Half Blood Part XX--Darkfang

Fiction By Heather // 7/2/2010

Danilos strutted into the Council room and carefully looked around the room, making eye contact with each counselor, before throwing a rolled parchment on the table.
"What is this?" someone asked.
"Open it," Danilos growled.
A counselor gingerly reached for the parchment and unrolled it enough to see the scrawl and the blob of sealing wax at the bottom of the page. "This is it, then? Signed and sealed by the king?"
"Counselors." Danilos leaned both palms on the table. "We are going to war."
***
Varian awoke to a pounding on his door. He squinted at the window and saw the sun barely peeking over the horizon. Then Solvar pushed open the door.
"Jokk's waitin' for us," he said.
Varian grabbed his tunic off the bed and followed Solvar downstairs. Lia had propped the door to the kitchen open, and a delicious smell was drifting out. Varian paused and looked in.
"Good mornin', boys," Lia said, smiling. "Ye'll be wantin' apple fritters, won't ye?"
"On the run, Mother," Solvar said.
Kearah grabbed a basket piled high with golden, sugared lumps of dough and tied several into two cloth napkins. "Will ye be home for lunch or supper?"
"Dinnae know." Solvar grabbed his bundle and charged out of the front door.
Varian smiled and she handed his bundle over. "Well, if we cannae, would ye mind introducin' me to yer mount? I havenae meet him yet—and maybe we could fly together if I have the free time."
Kearah blushed and her eyes sparkled. "Aye, I wouldnae mind that."
Vaian looked up and caught Lia watching him. She smiled and nodded. He grinned and ambled out the door, where he found Solvar waiting for him. Solvar said nothing, just looked at him carefully and then headed for the training fields. Varian pulled an apple fritter from his bundle and bit into it.
The forges were already going. Varian could hear the deep peal of sword-forging. It had a frantic note to it today—the smiths' strokes were a little faster, a little harder. He could also hear the humming of voices coming from the training fields, and dragons circled the air.
He and Solvar mounted the hill, and Varian stopped. The training field was teeming with dragons and men. At one end sat a group of men sharpening their weapons—beside them stood a group of dragons sharpening claws and nosing through piles of armor. Some warriors were sparring in the middle of the field. In the air, three dragons performed aerial maneuvers.
Jokk and Dulcan stepped out of the armory tent.
"Well, lad, yer friend Mel was here bright and early and demandin' to be put to work," Dulcan said to Varian. "I've got him helpin' men sort through armor now. Hope ye don't mind. He said ye wouldn't."
Varian smiled. "Ye won't keep him off the battlefield for long."
"Aye, that's what I figured when he told me you were his teacher," Jokk said, his eyes twinkling but his mouth grim. "Let's talk over war-plans. I wish Onna would get here."
"I wish she would too," Solvar muttered.
"I sent messages to the other lairds last night. They'll be musterin' their forces and comin' here soon enough. I've also instructed them to send out word that anyone wishin' to enlist needs to be here in three days' time. I've got the smiths workin' hard and men and dragons goin' through trainin'." Jokk sighed. "But beyond that I cannae do much without Onna."
"Will we make our stand here?" Varian asked.
"Nae. We've a fortress that we've kept secret as much as we might."
"The River Fortress?" Solvar shook his head. "Too old."
"But the only place we have that would be somewhat defensible. Even with that and more recruits, I'm not sure how we could hold up against the Lowlander army." Jokk glanced at Varian. "How many in the army?"
"Two thousand standing with another three in the reserves. Danilos will pull out everyone. How many could ye raise?"
"Three and a half thousand, maybe four. And that's all told, man and dragon." Jokk gnawed his lower lip.
Varian looked northward. The rising sun cast half of Mount Arborn in gleaming light and made each crevice and crack stand out in sharp contrast. The snow cap glowed with a reddish-mauve. The rest of the mountain glowered in darkness.
"That's impossible," he said.
"Unless we try the Lowland dragons," Solvar said in a low voice.
Jokk glared at him. "Let it rest."
"It could help us, ye know it could. We need allies. Who knows? They might yet join us. Nae one has spoken to them in years."
"The Lowland dragons attacked ye just yesterday. Is yer brain that wantin' in sense? They chose their path long ago. They willnae be our allies."
"Maybe they will. They should be given a chance, anyway. If some of the Lowlanders came over and wanted to fight, ye'd use them, wouldnae ye? And if ye knew where to recruit—if my father had finished his work before bein' caught—then ye'd actively seek help from them, wouldnae ye?"
Varian grunted in surprise. "Kerrin was recruitin'?"
Jokk jerked his head in a nod. "Workin' on somethin' like that."
"Ye were lookin' for Lowlanders to help us in case war broke out," Solvar continued. "I think ye should consider help from the Lowlander dragons as well. Maybe if they met Varian, if they knew that at least one Lowlander and possibly more would be willin' to help—"
Varian grinned. "We could try it."
Jokk turned away and gnawed his lower lip even more. "Ye're a nuisance, Solvar. I think ye've settled down and decided to say quiet, and ye break out on a fool idea like this."
Solvar gave a half-smile. "But ye like it."
"Aye, I like it. Sounds like somethin' I'd have tried when I was yer age."
"So can we go?"
"'We'?" Jokk shook his head. "Och, nae. 'Tis yer idea—ye carry it out. I've enough plannin' to do without followin' a couple of capable fighters on a mission."
"I can go too?" Varian asked.
Jokk flicked at them with his hand. "Go, before ye drive me crazy!" But he was smiling as they darted away for their dragons' tack.
"He must be desperate," Solvar murmured in the tent.
"So were ye. I've never heard ye speak so many words strung together," Varian teased.
"Och, I'm serious! I've spoken to yer uncle many a time about visitin' the Lowland dragons. Every time he's turned me off with a flat 'nae' or 'later'. He must be serious if he's lettin' us go withnae argument."
"Is it that dangerous, then?"
"I dinnae know. Nae one does. As Jokk said, we havenae dealings with the Lowland dragons for years. I think Jokk was never desperate enough for warriors until now, when he knows war is of a surety."
Varian sighed. "I wish it didnae have to be so."
"Aye, ye and I both."
They saddled their mounts in silence, but in less haste than yesterday. Before five minutes had passed they were soaring over the hills to the mountains. Varian tipped his head back, letting the breeze ruffle through his hair. Then he ran his hair through the tangled curls. It was far too long, reaching past his collar to his shoulders. "Time I get a hair cut," he said.
"What? Are you tired of looking like a sheep unsheared for three seasons?" Fleet asked.
Varian slapped the dragon's neck with his open palm and winced at the sting to his hand. "Ye be quiet."
"I believe that 'shut up' is the phrase you are looking for," Solvar's dragon said.
Varian glared at him. "Are ye perchance related to Fleet?"
"Second cousins," Fleet confirmed.
"I thought so. The smart-alecky tongues gave it away."
"I think the dragons consider their parentship a failure if they dinnae give their children a sense of sarcastic humor," Solvar said.
"Wonderful. A fleet of sarcastic dragons. That's what we need! Why couldnae a few of ye be more like Flameclaw and be scholars?"
"Read musty old books?" Solvar's dragon yelped.
"The last time I tried to read, the dust made me sneeze. And you have seen what happens when I sneeze. Flameclaw never has forgiven me for turning his book into soap ashes," Fleet muttered.
Varian and Solvar chuckled. The wind caught up the sound and carried it away. Solvar leaned back in his saddle.  
"So, Varian, what do ye think of my sister?"
Varian glanced over at Solvar. His eyes were turned to the clouds. He looked too studious to be observing them casually. "Kearah? What do ye mean? She's nice."
"Nice?"
"Energetic, funny, cheerful, pleasant to be around, a very good cook like yer mother—what else do ye want?"
"She likes ye, ye know."
"What do ye mean that she likes me? I've heard so many different uses of the word like that they begin to scramble together in my mind. Back home, many of the courtiers' daughters 'liked' me in public, though behind closed doors all they did was mock my accent and my ancestry. And the ones who truly 'liked' me were too silly for any notice."
Solvar snorted. "Well, when ye figure out how ye 'likes' my sister, come find me and I'll tell ye how she 'likes' ye. 'Til then, ye can figure it out for yerself."
Varian grinned. "What a second, did all this come from askin' her to introduce me to her mount and maybe to ride with me sometime?"
"It did."
"It was a friendly gesture, Solvar, nothin' more."
Solvar nodded. "Just make sure that she understands it was a friendly gesture."
Varian nodded and they rode in silence. He knew it to be a friendly silence. Solvar had merely been giving him a warning, as all brothers who cared about their sisters did.
Mount Arborn grew steadily nearer, then the dragons were climbing into the cold, thin air. The dragons, Fleet had told him, had caves even to the very top of Mount Arborn—where the air was so thin that no human could breathe. Thankfully the Lowland dragons had built their caves in a lower part of the mountain, but it was on the opposite side that most of the caves were on.
They were only two-thirds up the side of Mount Arborn as they skimmed the bald heads of his brothers with just inches to spare. Varian reached out and brushed his fingers along the top of the tall grass growing on the mountaintop. Then the dragons spread their wings and held them steady, gliding downward.
Solvar loosened the straps holding his quorini to his back. Varian reached down and felt his sword. He stared at the mountain, searching between the crevices for the Lowland dragons' caves. Fleet flexed underneath his legs, and turned his head to a large gash in the mountainside. Varian spotted a small red dragon lazing on the jutting cave lip.
The dragon suddenly dashed inside. Varian glanced at Solvar—his lips were tight and he motioned the dragons downward at a faster pace. He crouched down against his dragon's neck and motioned for Varian to do the same.
Varian found himself wishing for Kearah's presence to liven up the mood. Her brother was being far too quiet too long for his taste. Even the dragons were quiet as they spiraled down to the dark cave gashed into Mount Arborn's northern side.
Kearah could give us one more laugh before being serious, he mentally grumbled. And we need it. A laugh would loosen up my muscles before they snapped from the strain.
Suddenly a roar blasted from the cave. Varian jerked back, chills fingering his spine. The dragons halted as the roar continued, loud and angry. They were about twenty feet in the air from the cave.
A large, dark green dragon shot from the cave. He gouged strips from the rock ledge and looked up, his lips pulled back in a snarl. "Who disturbs the Lowland dragons?"
Fleet answered. "Ones who would have words with you, Darkfang."
Darkfang spat a ball of flame. "Oh, it is you, little brother. Ready to come crawling back? What, did the groundcrawlers decide that you have outlived your usefulness? And you need not endeavor to hide your riders. I am not blind. Land, if you will, Fleet. Your rider also. But the other dragon and rider must stay airborne."
"Fair enough." Solvar answered. He shot Varian a grimace.
Varian set his teeth as Fleet swooped down and landed on the ledge next to Darkfang. He dismounted and pushed his hair back from his eyes. Darkfang stared at him, his golden eyes hard and suspicious.
"Well, what do you want, Fleet? I know this is not a social visit. Why did you bring this groundcrawler with you?"
"Varian has something to propose to you," Fleet said, putting a light emphasis on his rider's name.
"Before he speaks, I must require him to hand over his sword."
"I havenae come against ye in war," Varian protested.
Darkfang flicked a claw at him. "Your sword. Or you may leave with your message unspoken."
Varian looked up at Fleet. He nodded. Varian sighed and unbuckled his swordbelt. Darkfang hooked a claw around the belt, dangled it in the air for a moment, then flipped it over Fleet and Varian's heads.
"Hey!" Varian yelled, whirling. He saw Goldtongue dive for it, but it was too late. His sword ricocheted off a cliff and disappeared down the mountainside. He slowly turned back.
Dakfang smirked. "Now you may say your piece."  
Varian took a deep breath and ground his teeth. "The Highlanders are goin' to war."
"Oh, Jokk finally got around to carrying out his threats." Darkfang laughed. "Continue."
"Captain Jokk knows that, for years, the Lowland dragons have wished to separate themselves from the others. But he asks ye to aid us in our war. We dinnae have enough men to do this alone."
"And why should you go to war? The Highlanders are against the Lowlanders, obviously, but what is the reason?"
"Danilos—"
Darkfang started and brandished his claws. "If you war against Danilos, expect no help from me."
Varian jumped back, pushing against Fleet. Fleet gently nudged his shoulder, then raised his head until he was staring Darkfang in the eye.
"Would you care to explain that?" he growled.
The two dragons glared at each other. Darkfang's growl rumbled deep in his throat. The air was becoming thick with dragon-smoke. Varian saw it billowing out from between Darkfang's clenched teeth and trickling from Fleet's nostrils. He could feel Fleet's chest muscles flexing against his back.
The dragons in the cave drew further back until all Varian could see was the occasional glimmer of an eye or a scale. Goldtongue's wings whirred in the background. Time stood still on the mountainside. Then Darkfang reared back and opened his maw. Flames flickered at the back of his throat, dancing off his teeth.
Fleet's teeth snapped into the back of Varian's leather tunic, and he whirled, dragging Varian over the cliff and unfurling his wings. Varian twisted, trying to grab Fleet's neck. Then he felt a jolt and they plummeted off the cave ledge.
Air filled Varian's mouth so he couldn't scream. Red flames licked around Fleet's wings. The dragon snarled through his mouthful of leather and beat his wings, frantically trying to slow their descent. There was a snap like a ship's sails filling with wind, and they stopped so abruptly that Varian slammed into Fleet.
"What happened?" he asked as Fleet twisted and set him in the saddle. The saddle leather was a bit blackened, but there were no burns on Fleet's wings or back.
"Dragon's flame cannot hurt another dragon, but it the force of it can throw them just the same as it can throw a human," he answered.
Solvar's voice ran out above them. They turned upward. Solvar and Goldtongue hovered a safe distance from Darkfang's ledge.
"Ye willnae win!" he was shouting. "Ye'll come to grief just like yer master!"
"Have a care, before you are burnt to cinders," Fleet called.
Solvar looked down. "He's gone back inside his cave. He didnae even stay to see if ye fell to yer deaths or nae."
"Yes, so is Darkfang," Fleet muttered, angling upward for the mountaintops. "I think we have done all we can do, Solvar. Let us go home."
For a while they flew in silence. Then Varian cleared his throat. "Why did ye almost join him?"
Fleet sighed. "Darkfang has always been charismatic. It does not surprise me that, so soon after joining the Lowlander dragons, he has fought his way to the top."
"Why did he leave?"
"Oh, I suppose there are many reasons. Restlessness, rebellion, inability to follow orders, eagerness to be the leader now instead of biding his time. Greed, perhaps." Fleet shrugged. "When I realized what he was getting into, I tried to dissuade him. Nothing worked. His mind was fixed on gaining the power the Lowlander dragons wielded.
He left the matter at that. Varian didn't say anything more, but his mind was whirling. Dear God, brother against brother in the Loryss y Benlirath continues even today. When will this madness stop?

Comments

Question: Is Darkfang the

Question: Is Darkfang the only Lowlander dragon they can talk to? beacuse i'd be canvassing cave-to-cave at this point...GO VARIAN!!!

LoriAnn | Fri, 07/02/2010

I hope you've not set up

I hope you've not set up Kearah for disaster.

Anna | Tue, 07/06/2010

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Boy brothers just cant seem

Boy brothers just cant seem to get along can they? XD But poor Flame...Loved the chapter! Post more!

Kay J Fields | Thu, 07/08/2010

Visit my writing/book review blog at http://transcribingthesedreams.blogspot.com/

What, what?  Varian isn't in

What, what?  Varian isn't in love with Kearah??  Hrm.  I don't believe that's true.... ;)

Clare Marie | Mon, 07/12/2010

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"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." -Bilbo Baggins [The Lord of the Rings]