiding Arisa and Elànde to the dragon elders, and with their protection. At their first meeting he hadn’t made a good impression on the violet dragon because of his tendency to take his jokes too far. Even still it would be nice if she gave him a chance to prove his worth as a dragon. And after learning some of Arisa’s own past he found himself wanting to do what he could to protect her, tasked or not.
“What am I thinking? She is just too fun to resist teasing. I am ordered to guide and protect them, there is nothing else to it.”
Shaking his head Wuldaq sighed and returned his attention to the youth that was sneaking through the forest. He had first noticed the human male shortly after taking up his watch. It was obvious that he had seen the smoke from Elànde’s campfire. He had not varied his course even once but made a direct line for their camp while sneaking from one hiding place to the next.
It was obvious the boy had experience in hunting, or possibly in thieving. He made absolutely no sound so Wuldaq was not been surprised that Arisa hadn’t noticed him. Even from his perch high above on the cliff Wuldaq could hear Elànde talking to herself as she cooked her own meal. The boy was perhaps only two hundred paces away from the clearing of their camp and still he could not hear any sounds from him.
It was also obvious the boy did not expect any dragons to be nearby. While he had meticulously checked his surroundings as he crept from one hiding place to the next, not once did he check the skies above. Had he done so he probably would have noticed the large dragon watching his every step. The forest he was traveling through was sparse enough that it would have been hard not to notice Wuldaq if he had just looked up. In the same way it was impossible for Wuldaq not to track the boy now that he had seen him.
The boy didn’t seem to be the bad sort. He didn’t have the menacing look on his face that most human bandits had. Even his weapon of choice did not fit with those that intended harm to others. Now that he was finally near the edge of the woods he his bow out with arrow notched, but he kept it pointed at the ground. A sword would have been a far more intimidating weapon if he simply wished to pillage what he could.
Stepping quietly from the woods he approached the girl. Sighing once more Wuldaq raised himself up on his powerful legs.
“I suppose that is as far as I should let the boy get.”
Silently he leapt from the cliff and made a wide circuit in order to stay out of sight of the boy. He glided quietly but kept a close eye on the camp. If things turned badly he could adjust his flight and land between the two in a matter of moments.
Elànde let out a small cry as she turned her back on the campfire and noticed the boy for the first time. Even now he left the arrow pointed at the ground in front of Elànde instead of at the ready to kill. This situation was becoming very intriguing to Wuldaq. He would enjoy hearing what this boy’s true intentions were once he had scared the child witless.
“He’s over there, don’t let him escape!”
Ênard ran for all he was worth as the last hint of twilight became night. The plan had fallen apart almost immediately. This was supposed to be an easy escape. Well, maybe not easy. But certainly it should have been uneventful. Everyone should have been asleep. Everyone always went to bed early the night before a raid.
So why was it that instead of a simple escape where he just had to remain quiet as he slipped away he was now pursued by what sounded like the entire compound chasing behind him? He hadn’t made a single sound before the alarm was raised. What was worse the alarm had been raised specifically for him. No sooner had he slipped outside the walls than he heard somebody shout that he had escaped.
It was true that at his age he could probably outrun all of them. Most of the people chasing Ênard were all in their forties and he was only fifteen. But they had more ways to capture him than just catching up with him on foot.
The word escape had concerned him as well. The others shouldn’t have thought of him as a prisoner. He was one of them. Never had he given then any reason to suspect he wasn’t happy here. He had been very careful to keep that to himself. Sure they might want to catch him to find out what he was doing sneaking around at this hour. It was not a coincidence that they had immediately assumed he was trying to escape. Somehow, somebody knew what he had been planning.
“Don’t let him get away!”
The sound of running feet had drawn too close for comfort. It didn’t matter to Ênard that he couldn’t see anybody. The trees were so thick his pursuers could have been within fifteen feet of him and he would never see them in this darkness. But he could use that to his advantage. A few paces ahead he could see a tree with a low branch that would be a perfect place to climb and hide. He jumped for it and grabbed onto the branch and prepared to hoist himself up. Instead he let his full wait pull down on the branch and used his momentum to catapult himself some distance away.
Ênard landed silently and slipped behind the nearest bush large enough to hide him. Watching the tree he could see it just barely swaying. That wouldn’t be enough to catch the attention of the others, but the leaves that were slowly fluttering down would. As he suspected, as soon as his pursuers came into sight they spotted the leaves and immediately surrounded the tree.
Once their backs were turned to where he was hiding he crept away as quickly as he could. If he was lucky his little trick would buy him just enough time to make it to the stables. From there he could borrow one of the horses and make his final escape. It wouldn’t really be stealing. He would let the horse free to return on its own later. Probably.
“Jeneck, get up that tree and see if he is there. Be quick!”
He was cautiously making some good distance from the group while they stared up the tree. As soon as he heard Jeneck clambering up the tree, the fool had never been a quiet one, Ênard broke into a full run again. The pursuer’s impatient calls and Jeneck’s noisy bumblings would cover any sound Ênard might make. Still, he knew he had only bought himself a little time.
It should just be enough.
He was good at calculations. Right now he was calculating how long they would be distracted by the tree versus the time it would take him to get a horse ready. Once they realized he wasn’t in the tree they would resume their pursuit. He would need a final distraction. It wouldn’t take much thought for them to realize his destination. The stable was the only place to go that made sense from this spot.
As he neared the stables he reached down and picked up a fallen branch. It was short but thick. Just right for a club. There were always two people guarding the horses. He hoped there had not been time to gather more people since the alarm had been raised.
Clearing the edge of the trees Ênard continued his full-out run. Even in the darkness he spotted the two guards immediately. One was looking right at him as he emerged from the tree line, no more than 8 steps away. The other had his back to them a few steps beyond. It appeared he had just turned to walk back to the horses. Finally some luck was turning in Ênard’s favor.
The first man caught a flying kick to his gut and was down. The other heard his friend’s cry of surprise but turned only in time to receive a strike across the face from the thick branch in Ênard’s hand. It would be some time before he regained consciousness. Turning around quickly Ênard returned to the first man and gave a finishing blow to the back of his head to knock him out as well.
Now he just needed that final distraction to keep everybody running in circles for a few minutes while he made his getaway on horseback. And he knew just what to do.
Hurrying, he readied one of the horses for travel. Ênard was experienced with saddling up a horse but because of the rush he felt like he was fumbling through everything. As he hurried the horse out of the corral he gave the cinch a final tug. Quickly tying the horse to a post he ran around to the feed barn.
The barn only had three walls and was just a shelter to keep the food and supplies dry. It was also where they stored the barrel of kerosene used for refilling the lamps. Pulling his knife out he worked it between a couple seams near the base. The oil began to slowly spill out, but it would be fast enough. Leaving the oil to drain he ran to the corral and began to shoo the remaining horses out. Most happily left their enclosure to roam in the open area surrounding the corral.
With only a few horses left inside Ênard returned to the oil barrel. After kicking it over he gave it a good shove and it began to roll away from the barn, leaving a trail of oil. He grabbed one of the burning lanterns and ran the thirty paces to where the barrel had stopped. One good swing and the lantern smashed over the barrel, sending the flames into the oil soaked wood.
Ênard never stopped his run and continued on to the horse he had saddled up. The trail of oil had already caught fire and was burning its way back to the barn. With the large puddle of oil that had been left there it would take only a few moments for the entire barn to be engulfed in flames. He gave one last glance at his handiwork before kicking the horse into a full gallop. As he took off down the road he caught site of his pursuers as they tumbled out from the tree line into the open just as the barn caught fire.
With the horses now in a panic and all the saddles and gear engulfed in flames it would be some time before they could follow him.