Ashes of the Dragon

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Chapter 2
One Day More

Four days on the old road and Revin hadn’t seen a single soul since crossing the river into the north. Well almost four days, she corrected herself. It had been midday by the time she had procured what was needed for the trip and departed Winterheart. Revin had reached the hook-like bend in the river after two days, like the old woman had said. Much of the river surface was frozen and a ridge of stones had gathered at that point. Just a little icy water flowed over the rocks, not an obstacle, and it was easy enough for her to cross with her wagon.

The path had twisted and turned the farther she had gone into the north, funneling through ravines and over natural passes cut through the ice-covered mountains. The first day, after crossing the river, was the hardest as ruts in the frozen track made traveling difficult.

She had worried that the way would worsen the farther north she went, but as Revin started out on the second day, she was surprised to discover that crushed stones lay underneath the pathway. It was easy by any means, and each day still took a toll on her and the horse, but it was possible now…though why someone would maintain an out-of-the-way road was beyond her.

To add to her concerns, snow had begun to fall in the morning. Revin pulled the heavy cloak tighter around her shoulders. If what the old woman had told her was true, it would be well worth Revin’s time. Nightfall was not far off, and the wind was beginning to swirl the falling snow. She was exhausted, but slapped the reins regardless, gave a loud cluck, and the horse pulled the wagon forward down the narrow road between rocky hills. The empty crate behind her shifted as the wheels ran across ruts hardened by time and frost. She wasn’t sure how big a wooden cage she needed. She had never seen a golden youngling, but if it was the same size as other young dragons, then she thought the crate rattling at the back of the wagon should be large enough.

She watched the road ahead. It was less than a moon into winter and the crunch of ice under the wagon’s wheels was a constant reminder as to why she had never traveled this far north in the past. What could make people live in a land that was buried under snow most of the year? She hunched over to help keep the wind from blowing directly in her face. The cotton coat over her leather jerkin and pants had been sufficient in Winterheart, but by the time she was a day north of the river, her bones were frozen from the constant chilled wind. Revin was glad she had bought a heavier leather and fur cloak before leaving the town. It wasn’t cheap but provided the necessary extra layer.

Life on the road was hard enough but adding an occupation that required tracking down and capturing creatures more than five times your size kept Revin trim, which meant little body fat against the winter cold. She only knew of one other woman who hunted dragons and that woman was as broad as any male hunter and larger than many. In contrast, Revin was no more than average height for a female, though slimmer and more muscular than most. She shivered and pulled the coat tighter.

“Where is this Burnt-damned village?” Revin cursed. “She said four days.” The thought that she’d been made a fool by the old woman ran through her mind for the hundredth time since she had turned northwest to cross the river into the mountains.

Stone-covered hills rose on either side of the road, her companions for the entire day, so she was surprised when they abruptly ended, and a small forest lay ahead, split by the worn road. The wagon lurched as she snapped the reins to keep the horse moving in the cold, still grumbling to herself.

At the edge of the woods, nearest her, two huge trees, one on either side of the road stood like giants guarding the path into the forest. It was hard to see, but no village appeared beyond.

As the wagon rolled closer to the sentry trees, the wind shifted so it blew steadily at her. Gusts of snow-filled air lashed at her and the horses.

Her head jerked when a voice swirled around her like the wind. It wasn’t more than a whisper, but like when the old woman first addressed her at the tavern, the sound came through clearly as if the wind had died, though it still blew squarely into her face. The voice was clear, but the words incomprehensible. She pulled up on the reins and the horse stomped as if it couldn’t wait to get out of the growing storm.

“…hea…eir…nto,” fragments of words floated through the air as if they were coming from all around her.

“Who’s there?” she questioned the incorporeal voice. This is insane, she chided herself, it’s just the wind.

“…ahead their beast…erupt into the air…rises and joins,” partial sentences filtered through the jumbled noise.

“What does that mean?”

“…according to our…keep the evil…together shall bear,” the words were no longer all around her, but had shifted behind and to the left, then stilled, only the sound of the turbulent wind battered her ears.

Revin swiveled her head to glance back at the sound, but it came no more. Instead, she spotted a cave, mostly hidden by brush and the heavy snowfall. She was exhausted, it felt like her body just hung on her bones. “Just the wind. So tired,” as if her own words would explain the strange voice. “Maybe I should stop for the night?” In answer, when she turned forward, snow assaulted her as the wind whipped the foul weather into a fury. Bits of ice stung her face and made it easier to decide to wait out the storm easier.

Instead of entering the forest, Revin turned the horse and guided the animal back toward the cave. A quick check revealed it would easily accommodate the horse and her. She unhitched the animal, left the wagon on the road, and led the horse into the cavern, hobbling it near the entrance. It didn’t take long to wipe the beast down and to get a fire going further back in the cave, away from the horse.

“Damn the Shadows. What an ass,” Revin complained, hung her coat and other clothing near the fire as she settled by the burning brush with a cup of spiced wine, the only thing Revin had heated over the flames. Too tired to cook, she chewed on hard bread and even harder cheese. A strand of red hair hung in her face, and she fingered it, grunting at how sweaty and matted it was. A whiff of her shoulder made her nose wrinkle and reminded Revin that she hadn’t bathed in nearly a week. Dry wood was hard to find among the rocky hills and a splash of water, from a half-frozen stream, was all she allowed herself. What fire could be built was best spent to heat food or wine, when exhaustion did not overcome her.

“I bet the old woman’s having a good laugh.” Revin snorted and sipped from the cup. She shouldn’t be angry with anyone other than herself. Revin was the one who had headed north without anything more than an old woman’s word. But the feeling…She remembered how a warm tingle had run through her body when she’d sat next to the woman. It was as if the Burning Lady meant for her to make the trip. What could I have been thinking? But she already knew what—it was somehow a message from the Burning Lady. Revin wasn’t overly religious, but knew the Goddess existed. All anyone had to do was talk with Clerics, who claimed to use the Spirit creatures of the Burning Lady’s world to perform healing. From what she had seen, there was little doubt they told the truth. The Goddess, she sighed. Like the Goddess would have anything to do with me. Revin wasn’t a Cleric, wizard, or any other important person…just a dragon hunter and trader.

After consoling herself with another cup of wine, she rolled out the sleeping mat and lay down on her side. She pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. I’ll head south to Hillford in the morning, the plan firm in her mind as she rubbed the remaining gold coin in her pocket. She could work on one of the ranches for a few weeks until she had enough saved to head back out and hunt for dragons a little further east in the mountain range or go south as she had originally planned.

 

Dragon Image

She woke slowly, every muscle complaining as she rolled on to her knees and stood. A quick look at the cave entrance confirmed that it had stopped snowing.

Her hair hung heavily over her shoulders. Pulling it together with one hand, she tied it up and secured it leather strap. She put on her heavy coat and boots before stepping outside to check on the road. It was covered in snow, but not impassable as she had feared.

“Should we head back girls?” Revin returned to the cave and scratched the horse’s jaw, then patted the animal’s muzzle.

It didn’t take long to pack everything in the cave and get the horse hitched once again. On the wagon’s seat she picked up the reins and was about to snap when the voice from the night before called to her again, this time in her mind and clearer.

‘One day more,’ the words prodded her.

“What?” She dropped the reins, stood, and spun around.

‘One day more,’ the voice repeated, louder.

Who’s calling me? She turned in another direction, but no answer came.

‘One day more,’ the voice spoke a third time; then there was complete silence.

Revin could tell the intruder had gone. An empty feeling filled her head, as if a good friend had suddenly disappeared without saying goodbye.

“Where did you go?” Revin kept spinning, scanning in every direction, but she was alone with the horse.

After several moments Revin sat back down and picked up the reins. She stared at the road leading back into the hills, then glanced over her shoulder at the sentry trees and the path leading further north.

Turning back to look at the road south, she shrugged her shoulders, took a deep breath, and grumbled, “What the Shadows. It’s only one day more.” With a flick of the reins Revin began to turn the horse and wagon back north. A thin smile spread on her lips, and she added, “I really need a bath.”

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