He talked a lot. It was disconcerting to Nalia. The girl was even worse. They chatted all about their life. His work as a merchant. His travels. Her dreams. Her lovers (when her father was away). Her fears. She listened to her cry in the night and knew her father rocked her by the shadows on the wall. In the day time the girl never cried. Nalia noticed she sometimes jumped at a shadow and did not seem to like to relieve herself alone but she put on a brave face. Nalia found it intriguing – her smile was as fake and emotionless as Nalia's straight face.
"Should we stop now?" Jeb glanced at Nalia who glanced at the sun.
How far is water?
Too far. Go another quarter hour.
"A little farther and we will be nearer to water."
"I have two barrels of water left."
"Best to save that for when you need it. I can unpack your things if it grows too dark. I see fine in the dark."
He frowned. It was an odd gesture since his eye was still swollen and black it made him look even less friendly than it should. "I know a lot of your society, but I don't know much about yourselves. You see fine in the dark?"
Nalia waited for a moment before answering slowly. "You are not Draconian, and I should not speak freely in front of you." It was oddly mechanical statement. Nalia had never left the Draconian realm in her guardian training. While an officer in the Army she battled to the North against the Mountain trolls alongside the dwarves but they were as private as her. She had been also to the East with the nymphs at the lakes when they had attempted to invade her land but she had never had to actually say the mantra that was forced into the minds of every Draconian.
He chuckled in response. "I thought you might say that. You know the rumors about Draconians? How about you just debunk some but tell me nothing."
Nalia frowned in return. "By debunking them I am telling you something about us."
I want to hear the rumors!
He had only shrugged in response so Nalia sighed. "Zato would like to hear the rumors."
Jeb grinned suddenly. "They say you are animals with humanoid looks. Don't have complex thoughts or feelings." Zato laughed in her head and butted her chin with her head. Nalia shook her head with mirth, although her face betrayed nothing. Jeb tried to peer at her best he could but he just grinned and continued on, "They also say you are blood thirsty."
What's wrong with taking pride in a good kill?
I think he means that we kill needlessly. Or maybe he is not comfortable with killing at all.
He killed that bandit.
Nalia nodded and gestured for Jeb to give her another. "They say your society is so full of rules that you cannot even fall in love."
Nalia shook her head. "I thought if we were mindless animals without complex emotion we could not feel love? Love is rather complex. Or are we mindless as well because of our rules?"
Jeb shrugged. "Can't blame the rumors if you never say anything one way or the other. Your realm does not accept outsiders readily."
Nalia did not answer him and he twitched his reigns on the tired horses, and left her to it. Cas called from inside the cart asking if they were stopping soon and Jeb replied soon enough and glanced once more at Nalia.
"Just a bit farther." She thought about what he said. Draconian society was very private, but for good reason. They had been a persecuted race. There used to be dragons that could bond with every member of society. But when other races learned of the dragons they began to steal the dragons – but when they could not bond with them they killed them. They attempted to enslave the Draconians to control the dragons for them – but Draconians are as wild and fierce as the dragons that they bond to. The wars were fierce and long. Humans were not good with the histories of the world around them, and probably have already forgotten and forgiven themselves.
Draconians would not, they were longer lived than the humans and familial honor was an almost pain to those left. It was only within the last hundred or so years that trade opened back up with other realms again and that people could immigrate to the lower half of the realm.
Nalia pondered this while she motioned for Jeb to stop. He found a good spot and got Cas out to unhitch the horses. They began to groom them while Nalia began a small fire far from them as to not scare the horses. She was happy at least that she was finally was able to teach them the importance of a smaller fire. She took out the food they had for the evening. She had rice balls left and they had some vegetables she could fry up…
The creek opens to a pond. I can smell fish. Shall I catch some?
Yes, that would be nice.
Zato took off. Both Cas and Jeb flinched seeing him in the air but Cas also gasped and waved a goodbye to him. "It's so amazing to see him fly!"
Jeb glanced at Nalia who only stared back, but she relinquished one small smile. His grin was larger in return and he hugged Cas tight around the shoulders. "It's a blessing Cassie baby, it's something not many will ever get to see in their lifetime."
They hooted and hollered when they were done and saw the fish that Zato had caught. Cas sleepily threw jerky bits at Zato, watching him jump up and twist to catch the pieces. She finally mumbled her sleepy regards and stood for her nightly routine.
Jebroy smiled and she hugged him and kissed his good cheek. "Love you, Daddy."
She went to each horse and tickled their chins. She gave them some sugar lumps and kissed each cheek. Zato had recently joined her nightly ritual. She tickled his chin and planted a chaste careful kiss on his nose. She smiled at Nalia and bobbed her head respectively, giving her a smile before escaping into the caravan.
Jebroy and Nalia stayed up a little longer to chat and properly bank the fire. Jeb smiled at the tree line, knowing Nalia would disappear. "Goodnight Nalia."
"We do love." It popped out of Nalia's mouth before she even thought about it. She glanced back at Jebroy. "We do love. We do have complex rules – some more animalistic in nature but natural laws are not bad just because they are not yours. I do admire clean kills perhaps more than you do and think less of them than you. I do not kill for no reason and I am not a sadist or a bloodthirsty monstrosity either."
Jebroy only stared back at her. "They say you're emotionless killing machines. You can kill well, but I can tell you are not emotionless."
"Emotions tell your enemy all they need to know about you. They tell strangers about you. Your emotions are for you, your family, and trusted friends." Nalia left that with him and faded silently into the tree line looking for a good tree to climb.
What are you doing?
I don't know. I did not like him having wrong idea of us. We are not animals. Will the elves think I am an animal for following the natural law?
Zato said nothing but warmed his skin up from the fire in his belly in a comforting manner and cuddled up to her chin. You are not an animal. Your society has rules and laws some do not understand. Would you like for me to tell you where the renouncement came from?
Nalia closed her eyes, not missing that he did really answer her question but she bit at the bait anyway. Yes, please tell me.
The renouncement comes from back in the Old Age when there were Kings and Queens instead of Pack Leaders. Instead of a challenging so the best won it was done by lineage. There was a wise King who knew none of his children were going to be good leaders and had begun to see the flaw in this idea. He wanted to adopt a new son; and he knew exactly who he wanted. A youth who had inserted himself from battleground to the Kings favor by saving his life. The boy was not even ten years old. His parents, they thought, had fled their homes due to the proximity of the battlefield but had left the boy in their haste. The King, then took the boy as a member of the guard and trained him from that youth into a young man. The King had spent many days with the boy, training him -speaking to him – treating him as his own son and a brother to his own children. You can imagine this made many people very upset as it became clear the King was favoring this boy. The boy was assumed an orphan from the battlefield, but those opposing him found his parents who came forward. Parents meant that the King could not just adopt this young man. The King came up with the renouncement so that the boy could renounce the parents that had abandoned him on the battlefield and claim to be only true Draconian Blood – A son of Draconian Realm and not his lineage. The boy did it and was able to become King. None could deny that the boy had earned his place once his parents had no claim over him. The King was one of the greatest the realm had seen – and it was not long after him that his own sons – all renounced – began the Challenge. The renouncement has not been used for Kingship since, but remains as an option for those children who are dishonored by their families.
Nalia nodded her head. It's an ancient law.
Zato tickled her chin in agreement with his tongue. It is, and not very well understood Draconian Child by others, but it was rooted in a good cause. There is pride in being Draconian and –
Zato tickled her chin once more and snorted in amusement. She had fallen asleep. Zato settled down on her chest. They would get to the elves tomorrow. She deserved the rest not the history lesson.
The next morning they moved on slowly. Jebroy always seemed stiffer in the morning. Nalia glanced at him as he attempted to flex and rotate his shoulder again from the driver's bench.
"If you weren't so bruised I could help relax your muscles, but I'm afraid a massage would probably just hurt right now."
"Probably." He grunted. "We should get to the Elves by noon. I'll get some bruise balm there, bet they've got the good stuff that goes on and heats up. That'll feel like blessing and a hot bath. You sure you won't travel further down to our home with us?"
"My business is with the elves."
Jebroy glanced at her. He has asked her a few times why she was visiting them but Nalia refused to tell them. They are not Draconian. They would not understand. She had worked her whole life for being a Draconian Elite Guard. She wanted it more than anything. She wanted to learn to fight, to think, to strategize. There was never an Alpha that was not also an Elite Guard member. Nalia would never even dare whisper her dream – but she had one.
Their arrival was slow as well. Slowly homes and farms popped up in the distance from the road. Slowly more homes became visible. Then stores along with the homes and a small town hall. They would pass one and then have miles of empty road before another. The distance between the towns grew smaller but the road grew wider and wider and more people began to churn up. Finally, the road branched off. To the left would be more and more small towns only the distances between them would get larger instead of smaller. To the right would be the main city. Nalia jumped from the caravan. "There is a big town only an hour away. It will have a shop, a tavern, and very likely a good healer or at least a mediwitch."
She heard a muffled noise from the caravan and Cas jumped out. Nalia braced herself automatically into a defensive position but was able to keep from reacting when Cas jumped on her and gave her a big hug. Cas whispered in her ear quickly and quietly, "I will always remember you. Our personal guardian. You – you saved us – me. I will never, ever forget."
She ran back into the caravan before Nalia could even comment. Zato clucked his teeth. Little wench didn't say goodbye to me! He took off and entered the caravan. She heard delighted laughter and a muffled goodbye from indoors. She glanced at Jebroy who was openly smiling.
Nalia allowed a small one back and he grinned bigger. He stuck out a hand. "We thank you, for something we cannot really ever thank you enough for. You're positive you don't want payment? Any food? Anything?"
She shook his offered hand and shook her head. "Be safe Jebroy." Zato landed on her extended arm and she left them without a backwards glance.
Soon after, Zato hidden in her hood, Nalia made it into the inner city of the Woodland Elves. She assumed that he would still be a dignitary. Twenty years ago was nothing to the life of an elf and it was likely he was still active.
What if he is already dead, Zato?
Then you come home and inform the Alpha. In my plain if we disown our parents when they are dead we have to burn their graves. I do not know what your society would ask for.
Nalia was not fond of the idea of burning his grave. She was here to disown his bloodline, not desecrate his afterlife. She pondered why one idea would bother her over another as she entered the city. The woodland elf city was pretty. It was very different from her own home. Draconian homes were built of stone and mortar, much like the humans. The woodland elves had homes in platforms in the trees in the inner city. The dead wood blended with the healthy trees. The shops and bigger homes on the bottom were a mixture of stone and dead wood, beautifully organic. She followed signs to the government building. Many elves were milling around the city, families, selling wares, and they all glanced at her in surprise.
She was covered in a cloak was very different than the elves who did not cover themselves. Elves could live and thrive under any temperature. It was rare you ever saw one in a coat or any covering. They fed from the sun, rumor said. Likely as true as the rumors of Draconian's feeding from blood but all the same. Nalia allowed herself a small smile underneath her hood at their questioning gazes. Luckily the woodland elves were an open society and there were many strangers even here within the inner walls. Humans, dwarves, nymphs and a few fey amongst a few other mix breeds and other species that even Nalia had trouble naming. A troll or giant must live in that home, it's larger than anything else with a door reaching halfway up the tallest tree Nalia had ever seen. It's a wonder how they kept order with so many races and cultures abound.
She was officially stopped at the government building by an elf with a youthful expression despite his clear guard clothing. He was taller than her, pale with those pointed ears. His sharp green eyes looked quicker to laugh than anything but he was solidly built and the sword and daggers at his side did not look decorative at all. "All visitors must sign in before entering the building. If you do not disarm you must also be escorted."
Nalia considered this. "I will be escorted; will they be a guide as well? Where do I sign in?"
He tried to look under the hood but Nalia did not take the hint and remove it. "I will bring you to the sign in sheet. In there I will introduce you to a guide and escort."
He brought her indoors and to a large table where many people lingered and gathered. It was clearly an introductory post as all those behind it pointed in various directions for others. Inside most were richly dressed in merchant clothing. Those in fancier garb already waltzed around the place knowing exactly where to go. Nalia startled. Inside the building which appeared plain indoors was massive. It was open and had three levels she could see. Doors galore gave her pause and she glanced at her temporary guard.
He smiled, somehow guessing her feeling. "Welcome to the hive. It goes five floors underground, this floor and two more above this one. Each floor has a purpose and has various rooms. It's very deceiving and extremely easy to get lost. Here is the paper, one moment and I will find you an escort."
She signed her name, her species, and listed her reason to visit 'finding father' and left it at that. She looked for the guard and found him arguing with another elf. He was less sturdy than the other elf and did not have the same confidence. He only bore one sword and he glanced at Nalia and already seemed nervous. She allowed another small smile. He would not be able to stop her from her task. She frowned as the initial guard threw up his arms and stalked back to her. By the time he got to her his expression had cleared and he had a polite smile. "Sorry about that, it appears I will be your escort and guide. Where are we going?"
That was less pleasing, he looked like he could actually fight her. "I am looking for my father."
He startled visibly. "What?"
"I do not know who he is, or what his name is. I think it may start with an 'F'. He was a dignitary for your species at the Draconian Court twenty-one years ago. Do you have a records room that keeps this information?"
"Hold on," he said seriously, "are you telling me you are half Draconian and half elf? I did not … That's not possible. You guys don't – Uh…"
"The lack of fidelity was unprecedented, yes." Nalia snapped.
"Wow, already married too? I did not think even if single that you guys bred outside of your species."
What a worthless idiot.
Nalia had to agree with Zato. "Breed?" She hissed. "You make us sound like pedigree barn yard animals. We are free to choose whomever we wish as mates or partners, thank you very much."
He held up his hands and backpedaled quickly. "No, no sorry you caught me off guard. I'm sorry, I'm not used to escorting business. I'll keep my mouth shut. Umm, luckily I know exactly who you are talking about."
"Well, take me to him."
He shrugged. "I can't. He won't be back for a few days. He is on a hunting trip. I can set you up in his home though. I am certain he wouldn't mind."
Nalia narrowed her eyes. "How do you know him?"
He blushed and Nalia clenched her fist – certain she wouldn't like his answer. "He's, ah, the only elf that has good things to say about your species really. Do you want me to take you? It's not too far on horseback. He does not do too much dignitary work too much so he has moved outside of the city."
"I'm Draconian." He didn't appear to understand and shrugged helplessly. She sighed. "Horses do not care for me."
"Oh!" He grinned and laughed. "That will not be a problem with my horses." He winked and gestured for her to follow him. "I'll just let my Captain know I'll be taking the day off, wait here okay?"
She watched him leave. Well, this will be easy.
I do not like him. Zato huffed.
Me either, but he is taking us to my father no questions asked.
Oh just wait, he will be talkative as soon as we get out. He has the looks of an idiot talkative disrespectful…
Nalia tuned out and waited patiently for his return. He was practically hoping back towards her, his long strides almost a lope. He grinned at her again as he approached her and stuck out a hand. "I don't think I mentioned, my name is Lyon."
"Nalia." She returned the gesture and gestured for him to lead on. He navigated out and turned quickly going towards the back of 'the hive'.
"So anyway, the reason I know your father real well is actually because he is best friends with my dad. My dad is the general now but back then he was just a lieutenant and was actually assigned to the Draconian detail for security with him. Oh, by the way do you know his name?"
Nalia gritted her teeth. He talked more than the humans. "I already mentioned I did not know his name. I knew nothing of him."
"Did your mother not tell you?" He checked to make sure she was following, but his brow furrowed in confusion as well.
"She is dead now, I only found out shortly before." Please don't ask me how, please don't ask me how.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Sorry for your loss." He cleared his throat. "His name is Frederick. We all thought maybe he had a lover at the time. He speaks so fondly of you guys. He will be sad to hear about her. Thrilled to meet you though."
This may be difficult.
Do not falter, my Chosen. If this is the path you want you must continue down it.
The elf, Lyon, prattled on about the things he had heard about Draconian society from his adopted uncle and every now and again checked back until they reached a stable in the back. He held up his hands and Nalia finally let out a breath. She didn't even realize her chest had been slowly tightening since she got here.
She relaxed each muscle, one at a time, closing her eyes briefly to relax against the backbone of her training. When she opened her eyes she was recentered and Lyon came holding reins to two white Pegasus.
"This is my boy, Swift. This is my friends horse but he won't mind us borrowing her. She's very simple and easy to ride. I assume you don't really know how but if you can just hold on you'll be fine. She will follow me. Her name is Angel. Yeah, he has no creativity."
Nalia approached the horse named Angel carefully, holding a hand up. Zato!
She seems okay, you will be fine. Balancing on a horse cannot be any more difficult than running on tree limbs. Would you mind if I flew though?
Do you think it wise to reveal yourself?
Once we are in the air then, less people to see me.
Nalia nodded her head and was almost surprised when the horse did not even react to Nalia placing her hand on the horse's cheek, down her neck and examining her wings. "These horses are expensive."
"Yeah, they are. My father actually got Swift while traveling and he saved a Halo-Species. Good story, I'll tell you about it later. They come from their land you know, so anyway he was a gift. My friend is the prince so he has whatever he wants."
"Friends in high places." Nalia looked at the saddle in confusion. She knew the theory of how to ride, had watched it frequently, but now that she was about to she was surprised to find herself more than a little wary.
Lyon shrugged and came over to her. "Would you like a boost up or do you want to watch me and see if you can do it yourself?"
He nodded and slowly mounted, pointing out which foot to use and to grab mane. Carefully Nalia did the same, sitting down carefully. Dear Gods, I'm going to die.
"Yes." He smiled at her. "It will be easy I promise. Just grip with your knees. Move your body in ways that feel natural. You're a warrior right?" He gestured to her weapons. "I have never met a warrior of any species that couldn't jump on a horse. It's in our blood. I promise you will be fine. Hold onto her main and reins. She will follow so don't worry about steering. Sit up for now, we need a running start."
Dear Gods, dear Gods, dear Gods!
Angel did follow Swift and Swift did move swiftly. The jolt that Nalia had seen from the horses on the cart was nothing like sitting on it. She screamed on her head and gritted her teeth, happy that no one could see her face. She gripped the mane, certain her life depended on it, and when it leapt in the year she let out a squeak she prayed no one heard.
Shhh, it's okay my Chosen. I am going to fly now okay! I will watch you.
Just as she felt Zato unwinding himself from underneath her hood she saw Lyon glance back at her with a grin. His jaw dropped as her hood fell back and Zato took off. His eyes followed Zato for a bit but his eyes came back to her face, his face still astonished. Nalia smiled slightly at him, concerned that he was worried that she was going to fall or something. His grin back was infectious and he gave a whoop before leading the flight.
Slowly Nalia relaxed, able to enjoy speeding over tree tops. The horses did not have the speed Zato had, and he would often circle back and do loops – entertaining Lyon and Nalia. She relaxed seeing him. She slowly realized Zato was sending her comforting feelings through their bond and she smiled at Zato, only Zato and filled their bond with love. He came back to settle a quick nudge under her chin.
Relax your grip, sit back, you'll be fine. Look around you! This is amazing!
Nalia slowly sat back, much like Lyon was in the front and looked around her. Her chest could almost feel the air moving rapidly around her, her stomach was doing twists and turns – but in a good way. She had a crazy need to smile. This is fantastic, Zato! I am envious of your ability to fly now!
Ten years and I can take you flying, My Chosen!
Ten years and Zato would be big enough to carry a person. He would not get much bigger than a standard horse size but it would mean that as partners they would be able to travel and protect the entire Draconian realm.
Too soon they descended. Nalia's stomach clenched at first when she realized what was going on and she retightened her grip on the mane. She watched Lyon almost stand in the saddle and corrected her posture like his. As they landed she saw why he did it as the landing was quite bumpy but standing meant your body didn't take the hit. She fell forward and was pleased that he didn't see her. She was envious of his ability to rock with the landing. Must have been in the knees. Next time she would not.
She sobered realizing she will likely never do this again. She pat Angel down the neck, and whispered a quick thank you. She committed the feeling of the flight, landing, and being atop this beast to memory quickly.
Lyon dismounted, she carefully watched him and did as well, stumbling being on her legs again. He was at her back instantly trying to support her. She jerked away from him keeping him in a more appropriate side position. He smiled and backed off. "Sorry, forget you're a fighter like me. Don't like people at your back. I know." He took the reins of Angel and did something to the saddle quickly. He turned back to her. "You're a natural. I didn't expect you to be hiding a dragon under that cloak! You must be part of the Elite Guard! You have to tell me all about it. I would have thought the tattoos would be atrocious but they are beautiful." His eyes were hot on her and she frowned.
Joni would look at her like that, before she stopped his advances. Pack Leaders should not fraternize with their students.
Zato hissed atop her shoulders and Lyon's eyes softened again. "Protective ain't he? C'mon, lets get these guys into the stables."
He quieted on the way but glanced back often, each gaze more heated and inquiringly. Zato nashed his teeth. Nalia had to drop her head to hide her grin. Keep it up, Zato.
I'm not interested in fighting your battles for you, but I do not like it! He sees your face and suddenly he's interested?
Nalia attempted to quiet the chuckle but it escaped. Lyon's eyebrow quirked. "Is it true that you can mindspeak?"
"It is," Nalia confirmed. Lyon clipped the horses at the stables and took off their saddles. He handed Nalia a brush and she stared at it dumbly.
"Help me, go in the direction of the fur. Short quick brushes." He demonstrated on Swift. Nalia turned to Angel, surprised to see her sweat soaked and quickly began brushing her, murmuring her thankfulness to Angel for carrying her.
He smiled at her when she was done. Nalia was getting used to the smile, it was permanently glued to his face. "You're sweet on her, it's what she needs. The prince sometimes forgets she exists. It's nice to see you have such a way with animals. C'mon, let's get up to his house. He has a housekeeper but that's all. No other family. I'll get you introduced and she will get you settled in."
"Will you leave then?" Nalia asked, then wondered why in the world she cared.
"No, I'm going to take a few days off. I want to be here when you guys meet and help you out around here. I won't just abandon you here. Besides, I bet you have a lot of questions."
"Why do you even believe me?" She walked beside him, a little confused. She should be telling him to leave her, but she found his accommodating attitude very strange.
"I wasn't sure at first. Either way Frederick would want to meet another Draconian, I know he misses being there. But when you took off your hood I knew. You look a lot like him."
"I look like a Draconian." Nalia's heart dropped. She can't look like him too! That'll mean she always has a reminder!
"Mmm, true, but you will see. Your eyes are his exact shade of green, your cheek bones are similar too. He has brown hair so I bet you get the black from your mom, but yours does this flippy-curl thing here at the end." He grabbed a lock that had escaped from her braid. His fingertips touched her neck and she jerked back. It's true her hair was not dead straight like many other Draconians but she had never thought twice about it. "His hair is curly like mine." His shook his brown mop atop his head cheerfully. He ignored her reaction when he had touched her and walked closer beside her.
I'm going to bite him if he touches you again.
How about a warning snap first? She joked.
Despite the warning, Lyon's shoulder brushed hers a few times without Zato doing anything. Lyon was talking so much Nalia barely noticed. He spoke about training, comparing hers with his all the way back to the home.
When they had eaten and settled down into the house (with a very enthusiastic and excited housekeeper, who cried when hearing Nalia was the long lost daughter) Nalia wandered the library of her father. Lyon was bringing up desserts and a late night drink.
On the walls were pictures of woodlands, but also of dragons. Zato had jumped from her shoulder and was studying a few. Nalia was surprised that many of the things in this room were Draconian artifacts. He even had a set of Draconian armor and a sword. She drew it from the scabbard.
He flew to her. He wanted to stay in the realm. He loved your mother.
On his desk there were several books, and a small painting of her mother. Oh, in the painting there were a few other dignitaries that Nalia recognized but it was clear that the painting was for him of her. Nalia's stomach clenched.
When Lyon came in, he was rambling about something per usual but Nalia interrupted him. "You said my father liked Draconian society. Why didn't he stay?" She looked at the painting one last time then glanced back up to him.
Lyon frowned. "He said that he was banished by your alpha, he never said why. You guys have so many rules though we just all figured he had done something wrong. Could he have known about your mother and him?"
He could have suspected mutual feelings and tried to split them up before anything happened; too late of course.
Nalia internally wailed. If only he had left sooner. "My mother was married. Why would he sleep with a married woman?"
Lyon cleared his throat. "That's probably something to ask him. Why would she sleep with someone if she was married?"
Nalia was not sure. People did not marry for convenience or rank in her society. No matter who you were you stayed that person until you fought to get ahead. You did not take on your partner's ranks. It's why her mother was a dignitary and her father a lower counsel man still. You married for love. She had always assumed her parents loved. They had appeared to love. "I thought my parents loved each other. I think she still loved this Frederick when she passed." Nalia glanced at the painting again. "It's clear he loved her."
Lyon sighed and gestured to chair and poured her a generous decanter of gold liquid. "Love can be complicated. Maybe she did love your father. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe she loved them both in different ways."
I wish I could have asked.
Zato said nothing to that instead replied, You should probably not drink that or make mistakes too.
Nalia glanced at the drink and took a sip and shook her head. You're right.
"Thank you for the drink, but I cannot drink that."
He snorted. "Why not?"
"It's not good to dull your senses with drink, or your decision making processes."
He lifted an eyebrow. Nalia did not know anyone who could do that and found she liked the look. It was very rakish. "Do you ever drink?"
"On occasion, wine or something less strong."
"I promise I'll protect you tonight, just relax. You have a big day tomorrow."
"Why?" Nalia took another small sip.
"I sent a message for him to come back early. He should arrive tomorrow."
Nalia felt her stomach drop and took a bigger drink of the alcohol. Nalia…
"Then I need to sleep."
"No," he grabbed her hand as she went to stand. "Please stay. I want to know more about you."
His thumb ran against her hand and her stomach made that awful feeling again. She sat back down and talked the night away instead with Lyon. She did not drink more, but laughed with him and told her about her, her society. He apologized and said he thought she was crazy. He wanted to visit though, and see the lands she described. Mountains and waterfalls and miles of trails into the woods. "Maybe it's not as cold as I think." He looked at her hard, still not sure but she could tell he was confused.
"The rules can seem that way, we have natural laws but we have a warm society. What we do have reasons, sometimes it can be hard to understand. We have a hard exterior, but there are beautiful things to be hidden."
"Like you and the mountains themselves," he smiled at her and she loved it and ignored Zato's huff.
"There is a volcano at the center of our range. The restaurants there are the best." Nalia confided to him. He told her of his society and she laughed and apologized that it all sounded crazy, wild, and barbaric. He was intrigued with their lack of major crimes and wondered about if they had any fun. She laughed and told him of festivals. He shared some of their own.
Morning found her in a bed. A set of elvish clothes were left out for her that she ignored. She took a bath and put on her usual garb. She packed her bag and strapped her sword to her waist instead of her back. Zato watched her carefully. She brought the bag down to the stables and hid it, happy she missed Lyon. "Do you think I'd get in a lot of trouble if I stole Angel?"
Zato gave her a dragon grin. Probably, but I am curious how you plan to get out of here without anyone knowing what you've done.
Nalia wasn't quite sure, she made it back to the kitchen surprised to see Lyon up and in lighter gear. "Want to spar? I really want to try your hand. Before we eat, c'mon!"
Nalia briefly remembered agreeing to it last night and followed him outside to a horse arena.
"This will do, what should we fight for?"
Nalia frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, it's an old thing we always do at our guard. Every spar we put a bet on. Just something fun and little."
Nalia nodded. "If I win you leave, I want to meet my father alone and have some time with him. I have many questions to ask him."
Lyon frowned but nodded. "I can come back in a few days? I live back at the city so I could give you a few days get to know each other, then come back?"
He grinned. "Okay, and if I win I get a kiss."
"What a male." Nalia rolled her eyes. "Weapons or without?"
"Short blades? They are my preferred and given the Elite Guard rumors I want every advantage." He produced four wooden short blades.
"You fight without steel?" She nodded her assent and caught two that he tossed to her. She unstrapped her sword and Zato watched from the corner.
Kick his ass.
"You spar with steel?" He asked incredulous.
She nodded and took a stance. "Bow then start?"
They both bowed – and then began. Nalia dissociated herself from the fight, watching his body move almost as if she wasn't his opponent. She reacted and parred and attacked as if she watched it from the outside. She watched his face for weaknesses, his arms for his strengths. He had a nasty habit of reposing himself after an attack instead of being fluid. She attacked him in his defensive pose hard – it would crack soon.
She sped up her attack, watching his eyes narrow and his chest raise – he began to move more. Darting in and out of the fighting circle and turning. She was not used to this and she startled barely getting two blades up as he twisted with a jab. It was an unusual style; she would have liked to watch two people with similar styles doing it once.
Slowly movements were the only thing going through her mind. She was frustrated that his defensive pose was not cracking, his fluid dance like movements kept her moving more than she was used to. Crack – crack – wood splintered and she ducked down in a split attacking out to his legs. Damn one of her swords had split. She tossed the useless wood and he jumped over her leg. She turned back up – he tossed one of his so they both only had one.
She backed up – breathing hard. He was breathing equally hard. He gestured for her to come back at him. She grinned something feral and came at him, using the right blade. He tossed the sword back from one hand to another, using the other to jab at her body. She grunted as he landed a few good hits and she back kicked him hard so he fell to the ground – foregoing usual etiquette she dropped her knee onto the arm holding the sword. He relinquished his grip and she grabbed it. He managed to dislodge her and the wrestled before he finally gathered the upper hand and held the blades crosswise over her neck.
"Damn!" He huffed and breathed hard and fell back. She relaxed her posture, stretching on the ground feeling worn muscles and the few bruises.
"You are very good." She admired.
"I don't think I have ever had a spar last so long. I'm exhausted. What's your best weapon?"
"My bow, or my sword if you mean for combat style. Grappling is definitely my weak point."
He nodded, he fell back onto his back. "Well I'm done for the day."
Except now I have to get rid of you…
He sat up and grinned. "I'm not too tired for that kiss though." Nalia had to laugh and she leaned back down on her back, not moving towards him. Her heart hammered in her chest. She liked this Lyon. But she could not like him, could not afford to like him. She closed her eyes and heard him crawl to her. He settled over her body, a knee between her legs. "Nalia?"
She opened her eyes and put on a blank face.
He traced her tattoos with a fingertip, going up her shoulders and neck. He traced up jawbone to her chin. He wasn't smiling and she almost wanted to tell him to smile. He's not himself when he's not smiling but suddenly he was and he lifted an eyebrow and cupped the back of her neck.
He pulled her towards him and whispered just before touching his lips to hers. "I'm going to cash in my bet, okay?"
Nalia did not answer, she just titled her head and met his kiss for him. It was not chaste and it should have stopped far earlier but she was not disappointed with the flush he had and that heated stare when she did pull away.
"Damn." He whispered and smiled. "I'm still going to let you have your time with your father, but I'm glad I got that."
He got up and offered her a hand.
You're such an idiot.
She ignored Zato, following Lyon into the kitchen. They shared breakfast. Nalia took another bath and waited for her father in the library. Lunch came and while she nibbled she read a book he had. It was on Draconian laws. She had been amused to find it.
Do you think he is coming?
Zato had answered her but she had almost dropped the book in fright. He had the rule of the Renouncement circled. Her stomach clenched and Zato flew to her – feeling her rush of fear. He read over her shoulder.
Oh, my Chosen…
Nalia closed her eyes as her sharp ears heard the doors opening and a male voice, "Where is she? Where is she?!" She could barely hear the muffled answer of the housekeeper but she heard his run – and then his walk when he got to the library doors.
She felt a tear drop at the corner of her lid and turned to him as he opened the door.
She saw him and saw her own face. Lyon was right, they did have the exact same shade of green. His hair was streaked with some grey, but brown and curly from what she could tell. He had pulled it back but in his haste it was escaping its binds much like Nalia's always would.
He paused at the door and turned toward the hall. "Mariann! You can take the week off, I want to be with my daughter! Go!"
He closed the door and entered the room. He glanced at the book in Nalia's hand and closed his eyes. He sat on the edge of his desk. "It will give you a week to get away. Once you are back in your borders they cannot do anything for you defending your laws."
Nalia pulled her sword from her scabbard and stepped towards him. "I have to know; did you love her?"
"Yes." He smiled at Nalia. "You are so beautiful. It is so good to see you before the end. It's almost as good as seeing her. I assume she…. has passed too?"
"Why?" Nalia asked. "Why would she break fidelity to my father? I mean her husband."
"My daughter," he began –
"Nalia, my name is Nalia."
He smile was forlorn. "I don't know if you want to know this, but that was the name of my sister who traveled with us, she was a wonderful woman. You should be happy to bear her name."
Nalia ignored that. "I need to know the whole story."
He shook his head. "It's complicated. It's hard. Your father, or who you knew as your father. He was a good man. Your mother did love him, do not doubt it. But surely you have felt it leaving Draconia? What you feel is love there is nothing like what you can find out here. Sometimes you are in love and then something happens and it's just a little different. It's just a different love. We should not have acted upon it. I didn't realize the difficulties it would bring."
"People here don't support fidelity?"
"Fidelity is important." He cautioned. "It's just…different. It happens more often. We are such long lived people sometimes you fall out of love and fall in love again. For here that is natural, and it is not over there. I didn't know, and she was enthralled with the idea of falling in love again." He closed his eyes. "It was a mistake at the time. There are a so many things I would have done differently to do it right."
Nalia could not imagine the betrayal her father felt. But she knew if she did not return home he would feel it twice over. Yes, Nalia had learned new people here, new things, and some of it was great. It was not home, however and not her dream. This was a fanciful dream, something not real. Her mother had been weak to grasp at it, but she knew her mother well.
"She planned on leaving didn't she?"
"Yes…I had been banished and my sister was going to take her and they were going to leave together."
So her Alpha had known all along. "My Alpha caught them," she surmised, "he killed your sister didn't he? For trying to take Mya before she gave her rites up?"
You can leave Draconia, but you cannot leave Draconia and be Draconian. You must give up rites to the land you owned, property, absolved of familial ties. You swear an oath to never give the secrets of the dragons away – an oath magic binding. "Why didn't Mya give up the rites?"
"Because of you." He grabbed the painting off of the desk and seemed to fade into a memory. "If she gave up rites you would have been taken from her to be raised until you were of age. You were half Draconian, you cannot be taken until you give up rites as well. You did not give up rites did you?" He looked at Zato. "You are part of their Elite Guard. Mya never even told you that you were mine did she? Not until you succeeded. She just tried to forget me." He was crying, although his voice did not break. Nalia would not have even noticed if it weren't for the gesture of his hand against his eyelids, wiping those feelings away.
"Love is complicated." Nalia lifted her sword to him. "I was not allowed into the Elite Guard. She told my Alpha before I could be sworn. I need a renouncement to return."
Frederick nodded and grasped the blade in his hand. "Love is complicated," he agreed, "and I do grow weary of loving a Draconian. It can be very hard." He gave a watery smile. "I loved you though, not knowing you. When I heard nothing from you I … knew she didn't say anything. I knew you might come back for this when I stumbled upon the law. I have been ready. I hoped I was wrong, but I have been ready."
Nalia was panicking inside. She had so many dreams, so many dreams. In a few years she could challenge the Alpha over this! No one could debate her right to compete. She was Draconian. Yes, they may have flaws and some may not understand her land but it was a land she loved. It was a people she loved. She loved her family, her friends, and Zato… Here she would have to give up everything. "Is it worth me taking your life?" She whispered it allowed but it was a question to herself.
"Nalia." He closed his eyes. "The fact that you question that makes me so proud. But you are Draconian, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. You do not get to pay for the sins of your parents." He pulled her sword towards him and she jerked back reflexively.
It had already cut him once though and his sputter urged her to finish it quickly and painlessly.
Zato? Nalia felt chilled inside. I am going to become an Alpha. Five years, can you be ready by then? She had things to change after all.
I am with you, Chosen. We must leave though.
She arranged his body carefully, placing her cloak over him. She wrote a quick note that really did not explain anything and marked the law of Renouncement in his book. She hoped one day she would hear from Lyon and be forgiven.
But to be a Draconian meant fighting for what you wanted – so if he didn't, she would become an Alpha and drag him up to explain it then. She could wait.