Wendell and the Dragon's Heart

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Chapter 53

They galloped and cantered on into the early morning, never stopping to rest, and Wendell could hear Hangs conferring darkly with the other commanders as they went.

Wendell’s mood was dismal as the sun began rising up on the horizon. He itched in all the worst places, and the saddle seemed to dig into his skin whenever the horse turned. He slunk in his saddle, wanting to holler with annoyance, but he couldn’t. He was desperately tired, not even having gotten any sleep at all the previous night. But the road continued blearily for a long time, until he was ready to tip out of the saddle.

Soon they had reached the branch in the path, where they had gone before. He looked up at the dark sky above to the left, where the Lonely Wilds was. The Aelahna pass lay below, and he looked down at it longingly. But they were not going there this time. Before, when he had gone past the Lonely Wilds, he had briefly imagined how it would be and then forgotten it, but now he felt the long-forgotten feelings of fear and dread sneaking in.

They climbed up the rocky path, the horses’ large hoofs clambering and stomping quickly over the rocks, and Wendell clung to his horse, feeling weary. Questions went around inside without any words, never getting anywhere.

At least before he had faced death willingly, but he didn’t even care whether Violet lived or died. She had ruined everything.

A horrible, seething feeling went through him as he heard her taunting voice again, then saw Karen’s humiliated eyes as she dropped the flowers.

Soon, after an eternity of bumpy misery, the path leveled out a bit and the land steepened on either side into crumbly slopes that looked as if they could collapse at any moment. The men went through them silently, looking up watchfully at either side. Wendell noticed that some of them kept one hand rested on their sword hilt. In the distance now and then, black shapes flew through the sliver of sky, but it was hard to see how large they were.

Hangs stopped at the head of the train, looking up at the sky. His great horse stirred a bit, but he calmed it harshly. Wendell heard something like the memory of a bad, distant dream, a rising wail. It turned into a fierce screech, and a shadow flashed over them. Hangs turned his horse about, the hooves kicking up into the air, and shouted to the men to watch the sky.

The horses were pressed along more quickly now, almost galloping through the treacherous piles of rock, their mouths spitting foam. Now Wendell’s horse reared up, and he almost fell onto the sharp ground.

Hangs yelled something and drew his sword, and Wendell heard men doing the same behind him. He clung to the horse’s neck as it swerved about.

A bloodthirsty cry deafened Wendell’s ears, making him scream with pain, as blackness descended over them. The twang of many arrows sliced the air faintly, and the wail rose with fervent, hawkish rage.

Then he was on the ground, looking up at the sky. For one moment a huge eye stared down at him, merciless. Then the beak turned and snapped at a rider, knocking them off their mount. There were cries of fear and war.

The hawk rose up, talons bared at Wendell as he tried to turn over, but somehow couldn’t. Hangs struck with his broadsword, slicing through feathers, and someone dragged Wendell up and away.

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