He woke up, and everything was still. Wendell sat up a bit, clutching at his side. It was wrapped with wet cloth. Then a dizziness overtook him and he flopped down again. When he opened his eyes, Hangs and another looked down at him. He heard the general’s gruff voice.
“He’ll be okay in a few days. At least he didn’t break any bones. From now on we’ll send a scouting party ahead, even if it means less protection at the rear guard.”
For the next days or nights, Wendell had a consciousness of being carried along on something. Slowly he became more conscious, and finally was able to sit on his horse again, although going more slowly than before.
At last the pass widened out up ahead, and Hangs brought the line to a standstill. The scouting party came hurrying back, and when they reached the main group, Wendell could see a look of fear. Hangs motioned for Wendell to follow him, and they went up alone, until he could see a flat valley ahead, full of dark twisted rocks.
“I always hate to lose a good fighter,” Hangs said, sounding almost wistful. “If it were up to me, I’d train you for a general and forget about the king’s spoiled kid.”
He put out his hand for Wendell to shake, who didn’t take it.
“I’m honored to have known you. If you come back without Violet though, the king will have your head.”
With that, Hangs turned and led his horse back down. Wendell got off the horse awkwardly, and it suddenly turned and whinnied, going back as well.
“You can’t just leave me here!!” Wendell shouted at Hangs. There was no reply.
Wendell watched as the line of men slowly disappeared. His eyes watered with the dust and stale air. Then he turned and looked across the valley; it didn’t seem to have any sense to it. Rocks rose up and sank down in ludicrous ways, making hideous, stark forms. There were black shapes flying below the dark clouds always, and sometimes he thought he could hear the cry of falcons, far up.
“If I was Curdie,” he thought desperately, “I would know what to do!! I would be able to find Violet, just like in every good story... and then go back to Karen!!... Curdie was good and true, and unselfish and resourceful and...”
The hawks would see him soon! He had to get under some of those rocks, fast!!
Looking up fearfully, Wendell, hurried out of the pass and into the valley. Hopefully nothing had seen him yet. What was he doing here? After climbing over a messy pile of slippery stones, he found refuge under a small hanging outcropping.
What am I doing here? he thought, hugging himself and looking out through the opening. How did I end up in a place like this?? Wendell thought back over his life, and there seemed to be no reason, no point to it! He couldn’t stay in here forever!
Or maybe he could. If only... if only... what? But wishing endlessly didn’t make anything change.
Karen had come running after him, at least!! But if he went back, they would kill him! He stifled a scream of rage, but it didn’t die, it just boiled inside.
Maybe... he could sneak back and find her and run away and... or if he did find Violet... that horrid girl who didn’t deserve to live... who tricked him... who should die...
A hundred times he made up his mind to leave the cave, but never did. He heard the cries of huge ravens and crows, and saw strange creatures spindling across the ground far away.
Now there was a strange wail, different than a bird. It was a lost, pleading sound that terrified him, he didn’t know why, and he crawled to the edge of the opening and looked out. There was something going along quickly, something humanish, with long dark hair. Another wail came from it, and he went to the edge of the opening now.
“Wendell!! Is that you?” he heard Violet’s voice, trembling and tearful. It was Violet! Wendell started climbing out of the crevice.
“They’re coming!!” she shouted. Wendell heard the nightmarish shriek of birds again, and froze with fear. He forced himself out of the opening, though, and then looked up at the sky. Two ravens, larger than he believed possible, were soaring down to the ground, their claws outstretched. Violet saw his face and looked behind.
He thought for a long moment of what he should... what should he do?? The raven wrapped its talons around Violet and picked her up into the sky. He shrunk against the rock and heard her scream fade into the distance. The other raven flew about, watching. There was no time but to scramble back into the cavern and try to hide.
Wendell sat miserably against the stone. He noticed that his hands were shaking violently. What had he done?? He had failed! Now he would never see Karen again!! If only he hadn’t been so angry and hateful, maybe Violet would... but it was her fault! She deserved this!
His face twisted between sadness and rage. Wendell looked at the huge, endless black sky above him. He was just an orphan on the streets again, not like Curdie’s stories at all, alone and hopeless.
Who cared about Violet. She didn’t really matter! What could he have done anyways? His only hope now was if they were taking her somewhere not too far away, but what hope was that...
Now he fought to drag himself out of the cave again, grimacing against all the terror in every direction. He wasn’t going to die like a fool! It wasn’t going to be this way!
Quickly Wendell shamed himself for looking for another cave to run to. But it would be so pointless to stay in the open!! Wendell went along now, climbing over rocks and pits hurriedly. A cry of hunger filled his ears again, and he quickly found refuge under a rock again as a shadow crossed the land.
He crossed from one hiding place to another, always heading towards where the raven had flown, feeling a momentary security before forcing himself out into the open again.
Misery pressed him forward, as if he was trying to get away from something, but never quite made it. One time a band of black, spindly creatures surrounded him, coming from all sides, and he struck and spun about with terrible force, spitting curses at them and splitting them open on every side, bashing their forms without mercy or thought, letting out all the hatred and despair.
He kicked the dead bodies aside violently now, and wiped off a grimy tear from his weeping face, before ducking below a tilted stone. There was something terrible happening inside him, and he muttered to himself with black words. If he ever made it back alive, he would show them their mistake! He could see himself throwing the king off of his throne... servants ran from him as he cut them down without mercy...
He almost felt himself smile at the terrible visions of ruin and destruction. Who needed Violet anyways? He had made it through those horrid mazes! He could go back and sneak into the castle again and who would stop him?! He was the perfect one! And Karen would rule beside him!!
But he thought of Karen’s face if he came back without Violet, screaming at him...
Soon thirst was beginning to come, but Wendell pressed himself onward mercilessly over a black, deformed hill. He would succeed, just like Curdie had in every story! Surely, he was a true hero like Curdie had been, he must be! After all, he had been one before! He was so great and noble at heart, as his own father must have been once! The stars all sang about him when he was born, and he was the...
“Your father is the Dragon.”
Wendell stopped, completely astonished.
It was the same whisper as before, calmly spoken. Once again he felt with a pang as if he knew who was speaking to him, the one who had guided him all along. But that couldn’t be true. Enemies must be taunting him, trying to discourage him! But they weren’t going to stop him! What a filthy lie.
What infuriated him most was that the words were so calm and so gentle. If the whisper had been harsh and vengeful, full of savage fury, it would be so easy to push it away... but he knew he should ignore it.
Wendell’s mood was foul now. He clambered over another ridge, cursing as he cut his hand on a sharp edge, looking up fearfully at the black shapes. The whispered words had filled him with an empty feeling of dread. His father was a dragon? But dragons were spiteful, and proud and full of vengeance...
“Your father... was the Dragon.”
The words came again. He shoved them away. No one could help him if that was true! They had all left him to die!
“You’re all demons!” Wendell roared at nobody and nothing, covering his face against the stale wind. Several black shapes swerved and came towards him, and he gasped and jumped into an empty hole without looking, scurrying into a dark corner, pleading with no one and covering his ears against the blind shrieks of the hawks and crows and ravens.
Filthy tears ran down his face now, and he tried to huddle somewhere inside and find comfort, but found only fear and anger and despair instead.
Why did they all leave him to die? Why help him all along, just to end it now? Wendell muttered horrible things, but it only made him feel sadder.
A huge beak poked into the hole, and Wendell stabbed at it furiously, slashing at its most vulnerable places and roaring threats at it. Finally the bird retreated in pain, and Wendell heard the scuttling of legs coming near... soon they would be there, no telling how many!
If he ever made it back alive, the king would have to answer for leaving him here to die! Wendell gritted his teeth and saw a vision of the king’s face as he fell off the throne, gasping for life under the dagger’s blade. Guards would come forward, but Wendell had tricked them all before. He could sneak around and take them all, one by one if needed! He didn’t march through the fortress of Aztbane just to be left here by some cowardly kingdom, full of ignorant fools that deserve to suffer...
Far away he could see the clouds open up. Wendell saw a single star shining, with a beautiful song of love and hope. But now he covered his eyes against the joyful song, he needed to shout it out as it mocked him.
“Where are you all?” Wendell snipped at the air.
He looked up unseeingly at the star again, and clouds started to move back. Surely they could help him, but if he really was a dragon’s son, if he was turning into his father, why would they even want to?
He searched desperately for any story he had heard... always the treacherous ones died and only the good lived. But who even cared?? Stupid stories didn’t keep him alive now! He would write his own story, with their blood! A story greater than...
He could feel the rage and despair coming again and didn’t know who he was anymore. There was nowhere to go to escape what was happening.
In a fit of sudden terror, Wendell screamed through the darkness.
“Great warrior Ren Zael! Please help me!”
No answer. Then, so quietly he could hardly hear it, he heard the whisper...
Wendell turned his head away from the stars, and closed his eyes tightly.
“A dragon’s heart,” he said.
But nothing happened. A small, warm breeze kicked about in the hole. Wendell thought back now to the stories again, to Curdie and David, so brave and great. It felt as if he could remember them so clearly, as if they were here with him now... then it seemed as if someone was there, close somewhere. The feeling became stronger, grew ancient and more majestic, until it was all around.
Wendell opened his eyes, and the feeling grew more and more until it burst open around him brightly, until he could see it, glistening with the morning sun, singing with a voice as pure as gold, a song so joyful that tears came to his eyes until he could hardly bear it.
The light never blinded him, it seemed as if it had been there all along, even in the miserable hole, only he had never noticed it before.
It was a very different kind of light than the fairy queen’s had been, that had seemed to whisper all the wonderful things that he could ever want to hear, but this light made him tremble and weep and laugh and smile all at the same time, and he wished it would never go away.
Out of the light he saw a face now, and hands, and feet, that seemed to have horrible gashes and wounds on them. He trembled inside when he saw the man’s face now, so kind it was behind the scars, looking at Wendell with a noble and gentle look.
Wendell opened his mouth to say something, but even though he had a hundred things to say, he couldn’t find a way to say any of them. Now the man spoke, in the voice he had heard whispering so many times before. Wendell realized how majestic it was, and wondered why he hadn’t noticed that before.