Dark Cloud Rising
by Dyna Dee
Howard and Garron stared at the spectacle on the dirt floor and froze in place for a moment while their minds accepted the reality before them. The dragonling had accepted the most humble of all children to be its rider.
Howard was the first to move, closing the distance between himself and Duo, then knelt at the boy’s side. Garron followed, his attention going to the reptilian creature, stroking its soft sides and making sounds from deep inside his throat that mimicked the purring of his own dragon.
Howard’s hand pressed against Duo’s forehead and found it hot and clammy. "The dragonling has taken him," he mumbled out loud. His eyes noted the paleness of Duo’s skin and the red spots on his cheeks. The two men looked up at the same time, exchanging expressions of worry and concern. This was a time of uncertainty, when the saliva of the dragon entered its chosen rider’s body. The life and death of the boy and dragon would now be determined by the thin orphan’s ability to survive. If his body could tolerate the foreign substance that formed a symbiotic connection between a dragon and its rider, then both of them would be added to the elite of Rydell. If, however, it proved to be too invasive, if Duo’s will and body were too fragile, the boy would perish and the newly hatched dragon would soon follow. This joining was instinctive to the dragon, driven by instinct to connect with its chosen rider in order to survive, but it was a perilous and painful process for its human counterpart. The boy being rendered unconscious was typical, but he would have to be carefully watched and tended for the next three days and comforted while his mind and body struggled to adjust to the changes that had already begun.
"Rayer is pleased," Garron announced as he continued to pet the baby dragon. He knew from great experience that the small creature’s mouth would remain clenched onto the boy’s forearm for a while yet and that the blood dripping from the wounds would slowly ebb and stop. It was a matter of time now until they learned the fate of the boy and his dragon.
"I should have stayed with him," Howard said with a worried frown on his face and he pushed the tangled but clean and damp hair away from the boy’s still face.
"You couldn’t have known," Garron replied, but there was something in his old friend’s expression that seemed to contradict his statement. "Howard?" He waited until the grey-haired man looked up and their eyes met. "You didn’t know that the dragonling would choose him, did you?"
The other man gave him an enigmatic smile. "Of course I didn’t know," he answered. "But I had hoped and suspected that he might."
Garron’s gaze drifted back to the boy. "What is so special about this boy that you would have such aspirations for him? The dragonling chooses his rider and no one really knows the reasoning behind it. Even Rayer told me I was chosen by him because of a feeling of rightness he felt at my touch. It’s just not something that can be predicted."
Howard shook his head, then looked back at the boy’s face, a smile of fondness on his lips. "How is it that this one dirty little boy won your’s and Rayer’s attention and concern upon such a short meeting? Don’t tell me you don’t care about his welfare for you’ve spoken of Duo quite a bit since meeting him. There’s something about him that draws people to him, and I was fairly certain that, given a chance, a dragonling would choose him." He frowned a bit. "I just don’t understand why he didn’t tell you that something happened when he touched the egg. We both know the dragonling sends its feelings to its chosen rider."
Garron sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand; it had been a long day. "The village people were anticipating his failure. I suppose he gave them what they wanted."
"That’s certainly possible," Howard said and both men looked to the boy’s slumbering form. Then as if coming to some conclusion, Howard looked up to his old friend his face taking on a serious expression. "If the boy survives, you will most likely see him in daylight again, but this time he’ll be free of dirt and grime. There is something in his appearance, beneath all of that, which gives him away, or rather his heritage. I want you to swear to me that if you see what I believe you will, you will tell no one. The boy’s life may depend on it."
"You can be very vexing, my friend," the rider said with a long-suffering sigh, resigned himself to doing what the other man asked. "I would have no harm come to the boy, so of course, I won’t tell anyone what I might or might not see."
Howard chuckled, knowing he rankled the other man’s otherwise steady nerves. "At least his circumstances will improve now. With your edict to the village to care for Duo and his dragon for the next two years, they’ll be forced to give him respect as well as a roof over his head and food in his and his dragon’s belly."
"I’ll have words with Speaker Charn before I leave. I assume you’ll put up with me for the next few days, until I’m sure the boy has recovered so that I can carry news back to the Halls."
Howard nodded. "It would be my pleasure, and I’m sure Rayer can be easily accommodated as well. This valley is an excellent location for a dragon, for the mountains that border it hold an abundance of food for Rayer and for our dragonling once he’s old enough to hunt for his own food."
Looking down at the tiny dragon still firmly attached to his rider, Garron chuckled. "A black dragon. I’ve never seen nor heard of one before. Have you?"
"No, can’t say I have."
"I’m beginning to believe that Amulah is about to witness something very unusual in this boy and his black dragon, that is if they survive the next few days."
"I have no doubt that they’ll both do just fine," the so-called hermit said with confidence.
A gasp from the boy brought both men’s attention back to him. Duo’s thin body had begun to tremble as if he were wracked with cold. Howard grabbed the blanket on the straw bed he’d made earlier and wrapped it around the boy, then carried him to the lone bed and set him in the middle of it.
Touching the boy’s skin, it was easy to see that the dragon’s bane, the process of the connection between the dragon and his chosen rider, was upon him. Duo’s limbs were limp and his entire body was burning with fever. With a torch in hand, Garron made another trip into the canyon and brought back cold water from the stream to bathe the heated skin. Both dragon rider and hermit knew they would be working throughout the night to make the boy as comfortable as possible and to keep his fever down.
"It’s a good thing he bathed earlier," Garron commented, tucking the blanket around the boy and his dragon after cooling the boy’s chest with a wet cloth.
"Must have been a premonition on your part," Howard suggested, which caused the rider to dismiss the suggestion with a brief snort. "Why don’t you rest for a while. I’ll tend to him until I can’t stay awake any longer, then I’ll wake you."
"Sounds good. It’s been a long day." The rider stood and stretched, the bones of his back popping loudly. It had been a very long day. "I’ll bed down where the boy slept earlier so that I’m close enough to help if you need me."
Howard bid the rider goodnight and turned his attention back to the boy, now sleeping restlessly, occasionally tossing about from the constant discomfort he was experiencing. Wringing out the cool water from the cloth in his hand, he readied himself for a long night.
By midday the people of the village began to wonder why the dragon and its rider lingered at the hermit’s hut, which had been purposely set away from their community. Some children remarked that Duo had not been seen in the fields that morning and those of the village who looked more kindly on the parentless child began to worry at his unusual absence.
Several of the more daring boy’s ventured out to the distant hut and edged warily past the dozing dragon that lay on its belly in the midday sun, its eyes closed as if it was unaware or unconcerned about anything but its rest. One boy, appointed to act as their spokesman, knocked timidly on the hermit’s door while his eyes remained fixed warily on the majestic winged reptile.
"Yes?" The abrupt opening of the ramshackle door accompanied by the dragon rider’s voice startled the lad and his three companions huddling behind him.
The boy looked with wide eyes at the rider, dressed in clothes quite different from the leathers he’d worn the day before. The loose breeches and tunic were made of a fine fabric rarely seen by the simple folk of the small village of Ha’ber. In a nervous voice the boy in the lead addressed the rider. "We were wondering why you and your dragon linger, sir. Is everything all right?"
Garron narrowed his eyes as he studied the stout youth with ruddy skin and mousy brown hair. "You may tell your speaker that the dragonling has chosen one of your people as its rider. I will stay with Howard to see if the boy and dragon survive the ordeal known as the dragon’s bane."
Soft moans came from inside the hut, and the three boys leaned to the side to try and see around the rider to learn the identity of the fortunate child.
"Who’s been chosen?" asked the bolder boy in front.
"Your little dark cloud, Duo," Garron said, appreciating the looks of shock on the three boys’ faces. "Tell your speaker that he and I will need to make arrangements for the boy and dragonling before I leave for Rydell. I would also appreciate it if your village would accommodate us by preparing food. Howard and I are much too occupied with the boy to cook properly."
The boy straightened and nodded, knowing that carrying the words of the dragon rider to the speaker would elevate his importance in the village, at least for the day. "I’ll go straight away, honored dragon rider. I’m sure that Charn will want to speak with you as soon as he can walk the distance here."
"No," Garron frowned and looked across the valley to see the distant village. "Tell him to come on the morrow. Send the food straight away, and some broth for the boy. I’d also appreciate someone supplying Duo with fresh clothing. He’s a dragon rider now and should be appropriately dressed befitting his new standing in Amulah."
The boy nodded, his brow furrowed as if he were concentrating on not forgetting anything the rider had said. When Garron waved them off, he turned and bumped into his stunned friends. He quickly straightened and with an air of importance asked, "Did you not hear the man? I’ve an important message to carry to the speaker. Get out of my way."
The rider watched with amusement as the boy bolted, leaving the others to try and catch up. Garron felt a moment’s regret, wishing he could see the speaker’s face when he learned that the boy he’d given up as bad luck had been the one chosen by the little black dragon.
Seeing that all was quiet once again, and after Rayer assured him he was content after his early morning hunt and his belly was full, he turned back into the hut, shutting the door behind him.
Howard sat on the edge of his bed with the very ill boy, wrapped once again in the blanket and cradled in his arms.
"Hurts," Duo whimpered, and the rider could sympathize with his suffering. He remembered well his own trial of the dragon’s bane that he’d gone through with Rayer when he was but eight. His thoughts went back in time to that momentous day. Of course the circumstances had been different than Duo’s. He’d been brought to court by his father, joining other boys who were the sons and descendants of riders. They were the privileged few who had the first opportunity to touch the dragon’s egg.
He’d been schooled by his father - the rider of Perrin, the green scaled dragon that had been an important part of his childhood - to recognize any mental interaction between himself and the dragonling in the egg. He recalled feeling frightened at being presented to the court, and somewhat timid when asked to put his hands on the pale green egg. When he felt the questioning mind of the dragonling touching his thoughts, he’d dismissed it as being his own vivid imagination, not able to believe that he would be fortunate enough to be chosen. Then, as the curiosity and warmth he felt became stronger, he could no longer deny that Rayer had chosen him. It was the most frightening, exciting and defining moment of his life.
After telling his father the news, he had been whisked off to another room where he and his father waited for the egg to begin cracking. He helped his dragon to free himself from his shell, knowing and trying to prepare himself for what would happen almost immediately after the dragon ate the membrane off its body. His father had explained to him that the nutrients of the membrane would sustain a dragonling during the several days that he and his chosen rider endured the trial of fire and ice, better known as the dragon’s bane, when the dragonling would bite his chosen’s riders flesh and its saliva entered the bloodstream.
Even though he’d been prepared ahead of time, it was an almost overwhelming experience and one of the most painful he’d ever endured. He felt a good measure of sympathy for the boy now suffering. He’d not had any preparation, and though partially aware of what was happening, Duo really didn’t understand the danger he was in.
"Could you bring me a cup of water?" Howard asked the rider, bringing him back from his thoughts of the past.
Garron went to the mantle over the fireplace and retrieved the wooden cup that rested there. He dipped it into the bucket of water he’d drawn earlier that morning from the clear mountain stream that ran nearby, then handed it to Howard who placed it against the boy’s pale lips. Two slender arms fought their way out of the blankets and trembling hands weakly grasped the cup as the boy desperately swallowed the water in large, noisy gulps, trying to quench his thirst and the heat eating away at his body.
"Easy," Howard cautioned, trying to steady the cup so the blankets wouldn’t get wet. After draining it completely, the shaking hand dropped and Duo relaxed against the man holding him. His pale chapped lips moved but no words came out.
From his vantage point, Garron was able to read the boy’s lips. "He says the dragonling’s thirsty, too." Howard looked up and the two men shared a smile. The connection between the dragon and its rider was progressing nicely.
"I’ll see to it," the rider said. He went back to the shelf, selected a bowl and filled it with water for the small creature. The black dragon had released his teeth from the boy’s arm sometime during the night, and his body now rested on top of the boy’s bare chest, its long thin tail, widening only at the tip, loosely clung to Duo’s slender neck. Garron set the bowl down low enough to offer its contents to the dragonling. The black leathery head rose and a forked tongue flicked out to touch the water, cautiously tasting it. Then the process repeated with water drops being splattered onto Duo’s chest until the small dragon had its fill. He then tucked his dark head back down under the covers and against the boy’s hot, fevered chest. Garron knew that the small dragon would soon have to go out and hunt for some meat, because once the boy finally felt better, he and his dragon would be famished from their ordeal.
It came as no surprise that when the food from the village arrived, the village speaker came also, accompanying the two women who’d prepared the large meal. Amongst other things, he carried clothing that had been requested and gathered for the newest dragon rider.
Garron spoke to the man briefly and reported to him what Duo was going through. The man looked appropriately concerned. He insisted that he see for himself that the boy was all right. Reluctantly, Garron led the man inside the dimly lit room.
"Can’t we leave the door open," Charn asked, his eyes straining to adjust to the darker environment.
"The light outside is too bright at the moment for both the dragonling and Duo. In a day or two they’ll be able to step outside," Garron stated, then took the speaker’s elbow and directed him to the bed.
The village speaker studied the pale face of the boy who had been under his people’s care for six years, and both he and his mother had been a burden for five years before that. From the faint candlelight and the low flame of the fire in the hearth, he could just barely see the slight glistening of sweat on the boy‘s pinched face, indicating a fever and pain. The hermit was holding Duo, and pulled the blanket up to the boy’s chin while giving the speaker an impatient glare.
Charn’s focus turned to the hermit, and his suspicions rose concerning the man and his role in the dragon’s choosing of the unfortunate boy. Howard had always been a mysterious person who had come to the village of Ha’ber over summers years ago. The man was an undeniable recluse, strangely cultured and intelligent. He purposely kept himself away from the village as much as possible, although he did, from time to time, come to him with suggestions. For the most part, those meetings had been about the very boy the hermit was now holding in his arms with pose of protection. It seemed odd that he was involved in the claim of Duo being the dragonling’s new rider. Howard had always stood up for the boy, insisting the people of Ha’ber do right by him. His suspicions led the village speaker to voice his concerns out loud.
"This isn’t some scheme of yours to get the boy more than he already deserves, is it, Howard?"
"A scheme?" Howard asked in a tight voice, hardly believing the ignorant man before him could believe such a thing. "Do I look like I can manipulate the will of a dragonling?"
Charn looked around the dim lit room. "I see no hatchling as evidence of your claim that the boy was chosen. He looks ill to me, surely, but that doesn’t mean he’s been chosen."
"You doubt my word?" Garron interjected, letting some of his anger be heard in his voice.
Charn seemed to think twice about confronting a dragon rider. They owed fealty to the dragons that came from Rydell and their riders who protected their borders from Amulah’s encroaching northern enemies. "Forgive me my ignorant ways," Charn said, with a bob of his head. "I meant no disrespect."
"Show him," Garron said to the angry looking Howard. "It is his right to see what has come to pass, for his village is now responsible for the care and well being of both dragon and his rider for the next two years. Show him that he can report to them that he has seen it with his own eyes."
With obvious reluctance, Howard shifted the listless boy enough to open the blanket. The shirt the boy had been put in the night before was wet with sweat, but that fact was ignored for the black creature that lay cured up in a ball on the boy’s chest, just over his heart.
The speaker’s eyes widened and an involuntary gasp escaped him in response to what he was seeing. "A black dragon! That’s a bad omen, isn’t it?" he whispered with fear sounding in his voice.
Garron waved off the man’s superstitious fears and in a firm voice said, "It’s not bad luck. The dragon’s egg came to us from a land on the other side of the Osporin Sea in an exchange for one of our own dragon eggs. It is our hope that he will one day mate with one of our own dragons and their offspring will strengthen the next line of dragons."
"But a foreign dragon?" the man said with a horrified look on his face.
"He is still a dragon and is already accepted by Rayer," Garron told the man. "And the king and the riders guild expect no less from the people of Ha’ber than to give full support to our newest dragon and his young rider."
Howard drew the blanket back up to cover the boy and dragonling, then looked up at the speaker. "Go and tell the people of Ha’ber what you will, but from this day forward Duo is to receive the very best the village has to offer. Is that understood?"
"Yes, it is," Charn replied, surprised at the hermit’s voice of authority and wondered once again about the aloof man who’d always championed the boy resting in his arms.
Garron spoke next, capturing the speaker’s full attention with his authoritative tone. "And if I learn that anyone from your village, even a woman or child, has laid a hand on this boy with the intent of punishing or harming him, they will answer to me as the representative of the Halls of Dornan and King Vourdan. This boy, whose presence you’ve suffered poorly, is now under the protective wings of all dragons and riders. You would all do well to remember this indisputable fact."
Charn nodded, wisely keeping any reply to himself after seeing the ire in both the hermit and rider’s faces. Sensing his dismissal, Charn moved slowly, backing out of the hut and quietly shutting the door behind him.
Garron turned back to his friend as Howard sighed and said, "Let’s just hope they heed my words." He motioned again for the cup of water, which the rider reached for and handed to him. "For I’ll thrash everyone of them if they show any disrespect for this child." The rider had no doubt Howard meant to carry out his threat.
The two men continued to watch over the boy, taking turns holding him and bathing his body and brow to keep him cool. For two days the fever ravaged within the boy’s slight body, seeming at times as it if might consume him with its heat. Then, on the third night of their watch, it left as quickly as it had come. Garron opened the hut’s door the next morning to accept food from the villagers while Howard slept soundly with the boy at his side, sleeping equally deep with the black dragonling nested between them but in constant touch with its rider.
Howard awoke midday and gently bathed the boy’s thin body with scented water. With Duo still soundly asleep, exhausted from his ordeal, he picked up the wooden comb one of the village women had sent and began the chore of combing through the mess that was his hair. The hermit took great care at working through the tangles while the boy slept on. His limbs were cramped from maintaining his crouched position when at long last the Duo’s hair was snarl and tangle free. Both men were surprised that the lad’s rich brown hair, now clean and lying over his shoulder, reached halfway down the length of his chest.
Duo began to stir as the day came to a close and Howard managed to get both food and drink into his empty belly. Though rested and fed, Duo was understandably weak, yet all he could speak of was the small black dragon resting against him. Between spoonfuls of soup he asked Garron about dragons. How was he to care for a dragonling? What did it require? The rider answered patiently, reassuring the boy that his dragon would soon be able to hunt for himself and that his village was duty bound by the King and Halls of Dornan to care and support him and his dragon until two years had passed. At that time, the dragon would be large enough to carry Duo’s weight, and they would fly together to the Halls of Dornan to begin his training as a rider with other boys who had been chosen by their dragons as well.
Duo fell asleep for the first time since his ordeal had begun with a contented smile on his face, his black dragon snuggled in his arms. The triangular head of the dragon was nestled under his chin and a small purr rumbled from its chest.
Not long after the sun had risen the following day the boy was helped out of the bed and hut, a man on each side of him giving his weakened legs the support they needed in order to stay upright. Duo breathed in the fresh morning air and closed his eyes to enjoy the warmth of the morning sun. The small dragon sat on his rider’s slender shoulder, its tail wrapped loosely around the boy’s neck as the jeweled eyes scanned the surrounding area. A rumbling sound brought Duo’s attention back to his dragon. The dark, eyes were focused on the large dragon lying on the ground adjacent to the hut. Rayer studied the dragonling as well, then answered it with a louder rumble, resembling a rough purr. It seemed the two were pleased to see each other.
Once Garron saw the boy had steadied himself on his feet, he left his side to go to his own dragon, still observing the two newest additions to their numbers.
//Do we fly home this day?// Rayer asked as he yawned, showing all three humans the many white and sharp teeth inside his mouth.
//I wish to see how the village takes to the boy now that he’s feeling better and has been acknowledged as a rider,// Garron replied as he reached out to rub his hand along the dragon’s jaw, bringing another rumbling purr of pleasure from his beloved beast.
//Have you spoken to the dragonling?// Garron asked.
Rayer leaned his head into his rider’s touch. //I’ve greeted him, but he’s not ready to speak to me. He’s different.//
Garron agreed. While it was natural for a newly emerged dragonling to cling to its new rider, the little black dragon seemed almost excessively possessive of the boy he’d claimed as his own. He had tried to gently soothe the newest dragon’s anxiousness, to reassure him that he could at least unwrap his tail from around the boy’s neck for a while. As his reward, the little black dragon had snapped at him, several times in fact, especially when he tried to separate him from Duo so that he and Howard could tend to the boy.
Turning, the rider watched as Duo sat on the ground, leaning against a rock, and began to try, once again, to coax the small dragon to remove its tail from around his neck.
//We need to remember that his dragonling is not from one of our clutches. He’s from a distant land and people who are much more private than we tend to be,// Garron commented.
//He’s very dark,// Rayer said, his head tilting to get a better view of the small creature. Both rider and dragon watched as Duo finally managed to persuade the little one to remove himself from his body. With all four feet on the ground for the first time, his triangular head tilted from side to side as his dark jeweled eyes took in his new surroundings. Garron couldn’t help but smile as the long tail found and wrapped itself around Duo’s exposed ankle.
"He’s curious," Duo told them with an grin of affection on his pale face. He was obviously sensing the dragon’s emotions. "And hungry," he added. "Go on," he said encouragingly, motioning with his hands for small creature to venture out from him.
Suddenly, the dragonling bolted from the boy, running towards the canyon behind the small dwelling. Duo scrambled awkwardly to his feet and followed as fast as he could on wobbly legs, his eyes never leaving the dragon’s path from where he disappeared into the brush and wild growth that surround the hut. Duo stopped and looked back worriedly at Garron for reassurance. And in that moment, the older rider saw what Howard had expected him to see when they spoke the first night they’d spent tending to the boy and dragonling. He recalled his friend’s words and his promise in return to keep his silence.
With the boy free of dirt, his burnished brown long hair pulled back by a leather tie, his face was more visible then ever, and so were his eyes. Those telling eyes were wide, appealing and the unique blue-violet color that Garron had only seen the likes of in a special group of people. His breath hitched and caught in his throat as he choked back a gasp at realizing the boy’s undeniable heritage.
//Is all well?// Rayer asked, sensing his alarm.
//Look at the boy, Rayer. Can you see a resemblance to anyone?//
Through the jeweled eyes, the silver dragon regarded the newest rider, and Garron felt a wave of recognition flow between them. //The currents of life flow in curious directions,// Rayer said calmly.
Forgetting for a moment to reassure the boy that his dragon was just hunting for food, Garron turned to look at Howard and found his friend watching him in turn, a knowing expression on his face. His friend knew he had realized the boy’s heritage. The rider now had some of the answers to his many questions, but there were still more unanswered. How had his old friend ended up here, in a village far from Rydell, with the mysterious boy? How had he come to know about the lad’s parentage? Was it happenstance? It was a tale he was determined to hear from Howard before he left the village of Ha’ber for his home.
Just as Duo made to follow his dragonling, the small creature burst out of the bushes, a dead rodent hanging out of its mouth.
"Praise him," Howard encouraged the boy. "Dragons crave the praise of their rider and your’s do all within its abilities to earn it from you."
"Really?" Duo looked skeptical as the small black dragon, hardly bigger than a small dog, stopped at his feet with his meal still in his mouth. At Howard’s encouraging nod, the lad reached out his hand and pet the top of his dragonling’s head. "Good boy," Duo said, smiling with warm affection for the purring creature. As soon as he removed his hand, the black dragonling tossed back its head, opened its mouth and swallowed whole the dead animal that had been in his jaws a moment before.
"More?" Duo asked, his head tilting as sensed his needs of the black creature. "Go ahead. Just don’t go too far." The little dragon turned tail and quickly scampered in the same direction it had come from moments before.
Howard chuckled and Duo looked up to see what was funny. "One of the gifts the dragonling brings to a village is that they will no longer have a rodent problem."
Duo smiled and looked over to Garron as he approached. The rider’s eyes stayed fixed on the boy, noting the unusual handsomeness of the child. "Has your dragon spoken to you yet?" he asked as he came to stand by the newest rider. They both paused as the bushes rustled and a faint squeak was heard.
"Not with words," Duo replied distractedly, looking for his dragonling to reappear. "But I can tell how he feels. I know when he’s hungry or thirsty and when he is content or wanting something." He looked up and into the rider’s eyes and smiled. "He likes me," he said, looking very pleased.
"How do you know your dragon is a he?"
Duo blinked, surprised by the question, then shrugged. "I don’t know. I just kind of sense that he’s male." Just then the little black blur came running out of the brush and back to its rider’s feet. This time he tilted his head up, proudly displaying his catch and to receive Duo’s praise for his hunting skills. Garron felt Rayer’s amusement at the small one’s antics.
"Good boy. You’re so clever and quick to catch a bird," Duo praised his dragon and again, as soon as he removed his hand, the bird disappeared into the black maw. A feeling of contentment passed from the reptile to the human boy, signaling that the little dragon was full. Duo reached down and gathered the dark creature into his arms and stroked its back as he turned to Garron. "Will he always do that? Show me his food before he eats?" he asked. "I can only imagine it gets rather ugly when their meals get bigger."
Both men laughed. "Indeed it would be," Garron answered, still chuckling at the picture Duo painted. "No, he’ll do that for a while yet, to gain your praise and respect. You, in return, should always behave in a manner that will earn you his respect. He will remain your life-long companion as long as you remain worthy of his devotion."
Duo looked puzzled for a moment, then asked, "So if I do something unwise or foolish I’ll risk my dragon leaving me?"
"Every man and woman has moments of foolishness," Garron began to explain. "We make choices good and bad, that’s how we learn. But a dragon sees into your heart, Duo. If you truly follow the dictates of your heart and your desire is to do good for yourself and for all living things, your dragon will be in harmony with you, for he wishes to please you and to make you happy. "
Howard took up the conversation. "Dragons are not hatched all knowing, Duo, but they are unbelievably wise and loyal. Your dragonling will be very impressionable during these first two years that you’ll continue to live here in Ha’ber. You should strive to live your life in an upright manner, showing kindness and understanding to others and learning all that you can."
Garron nodded his head in agreement then looked at the boy. "There is a saying that is passed down from one rider to another, and that is: ‘To have a good dragon, you must be a good man.’ That is the code by which we all try to live."
"Be a good man," Duo repeated, his brow furrowing in thought as he studied the creature in his arms. Then looking up at the rider, he asked, "How can I possibly be worthy of such a wondrous creature? I’m pretty much the lowest of the low in Amulah and Ha’ber. I don’t even have a home."
"But you will, Duo," Howard cut in, smiling gently at the boy. "It’s the village’s responsibility to see that you have all you need to raise your dragon, and that task is accomplished a day at a time. Your love and care for him will earn you his devotion and affection in return."
"I can do that," Duo said softly as he began to pet the creature’s back and the dragonling began to purr from the pleasure of having his rider pay attention to him. "I don’t remember anyone ever wanting me, or even needing me to take care of them before," he said quietly. Then turning his head to look at Howard, he added, "I think I’m going to like caring for my dragon because he’s all mine, right? No one can take him away from me."
"That’s right," the hermit replied, looking a bit pained as he added, "He’s yours and you are his, and it will remain so until one of you leaves this mortal realm."
Duo closed his eyes as he pet the purring creature. A smile grew on his face a moment before he said, "Wu Fei. He said his name’s Wu Fei."
Garron nodded. "Dragons know their name from the time that they are in their shell. We don’t know exactly why, but it is so with every one of them. Now tell him your name," the rider coached, happy to see yet another step in the bond forged between a dragon and his chosen companion. He thought, as he watched the scene before him, that this was his reward for carrying eggs back and forth across the kingdom. The merging of dragon and rider was always a wondrous event, but this boy, his situation and likeable personality made the bonding stand out as something special.
"I’m Duo," the lad said out loud and yet gently to the creature nestled against him.
"Now tell him again," the rider urged. "And this time do it with your thoughts, just as he spoke to you."
The boy’s brow furrowed with concentration as he did as he was told. Then the smile was back and he looked up to the two men. "I think we’re going to be best friends," he said, completely enthralled by the idea.
"Of that I have no doubt," Howard chuckled, his face softening as he gazed fondly at the boy and dragon. "To celebrate the naming of your dragon, I’ll get the fire going and make some stone biscuits so that they’re ready when the villagers bring the food for our supper. Just keep talking to Wu Fei, Duo. The more you say to him the faster he’ll pick up your speech and your communication with each other will improve."
"I’ll gather some wood," Garron offered. The two men walked a short distance from the boy, then paused for a moment, watching Duo situate himself to a rock where he settled on top of it, crossing his legs under him. He then commenced to talk to the little dragonling.
As the two men turned to their tasks, they could hear the Duo’s quiet voice saying, "If you’ll let me, I’ll be the best friend you’ll ever have. And I promise, Wu Fei, that I’ll be a good man."