Tallideer held Patel close, his wing draped over her side as she churred softly in his embrace. It had been so long. Why had he thought she did not care? Why had he deserted her when he knew she was driving him away because she no longer felt worthy of him? He was so young, so foolish, so arrogant. He had deprived himself of her love all these long years, for what? His ego?
She licked his paw by her head and he leaned down and affectionately licked her ear in return. This was the way it should have been always. They were meant to be together. He knew it then and he knew it now. He had let it slip away those long years ago. He would not let her go now, no matter what she said. They were both older and much wiser. Their talk had swept away all the errors of their past - all their mistaken tries to do what was right for the other despite what they really felt, which was undying love for one another. He would make it right this time. The Fur and the Frost would learn about one another. They would no longer be isolated. They would know and hunt and love one another.
Patel turned her head and gently nuzzled Tallideer’s neck. She buried her nose in his fur and breathed in the scent of him. His grand plans flew out of his mind like dragons on wing as he thrilled to the warmth of her breath on his neck. Clan business could wait until later, right now he had Patel at his side and all was right for the first time in many, many years.
Zodic heard the scratch at the entry to his chambers. He started to rise to his paws.
“I can get it,” Austere offered, as she pulled back the protective wing she had draped over her love and moved to rise.
There had been several visitors in the past few hours. All come to express their sorrow and extend their sympathy to Zodic with the knowledge that he had lost his best friend. Each time Zodic went, listened, thanked, and then returned to her side to be cuddled and comforted.
“No,” he said. “I should go.”
He rose to his haunches. Sitting on the platform he ruffled his wings and then laid them back at his sides. He took a deep breath, stood up and stepped down. Austere rose to accompany him as she had the past three times.
The scratching sounded again. A little more insistent this time. When the two rounded the corner into the tunnel that led to his chamber they came face to face with Tallideer.
“Father,” Zodic greeted.
“Son,” Tallideer responded stiffly.
There was a squeal of delight and the larger dragon stepped to one side lifting a paw, as an excited Nilick shot past him and into Zodic’s arms.
“Mama said we could come see you,” Nilick said, as she affectionately licked at Zodic’s chin. “She said you need me.”
Zodic could not keep tears from welling up in his eyes as he hugged the hatchling close to his chest.
“Your mother is very wise,” he said, as he spied Ralei over his father’s shoulder standing in the hall.
Nilick cocked her tiny hatchling head and studied him with big brown eyes. “Don’t cry,” she said. “I’m here.”
“Indeed you are,” Zodic said. He cuddled her close and thought about how life continued even when one you loved was gone. He hadn’t realized he needed to see Nilick.
“I’d like to speak with you, Zodic,” his father said softly. “I thought Austere could go with Ralei and Nilick to have something to eat.”
Zodic’s head came up slowly from over Nilick and studied his father with a questioning gaze. Was this to be another reprimand? Was the incident of Trenic’s death to be laid at his feet? If it had to be, then let it be done with. He put Nilick down, patted her on the head with a gentle paw and pushed her toward her mother.
“Will you come out and see me fly?” Nilick asked, turning back toward him.
“After you have eaten,” he promised.
He turned to Austere. “Go with Ralei and eat,” he instructed.
Austere bowed her head and with a moment of bravery leaned forward and nuzzled his neck in front of his father.
“I’ll bring you back something,” she said.
“Nilick?” Zodic said to the hatchling still sitting at his feet, “you take care of my dragoness for me, okay?”
Nilick, being the totally uninhibited hatchling that she was, ran up to Austere and threw her arms around the Frosties leg.
“You come with mama and me. We have Elk!” She announced with pride. “It’s my favorite.”
“Mine too,” Austere said with a smile. The little raccoon colored hatchling was adorable and her joy contagious.
“Ride?” Nilick begged.
Austere looked to Zodic. Zodic picked the hatchling up and settled her on Austere’s back. Austere humped up her wings to keep Nilick secure and followed Ralei as she turned to lead the way.
Tallideer followed his son as he went back into his chamber. Some of the younger dragons had dug these chambers into the mountain face. It took time and perseverance. Trenic and Zodic had dug this one together and lived here for the past several years. Being young drakes they had been experiencing life relatively free from their families influence.
Tallideer had to duck in order to remain standing in the chamber. The young dragons dug it for their height, not a fully grown dragon. He was relieved when Zodic indicated with a wing wave that he should take his platform to lie on in order to keep his head from hitting the ceiling. Zodic laid down on Trenic’s, as father and son found themselves eye to eye.
Zodic broke the silence. “I am sorry, father. I did not set out to disobey you. It just happened.”
Surprisingly Tallideer agreed with him. “It happens,” he said. “You should not ignore the pull of your heart.”
Zodic could not believe his ears. What had happened to the father he thought he knew?
“It was an unfortunate accident. And I must take blame for a major portion of it,” his father said. “If our two clans knew more about each other the youngling Frosties never would have jumped to such conclusion. I have failed the clans and you, my son.”
“No, father,” Zodic exclaimed. He could feel the pain roll off his father. He rose and went to sit on the floor at his father’s feet. “You did what you thought was best for the clan.”
“Not entirely,” Tallideer countered. “I let my anger guide me for so many years. I was angry at being injured and crippled for life. I was angry at Patel for pushing me away. I was angry at a war that seemed to burn all my hopes and dreams to the ground.”
Zodic’s suspicions were confirmed. Patel and his father had been more than close friends. What has the Matriarch said to his father that had brought about such a radical change? He had never seen his father like this before. He was always withdrawn, powerful, in charge. This dragon before him was vulnerable.
Tallideer looked into his son’s mismatched eyes. He loved his son. Why had he never told him that?
“I want you to understand, son, why I was such a poor father to you.”
Zodic raised his paw and placed it over his father’s on the platform. “No, Father, you were busy ruling the clan.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Tallideer shook his head. “Before you were born I was busy. Busy trying to heal the clan and myself from our war injuries, but later when you were born, I had time. I made myself busy. I could have spent it with you.”
“Why didn’t you?” Zodic asked with true interest. His father had never opened up to him like this before. He craved more insight.
“I felt Drador was a better father figure for you. I saw him with you and Trenic. He seemed instinctively to know what to do. He was from a younger generation - a generation that was not haunted by the madness of war.” He took a deep breath and went one. “I never had any siblings. My father died when I was very young. I didn’t know how to be a father.” He hung his head. “In a way, I think I was scared of you. Your mother used to complain that I never held you. You probably do not remember, you were still very young, but your mother and I quarreled often. It was always over you and how I treated you.”
Zodic did remember raised voices. He did remember his father not coming back to the sleeping palate at night. He did remember his mother’s tears, though he had never put it all together before.
“I was happy for a time with your mother. I put my love for Patel aside and tried to forget. But then you came and it all changed. I was lost again and your mother was the only one who knew what to do. Because I could not be the father I thought I should be, I turned away from you and saw fault in all you did.” Tallideer penned his ears back in shame. “When your mother died I wanted to come to you, but it was too late. We were already set on a course I could not seem to change. The wind always seemed to be blowing in my face when I set eyes on you.”
Silence fell between them. What could Zodic say? He wanted to roar and cry at the same time. Instead, he sat and continued to hold his father’s paw beneath his – a paw that had turned grey with old age.
“You are a good son,” Tallideer said. “You will make a good ruler one day.”
Zodic started to object.
“No,” his father said with another shake of his head. “You will. Drador has been trying to convince me for years of your fine qualities. He has always been you advocate, as I should have been. He is the one who raised you so you would accept the Frosties help when it was offered. Even Patel praised your quick action in saving her stranded clan member during the storm. I looked at you, son, but I never really saw you,” Tallideer said as he looked up into his son’s eyes. “The clan’s ways have become old and stale with me. You will lead it into a new direction.”
“No, Father,” Zodic exclaimed and rose with a start. He was not ready to lead. He had no intention of letting his father push him into this unwanted responsibility on such short notice.
“Not right away,” Tallideer soothed. He extended a wing and pulled his son back into a sitting position before him. “In time, you will rule. Until then, Patel and I will set the tone for your eventual rise. We will do our best to knit the clans together while you and Austere establish yourselves as mates and the future rulers.”
It was a lot for Zodic to take in one sitting. He had seen his position as inadequate son elevated to future ruler in less than an hour.
“It is what I wish for you and Austere, if it is what you want,” his father said.
He removed his wing from Zodic’s back in order to allow the young dragon some room to breathe. He looked a bit glassy eyed.
“I hope to try and right things between us and I want to be a better grandfather than I was a father,” Tallideer confessed.
Tallideer leaned his head down and Zodic raised his to meet his fathers. For the first time Zodic could remember, they bumped foreheads affectionately and his father’s rumbling purr caressed his ears.