Chapter 42: You Can Say It

As Clide sat as one of the men by the crackling fire, a helmet obscuring his face and hair falling past his shoulders, he felt that something was shifting. He was being relied on to support a bigger idea, a sense of communal freedom that he had not understood. He had thought of freedom as the ability to be anywhere he chose, not as the opportunity to be with whom he chose. Somehow, he had assumed that those people would be where he went.

The men around laughed, drank their watered down alcohol, roasted chicken over the flame, and bragged about home. Some kept some distance to play simple games such as marbles or checkers not enjoyed since they were young. A brave group had already been sent across the field for the day, not to return till victory and these men would be next. Clide stood out in his silence and obscurity. Perhaps he was more, perhaps less, than he appeared.

He tried not to think of war. Clide tried to remember his time with Dia, sometimes exploring the world of humans or taking long naps in the forest. He had not treasured her enough and he was starting to understand that being a dragon didn’t mean he could bring back his friends.

Clide felt his mistake. He should have chased after her on the day that she left and admitted that he was sorry. He had been jealous to not be the only person in her life and he had not known what to do. He had thought that letting her go would ease his uncomfortable feelings and that joining the war would distract him, but it had brought more empty nights. And the truth was that he didn’t know if Dia would return. She had every chance to choose a life without him. 

Clide watch the chicken roasting on a stick above the flames, the grease beading and sliding down the plucked cracked skin to fall sizzling to the fire. The shifting orange blaze made him think of Keenin. In the calm passing of time Clide could almost hear the drip of melting ice from his victims. 

“What are you doing dragon?”

Clide recognized the rough voice and turned his head to see the leather clad white knight with a prissy name. The one that Keenin’s friend Lester hung around like a puppy. What was the name again? Ritz. Rold. Waldo.

“I’m keeping busy with your war. What are you doing here and how did you know it was me?” Clide questioned.

None of the soldiers had discovered his changing trick, though Clide suspected it had more to do with a lack of imagination than a lack of suspicion. Renaldo sat down heavily beside him on the log, stiff leather creaking. Clide had not realized that the man wore so much protection even under his plate mail, a defenseman though and though.

 “It’s my job, dragon,” the white knight let him know. “We take turns in battle. And to answer your question, it was your silver hair. Should I teach you how to tie it up before they realize you aren’t out for lunch in the forest?”

“Don’t bother,” Clide told him. “I’ve been trying this trick for a while. They have yet to notice, white hair or otherwise. Did you leave your protégé behind?”

“Oh, he’s here too. I told him to wait for you at your usual spot. Thought you had enough kids to worry about since that girl of yours disappeared. Any luck?”

“Like I said, I’m busy with this war,” Clide responded. 

In the silence Renaldo acknowledged the loss.

“I appreciate it,” is what Renaldo finally said. “But if you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you get that boy Keenin.”

Humans, Clide thought. They always needed things spelled out.

“Because. They don’t need me to stand up for them. And I made a promise to your men in exchange for Dia’s safety, as odd as that seems.”

A dragon did not make promises lightly. And even though he had panicked over Dia’s wellbeing despite her ability to heal, he was obligated to shoulder the consequences.

“And I’m not his dragon. I’m hers and in no way did Dia ask me to redeem myself by saving him.”

“You…” Renaldo tried to think of the right words. 

Pissing off a dragon had not been the white knight’s goal. Clide sighed. He had been avoiding the idea for long enough.

“You can say it,” Clide said.

“You love her.”

The dragon’s silence spoke of much.

“I didn’t know,” Clide said for himself.

They were so close for so long, and there was never anyone else in their lives. She had never spent time with another boy until Keenin. And his juvenile self had only known great friendship and making her happy. But somewhere along the way he had felt disappointed that she wasn’t looking only at him, his feeling becoming unsure for the first time. 

The attack against them on the road had been the last that he could stand. He had just wanted to protect her. He had just wanted to protect her, and Keenin had put her in danger. It had not mattered that she could take care of herself. She had been everything to him and he had not been able to put away his anger, his fear, and his sadness any longer. And his body had finally adapted.

“Now I’m a territorial ice breathing dragon,” Clide explained. “For all I know, I might sooner eat Keenin than save him.”

“I see.”

“Either way you better be ready,” Clide said. “When I get my friends back, I expect you to give them everything they need and be grateful that your city was chosen as our temporary home.”

Clide knew that Keenin had intended to make something for himself here so that his parent would be proud.

“Temporary, huh.”

Renaldo reached out to turn the spit holding the chicken. 

“Ever consider–

The idea was distracted from by a fuzzy ball that landed at the edge of the fire and quickly caught ablaze.

“Uh, what the hell is that,” Renaldo said covering his mouth.

All the delicate emotions in the world could not mask the awful stench it gave off. Clide squinted at the charred mass. With his night vision he could just make out the wispy shape of the matted feathers, already consumed, and the stick feet sticking from the charred flesh.

“A bird,” Clide said curiously. “Maybe one of the archers brushed it.”

Renaldo used his boot to nudge the mess further into the fire where it might disintegrate in peace.

“There goes my appetite. I need to check the wall anyways,” Renaldo said standing.

“Good lu—

As a small dark shape moved through the air towards him Clide swatted it with the back of his hand. It landed with a soft thud and he aimed to hit another as they became surrounded in small pecking birds. Clide could smell the rot of their tiny corpses, see the dirty bent feathers keeping them in flight, as he flailed and spun to keep them from clinging to the eye slit of his helmet. Small burning bodies had started to fall and ignite objects they landed on.

Renaldo was nearby, swinging his sword like bat, keeping his eyes nearly closed for protection against pecking beaks and scratching claws as he tried to catch a breath. The spit with the chicken over the fire had already been knocked over, the fire slowly spilling beyond it bounds. Soldiers screamed in pain and frustration, some bundling and hiding themselves with anything or anyone they could grab, some running with flames caught to their clothes yet unable to remove the garments and expose themselves to the flaming birds. They were going to need some serious food salvaging and inventory repairs after this.

The birds were too scattered to freeze without catching others in the ice, but maybe he could distract them. Clide removed his helmet and put it down over Renaldo’s head before he shifted into a full sized, gleaming scaled dragon and roared his frustration. As expected, a larger body meant more attention. With head held high, mouth clamped shut, and eyes closed Clide felt the birds flocking to peck at his hardened scales, providing relief to others.

“To the wall,” he heard Renaldo yell.

That the white knight had enough room to speak meant well. He heard the jangling of boots and armor as the men headed towards the wall, no doubt where the real attack took place. It was strange to simply sit blindly at the center of an attacking flock of birds, while the others left, but it had been a good move. Clide could feel the soft thuds of the birds falling away, their bodies finally too broken to continue and he parted his lips, keeping teeth clenched to exhale a fog of chemical ice around his head that frosted around him. He opened an eye feeling the density of birds greatly decrease. Only a few flapped around uselessly. 

With both eyes open Clide saw that the protective fire outside the barrier had been put out. The undead corpses of humans were pressing against the barrier. Meladona soldiers were attempting to push them away with little luck since the falling corpses remained piled. Magicians of the purple lotus were chanting to hold the barrier as a ring of men with shields protected their positions. The barrier. It was going to break.

Clide rushed forward and unleashed a gush of ice at the attackers, hoping to push them back as much as possible. A strong wind plastered the ice like a second shell over the barrier. Through it he saw the line of catapults, knowing that the defending soldiers would not have let those get here. So how? The first stone slammed into and cracked the thin layer of ice. He saw the barrier shimmer in weakness. He was enraged. He was enraged at the idea of them winning. Before any more damage could be done Clide stepped forward and used one large paw to sweep aside the soldiers and magicians standing at the edge, put his nose to the ground and unleashed a concentrated icy breath that crystalized before the wind could blow it back. Water condensed into a meter-thick wall that straddled the barrier and encased any corpses. He built it up and up as high as he could before the breath ran out and he finally stood panting and staring angrily through the space. Despite some bruised soldiers and surprised magicians, the barrier stood. 

He had promised to stay until the end. Until Dia found him atop a mountain of these corpses or Keenin marched to take his head. He was a dragon and he would be the first remembered in the protection of humans. If he was making a stand, it would be goddamn spectacular. Generations would hear of it. He would make sure the races whispered the rumors and that the frozen wind carried the proud feeling to his people.

More than ever he wanted to stand. 


Chapter 41: Dust Under Boots

Chapter 43: Reminders