The throne room’s entrance was attached to the shaded section the king sat in during the Tournament. In his throne was who Fendrel presumed to be the king, a middle-aged man with graying hair.
Daichi stood with his helmet in his hands beside the throne. His stoic gaze was trained on Fendrel.
Fendrel stood before the two. He tried to stand up straight, but his chest made him want to slouch.
“You are quite an odd one, Sharpdaggeran.” The king grinned at him. He gave a hearty chuckle. “Those single-elemented dragons were your pets, yes?”
“They’re not pets.” Fendrel clenched his fists.
“Well, whatever they are, they’re quite protective of you.” The king leaned forward.
Fendrel glared at them. “One of them is, and he’s dying.”
The king shook his head. “What are you doing in our kingdom?”
When Fendrel didn’t respond, the king sighed. “What? Do you want me to give the dragon medical attention? Will that get you to talk?”
“If you heal Venom to the best of your ability and bring Fog here, then yes.” Fendrel suppressed the urge to wince at his pain.
“That’s adorable.” The king looked at Daichi. “He gave them names. Although, the name Fog doesn’t quite suit her, does it, Daichi?”
Daichi shook his head.
“That dragon is too graceful looking to have a name so…unflattering sounding. Personally, I would have picked something like cuter. You did a good job on the seashell earring, though.” The king gestured at Fendrel. “She’s really stunning when you put her in the sun. You’d think all her hide was just dark gray, but the natural light brings out her silvery markings. Daichi, why don’t we respect our guest’s requests? Bring her here. Oh, get Conch, too.”
“And what about Venom?” Fendrel tried to hide his irritation.
The king rolled his eyes. “And tell the guards to give the dusk dragon immediate medical attention. They may bring in mages if they must.”
“Yes, Father.” Daichi bowed and strode out of the throne room through a side door.
Fendrel surveyed the throne room to avoid the king’s gaze. This throne room was quite different from the one in Sharpdagger. Unlit torches were set on what little wall space there was between the massive windows, and floor-to-ceiling tapestries depicted vicious battles between humans and dragons hung like curtains behind the throne.
He couldn’t stop staring at the tapestry directly behind the throne. It was the only one that wasn’t littered with dragon carcasses and blood. Instead of ruin and destruction, this one showed a peaceful, crystal clear lake framed by three-stepped limestone stairs. The land seemed to emit a perpetual calmness. Words at the top of the tapestry spelled out “Poison’s Lake.”
Why would they name something so beautiful and important poisonous? These people make no sense.
Footsteps behind Fendrel made him whirl around, taking him out of his daze.
The king laughed. “Goodness, boy. You stood there for so long I thought you had fallen asleep with your eyes open!”
“Everything has been taken care of.” Daichi strutted in, no longer wearing his lightweight armor but instead sporting robes similar to his father’s. He held a thick wire rope, the other end of which was attached to a muzzle on Fog.
Fog refused to lift her head. She glanced at Fendrel but looked away quickly after. Her wings were pinned to her sides.
An odd-looking half-water dragon pranced after Daichi, making sure to slow down so he was always behind the prince.
“Fog, are you okay?” Fendrel moved toward her.
“Not another step, Sharpdaggeran.” Daichi unsheathed a sword from his hip. He pointed it at Fendrel.
Fendrel grit his teeth and glared.
He didn’t notice it before, but as Daichi and the dragons passed him, Fendrel saw a small pedestal with a slit in the center near the king’s throne.
Daichi stuck the sword in the pedestal blade-down and tied the wire rope around its pommel.
Fog tugged a bit on the rope.
The prince raised his hand as if to strike her.
“Don’t hurt her!” Fendrel’s chest burned again.
Whimpering, Fog shrank away from Daichi with her tail curled around one of her legs.
“Father?” Daichi looked to the king.
The king gave a dismissive wave. “Don’t discipline the dragon. That’s his job since it is his dragon after all. Don’t you have two others?”
“No.” Daichi lowered his hand. “I killed one in the arena today. The vapor dragon was supposed to be her replacement.”
“Well, you’ll just have to pick out a different one. We don’t want our guest getting more defensive than he already is.” The king gestured at Fendrel.
“Speaking of, we met your demands. Now speak.” Daichi turned to face Fendrel.
“Is Venom all right?”
The prince rolled his eyes. “Yes, your beast is being treated, but he is in bad shape.”
You cut off the end of his tail! Of course he’s in bad shape. He’ll probably never be able to fly normally again.
Fendrel looked at Fog. She seemed unharmed, but she was dejected and humiliated.
“Conch, here.” Daichi snapped his fingers and held his hand palm-up.
The water hybrid cantered over and tapped his nose on the prince’s palm. He sat beside him.
What in the…? That dragon doesn’t seem to care that he’s being treated like a dog.
Conch looked like any other water dragon on his front half, but from the waist to the tail tip were teal scales that looked like some sort of succulent. And he had four legs, unlike the normal two for water dragons.
“This is Conch, he’s become like a member of the family over the years.” The king reached over and patted the dragon’s head. “Would you like to get acquainted with him?”
Fendrel raised his brows at them, then looked at the dragon. “How long have you been here?”
Conch cocked his head to the side.
“He doesn’t understand that tongue, he speaks ours.” Daichi crossed his arms. “Don’t confuse him.”
“He doesn’t speak draekonik?” Fendrel felt his eye twitch.
“No, we’ve had him since he was very young.” Daichi snapped again and Conch laid down. “Didn’t you teach your dragons to speak your birth tongue?”
Fendrel blinked. “No.”
The king clapped his hands to gain their attention. “Sharpdaggeran, I feel it is time to exchange pleasantries seeing as we’re already involving ourselves in conversation. I am King Ren of Beast-Hunt. This is the crown prince and our most accomplished warrior, Daichi, and that is our water-succulent dragon, Conch. And you are?”
Reaching for his bag strap, Fendrel’s eyes widened. “Where’s my bag?”
“What is your name?” The king pointed at him.
Fendrel sighed. “Fendrel.”
“No title?” The king leaned back in his seat.
“The Dragon Liberator.” Fendrel shrugged.
The king coughed trying to stifle a laugh and Daichi snorted as if to taunt “come and take mine.”
“You can take her restraints off. She’s not going to hurt you.” Fendrel nodded at Fog.
Daichi grasped Fog’s wire rope and pulled her closer to him. “She could gut me in one swipe, even if she is just a vapor dragon.”
Fendrel cut him off in his head. You were able to take down Venom in lightweight armor, I’m sure you could dodge a vapor dragon on a leash.
“Her talons are remarkably sharp for a dragon of her type.” Daichi made a show of removing Fog’s muzzle and wing bands in a painstakingly slow manner. “I’ve seen in person how the weaker dragons make themselves more dangerous under stress. Sometimes they’d craft metal claws to wear, but those talons are sharper than any normal sword.”
Fog scurried behind Fendrel trying and failing to make herself smaller than him.
“You’ve seen them make metal claws?” Fendrel raised an eyebrow.
“Are you deaf? Yes, I’ve watched them.” Daichi leaned against his sword’s pommel.
“But no humans here would dare teach dragons how to blacksmith.” Fendrel stared at the prince.
Daichi grinned with pride. “Of course. Our subjects are loyal to us alone.”
“So the dragons learned how to craft their own weapons.” Fendrel felt himself heating up with anger. “And they speak, and yet you still treated them like animals and slaughtered them.”
“The ability to speak does not make one intelligent.” Daichi smirked. “I can tell that much from looking at you.”
Fendrel threw his hands up in exasperation. “You could have negotiated with them for peace.”
Daichi rubbed Conch’s nose with his knuckles. “We were already too far into the war to stop. Besides, it’s not like they were making any peaceful efforts.”
With gritted teeth, Fendrel clenched his fists.
“Oh, what now?” Daichi stopped leaning on his sword.
Fendrel placed a hand on one of Fog’s wings. “Her mother traveled here from the Freelands for the sole purpose of ending the war with peace, and your soldiers killed her.”
“Oh, yes!” Daichi’s eyes widened. “That’s who she reminded me of. I remember that vapor dragon, they looked exactly alike. Isn’t that just the greatest coincidence?”
“Very interesting.” The king nodded his head.
Daichi touched a hand to his chest. “I can’t believe I forgot! I saw the whole thing. Your dragon’s mother was charging one of our knights. As it turns out, there was a wildcat waiting to ambush him and the dragon was actually heading toward it. Of course, we couldn’t possibly have known that, so I shot her.” He shrugged. “We lost that soldier. The wildcat got him after the dragon dropped dead.”
Fendrel’s face fell.
Thank the stars Fog can’t understand what he’s saying right now.
He suddenly felt cold with fear rather than hot with anger.
He doesn’t even care.
Fog gave out a low, long whine.
Fendrel looked down to see her staring at the tapestries. Recognition crossed her face when she spied the center one, then it was gone and consumed by fear once again.
“Well, that was in the past.” The king rose and walked behind his throne. He reached for something and returned before the throne with a massive rolled-up piece of paper. He opened it like a blanket and settled it on the floor.
It was a map displaying the Freelands and the Newlands with the sea between them.
The king took a scepter out of his robes and pointed at the Freelands where Sharpdagger’s palace would be. “How did you get from here—” he dragged the scepter across to the north of the Newlands “—to here?”
Fendrel swallowed. “I sailed here.”
“Obviously not alone. Where are the other humans?” Daichi faced the map.
“Somewhere here.” Fendrel avoided their eyes.
“When did you get here?” The king stared at Fendrel.
“Not too long ago.”
Daichi tapped his leg with a hand. “My, you are just a blooming conversationalist, aren’t you?”
“Don’t forget, boy, that we are the ones in charge here.” The king pointed between himself and Daichi. “You will tell us what we want to know, or we will forgo your previous demands. You dark beast will die or be put into the running for a new fight, and your vapor dragon will be put in Daichi’s care.”
Shuddering, Fendrel met the king’s gaze.
Why am I being so reckless? They don’t have to listen to me. They could kill us if they wanted to. I have to do as they say and stop being selfish.
“I understand.” Fendrel hated how weak his voice sounded.
“Very good.” The king gave a pleased smile. “How did you sail here?”
“On a royal ship.”
Daichi laughed. “Royalty? How did you get on one of those?”
“I…got permission to board.”
The king nodded. “So the Sharpdagger king allowed you to sail here. Is he here?”
Fendrel’s heart skipped a beat.
I can’t let them know about Sadon.
“A king is here.” Fendrel thought about Cloud.
“Why did you sail here?”
“It wasn’t safe anymore.” Fendrel bit his lip. “One of the dragon factions committed treason, and we were worried.”
Footsteps approached from behind. He turned to see a guard skidding to a halt and bowing.
“My king, my prince.” The guard kept her head bowed. “Our scouts have returned. Poison’s Lake is stirring again.”
The royals turned white as a sheet.
“So soon?” Daichi’s voice sounded so different when he wasn’t snarky or interrogating.
King Ren shooed the guard away with his scepter. “You are dismissed.” He walked to one of the massive windows and stared out of it.
Fendrel went to a window and followed the king’s line of sight. Far in the distance was a large body of water bordered by limestone stairs. He gasped. “Poison’s Lake.”
The king rushed to his son and led him to the other side of the throne room, talking in rushed whispers. They shot glances at Fendrel as they talked.
Fog stayed with Fendrel and pressed her head against his back. Her ears twitched as if she were listening to something, but no one was speaking draekonik.
“Sharpdaggeran.” King Ren waved Fendrel over.
Fendrel moved toward them but stayed far enough away so Fog wouldn’t feel too uncomfortable.
“We have a favor to ask of you.” Daichi refused to look at him.
“What do you need?” Fendrel felt Fog’s chin rest on his shoulder.
King Ren tapped his scepter on the ground. “Every few years, we meet with someone and gift her with food in exchange for her mercy. It appears as though she has reawakened sooner than we anticipated, and we do not have enough food to sustain her yet. You must speak with her and convince her to be gracious.”
Fendrel squinted at them. An idea invaded his thoughts.
They need me now.
“I want my belongings returned. And I want Fog and Venom to come with me.” Fendrel smiled. “I also want the fire dragon’s body given to us for burial.”
“Pardon me?” Daichi glared.
“If you want my help, you’ll meet my demands.” Fendrel crossed his arms.
Daichi pointed at him. “Absolutely no—”
“Yes, fine, fine. Whatever you wish.” King Ren waved in a dismissive manner. “Your dragons will be brought with us, but the fire dragon’s body will have to be wrapped up here until we return. Then you can have him back.”
Fendrel tried to hide his smirk, then realized he no longer needed to abide by their demands. “It’s a deal.”