Fantasy Fiction posted January 26, 2020 Chapters:  ...23 24 -25- 26... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
the dragons earn their keep and make friends

A chapter in the book Aaron's Dragons

The Journey Home

by Cindy Warren

The witch's spirit has helped protect the dragon eggs since they were laid, over two hundred years ago. She sent Aaron to find them, taught them, and helped them win their battle.
It was mid-afternoon when they reached the river. The men and horses were tired and reluctant to cross, but they understood they'd be sitting ducks should the enemy come upon them mid-crossing. Dylan didn't think that was likely, but he was taking no chances. He'd seen their determination to murder Aaron.

Mountain and Yellow dived right in. Mountain soon surfaced with a large fish in his mouth.

"They love to fish," said Aaron. "When we get to the other side I'll ask them to catch us a few."

The grumbling stopped. The crossing suddenly became an opportunity to get rid of the dirt and grit. The men and dragons both had discovered that when you raised that stuff, it went everywhere, and they were covered in it. Even Pink splashed herself in some shallow water, and the promise of fresh fish brightened everyone's spirits.

Once across, Aaron unsaddled Demon and let him graze. Other men did the same. Red and Black soon had a fire blazing, ready to cook the fish. Though tired, Aaron and Duane were able to find some of the edible bulbs that grew along the water's edge. Duane had become quite adept at cooking them.

They watched the dragons fishing. Black, though not a natural diver, had learned from his siblings and was becoming quite good at it. Sky could spot the fish from above, dive in and come up with it in seconds. Yellow and Mountain were strong swimmers. The Dragoyles were becoming braver in the water. It was not their element, but that was where the fish were, and they managed to catch a couple near the shore. They gobbled them up immediately, unwilling to share.

Mountain and Yellow carried their fish to the fire.

"They'll eat them raw if they have to, but they prefer them fried," Aaron explained. That brought smiles, and they were happy to oblige.

The afternoon passed swiftly. Fish were caught and fried, and Dylan suggested they cut some into thin strips to dry by the fire for the journey. Duane proved quite good at that. Red made a game of creeping up to steal a few of the slices, until Aaron explained to her what they were for.

Towards evening, Aaron could no longer keep his eyes open. That was okay with him. He wanted to sleep and spend some time with Blue. The dragons saw him lay his blanket on the ground and gathered around beside him. Brown had not yet emerged from her saddle bag. Duane guessed what he was planning and decided to join him.

He soon found himself in the dream that wasn't quite a dream, with Blue. He found Purple and Brown already there, and Duane and the other dragons soon joined them. They also had another visitor. She sat on a floating log, and Aaron thought she looked good.

"You have done well, Aaron," she said. "You were wise enough to see that you couldn't continue to hide the dragons. You timed things perfectly, introducing them at exactly the right time. Now they have friends, and soon it will be illegal to kill them."

"They did their share."

"Indeed they did."

"What I want to know is how they managed that hot water," said Aaron.

"Purple did it," Pink chimed in. She sat on the log with White and the woman. "She does not like to be cold. She learned how to make it warm. She made it hot before we made it rain on the bad men. Blue, Sky, and the Dragoyles made it move."

Purple swam in circles, pleased with herself and excited to see everyone. Aaron hugged her, and she climbed onto his head and shoulders, then back into the water to play with her siblings. Even Brown seemed to be enjoying the water.

"Tell us a story about me before I must say goodbye," said the woman.

"She was a queen among the witches," Aaron began. "It was a peaceful time, before the kings and nobles became afraid of them. She was a great healer, and the people loved her. Young women would come to her for for learning, as well as love potions and charms. Even the king would come to her for protection spells and help when enemies attacked. It always worked, enemies were driven back and the kingdom was a happy place."

"What went wrong?" asked Duane.

"A rival became jealous. She wanted the love of the people and respect of the king for herself, so she went to him and told him the woman would betray him. It was a lie, but she told a convincing story, and the king believed her. Her plan worked, but not the way she wanted it to. The king was afraid of what would happen if any witch were to betray him, so he ordered an end to them all."

The dragons stared at him, riveted.

"The king went to Gareth's grandfather and told him she was about to commit treason. He believed what the king said, so he and his men killed her and her dragon. The dragon had laid eggs, and when she knew she was about to die, the woman promised the dragon that her spirit would stay and look after them, since the dragon spirit could not. She kept her promise for two hundred years. Now the eggs have hatched, and the hatchlings are growing into fine, brave young dragons."

"The last part is very close to the truth," she said. "I have kept my promise, and now the fine, brave young dragons no longer need me. It is time for me to join my sisters in the other world. Aaron, you must take the eggs out of the root cellar and hatch them. And you, my darlings," she said to the dragons, "must not eat them."

"No! We still need you!" Pink croaked.

"Not go," said Blue.

Aaron thought his heart would break. The dragons made a mournful chorus of sounds he had never heard from their throats.

"Don't be sad," she said. "I no longer belong in this world. My time is over. Yours is just beginning. You and the young man here have a wonderful future ahead of you."

"Me?" Despite his sadness, Duane looked surprised.

"Of course you. I have never met a braver, more loyal young man. With you I have no fear for the future." With that, the woman was gone.

The dragons could not cry, but Aaron could feel their grief. Pink and White were especially affected. Those two, it seemed, had been trying to emulate her. She had appeared tough and proud, but Aaron suspected that was not always the case. He could see Duane trying to comfort Purple, and was glad they had this time together.

As was always the case, the night passed too quickly. Morning came, and they awoke to a cold drizzle. The fire had gone out, and the men were grumpy. Mountain and Yellow went fishing, and came back to camp to grumbles because they couldn't cook them.

"They seem okay," Duane said as Red proved the grumbler wrong by cooking the fish, only slightly charring it on the outside.

"They'll be fine," said Aaron. "I've noticed that they feel things intensely, but they don't dwell on them long."

"I wish I could do that," said Duane. "She said I was brave. I don't feel brave right now."

"Duane, feeling sad does not mean you are not brave. You will be sad sometimes. It will not turn you into a coward."

"The first time I saw her I was so scared. I thought she'd be mean, but she wasn't. She liked me, and she really cared about the dragons."

"I'm going to miss her too. When I met her I wanted no part of her, then I found myself admiring her and eventually liking her."

Sky and Black had joined in the fishing, and Red was kept busy cooking their catch. She still had no desire to go in the water, but she was more than willing to cook and eat the fish. Pink and White were a little subdued, but ate a few bites.

Dylan was allowing time for breakfast, but he was anxious to get underway.

"What's going on?" he asked as they saddled their horses.

"We've lost a friend," Aaron said. He described the night's events for Dylan.

"They seem to be doing okay."

"She doesn't like sad," said Pink, who had been listening.

"You can all meet up in a dream that isn't quite a dream? How do you do that?" Dylan asked.

"I don't know how it works. It started as soon as I released the water dragon. I found myself swimming with him, first in the river and then in sea after he made it there. The others joined us later, and soon Duane found his way in. I think Blue was lonely, and he wanted us. It seems if one of them wants something, they find a way to make it happen."

"I think I'd like to meet Blue," said Dylan.

"I'll ask him," Aaron promised as they resumed the long ride home.

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