Dragon at Sea
"Why are you trying to insert that needle in my face?"
Iorneste was indignant, one hand gripped tightly around Mourne's wrist. In the kiin's hand was needle and some catgut thread. They were in their cramped cabin, feeling the constant rocking and swaying of the ship, hearing the brash voices of the sailors calling from above, and their footsteps pounding overhead.
"Don't be a baby, Iorn. I need to close the wound."
"I can close the wound. Immediately," Iorneste sniffed.
"Yes, and wouldn't that be suspicious? Yorn of Summersgard, suddenly with a face as smooth and as without blemish as a baby."
"Quit saying that. I am not a baby."
"Then stop acting like one. This is how humans treat wounds, humans who do not have access to magical healing."
"Couldn't I just use a little magic?"
Mourne nodded, "Just enough to seal the wound and purge infection. You're going to have a scar, though. Or at least, this is the kind of wound that will scar, so you should have one."
"So she marked me, then. I will carry this mark for the next twenty-five years."
"Yes. You should incorporate the scar into your guise. I give you permission under the Binding to do that for any wound you receive, because it will complete the illusion of your being human."
Iorneste released Mourne's hand and let him go on about the business of stitching up his face.
"Your nose," Mourne suggested while snugging up one of the stitches, "You can heal that now. But it should be bruised and swollen for a few days."
With a whisper of the High Art, Iorneste's nose straightened itself. He added some cosmetic bruises and widened it a bit, making it look red and puffy. "Like this?"
"I do strive for perfection," Iorneste said, smiling faintly so as not to disturb the sewing work on his cheek. With his nose set properly, his sense of smell returned and much of the throbbing ache in his skull diminished.
"Finished," said Mourne, cutting off the stitches, and holding up a hand mirror. "Seal the wound, purge the infection, but you will have this scar to always remind you."
"Remind me of what?"
"That you are not invulnerable."
Iorneste looked into the mirror, and noted the jagged scar on his cheek, frowning. "I do not like being scarred."
Mourne shook his head and laughed. "You are a dragonslayer! Every warrior-in-training dreams of the day they receive their first battle wound."
"They do? Does it not show that they were inept enough to receive a wound in the first place?"
Mourne stopped his reflexive denial, inclining his head with acknowledgement. "That is a very good point. But it also shows that they have been in battle, and they have survived."
"Is survival a human virtue?"
"In a world with dragons, what do you think?"
They had been at sea for two days, and life had settled into a somewhat predictable rhythm aboard the Maiden's Fancy.
Despite Oren's dire predictions of starvation, the fisherman and his wife were kept very busy, and were able to pull in several catches from the bounty of the sea. Although the ship's cook was dead (he had gone with the Captain to Sandridge to purchase supplies), the fisherman's wife, who was called Norra, had turned out to make a fish stew better than any the crew had ever tasted. They supplemented their meals with their meager rations, and no one had yet gone hungry.
No one except Iorneste, that is, who had eaten the portions of three men, and would have reached for a fourth except that Mourne stopped him before he could refill his bowl. Iorneste was growing used to the constant rumble in his stomach, and vowed to himself that the first time he was out of sight of any witnesses he'd catch some four-legged animal, tear it apart with his bare hands, and feast on it in its entirety.
He distracted himself by watching the men aboard the ship, and attempted to emulate some of their tasks, continuing to put his deceptions into further practice. He was easily stronger than anyone aboard the ship, capable of carrying immensely heavy loads, but with a few tips from Mourne was able to continually downplay his vast reserves of strength, while still impressing the crew as a powerful and able-bodied worker.
Their prisoner tied to the mast was a different story. She was the enemy of everyone aboard the boat, universally hated and reviled. The surviving townspeople of Sandridge took every opportunity to curse her, to spit on her, and a few times they had to be hauled away from her when their emotions got the best of them and manifested as physical blows. Oren did not particularly care if she lived or died, but a death at sea was bad luck and eventually he asked Mourne and Iorneste if they would keep an eye on her, since she was their prisoner.
Mourne would regularly bring her water, which she would accept, and would offer to feed her bits of fish, which she refused. Her exposure to the sun and the wind left her lips chapped and her face and arms reddened, and her hair was too short to hide the worst of its rays.
Iorneste wanted nothing to do with her, and despite Mourne's urgings informed his mentor that unless he was giving him a direct order, she could starve to death for all he was concerned. He had not forgiven her for the burning of Sandridge, but Mourne knew that the greater affront was in the saddling and riding of a dragon. He felt a stab of guilt at the burden Iorneste carried for killing the drake, and wished again that he had found a way to handle it differently. In the end he had not ordered Iorneste to tend to her, and had assigned himself the sole responsibility for it.
After two days at sea, Iorneste's chill and withdrawn manner had receded, and Mourne was happy to see him smiling with the other sailors, climbing the rigging with the same heedless abandon as the others of the crew, and returning to his old personality. All except where Selka was concerned, and when he looked in her direction at all, it was only to glower.
In addition to their other duties aboard the ship, and his personal duty of attending to the prisoner, Mourne decided it was time to properly instruct Iorneste in the use of the sword he carried.
They met on the deck, with an audience. Mourne wished they'd done it at night, but there were always eyes on the deck, even at night. It would be a good test of the young dragon's guile, and his ability to show an audience what they expected to see. The problem was that he had absolutely no training in the sword, and it would be obvious to anyone with experience that this was the case. Mourne realized that he would have to improvise to explain this to the onlookers.
"Greetings, Iorn, are you ready for your instruction?"
"I am, friend Mourne." He had his claymore, which he had dubbed Yrmbane, held casually in his hand. His grip was too loose, and he had no stance to speak of.
"This is good," Mourne said. "Though you have fought dragons, you have never received formal instruction in combat. Fighting dragons is different than fighting people."
"I am not so bad. Look," Iorneste said, ignoring the panicked expression on Mourne's face, and began whirling the powerful sword in a rather impressive array of flourishes, passing it behind his back and bringing it forward, spinning around and laying waste to invisible foes.
Mourne sighed, and while Iorneste was mid-flourish, he suddenly lunged, drawing his sword at the same time and placing the tip of it to Iorneste's heart before the large claymore could be brought forward again.
The crew began to laugh and clap their hands, and even from the mast they could hear Selka's raspy chuckle.
"Don't do that," Mourne said, his voice a whisper, before stepping back to his former position. Iorneste simply stared at him in astonishment. "It never works."
"Apologies, friend Mourne."
"Don't apologize. Just don't do it again."
Iorneste nodded. "How should we begin?"
"But I fight with my arms, not--"
Mourne silenced him with a stern glare. "Who is instructor here? You fight with your whole body, and your footwork is arguably the most important part. How did I close the distance to you so quickly with a shorter blade? It wasn't just that you were showing off and not really fighting at the time."
So they began. It had been many years since Mourne had fought a battle or received his own training in swordplay, but he remembered a great deal. They started with footwork and proper stances. Iorneste was as ever a quick study, and within just a few minutes was looking less like someone who was completely untrained and more like a gifted novice. Mourne never had to deliver the same lesson twice, one advantage of teaching a Drac with 75 years of life-experience and a legendary mind.
They moved next to thrusts, parries, and counterattacks. The lessons on footwork serving Iorneste well upon the shifting deck. Since Iorneste's weapon was two-handed, Mourne did not use his shield, instead holding his longsword with two hands to demonstrate various maneuvers. These, also, were analyzed and absorbed by the academic mind of the Drac, while also being executed with textbook precision after only a few attempts. Mourne began to grow tired, envying that Iorneste did not.
After a few hours of this, the entire ship was involved, watching them move on from rote instruction and drills, to improvised combat. The captain seemed to despair of seeing his crew neglecting their duties at sea, and he groused about it at first, but once actual mock combat begain, even he watched from the aftcastle.
It was a short, but furious battle, and Mourne's tiredness that got him in the end, and when Iorneste disarmed him and placed the point of the sword to his throat, the entire ship cheered. Men stood up clapping and whooping and slapping Iorneste on the back. Mourne, severely winded, sweating, and breathing hard in great blowing breaths, moved unsteadily to slump down on the deck. "Good...work," he gasped.
The captain then barked out, "Enough of this! Look lively and get your arses to your stations! No work, no eating!"
The men jumped as if struck and moved back into position, some of them heading below decks to take their sleep shift, others taking their positions and chatting amongst themselves. Within a short time, one of the sailors started a sea chanty, and the rest of the crew joined in.
Iorneste found that he enjoyed the sea, the rocking motion of the boat, the salty smell of the sea winds, the play of the waves slapping against the hull, and the camaraderie of the sailors, and the songs they sung. He was just beginning to hum along when a croaky voice from the mast spoke, "Not bad...for a practice run."
Iorneste turned, and glared at Selka, pointedly aware the blade was still in his hand. She did not look at all threatening in her current state. They had stripped her of her armor, and she was wearing only simple, dirty and sweat-stained clothing beneath. Her skin was reddened and flaking from the sun, her lips were blistered and cracked, and the ropes had dug tightly into her wrists, chafing and baring the raw skin beneath. Her grey eyes remained defiant, and stared back at him in return.
"It won't be practice forever," Iorneste said ominously, stepping closer.
Selka chuckled, rasping dryly in her throat. "I'd be happy to 'practice' on you, boy."
"Boy? I'm older than I look."
"You don't fight like it."
Iorneste growled. "I didn't see much fighting from you. Just a massacre, using a dragon as your weapon."
Selka tried to spit, but was too dehydrated to muster it. "Massacre? Coming from a murderer that means nothing to me."
The dragon was taken aback, struggling to make sense of her words. "Murderer? Was there not an entire village of people, not to mention an ancient forest that was not burned down to ash at your very command?"
"Did you not kill my dragon? I wish I knew what you did to him. He should have eaten you for a snack, but for some reason with that sword he would not attack you." She glared at the blade, spitting out the next words with contempt, "Yet you killed him anyway."
Iorneste felt a bit uncomfortable at her words, but had come to terms with his story of events. He decided not to engage that argument. "Your dragon? Did you think he was your pet?"
Mourne looked up from the deck at the exchange, and considered rising from the deck to put an end to the discussion, but ultimately decided he was too tired to bother. Iorneste would have to hold his own eventually, so instead he drew back and maintained his silence, and continued trying to catch his breath.
"Yes," she hissed. "My dragon. His name was Kulvas. I knew him from when he was just an egg. Not that a dragonslayer would care about that."
Iorneste, knowing very well the drake's name was not Kulvas, but not expecting a human to be able to discern such things, ignored that part of her statement. "Well now he's dead. And I would not have had to kill him if you had not broken him to your will, and forced him to burn Sandridge to the ground. There are many people on this boat who would like to see you dead, and they'd be all too right in asking for your death. What do you say to them, those who have lost home and family?"
"I..." she faltered for a moment. "I did not know the flame would spread like that. I had only used the dragonfire on the battlefield."
"Yes," countered Iorneste, relishing his words, "You are a girl who is playing with things she does not understand. You don't even know that dragonfire will not stop until it has consumed everything. And you unleashed it in the heart of a forest, a forest which has stood since the dawn of Man, and even before. A forest that could not have burned any other way. Though the Elvarien are gone, their spirits cry out at what you have done."
"Oh?" she spat, "And you know so much about dragons, do you? Just enough to help you hunt them, is that it?"
"What I know about dragons," huffed Iorneste, "Is more than you could possibly imagine, and certainly more than you care about. Considering your disregard for Kulvas, I'm surprised you pretend to care at all."
"Pretend?" Selka shook her head and bared her white teeth, "He was my friend! And you butchered him."
Iorneste had had enough, and felt his dragon's ire rise once more, strong and powerful, like the flames that had devastated Sandridge. "Butcher! Me?! You girded him with a saddle, you tore his mouth to ribbons with that...that...thing you had in his mouth, so that you could ride him and treat him like a servile beast!"
Selka narrowed her eyes. "Dragons are stubborn creatures," she said. "And why do you care if I ride him like a horse? Such moralizing from a dragonslayer!"
He had to hand it to her, as a dragonslayer he really shouldn't care that much. "I care that you are riding a weapon, a dangerous and unpredictable creature, and keeping it in check only through gouging its body with spurs and cutting up its mouth. I might kill dragons, but I have no desire to torture them. As a means of control, how long did you think that would last?"
She gave him a patronizing look. "You know so much about dragons, do you? Don't you know they are matriarchal?"
He sniffed, "Of course."
"Dragonriders are all women. We can only ride the males. The dragonrider must be present when they hatch in order to ensure they will treat us as their mother. With all that, they are still stubborn, and the spurs and the bit are there to ensure that they remember who is in charge."
It suddenly made terrible sense to Iorneste, and his vision nearly dimmed so powerful was his rage. He fought back against it, attempting to exert his control, not wanting any of the telltale signs of his true nature to reveal himself to her or to the rest of the crew, but it was incredibly difficult to do so. The crackle of flame was in his voice as he answered her next, biting out his words with careful, but tenuous control. "I see. So the drak--dragon was a young one, and you have been trained almost since birth to be his rider."
She nodded curtly, "It is my earliest memory, his hatching from his egg. He has been my constant companion, my friend, for as long as I can remember. We have been training together in the Dragon Corps for over twenty years, and it is only in the past few years that I could ride him." Her eyes grew far away for a moment. "You can't even imagine what it felt like to soar through the skies on the back of a dragon. You could have no idea what it felt like...and together we were unstoppable, together we were like one creature..." Her eyes then came back to earth, and hardened like agates. "And you killed him."
"I will struggle," Iorneste growled, "To forgive myself. For killing one dragon. Your struggle, if any honor still remains in that blackened, shriveled thing you call a heart, is to forgive yourself for the burning of the Wyldlands, the deaths of many humans in your quest to seek one man, and for treating the creature you claim to care so much about as your instrument of death, your own flying...horse!"
He rose to his feet and dismissed her, eyes finding Mourne's looking at him from his slouching place upon the deck. He sheathed his sword behind his back, heading for the quarterdeck. "But I don't see how that's possible," he said. "No one would miss you if you threw yourself into the ocean right now, and it's a far better fate than you deserve."
He stormed away into the bowels of the ship, and the slam of the door in the cabin down below echoed loudly, like a thunderclap.
Mourne had to admit that Iorneste had done well, except for his reference to "humans", and in their mutual animosity towards each other, Selka had revealed far more than all of his cordial attempts at conversation had netted them thus far.
Selka's loss was understandable. By the time she waited for another dragon to rise to maturity from egg to adulthood, she'd be too old and too far gone to be an effective dragonrider.
Mourne sighed, worried beyond measure that there were others like her, that there was at least one of the Many Kingdoms using dragons in battle. He wished he was surprised. They have bent the entirety of the world to their will, and the ancient races which once lived are either extinct, in hiding, or subjugated. Why should dragons be any different to them?
He feared the reaction from Kaer Drac once they found out. Iorneste's outrage was but a shadow compared to what theirs would be.
Mourne walked out onto the deck in the bristling morning of their third day at sea, the distance to the Wyldlands behind them increasing with every dip and rise of the ocean beneath the trading vessel. The sky was nearly cloudless, although there was darkness on the horizon that filled him with a foreboding uneasiness.
The ship continued about its business, and as passengers who had bought their passage, they were not required to help, although this had not stopped Iorneste from diving in and doing so. He still remained belowdecks, sleeping deeply, and for that Mourne was thankful. Dragons did not require food every day, but when they did eat it was enough to beggar a king's kitchen. He knew that Iorneste had left unprepared, not expecting the portions he'd be subjected to in the outside world. For all his academic knowledge, certain things were too trivial to put in books, the size of a human meal, for instance. It was in these areas that Iorneste was ignorant, and his ignorance had cost him.
Without steady sustenance, Iorneste would grow weaker, and would need to sleep longer. Dragons who entered a phase of starvation grew sluggish, and would often hibernate, often for long centuries, replenishing their strength by harvesting the ambient magic present in their lair. Iorneste had no lair, and had not fed well for days. It was to be expected that he would sleep longer than usual, and Mourne made sure to make use of that time.
When he regarded Selka, he was shocked at her condition. For three days she had been roped to the mast, exposed to the sun, the sea, and the wind. She was wet from sea spray, hot, burned and nearly broken. She slumped forward away from the mast, the muscles in her arms knotted, wrists stretched behind her, chafed and bleeding against the taut bonds that held her. Salty saliva had dried on her cracked lips, and her eyes struggled to focus. The left side of her face, where Iorneste had slugged her in anger, was a mottled purple, swollen mess, the deepness of the bruises visibly accentuated at the impact points of his knuckles.
Her headache must be severe indeed, and she has no access to magical healing like Iorneste.
Carrying the skin of water he had saved for the occasion, he couched down next to her at the mast, splashing fresh water upon her lips and earning the faintest reaction in response as her tongue reached out to lap it up.
"Good morning," Mourne offered, squirting more water directly into her open mouth.
She swallowed, and nodded at him, one of her bleary eyes trying to keep him in focus.
"Won't you eat?" he asked, taking a bit of dried fishcake from a pouch at his side and offering it to her. Her mouth hardenened and drew shut, and he sighed. "I don't know who is more stubborn: Yorn, or you. It is not poison, I promise you." He took a bite of it to show her, swallowing, and even opening his mouth comically wide to show her he had swallowed it. "Besides, there are better ways to kill someone."
"Not..." she began and coughed, "If you want to....torture them..."
"Stop wasting your breath which such silly ideas. We're not trying to torture you," Mourne said, although seeing the blisters and bruises caused by her confinement to the mainsail mast, he wasn't so sure. It had seemed a good idea at the time, and everyone was angry enough with her that she had seemed to deserve it.
She answered him only with raspy laughter.
He pondered what he was about to do next, once again glad that Iorneste was sleeping below deck. There were others on the ship who would object as well, but he had done too much study in the arts of medicine to willfully kill someone through starvation and exposure. "Selka Euphrane," he addressed her formally, such that she looked up again to meet his eyes. "Listen to me carefully: I am the closest thing to a friend that you have on this ship. I have brought you water, and food, though you will not take it. I know you have a military background, and the concept of honor is not unknown to you."
She nodded slowly.
"If I release you from the mast, such that you can eat with your own two hands, will you give me your word that you will not try to escape, and will attack no one on this ship?"
She nodded again.
"Swear it by your life, by your honor, by the lord you serve, and I will believe you."
"I....swear by my life, by my honor, and by King Gracellus of Greatre Esturia, that I will not try to escape, or attack anyone on this ship."
He unsnarled the ropes around her wrists, and she fell forward to the deck. A few of the crew cried out suddenly in surprise, but Mourne ignored them. He put his arm around her shoulders, and leaned her back against the mast.
Selka groaned, struggling to move her fingers and she squeezed her eyes shut, wincing against the pain. "Gods..." she murmured. "Cut off my hands, it would feel better."
"That will pass. In the meantime, rest here. I will sit with you."
"Why are you helping me?" she spoke clearly, albeit raspy.
"Because despite what others on this ship might think, I do not believe you to be a bad person."
She bowed her head to him once in thanks, reaching out trembling fingers for the waterskin. Mourne let her take it from him, and she squirted over half of it into her mouth, swallowing greedily, spraying the rest of it on her face. It was a waste of water in a situation where supplies were growing limited, but considering her situation he let it pass.
Her other hand reached out tentatively towards the fishcake, and Mourne handed that to her as well. She took small nibbles at first, but soon had wolfed it down. By the time she was finished, Mourne produced another. Then another.
Leaning her head back against the mast, she moaned. "Gods...soon as I get my strength back, this is the last time I ever touch this mast again."
"That remains to be seen," Mourne warned. "Remember your promise. I am trusting you here, more than I probably should."
"I am grateful. I would not have shown quarter in your position."
"That's a bold admission," Mourne said. "But at least honest."
"Honesty costs nothing, when you have nothing left to lose."
Mourne frowned. "Yes, but people are most dangerous when they have nothing left to lose."
She smirked at him, wincing at the bleeding cracks it brought to her lips, and the pain at the left side of her swollen mouth. "Aren't they, though?" She attempted to rise, and cried out as her legs began to buckle. Mourne started to reach for her to provide help, but stopped himself, fearing she'd be too proud to accept it. She managed it after a second attempt, and he rose to his feet along with her, finding her standing at the same height as he.
"Come," offered Mourne. "Let us get you belowdecks, so you can sleep."
"In the brig?" she asked, with a wheeze more like a chuckle. She limped along on one leg, and Mourne realized that it had probably been dislocated at the hip when Iorneste had flung her from the saddle.
"In my cabin," Mourne said.
She raised an eyebrow at this.
He struggled very hard not to blush, but couldn't be sure if he succeeded. "In mine and Yorn's cabin."
Her smile fell, and she hissed, "I'd sooner die."
"So would he, but neither of you have a choice. You will die from exposure out here, and you need real sleep in a real bed. I give you my word of honor that he will behave himself."
"I don't want to be in the same room with him."
Mourne ran a hand through his tousled hair in irritation giving it a hard yank, and snapped, "Fine. I'll have him sleep out here."
"Why are you even with him?"
Mourne avoided the question. "He'll ask me the same thing about you. You both have more in common than either would like to admit."
"I highly doubt that."
"He'd say that, too."
She threw her battered hands up. "If you say so. I'm too tired to care at this point. Just show me where I can sleep."
When Iorneste finally awoke, the sun was falling, and the cabin was nearly dark. This was little impediment to his sharp eyes, but it surprised him all the same. As he awakened, his stomach growled like an angry bear. Rising to a seated position in the rocking berth caused stars to dance in front of his eyes.
I'm starving, he thought, amused in spite of himself. A new experience.
Once the stars cleared from his vision, he noticed the sound of regular breathing nearby. Mourne, asleep already? he thought, and began to smile. The smile froze on his features, stillborn, as he finally paid attention to the rather powerful scent that was in the air.
This was not Mourne's scent. It was hers.
When the door began to open, Yrmbane cleared the scabbard and embedded itself in the wooden doorframe inches from Mourne's head, causing him to duck back behind it in surprise.
"Oh!" Iorneste said, rising to his feet. "Sorry, friend Mourne, I..."
Mourne opened the door wider, and gave Iorneste a bemused expression. "On edge, are we?"
"Considering the company, she's lucky you got here when you did."
Mourne shook his head irritably. "None of that, now. I heard enough of it from her."
"Why isn't she still tied to the mast? It was the best place for her."
"A place she would have died before we reached port."
"Stop it!" Mourne shouted, too loudly, causing Selka to stir and mutter in her sleep. He dropped his voice to a whisper, but his protest caught Iorneste off-guard and the young dragon snapped his mouth shut. "Come out here, let us talk."
Iorneste nodded, wrenching the sword from the door frame, and sheathing it in the scabbard. He was dressed only in his undergarments, and no shirt, but slung the sword over his back anyway, not wanting to leave a weapon, particularly his weapon, near the hands of that female.
As Iorneste stepped out into the hallway, Mourne closed the door quietly behind them. "I'd have awakened you first, but you would not stir. You were sleeping like the dead."
"Almost," admitted Iorneste. "I'm starving. A few more days of this, and I'll go into hibernation."
"I know, and we will deal with that, but you'll have to wait until we reach shore."
Iorneste leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes, feeling the weakness in his limbs, and a torpor over his whole body as if he had not slept at all. Without opening his eyes, he whispered, "You took pity on her. Why?"
"Because she was raised from birth to be who she is. Because, as you said, her people are playing with things they do not understand, but this is no fault of hers. She is pledged to her lord in the same way a male eregaunt will pledge himself to a matriarch.
"Also because she has lived only a third of your lifespan, and the barest fraction of mine, and has no knowledge of the things that you or I do. Because she is only human, and weakened, and though she will not admit it to herself yet, she feels remorse. Her hatred for you is the only thing that keeps her from suicide."
Iorneste opened one eye at this. "Really?"
"I could be wrong, but that's what I think."
"You are saying she is a victim."
"Of sorts. She still is responsible for her poor judgment, but the thing for which you hate her most? This was also the thing that was the culmination of her entire life. It was her destiny, as she sees it, and as a Knight-Marshal she was a powerful and respected figure. That is all over for her now, and she knows it."
Iorneste considered this for some time as the light continued to darken. Mourne shifted from leg to leg several times, and thought of speaking more than once, but realized that a dragon alone with its thoughts was something better left uninterrupted whenever possible.
The young dragon sighed finally. "I will not harm her, if that is what worries you."
Mourne hadn't realized he'd been taking shallow breaths, but exhaled suddenly in relief. "Thank you, Iorn. You are, as ever, an honorable Drac." He brushed the curtain of Iorneste's hair away from his eyes, so that the dragon could see his grateful smile.
"So you trust her?"
"Not completely, but she has given her word on her life, on her honor, and in the name of her lord that she will not try to escape, or attack anyone on this ship."
"I do not know if I believe her capable of honesty."
"That is your bias talking. Honesty is always the best policy."
Iorneste raised his head from the wall at that, staring at Mourne in disbelief, and suddenly started laughing. It was a rich, powerful laugh, and as pure and sincere as any he had ever heard.
Mourne blushed. "You know what I mean."
"I am not sure I do," Iorneste said, between bouts of laughter. "But if you want me to be honest, there are some things that several people aboard this ship should be aware of."
Sarcasm from a dragon, Mourne thought, and chased away the irritation he felt at being caught in a rather foolish statement. "I meant among friends, among trusted confidantes," Mourne argued.
"She is nothing close to a trusted confidante."
"Still, I believe her to be honorable."
Iorneste suddenly sniffed the air, interrupting, "Did I miss dinner?"
"Is there any left?"
"I am not sure...probably?"
Iorneste paused for a moment, giving Mourne a long look of appraisal. "Honesty is best among friends. And we are friends, are we not, friend Mourne?"
"I would be honored to be considered one."
Iorneste gifted Mourne with a broad smile. "Then I am relieved and honored as well, for I would like to be honest with you now."
"Oh?" Mourne said, smiling in return, feeling his own amusement begin to rise. "What could you possibly have deceived me about already in the short time we have been together?"
"I didn't kill the drake." Iorneste was so relieved at uttering the words to Mourne that the stricken look on his face didn't register.
"No. Just a flesh wound. Then I sent it back to Kaer Drac."
The world opened up beneath Mourne's feet and swallowed him up, the mocking laughter of Fate echoed in his brain, calling him a fool. His legs felt weak, and he slumped back against the wall, struggling for breath, mouth gasping like a fish.
"It feels good to be honest, friend Mourne. I am sorry I deceived you. But I am so glad you are pleased!" It was a new expression he was seeing on Mourne's face, a new reaction in his body language, but he had heard of humans being speechless when overcome with powerful emotions, such as joy.
Mourne's mouth opened and closed several times, but no sound came out.
Iorneste began to move down the hallway, his stomach raging at him. "We can talk more later. I need sustenance, I want to see if any fish stew is left in the pot. Surely no one would mind me finishing whatever is left, with everyone else already having eaten. I am so glad I could tell you at last, I disliked pretending to be angry with you."
With that final parting smile, Iorneste turned and ran down the hallway, headed to the galley, there to plunder whatever remained of the evening meal.
The weakness in Mourne's limbs was too much. He slumped to the floor, a prisoner of his panicked thoughts. His head fell into his hands as a groan of anguish escaped his trembling lips.
Oh, Iorneste, what have you done?
by Lightning Fist SajoPhoe