Ashes of the Dragon

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Chapter 6
Balls of Fire

“We should probably take our selections back to the house before we continue.” Keely frowned as she looked at the cloth, leathers, and assorted trinkets that overflowed Revin’s arms.

Stunned, Revin had been like a dog following the younger woman around as Keely loaded her up with more and more personal items that Revin would never have purchased for herself. It wasn’t until they were on the road, on the other side of the market before she realized how foolish the whole situation was. What she would do with it all was beyond her imagination.

“I appreciate you purch—” she nearly thanked Keely but tried to remember that no money had passed hands…for any of the items. “Everything is wonderful, but not the type of things I would normally wear.”

“But you are so pretty, you should have clothing just as striking.” Keely seemed confused by Revin’s attempts to return the items.

Pretty? Revin had never thought of herself as attractive. That was what one said about noble ladies, not wiry dragon hunters. She was slender, some might even say lean, yet muscular. But pretty? Never! She shook her head.

A villager stepped up quickly. He was the man from the last stall they had visited and carried the silver and gold headband that Keely had obtained from an earlier vendor.

“You left this behind,” he told them and held out the wreath shaped circlet to Revin, then turned and handed it to Keely, Revin’s hands were too full to take the offered headband.

“I really think it’s a bit excessive,” Revin voiced, not for the first time.

Keely evidently was closely connected with Maeveen, so Revin didn’t want to offend the younger woman.

A small gasp came from the man, his expression became grave, and he shook his head. “Oh no. It’s the time of the Burning.” A smile spread across his face as he put a hand on Revin’s. “It can never be too much.”

“The time of the Burning?” Revin remembered the farm boy quoting that phrase in Winterheart and Keely had said ‘the Burning’ last night.

The man momentarily gritted his teeth and his eyes squinted as if he had forgotten something. His expression quickly changed to a grin, and he patted her shoulder in a fatherly manner, though he didn’t seem much older than Revin. “It’s not for me to say. You should ask Maeveen,” he spoke pleasantly and returned to the market in a hurry.

Revin sighed. Maeveen again. It seemed the entire village was conspiring to keep something from her and the nagging feeling increased at the thought.

“Can you tell me about this ‘Burning’?” Revin’s voice was soft as she looked back to Keely, and she attempted a sad face hoping to get the woman’s sympathy. “You mentioned it last night. Is it a winter…or spring festival?” She was still confused by the mild weather conditions.

“I did?” Keely looked shocked. “What am I, a child?” She hung her head and shook it.

It was apparent that Keely was berating herself, but Revin couldn’t fathom why. What are they hiding? The thought carried as much anxiety as concern.

“I didn’t mean for you to hear.” Keely lifted her head, her face tight. “I was talking with Inga.”

The older woman with the roasted pork. Revin nodded with a smile at the memory.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Keely scolded herself again, her face strained as if she might cry.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry,” Revin stepped closer, her voice as soothing as she could make it. She shifted to a lighter tone hoping to comfort the woman, “I was just curious about this ‘Burning’. It seems to be an important time for the village.”

Keely wiped one eye, then the other. She cleared her throat as a smile returned to her lips. “I understand it must be hard, but don’t be angry. Maeveen will explain everything in good time.”

Revin sighed again, but she didn’t try to get more from the woman. She better explain…and soon, Revin growled silently to herself. A fear began to grow that the village leader might not help her with capturing the Gold. Revin kept her concerns hidden.

Relieved, Keely looked through the market in the direction of the house, then over her shoulder at the road leading out of the village to a forest beyond.

“You won’t get to see the fields,” Keely stated. Her nose wrinkled in concentration as if making some decision.

“Keely. Revin. Good day to you,” a man’s voice called from the side.

“Farrel.” Keely turned with a bright expression and greeted ‘Blue Eyes’.

He sat atop a wagon that had stopped on a side road right before it intersected the main one. He wore leather pants and a shirt that was opened halfway down his chest. He had thick shoulder-length, wavy hair that she guessed had been hidden under his hat when she had seen him at the stable.

Revin realized she was staring at his face. His smile and high cheekbones as enchanting as his eyes. Stop it! He’s just a man. A cocksure man. A burnt-damned attractive man. But just a man, she grumbled.

“Can we help you?” Revin’s voice wasn’t harsh, but she kept it flat to keep her feelings to herself.

His expression became serious. He rested his chin on his hand and stared into the sky. After a moment he looked back down and with a smile replied, “Not that I can think of. Is there something you need to help me with that I don’t know about?” He mimicked looking around his wagon as if seeking something. While still searching he added, “I don’t see anything amiss.”

The muscles in Revin’s body stiffened and she wanted to scream at him to stop, but she couldn’t explain what it was that he was doing that seemed to irritate her so badly. If someone else, she might find his antics amusing.

“I am headed out to the Krogh place to make a delivery.” He indicated something covered and tied down in the back of the wagon.

“No, but you can help us,” Keely called out eagerly.

Revin’s head spun around to look at the young woman. The last thing she wanted was help from this smug man.

“The Krogh’s are one of the closer farms,” Keely explained, but the reference meant nothing to Revin.

“You’ll reach the fields faster on the wagon.” Keely took the bundle of goods from Revin, turned and started to walk back to the house. She called over her shoulder, “Don’t loiter, Farrel. She needs to get back soon.”

“Keely.” Revin took a step to follow, but Keely waved a hand above and behind her head to stop her.

“Go. Go. We have a lot to do to get you ready for the feast and not much time.”

Revin wasn’t sure how to take the comment. Would it take that long to make her presentable? She slowly twisted around to Farrel and the wagon.

“Come on up.” He slid over to her side of the wagon and held out a hand.

“I am perfectly capable of getting up by myself.” She grabbed the brake ratchet, along the side of the wagon, and pulled herself up, stepping on the wheel spoke.

“Wouldn’t want to do anything you are perfectly capable of doing,” Farrel chuckled while he slid back and watched her as she continued to climb onto the wagon.

Once she had cleared the wheel and was starting to sit, Farrel clucked and snapped the reins.

The wagon surged and Revin fell awkwardly onto the bench.

“Got to hurry,” Farrel said without looking at her. “Got to get back so they can fix you up in time for the feast.”

“I don’t need fixing,” Revin’s voice rose, before she realized how silly she sounded. Don’t let him get under your skin, she cautioned herself and looked out to the side, not making eye contact.

They rode up the main road passing scores of houses and even more people. A short distance past the last house, the wagon turned onto another smaller road and continued through the forest. Leaving Winterheart she had expected a modest little village, maybe a hundred residents at most. But based upon the number of houses and the size of the market they had visited, she estimated at least six hundred villagers, possibly more. She could only guess the number of farmers, hunters, and others that lived around and also relied upon the village.

Away from the village proper, there was little to distract her. The only sound was the creak of the wagon and Farrel periodically talking gently to one or the other of the horses. As much as she hated to admit it, she was enjoying the ride.

Evergreens lined the road; the sharp, sweet scent helped her to relax. The sun filtered through branches that overhung the road, the light flickered across her face. She closed her eyes as a warm breeze blew on her face. The wagon jerked and her eyes opened as she grabbed the bench. She glanced to the left as shouts and loud noises shattered the quiet of the woods.

Revin glimpsed a clearing off the road. The shouts came from dozens of men and women who sparred with staffs. Some were young, around Revin’s age, but gray hair betrayed the age of others, though the older ones seemed to have no problem keeping up with their younger partners. They twisted in the air and moved so quickly, almost a blur, that Revin doubted she could match their skill and deftness with the weapons. A few others practiced with sword and spear.

Then Revin spotted two women standing across the clearing. One had her hands cupped and held up in front of her—a fiery ball floated above her. As Revin watched, the woman puller her hands apart and the ball split into two fiery globes. The second woman raised her arms and twisted her hands in a circle causing the two fireballs to spin around each other matching the second woman’s movement.

It was only a moment until they were past the clearing and trees hid her view.

Revin grabbed Farrel’s arm. “What was that?”

“Just training,” he answered as if it was a common occurrence. He didn’t even turn to look at her.

“But…” Riven wasn’t even sure what to ask, the scene not what she would have expected outside the village…any village, anywhere.

“You’ll find some of them out here almost every day.” He nodded to himself. “They need to practice to keep their skills sharp.”

“But the women.” Maybe a few men sparring, but… “Some really old.” Her mind still had trouble processing what she had seen. “And one had a ball of fire that just hung in the air.” How can he be so calm?

“They practice with the il fennore.”

That explains nothing, she thought, growing angry with his responses.

“You’ve met a Cleric before, correct?” he asked still focused on the path ahead.

“Yes.” She had traveled for a few days with one once as they were both headed to the same town.

“Are you aware of how they heal?”

“They are the Goddess’ chosen.” It was what everyone said, but she knew that was because most people didn’t know better. “A Cleric told me that he had a connection with the Spirit world.”

“They call the Spirit world the il fennore,” Farrel provided. “And the Clerics do have a connection. They can communicate with some of the Spirit-beings that occupy the il fennore and the creatures help with the healing.”

“But the women?”

“They have the connection as well.” Farrel looked over at her. “The Daughters are our Healers.”

Revin realized that some had looked familiar from her first night in the meeting hall, though why they were called ‘Daughters’ eluded her, some were much older than Revin.

“The women I saw weren’t healing anyone.” Riven snorted. “They were more likely to hurt someone if not themselves. There was a ball of fire. A ball of fire!”

“I don’t pretend to fully understand.” His lips twisted as if puzzled. “The Goddess was always a mystery to me…before coming to Awakening.” He snapped the reins, and the horses broke into a trot. “We need to keep moving to get you back in time.” His jaw was set as he focused on the road ahead. It was clear he was done talking about the villagers practicing in the field.

Revin sat quietly as they continued through the forest. She stared ahead, her mind returning to the clearing and the women as the word il fennore occupied the forefront of her thoughts. Then it was replaced as his words finally filtered into her mind, ‘Before coming to Awakening’.

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