Chapter 9: Dragon Fire
All day, my thoughts dwelt on Balthazar … my Father. As the day drew nearer to a close, and the sun sank low in the western sky, my emotions were embroiled in battle for the ages. Pleasant tender feelings of love and devotion set themselves to wage war against the turbulent undercurrent of dread, fear, and shame. Sadly, the tender emotions were sorely outnumbered in the battle and the darker feelings were winning the day. Dread at what might befall Balthazar when the Duke and his men arrived knotted in the pit of my stomach, churning like a nest of serpents and robbing me of my appetite. Fear for my father’s wellbeing … fear for his very life … was as palpable as the worn leather reins that hung limply from my hand. To make matters worse, shame had joined the battle in earnest; I left Balthazar, my Master, my Father, and my friend … alone, to possibly die, while I made my escape. Coward, the distasteful word settled sourly into my thoughts. Long had I been a disappointment as an apprentice mage, but never before had I acted cowardly in the face of challenge or danger.
“Obedient,” the word purred through my mind as Uriel stirred in the basket. “You’re obeying your Master’s wishes … that isn’t an act of cowardice.”
“But I should be there with him, I could …”
“You could what, Companion,” Uriel cut me off abruptly. A fierce growl imitated from the basket and it was echoed in his mind voice, “You could confess to being the spying mage that invaded the Duke’s inner sanctum. Do you hold out some misplaced notion that His Grace is an especially forgiving man? Or perhaps you could hide yourself among the cliffs adjacent to Balthazar’s tower and put a well aimed arrow through the Duke’s vile heart; surly that would put an end to any threat that the Duke poses to you, your Father, and the Dragons.” Uriel paused, but I remained chased and silent. “I assure you, either option would end with the same result; your life forfeited to the executioner’s ax.”
I now felt even worse than I had before. Any heroic machinations that I might have contrived to confront the army of dark specters that warred within me evaporated before Uriel’s unyielding words of truth. What could I do; die at my Father’s side … or worse, force him into the torturous position of having to renounce me before bearing witness to my public execution.
“I hoped that my honest assessment of the situation would rout you from your melancholy,” Uriel informed me as he pushed his head out from under the leather flap covering his travel basket. “Had I known that it would only serve to deepen your bleak mood, I would have kept silent on the matter.”
“You don’t understand Uriel,” I insisted in a voice edged with grief. Perhaps the emotions of weak ephemeral human beings were somehow beyond the comprehension of the mighty and long-lived Dragons. “He’s my Father… I … I love him. Even before his revelation about my lineage … I felt connected to him … connected more deeply than an Apprentice to their Master.”
“Indeed,” Uriel’s thoughtfully sigh whispered through my mind, “Some deep hidden part of your essence must have recognized him for his true identity … your right and true sire. It would explain much.”
Ever present, ever practical logic; it seemed to be a Dragon’s answer for any formidable situation or dire dilemma. Still, I was curious about just what this ‘explained’. “What do you mean?”
Uriel clambered out of the basket and settled himself between me and the pommel of my saddle. From this vantage point the cat dragon surveyed the landscape around us. I sensed he was looking for a suitable place for us to shelter for the evening as night was gathering very quickly.
“Your constant and unquenchable fear of being sent away,” he purred. “It was not your incompetence as an apprentice that was at the root of it, but rather your fear of a father’s rejection.” He paused and lifted his nose into the wind, sniffing the incoming breeze. “There is a cave in the cliff, just over there, beyond the tidewater stream. It’s well above the high tide line and so we shall stay dry.”
Though I couldn’t see the cave, I trusted Uriel’s unparallel senses and turned Argo in the general direction he indicated. After splashing across the little freshwater stream that emptied itself into the surf, we came upon the cave. It wasn’t very deep, more like and undercut in the rocky cliff face rather than a true cave, but it was spacious enough to provide ample shelter for a girl, a cat dragon, and a horse.
As I unpacked Argo’s load, I realized just how much planning and preparation Balthazar put into my departure. I found the expected things like a bed roll to make the hard cold ground more comfortable for sleeping and a thick fur coverlet to keep me warm on cold nights. Additionally, there was a weather treated canvas sack filled with travel food for myself and another sack packed with honeyed oat cakes for Argo. I found an apothecary pouch containing essential medicinal herbs, the materials necessary for bandaging wounds, and a number of glass ampoules filled with specialized healing infusions. In each saddle bag I found a two tombs; a note tucked into one of them read, “You shall continue your education even in my absence.” I smiled as I tucked the note lovingly back into the volume. Perhaps I would do some reading once our camp was settled and I had a cheery fire going. Other notable items of use I found included a small hand ax for chopping firewood, extra horse shoes, nails and a hammer, a horse brush, eating utensils, a small cook pot and kettle, a mug and plate, and a packet of sewing materials fit for mending both clothing and horse tack.
Balthazar’s first rule for bivouacking was to see after your horse before anything else. After relieving him of his burden and giving his coat a through brushing, I led Argo down the freshwater stream for a well deserved drink. While I waited for him to satisfy his thirst, I took the opportunity to refill my own water skin. Although most sources of free flowing water in Everlast were safe to drink from, it was always advisable to add a sprig of Water Wort to any collected water. Before capping my water skin, I slipped a dried sprig of the herb into the contained and gave it a vigorous shake.
“The first of the evening stars are winking to life in the heavens and the red glow of the setting sun will soon fade to darkness,” Uriel purred as he rubbed affectionately against my legs. “Do you not think it wise to build a fire before the curtain of night falls completely?”
“As soon as I picket Argo,” I replied as I began leading my horse back towards the camp site, “then I’ll go down and collect some of the driftwood I saw laying about on the beach.”
Collecting wood wasn’t a problem and in no time at all I had a healthy supply that would last through the night. I took out my belt knife and whittled a pile of shavings into my shallow fire pit; this would be the tinder I would use to start my fledgling fire. I retrieved my flint and steal from one of the packs and returned to kneel near the fire pit.
“Why not use the words for light and fire to kindle your blaze,” the cat dragon purred softly.
“Because it never works and because flint and steel is easier.” I replied.
“True enough, the mundane way is easy, but you will never master you gift if you do not exercise it.”
I looked down at the object in my hand. It would be such a simple matter to strike the metal and stone together, produce a shower for sparks, and watch them hungrily take root among the wood shavings. A warm cherry fire would be mine in no time at all. With a sigh I reluctantly set the flint and steel down beside me. I would need them if my attempts at magic failed.
I knew the words for light and fire, but I had no idea how to focus them through the lens of dragon magic. My hand went absently to the amulet that hung hidden under my thick wool tunic; to achieve successful scrying, I used the dragon scale amulet as my lens. Could the amulet be the answer to making fire as well?
“An instrument of magic is crafted with a purpose,” Uriel chided gently. “You crafted the scrying disk with a single purpose … to see. It cannot be used for focusing mage fire.”
“Balthazar said that, after I center myself in the Unanimity, I should focus of the essence of fire as I speak the words.” I shrugged before continuing, Balthazar never clarified exactly what the essence of fire was. Instead he insisted that it was different for every mage. “I tried it, focusing on the goodness of warmth and light that fire gives, I even tried focusing on the destructiveness of fire, but it never produced even a bit of smoldering.”
“The essence of fire,” the cat dragon mussed, “I think I might have an idea.”
I watched as Uriel rose from his resting place atop the bags and packs and came to curl up in my lap.
“I’m to try mage fire with you in my lap as a dragon focus.”
Uriel’s laughter rippled through my mind. “While that method might well work, it is impractical. What if you wished to make fire while I am away hunting or otherwise occupied? No, I have something more, convenient, in mind. Look into my eyes.”
I looked down and my gaze instantly locked with Uriel’s. Swirling green-gold fire danced in there depths, and I was caught up in the mesmerizing current. The world as I knew it, time as I knew it, fell away and all that existed in the universe was the swirling green-gold fire and the soothing thrum of Uriel’s purr. When my enthrallment was complete, images fill my mind accompanied by sound, feelings, and emotions.
“Lose yourself completely in my memory, Companion.” Uriel’s voice soothed though the thrumming tide of his purr. “Let go of Kerri and embrace Uriel … become Uriel.”
I teetered for a moment on the razor thin edge that separated Kerri from Uriel before surrendering myself completely to his memory.
High mountain spires, lonely and cold, filled the landscape around me. Above me, the cloudless azure expanse of the sky beckoned to me with all the seductiveness of a Queen Dragon beckoning to her chosen Drake. Freedom, majesty, power; I thrilled in the knowledge that I was a true Lord of the Sky, matchless in my power and supremacy. In that moment I felt the stirring deep within my breast, and instinctively I opened wide my caverns maw. The word for fire rolled forth. The word was as ancient as magic itself, a word forgotten by time and lost to the crud mutterings of human tongues. The word was the very essence and nature of fire; raw, unbridled destruction given living form as heat and flame and furry. The power of the word emanated from deep within my core imbuing me with heat until the tide of pyroclastic force bellowed forth in searing waves from my gaping maw. I watched in satisfaction as the yellow-orange flames danced against the blue backdrop of the sky. The flames hung there, dancing, for only the span of a few heartbeats before they faded. For all its power, the ancient word for fire, like all words, lives a fleeting life before dying on the wind.
The vision began to fade then, and I felt myself … I felt Kerri, stir within me once again. I was becoming aware of the world around me; the frosty breeze blowing in off the sea, the rocks and cold earth under me, and the heavy warmth of the cat dragon resting in my lap. I was looking into his eyes, trapped in the current of the swirling pools of green-gold fire.
“Enough, Companion,” he whispered as he looked away. The trance was fully broken then, and I was wholly myself again.
“I … I breathed fire,” I stammered as I tried to compose myself.
“No, Companion, it was one of my memories of breathing fire that I shared with you.”
“No.. no … I” I shook my head as I tried to sort out my feelings. I had a clear recollection of everything and I knew Uriel shared one of his dragon memories with me, but it felt real … as if it were my own memory and always had been.
“Be calm, Companion,” Uriel soothed. “The memory will remain with you always, and it will always seem as real to you as any of your other memories … as if it is, and always has been, a part of you. This is normal and to be expected.”
“To what purpose,” I asked, still trying to make sense of what I’d just experienced.
“To give you a lens through which to focus your mage fire,” he replied plainly, “so that you may know the essence of fire.”
“You mean the word you used,” I paused for a moment trying to remember it. Oddly, while the rest of the memory was vivid in my mind, the ancient word escaped me. “I don’t … that is, I can’t recall it.”
“The word is of little consequence,” he dismissed, “In fact, I kept it from you intentionally. If you were to utter such a powerful arcane word it would likely incinerate you and everything else in your immediate vicinity the very instant that it fell from your lips.”
I was puzzled, “The why share the memory if not to give me the word?”
“As I said,” he hummed as he vacated my lap, “so that you might know the essence of fire. Try the words for light and fire and use the memory … how you felt, as your lens.”
I looked down once more at the little pile of wood shavings in the fire pit. Power, I thought, so much power emanated from the arcane word. If that same power resided in the memory, then I feared if I focused so much energy at the pile of shavings it would turn to ash in an instant and I’d have no fire at all. I decided to add some modest bit of driftwood to the pile … just in case I actually succeeded in my working. Before summoning my nerve, I looked to see what Uriel was doing; he had returned to his perch atop the packs, and seemed to be paying me only cursory attention as he groomed himself. He’d given me the necessary instrument, now I suppose he thought it was up to me to apply it.
Time for truth, I thought as I closed my eyes. I focused on the Unanimity, allowing its light and harmony to purge all else from my being. When the Unanimity suffused every part of me, I reached for the memory and drew upon it. I allowed the feeling of power and heat to build in my core and rise with the furry of maelstrom towards my mouth. The pure essence of a word made element, I knew its nature from breathing dragon fire. Raw unbridled destruction given living form as heat and flame and furry, pooled in my mouth as I opened my eyes and prepared to speak the word for light and fire.
“Lig fyre.” The words came out as a primal roar more befitting of a proud Sky Lord than an apprentice mage.
I was knocked backwards as flames erupted from the pile of kindling and drift wood. For a brief few moments the yellow-orange tongues leapt high into the night sky, dancing against the backdrop of blackness and stars. When I had my wits about me again, I cast my gaze in Uriel’s direction. The cat dragon watched me with contented half closed eyes; I could feel his pleasure at my success.
My attention went back the blaze that happily crackled in the pit. I made fire … with magic! If only Balthazar …
“Balthazar,” I whispered his name sadly. My hand instantly came to touch the dragon scale scrying disk , and I removed it from my neck as I settled by the fire. But before I could speak the words for light and see, Uriel interrupted me.
“Companion,” he called in a more authoritative tone that I was accustomed to. “I would strongly advise against scrying your Father.”
“You tell me what to do now?”
“No. It is not my intention to make edicts.” His tone was softer when he spoke into my mind this time. “However consider the consequences. If things are going as you fear, do you truly wish to bear witness to the grim events, and have those be your final memories of your beloved Father. Conversely, if Balthazar is having some luck leading the Duke astray with a contrived story, would you want to be the ruination of things if your scrying were inadvertently discovered?”
He had a point of course, but I didn’t have to surrender graciously. “Are dragons always so blight cursed logical,” I grumped as I returned the scrying disk to its rightful place around my neck.
“Blight cursed,” Uriel’s mind voice rippled with mock indignation, “there was a time not so long ago, my young Companion, when the race of men fervently sought the wisdom of Dragon logic.”
The moment of pretend seriousness between us soon dissolved into warm laughter.
“Now about dinner,” Uriel thrummed lazily. The only aspect of a dragon’s personality that was more reliable than their propensity for logic was their punctuality when it came to meal time.