Dark Cloud Rising
“If you’ll let me, I’ll be the best friend you’ll ever have. And I promise, Wu Fei, that I’ll be a good man.”
Garron was touched by the boy’s words. Without any training, Duo had already grasped what his relationship with his dragon would be. It was to be a unique, symbiotic relationship between dragon and man that would mature, deepen and last a lifetime. Many riders found themselves so satisfied with the emotional and mental connection they shared with their dragons that they had trouble relating to others. Relationships often suffered when that was the case. The rider cast his eyes towards Howard and felt deep sympathy for his old friend, now walking ahead of him. He sighed deeply, feeling grateful that he had at least found his match in Raven, his understanding wife. Her dragon Lilith had mated with Rayer many years ago. Thankfully, their unions had been successful. The mated dragons had produced two eggs, though only one hatched successfully. His wife had bourne him two children, the light of their lives, and together they lived happily, for the most part, content with their circumstance.
Yes, he’d been fortunate that things had worked out after Lilith’s initial selection of Rayer for her mate. He’d known that the female dragon favored his own, and he’d long contemplated the merits of accepting Raven as his lifemate over the tugging from his heart towards another direction. When the time came, and they had been caught up in their dragons’ lust, he made his choice and consummated his union with Raven along with their dragons.
He pondered for a moment on his good fortune, for not all matings were successful, at least on the rider’s part. Female dragons chose a mate for the duration of her life, and it was beneficial if the riders of those dragons also became life companions, though that wasn’t always the case. Yes, he felt himself fortunate, and sometimes guilty that he had fared better than others.
He hurried his steps in order to catch up with his old friend. “Howard,” he said, putting his arm around the taller man’s shoulders. “I think you have something to tell me.”
The grey-haired man sighed. “Very well, but I want your assurance that the information I impart to you will stay between you and I alone. No one must know of the boy’s heritage until he’s fully grown and a competent rider.”
The rider gave his friend a dubious look. “He will have to come to Rydell in two years, Howard. Everyone will know of his lineage the moment they set their eyes upon him.”
“But he is safe until then. At fourteen and in the Halls of Dornan, he’ll be under the protection of the King and all riders.”
Garron nodded. “That’s true. I can understand the reason behind your secrets.” He then pointed to the hut, fit for a hermit but not for his friend. “Is the boy reason you left Rydell, your home and friends?”
“Yes, he was one of the reasons, but the main motivation for my leaving was that I simply no longer belonged.”
“You’re the only one that felt that way, Howard. To the rest of us, you will always be our brother.” His words appeared to have an emotional effect on his friend for his eyes became surprisingly bright. Seeing his friend struggling to keep his composure, Garron abruptly changed the subject. “Now let’s get the fire rebuilt and those biscuits made for that skinny child you’re so fond of, and then you can tell me what you can about him.”
Three days later, Garron began his journey to the stone-carved city of Rydell on the back of his silver dragon. He carried with him a secret that was to be kept for the time being. He also had the reassurance and oath from Charn, the village speaker, that Duo and Wu Fei would be well taken care of by the people of the village of Ha’ber. As he left, a new dwelling was being erected at the edge of the village, a location where Wu Fei could move about more freely as he grew, something dragonlings did rapidly. At his strong urging, Howard was appointed as Duo’s guardian and mentor. He would act as the liaison between the speaker and the new rider, addressing any physical needs the boy might have that the village could provide, and standing as a mentor and friend.
Garron lifted his face into the cool wind that rushed by as he sat atop his dragon, skirting a low hanging cloud. He longed for home, his wife and children. Once there, he had every intention of staying put for a while. Despite that desire, he would ask the guild that he be the one to he journey back to the village of Ha’ber to check on the welfare the boy and black dragon as well as his old friend. No doubt the time would come when the three would cause a great stir in the Halls of Dornan and perhaps in Amulah itself. It was a time he both looked forward to and felt in dread of.
Howard straightened from his task of building up the fire. Winter had set in hard and fast this year. His gloved hands ached from the cold and once again he paused to wonder why he endured such frigid winters when he could be back in the warm Halls of Dornan with servants doing the work for him. His reason for being where he was chose that moment to burst through the door of their dwelling with a blast of cold air rushing in after him.
“Shut the door!” he barked at the boy in an irritated tone.
The door was promptly shut and the humble structure shook slightly from the force of it.
“Duo.” His tone again warned the boy.
“Sorry.” The lad bent to place the padded roll against the bottom of the door in an attempt to keep the cold draft out of their already chilly dwelling.
“Wu Fei is fed and comfortable?” Howard asked, studying the smaller figure for a moment, noting his lack of eye contact.
“Yeah, he’s fine.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
Under the thick jacket the boy had been given by a family in the village, the slender shoulders shrugged. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
Those were words that the older man had come to dread. He sighed and sat on the hearth, the warmest place in their humble abode. “Tell me, is it you or Wu Fei that is in trouble this time?”
With a stride that denoted anger, the boy went to the hearth and sat on the opposite end of his mentor. “It should be Kale that’s in trouble,” the boy said with a deep frown. “But we both know it will come back as either being mine or Wu Fei’s fault.”
Howard crossed his arms over his blanket covered chest and frowned. Even though Duo’s status in the village had been elevated from beggar boy to dragon rider, the people of Ha’ber continued to be a superstitious lot. They remained stubborn about seeing Duo as anything other than a black cloud amongst them, and having a black, temperamental dragon hadn’t helped. “Just tell me what happened before I hear it from the speaker.”
Duo had been working to take off his gloves and, once his hands were free, he set the sodden things down on the warm stone to dry. He then put his pink fingers towards the flames beneath the pot that was holding their supper. “Kale was just being his nasty self, throwing balls of snow at me that just happened to have rocks in them. He had Jaff and Hagar with him. When they’re together they tend to be even meaner than usual.”
“Did they hurt you?” Howard asked, reigning in his mounting anger.
“Nah, but they would have if it wasn’t for the thick clothing Jaff‘s mother made me.” A small smile began to form on the boy’s pink lips. “It’s rather funny, isn’t it? Jaff’s mother unknowingly gave me a gift that kept me safe from her own bully.”
“There’s nothing funny about this,” Howard snarled with a deep frown. “It’s shameful the way these people still treat you.” His anger quickly dispelled any feeling of being cold that he’d had moments before. “You are a dragon rider. You deserve respect not...” His arms waved wildly as he gestured to their surroundings and added, “This!”
“Easy, Howard.” The boy leaned over and put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “It might not be perfect, but it’s a lot better than I’ve ever had before. And I’m not complaining,” he said, with a look that told the older man that he shouldn’t either. “No use getting upset when you told me to tell you what happened, and I did... kind of.”
That last part of Duo’s sentence told Howard that there was more to the story. “What happened?” he asked with a forbearing sigh.
“The stupid morons treated me like that when Wu Fei was with me.”
Howard slapped his gloved hand to his forehead and groaned. Dragons were by nature fiercely loyal and protective of their riders, and Wu Fei had proved to be no different and maybe even more so. But the black dragon, now the size of a cow, had an attitude unlike the dragons he’d known. Of course, he was young, and that excused much of the trouble he got into, but there was a stubbornness and a belligerence that Howard could only assume was part of his foreign nature. He and Duo had their hands full caring for the quickly growing and temperamental creature.
“He charged them, butting Jaff and Hagar with his head and then hit Kale with his tail, sending him flying about twenty feet.” A chuckle and amused smile lit up the boy’s handsome face. “It was something to see, Howard.” The boy’s chin then rose, showing his more stubborn side. “Wu Fei is a good defender and I told him so.” Duo obviously knew it was wrong for Wu Fei to attack the boys, but he was demonstrating to Howard that he wouldn’t reprimand his dragon for it. Howard knew that neither would he. If he’d been present, he’d have head butted them also.
“He is a good defender,” Howard grinned back. “And I’m glad he gave Kale the spanking I’ve wanted to give him for years.”
Duo’s eyes widened for a fraction of a moment before he and Howard began to laugh... just as the pounding began on their door.
Spring came slowly and not a moment too soon, bringing warmer days that melted away the cold winter snows. It had been a rather severe winter, claiming several of the elderly and two of the youngest in the village. Howard was especially glad for the thaw and the relief it gave his aching bones, which he claimed couldn’t take the cold much longer.
On one bright and less chilly morning, he led Duo and his black dragon through the meadow and back towards his old hut at the base of the mountain. They passed it by the dilapidated structure and followed the trail that would lead them up a winding path to the top of the over-shadowing mountain. The climb was a laborious one for the dragon, for rocks shifted under his feet with each step he took. Duo dutifully stayed by his side, encouraging and lightly teasing the struggling dragon, now the height of a village dwelling.
It had been planned ahead of time that while the three spent the day on the mountainside, the villagers would erect yet another dwelling for the growing dragon, one that would hopefully last until the next winter, when they would most likely have to build something larger yet again. Several times Howard had tried to urge Charn to build a dwelling large enough for Wufei to dwell in at his full height, lessening the amount of time and energy spent on the repeated chore. But the village people were stubborn and set in their ways, unwilling to deviate from their original plan of building a new structure for the dragon that drew people to Ha’ber from far and wide in order to see him. Pride, Howard had named their stubbornness, for Charn had admitted that all who came to the village and visited the dragon’s lodging would judge them by how well they performed their task at seeing to his welfare.
And so while the new hut was being built, the man, boy and dragon labored up the steep slope until they came to an outcropping of white rock that jutted out from the side of the mountain, high above the valley below. There the three rested for a short spell. Howard and the boy ate some of the dried fruit, cheese and bread they’d brought with them while Wu Fei stretched out his body on the warm rocks and soaked in the warmth of the brightly shining sun.
“So why’d we come all the way up here?” Duo asked before biting off a large chunk of bread and chewing on it, his eyes filled with curiosity and fixed on Howard.
“Wu Fei is old enough to start using his wings. Today our dragonling becomes a true dragon when he learns to fly.”
The black dragon’s dark eyes opened and regarded the man. “Wu Fei says he’s tired from the climb,” Duo translated his dragon’s thoughts.
“Then he’ll be relieved to know that once he learns to fly he’ll probably never have to climb a mountain again,” Howard said, looking at the black-as-night creature. “And once he begins to fly, we’ll have a hard time getting him to come down.”
That statement received a slight reaction from the dragon. His head lifted from the warm stone and tilted it to the side, his eyes never leaving the older man. Howard detected a question in the creature’s jeweled eyes.
“We’ll begin right after we’ve finish eating,” he said, guessing at what the dragon wanted to know.
He must have guessed right for Wu Fei put his head back down on the warm stone and closed his eyes, looking disinterested. The twitching of his long tail gave away the fact that he was either feeling anxious or anticipation for his first flight.
A short while later the dragon stood at the edge of the precipice that offered a stunning view of the valley below as well as the village of Ha’ber, nestled in its center. “Stretch out your wings,” Howard instructed the dragon as he and Duo stood off to the side, safely out of reach of the magnificent black, leather wings that had been frequently examined during the many months since Wu Fei’s hatching.
Wu Fei complied to the man’s instruction, slowly unfolding and then stretching out his wings. With the sun shining through them, the membrane between the strong cartilage supports appeared to be a deep, blood red in color. The thin leather was strong, yet slightly diaphanous when the wings were stretched taunt, and the difference in color between the wings and that of the black scales covering the rest of the dragon was startlingly beautiful in contrast. Howard had never seen anything like it, nor had he heard any tales of any other dragons having wings the color of blood. Hearing the quick intake of Duo’s breath as he gasped at the magnificence of his dragon, Howard turned his attention back to the boy.
“You’re beautiful, Wu Fei,” Duo whispered with awe in his voice and shining in his eyes. His praise received an immediate answer in the form of a purr from his dragon, showing the creature’s appreciation for his rider’s praise. Howard had repeatedly told the newest rider that dragons were predisposed to flattery, that they craved it, especially from their riders.
“When you feel ready, Wu Fei, you will leap off the edge and stretch your wings out fully. The wind will catch beneath them and you will glide with ease down to the valley below. However, if you don’t want to climb back up here again, you’ll flap your wings and figure out a way to stay in the air and return back to this ledge.”
A wave of uncertainty passed from dragon to rider, then unexpectedly Wu Fei pulled in his wings and turned to take a few steps back. He stretched his neck out so that his head was only inches from his rider.
The boy closed the small gap between them, placing his hands on both sides of the large head and turned his face to place his cheek on the dragon’s muzzle. “You can do this, Wu Fei,” the boy said with confidence to the black beast. “Your wings are strong and will carry us far away from here one day.”
If I should fall... the dragon began, but his doubts were instantly cut off by his rider.
“You won’t fall, you’ll soar. And one day, when you’re much bigger, I’ll go with you. It will be just you and me and the clouds.”
I like clouds.
Duo chuckled, turned his head, and kissed the hard, leathery snout. “Yes, I know you do. Now go catch one for me.”
Howard stood back, watching the boy as he spoke to his dragon, feeling both a sense of pride and a touch of jealousy. Duo was a good boy with a kind heart. He had the potential to be a very good rider, maybe one of the best. The boy had suffered a rough beginning in his life, but he was sure it would prove to be of benefit to him once he reached the Halls of Dornan. He had little doubt that there would be a time of reckoning once Duo’s heritage was discovered. The boy would need a fortitude of character to endure the unknown ahead of him, which is why he hadn’t intervened during his childhood as much as he would have liked. The boy needed to become tough and hearty, which six years without a mother and at the mercy of the village had given him. He’d experienced both kindness and cruelty during that time and, in his estimation, the boy had come through it a better person. Yes, when the truth came out Duo would probably never speak to him again, but it was a choice he’d had to make and he couldn’t regret it now that it was nearly over and the lad was now a dragon rider.
Duo stepped back away from his dragon, an encouraging smile on his face. Wu Fei resumed his place at the edge of the cliff and stretched wings. His long neck stretched upwards so that his face was pointed towards the thin clouds dotting the sky above them.
“Now, Wu Fei,” the older man ordered. “Leap from the ledge and catch the wind.” At Howard’s command, the black dragon took two mighty steps forward and jumped off the precipice.
Duo felt Wu Fei’s initial fear disappear almost as quickly as it had come. It was immediately replaced by sense of surprise and then pure wonder. Duo ran to the mountain’s edge, to stand in the place where his dragon had stood moments before. The sound of large wings flapping was clearly heard and then the black dragon rose up in the air, coming level with the two humans before he climbed even higher. Howard and Duo both shouted encouragement and praise to the flying dragon as he lengthened the distance between them They watched with delight as the black dragon discovered how to maneuver his body in the air by bending his tail and adjusting his wings.
It is wonderful and freeing, the excited dragon told the boy.
I can’t wait until we can fly together, Duo replied, his bright eyes never leaving the diminishing black dot in the early afternoon sky.
The shout of several villagers declaring the arrival of a dragon was heard from inside the humble dwelling belonging to Howard. The young dragon rider looked up from the box of sand that his mentor had devised for teaching him letters and numbers.
Howard sighed at the interruption. “Go ahead. I’ll join you in a moment.” Duo was out of his seat and flying out of the dwelling’s lone door in a heartbeat. The older man had been expecting Garron to return now that winter had passed. His interest in Duo and his black dragon had been more than evident when they’d last met, and Howard was fairly certain his old friend was going to be surprised by the two. They weren’t exactly what one would call typical as far as dragons and riders were concerned.
A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth as he followed his young charge out the door and into the mid-afternoon sunshine. He was thinking of his old friend and how pleased he was going to be at the changes in both the boy and dragon.
Rayer landed close to the three-sided shelter that housed the smaller but rapidly growing black dragon. Duo ran along towards the silver dragon and his rider with his typical enthusiasm and beaming smile while the people of the village paused from their tasks to join him in greeting the dragon and rider.
“Garron!” Duo called out the rider’s name as the man loosened his leg from the last strap that held him in his seat. The older rider turned from his task to look at the boy. The smile on his face soon changed to an expression of astonishment.
“Duo?” he asked, amazed at the transformation of the boy since he’d last seen him.
“Who else?” the boy pouted, looking momentarily hurt.
Garron jumped down to the ground and gave the boy a quick embrace, noting that the black dragon was drawing near. “Look at you,” he held Duo out at arm’s length to examine the changes in him. “You’ve filled out some and grown. With your hair brushed and your being all cleaned up, I barely recognized you,” he said, laughing as he teased the boy.
“Ah... yeah.” Duo didn’t exactly look pleased. “Well your hair seems grayer and Wu Fei says you’ve gotten wider around your belly, yet I still recognize you.”
“Sorry,” Garron apologized, still amused. “I guess I should have just said that you look hale and hearty.”
Duo’s cheeks blushed slightly. “Then I guess you look...” he paused to think of an appropriate word, then his eyes lit up as he thought of one that Howard taught him. “Distinguished. You look distinguished.”
“Very diplomatic of you,” Garron said as he patted the lad on the back. He then turned his attention to the black dragon, now warily eyeing Rayer.
The silver dragon, still several times larger than Wu Fei, extended his long neck towards the smaller dragon who mirrored Rayer’s actions until their noses gently touched. Then their scaled faces slid past each other’s to press their necks together briefly before pulling back. Duo felt an immediate sense of calm coming from his dragon.
“Rayer has just taught your dragon the standard hello for their kind,” Garron explained.
“He liked it,” Duo said as Wu Fei moved closer to him and rested his face gently against his rider’s shoulder, wanting the contact.
“Is he flying yet?” Garron asked.
“Yes,” Duo and Howard answered together, both looking pleased.
“I thought so,” the older rider said with a pleased smile. “No doubt he will benefit from flying with Rayer. He can show your little one how to hunt from above. I can see by the rate he’s growing that he’ll be needing bigger game very soon.”
“He’s hungry all the time,” Duo told him.
“Well I’m sure he’s been eating small game, and has probably cleaned out all the rodents in the area. With you’re permission, Rayer can take him out first thing in the morning to hunt for their breakfast.”
Duo looked to his dragon and nodded. “Wu Fei would like that.”
“Am I right in assuming that the dwelling adjacent to Wufei’s shelter is your home now?”
“Yes,” Howard answered. “The people of this village are to be commended for their generosity to the new rider and Wu Fei.” He spoke loudly enough so that those standing nearby would hear his flattering words of praise.
“I’ll be sure to express my gratitude to them from the guild for their efforts.” Garron’s eyes once again studied the boy, pleased to see that he wore clothes that were fairly new, clean and that he now radiated the good health that came from care and regular meals.
Duo walked alongside the two men as they made their way back to their dwelling, asking Garron a new question every few moments. Howard seemed to be irritated with the constant chatting while Garron appeared amused.
Three cups were placed on the table and a clay jug was removed from the high shelves. “Duo, get some bread and cheese out,” Howard told the boy over his shoulder, and the lad scampered to do as he was asked.
“This is the local brew,” Howard said while generously pouring the amber liquid into two of the cups. The third cup received not even a quarter full. “It’s quite good, actually, though it can take some getting used to.”
Duo came to the table carrying two cloth-covered items and set them down. He carefully unwrapped them to reveal a loaf of bread and a large hunk of cheese. “Maleen the baker makes the bread for us every day,” Duo said with appreciation. “And Dirk the goat herder, makes and gives us cheese weekly.”
“They’ve done well by you, Duo,” Garron replied, and his praise of the villagers earned him one of the boy’s bright smiles.
“I’m learning to write numbers and letters,” Duo stated with some pride.
“He’s a quick study,” Howard added quickly, seeing a slight frown beginning on his old friend’s face. The fact that Duo lacked knowledge of such things could possibly hinder his advancement once he entered the Halls of Dornan. He gave Garron a look that said it would be all right. He had over a year left to teach the boy the rudiments of language and numbers.
Garron picked up his cup, took a sip of the local brew and realized Howard was right. It was eye-watering strong, and his throat burned as the cool liquid passed down to his belly. After the shock of the mouthful eased, he found a surprisingly nice, fruity aftertaste.
“Hey, why so little?” Duo complained with a pout after seeing the small amount of drink in his cup.
“Because it’s not for children,” Howard stated. “Even though it has a sweet taste to it, the brew can make a grown man or woman do foolish things. An over indulgence can make you seem a fool and very ill the next morning.”
Duo stared at the cup as if debating whether or not to drink from it.
“Sip it,” Garron advised. “A drink like this should be taken in small amounts in order to be enjoyable.” Tilting his cup up, he demonstrated to the boy how it should be imbibed.
Picking the cup up with both hands, the two men watched as the boy pressed it to his lips and tilted it back. His reaction was immediate. The cup went back down to the table and the boy’s face scrunched up with disgust. “That’s terrible.”
Both men chuckled. “It’s an acquired taste,” Howard said, picking up his own cup to take a sip.
“A drink for a man,” Garron said with a wink of his eye.
Duo looked suspiciously at the two men and then to the cup before him. He then promptly reached for the bread and cheese.
“So what news do you have from Rydell?” Howard asked.
Garron’s eyes shifted to Duo, busy cutting his bread. “Elia is dead.”
Duo looked up from slicing the bread at the sudden stillness in the room that came from the announcement. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“Give Garron the first piece and some cheese,” Howard said. Then as the boy reluctantly bent his head to finish his task, Howard gave his friend a quick shake of his head, warning him away from the subject.
“Was this Elia a friend?” Duo persisted.
“Prince Elia Haldash was the brother of King Vourdan,” Garron answered. His reply didn’t seem to impress the boy as he handed a large piece of bread topped with a generous chunk of cheese to the rider.
“So what happened to him?”
Garron gave an apologetic shrug to his friend as he felt compelled to answer the inquisitive boy. “He fell from one of the palace’s windows.”
“And that would kill someone, falling out of a window?”
Howard smiled at the boy’s innocent question. “You recall that I told you that the city of Rydell is carved out of the side of a mountain, and above it are the Halls of Dornan and then the royal palace. A fall from the outer walls or windows means certain death.”
Duo handed the cut bread and cheese to Garron, looking thoughtful as he began to cut some for himself. “If the royal home is up so high, why do they have windows people can fall out of?”
“Because, curious boy,” Garron answered with a grin, “even royal dwellings need light inside.”
“Was his fall considered an accident?” Howard asked.
“There was no scent of wine on him when he was prepared for burial, so he apparently wasn’t drunk. Because he lived his entire life on top of the mountain, it’s hard to believe he could just fall out of a window.”
After popping a piece of cheese in his mouth, Duo’s head tilted to the side. “They want to leave now,” he said, and both men knew he was speaking of the dragons.
“They’re going to fly around the valley.” Garron spoke his dragon’s words. “I told Rayer to take good care of your black dragon.” Then the ground shook under their feet as the two dragons took several large steps preparatory to launching themselves skyward.
Duo refocused on the two men as the sound of flapping wings could be heard. “He loves to fly. I can’t wait until I can go with him.”
“Your time will come,” Howard said before taking another bite of his cheese. He chewed the mouthful a few times before pushing the rest to the side of his cheek in order to talk. “You need to concentrate on your lessons and spend less time dreaming of chasing the clouds with your dragon.”
The boy shrugged his shoulder, then popped a piece of bread into his mouth. Howard turned his attention back to the other man. “How is the king taking Elia’s death?”
“Not well,” Garron answered, sobering. “Despite the fact that his younger brother seemed to stir up trouble everywhere he went, he and the king were close. To Elia’s credit, he never envied Vourdan’s kingship. I can’t say he was overly supportive, but he never coveted the crown for himself.”
Howard frowned. “The prince was always too full of himself. He was born too handsome and with the kind of charm that could pry a dragon from his rider.” He shook his head in disapproval. “If he’d put as much thought into helping the King as he did making mischief, he could have been an asset to his brother instead of an embarrassment.
“What did he do?” Duo asked, enjoying the meal as well as the conversation.
There was no fondness in Garron’s voice as he replied to the boy’s question. “Elia frequently sought out ways to cause trouble between the riders’ guild and the royals living atop the mountain. He instigated fights, seduced riders or their mates then pitted them against each other, causing jealousy and strife.” Garron sighed deeply. “But mind you, he could charm a snake out of its skin and smile all the while. He confused all those who spent any time with him, including his close friends and brother.”
“Why did he do those things?” Duo asked. He’d always struggled to understand why people acted the way they did. Frequently, he’d been confused and hurt by some of the villagers who treated him kindly when it had been their turn to feed him, and then he’d hear them speaking badly of him, calling him filthy, smelly and a dark cloud. Then there were those few older boys of the village who were well behaved in front of an adult yet found every chance they could to taunt and harass him when no one was around to see their actions. Thankfully, most of that had ended after Wu Fei chose him as his rider.
“I don’t know,” Garron answered thoughtfully. “I think causing trouble gave Prince Elia a sense of power. He dallied with people’s lives as if it were a harmless game. I can’t be certain, but it’s my belief that he lacked a conscience.” Seeing the question in the boy’s eyes, he clarified his statement. “It’s a part of you that tells you what is right and what is wrong.”
Duo tilted his head. “Like Wu Fei?”
Both men laughed at the boy’s charming innocence. “Does your dragon do that for you?” Garron asked, knowing all dragons had a strong sense of right and wrong and often corrected their rider if their actions clashed with his dragon’s sense of propriety.
Duo nodded. “He guides me to make good choices, telling me when I do good and definitely lets me know when I’ve done something stupid. Are all dragons so...” he paused to search for the word to describe what he felt from the black dragon. The men had more or less expected him to infer that Wu Fei was wise, or knowing. However, Duo’s eyes lit up as he found the word he searched for. “Demanding?”
Howard gave a snort of amusement and a nod of his head, agreeing with the boy’s choice of words. “Not always,” Garron answered, also amused. “The dragons seem to choose a rider that fits them. Perhaps Wu Fei needed someone who could accept and learn from his strong ideas of right and wrong, or maybe he needed a rider who could help buffer some of his exactness, smooth out the edges, so to speak.”
There was a crease of Duo’s brow as the boy struggled with the concepts the rider had just given him. Garron realized the lad didn’t completely understand what he’d meant.
“So do ya mean that Wu Fei has a lot to teach me, or is there something I can teach him?”
“I don’t know, what do you think?” The rider waited patiently for the boy to figure it out.
“I think Wu Fei is more wise than I am and that I would do well to listen to him. But maybe he can learn from me, too. Like that time we were playing the seeker game and he hid in the storage shed where they keep the newest rugs. The whole village was mad at us when his tail knocked over a couple of shelves and took out half a wall. If he’d asked me, I’d have told him that was a stupid place to hide. Everyone always looks there first.”
Garron threw back his head and guffawed loudly at the idea of the boy and dragon hiding and seeking each other in the small village. Leaning over the table, the rider ruffled the boy’s hair before sitting back on the bench again. “You’re a smart boy, Duo. Always rely on your dragon’s wisdom, but you must also become wise in order to make your own decisions and then consult Wu Fei for his opinion.”
“Like the king,” Duo said. “Howard says he has a lot of advisors but that he makes the final decision.”
“That’s correct.” Garron gave Howard an approving nod. It was important for the boy to be taught about life beyond Ha’ber, for in just over a year he would leave the safety of the Gerza Valley and be introduced to a whole different way of life.
Wu Fei is a flyer of great form, graceful in the air and wondrous to behold, Rayer said, cutting into the conversation. Garron relayed his dragon’s praise of the black dragon to Duo, who nodded his enthusiastic agreement.
“When the sun shines through the thinner part of his wings, they become almost transparent and the color of blood,” the boy informed him. Then with an apologetic grin he added, “I’m afraid he’s going to be so puffed up by my praise of his beauty and abilities that he won’t be able to fly straight,”
Again Garron laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Dragons never seem to get enough of flattery, Duo. They crave and thrive on it.”
“I noticed,” the boy grinned. Then his eyes glazed over a bit. “Wu Fei is going to show Rayer where a herd of wilderbeasts usually graze. I don’t think they’re going to wait until tomorrow to eat, he’s too excited about hunting with another dragon.”
“Rayer can teach your young dragon many things.” Garron said.
A knock sounded on the door, interrupting their conversation. When it was opened, the village speaker presented himself to the rider to boast of the village’s care for the young dragon and rider in order to receive the coins promised by the riders’ guild.