2. Her Train Ride
The train and sky railways were contraptions that glide high over the land, dangling on metal bars, run by man power and fire engines. The machines were invented less than twenty years ago, but they had only become widespread because of the lack of dragon transportation. The dragon men had once been the heavy lifting, cross country traveling system, but since the dragons had all vanished, the train business now took the country of Cosam like a tidal wave.
Bryn was sitting in one of those passenger train inventions, as it pulled itself across the tracks that it dangled from. She was alone in her car, on her wooden bench as she leaned her head against the window, staring at the sky. The clouds looked oddly like dragons and beasts of her imagination from that high, although she often thought of dragons.
Fidgeting in her seat, Bryn gave a restless sigh. She was tired of just sitting in one place. It was all she had been doing all day. After she had buried her grandmother, the day after she had awoken to about a month of blank memories, and arranged for a proper Balaur gravestone, Bryn set out the very same day. She had been traveling for four days trying to reach the north. Her only clue as to where her family was, had been the Dozen rivers. It was a very vague clue. The dozen rivers reached out to a vast part of Cosam and naturally broke off into a dozen different directions. She would have to stop at the largest river settlement. From there she would ask after her family and request passage to them. She was going to find her family one way or another.
She sighed again, this time rising to her feet. She stretched every muscle she knew how to, making the blood flow in her body again. As she relaxed her body again, she decided to walk up and down the cabin for some exercise.
There were very few people in her cabin, although almost an hour ago it had been crammed full. The last stop had unloaded a rush of passengers. The crowd had been tradesmen, being contracted for construction work. Being curious Bryn had made conversation with them and learned a thing or two about building and fixing a train.
It would be another day before the train reached the mountains and Bryn could also disembark. She could see the pointed-tipped hills whenever she looked out the windows. The thumb sized mountain range was teasing her, beckoning her to them every time she gazed in their direction.
Walking back and forth through her cabin soon grew tedious, so Bryn opened the front cabin doors.
In the next car there was a handful more people, and it was certainly not as quiet as the first. A small army of children were running around playing bounty hunters and thieves. They crawled over and under the benches, trying to flee from each other as if they would really be arrested for their fake crimes. Bryn felt sympathy for the other passengers that were trying to enjoy their ride, despite the screams and shouts, and occasional weeping of little beings everywhere. While trying not to collide with the little ones, she walked on to the next car. This one was cleaner and had cushioned benches. There were only four young gentlemen in this car, as well as an elderly lady, tucked into the corner nearest the back door. The finely dressed lady appeared to be asleep. Her chin slumped on her chest and her heavy breathing indicated a deep slumber. Bryn tip toed passed her, giving more care than needed.
The gentlemen sat near the front. Their seats were set so that two rows faced each other, making conversing easier for them. They noticed Bryn through side-long glances, trying not to be too nosy. They did not seem offended by her presence, or with her strolling by.
Bryn hardly paid them a thought as she walked all the way to the front of the car, taking a peek out the front windows. She gazed the same puffy, heavy clouds as before. Even from this angle she still saw dragon shapes in the clouds. They tempted her to jump into the sky and ride on their shoulders. It brought back the memories of when dragons were still around.
She could still remember when dragons covered the sky. She was perhaps ten or eleven when everyone awoke one morning to find all the dragons on the face of Cosam had vanished, as if they had all taken flight and never returned to land again. It was traumatizing for a child. It was traumatizing for everyone, especially a family that had spent generations hunting, flying and breeding dragons.
When Bryn awoke from her daydreaming, she turned back around and made her way down the car to initiate her trek back and forth all over again. By the third round, when she was at the front of the cars, she was approached by one of the young men.
“Pardon me, miss,” The man softly said. He was taller than Bryn, with a delicate like figure and smile. He was wearing a brown traveling suit. His hair is what she took the most notice of, because it was not naturally wavy or curly. It looked as if he found a way to straighten it perfectly. It even had the look of being styled.
“Hello,” Bryn greeted with an approachable smile, “Am I disturbing you?”
“My apologies, no. I wanted to speak with you. Not to be rude, but I could not help but notice that crest you wear,” He pointed to the leather sleeve on her left arm.
Bryn’s family had received a crest from the council of Gazon generations ago for their talents. It was of a dragon curled around a large egg. The thin dragon snarled out at the world, protectively. She had commissioned her family’s honour to be branded onto the arm of her dragon leather jacket.
The man continued, “You belong to the Balaur family. Am I correct?”
“Yes, I am a Balaur,” Bryn replied, a bit suspicious of his knowledge of her family.
With a gentleman like sweeping gesture he made a little bow. “Please, forgive my abrupt rudeness of approaching you without warning or invitation. My name is Arion, I belong to the Quearo family. I have memorized family crests in my advanced studies, especially those that have the title or anything to do with the best dragon men in the country. The Balaur name is known by any mind that has anything to do with dragons. I am more honored than you could know to finally meet one. I have been intrigued by dragons for a long time.”
Bryn blushed a little at the compliments. She forced herself to regained her self-composure out of pride.
“I am humbled and pleased to meet you,” She returned the bow, “They call me Bryn. I thank you for the kind words about my family. We have not been as well received as of late. Many people still blame mine and those like us for driving the dragons away.”
The man looked as distraught as she felt. “Oh yes, when everyone blamed your kin for the disappearance? But, that was before we all discovered the truth. That a selest had taken our wings.”
Bryn could have let the matter stop there, but her family had suffered more than that, and she would not let that be brushed aside. “Even so, the ignorant still prefer to blame those that loved dragons more than any other man. They still take it out on us with harsh words and accusations, rather than spending time finding the answers to bringing the dragons back.”
Arion stammered for half a moment. Bryn was a bit more severe than she meant to be, it was hard not to when one has put up with so much for so long. The young man was not sure how to react to her bitter words. It was fortunate that he was saved by one of his friends. The friend had not heard all that was said, he only had one question on his mind as he approached the two.
“So, you know much about dragons?”
Bryn turned her attention and glanced this man up and down. He was shorter than Sir Arion, with a more child-like and fresh face. His crinkled brown hair was tucked under a brown cap. His suit although, did not shine like his friends, was also well made.
With a sad shake of her head Bryn said, “I regret I don’t know very much. They disappeared when I was little, before I had started a proper apprenticeship.”
“But you remember,” The second man insisted.
“Of course I do. Don’t you remember them,” Bryn asked, turning his insistence back onto him.
Arion responded for his friend. “Yes of course, but we were not raised around the magnificent creatures. It was not until recently that my companions and I have decided we would put our heads together and search for the answer.”
“Arion, leave the poor girl alone, before you scare her off with your enthusiasm,” It was one of the other two gentlemen that called up from where he sat. He and the fourth man had been listening the entire time. The speaker abruptly stood and also approached the gathering group of conversationalists.
“Good day, Miss. Pardon my friends, they can be overbearing when they catch hold of things they think will interest them. My name is Semon. I belong to a humble family called Mikolas. This little one bothering you is my younger brother Nestor.”
“It is a pleasure to meet all of you,” Bryn smiled pleasantly.
Semon had an attractive look about him. He did not look as refined as Arion. He, although not shaggy or untamed, had a refined gruffness.
All three standing men turned their heads back to blatantly stare at the one who had remained in his seat. Once he noticed, since he had his nose in a book, he slapped the book closed and stood. He was a small man, with pale skin and skinny arms and legs. He wore a cap similar to Thad’s and a traveling suit that matched, except in colour, all his friends. He pulled down at the goggles that had been around his eyes for reading purposes, to rest them around his neck. He had the most defensive and snobbish look covering his face. He did not look all pleased as he scrutinized her, even as he kept his gentlemanly politeness.
“My apologies, they call me Thad. I also apologize for my friends who are attacking you with their questions. They grow over excited far too easily when speaking about dragons. They did not even inquire if you had interest in your family trade.”
For a moment the three other sirs expressed astonishment mixed with shame. Bryn felt she had to quickly banish their fears, just so they would not pile her with more questions and more apologies.
“Oh, of course I do. Or, rather, I did. No one has been involved in the trade since the dragons disappeared. Not until someone solves the riddle, or even finds the riddle to restore all to normal.”
After the initial blame placed on the dragon men, word spread faster than butter, that the selest, Lady El had taken the dragons as a jest. That the only way she would release them was if anyone could answer a riddle she had set down somewhere. For eight years no one had even been able to find the riddle that had been dropped.
“Perhaps it will take several thoughtful people instead of just one, with many different backgrounds, to discover the hidden riddle,” Nestor said with a twinkle of excitement in his eyes. It was evident that he thought they were to be the ones to join forces and do what no one has been able to do in eight years.
“Perhaps it will,” Bryn said positively, keeping her doubts to herself. These older men might be more educated than her, but she had wisdom gained by life experience. Four men with the same teaching, who probably grew up together, were not ’many with different backgrounds’. Besides, she knew that men with sharper minds than all of them put together had tried to solve the puzzle and none have ever come close as far as she had heard tell.
Arion spoke next, wanting to clarify Nestor’s vague words. “What Nestor is trying to say is that we thought we would have a try and find the puzzle ourselves. It is only right everyone tries their best to help.”
“We were hoping someone with dragon experience would be able to join our fellowship.” Thad added, not directly at Bryn, but more as a general bit of information for everyone.
“Yes, yes,” Semon looked directly into Bryn’s eyes making her uncomfortable, “Please, won’t you join us for a bit of your time? I don’t mean to be so abrupt, but if you could give us any information I am sure it would be a great help for our studies.”
Bryn hesitated. It was such a straightforward request that she needed time to process it.
“There is no obligation to stay if you do not wish to,” Arion added, removing the pressure.
She could think of no reason not to. She was bored back in her seat. There was time to spare, and having a conversation might make the hours slip by more quickly.
“I suppose if you don’t mind the company.” She conceded.
All the men were delighted. They offered her one of their cushioned seats to rest upon as they began their acquaintance.
Bryn was in a way a scholar in many things. She enjoyed learning new trades, thoughts and ideas. Speaking with four highly educated men would pleasurable to her. They also profited from her little bit of knowledge. They made Bryn delve deep into her memory and knowledge of dragons. Whenever the topic grew tiresome to Bryn she skillfully turned the conversation. It was always twisted back to her and dragons eventually. She was surprised to see that Nestor and Semon had pulled out notepads and were scribbling in them while she gave spoke.
Through Bryn’s inquiry, she discovered that these men were on their way to the great library of Skihi, the northern province of Cosam. It would be a suitable place to study and research.
After hours of talking Bryn started to show signs of weariness, they were straining her mind with so many questions. She would sigh before speaking, she would take long pauses between sentences, or her thoughts would drift as she tried to listen.
Semon and Arion were the only two that noticed.
While Bryn was describing the process of an egg hatching to Nestor, the two observers whispered a few words between them. Thad caught a few words and joined the exclusive conversation. Once Bryn finished speaking with Nestor, Arion brought up the new topic.
“I say, Bryn. You are such a handy resource. If you are not in any hurry why not join us in our travels and study. It is easy to see you are a great student and thinker. We would appreciate having you along with us.”
The others added their consent and insistence of her being their companion.
“A dragon expert and a female’s point of view would add to our troop tremendously,” Semon encouraged.
“We would even offer help to pay for accommodations and transport.” Thad put in.
“With your help we might just be able to solve this and bring the dragons back together. That would be something for the history books.” Nestor joined in.
Bryn could not help but smile at all the compliments of her usefulness to them. However, even with them buttering her up, Bryn would not oblige so easily.
“Thank you for the offer, I find it very tempting, but I must find my family. They will be missing me very soon.”
“We could send them a letter and let them know you are in good company,” Semon suggested.
Bryn hid it from being expressed, but she almost flinched at his words ‘good company’. She hardly knew them; it would be ignorant of her to say she fully trusted them to follow them blindly after one afternoon of conversation. Instead of expressing this concern, Bryn had another that came to mind. “They are out in the wilderness on the dozen rivers. A letter would most likely be lost trying to find them. I would rather return to them as quickly as possible. It has been far too long since I have been with them. I also have news I must deliver to them as quickly as possible.”
The gentlemen appeared very down trodden at her refusal. They were not fully expecting resistance from a lowly girl who was traveling all alone.
As if the thought had just occurred to him, Thad said, “Are you not a bit young to be traveling so far on your own?”
Many strangers had expressed the exact same concern, the clerk at the inn and Doctor Filip, even the conductor whom Bryn had struck up a conversation with, when she had first boarded the train, had asked her similar questions. Bryn had her answer already at hand, “Not at all. I might be young, but I know how it’s done.”
It was a very vague answer that could be interpreted in many ways. Bryn knew this, as she watched the gentlemen pondering her words too much.
Nestor had an idea he put to her immediately. “I heard there are many members of the Balaur family everywhere. Can you not send word to one of them and ask them to reach your family? I am sure you can send your news through family, whatever it is.”
There was indeed many who hold the name Balaur in the province, although it was not as extensive as Nestor thought. She did think of a handful of names she could try to contact. The flaw in his plan was that Bryn had no wish to join these gentlemen. She was perhaps curious and intrigued by their offer, but she was not swayed at all. She wanted to be home; home was her family. It did not help that the pressure the men were putting on her was growing with each refusal. There was this want or more like need. They were struggling with their decency and their own wants. It was a sudden change in mood with these men, like when a storm suddenly appears in the sky, without warning. The gentlemen took on a persistent and selfish atmosphere. It completely clashed with how friendly and kind they were before. It startled Bryn to the point that she was growing more timid and scared the longer she was with them.
Bryn slowly shook her head at Nestor’s idea. “I’m sorry I cannot help you, I need to express my news on my own. You are correct however, I have relatives in the area, last I heard. I am sure if you find them they would be more than willing to assist you in your endeavor. I could even write a note for you to give to them if you do find one.”
Even without answering it was clear that was not satisfying enough.
“Thank you, but I am sure only you will do,” Arion replied, politely.
That disturbed Bryn in more than one way. She could not say exactly how, but there was something going on. If she had asked the gentlemen they would have said that they did not quite understand their behavior themselves. Even if they could not explain it they were insistent.
They spent another few minutes trying to sway Bryn. They had pushed too far by this point. It forced Bryn to abruptly rise. As she moved out of the bench and into the aisle she firmly said, “I should return to my seat. We will be stationing at the next town soon, and I would like to rest before the rush joins us. Good day gentlemen. I pray you succeed in your campaign.”
Arion stood as well. He started to say more, but Semon stopped him when he also stood and put a pressured hand on his friend’s shoulder, squeezing it.
Semon spoke, “We apologize for making you uncomfortable and chasing you away. We were too abrupt. I apologize.”
“As do we,” Nestor added for the rest of them, although Arion and Thad did not say a word.
Bryn smiled, appreciating their acknowledgment of the wrong. “All is forgiven. I am sorry I cannot help you, I truly am. I hope your endeavors are rewarded and that we will see dragons again. But, I really do wish to return to my seat. Fortune be with you this day.”
“May your day be restful, Miss Bryn.” Arion managed to reply. “Our offer will stand until you reach your appointed destination, if you change your mind.”
Bryn only nodded at him. The others sent her their best and offered to escort her back. She kindly refused, returning on her own, more at ease now that she was alone.
As she was sitting down back in her own car and bench she thought how odd those men began to act when they wanted her to join them. She decided to shake off thinking of them, she did not need the added stress. She doubted she would ever see those men again.
She found herself wishing she could will the train to go faster. As that was not possible, she got as comfortable as possible in her little nook. To her delight it did not take long for her eyes to grow heavy and her mind began dozing with the vibration of the train. Her last thoughts were of her siblings; her younger charges that were waiting for her.
Perhaps minutes or merely seconds later, Bryn felt a sort of buzzing in her ear. The noise slowly brought her back to a conscious state. Just before she fluttered her eyes open to discover the source she identified the buzzing as voices. The speakers were closer to Bryn than would be possible if they were just strangers taking a stroll while conversing. She did not move, she was too comfortable and relaxed to stir—it was not that the wooden bench itself was comfortable, but finding the right position is the key to a train rides sleep—so she was saved from spoiling her unexpected eavesdropping.
“She is asleep.” It was Arion whispering, “Let’s not wake her.”
“That is unfortunate; I had more questions for her.” The second was no doubt Thad.
“Is that all?” Arion asked.
“Of course not. You know better than I how much we need her expertise. I don’t know how else to convince her.” Thad’s voice grew slightly louder by the end of the sentence.
“Keep your voice down. We would frighten her off the train if she found us standing over her.”
“Already done,” Bryn thought as she listened on. In the meantime she kept her breathing steady and heavy to give the illusion of sleep more depth.
Thad did not respond, but his voice had dropped considerably. “Perhaps we could go with her, explain to her parents our situation and convince them to let her come with us?”
Bryn shifted in her seat involuntarily and she made it seem like a natural adjustment in her slumber.
“Fine, fine. Let us go back before she awakens to discuss it. We know where she is departing, we will all come to a solution by that time.” As Arion spoke, his voice faded and footsteps swallowed up any other words that might have been spoken.
Bryn did not open her eyes until she could no longer hear foot fall. She did not rise until she heard what she thought was the front cabin doors opening and closing. She glanced around the almost empty cabin before lying back down. If they decided to come back again, she did not want them to catch her wide awake right after they had left.
Although her body rested, her mind was racing. She could only think of one thing; she would have to slip away at the next station.
Alone and nervous she sat up again beginning her preparations to escape.