Ashes of the Dragon

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Chapter 3
Blue Eyes

“Damn her,” Revin shouted at the wind. “May the Goddess Damn her burnt Spirit to the Shadows,” she cursed loudly then gritted her teeth. She didn’t get angry easily, but nearly a week out of Winterheart and traveling in the bitter cold hadn’t improve her attitude.

How could she have deceived herself into believing that someone other than a trapper would venture this far north of the border. She ran the old woman’s words through her mind again, ‘But if, instead, you cross the river you will find a little-used road that continues northwest. Follow it for four days and you will reach the village.’ And I believed her. Revin shook her head at the complete absurdity of the idea.

Dusk was approaching and there had been nothing to see throughout the day, except tree after tree. Not a single living creature, not even a lean mountain hare. Dried meat again tonight, she grumbled. She didn’t know what type of meat it was and couldn’t identify it from its bland taste. In order to leave Winterheart before the sun rose beyond its peak, Revin had rushed to get the wagon and horses ready, the cage loaded, and other gear stored away. She’d quickly purchased food from the first stall she encountered in the market before leaving town. A mistake she wouldn’t make in the future.

Revin had to squint to see even a short distance down the road. The wind blew in her face making it feel like she was being struck with shards of ice. She checked to see if the wagon could be turned around for the long journey south.

However, the road fell away on both sides and the wheels would flounder in a ditch if she tried to wheel about. Her only choice was to go a little farther up the road to see if there was somewhere to camp for the night and head south in the morning or she would be sleeping on the damp floor of the cage.

The wind had dropped to a stiff breeze as snow continued to fall. The dull gray blue of early evening hid everything, which was why Revin hadn’t realized she had reached her destination. As the wagon had rolled out of the forest there was a bridge that crossed a large creek leading into the village.

Lamps shown through the dim light as Revin looked down the center of the white blanket that covered the hamlet. She chuckled and shook her head. So, it does exist. The snow limited her view of the entire village, but at first, it wasn’t much to look at. From the lamps she could make out a few dozen or more houses along the main road. The houses looked well-kept and had clay tile roofs, something Riven had never seen in a hamlet this size nor anything outside of a major town like Winterheart or Westerford.

She clucked and snapped the reins. The clatter of the horse’s hoofs and the wagon’s wheels on the wooden bridge was the first sound she had heard all day other than her own voice and the tedious blowing wind.

As the wagon drew even with the first structure, a man stepped out.

Revin pulled on the reins, the horse stomped and tossed its heads.

The man wore a fur hat, the flaps pulled down over his ears. She could only make out a reddened nose. A plain gray cloak draped over his shoulders, one like she had seen worn by the inhabitants of dozens of other villages.

“Aye, Maeveen said you would be coming tonight.” The man turned and began to walk away from her, a gray hump in the middle of a well-worn road. “Follow me.”

“I’m not following…” She began but realized he probably couldn’t hear her above the blowing wind. Who was Maeveen? She tried to remember if that had been the Oma’s name, but she didn’t think the old woman had given it to Revin. And how would the old woman even know I was coming? She hadn’t decided on the trip until the morning after the encounter with the grandmother. She felt under the bench and pulled the long knife out and laid it on the floor in front of the seat, then flicked the leather straps running to the harness. The horse slowly plodded after the man. It had been a long and demanding journey to reach the village. Revin felt drained and knew the horse hadn’t faired any better.

The man led them past two more houses and then turned down a path leading away from the main road.

Revin was surprised to see that the path continued for some distance with buildings stretching out to either side. A lot larger than I thought. The storm had hidden the actual size of the village.

They passed three more houses before turning down another smaller lane drawing up to a barn. No one else was in sight.

As she brought the wagon to a halt the man shrugged out of his cloak and began to remove the harness.

To her surprise he only wore a leather jerkin over a heavy cotton shirt with leather pants and boots. He must be freezing. Just the sight of him standing out there in the blustery snowfall made her shiver, but he didn’t seem bothered by the weather.

“What are you doing with to horse?” Revin stood and yelled at him as she tried to look as menacing as possible, though probably futile.

The man stopped, looked at her, and answered, his voice calm despite her threatening tone, “The horse is spent. The barn is warm, and someone will rub her down and see that she’s fed.” He pushed his hat back farther up on his head and she could see he wasn’t that much older than she. He had blue eyes, like a deep lake. They seemed to sparkle. Without waiting for a response, he turned away, reached under the horse and unhooked leather straps. As he pulled on a buckle that had frozen tight, she could see muscles bulge in his forearm through the heavy shirt.

“Grrr,” Revin growled and stomped a foot in frustration at the man’s impertinence, though she doubted he heard her defiance. She glanced down at the long blade and decided against strapping it to her waist. She hadn’t been sure she would find the village to begin with, and now that she had, it was likely the knife would only cause more problems.

In her experience, diplomacy had served her better than a show of force. And negotiation was a big part of how she made a living. At the same time, she hoped she wouldn’t regret leaving the blade behind. She climbed off the wagon and started to stumble.

‘Blue Eyes’ was suddenly there and put a steadying hand on her elbow. She could feel the strength in his grip, but it was gentle enough that he did not bruise her.

“Thank you.” She got her footing and he let her go.

He just nodded and returned to reach for another strap under the horse.

“You must have me—”

“You’re the one, all right.” He tilted his head up and stared at her with a smile as he fumbled with another buckle.

She thought his face beautiful. The blue eyes seemed to envelope her like another layer of protection. A warmth filled her despite the frigid air. She shook her head and scolded herself. She was here to find a dragon and had no time for distractions…no matter how appealing they might be. Evidently, he has me confused with someone else.

“I’ve never been here before, I can’t be—”

“She said you would be headstrong.” He laughed, shook his head with a grin, and returned to unhooking the final strap.

“I am not headstrong!” she snapped back. This man didn’t even know her.

“I’m sure,” he said without looking up.

“You don’t know anything about me.” Revin could feel her face flush. Her jaw tightened. Why is he provoking me? Then she added, Why do I care?

“Hmmm,” he responded, pulled off the harness, then put it on the railing of the corral next to them. He took the bridle and headed for the barn. One of the two alley doors was open, and he led the horse through it.

She followed, determined to prove to ‘Blue Eyes’ that she wasn’t headstrong.

He guided the horse into a waiting stall. More than two dozen other stalls lined the walls, most housing other horses. Revin was surprised by the size of the barn. It was significantly larger than she had thought from the outside.

She returned her gaze to the man as he stroked the horse, laid his head against the horse’sandwhisperedtoit.

The horse shook its head then nuzzled the man in return.

Revin stood in the open door with hands balled and strategically placed on her hips.

“I said you don’t know anything about me. Why are you arguing with me?” Even as she said the words, Revin realized they sounded petty and childish. What am I doing? she scolded, her face reddened.

He gave the horse one last stroke and stepped away. “I heard you the first time,” his voice remained as cool as a breath of winter, “It seems like you are the only one arguing.” He closed the stall gate, secured it, then walked toward her.

Is he going to strike me? Revin braced herself wondering if she had pushed ‘Blue Eyes’ too far. As a dragon hunter, she had defended herself more than once in the past against dragons…and others. She wasn’t afraid but was embarrassed when she found herself desiring the man’s approval. As he approached, she stiffened and brought her clinched hands up. Her face tightened.

Just before reaching her, he stepped to the side, casually pushed opened the closed door and exited, leaving her standing with fists raised in the air.

Revin stood like that for a moment feeling more foolish than ever, then turned and strode quickly after him.

“Wait a moment,” she yelled, equally exasperated and vexed by his seeming indifference to her demands.

He lifted the harness off the railing and headed back toward the barn.

Revin shook her head, hands on hips, but not as defiant as she had earlier. What do I need to do to get a reaction? She breathed deeply and exhaled three times trying to let the frustration flee her body, a ritual she had learned from a Cleric she had traveled with for several days a couple of years earlier. He told her to focus inward on her Spirit and it would open her to the essence of the Goddess that surrounded them all. It would give her peace.

A few more breaths and her shoulders relaxed. Why do I even care? Just another earthy farmer. She had nothing against farmers and villagers. They had treated her better, with more charity, than most city dwellers she had met. It was just that they were a simple folk. And the farther away from the major trading towns and cities, the more… duller they became, she admitted to her bias.

The man walked past her, and over his shoulder he called, “I’ll take care of the wagon. Go back to the main road, turn right, and continue until you see the meeting hall. It will be on a hill to your right.”

“But—”

“Maeveen’s waiting,” he said as if that was all she needed to know. The tone of his voice never changed since their first meeting, which irritated her, yet the steadiness comforted her as well.

She huffed once, the peace fading. She inhaled again, then shook out her shoulders and arms. Get over it Revin. Why are you even arguing with the clod? But she continued to watch until he disappeared through the double alley doors before she turned to the path that would take her to the main road. I guess if I want to find the Gold, I need to find this Maeveen first.

Revin pulled the fur trim of her leather coat close to her face and with deep sigh began walking.

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