With that, she grabbed Anastas by the hand and together they leaped up on Rane, disappearing into the forest. Daelyn stood with his chest heaving from the force of his rage, his breath coming in great, ragged gasps. For the first time since the child was an infant, he wanted to thrash her soundly. Scraping at the soft, loamy soil with his sharp talons in frustration, he looked at the dead Atranoch in disgust. It seemed as if every bad thing that had ever happened to him were because of the foul beasts! He hated them! He had a feeling he knew where Star was heading. to her secret cave across the meadow and half way up Shadowmire Mountain. He’d followed her there many times, unbeknownst to her. He let her have her little hideaway, never revealing to anyone her little secret. Looking down, he kicked at the male Atranoch in anger before ascending with a great flap of his wings.
Starlyn could feel Anasta’s sobbing body behind hers the beast mourned her brother. Starlyn was seething with shock and anger at her lifelong friend’s heartless execution of a another living creature. how dare he, she thought angrily. Who was he to decide who lived and died? Knowing that he knew where her thinking place was, she waited to change direction until she absolutely certain she wasn’t being followed. He thought he was so clever, she thought, but she’d show him who was the smarter one.
“Was that a dragon?” Anastas asked fearfully after her sobbing subsided, “mother told us to never let a dragon see us. We didn’t listen and now my twin brother is dead! He knew you, Star! Why did he know you?”
Stroking Rane’s long, black mane, Starlyn wondered if she should tell the grieving Atranoch of her true identity. She decided to be truthful. If caught in a lie now, it would break what little trust they had.
“I was found as an infant in a burning, Chimarian village by the dragons, Anastas,” she revealed, “They cared for me like I was born to them and even named me. They found me under my dead mother after seeing smoke from the fire a distance away.”
“What happened?” Anastas asked, “Why was it on fire?”
Because your kind, the Atranoch, slaughtered every single living person in my village, including my mother, father, and a sister,” she said softly, hearing her gasp from the impact of her words. “Daelyn, the one who killed your brother, pulled me out from under my dead mother after hearing me whimper. He saved me.”
“Are you saying that my people murdered yours?” Anastas asked, “Why? They must have done something to make them angry, right?”
“No,” Starlyn answered, “My brother told me the Chimirian’s were a peace loving people. Hunters and gatherers. They kept to themselves and bothered no one. I didn’t know them ’cause I was just a baby.”
Starlyn stopped the horse, sliding down so she could walk in front of Rane. Her destination, a shady grove of weeping willows, lay just up ahead. The long, sinewy branches of the tree provided shade, privacy and a feeling of peacefulness. She led Rane under the branches,tied her to a thin sapling and helped Anastas dismount.
“We should be safe here for a little bit,” she told her, smiling, “I come here all the time. Daelyn thinks that he knows all of my little secrets, but I still have a trick or two up my sleeve.”
They sat with their backs against the sturdy Willow, thinking about the day’s events as Anastas mourned her twin. He was all she had left in the whole world and now he was gone. The Atranoch thought about all the warnings her mother gave them about humans and dragons, but she was only half right. Anastas really liked the strange looking human with the hypnotic eyes and fire hair. Skilled as a warrior yet as gentle as a lamb. Fights for her life then saves the enemy. What a strange concept, she thought. Glancing over at the human enigma, she saw droplets of moisture seeping from beneath the strange one’s eyelashes. Instinctively she knew that each drop of water signified sadness.
“Do not be sad, my friend,” Anastas begged, “my mother always said that everything happens for a reason.”
“Perhaps,” Starlyn answered softly, “But I don’t think taking a life is supposed to be one of those reasons. I wish the leader of your people, the Atranoch, had not been so eager to kills the Chimerians. It started a war that can never settle peacefully. You are the very last of your kind, Anastas. When you die, you will take with you a whole species. It’s funny, but in a way, you and I are alike in that we are both victims of circumstance. We didn’t choose this! It was not our war! But here we are, just the same.”
“Well, well, what do we have here?” a deep, masculine voice asked.
Starlyn and Anastas leaped up, ready to fight the speaker.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he warned.
The deep growls of what could only be mountain wolves made Starlyn and Anastas freeze in place. Mountain wolves were among the most vicious creatures in Kilaborn. With heavy, over-sized jaws, the mountain wolf could break bone as easily as breaking a twig. The man who stood before them was only partly a man. Most called ones like him trolls. Trolls were very tall, almost seven feet in height. Mean-tempered, they guarded the mountain paths, sometimes demanding payment for passage.
“What do want with us, sir,” Starlyn asked, “We’ve done you no harm.”
The wolves sat obediently by the troll’s side, just waiting for the word to tear the two females apart.
“Now what in world is a Beast doing with human?” the troll asked, “I know very well you’re not supposed to be alone in this dangerous part of the forest, little girl, so do tell.”
“Please, sir,” Starlyn implored, “we want nothing more than to go on our way.”
“Ahh, so I should just let you walk on by, right?” the troll inquired, “Maybe give you my blessings and a kiss on the forehead?”
Throwing her hand up over her mouth in an attempt to staunch the flow of wild giggles that welled from the pit of her belly, failing miserably as peal after peal of laughter came pouring out as she pictured the ugly beast kissing her gently on the forehead. Anastas looked at her friend as if she’d suddenly grew horns. The troll’s eye’s widened as he watched the crazy human laugh so hard she had to sit down.
“Are you quite finished with your fit?” he asked, “If so, stand up and face me!”
“Why?” Starlyn choked out, ’so you can kiss my forehead and bless me?”
This brought on more gales of laughter that made even the Troll’s mouth quiver with undesired mirth.
“Starlyn! Stop before you get us killed!” Anastas cried and turning to the Troll, tried to apologize.
“Please, sir,” she apologized, “My friend is very tired and confused. She really isn’t in her right mind. If you could just overlook her hysterics, I’m sure you’ll see she’s really just an ordinary human. Nothing special or intimidating about her at all.”
Raising an eyebrow, the troll looked over at the giggling girl, doubtful. He wasn’t sure what to make of her. Her wild red hair tumbled about her head as if it were on fire while tears ran from her strange, sea foam eyes. She was unlike any human he’d ever crossed paths with. Most screamed with fear. But here she was, laughing so hard her body shook with mirth. He was intrigued.
“What is your name, girl!” he demanded, “and stop that infernal giggling!”
Wiping her tears, she stood up and quieted, though the laughter was still in her eyes.
“Forgive me, kind sir,” she said, her voice unsteady, “my name is Starlyn and my companion’s name is Anastas. We’re traveling together.”
“That’s obvious, girl,” he said grumpily, “why? What business do have that you travel alone, two lone women?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long story,” Starlyn answered, “but first, we’ve told you our names, so how about telling us your’s?”
The troll was flustered. No one ever asked him name before, they were too busy screaming and scrambling to get away. He had to think a minute as he almost forgot the name his mother had given him.
“My name is Gorvanal, the second,” he added, “I live in these mountains and want to keep it that way. The more of you I let through, then more will come and I will not allow that.”
“Well, I have idea, if you’d be so kind as to listen,” Starlyn offered, not waiting for a reply, “How about if you travel with us, sort of like our guardians. You’ll still be doing the same thing you always do, only different. You’ll be protecting us instead of trying to scare us away.”
Gorvanal thought about the human’s offer, shocked by her straightforward, fearless attitude. He couldn’t help but like the young girl, no matter how hard he tried not to. His wolves demeanor also changed from that of fierceness to a soft whining for attention. Not from him, from her. Their tails, once held low and tucked under, were now held high, softly waving. Their ears which were laid back against their heads, were now standing at attention. Worthless mutts, he thought. The young Atranoch was also an enigma. He’d heard the dragons had wiped them off the face of the earth, yet, here she stood and with a human as well. Nothing made any sense!
“What’s in it for me, human?” he asked gruffly, “What do I get out of the deal?”
“Companionship? Friendship? Conversation?” Starlyn replied, “It’s all I can offer you.”
Gorvanal laughed heartily at her ignorance, but inside, was amazed by her innocence. But the oddest thing of all, he was going to accept. He couldn’t even remember a time when someone or something made him smile or want to actually laugh. He’d never had a friend, or a friendly conversation and most certainly never companionship. This was going to be interesting.
“I’m only accepting because I’ve never been in the company of insanity before and it’s most interesting,” he teased.
“That’s funny,” she quipped, “I was thinking the exact same thing!”
This time the troll did laugh, blushing a deep red at the harsh sound, foreign to his ears.
“See?” Starlyn smiled up at him, “it’s not so bad. You laughed and you’re still here! May I pet your wolves, Gorvanal? Will they bite me?”
“Look at them, simpering beasts, he said, disgusted, “No, they won’t bite you. They’ve taken a liking to you, girl.”
Anastas watched in horror as her crazy friend stepped up to the huge wild canines without fear, crooning to them as if they were newborns. She wanted to touch the wolves, too, but her fear of them overcame her curiosity. She thought back to a time when her, Destrian and their mom were being pursued by a pack of the giant creatures and how their mother outsmarted them by creating a maze in a cornfield; a labyrinth of twists and turns that only she could remember. Together they ran through the never-ending tunnels of corn, listening to the wolves yip and pant excitedly behind them as they gave chase.
She remembered her mother’s fear that something would happen to her twins as she clutched their hands tightly, leading them to safety, just barely. Ever since that day, the mere sound of wolves howling in the distance was enough to strike fear into her heart. She fearfully watched as Starlyn boldly approached the large beasts and place her hand gently on their great, shaggy heads. In return, the wolves took Starlyn’s small hand in their powerful jaws in a show of affection without so much as a scratch.
Starlyn was overwhelmed with emotion as the wolves showered her with unconditional love. She plunged her hands into their luxurious fur as they both tried to take the attention away from the other. Endearing as they lay on their backs totally submissive to her. Even Gorvanal was amazed at the devotion they showered upon the human and more than a little jealous. He raised the pups after slaughtering their mother as she attacked to protect them and they never left his side.
“Everything seems to fall in love with you after they meet you,” he stated, not in the least bit embarrassed. “You have a way about you that’s refreshing and honest.”
“You just have to treat things as you want to be treated,” she said simply, “Every living thing on this planet has a yearning to be loved and accepted. there’s no great mystery. My dragon brother, Dae, knows how I feel about that more than anyone. That’s why we left, Gorvanal. He broke that trust by killing Anastas’ twin brother. Now she is alone, a hated creature by most in Kilaborn and now alone. He knew how I felt and still killed Destrian!”
“He must have felt he was protecting you,” Gorvanal suggested, “The Atranoch aren’t exactly known for their hospitality. So, where are going and how far?”
“Far enough so my friend will be safe,” Staryln answered, “I need to be assured that she will not be harmed by dragon or anything else ready to kill the last Atranoch.”
“So be it, my young friend, follow me.” Grovanal told her, his wolves leading the way. He knew there would probably be repercussions from his lending aide to her, but he was having too much fun to care.