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Part 2: One on One
There was no other word for it. Both dragons flew with a grace and ease that vied with their seeming bulk.
Crouched low over the saddle, Peder watched the land disappear with each beat of mighty wings. The trees of the Wyndor Wood grew smaller and smaller until the whole of the forest was but a blotch of dark green upon the quilt of the land below.
After reaching the desired height, both beasts leveled out and glided. Peder was grateful for the cloak in the high-altitude air. One minute the surrounding atmosphere was clear and bright, the next they were swimming in cotton clouds. The feeling was exhilarating.
Lost in the awe and adventure of flight, it took him a moment to realize someone was talking to him. In his mind. It was Valtiramiir, bringing to Peder's thoughts the stories of mindspeak between man and select beasts. Obviously, they were true.
Enjoying the view, young Peder?
“Aye, Lady,” he answered sheepishly, bringing to focus her slender head and the bright amber of her left eye. “I never dreamed anything like this would happen.” His gaze strayed once again to the wispy clouds, now floating aimlessly above.
It is a wonder to experience, she replied, adding. All from the mighty hand of Ichaldar, or in your tongue, Eliadan, the Master-Maker. I never tire of it myself. It gives one energy to see the whole picture, yes?
Peder agreed and they were silent, feeling the wind.
Keighvyn tells me your thief has been spotted. Valtiramiir's voice remarked a moment later.
Instantly, Peder was alert.
“Where?” he asked -- of course, having only to think of the question.
Two miles distance by air, maybe three by ground. He has stopped for a rest. Peder glanced below as the world flew by, trying to get a glimpse of the criminal.
“He travels fast.” He felt the she-dragon stop flying and for a moment they floated as a feather in the cool air. Looking ahead, he saw Jaron and Keighvyn begin a circling descent. Valtiramiir followed suit.
“What's the plan?”
She was quiet and the young Guard knew the two dragons were conversing.
We will alight. You will then continue on feet. Keighvyn and I are unfit for such, what's the word... sneakery, as you must use to catch this man. Peder grinned to himself at her grammar skills, but didn't dare correct her.
You think my Gondish amusing?
Were it not for the leather strap, Peder would have fallen the last few feet to the ground. He stammered a reply as the dragon's forelegs touched, realizing he may have just insulted a dragon, of all beings, thanks to his mother and her grammar teaching.
“N-n-no, not at all, your ladyship. I confess my thoughts get out of hand many a time, and more than once I've spoken without thinking, but this time, I thought without thinking...” Mentally, he slapped himself. That didn't make any sense.
Then he heard what could only be laughter. Deep, hearty laughter coming from Valtiramiir.
Oh, dear Peder, you make perfect sense. Haha, too true is your statement regarding thinking. A wise draiga once said, 'Tis folly of mouth and must be stepped on.' Now it was Peder's turn to laugh.
“I like that! Very wise, indeed.”
After leaving both dragons in a small copse deep inside the ancient wood of Wyndor, Jaron and Peder disappeared into the foliage. The sun was high noon by the time they stopped, though the thick canopy of leaves and branches made Peder feel it was more like late evening. Bits of sunlight managed to peek through, assuring him light still existed. They had covered the three-mile distance in good time.
Peder could feel the long hours of endurance and “sneakery” training taking over. His mind was clear, muscles relaxed, and footsteps light. He just had to keep up with the Elf.
* * *
Yoshan. It has been a long time, the man prayed. He was sitting at the foot of a large tree, elbows on his knees, head in his hands.
He sighed. I am tired of it all, Yoshan. Oblivious to his surroundings, he chuckled dryly. I know You're the reason I lost it; the reason I failed to assist in the crippling of this nation. Myrander once said You are a forgiving God. If so, grant me a second chance.
He raised his head dismally, gazing ahead at nothing in particular. I could run. And keep running. But one day, I will be caught. Involuntarily, he turned sharply, as though averting his eyes. Grant me a sign of Your mercy, Yoshan! Send to me something – anything – to show me You exist. Help me make this right.
* * *
At last, after what seemed an hour, he found him. Well under cover of the dense brush and foliage, Peder observed a hooded figure and a horse, eating something from the man's hand. He then watched the man turn and sit to recline against a giant trunk, head in hands, obviously resting.
Suddenly, Peder caught a glimpse of something to his left, twenty feet away. It was Jaron, pressed against a tree. He watched as the Elf brought a hand to his face, placed index finger between his eyes and softly jerk his hand in a “go” motion. Inwardly, he sighed at the signal.
Distractions seemed to be all he was good for.
Moving forward, as quietly as possible, he stepped from tree to tree until he was only twenty feet from the figure. Peder held his breath. The horse was happily munching some treat on the opposite side of the tree which the man was leaning on, and didn't seem to notice the shadow creeping closer.
He moved until he had halved the distance between himself and the man, then leaned against an ancient trunk that not even six grown men could reach around, and folded his arms.
“You know,” he said suddenly, and just as quickly the figure was on his feet, crouched. “You should change careers. The life of a thief is far too risky, in my opinion.” As he spoke the last remark, he slowly held out his hands, palms up.
“Easy. I've only come for the bundle.” The man hesitated, crouched as if ready to pounce. His eyes flickered to the left and right.
“You're not alone.” His voice was low and raspy, as if he didn't talk often. This time, Peder hesitated, then shrugged.
“True, that. I won't lie to you.” The man was silent, still crouching. “Look, man,” Peder was stalling now. Where was Jaron? “I–” But before he could finish, the figure moved. Only Peder's instinctive reflex saved him. He pulled his sword and blocked the dagger just in time.
They circled. Dagger against long-sword. Peder's own bow and quiver had been left with Valtiramiir.
But the battle was brief. Peder blocked a lunge and thrust. The man feinted to the right, spun and hooked the hilt of his dagger to Peder's head.
He grunted and crumpled to the ground.
Vision blurry, he could make out the man riding away as he lost consciousness.
When he came to, Jaron was at his side. Peder raised to an elbow and gingerly touched the back of his scalp. He groaned. “That went well.”
Jaron grinned. In remembrance, Peder's grimace turned to a glare.
“Where were you?”
“A moment after I signaled, I noticed another man, unfamiliar, watching our man. He left suddenly. I was too late to stop you, so, I followed him.”
“Where did he go?”
“Nearly a mile off course there's a group of riders. I believe they are tracking our thief. He may have accepted the wrong job.”
Rubbing his temples, Peder said nothing more. Jaron stood and moved to where the thief had been sitting.
“What did I do wrong?”
In the quiet of the forest the question was so unexpected, Jaron nearly jumped. He had been watching the immediate area around them, allowing his partner to catch his breath. Now, he turned abruptly to see the young man hadn't moved. A spark of fear entered his mind.
When Jaron didn't answer, Peder looked up. Mentally, the Elf sighed in relief. Anger, not a serious injury. He moved to where Peder sat and joined him on the damp, forest ground.
“How could I let him get so close?” Peder grunted. “A common thief!” Unconsciously, he crumpled the fallen leaf of an oak at whose feet they sat.
“He is no common thief. If he had wanted to kill you, I have no doubt he would have done so.”
“Oh, well... thanks, Cap.”
Jaron's eyes narrowed at the sarcastic statement as he watched Peder moodily toss a twig at a neighboring trunk, none too gently. He sighed.
“My point is, this deal is much bigger than we imagined. If our thief is who I believe him to be, our mission's importance just increased." Jaron stood. “Come. Their camp cannot be far, and we must catch our man before they do.” He offered a hand, but Peder didn't take it.
“What makes you think I can help?”
The words were bitter.
Jaron squatted before his partner and looked him right in the eyes.
“Peder,” he began, his tone dead serious. “One defeat is not worthy of surrender. At times, failure is necessary to gain strength. Without defeat, we are weak. We would learn nothing from the mistakes needed in order to go on.”
“What if I had to take him again, Jaron? Or someone else?” The younger man's eyes almost pleaded. “For four years I've trained. We've undergone missions similar to this one and never before have I felt so... unprepared. So unworthy. What if I blow it? Again?”
The Elf's hand gripped his shoulder and his eyes stared deep into those of Peder's.
The Elf's hand gripped his shoulder and his eyes stared deep into those of Peder's.
“You are quick of wit and slow to anger. Do not doubt yourself, Peder. Why do you think you were chosen for a Guard?” Peder chuckled dryly.
“Because I failed miserably at every other task?”
“Ilanwa.” Untrue, said Jaron, shaking his head. “Because of your honesty. Because of your humility. Because of your love for your fellow man. It takes more than strength and skill to become your kingdom's hero. And a great deal more courage to keep it a secret.
“No one will ever know?”
“Lá. No, it is not necessary.”
Peder nodded, the look of determination set on his face. He couldn't help the bit of pride that grew in his heart. Not the bad kind, mind you, but rather the good sense of a job well done. He knew his mission as a Guard, secretive as it is, was important to the safety of his country. He straightened his weary shoulders. So be it.
Peder accepted Jaron's hand and allowed the Elf to pull him to his feet. He blinked. To clear the mush his brain felt like, he shook his head and looked to see Jaron watching him.
“I'm alright,” he grinned, rubbing his neck. “My head's just pounding like a hammer to an anvil.”
“No wonder. You've got a knot the size of an egg.”
“Really?” Peder grimaced, not even bothering to feel his scalp. He believed him. “That's what I get for tryin' to be sociable.”
“You'll get over it.”
“You'll get over it.”
“Sure. I'd like to sock him one. See how he feels.” Jaron laughed.
“From what I've seen and heard, he could run circles around the both of us. We aren't just dealing with a petty thief. This is a trained professional.” Peder humphed, then looked at Jaron in question.
“What did you mean when you said, 'If he is who you think he is?' ”
“I have a hunch...” Peder let it go.
“Well, it'll be different next time we meet, I'll make sure of that.”
“Don't get your hopes up. They may get to him first.”
Peder looked up from dusting his cloak.
“That serious?” Jaron nodded. “How far ahead?”
“Nearly an hour now.”
“You mean I was out that long?”
“Quite. He got you good.” Peder humphed again. Jaron ignored him and continued, “I've called for Keighvyn and Valtiramiir. They should be here any moment.”
Leaning against the oak, the young man shook debris from his boot.
“How'd you do that? At this distance?”
“Simple. I just said, 'Keighvyn.' ”
“That's it? No secret whistle or horn or something?”
Jaron shook his head.
“We may never know the full capabilities of dragon-kynd, Peder, but what we do know is beyond incredible. Truly a Master-design.”
Peder nodded, shaking his other boot.
“And you talked with dragons, every day, back in your homeland?”
“Yes. The bond between Man, or Elf, and one of the High Beasts is strong. Nigh unbreakable,” at this statement, Jaron's face saddened. “Haldiiro, a blue dragon, was my closest mellon, friend. He died in battle many years ago.” The Elf's expression took on a far away look, and Peder realized his friend held many secrets. Deep secrets.
“I'm sorry. Why haven't you mentioned any of this before?”
“Not necessary. And, no one asked.”
“Ah. That would explain it.” Peder gave Jaron a playful punch, trying to cheer him up. “You're an intimidating character, you know.” Jaron chuckled.
“That's exactly what my brother used to tell me.” Peder froze, eyes wide. With a hand on his hip, he pointed an accusing finger at the Elf captain.
“Wait. Now you have a brother?” At this moment, they could hear the approach of wings. Jaron shrugged.
Peder watched him walk off, still frozen in position. He dropped his hand and mimicked the Elf's shrug.
“Of course. What's new?”
Thanks for reading!
Find Part 1 here.
Find Part 1 here.