“Where are we going?” I asked as I rode behind Dristan through the thick tangles of trees. The Bakru rode in front of us, having claimed the horses that the dead men no longer needed. Apparently, Dristan’s “end of the bargain” was to give the Bakru a dozen horses in exchange for their help.
He had orchestrated the entire thing. He told me that five years ago, when he’d joined the king’s army posing as a human soldier, he had given the Bakru an enchanted boulder. He told them that when he found the Fae girl that he was looking for, the boulder would light up, signaling to them that he had succeeded in finding me.
Once the boulder lit up, the Bakru were to wait for Dristan at the edge of the forest, just before the eastern mountain pass. Dristan promised to give them at least one dozen horses if they would provide him with safe passage through the forest, as well as assistance in protecting me. A clever plan... But I still didn’t know why he was going through all of this trouble to help me.
“I am tired. I will explain more to you once we have had a hot meal and some sleep.” He looked at me over his shoulder and wrinkled his nose. “A bath wouldn’t hurt either.” I scowled at his back.
I tried to hide the uneasiness on my face as we rode. Each time I caught one of the Bakru staring at me with their bulbous eyes I felt a shiver go down my spine. They hadn’t spoken to me, which I was grateful for. I hadn’t a clue what I would say. They had not shown any sign of aggression toward us, but I still couldn’t shake my fear of them.
“And where, pray tell, might we find such luxuries in the middle of the forest?” I asked sarcastically, crossing my arms.
“You’ll see. Now, be silent.” He huffed.
“Or what? You’ll cut out my tongue? Perhaps my ears, or my eyes, or whatever else of me that pleases you?”
His back stiffened.
“He deserved it.” He stated blandly.
“Why? Because I am a High Lady of some sort?” I grumbled. I still had no idea what he’d meant by that. Or why it made me special.
He turned in his saddle and paralyzed me with cold, blue eyes. “Absolutely.” He growled.
I lowered my eyes and picked at my fingernails. I pursed my lips to appear unaffected by him. Mentally, I was cowering behind a chair. I was too stubborn to let him see my fear of him.
He slowed his horse and came to ride at my side. I could feel his eyes on the size of my face. My skin nearly boiled beneath his stare.
“You are not just any High Lady, Brenya.” He said more softly.
I looked up at him from beneath my lashes and waited for him to continue. I knew if I pushed him to elaborate he would only complain. Waiting in silence was my best bet. He sighed at the slight scowl on my face, the impatience shining in my eyes.
“You are the long lost High Lady of the Elemental line.” He said quietly, assessing me with those star flecked eyes of his. “And I have been searching for you for a very long time.”
I blinked up at him.
“What is a High Lady? Why have you been looking for me?” The questions bubbled past my lips without my control. I mentally scolded myself.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his index and middle finger. “It’s a long story. And one that I am not prepared to dive into until we’ve had some rest.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course, more waiting. More unanswered questions. I can’t say I’m surprised.” I grumbled. He narrowed his eyes at me. “Why are you so tired, anyway? Twilight is hours away.“′ I added.
“Shifting takes a great deal of energy out of me.” He said, rolling his neck on his shoulders. His hair gleamed as the sunlight glittered off of it through the treetops. “And I haven’t done it in a very long time. My body and mind are drained.”
I pressed my lips together as I considered his words.
“That makes sense, I suppose. I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that you’re a dragon.” I trailed off, remembering the astonishing size of the onyx and silver colored beast.
The corner of his lip twitched upward.
“Impressed?” He teased, his smile growing. I tried to recall a time when I’d ever seen him smile at me like that. None came to mind.
I scoffed, my cheeks burning, and looked away.
“Hardly.” I said.
“Liar.” He said smoothly, after a few beats of silence. I looked back to him and found his smile even larger, his white teeth gleaming at me. As my cheeks grew even warmer, I decided to change the subject.
“I’ve never heard of a dragon shifting into a man.“′ I said. Dristan frowned. “You don’t know much about magical beings, do you?” I shook my head.
“All dragon’s are part man, part beast. We are technically what is known as Chimera. Beings with spliced DNA. There are other types of Chimera. You may know them as werewolves, vampires, even mermaids. Though, none of those titles are what they truly are.”
I felt my jaw go slack as I gazed at him.
“But... Why haven’t I heard or read about such a thing?” He smirked at me.
“Brenya, we don’t make all of our secrets well known to humans. That would be quite unwise, wouldn’t you agree?”
I gritted my teeth at his condescending response. I kept on a mask of indifference as I silently raged inside at his constant arrogance. I did not like being spoken to as if I were a child.
“I suppose.” I sucked in a lungful of air. “It was my understanding that the dragon’s were extinct. As well as any other... Er, Chimera... And the Fae.”
His gaze darkened. “We are far from extinct. Though our numbers aren’t what they once were, thanks to your king.” He spat the last word out as if it were poison in his mouth.
Anger exploded inside of my veins.
“He is not my king.” I said through my teeth.
He glared at me a moment before a look of approval spread across his face. I ignored it and decided to keep asking questions while he was in the mood to answer them.
“Are dragons... a type of Fae?” I asked.
He scoffed as if he were offended. “No. We share similarities, like magical abilities, but we are not the same.”
I pondered that a moment.
“So, Fae cannot shift into other forms? Like, animals?” I asked.
“No. Only Chimera can do that. All Chimera beings have three forms. Their beast form, their natural form, and their human form.”
I stared at him as he gazed forward, his body subtly bobbing up and down with the shifting of his horse’s movement. My mind reeled with the overload of information he was sharing. But I wanted more.
“And this is your human form?” I gestured toward him with a wave of my hand.
“Yes.” He said.
“What is your natural form?” I wondered aloud.
“I’ll show you another time.” He said with a yawn.
I bit my lip. I had to keep him talking.
“You said that you hadn’t shifted to your dragon form in a long time. Why is that?”
He glanced at me sidelong before staring forward again. “I have been posing as a soldier in the king’s army for five years, now. I have been constantly surrounded by humans during that time. I had to play the part, no matter how badly I wanted to stretch my wings. A building sized reptile isn’t exactly inconspicuous, is it?”
There it was again. That arrogant, condescending tone. I pursed my lips to keep from scowling. I was not a child!
“No, I suppose it isn’t.” I said evenly. Then something else occurred to me. He kept taking down to me, like a child... But I hadn’t considered how old he was. He looked young. But was he? Perhaps I was a child to him, if he was much older than he appeared.
“How old are you?” I asked softly. I was almost afraid of the answer. I turned to look at him and found him studying me.
“Old.” He said simply. I frowned.
“How old?” I pressed. He stared at me in silence for awhile. I didn’t back down. I held his gaze, my determination evident. Finally, he gave in.
“I was born one hundred and fifty two years ago.” He stated factually. He said it nonchalantly, as if he was talking about the weather. I gaped at him.
“Oh...” Was my reply. He let out an amused huff of breath before facing forward again.
Yes, I was right. He was much older than he looked. I shouldn’t be surprised. He was a dragon for god’s sake. I’d never felt like more of an adolescent in my entire life and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from scowling again.
I racked my mind for another question to ask.
“The Bakru called you Lord Dristan. Why?”
“Do your interrogations know no bounds?” He snapped. He turned to glare at me and I glared right back.
“No.” I said firmly. I could have sworn the corner of his lips twitched upward again. But he quickly licked his lips, trying to hide his smile, and shook his head before looking away.
“No more questions, Brenya"
I knew that authoritative tone. I wasn’t getting anything else out of him for awhile. I huffed out a breath of defeat and started braiding a strand of my horse’s mane.
A small smile tugged at my lips, despite my frustration. Dristan had saved my life. And he was finally starting to open up to me. Perhaps my future would not be so dark and perilous after all...