Dark Cloud Rising
by Dyna Dee
Pulling the thick red velvet sack up around the precious sky-blue colored
egg, the rider of the silver dragon sighed deeply. He'd carried this particular egg
over half the kingdom for nearly a year and still the slumbering dragonling refused
to pick a rider. He was getting tired of the search even though riding Rayer was
ever a joy to him. He was just getting too old for this, he thought, which was why
he'd been relegated to this chore, generally considered a simple one. He was
one of many riders, past and present, who had served his king and kingdom
since his youth and had proven his worth to both. Yet now that he had waxed
older, showing silver at his temples and moving much slower, he'd been
entrusted to more simpler tasks while younger riders stepped forward to take over
the greater task of protecting Amulah.
As for the newest rider, he gazed wearily at the dragon egg in his hands,
this dragonling was very particular and stubborn in choosing his life-long rider.
Not for the first time he wondered if maybe there wasn't a child within Amulah's
borders that was acceptable to the little dragon, for it had come from a far distant
land. Maybe its destined rider lived elsewhere. Soon he would finish visiting all
the cities and villages that lay within the western Amulah, then he'd have to
journey to the eastern, and if the dragonling hadn't chosen a rider after visiting
the villages and cities there, they would probably have to send it back to its home
lair, far across the Osporin Sea.
Looking up to the village leader, he raised a weary eyebrow and asked,
"Are you sure there are no more children to be presented?"
Charn, a large, barrel-chested man who spoke for the village of Ha'ber,
rubbed his hand over his thick and neatly trimmed dark-brown beard in a
thoughtful manner. "You have seen the pride of our village. It's a pity the
dragonling didn't chose one of them."
That it is," the rider said with honest regret. "But he's passed by many that
were royal and peasant, so I hope that neither you nor your village will take
No, of course not. Will you accept our hospitality and stay the night, Rider
Garron? The sun is setting low in the sky." Charn said politely.
Seeing the approaching darkness, the dragon rider realized with a sinking
heart that he would spend yet another night away from the comforts of his home
and bed. "Thank you," he said with a gracious smile. "I accept your generous
The open center of the village was filled entirely with its inhabitants, all of
which were gawking at Rayer and himself with faces flushed with both fear and
awe. Garron was pleased to note the village well known for its weaving had been
blessed with quite a few children. It had been more fortunate than other villages
he'd visited where few children survived infancy due to wide spread illnesses.
//There is another.//
Gerron's head snapped up at his dragon's statement. He looked at the
village speaker unhappily. "There is another child that has not touched the egg
today. Why have you forbidden the child this honor?" he demanded angrily.
It was easy to see from the look in the man's eyes that Charn had
deliberately lied to him. Caught in a fib, the village speaker sputtered, obviously
flustered and embarrassed as he rushed to apologize and explain himself.
"Forgive me, Rider Garron, for misleading you. Yes, there is one, but he is our
dark cloud. Trouble follows the boy and I assumed no dragon would pick one
such as he. When he didn't come to the circle, I thought we would spare you
from wasting your time with him."
//He's almost to the village. He's running now that he has seen me.//
"I want this child brought to me the moment he arrives," the rider said
Charn looked appropriately contrite as he nodded, then turned. "Laret.
Notan," he called out sharply to the two strapping young men standing close by.
"Find Duo and bring him here."
Garron recognized both young men who had earlier put their hands on the
egg and had been visibly disappointed by the lack of response from the
dragonling. At Charn's sharp command, the two sturdy lads snapped to attention
and darted off into the crowd, eager to do his and the speaker's bidding.
"Again I beg your pardon, Rider Garron," Charn said with a low bow from
his thick waist.
Garron nodded curtly at the man's apology, showing him that it had been
accepted, but he was still displeased by the speaker's actions and explanation.
//Only fools believe in such superstitions as a dark cloud,// he told his dragon.
//These are simple people. They are perhaps ignorant of each other's
worth.// Rayer turned his head to survey the small crowd before them, his jeweled
eyes of blue glittered in the fading light of day. He brought his silver scaled cheek
close to his rider indicating he wanted his touch. Knowing his dragon well, Garron
reached up with his gloved hand and stroked the side of his beloved dragon's
//You are the most magnificent of all dragons, Rayer,// he told his faithful
companion through their link. A loud rumbling came from deep inside the
dragon's chest, which Garron knew was his purr of pleasure in response to his
flattering words. He chuckled after seeing the villagers back away warily from
them upon hearing the unfamiliar sound, perhaps fearful of the fire that stirred
within the mighty beast's belly.
Rayer's eyes closed with contentment for several moments, enjoying the
touch of his rider. Then suddenly the jeweled orbs snapped open. //He's here.//
The dragon's head rose and tilted slightly to the side to watch the scene unfold
before them. The two young men who had left on the speaker's errand had
returned, dragging between them and by the collar of his shirt a much smaller
and very dirty lad. The village as a whole went silent and made a wide path for
the three, many of them frowning with disapproval at the sight of the unkempt
"Bring him closer," Garron ordered, shocked at the boy's slovenly
appearance. Holding him by the shoulders of his filthy shirt, to two taller boys
bought their charge forward and stopped immediately before the dragon rider.
Releasing the lad, they make a public show of wiping off any dirt they might have
gotten on their hands from touching the boy before they melted back into the
crowd to join the rest of the village watching for whatever might unfold.
Garron observed the little boy's eyes widen with awe when they fixed on
Rayer's scaled face looming above the both of them. He could feel his dragon's
curiosity directed towards the small lad as he returned the boy's gaze. Garron
took that opportunity to study the boy. His hair was gray with dirt and badly
matted from lack of care. The clothes he wore were more or less rags that hung
loosely from his small and thin frame. The boy's bare hands and feet matched
color of his hair as did his face, except for the pale, smeared streaks on his
cheeks that had obviously been formed by tears. Despite his shoddy
appearance and the dimming light of day, Garron could see that the child's eyes
radiated life, wonder and curiosity. Surprisingly, the rider could not detect any
fear from the diminutive lad, for either himself nor his sizeable dragon.
//I like this one,// Rayer stated, mirth in his voice, //even though he smells
as if he lives in a hill of dirt rather than a human dwelling.//
"What is your name, child?" Garron asked, gentling his former ire that had
been directed towards the village speaker.
Reluctantly, the boy's eyes lowered from Rayer to himself and he was
taken aback by the unusual size and hue of those curious orbs, barely visible
through the long fringe of hair over his forehead. "Duo," the boy answered shyly.
"Do you have family present?"
The boy shook his messy head. "I'm twice orphaned," he replied in a quiet
yet straightforward manner.
The village speaker cleared his throat to catch the rider's attention. Garron
motioned for him to wait, then turned his attention back to the sorry child.
"Why didn't you come when Rayer and I first arrived?"
Duo's eyes widened. "I'm sorry," he rushed to give his explanation,
pointing to an area behind him. "I didn't mean to offend, but I was in Howard's
hut at the foot of the hills and we didn't see you come."
The rider's eyes widened a moment at the name the boy mentioned, but let
it go in favor of questioning the boy further. "Do you know why I'm here?"
The boy scratched at his matted hair. "Not really. Could it be because of
what's in the pouch on your lap?"
Rayer purred again, signaling his continued pleasure with the boy. "Yes,"
Garron grinned. It was refreshing to have a child respond so openly with him.
Riders were usually held in awe and fear, and even grown men shrank back from
them. "I've brought a dragon's egg with me." He untied the cord that held the
pouch closed and pulled the soft velvet fabric away from the egg that had the
appearance of a smooth sapphire-colored stone.
"You're looking for its rider?" Duo asked, his eyes studying the egg.
"Yes. But this is a very stubborn dragonling. I've carried it for nearly four
seasons in search of its rider. So I don't want you to be upset if he doesn't
choose you, for he's rejected all children who have touched his eggshell."
"You want me to touch it?" Duo's head tilted slightly, his face showing his
"Yes. All city and village children are eligible, regardless of their wealth or
lack of it or their status in their communities. The dragonling chooses his rider for
his or her own reasons, we only provide the opportunity for it to choose."
Duo looked from the egg to the rider and then shifted his gaze to his dirty
hands. "I don't think you want me touching your egg, Master Rider. I'm the
village's dark cloud. Nobody wants me, why should a dragon?"
Garron felt his ire rising again, but it wasn't directed at the boy, it was
aimed at the people who had marked this child as bad luck. "Never mind your
hands," he told the boy gently, feeling a well of sympathy for the unwanted child.
"The dragonling looks at the soul and heart of a person, not the outward
appearance. Just put both of your hands on the egg's surface and hold them
there. You'll know within a few moments if you're accepted or not."
The little boy appeared apprehensive, but slowly both of his soiled hands
inched forward towards the egg that was roughly the size of a large man's head.
The crowd stilled as two small hands set themselves on either side of the egg.
Duo was surprised to feel that, contrary to how smooth the egg appeared,
there was a roughness to it that could only be detected by touch. He leaned his head forward and whispered to the hard shell, "Hello there, little dragonling." He
figured he should properly address the magical creature within.
A warm tingling spread from the egg to his finger tips and up his arms then
into his head. A strong sense of relief went through him, but he didn't understand
why. He decided it was his own feeling of relief that the dragonling inside the egg
hadn't harmed him, being as unworthy as he was. He shouldn't have worried
though because Howard had never told a story where a dragonling hurt anyone
who dared touch its egg to see if they were acceptable.
An odd sense of curiosity filled him and he wondered what a dragonling
was like. What would it look like? How would you feed it? When would it fly or
Suddenly, a feeling of yearning to belong swept through him and a stab of
pain flashed behind his eyes. Shocked at the sensation, Duo abruptly released
the egg and stepped back, keeping his eyes to the ground so the rider wouldn't
see his confusion.
"Did you feel anything?" the dragon rider asked as he carefully watched the
The feelings Duo had experienced moments before were gone, and
knowing he was the center of attention, with the whole village watching, he
debated whether or not the things he'd experienced were his own thoughts and
imagination or something else. If he claimed to have felt something from the egg,
he would be teased and ridiculed by the village for claiming the dragonling had
taken any notice of him. So he did the only thing he could think of to save himself
more endless teasing and bullying, he shook his head while keeping it bowed so
that his lie couldn't be seen by the rider or his beautiful dragon. After all, why
would a dragon notice the lowest of the low?
"There, you see it was all a waste of time," the village speaker said as he
stepped forward, looking self assured now that he'd been proven right. Charn
had a voice that carried, and he'd purposely spoken loud enough for the crowd
around him to hear. To the rider, it seemed as if the village acted as one when
the men, women and children of Ha'ber all nodded their heads and murmured
their agreement. Garron noted the slump of the pitiful little boy's shoulders as the
speaker's words labeled him as worthless.
The dragon rider's heart went out to the lad, but there wasn't anything he
could do to help his situation other than admonishing the village speaker to take
better care of the orphan boy before he left in the morning. He felt a stab of
disappointment that Duo hadn't been accepted and regretted that his search for
the dragonling's rider would continue for at least one more turn of the moon
before he turned to the east. If the search proved fruitless after that,
arrangements would be made to send it back across the sea with the hope that a
rider could be found in its own land. It would be a disappointment to his fellow
riders if a rider for the foreign dragonling couldn't be found in Amulah. They had
hoped the new dragon would one day mate with one of their own, strengthening
the bloodlines of Amulah's dragons that were beginning to weaken from
inbreeding. Yet those hopes diminished after a good portion of the children of
Amulah between the ages of eight and eighteen seasons had touched the
sapphire egg and none had been chosen.
//The little one grows restless.// Rayer said, breaking through his rider's
thoughts. Garron knew he referred to the dragonling.
//Then all it needed to do was pick one of the many children who have
placed their hands on the egg as its rider and his quest would have been over,//
he answered. He then looked up to his beloved dragon. // I grow tired of this
search also. Can you not influence the dragonling, help it make a choice. No
one is perfect.//
//It is not perfection we seek,// his dragon answered with endless patience.
//But a harmonious union with a human soul, such as the oneness you and I
Garron nodded, understanding completely. There was nothing to compare
to the bond he shared with his dragon. He'd never loved another person nor felt
the same kind of intimate mental connection like that which he shared with Rayer.
//I wish the last little boy had been chosen,// his dragon said, sympathy
lacing the voice only his rider and other dragons could hear.
//As do I.//
//What will become of him?//
//I don't know,// Garron answered as he began to pull the velvet sack up
around the egg once again. //I suppose it's none of our concern, but I intend to
have a talk with the village speaker.//
Again there was a disturbance in the crowd of villagers, and Garron looked
up to see a gray-haired man limp towards his direction. His bearded face was
turning left and right as the man called out the name of the boy who had been the
last to touch the dragon egg. On the second call of the boy's name, a flash of
recognition and shock lit the rider's face, and a slow, wide smile grew on his lips
as turned away from Charn's continuing prattle. With the dragon egg in his
hands and eyes locked on the approaching man, Garron stood and moved
through the crowd to intercept him.
"Howard!" he called out, instantly gaining the bearded man's attention as
well as the entire village. The local hermit did not seem the lease bit surprised by
the rider's greeting.
"I thought I recognized that silver beast of yours," Howard said, seemingly
unimpressed by the rider or his dragon, sitting a short distance away. That
reaction came as a shock to the village's inhabitants who were closely watching
the exchange between the men of similar age but varied backgrounds. "I'm
looking for a little boy, yea high." He motioned with his hand to the middle of his
chest. "He's covered in dirt and has large eyes that are usually filled with
"He was here a moment ago," Garron said, smiling at the man.
"Did he touch the egg?" Howard asked, his manner serious.
"Yes, he did."
"Nothing. I think the boy melted into the crowd only a moment ago."
"Pity," Howard said with open disappointment. "There's not a better child in
his village nor in the whole Gerza Valley."
Even though the speaker and those around him sputtered at Howard's
insult, the rider nodded his head. "Rayer liked him immediately, as did I."
"Shows you're still a man of good character."
Both men looked at each other before their smiles grew to match eachother's pleasure. "How long have you been here, Howard? You left Rydell over
ten years ago without a word to anyone, not even your closest friends. Why?"
"I no longer had a purpose there," Howard answered quietly, a hint of the
sadness that he would always carry visible in his eyes. "I left Rydell to seek out a
new life, one with less painful memories."
Garron's face filled with sympathy. "Your loss was great, Howard, and we
understood it, but it was our loss too. You shut yourself off from us when we
would have done anything to help." He suddenly became aware that there were
many ears stretching to hear every word they spoke, so he waved off his
seriousness and spoke in a less grave manner. "I'm just glad to see you're alive
and well, old friend. We came to fear the worse at your continued absence." He
reached out his hand to the bearded man.
Howard stepped forward and clasped the man's left shoulder, his close
proximity allowing the rider's hand to do the same in a common gesture of
greeting a friend or relative.
"It was not my intent to bring grief or worry to others," Howard said
sincerely. "But I was made aware of something that needed my attention, and
duty pricked my dulled senses enough to awaken me, bringing me out of the
stupor I'd been in. I left Rydell to follow that duty and eventually found myself
here in Ha'ber."
"You talk in riddles, my friend," Garron said with a shake of his head,
wondering what this mysterious duty was that Howard spoke of.
"I can not speak plainly when the knowledge I carry could have dire
consequences to an innocent."
"Now you truly have my attention," Garron chuckled. "Come, the speaker
has offered me food and lodging for the night. Sup with me."
"I have no desire to infringe up on the gracious hospitality of the village
speaker." Howard's statement was made with more than a hint of sarcasm,
displaying his dislike of the man being spoken of. "If you prefer, I have more than
enough stew for two, if you'd care to join me in my hut."
A commotion sounded behind the man as the silver dragon moved to follow
its rider and the village people scurried out of its path. Garron felt his dragon's
surprise as he recognized the man he'd been speaking to.
//Aravell's rider,// the silver dragon stated as she lowered her head
respectfully towards the newcomer.
"Hello, Rayer," Howard said with great affection for the dragon. "You're as
strong and as beautiful as ever," he added.
"He gives you his greeting and is pleased to see you are well," Garron
repeated the words he heard in his head.
"Rider Garron." Their conversation was interrupted by the familiar deep
voice of the village speaker.
"Yes, Speaker Charn." The rider turned to face the man as he approached
them from behind.
"If you'll follow me, a meal and a bed awaits you."
Garron made sure to look appropriately contrite as he said, "Forgive me,
Speaker, but I have happily met an old friend of mine and will spend the evening
conversing with him, catching up on our lives. I do sincerely thank you for your
offer. It is most generous, but I'm sure you understand."
The man's eyes became almost bulbous as he realized that Howard the
hermit was the friend the rider referred to. "The hermit?" the large man's voice
squeaked. "But my home is much more befitting a rider than what you will find in
that man's hovel."
Garron's eyes narrowed with disapproval at the man's presumption that he
would chose a stranger's home over a friend's. "The hearth and home of a friend
is a welcome haven, even if it were a cave or a lean-to," he replied.
"I meant no disrespect," Charn hurried to say, holding up both hands
defensively as Rayer turned to eye him.
"Then my business with your village is concluded," Garron stated,
dismissing the man. Charn was smart enough to realize the rider had been
offended by his words and was now done with him. He quickly backed away.
As Garron turned back to Howard, he saw the other man searching the
area around them. "I need to find Duo to make certain that he's all right," Howard
"Rayer, do you see the boy who last touched the egg?" Garron asked,
looking up at his dragon.
The dragon straightened its neck so that its head was high above the many
thatched roofs. The silver-scaled head and jeweled eyes searched the village
and beyond before stopping to focus on one area. //A woman of considerable
girth has the boy by his ear and is dragging him into a dwelling, // he reported.
Garron related the information to Howard and watched his old friend's face
grow dark and his expression turn stony. "I'll be back," he said, his voice carrying
an ominous tone. The hermit of Ha'ber then turned his back on the rider and
dragon and hobbled with amazing quickness from the village square.
//It seems our friend has a new cause,// Rayer said, his amusement evident
to his rider.
//Yes,// Garron thought as he watched the retreating man. //Howard always
liked championing the less fortunate. It's good to see that his sorrow hasn't
diminished that part of him.// Turning to his dragon, Garron grabbed hold of the
straps that secured the seat on his dragon's back and tucked the sack carrying
the precious egg under his arm. Seeing his intention, Rayer bent his front leg,
giving his rider a step up. Garron climbed up his scaled leg, onto his dragon's
back and then turned to open his pack secured behind his padded seat. With
practiced caution he placed the egg within it, then fastened the straps, and tied it
Aware that the village's eyes were still on him, he moved slowly to secure
the leather straps around his legs, designed to hold him in place when his dragon
leapt into the air. //We'll wait here for Howard's return and see if he wants a lift to
his dwelling,// the rider informed his dragon.
Rayer's throaty purr rumbled his agreement to the plan, sending a puff of
steam out of his nostrils and the village's people scampering away, leaving
Garron inwardly amused - though he schooled his expression so as to not show
his mirth. He wondered momentarily what could ever have brought someone of
Howard's background to such a humble place. Well, he had all night to wheedle
it out of his friend.
As Howard approached the Groot's dwelling, he heard the large and
buxom woman shouting and the sound of a switch being used.
"No, Gerta. Stop. I said I'd do it. There's no need to hit me," Duo's
panicked voice cried out. Several of the Groots fat and cosseted children were
hovering by the door to the family's dwelling, eavesdropping on the orphan boy's
mistreatment by their mother. Their eyes were lit up with unholy glee at the
sound of the switch that struck the unfortunate boy inside. On hearing his
approach, the two chubby cheeked girls ran squealing in opposite directions while
the older boy ran into the dwelling, yelling for his mother. Howard followed him
inside, his temper causing him to move faster than he normally managed.
Inside the candle-lit room, Howard easily found Gerta Groot. Her wide, fat
rolled body stood in a corner by the fireplace, a switch in hand as she loomed
over Duo who was tightly curled into the corner with his thin arms covering his
head in order to protect it from the mean-tempered woman.
"Gerta Groot! What is the meaning of this?" Howard thundered.
The large woman turned to face the intruder, her eyes wide with surprise
even as her son incoherently babbled at her.
"Quiet!" she snapped at her boy, pushing him away from her skirts as her
eyes narrowed on the older man. "What gives you the right to enter my home
without invitation?" she demanded.
"I've come to rescue this boy from your cruel disposition, Gerta. Why do
you beat him?"
"He was to come here before supper to clean out the hearth. Since he
failed to show up before now, our meal will be late. If he is to receive our charity,
he should work for it."
"Come here, Duo," Howard said firmly to the boy, determined to take the
lad out of harm's way. He would definitely have strong words with the speaker
and with Hagar, the vile woman's husband.
Slowly, the boy came to his feet, and with large, wary eyes never leaving
the angry woman, he side-stepped out of her way and then dashed to Howard's
side, clutching at the older man's clothing. Howard put a protective arm around
the boy's shoulder, noticing the flinch of pain the child made at the contact.
"Shame on you, Gerta," Howard hissed in stern, frosty voice. "You would
not harm your own children in such a way. Why do you do such things to a child
who has so much less than any of us?"
"He's a bastard and a dark cloud," the woman answered haughtily.
"Anything he receives from us is more than he deserves."
Howard found his great distaste for the miserable woman growing. It had
nothing really to do with her obesity, nor her beady eyes or the large mole just
above her upper lip that had several dark hairs growing out of it. No, it was her
nasty disposition and cruelty towards an unfortunate that turned his stomach as
he looked at her. "With all his misfortune," Howard began, teeth gritted, "this boy
treats others with more respect and kindness than you will ever possess. It's a
true revelation of your real nature, Gerta, and showing you for the compassion
less, repugnant and vile person you truly are." Having said what was on his mind
and seeing that Gerta was becoming more red-faced than usual and breathing
noisily out of her nose, Howard turned and quickly led Duo from the dwelling.
Together they walked towards the center of the village, which was quite for the
most part, save only an occasional sniffle coming from the boy.
"Has she always been that cruel?" Howard asked as the evening advanced
and the village people began to return to their homes from the excitement of that
afternoon to prepare their meals.
"Only when Hagar is absent," Duo answered quietly, his head bowed and
eyes focused on the ground as they walked.
The older man patted the boy on his mangy head. "Looks like you'll be
having your supper with me and an old friend tonight. You can stay the night if
The boy nodded, grabbing hold of the hermit's sleeve. A bright smile grew
on his face as his gaze turned with marked adoration at the older man. "I like
your dwelling the best, Howard."
Howard smiled down at the boy in return, glad that he could give him a
reprieve from the village, even if it was for only one night. "Then lets you and I
see what's happened to our visiting dragon and his rider. I hope Garron doesn't
mind my well-cooked stew." Howard wondered at the look of apprehension that
flashed in the boy's eyes, but dismissed it, thinking Duo was understandably in
awe of the magnificent silver dragon and his rider. He had no doubt the boy
would relax after a while and enjoy the evening to come.