Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Five

Snow turned from side to side in front of the full length looking glass the humans brought in at his request, when they asked if there was anything he needed. “How do I look?”

“For the umpteenth time, you look fine,” Farloft huffed. “You spent the last two hours preening. How else would you look?”

“Well, I would hope better than fine.” Snow went back to working on the plumage of his right wing. “We are meeting royalty, after all.” He pulled at a stubborn pin feather losing the quill. When he looked up Farloft was gazing at himself in the mirror. “You could use a bit of a tidying up, Big Green.” He stepped forward. “Here let me help.” His head shot forward. He grasped a loose scale on Farloft’s back and plucked it off with his beak.

“Hey!” Farloft growled. “That was not ready to fall off just yet, Nitpicker.”

Snow dropped the scale on the floor. “Well, it certainly came off easy enough. And you look much more presentable.” The gryphon blew his top-knot of feathers out of his eyes. He leisurely padded around the old dragon on quiet cat paws accessing him. “Yes, much better.”

“You are making way too much of this affair.”

Snow plopped down on his haunches in front of Farloft. “What? How many times have you been invited to a royal dinner thrown in your honor?”

Farloft started to count on the fingers of one paw, then went on to the second paw, tapping one at a time on the rock floor looking as though he were remembering each separate occasion.

“Oh, Stop It, Dinosaur Descendant,” the bird squawked and then went back to gazing at his own reflection in the mirror. “If I had lived as long as you I would have a few more to count as well.”

Farloft reached out a paw and smoothed out the feathers on Snow’s head. “You’ll do fine. You’re the one who got us an audience quickly. Of that, I am grateful.”

Snow grinned at himself in the mirror, his top-knot rising. “I did, didn’t I? Who could resist such a charming bird?”

“Indeed,” Farloft agreed with an eye-roll behind Snow's back.

The big dragon moved to the mouth of the cave they had been assigned to in the rookery above the city. The sun was setting. It made the mist off the towering waterfall at the head of the valley throw rainbows across the sky.

After they were greeted when they entered the town, Royster went to announce the arrival of the newcomers to his parents. The couple had clan business to attend to before they could meet with Snow and Farloft. They suggested the two travelers rest and then come to a dinner thrown in their honor this evening. They remembered Snow and wished to show their appreciation once again. Their oldest male youngling had grown into a fine dragon, a dragon to make his parents proud, and it never would have happened if Snow had not saved him years ago.

The gryphon came up beside him. “Is it really different from when you were last here?”

“You have no idea.” Farloft shook his wedged head. It was times like this when he really felt his age. “It was a village and the largest thing in it was the pub where I was allowed to sleep by the fire at night.”

“Is the pub still here?” Snow asked as he craned his neck to see more of the city below.

“Nope, best I remember, it was about where those homes are now.” He pointed with a large green paw. “The whole business area seems to have shifted closer to the falls.”

Lights began to go on in the buildings below and in the rookeries above. Farloft could see several humans walking from post to post lighting the street lamps. The lights cast shadows on the snow giving the whole valley a magical glow.

As it grew darker the two could see the lights in the Grand Hall at the foot of the falls. There had been a lot of coming and going all day. Farloft watched as wagons of supplies arrived; firewood, food, mountains and mountains of furs, and evergreen boughs.

He and Snow had flown for days to get here. They would catch an air current and sail for hours. It was good to feel the ground beneath his feet and rest a bit while the bird preened. While Snow made himself presentable, Farloft went over his speech in his head. He wanted it to be a request, but with an urgency the ruling pair could not refuse.

“Are you two ready?” Royster asked the minute his paws hit the ledge outside their cave entrance.

“Totally,” Snow chirped.

“Great!” The tabby returned. “Follow me.”

The three sailed down to the courtyard in front of the Grand Hall. This hall was much finer than the one in Kerth. The huge double doors were carved with a dragon rearing up on his hindlegs with his wings spread as if to welcome all, as they entered, in a dragonic wing hug of affection.

The hall itself was built with both dragon and human occupants in mind. The two opposing walls were stair-stepped with large platforms to accommodate reclining dragons. The bottom floor had chairs and benches for humans. From the door to the far end, where the ruling dragon couple sat on a platform with their human counterparts, was a length of tables literally sagging with the weight of all the food on display.

The hall was lit with huge candelabras which were festooned with garlands of evergreen boughs. The scent was heavy in the air, mixed with the smell of roasted meat and fresh-baked bread.

Dragons of all color and ages sat on either side with humans mixed among them and in the chairs on the ground floor. Farloft’s eye was drawn to a distinctively marked pinto dragon to the right of the door. His coat was predominately white, but spotted with black. He looked as though a can of black paint had been splattered on him. His relatively solid black wings were tucked back at his sides showing the long stripe of white that made it look as though the wings were outlined.

It was Trekk. Farloft’s old friend from his last visit. He had not expected to see the dragon. He had to be a good three or four centuries older than Farloft. He could not resist, he picked up the pace and headed not for the rulers, but for his old friend.

“Trekk!” he exclaimed as he approached the elder. “I am so pleased to see you.”

“And I am pleased I lived to see the return of my youngling, apprentice storyteller.” The old pinto rose to his feet and offered a wing hug in greeting.

Farloft accepted with a toothy grin. Seeing the old dragon made him feel young again. How many hours had he sat at this dragon’s paws and listened to his wonderful stories?

“Where have you been all this time?” Trekk asked. “And what brings you back?”

“I would hardly know where to start that tale,” Farloft said.

“Well, you will have to find a way. I must know where your adventures took you. I bet you have some wonderful stories.”

“Don’t even get him started,” Snow warned. “His nickname at home is Loose Tongue.”

Trekk chuckled. “Really? Then I did teach you well.” The old dragon grinned. “After you have paid your respects to your hosts, come and sit with me. We will talk.”

Farloft stretched out his neck and nuzzled the old dragon. “I shall. Don’t go away.”

“Not a chance.” Trekk stepped back up on his platform and sat down. “I want to hear stories until I can’t possibly keep my eyes open any longer.”

Royster motioned them forward and led them the length of the hall. The occupants of the gathering, both dragon and human, began to calm and quiet as they passed, until by the time they were standing before the rulers of the community, all was silent.

“It is good to see you here again, Snow,” Fafner intoned as he came down from their platform and affectionately bumped heads with the gryphon. “It has been way too long.”

“It has.” Snow looked to Kaida who still stood up above with two humans, a male and female. “Kaida… you are looking well.”

She, unlike her stocky mate, was long and lithe like an otter. When she descended to greet them her back paws were still on the top step when her front paws hit the ground before them. “Snow.” She greeted with a head bump as well.

“This is my friend, Farloft from Kerth on the southern end of the Westridge,” Snow introduced with the wave of a wing.

“I saw you greet Trekk when you came in,” Fafner said. “You know each other?”

“From times long gone by,” Farloft confirmed with a chuckle. It was such a wonderful surprise to see the old dragon. “Many an hour was spent at his paws listening to his stories in the Skyjacker’s pub.”

“All of us can say the same,” Kaida said with a smile. “We all grew up on his stories.”

“It was a shame to have to tear down the old pub, but it was about to fall down around his ears.” Fafner motioned for the two humans on the platform to join them. “Trekk will have to take you to his classroom in the school. He has taught there since the pub was raised. You can’t get a bowl of mead, but he does offer water and he has jars of sweets to keep the throats moist for storytelling sessions.”

Farloft grinned at the thought of listening to the old dragon tell one of his favorite tales and sharing a sweet or two.

“This is Jon and Marianne. They are our counterparts in the human community,” Kaida introduced an older gentleman with hair graying at his temples and a woman of about the Healer’s age at home.

“Pleased to meet you,” Farloft said and extended his wings in a formal bow.

The royal dragon couple had not given him the opportunity to show his respect, so he thought he would take this moment to show it to them all. His wings glinted in the fire light from the candelabras hanging above. He was a handsome dragon and unlike any some of the Fur and Frost clans had ever seen.

“Let’s eat and we can talk.” Kaida motioned toward the platforms above.

When they were settled, humans brought food and drink. This was a ceremonial dinner, not one where they would eat their fill. This was for show. They would eat lightly and later, once they were back at their cave in the rookery, a dragon sized meal would be delivered. To feed this many dragons in the hall, they would have had to pile the ground floor high with meats and such.

However, the ruling couple served a very satisfying selection of roasted tidbits on skewers, candied sweets and breads slathered with hand churned butter with a collection of jams and honey. Farloft was pleased to see his mead bowl was never allowed to remain empty.

In the small talk that followed, Farloft and Snow learned that Kaida and Fafner had their three offspring of which Royster was one, but they also had three new hatchlings, just a mere ten years of age. A dragon did not usually reach what was considered a youngling until they were sixty or seventy years of age. A dragon was not considered mature until they were half a millennium old or five centuries. Farloft’s hopes of procuring help from the Fur and Frost clan dwindled with this news. He knew Kaida would be reluctant to leave her hatchlings.

Farloft was asked about his home, his family and life there. He painted a warm picture of Clearair, James and Anna. He told of his life with the humans in the area and in particularly his close relationship with Theresa, the Healer.

“Farloft’s home is being threatened,” Snow offered up, what Farloft had been dancing around for almost an hour. “The neighboring humans are gathering to invade his land. We are on a quest to gather as many dragons as we can to help defend his family and the people he holds dear.”

Farloft looked to the young gryphon. He gave the appearance of being flighty and scatterbrained, but he really was eloquent in his speech.

“My hope was to recruit you and Kaida, but I can see that is not an option now. I would not want to take the chance of leaving hatchlings without parents.” Farloft stood up and bowed politely. “If I might be excused, I would like to visit a bit with Trekk before we leave in the morning.”

Fafner waved him back down. “Do not be so hasty, my friend.” He looked to his mate. “We have had the joy of peace here in this region for over a millennium. There are those among us who do not remember a war. I know I would not know of them without Trekk’s stories of the Dragonic Wars.” He placed his paw on his mates and looked into her eyes for a long moment, then back to Farloft. “I will come to join you. A royal feast is not enough thanks to give Snow for all the years he gave us when he saved Royster. For the gryphon I will join in your battle and fight alongside the bird and you for freedom.”

Farloft could not have asked for more. He bowed his head in respect. “You are familiar with the ‘Smoking Mountain’ in the Westridge?”

Fafner nodded.

“That is my home. The castle, village and all the lands and people I can see from that height is what I protect. We will all gather on the peaks north of there after the last snow melts in this valley.” Farloft instructed.

“And where do you go from here?” Kaida asked.

“East to see Naza the wise.”

“I have heard she is too old to travel,” Kaida said with a tone of disappointment in her voice. They would not find help there unless it was from the monks who served the ancient dragon.

“Yes, but she knows all and will point me toward those who might help,” Farloft said. “I have not been out of my land for many years. My connections have been severed to many of the continents.”

“Go see Trekk,” Fafner advised. “He might also know of some you could seek out in your quest.”

Farloft rose and with a feeling of accomplishment, no matter how small, he started down the hall to speak with his old friend. One dragon had become two, and soon there would be three, and then perhaps even more. He would win this war for his family, his people, his land.

Farloft's Request by Elizabeth Babicz

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