11. Her Reuniting
Bryn hardly took her next breath, when thunder roared throughout the blue sky. The abrupt booming clap had stilled every living thing. The noise did not fade, it grew with the wind, echoing across the sky. It shifted the trees, blowing at leaves to make them whirl about, as if fleeing from the clouds. It tossed clothes and fur alike. It was like a vast, unseen tornado. That singular roar broke into a multitude of thunderous bellows that bounced off the mountains. It could be heard for miles and miles around, making an announcement to Cosam. Every eye that looked upwards throughout the continent could see the firmament of blue fall towards the ground. Before the expanse struck anything, it stretched out its wings and soared over the tops of trees. It was not the sky itself that took flight, it was a multitude of winged creatures, of the lost beasts that the world longed to see; the dragons. They dissolved from the sky and clouds, and now roamed with freedom in their wings, announcing their return.
It was a frightening thing to behold for a lowly animal that could become prey at any moment. Lady El relinquished her hold on man and beast the moment she had lost the bet. All of the monsters and beasts retreated to their hollows and their homes, to lick their wounds and cower. Arion and Thad were already far away, when they were released from the lady’s hold. Their eyes cleared away from the madness, they now began to weep because they had been so foolish.
As soon as the dragons broke free, Lidia gave a cry of laughter, tossing away her exhaustion, grief and pain for that brief moment. Bryn watched in an overjoyed silence, bursting into laughter when someone touched her or spoke to her. Sir Semon and Nestor embraced each other and patted each other on the back, congratulating themselves. The five dog-brothers howled and barked up into the air, while the wolverine sat down to watch the wonder above.
“We succeeded,” Lidia shook her sister vigorously, from where she sat, “It all worked! I thought we were going mad for thinking it might, but it did!”
The dragons streamed from the sky like a flood of scaly bodies. They fleeted over the trees, most drifting away, while others circled about, as if unsure of what to do.
It was only when the skies were clearing that the six brothers peeled their eyes away and joined the girls and the gentlemen by the tree. Muir was about ready to pass out. He lay at Bryn’s side, snuggling against her, wanting her to comfort him. She obliged and stroked his blood blotched fur as she looked on.
At the same time, changing to human form, Titen fell at Lidia’s side resting his head on her shoulder gently.
In their excitement and exhaustion the pack had forgotten about the two newcomers. The gentlemen did not notice the suddenly appearing man at first. It took few glances before Semon and Nestor cried out as if Titen had transformed into a hideous beast.
“What is that,” Nestor exclaimed.
“That be my brother,” Kai snarled from behind Nestor’s shoulder.
“Calm down, Kai.” Bryn jumped from her spot, slipping out of Muir’s cuddle, to defend Nestor, “They helped us solve it and bring an end to this.”
Kai backed down to assist Muir. He had turned human as well and was slightly pale.
Lidia was still watching the dragons when her eyes grew dim from the excursion of the day.
“Can I rest now,” She mumbled as she leaned her head against the tree.
Titen shifted his head against Lidia’s her shoulder. “Do that. I’ll be with ya.”
Lidia smiled as she rustled Titen’s greasy head. “Thanks, friend. I appreciate the company.”
Nestor had difficulties taking his eyes off of the brothers, there was suspicion and fear there. He shuffled closer to his brother to try and whisper to him unnoticed. “I don’t think we should stay here.”
“My brother and I should depart,” Semon announced, not hearing what Nestor had said, “We should try to catch up with Arion and Thad before they run too far.”
“Do you know where they went,” Bryn asked.
“Back the way we came I would suspect,” Semon replied nonchalantly. He fully faced Bryn and bowed deeply, “I thank you for giving me and my brother the opportunity to help you, and for turning us around when we might have caused harm instead.”
Nestor did not bow, but stood beside his brother, “Yes, we were honoured to help bring the dragons back.”
“I suppose there was a use for your education after all,” Lidia said from her spot, with the most mischievous smile she could muster at the moment.
Bryn gave her sister a stern look before turning back to the gentlemen. “Are you sure you wish to leave so quickly? Especially after the men that abandoned you here with us?”
Semon was set on it, “Yes, we must find our friends.”
Lorn snorted as he kept his back to the gentlemen, crouching down by Muir.
Nestor picked up Lidia’s journal from the ground where it had been unnoticeably abandoned. He scribbled something in it before handing it to Bryn. “Our address and family name. Even if we must leave in a hurry, I do still have many questions. I hope you will stay in contact to help me answer them.”
Bryn nodded, “Of course I will. As soon as we reach my family I will sit down to write you a long letter explaining everything I know that leads up to this point.”
“Thank you,” Nestor bowed slightly, in gratitude.
With that settled the brothers assisted in rounding up only one of the mattath steads that had taken off in fright, Nimble was one of those missing in action. Semon and Nestor were obliged to share a saddle and were soon on their way, disappearing behind trees as they began their search for their disloyal friends.
“Mayhaps we should be leav’n too,” Lorn suggested as they observed the gentlemen leaving.
“Still dragons ’bout,” Muir commented as he glanced up at the dragon infested sky from where he sat beside Bryn, “Mayhaps want’n to dine on—”He stopped speaking when they all heard the crashing of dragons falling from the sky and slamming into the trees around them. A spray of branches and twigs fell upon the group. Bryn pulled at Tory’s arm when she spotted a particularly large branch making its way down directly over him. They all took cover under the tree Lidia was laying against. Once they all could open their eyes again they saw three dragons, on the ground. Their wings were being folded tight against their bodies. Everyone was awe struck as they stared without moving to defend themselves or to flee. Two of the dragons sniffed at the humans. The little two legged things were no threat so the two began to rip and devour the animals that were dead in the grass.
The third dragon did not take his eyes off of the humans, however. He had dusty black scales, with speckles of grey all over his body. The tip of the dragon’s tail had sharp spikes covering it, and it swayed back and forth as it observed the pack.
The dragon took a step forward, causing the dog-brothers to go into defensive positions. They hunched over and twisted their faces angrily as if all of them were about to snarl.
“Don’t turn into dogs,” Bryn warned with a soft whisper. Her dragon instincts and lessons were coming back to her, “It will eat you where you stand if you shapeshift. Dragons are less likely to eat a human. They are quick to react so don’t make any sudden movements. It might just be on guard duty while the others eat.”
Everyone obeyed Bryn’s commands, staying as still as possible.
The dragon sniffed the air again and bent its head down low. It even went so far as to lie down, pressing itself as close to the ground as it could.
That puzzled the girls.
“What’s it doi’n,” Titen asked.
Bryn opened and closed her mouth before she could answer. “Submitting, I think. That’s how dragons submit authority to each other or to their owners. I don’t understand.”
“What’s on the shoulder,” Nudd squinted his eyes, “Look’n like a tat’.”
Everyone squinted to see a faded brand on the top of the dragons shoulder. It made out the shape of a dragon wrapped around an egg.
“Look’n like what’s on your leather arm, Bryn.” Lorn pointed at Bryn’s left arm.
It was true. The symbol on the dragon was the same family crest that Bryn had on her leather jacket.
“That means that’s a Balaur dragon,” Excitement swelled in Lidia, “Go touch it, Bryn!”
“I am not touching it,” Bryn declared.
As Bryn was speaking a projectile sailed through the sky and landed in a heap right in front of them. Everyone fled from the object.
The dragon snarled with alarm, causing the pack to be filled with more fear.
The thing that landed did not move, it did not flee or attack. The pile of dark brown something lay in a heap.
“What is that,” Lidia asked, cradling her legs, to try and stop the pain that was caused from the fright.
“W’ere did it come from?” Tory squinted up at the now large gap in the upper foliage.
Kai bent to be a wolverine, ignoring Bryn’s earlier warning. He approached the thing as if nearing a snare; crouched to the ground, ready to pounce if needed. He sniffed at it once and immediately his ears perked up, all his defences were gone as he nudged the object with his snout. It shifted, but did not react. He then used a paw to flip the thing over. It revealed more clearly to all that the thing was a large leather saddle.
In a moment Kai was human again, lifting the object up for all to see.
“Smells of Kae,” He announced.
The five dog-brothers sprang to their two feet and rushed Kai. They touched and sniffed the leather, growing more excited the more they did. If they had tails, they would be whipping about.
The crouching dragon made some sort of deep purring noise as he also took a sniff into the air.
“So it is a gift? A gift from Kind Kae? That’s sweet of him.” Lidia tried to rise, she found it completely impossible to use her legs now as they were cramped and painful. She
“Dragon must be a gif’ too,” Lorn stated.
“Gif’s for help’n win a bet,” Nudd laughed as he hoisted up the saddle. Somehow he had ended up with the heavy piece of leather.
“Bryn, touch the dragon!” This time it was Tory who suggested it.
With the brothers coaxing her, Bryn very cautiously approached the giant beast.
The dragon snorted when he saw her intentions. He did not rise, and instead tried to press down even lower. Even with this submissive attitude, Bryn was as terrified as if she was trying to come near a threatening maath. Her palms were clammy and her legs felt weak enough to give out at any moment. Absorbed in her fear she forgot everything she had been taught about these creatures.
The moment the dragon lifted its head, Bryn almost screamed with fright. She wanted the brothers to be at her side, to be protecting her. Instead they were behind her, watching calmly.
The dragon sniffed at her and stuck its tongue out to taste the air, it then hummed, its scales rippling. As Bryn listened to the deep vibrations all her lessons had come back to her. The dragon was happy to see her and was welcoming her to approach. She stretched out her hand and ever so lightly placed it on the dragon’s warm snout. It did not move or indicate any displeasure. She slowly scratched the snout and the dragon’s eyes rolled to the back of its head. That made Bryn giggled. She relaxed and put both hands on the rough skin to rub the snout and chin more zealously. The more she stroked the scales the more Bryn could not help but think that she knew this dragon.
“Pal,” She whispered.
The dragon stirred at the sound of its name to look her in the eye, and wait for a command.
Bryn laughed again, this time with tears in her eyes. This was not just any dragon. This was her papa’s very own steed. Pal had been Bryn and her siblings companion since she could remember. Bryn had been taught most of what she knew about dragons from the back of Pal. He was a patient and gentle creature. He would never hurt one of the Balaur children even if it cost him his own life.
Bryn beckoned the others over, a lightness was in her voice when she said, “Don’t be afraid of him. Come say hello to an old friend of mine. His name is Pal.”
The brothers excitedly accepted her invitation and were all soon stroking the large snout, gawking over him. Lorn and Kai took the time to assist Lidia. They made an arm throne for her and hoisted her to the others. As soon as Pal sniffed at Lidia he rippled with excitement. He tried to nuzzle her, but almost knocked the three humans over. Lidia winced from the strain as she laughed and rubbed the snout affectionately.
“It really is you,” Lidia muttered, “I had almost forgotten about you entirely.”
The poor girl only lasted a few seconds before she asked to be on the ground again. Her dangling legs could not handle the swinging, no matter how stubborn she was. They were about to place her back against the tree, when Lidia made a last second request. She asked them to leave her by Burnt. While the elation was still bubbling, Lidia let herself mourn for her dead friend for a few minutes alone. She knew she had to leave the dead dog where he lie without burying him, probably to be eaten by one of those oblivious dragons, she had to push those thoughts aside as she tried to control the tears that escaped her.
It did not take much before Bryn, with the help of Titen, Nudd and Tory, had the saddle over the base of Pal’s neck. The dragon had to be calmed down before they could strap it on. He was shifting about with excitement.
As Bryn was tightening the straps, Nudd asked the logical question, “Do ya remember how?”
“I may remember a few things,” Bryn thoughtfully replied, “I do remember that Pal is one of the easiest dragons to control. Papa had tamed him so well, that I could ride him on my own when I was five. Mama wouldn’t let me, but I knew how to.”
It took some time to use the straps dangling from the saddle’s sides. Once Bryn had climbed on, they had to tighten them around her legs, to hold her in.
Bryn glanced up to see there was not much room to maneuver with trees everywhere. She would have to trust that Pal knew how to avoid tangling his wings in the branches.
“Pal, fly upwards,” Bryn commanded, as she kicked the dragon’s side twice with the back of her heels.
The brothers jumped back as Pal spread out his wings. It was amazing how such a wingspan had tucked so well against his side. With a great heave Pal pushed down with his wings. He did this again and again until he was hovering in the air. A great whirl wind scattered grass, leaves and fallen twigs. Those on the ground had to cover their faces and lean into the erupting winds.
Skillfully Pal pushed himself upwards, until he was over the trees. Once she was sure they were safely away Bryn kicked into Pal again, once this time. Pal angled his wings and pushed forward. It jostled Bryn causing her to cling onto the saddle so hard her knuckles turned white. Even with the straps that were fastened to her legs, she felt as if she would slip from the dragons back and plummet to the ground. She had to push that aside as Pal caught a breeze and soared over the sea of trees. The wind pressed against her mercilessly, the more she bent over Pal’s back the easier it was to resist, so she stayed low.
The longer they soared the more confident Bryn became. The more confident she was the more she enjoyed herself. She even went so far as to open her mouth and laugh after she managed to make Pal do a full circle. She snapped it closed instantly, fearing a bug would fly into the hole.
Now comfortable enough to steer, she was trying to remember how to command Pal to land. It was then she heard a rumbling roar from above. Bryn’s head snapped up, her hair whipping her neck, to see a group of dragons sailing in a V shaped procession. They flew about and circled Pal to gaze upon the girl on his back. Bryn could not believe what she was seeing. She was riding beside wild dragons. She was actually among dragons. The group made a pleasant rumbling noise before they moved off, quite possibly growing bored.
Soon after Bryn managed, with the help of Pal’s patience and understanding way, to land back where they had left. When she unstrapped her legs and slid off Pal’s shoulder, her knees went weak and she was fortunate that Tory caught her on th ground, by wrapping his arms around her. Bryn took a steady breath before she could stand again.
“Well,” Lidia asked, “How was the ride?” She was sitting with her legs out in front on the grass, with the brothers standing around her.
“Amazing, and terrifying, and breathtaking,” Was all Bryn could think to say as she rubbed her arms. There was a chill in her from the wind and thrilling experience.
“Good thing ya don’t have long a travel’n,” Muir said when he saw her shivering.
Bryn was filled with a sense of excitement that was hard to contain. They were so close to reaching her family. By dragon’s back they would be reunited within a few hours.
“Since there is nothing else for us to do, I suppose we could leave,” Bryn recommended.
Lidia glanced around to be sure her sister was correct about nothing else for them to do. Besides her belongings in Nimble’s packs, that she suspected she would never see again, everything was accounted for. She then nodded to Bryn as to agree that they could depart.
“Are you all set to go,” Bryn asked the brothers.
They looked at her oddly.
“All of you are meeting us there are you not,” Lidia asked, thinking she knew the answer.
“No reason to,” Lorn replied bluntly.
“What was that?” Lidia was astonished, not believing what she heard.
It had not occurred to either her or Bryn that the brothers would not follow them. Now that the fact was in front of them, they realized there was no reason for the brothers to continue with them. It hit them rather unpleasantly. They were at this point too fond of the brothers to part without feeling a wrench in their chests.
“Have places to be,” Titen explained.
“What places do you have to be at,” Lidia wanted to know.
“Balaur girls aren’t the only pep’s we know,” Tory replied.
Lidia eyed all the brothers, unsatisfied. “You are not going to tell me are you?”
The six of them shook their heads.
Lidia had to accept that, miserable as she was. It was not in her power to demand or beg them to stay. It was logical that they would want to leave after fulfilling their mission. The only complaint Lidia had was she did not like to say goodbye.
“Can’t like what we can’t like,” Nudd complained, agreeing with Lidia, but accepting the fact more gracefully than she was.
Lidia could not help but say to her sister, “Is it worrisome that I understood exactly what he meant in that profound sentence?”
Bryn stifled a chuckle.
“We’ll see each one again,” Lorn said to comfort them all.
Lidia looked at all of them with a bit of suspicion. “Do you promise so?”
“Promise,” All six said at once. It felt as binding as if they had actually sworn something to the girls.
The goodbyes were anything but awkward. Each brother embraced both the girls fondly.
Once they let go a thought occurred to Lidia. “Since you will not be joining us; If you run into Nimble unsaddle the coward and sell and eat whatever you like. You can even eat the pathetic wretch.” The last part was sort of a joke. It was a bit hard to tell by her bitter tone.
The brothers laughed and accepted the request.
It was a struggle to hoist Lidia onto the saddle, her skin turned a scary pale as they tried. Once she was strapped in, Bryn jumped up behind her sister. With one last goodbye wave Bryn gave the command, and Pal took flight.
As they climbed over the trees Bryn heard her sister whisper, “We’ll see them again.” It was her way of reassuring herself. Bryn nodded, resolved to believe the same thing.
Both girls watched the brothers, who stared back up at them until they were out of sight. The brothers glanced at one another, nodded and bent over as dogs and wolverine. The dogs barked and howled into the sky before slowly fading in with the trees, melting with the forest around them. The wolverine sniffed the air before taking off in the opposite direction. He would find his brothers later.
Lidia was ecstatic about riding a dragon. She laughed, she squealed, she clung onto her sister for dear life.
Pal glided high as they raced to be with their family. Their lives were just beginning, and they could sail into the future on the backs of the dragons in the sky.
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