There is sadness in his eyes, even though he smiles happily as he waves at his uncle back as the man is leaving for work. And he stays there, at the very beginning of the long road which leads to the village, until his absolutely sure that his uncle can’t see him anymore. Once he’s sure, he runs back to the house, where, all by himself, he does the lessons meant for that day before finishing all of his chores around the house. Once he is done, he takes the dog by the collar, and into the field above the house where they play for hours while watching over the sheep. He eats hi mean among the other shepherds, but runs back home before sunset. His uncle returns to find both him and the dog waiting for him at the house porch, both as happy as they can be. Or at least that’s how it was during the day, for as soon as the night came, the boy starts shivering. His uncle does his best to comfort him as he cries for his deceased parents, but his effort seems in vain. The boy is still crying, curled up in a small ball at his narrow bed, his back against the cold wooden wall. He won’t let his uncle come near; he wants to be alone as he cries, more and more, choking on his tears, gasping for breath between the sobs. But his uncle won’t leave him alone. He doesn’t touch him, because the last time he tried to hug him, for some reason, he ended up upsetting him even more. Yet, he is still there, and he wants to help, he just doesn’t know how. He never did. Even though he grew up with the sister who was ten years younger than him, he still doesn’t know how to handle a crying child.
And that’s why the next cry that came from the boys lips almost broke him. Thus, he steps back, as he doesn’t want to end up upsetting the boy even more again, looking for something, anything, to help him keep calm. He reaches back, without actually looking, as he is too worried to take his eyes of the wounded boy, and like that, he finds something odd. It is an old instrument he hasn’t really played in years and has almost forgotten. However, he still remembers how to…
‘It’s beautiful.’ the boy say quietly after a few minutes of a lovely song, his voice usually soft, now roughened by the cries. Tears are still running down his face and he refuses to lift up his head, but at least he is not shivering anymore.
‘Yes, it is.’, his uncle answers just as quietly, closing his eyes as he remembers the tune. He hasn’t played for so long…
‘What is it called?’ the boy asks once the music’s gone.
‘The Dragon’s Song.’ his uncle says softly, for he is now lost within the worlds of memories just as much as the boy. ‘My father thought me how to play it a long time ago…’
‘Grandpa knew how to play?!’ the boy asks in surprise, finally lifting his head, as he cannot believe that. His grandfather was nothing but strict with him while he was alive.
‘Yes!’ his uncle laughs at his surprise. ‘Of course… The Dragon’s Song used to be your mother’s favourite lullaby…’ He spoke without thinking, the nights he spent watching his father put his little sister to sleep being some of his favourite memories. Too late has he realised it was the wrong thing to say.
‘Really?’ the boy whispers, biting his lips, as he clenched his knees, trying very hard not to start crying again.
‘Yes... I’m sorry.’ his uncle says quietly, cursing himself for what he has said just when the boy has finally calmed somewhat. The boy shakes his head as if to say that it doesn’t matter-but it does. There are tears running down his face again.
His uncle sighs, not knowing what to do now. Then, he suddenly remembers. ‘There is a story behind the song.’ he says carefully. ‘Would you like to hear it?’
‘…yes.’ the boy says quietly, choking down his tears, as he wipes them away.
‘You know…’ the nights in the plains were cold, much colder than days, especially during the fall; cold enough for a man to be able to see his breath fade into the dark air every time he opened his mouth. That was why all of them gathered around the single fire, some sleeping, others keeping guard. It was a tiny spec of light within the miles of darkness, and a dangerous sign of their presence, but, without it, they couldn’t survive. ‘Those who heard it say that the dragon’s song is one of the most beautiful things in the world.’
‘And what is that to you now, Arlain?’ another one of the guards said bitterly, frowning his brow at the young man.
‘Nothing.’ he laughs softly. ‘But…’
‘But what?’ the same man barked again roughly at him.
‘I want to hear it, Falcon.’ Arlain says softly, closing his eyes and imagining in his vide mind vividly how that strange, strange music could sound. ‘I want to hear it right now… ‘
The other man sighs, shaking his head in despair as he says: ‘How many times do I have to tell you to stop doing that?!’
‘Doing what?’ the young man asks, opening his left eye so he could see his older friend. Falcon was mad.
‘Daydreaming while on watch!’ he shouts, drawing the attention of others to them for a split second, before they turn again, for everyone here but the mischievous boy is a soldier experienced in war and therefore knows that at night, they should be watching the dark.
‘Falcon, how could I possibly be daydreaming?’ the boy laughs quietly once no one is looking at him anymore. ‘It’s the middle of the night!’
The soldier says nothing. He just looks at the boy with stern look in his eyes that were suddenly dark and heavy, as if they were made of stone.
‘It doesn’t matter.’ he says, his voice much harsher than before. ‘Here, it doesn’t matter whether you call it a daydream or a nightmare, Arlain-a moment of negligence is still a moment of negligence! And as such it is something you cannot afford when on watch in the times like these. A poet you might be during the day, Arlain, a poet and nothing more but a brave traveller, but at night, you are a soldier, and as soldier you shall act!’
The boy speechless, this simple thought his friend was trying to get into his thick head for days now finally reaching his mind. ‘I’m sorry, Falcon.’ he murmurs under his breath. ‘It’s just that…’
‘I know.’ the older man sighs again, shaking his head once more, but in a completely different manner now. ‘I know. You’ve been talking about dragons for the longest time now. But, you know, you’ll might have to give up on the dream of hearing one sing very soon.’
‘Why?’ the young man asks curiously, raising his eyebrows. ‘Isn’t there a dragon princess sleeping right there?’ he says, tilting his head, as both of his hands were full, in the direction of the one particularly dark spot of the night.
‘She’ll never sing again, boy. She said so herself. And honestly, who would want to sing when most of his kind was probably dead.’
The caravan consisted of twenty wagons slowly trailing after each other through the endless fields of high green grass, each assigned five guards to protect it and two more men to manage it. Five more were always on the lookout, with six more serving as the messengers between the lookout and the leading wagon, as well as within the caravan itself. A lot of man, a lot of soldiers, but still not safe. Each man had a task he was focused on, but Arlain had nothing more to do than sit on his horse and observe them as they come and go, for he was, as Falcon often said, just a poet, and a very brave traveller searching to see the end of the world. There used to be more, but after weeks of harsh travels only he remained. Others disappeared a long time ago while they were still passing through the great towns, stopping for supplies at their markets. Some were merchants who always meant to stop there to sell and by, waiting afterwards for the next military caravan to head back, but some were young men like him who suddenly lost their hearts as they got closer to the Rigged mountains and the battlefield.
‘Everything alright, boy?’ Falcon asked as he got off his horse. He was one of those who served as the connection with the lookout, which meant that on most days he had to ride all alone trough the miles of empty grass in order to find them and get back, as well as change horses often. Most men would never agree to that, yet he made more racket about parting with the horse he really liked than about the duty itself, which was one of the reasons he got it so often.
‘Yes, of course.’ Arlain answered as he jumped to the ground himself. ‘He should be mostly rested by now.’ he said patting the horse’s neck.
‘He better be.’ the man said solemnly. ‘I have to get to the last wagon within minutes.’
‘Is there trouble?’ Arlain yelled at the man’s back as Falcon meant quite literally the words he has said.
‘There could be.’ the man answered. ‘If you are already there you might as well be of some help- save me some time and tell Lion we are stopping early for the day!’
‘Do you know what’s going on?’ stopping the wagons always took some time because of those behind it, but, still, not long after he gave him the Falcon’s message, Lion got horses under control and was now standing on the ground beside Arlain. ‘No.’ he said looking back to the direction Falcon disappeared to. ‘He went on before I could ask him what’s happening… I can to see if Mar will tell me anything, but…’
‘No.’, the man said. ‘You stay here. It’s still daylight, and you are nothing more but the traveller. However, you should act more like that during the night. Maybe Falcon wouldn’t yell so much then.’
‘Yeah. Maybe…’ he muttered the words under his breath as the soldier took the reins of the horse Falcon left behind and went on towards the beginning of the line.
‘Come here, Arlain.’ the remaining solder called for him from the wagon. ‘If they order us to move again suddenly you shouldn’t be horseless on the ground.’
‘They found a camp.’
Mar was a huge man even without his armour, but, as he put some of the final pieces of it on it seemed, even to the Lion’s trained eye, that he had at least doubled in size. ‘Falcon didn’t tell you that?’
‘No.’, the other man answered. ‘He just ordered Arlain to tell us that we need to stop for the day… How far is it?’
‘That boy… We must do something with him when the night comes if this is truly what it seems to be. Some distance away. Still, I’m worried.’
‘There is nothing to be done with him once the night comes. He will be a soldier then, just like the rest of us. Should I come with you?’
‘You can’t be serious, Lion. It is one thing to make him keep guard with Falcon and the rest of us around, but to let him on the battlefield? He would pose more danger to us than the enemy!’, the giant man climbed on his equally giant horse, adding just one more sentence before he took off: ‘Make sure the camp is set properly.’
‘I shall.’, Lion said as the leader rode away.
’What if I drop it? I mean the sword. I’m holding it properly right now, but what if I drop it?’
Falcon looks at him worriedly as they get ready for battle, but can’t think of anything else to say but the truth: ’Then you’re dead boy. So, I really hope you won’t drop it...’ Then, he sighs again. It seems to become one of his habits lately. ’And I would really like it if you didn’t have to use it at all, Arlain.’
’No.’ the young man shakes his head. ’Lion’s right. I can’t do anything.’
Falcon looks at him silently for a second. ’I meant’, he says, ’that I hope Mar was wrong and that none of us will have to use our swords.’
’When was Mar every wrong?’ this time it’s Arlain’s turn to laughs bitterly.
‘Isn’t she coming out?’ Arlain’s been standing still for five hours now, which was much longer than he was ever used to. He had to move, even a little, so he tried to turn around, but Falcon had him pinned in one place.
‘Who?’ he asked.
‘Who else? The princess!’ Arlain said mockingly. ‘As far as I know there is no other woman on the wagons.’
‘Still daydreaming even at the time like this?’ Falcon just scoffed at him.
‘I’m not! I’m just thinking of dragons.’, the boy manages to laugh even now, after he has somewhat calmed down from before, and Falcon… Falcon can’t help but sigh.
‘The princess doesn’t have to fight unless the indeed show up. So, you better hope you don’t see her tonight!’