Azrion ran over to his master as quickly as he could. The unknown female dragon was already there, kneeling down next him, trying to keep him alive. “Sire”, said she, “can you hear me? Your friends and I are doing all that we can to save you, hold on a little while longer.” By now Sir Reuben had painfully eased his way over to his friend, fearing what he might find. “Aidan?” he said softly, as he gently rolled the king onto his back. His injured body protested with every move he made, but he knew it was little compared to what his friend was going through. As he was being rolled over, the king opened his eyes and looked at his comrade. “My brother,” he said with a raspy sigh and a small pained smile, “My time here grows short. Please, for me, tell Fallon that I deeply loved and treasured her above all earthly things. She bore my children, helped me to be a wise king and an even better father, I could not ask for a better wife. She has done her best to train our children in wisdom and discernment when I was away. I could never have imagined my life without her.”
Tears sprang into Sir Rueben’s eyes as he heard these words, and thought of his own wife. “My brother,” said he, “do not speak as such. You will come home to her, and you will say these words to her yourself, you must! You will live, my friend, I promise.” Aidan looked Rueben in the eye and replied gravely “Do not make a promise which you cannot keep, my friend. How I wish I could say these words to my beloved, one last time! But it will not be. Even as I speak to you now, I can feel myself slowly slipping away. My time is short, listen carefully to what I am about to say to you. It concerns my eldest son, Arden. He is to rule in my stead. Is this understood by you?” he asked sternly. Rueben could just barely hold back his emotions as he replied, “Yes. It is heard and understood” “Good” said King Aidan as he looked at the dragons gathered around them. “And to you, great rulers of the skies, has this been heard by you?” “Yes O king, we have heard and witnessed, these things that you say”, they replied including Arual, who had quietly joined them several minutes before.
Aidan turned back to Rueben. “Now listen. My son, though only 17, is to become a man now, and take over as king when I am gone. He must put away his childish thoughts and actions. You have proven to me that you are good man, mentor, husband, and father. Please, as my dying wish, I ask you to help teach my son what is needed. He is slowly straying away from my instructions, and has no longer paid heed to his mother’s teaching. Please, above all, teach him the importance of Wisdom, for it is of priceless value. Nothing in this life compares with it. Will you teach this to him and each one of my children?” Sir Rueben took a deep breath, and even though his broken ribs were now screaming, steadied himself and replied “Yes. Though as a father to your children, I know I can never replace you, I will try my very best to my dying breath, to teach your son and the rest of your children what you have asked me to”.
A look of peace and calm came over the king’s face as he heard these words. “Thank you. And now”, he said, turning slightly to look at the dragons, “Azrion, when your time of mourning is over, you are to be the mount of my son when he is king. You have served me well since my youth, and I thank you for everything. Arual, you and Indris have taught him well, and should be very proud of him. I have never ridden a finer dragon, and it has been a great honor to fight with him.” He lay back for a moment, closed his eyes, and rested. His breathing was becoming shallower with each passing moment. Suddenly he began to cough hoarsely as breathing became more difficult and flecks of blood appeared on his lips. “Reuben” he said as best he could, “I am leaving now, for my time has come. I do not fear death, my friend. I go now to my Father in heaven. Do not stand by my grave and weep when I am gone, am not there, I do not sleep. My soul is with God, and I am at peace. Until we meet again in the realm Eternal”, he took one final breath and said simply, “Goodbye, dearest of friends.” He closed his eyes, and his soul departed. And so passed Aidan, King of Ireland.
Sir Rueben sat in stunned silence for a moment. Then the tears began to fall, silently at first that soon gave way to quiet sobbing. The one person in all his life that had stood by him through everything he had endured since childhood was now gone. He was trying to think of what to say to the widowed queen and her children, when he felt a firm but gentle hand on his shoulder. He glanced at the ground quickly so his sorrow would not be seen, but stopped for a second. He knew those boots. He wiped his eyes and looked up to see Hugh standing before him, and couldn’t help but flinch. The young man’s left eye was maimed and bloodied beyond recognition. A quick glance was all one needed to know that sight in that eye would never again be possible. The left side of his face was swollen and damaged; both his brow and cheek bones were clearly broken. His nose and lips were also bleeding. Hugh seemed to read the older man’s thoughts. “It was a mace-and-chain, Sire. I should have been more cautious, and have now paid for my foolishness,” he said quietly, though slurring very slightly, “I was angry and vengeful, and in blind rage, I did not pay attention to my surroundings. I heard something behind me and when I turned to look, he was waiting. I tried to duck, but did not make it in time, though it most certainly could have been worse”. Hugh knelt down next to Sir Rueben, and they both sat in silence for some time, neither knew for how long.
It was Arual who finally spoke. “My lord,” he said as gently as he could, “I know you are grieving, and that your heart is hurting beyond measure, but there is a time and a place for it and it is neither now nor here. Look! The sun has risen, it is time to leave. We must search for any survivors that can be found, and tend to the wounded if we can.” He then turned to Azrion. “Find out how much of our kin still lives and who is able to fly, we need them to carry the wounded. If they cannot fly, then they must walk or run, if they can do neither, than the must find shelter somewhere, and wait there until we return for them. Is this understood?” he asked, to which his son replied “Yes sir”, and went away to do what was asked of him. Arual then turned to the purple female and eyed her suspiciously. “What is your name dragon, and who is your Rider?” he asked, to which she replied “My name is Shastia, and I have no Rider.” Arual looked at her for a few minutes before making a decision. “Well then,” he said, “I want you to go, and find as many human survivors as you can. Do I make myself clear?” “Yes sir, quite clear.” She replied humbly, as she turned on her heels and quickly set out to complete her task.
By now, Sir Rueben and Hugh had carefully wrapped the king’s body with a discarded cloak they found, and had done their best to patch up Hugh’s face. Every bit of Sir Rueben’s body hurt, ached, throbbed and burned. He knew that fever would set in if he did not receive medical attention soon. “Surely we’re not going to bury him here, in this place my lord” Hugh asked, rather alarmed. “Good heavens, no!” came the curt reply, “His body will be taken back to the castle, and properly prepared. He shall then be laid to rest in The Hill of Kings,” he paused for a moment before finishing, “And his eldest son is to be crowned king.” Hugh looked at him incredulously. “Arden?! Surely not him! He… he’s no more than a stupid, foolish boy, wishing to be a man. He can’t be king! He has neither the wisdom, nor the desire to be...” As soon as the words left his lips, he wished he hadn’t said them. As Sir Rueben looked up him, a look of anger came over his face, but soon changed into one of sadness. “You are right Hugh; he is all that you say and more. Even one of his younger brothers would make a far more fitting ruler than him. But, he is next in line, and it was his father’s dying wish that he be king.” Hugh pondered this for a moment. “It’ll not be easy, convincing the council to put him on the throne. You know they’ll push as hard as they can for a steward to rule instead.” “Yes, I am aware of this. However, even the dragons heard what was said, and shall give their voice to this cause”.
Hugh sighed and looked around for a moment. It was so strange only having sight in one eye; this would take a lot of getting used to. He soon saw the dragons returning, and quickly counted. Out of the 127 dragons that had come, only 49 had survived, and it looked as if a dozen or so of them couldn’t fly. Shastia came next with the human survivors. Of 136 soldiers that had fought, 32 of them had survived, 7 of them had wounds so horrifying that they looked as if they would never walk again, let alone fight. 4 more looked as if they may not survive the return journey home. Hugh tried to come to terms with all that was happening, but it was so difficult. He felt as if he had turned into an old man overnight, so many of his friends had lost their lives in this war and now his little brother. “Dear God, “he prayed silently, “What am I going to tell my father and mother? And the girl he always spoke of, what shall I tell her? He was so young, so why him and not me, hmm? Why am I not the one lying dead out there somewhere. Heaven knows I deserved it far more than he did!” He wiped his eye on his sleeve, and turned to do what needed to be done, but stopped short and thought for a second. Something wasn’t right, something that he’d seen earlier. Suddenly, it came to him. He turned and counted the dragons again, this time, a bit slower. His sight hadn’t failed him; there were 42 of them there, some standing, some lying down. But of all the ones he could see, he still couldn’t see his own mount.
Aural saw the young man franticly searching for his dragon, and felt sorrow in his heart. He went over to Hugh and said, gently as he could, “Hugh… I am sorry. Nyrad fought valiantly, but did not make it. He died with honor, courage, and valiance.” Hugh stood for a moment, shocked, before quietly replying “He is dead, then? I feared as much. First it was my brother, then my king, and now my dragon.” He paused then asked “May I see him?” Aural had not been prepared for this question. “My lord, I do not advise this, he may not be as you remember him.” “I don’t care; I want to see him…please take me to him.”
Arual opened his mouth to speak, but wisely decided against it. “All right,” he sighed, “Follow me.” The two walked a ways before coming to a low hill. “He lies just over this hill; I will stay here, if you do not mind.” Hugh didn’t seem to hear as he slowly trudged up and over the hill. The sight of his friend brought tears to his eye and a lump to his throat. The once majestic beast, deep blue in color, now laid a tattered and torn mess; he had been shred to absolute ribbons, his wings were snapped, ripped, and distorted out of place while hardly any of his original colorings were visible. The marks of battle upon his beloved dragon were so ugly to see, yet he couldn’t look away. He slowly went over and placed a hand on the great face and found that it was still slightly warm. He then turned a bit and surveyed the surroundings. A shallow crater around the dragon indicated that he had fallen from the sky and hadn’t moved since landing. ‘Perhaps he was killed in action, and had died before he fell to the ground’ Hugh thought to himself, hoping that was what had happened. The thought of Nyrad falling from that distance before crashing into the earth while still alive made his stomach turn. He laid his hand on the huge head one last time before finally letting out a shaky sigh, and saying “Goodbye old friend. Faithful till the last you were, unto to the very bitterest of ends.” He then turned and slowly walked back to Aural. “Thank you,” he said quietly, “we should go back now, I’m sure the others are waiting for us.”
By the time they reached the group, one of the injured men had died; another was bleeding profusely, no matter what was done for him. Hugh looked around, and saw Sir Reuben away off, leaning heavily on a large stone, his back turned. He walked closer to him, but stopped a short distance away. Something was wrong. Every few seconds it seemed a shudder went through Sir Reuben, followed by a choking, retching sound, then a suppressed cry of pain, as he doubled over in agony and his shoulders heaved. It took only a matter of seconds for Hugh to realize that Sir Reuben hadn’t slept, eaten or drank since they had arrived two and a half days ago, could now be very, very sick. “Somebody help me, please!” Hugh shouted as he ran back to the men as fast as he could. “Sir Reuben needs help at once! Something is wrong with him, he may have fever. Can anyone help me?” An older, heavyset man by the name of Garran came over, and asked “Where? Where is he lad? Speak quickly now! I haven’t time for idleness, I’ve work to do!” “This way, follow me.” Hugh said, as they both hurried over. When they reached him, he was lying on his back with his eyes and mouth open, his pupils pinpoint, all the while pale, sweating and barely breathing. “Oh no,” Garran said as he saw what was before him, “Lad, he’s not just sick, he’s gone into shock! And I’m sure all a that dry-heavin’ didn’t help him any.” Hugh looked confused, and slightly panicked. “Dry heaving? What is that? And what does it have to do with all of this?” Garran looked at Hugh like he wanted punch him. Instead, he replied “Dry heaving. It’s when you feel like you have to vomit, but there’s nothing in your stomach so’s you can’t. Help me get the poor fellow back to the others. Gently now, he’s bound to have broken bones.” Sir Reuben cried out several times when he was picked up and while they were carrying him. When they got back, the men had gotten the dragons ready and the wounded men mounted. It was finally time to go home; just the thought of it lifted their hearts a bit. Garran and Hugh soon had Sir Rueben tied down tightly to Arual’s saddle, but left his arms free, while Hugh sat behind him, just in case. It was strange for Arual having two people on his back, especially when a man who was not his master was the one in the harness and holding the reins. However, he willingly did what was asked of him, and was soon aloft and flying homeward bound.
Even though he was slipping in and out of consciousness in his shocked and delirious state, Sir Reuben could tell that he was up in the air. The wind was whistling past his face, and the air was much colder than on the ground. He was also aware that he couldn’t move very much; it was too painful, for one, also Hugh and Garran had done an excellent job of tying him securely, he wasn’t going anywhere. His delirious mind told him all sorts of strange things, for example; he was now a prisoner of war and was being gently flown to his death, everyone died in the battle including him, and for some unknown reason there were chickens and goats flying overhead. Then, his thoughts turned towards darker things. Hugh was watching Sir Rueben’s face all this time, and took note of the many expressions it carried; the latest was one of utter confusion. Suddenly, without warning, Sir Reuben’s face contorted into a mixture of hate, rage, anger, and sadness as he let out an animal-like roar and tried to lunge forward and attempted to throw himself over the side. Hugh saw what he was doing and stated as calmly as he could, “Sorry Sir, but you are not going anywhere, we have made certain of that. Now please lie back down and get some sleep, you need it and we have a long journey.” Sir Reuben continued this for several more minutes, before finally calming down. His ribs hurt so badly now, it felt as if he had been stabbed repeatedly. He was losing consciousness again, as his thoughts began to drift to his family, his beautiful wife Fionna, with her long, nut-brown locks, his oldest son Eamon, tall with black hair like his father, his oldest daughter Brenna, with her beautiful long white hair (they all wondered where that had come from), Gareth and Maira, the two sandy-haired twins, Eileen, Cody, and Conan all had fiery red hair, Maeve had deep, dark brown hair, and little baby Kane with hardly anything more than duck fuzz. As the world slowly faded out around him, he wondered if he would ever see them again. Then, he lost consciousness, and remembered nothing more.
Postscript from Willow // Don't forget to comment if you loved it!