Farloft followed Timenall down into a valley surrounded by old growth forest. They had been traveling for three days and finally arrived in the remote area Timenall’s mother once called home before leaving her clan.
Timenall waved a wing toward a meadow below and the pair descended, spooking a small herd of deer from their evening drink at the stream that bisected the lush glade. Farloft’s paws sunk into the dense moss and fern covered floor of the meadow. Even the dragon’s heavy weight rebounded as he approached the stream to get a drink. He marveled at its beauty. The bed was lined with multi-colored agates which sparkled in the rays of the setting sun and the water was crystal clear. Farloft licked the beads of water off his muzzle. It was fresh and left almost a sweet taste in his mouth.
The young dragon raised his head to see a hare sitting on its haunches watching him from the edge of the glade. In the distance his eyes caught a pair of squirrels chasing each other in a frenzy of spring mating excitement around a huge pine tree. Birds flitted, chirped and twittered from all sides as they settled in for the night.
The lush greenery of the trees at the edge of the meadow consisted of a variety of growth from saplings to towering giants. Farloft found himself wondering why anyone would ever leave here. It was ideal - a dragon paradise.
Timenall explained on their way here that his uncle, Vespal, was the leader of the Forest Night Dragons in this area. They had lived here for centuries undisturbed by man.
“Should we call to them?” Farloft asked, as he came back to Timenall’s side.
“They know we are here,” the hybrid answered. He stood watchful, his emerald green eyes looking toward the dense forest of the same color. “Vespal will come in his own good time.” There was a note of something between resignation and anxiety in his voice.
Timenall had spoken of many things on the way here, his love for Weirim, his younger years among the gryphon colony, but he had not said anything about his mother’s clan. When asked, he said his mother brought him to introduce him to her dragon relatives and friends. They had not been necessarily receptive.
His mother made periodic trips back taking him when he was younger, but always with the same results. A hybrid was not well received among the forest night dragons. However, he hoped some of her clan would choose to assist in the rescue of the gryphon colony. After all, the gryphon was a much closer relative to the dragon then a human was.
Timenall spotted his uncle first. He nudged Farloft with a wing and pointed his muzzle a bit to their right. “He comes,” the hybrid whispered.
It took Farloft a moment longer to see the well camouflaged dragon before he emerged onto the meadow from the shifting shadows of the forest. He was about Timenall’s size and had the same color spectrum on his scales as his nephew had on his wings, white through the grays to black.
“It has been a long time since we last saw you,” Vespal said, as he came to a halt before them. “Who is your friend?” He indicated Farloft with a lift of his chin in what Farloft interrupted as a bit of disdain.
“This is Farloft,” Timenall introduced. “Farloft, this is my mother’s brother, Vespal.”
Vespal nodded a greeting, but immediately shifted his attention back to Timenall. “Your mother has not graced us with her presence in quite some time,” he said haughtily.
“That is because she is dead,” Timenall said with no regard for softening the abruptness of his announcement. “She died years ago, as did my father, but you would not know that because you never leave your forest haven.”
To Vespal’s credit, he hung his head and said softly, “I am sorry to hear of your lose. She was my younger sister. What took her at such an early age?”
“The Varda killed her,” Timenall said matter-of-factly. “Father mourned her for several months and then followed her.” Timenall’s tone changed. “They truly loved each other, Vespal,” he sighed as though this was very old ground that he had covered again and again with the elder dragon. “The Varda are a scourge in our land.”
“You are not telling me anything I do not know already,” Vespal agreed. “I told your mother numerous times she should never have left the clan. We have always been safe here from the encroachment of the humans.”
“But we both know why she left,” Timenall said with venom in his voice. “She could not stay here.”
Vespal shook his head in denial. “We do not need to fly that sky any longer. In her memory we should put it to rest.” His tail flicked from side to side in agitation, tearing up the ferns and moss behind him. “Why have you come, Timenall? Obviously, if you waited this long it was not to advise me of my sister’s death.”
“I came to ask for the clan’s help,” Timenall said with conviction. “My father’s colony was attacked by the Varda. I escaped, but all the others were taken. They threaten to kill the hatchlings unless the adults work for them to help transport their trade goods.”
Vespal was already swinging his head in a negative fashion before Timenall finished what he was saying. “We do not leave this forest. It was what your mother did and you see what that got her.”
“Yes, I do! It got her a mate and me!” Timenall almost shouted. He displayed his wings. “Same color as hers except with the addition of my father’s feathers. There was nothing for her here,” he spit venomously. He placed his wings back at his sides. His voice grew calm again. “The one I love is among the captured. Please, Vespal, won’t you help? Farloft and I can’t do it on our own and if we try, which I will no matter whether you come to help or not, someone is going to get hurt or killed. It will most likely be the hatchlings.”
Vespal just continued to shake his head. Farloft heard a noise to his left and another behind him and yet more as dragon after dragon that had been hidden to him materialized out of the forest around them. They all had similar coloring, but distinctive. He knew that if he lived with them long enough he would get to know them all by the patterns on their scales. But, something was wrong here too, one limped when it walked out. It was not a limp from an injury, but rather from a deformed foot. Another had one horn missing. Yet another had a bad wing that made it look as though it might not be capable of flight. Of the dozen or so dragons that stepped into the meadow there was only Vespal and one other that seemed whole and without any defect. They were all deformed in some way.
“I will go with you, Timenall,” the one with the clubfoot said.
“And I,” the one with one horn added.
“And me,” one with the tip of her tale missing.
“I would go, but I would only slow you down,” the one with the crumpled wing said.
Timenall smiled at him. “I know you would Jessna. Believe me, I appreciate your willingness.”
Jessna smiled back and tilted his wedge head in acknowledgment.
“You should all think hard before you follow Timenall into battle with these humans,” Vespal warned.
“He is my uncle,” the one with the lame foot said to Vespal. “He cannot fight them alone. She was your sister, father. She left because there was nothing here for her. Look at us!” he shouted, “so inbred that we are all cripples in some way. If she expected to have a healthy hatchling she needed to leave.” He turned to Timenall. “You should eat and rest. Tomorrow we can start back.”
There were over two dozen dragons in the forest clan of which five decided to return with Timenall and Farloft to rescue the members of the gryphon colony. All were younger dragons like Timenall’s nephew, Salishan. It seemed his generation was hit the hardest with a plethora of deformities from missing horns to bad hearing, and from crumpled wings to poor eyesight. Salishan was a mature dragon, but with his bad foot he would never be able to compete for a mate in the world beyond the pristine forest they all lived in. He and the others were doomed to live a singular life due to their deformities.
It was an odd looking group that left the forest the next morning. Salishan with his mangled foot, the one horned Rezdal, Melozzo with additional toes like Timenall, and Jozwik and Treynic rounded out the five. Jozwik was missing the end of her tail and Treynic was an albino.