Dark Cloud Rising
by Dyna Dee
Picking up a gray rock the size of his fist, the tallest of five boys, dressed
similarly in loose woven and simple peasant clothes, took aim and threw it at the
bedraggled looking urchin, hitting the smaller boy in the leg and causing him to
cry out in pain.
Go away, dark cloud. You're not wanted here." The other four boys
joined in the jeering and picked up rocks of their own, following the example of
"I'm not a dark cloud," the smaller boy who was their target yelled back
defiantly even as tears left visible trails down his dirty cheeks and his lower lip
"I say you are," the main bully yelled back. "And so does the rest of the
village. We don't want to play with you."
Seeing the other boys pulling back their arms, preparing to throw their
stones, the scruffy little boy turned and began to run. Two of the four rocks
thrown hit their mark. One cruelly struck his back and the other hit the side of his
head. Despite the pain, the little one's legs took him out of throwing range of the
boys who taunted him almost daily.
He ran as fast as he could and after he'd covered a good distance, he hid
behind a dense bush and peered through its foliage to see the five bullies had
turned away, finally losing interest in him.
He buried his face against his upraised knees and roughly wiped his wet
cheeks against his worn and dirty pants. "I'm not a dark cloud," he said
stubbornly to himself, his voice hitching slightly as he valiantly tried to fight back
the urge to cry. Yet every time he denounced his nickname, he was reminded of
the reason he'd been given it by the people of his village. At the age of five
winters, he'd awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of a fire roaring in
his ears, and to his horror, hot raging flames surrounded him. The wooden home
that he shared with his adopted parents was ablaze with flames engulfing over
half the wooden structure as well as the thatched roof above. He'd fallen asleep
that night on the floor, lying upon a bed of straw, holding onto a new puppy. That
was what the village elders attributed to his survival when the adults in the hut,
who slept on higher beds, were not as fortunate. By the time the villagers pulled
all three of them out of the burning dwelling, the two adults were no longer
Because of the death of his natural mother and then his adopted parents,
he'd been viewed as a dark cloud, cursed by some unknown force to be a danger
to those who cared for him. Thankfully, the village elders were reluctant to turn
their back on a helpless child. So a system was set up to ensure that the twice
orphaned boy would be taken care of by the entire village as a whole. Each night
he was fed and housed by a different family. It was decided that any curse he
carried would be sidestepped by not giving the ill-fated boy a permanent home.
For six years the people of the small village of Ha'ber took care of its little dark
cloud. Some performed their duty out of a sense of charity while others cared for
him grudgingly and only because of the village leader's edict. The five boys who
daily made his life as miserable as possible were from the more reluctant
Once he saw that his tormenters had gone on their way, the little boy with
the mass of matted and dirty hair cautiously eased out of the bush and stood to
brush the dust from off his worn pants, then slapped his hands together to clean
them also. Turning away from the village, he began the sizeable trek to the hut at
the rim of the valley, the home to the Hermit, Howard. The slight boy knew he
would always find a kind word and fatherly affection from the recluse when he
could find it no where else. Howard preferred being alone and intentionally
shunned the daily activities of the village unless he deemed it necessary to enter
it for supplies or companionship.
The village Ha'ber lay in the center of the sweeping and fertile Gerza
Valley, which rested between the mountain ranges of Rinalla and Gabria's Claw,
a section of western Amulah known as the Dragon's Tail. Howard's hut rested on
the rim of that peaceful valley, against the foot of Gabria's Claw. Its name had
come from the mountain tops that dragon riders said resembled the curled
knuckles of a dragon's foot. The walk from the village was a good distance for
the short-legged boy, but today he felt the need for the older man's comfort,
making the journey definitely worth the effort.
The sun was at its zenith when he called out Howard's name from outside
the wooden door, made from large branches that had been lashed tightly
together. Howard's craggy voice called out from within the small but sturdy
cottage that was built with rock, mud and grass bricks as well as from limbs from
fallen trees. "Come in, Duo." The boy complied to the summons by lifting the
make-shift latch and stepping over the threshold, his eyes immediately finding
Howard sitting on the stone hearth, stirring the contents within the large black pot
that was set over a low burning fire. "You're just in time to have a bite of food
The boy shut the door and stepped on the straw-strewn floor. "You don't
need to feed me, Howard. Jafan and his wife fed me porridge for breakfast."
The older man's eyes narrowed as he took in the boy's appearance, and
even in the room's dim light he could see the tracks of tears smeared on the
boy's face. "Are those ruffians picking on you again?" he asked with a deep
frown forming on his weathered face.
The boy of eleven winters nodded as he focused his eyes on the flame
burning in the stone fireplace.
"Shame on them," the older man spat angrily. "In fact, shame on the whole
village for the way they treat you."
The boy put his hand on the sympathetic man's arm. "Nah, it's all right,
Howard," he said, trying to coax the man into a better mood. "They feed me and
give me a place to sleep when it's cold. Considering I have no kindred, it's good
Howard's wrinkled face, aged from years of being out of doors and under
Amulah's hot sun, took on a decidedly unhappy expression. "You deserve a
home and a family," he replied hotly. "I asked Charn several years ago if I could
care for you, but he refused me, saying your curse would follow you and I would
die. The village's superstition is as ridiculous as their so-called plan to provide for
you. You're no dark cloud," he stated firmly. Then suddenly his face softened as
he brushed some of the untamed hair away from the boy's large, blue-violet eyes
and added, "More like a ray of sunshine." It was clear he had a great deal of
affection for the small lad who often came to him for shelter, some human
kindness and a short reprieve from his life in the village.
The man studied the boy for a moment, taking in his appearance. Duo had
long, tangled brown hair that was sometimes held back by a piece of yarn, but
today it was loose though most of it was matted with clumps of dirty knotted hair
tangled together and looked painful. He'd tried to get the boy to sit still so he
could cut the mass to make things a bit easier for him, but Duo refused to let a
blade touch a hair of his head. The boy's only clothing, which he wore every day,
was coated with layers of dirt. His garments consisted of a homespun brown shirt
fashioned in a common peasant style, much the same as all the villagers of
Ha'ber wore. It was gathered at the neck and sleeves by a string of fabric that
was tied in a knot at his collarbone. His britches were of the same cloth and color
and ended at mid-calf, revealing filthy, skinny legs and boney bare feet to match.
With grime on his face and the pungent odor coming from his body, it was plain to
see that the youngster had been left to himself much too often and was horribly
neglected. Howard knew that beneath all those layers of dirt and his scruffy
appearance there was something more, including a sweet boy who longed to be
loved and accepted.
"They're all fools to not see what a burst of light you are, Duo. I certainly
see it and I think of you as my good fortune."
The boy smiled brightly at his only friend's kind words. "I like you too,
Howard," he said shyly.
Despite the smell and boy's unkempt state, the older man drew the slight
body into his arms and he held the boy close, trying his best to give him the
affection he craved and deserved. He ignored the musty smell as he spoke
words of comfort to Duo, then released him to serve them both a hearty lunch of
hot stew from the kettle.
The two ate their meal happily in the dim lit one window room. When he
was younger, Duo had been uncomfortable in the small dwelling and asked
Howard why he had only one window, which was small and left ajar when the
older man was cooking. Howard explained that the lack of windows in his rock
and brick home kept out the heat during the summer and retained the warmth of
his fire in the winter. He only had the one small window because of the need to let
air flow in when a fire was burning. The lad had grown used to the small, dark
enclosed room and it no longer bothered him. While they ate and visited the two
failed to see the dark ominous shadow that crossed over the mountains above
them and proceed towards the village. Being that they were a good distance
from the village, they also didn't hear the excited cries of the people as one after
another looked up into the sky and pointed to the dragon and its rider as they
glided effortlessly towards the humble village in the Gerza Valley.
Duo remained with Howard for the rest of the afternoon, helping him gather
sticks for kindling and beating out the dust from the blankets on the older man's
bed. The two then went to Howard's garden and the older man regaled his young
listener with stories of his youth and his village, how he'd left it to go in search of
the sights and sounds of Amulah. Duo never tired of hearing about the far-off
lands, vast deserts and dense forests. Howard often spoke to him of the capital
city of Rydell, the center of Amulah's semi-circular mountain range that
resembled the shape of a dragon. Rydell's location was commonly referred to as
the heart of the dragon. The city itself was carved entirely out of the stone
mountain, with busy shops run by industrious merchants and vendors of all kinds
and homes for the people who lived and worked there.
Further above the hustle and bustle of the tiered city were the carved and
famous lairs of Amulah's dragons, the Halls of Dornan. The dragons and their
riders, young and old, lived and trained within those renowned halls. Their home
had been named after one of the very first dragon riders who had lived hundreds
of years in the past. The memory of his deeds of valor are forever remembered
each time his name was recalled whenever people referred to the place where
the dragons and their riders resided. Above those honored halls, taking up the
final quarter of the tall granite mountain, was the royal palace, glimmering white in
the sun's reflection like a beacon for all the inhabitants of Amulah to gaze upon
Howard often spoke to the orphaned boy of the dragons and of the men
and women, past and present, who rode them, giving Duo hours of mental
images to replay in his mind. Like every child in Amulah, Duo had seen a dragon
before, so his daydreams of the dragons and far off places Howard spoke of were
correct in some respects. Every couple of years a dragon flew into their village
with a rider secured on its back. Sometimes the riders brought news of a new
King or tales of the war against rogue dragons ridden by the northern traitors that
threatened their safety and security, and more rarely, they came bearing an egg
of a dragonling in search of its rider.
When Duo had passed his seventh winter, a silver dragon had come to the
village. He clearly recalled that its rider had been dressed in light-colored leather
and carried in a large pouch made of soft velvet a bright yellow dragon's egg. As
tradition dictated, each child within the village was led to the egg and was asked
to place their hands upon it to see if they were a match for the young dragonling
within. The village of Ha'ber had been both disappointed and relieved over the
years when no child of theirs had been chosen as a rider. Duo had been told that
it was deemed a great honor for any village to have one of its own children
chosen as a dragon rider for they were richly rewarded by the far-distant king for
producing a child deemed worthy of being such. Gold and silver coins as well as
other gifts were presented to such a village to help support a child chosen by the
dragonling for its rider. And the gifts continued as the village or city cared for both
dragon and rider until the dragonling was old enough to carry its rider from his
home to the Halls of Dornan for training. Though dragons grew rapidly, it was still
a full two years before that could happen, and the goods from Rydell helped to
defray the cost of caring for the newly chosen rider and dragonling.
As the afternoon drew to a close, Howard straightened from his task in the
garden to look up at the sun racing towards the western horizon. "It's time for
you to go back, Duo," he told the boy. "Isn't it Hagar Groot's turn to feed you
The boy attempted to wipe the dirt from off his hand onto his already dirty
pants. He wrinkled his freckled nose as he faced his older friend. "Yeah, but
Gerta has to be the worst cook in the village. I think she uses stones instead of
meat for her stew and her bread is always tough to chew and has sand in it."
Howard tried to hide his amusement at the boy's words. He'd been the
recipient of Gerta Groot's cooking several times and he couldn't have agreed
more with the boy's observation and dislike of her clumsy attempts at cooking.
"Now, we mustn't be ungrateful, my boy. She's giving the best she's got. Just
remember to give her proper thanks, just like I taught you."
"I will," the boy sighed, showing little enthusiasm for the evening ahead of
"Come on," Howard grinned. "I'll walk you back."
The sun continued to creep towards the western mountains as the two
strolled together, comfortable in each other's company. As they walked, they
commented about a snake that had slithered by them, and Duo was entertained
by watching the acrobatic antics of a skeeter bird as it twisted and twirled in the
sky, eating insects as it played.
It wasn't until they were halfway to the village, when something ahead of
them caught Howard's attention. He lifted a hand to shade his eyes against the
glare of the lowering sun and a gasp of surprise immediately escaped his lips.
"What is it?" Duo asked, copying the man's movements and squinting his
eyes as he looked towards the village. An equally surprised gasp came from him
as well when he saw the head of a majestic and proud dragon rise above the
thatched roofs of the village and turn in their direction. Jeweled eyes fastened on
him and lingered for several moments before the silver head ducked back down
and out of sight.
"Hurry, Duo," Howard urged the boy in an unusually frantic manner. "There
must be some news from Rydell if a dragon and rider are here. Run ahead and
I'll follow behind as quickly as possible."
The small and scruffy boy looked from the village to Howard and then back
again, clearly hesitant about leaving the older man to walk ahead by himself.
"Go," Howard gave him a gentle push and an encouraging smile. "I walk
too slow and it's obvious we've missed something. Find out what you can and tell
me later what's going on once I catch up."
"All right, Howard," Duo answered, still reluctant. "But hurry up, will ya?"
The small lad then obeyed and began to run the rest of the distance to the village
with Howard hobbling along as quickly as his stiff joints permitted, leaning heavily
on his staff for support.