Excitement buzzed along the bond between Kieran and Max. Kieran perched in the saddle atop of Max, one knee drawn to his chest and his other leg hanging down the side. They both watched the skies, bright blue and clear of any clouds. Today was when they would finally meet Isla, one of two remaining dragons from the war.
“What does she look like?” Kieran asked, looking over at Alistair. The other Fireborn was standing patiently, his hands folded together behind his back as he stared up at the sky as well.
Alistair smiled. “She’s an Azkadian dragon,” he said, “with scales of the deepest amethyst.”
Kieran smiled. He opened his mouth, ready to ask more questions, when a great roar shook the earth. They all jerked their gazes towards the source of the roar, spotting a dark shape in the distance.
Kieran watched, awestruck, as the female dragon approached. As she came nearer to them, her wings cast purple shadows over them. She roared again and circled around them, her right wing tipped close to the earth. Her wing passed closely over Kieran’s head and he had to duck to avoid being hit.
She turned sharply and began flapping furiously, her back legs extended to the earth. She landed, her heavy mass shaking the earth. Kieran dropped his other leg, grabbing a hold of the saddle to keep from falling over. He stared up at Isla, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
She was easily twice Max’s size! Much like when he first met Oren, he felt like a small, insignificant ant in her presence. Her amethyst scales were bright and glittered like gems. Her belly, legs, and chest were darker, while the rest of her scales were light. She had pitch black spikes trailing down her spine, the normal spot at the hollow of her neck bare. She hat a set of black spikes along her bottom jaw, each growing larger closer to the back of her jaw. She had three sets of horns curving away from her head, each pair smaller as they came closer to her eyes. Her eyes matched the rest of her body, beautiful and purple.
She stared down at Max and Kieran, her eyes narrowed. She kept her wings outstretched, and she appeared to be waiting for something. Remembering his brief lessons of dragon courtesy with Ren, Kieran pressed a hand to his chest and bowed his head. “I humble myself before your presence, Mighty Huntress,” he murmured in the harsh, guttural language of dragons.
The corners of her mouth twisted up, and a strange coughing sound that seemed like laughter rumbled from her chest and into the earth. He felt her presence press against his mind and he lowered his mental walls, allowing her access to his mind.
I like you, she said. Respectful, but not a kiss up. Yes, you will make a fine king, indeed.
Kieran smiled. “Thank you, Huntress,” he said.
She huffed in further approval and folded her wings. She was clutching Alistair’s saddle in her claws, but after meeting Kieran she set it on the ground before her.
Alistair stepped towards her, pressing a hand against her chest in welcome. Then he picked up the saddle and set to throwing it onto her back. With practiced ease, he saddled her and set his saddlebags upon the sleek horn. He settled himself into the saddle, smiling widely. “After you, Your Majesty,” he said.
Kieran smiled. Don’t try and show off, he told Max.
The red dragon huffed in annoyance. Please, he thought. I have no doubt that if she wanted to, Isla would skin me alive and use my bones to pick her teeth. I have no interest in showing off.
Kieran laughed, then placed his feet into the grooves at the sides of the saddle. Max stretched his wings out, then gathered his back legs underneath him. With a mighty leap, he propelled himself into the air. He flapped his wings several times, then they were soaring. Kieran looked down to watch Isla take off. As large as she was, she moved smoothly and gracefully. She flapped only twice before she was in the air.
Kieran heard Alistair laughing, and he couldn’t help but smile. Alistair gestured to the west with his arm, and over the roaring wind Kieran heard him call out, “To Miren Diréthe!”
They headed west. As they swiftly approached the Dúndan Mountains, nerves began coiling Kieran’s stomach in a knot. Max pressed against him, urging him to speak.
What if they don’t accept me? Kieran asked. What if they laugh me away?
Max growled. Do you really think that? He demanded. After twenty-four years of being trapped under Marjhen’s tyranny, do you really think they’d turn you away? With or without the legitimacy letter?
Kieran sighed. Maybe? He asked. I don’t know. It’s just that after all these years of running, why would they believe me?
Well… Max started. He took a moment to collect his thoughts before responding with, To start with, you’re not Marjhen. I’d think they would be overjoyed to have almost anyone else lay a claim to the throne, especially if they produced a legitimacy letter with King Nathair’s seal.
Kieran nodded. He was right, after all. After Nathair and Oren fled for the remainder of their lives, the late king had written a legitimacy letter, claiming Kieran as his son. It was signed by the Dragon Monks of the Keeper’s Watch, as well as the final surviving members of Nathair’s court. He pressed his hand against his shirt, searching for the comfort the letter gave him.
They’ll accept me, Kieran assured himself. They have to.
Max perched on the edge of a cliff on the mountain behind Miren Diréthe, staring down at the city below. Miren Diréthe had been built against the base of the mountain, with the castle placed higher on the mountain. The city curved and rolled with the rest of the mountain, and if one looked at it from a distance, they might think it looked like a crumbling of ruins.
Kieran crouched atop the saddle, his muscles tensed and buzzing with excitement. He used Dragon Sight to gaze down at the city below. Just as he had expected, the dragons didn’t go by unnoticed. People were stepping outside, filling the streets to stare up at the red and purple dragons high above. Kieran looked up, his vision fading back to normal as he glanced at Alistair and Isla. She was wrapped around the peak of the mountain, her claws digging into the rocky face to keep herself from falling.
Alistair gestured to the courtyard of the castle down below. “After you, King Kieran.”
Are you ready? Max asked.
Kieran smiled, staring down at the courtyard below. Absolutely, he said.
Max stretched his wings and roared. He allowed himself to fall, gliding down over the mountain as he neared the castle. Seconds later he tucked his bottom underneath him, flapping his wings as he hovered over the courtyard. He slowly lowered himself, then landed upon the patterned white, black, and gray stones. He folded his wings and strode over to the far side of the courtyard, holding his head high. Kieran stayed in the saddle, looking down at the people that had flocked to the courtyard.
Moments later, The earth shook as Isla landed. She stretched her wings over the courtyard, the sunlight piercing through the purple membranes of her wings. The stones turned various shades of purple, until she folded her wings and lowered her body into a crouch. Kieran and Alistair dismounted at the same time, then they strode forward to meet the party that approached them.
Kieran recognized Faerdan and Quinn. Despite the warm day, they were wearing their cloaks, as well as every weapon they owned. There was another man, around Kieran’s height with salt and pepper hair and a gray beard. He was muscled and scarred, and Kieran knew right away this man was a mighty warrior who had seen his fair share of war.
The final two members of the group were dwarves. The shorter dwarf had long, red-brown hair and a matching beard, twisting over his chest in a braid. He had bright green eyes that held a hint of humor and mischief in them. The taller dwarf had black and silver hair brushed away from his face, with tanned skin and light blue eyes.
Faerdan smiled as they approached one another. “Kieran!” he exclaimed. “It’s so good to see you safe and well. Where’s Ren?”
Both parties stopped with a few feet between them. Kieran smiled and said, “She had business to attend to in the south. She will be joining us as soon as she’s able.”
Faerdan nodded. “Good,” he said. He cleared his throat and gestured to his companions, saying, “I’m sure you remember Quinn.”
The red-headed Ranger smiled and waved once to Kieran. He nodded his head once in return, and Faerdan continued with introductions. “This is Bairen,” he said, gesturing to the warrior. “He’s currently leading the rebels while Asher is away.”
Kieran and Alistair shared a confused look. “Where’s Asher?” Kieran asked.
“Ah…” Faerdan cleared his throat and said, “Your brother’s fallen ill due to his lack of practice with magic.”
Kieran frowned. “Asher has magic?” he asked.
Faerdan nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Quinn spoke first, saying, “Yes, powerful magic from his mother’s bloodline. One of our Rangers took him to Terathen so he can start training.”
Kieran blinked, then shook his head to clear it. “There is much you must tell me,” he said.
Faerdan nodded again. “Yes,” he said. “I will. But first, allow me to introduce King Borthendúr and Urikhén.”
Kieran nodded and bowed his head to the dwarves. “It is an honor to meet you,” he said.
Borthendúr, the black-haired dwarf, smiled and bowed his head in return. “I’ve heard many stories about you, Kieran Brennan. All good things.”
Kieran grinned and Faerdan said, “What are you here for, Kieran? Why didn’t you go with Ren?”
He met Alistair’s gaze, then reached into his shirt for the document. He held it out to Faerdan and said, “I’m here because of this. While I was at the Watch, I learned some things about King Nathair. And about his son.”
Faerdan frowned. As he opened the letter, Quinn looked over his shoulder and asked, “Nathair had a son?”
Kieran nodded. “Yes,” he said, straightening his shoulders. “He did.”
The Rangers read over the legitimacy letter, their eyes widening with every word. Faerdan passed the letter to Bairen, staring at Kieran with eyes the size of dinner plates. “How is this possible?” he asked.
Kieran opened his mouth to answer, but no sound came. So Alistair responded, saying, “After Marjhen defeated Nathair in combat, the king fled to the Watch with his dragon. When Queen Morag gave birth, Marjhen killed her. He covered up the murder, then claimed Kieran as his bastard.”
“But why?” Quinn asked. “Why would he keep you alive?”
Kieran shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “But he did, and now he’s going to live long enough to regret his decision.”
Quinn smiled, and Faerdan stared at something behind Kieran. He frowned and looked over his shoulder, noticing the gathered crowd for the first time. It appeared that the entire population of Miren Diréthe had come! They were staring at the dragons in awe, at Kieran and Alistair with hope in their eyes.
Kieran turned back to Faerdan and met his gaze. The Ranger grinned and said, “You are the true king, aren’t you?”
Kieran’s eyes flicked over to Alistair. He nodded, and Kieran turned his attention back to Faerdan. “Yes,” he said. “I am.”
Faerdan’s smile grew. Without another word, he strode forward, gesturing for Kieran to follow. As they approached the crowd, the people shuffled forward to meet them, intrigued. Kieran stopped and Faerdan took a few more steps forward and in a loud, booming voice, he called out, “Citizens of Miren Diréthe, people of Azkadia! Listen closely. Twenty-four years ago, when King Nathair passed and Marjhen claimed the throne, he did so without any true claim.”
The crowd murmured, asking each other questions. Faerdan held a hand out to silence them and continued. “Our beloved Queen did not lose her child during birth and then take her own life, as Marjhen told us. Instead, she gave birth to a son, and he killed her to keep the secret. He has claimed the late King and Queen’s son as his bastard, and he has been so this whole time.”
Faerdan smiled, and Kieran felt nervous under the heavy gazes of the people before him. “People,” Faerdan said, “I am proud to be the first to welcome our true king home.” He stepped to the right, turned sideways, and held an arm out to Kieran. “I present to you the son of King Nathair and Queen Morag, King Kieran Brennan!”