CHAPTER 6: JOURNEY
In the day after I decided what Twilight and I would do with our future, I gathered our recourses and prepared for the journey to the dragon territory. With all of the spare food I could fit in the pack with the clothes in it stored away, I slung my bow over my back and mounted Twilight as we head out on the forest path toward the Draco hills, the heart of the dragon territory, where my father said the battle would take place.
We traveled until that night. Tired and hungry, we stopped in a small clearing to camp for the night. I lit a fire and propped up on Twilight. Eating from my store of dried meat, I settled down for a long night. Twilight was asleep within minutes, but I was too edgy to sleep. I decided to keep watch.
Several hours into the night, I heard a rustling in the brush. Alerted by the sound, I grabbed my bow and strung an arrow.
"Wait, we come in peace. We mean you no harm," a small tinkling voice said. I lowered my bow, still wary of the unknown visitors. Several tall forms ghosted into the light of the fire. The head of the group pulled back the hood of her cloak and sat fluidly upon the ground at my feet. She was beautiful, her hair was a black so deep it was almost blue and her eyes were a shocking ice-blue.
"We heard talk of an elfin rogue that had impressed a dragon. The trees and the animals of the forest are abuzz with stories of your passage. We have come to learn of your intentions," The lovely figure explained. At first, I had no idea what she meant, but then something sunk in.
"You are a forest elf?" I asked, barely able to mask the shock I felt.
"Yes, we come from a tribe at the base of the mountains to the east. Word of your existence reached the city of Echoboughs, where the queen of the forest elves resides. She sent me and my coven to find you and learn your intentions so we may mark you as friend or foe," she explained, in her beautiful ringing voice. As she spoke the four elves behind her removed their hoods and stepped closer. They gathered around her and sank sinuously to the ground, two on each side.
I placed my bow back on the ground at my side and prepared to tell the forest elves my story.
"I am the princess of the urban elves. My father, Damar and my mother, Dianna are the King and Queen of Damon, the urban country. I went out riding one evening and got lost…"
As I told the elves of how I met Twilight, I watched as their expressions went from polite interest to shock and then fascination. When my story was over the elves sat in front of me, frozen by the sheer impossibility of what I described. When the leader of the group managed to snap herself out of the daze, she bowed her head to me.
Embarrassed, I looked at the ground to hide my blush. When the elf came up she looked me in the eyes and said, "We honor you, Dragon Whisperer and pledge to follow you in your noble cause. We will help you to end this war with your families and to unite the races in peace as you have with your dragon. I am Safrina, leader of the western cities of the forest empire. All of my resources will be extended to you in your journey," as she spoke, dark shapes began to emerge from the forest and gather around where Safrina stood. Some carried bows and some daggers, but all of them moved with the same ghostly grace that Safrina did. They gathered around the fire and settled down for the night.
"We will follow you wherever you go and are loyal only to you until this war is at an end. We will hunt for ourselves and will not burden you with caring for us. Where you go we go and we will protect you and your dragon if battle comes. We pledge ourselves to you, Dragon Whisperer, until the dragons and urbane elves are at peace once again," she said as the hundreds of figures converged on our camp.
The hundreds of figures settled in around the fire as if in their own camp. Their confidence unsettled me. Unable to find the words to refuse the offer, I just nodded my agreement. Suddenly exhausted, I settled under Twilight's wing and fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke to the smell of eggs and warm bread. I had not smelled either in so long I thought, at first, that I was still sleeping. Then, memory of last night flooded my mind. I sat up and crawled out from under Twilight's wing to look around. The hundreds of figures I saw the night before were gathered around many small fires and were eating breakfast.
Safrina, who had been standing in the middle of a large group of men, noticed me. She walked, almost glided, to my side and handed me a plate of eggs and a roll of fresh baked bread. I smiled at her shyly and sat by my own fire to eat my breakfast. The bread and eggs were a wonderful change from my usual dried meat. The warmth of the fire also helped to lighten my mood. I found myself smiling lightly as I watched the large group of people go about their morning routines. It felt nice to be around people again. I had not noticed that the absence of people had even bothered me. It was strange to find I liked the crowd. I wondered to myself about this for several minutes and was shocked out of my trance by twilight's roar.
Behind me, Twilight was crouched in a defensive position, and in front of her, a man cowered next to a tree.
I understood immediately what had happened. This man had accidentally woken Twilight and she was not expecting the large throng of people around us. I jumped to my feet and dashed to where the confrontation had taken place. Right before Twilight lunged for the man's throat, I threw myself between them. Twilight skidded to a stop with her bared teeth less than four inches from my face but this did not scare me. I knew she would never harm me and that made me confident.
(Stop Twilight!) I yelled in my head, throwing my hands around her neck.
(It's okay, it's okay. They are friends. They are here to help us, do not attack them! These are forest elves come to help us on our journey. They want to end the war, too.)
I stepped back and gestured to the now frozen group of elves. They watched us with looks that ranged from terror to outright amazement. I realized they were shocked because of my fearless jump between Twilight and the man just as she went for the kill. They were even more shocked by how fast Twilight stopped her attack as I jumped in the way. They had watched in utter amazement as I threw my arms around the still tensed and dangerous dragon and began stroking her neck.
I put my hand on Twilight's nose and stroked her until she dropped her defensive position. When she relaxed, I placed my cheek to her face and stroked the row of spikes that ran up the bridge of her nose.
(You should not have done that little one. I could easily have killed you. Why did you throw yourself in front of my attack so readily? I do not understand why you would trust me so much.)
(I knew you would not hurt me. There is no doubt in my mind that I am safe with you and I do not fear for my life in the least,) I explained.
(It is good to know you trust me so completely. I do not deserve you as my partner. It is by sheer luck that I bonded with one who has such a pure heart.)
(I don't know about that, but you don't have to worry about me.)
I smiled and looked at the man who was still frozen against the tree.
"Sorry, this will not happen again. She was taken by surprise and was not expecting strangers in the camp. I hope you are not harmed, are you alright?" I asked in the most soothing voice I could manage. I smiled at him and took a step in his direction.
He cringed away from me, his eyes widening in terror. I froze, shocked by his reaction. Why was he afraid of me? I had done nothing to him. What did he have to fear from me, a fourteen year old girl? I stared at him in confusion. Beside me, Safrina approached with caution. She stopped several feet away from me and looked at Twilight edgily.
"I am sorry that my companion upset your dragon and I beg forgiveness on his part. He meant no harm by his actions," she said. Her tone surprised me. She spoke to me like a servant fearing punishment from a violent master.
"No, the fault is mine. I should have warned Twilight of your presence and I did not. I was stupid and reckless. I apologize for this and promise it will not happen again. Can you forgive my carless mistake?" I asked turning to the man who had fled from me. I smiled but made no move in his direction fearing his reaction.
The man looked shocked that I was not angry. It took him several moments to realize that I was waiting for an answer to my question. When he did he looked down in embarrassment.
"I am the one to blame, I should have been more careful," he said and bowed his head to me.
This embarrassed me and I looked away as heat flooded my face. I was used to people treating me with respect, but never my elders. Adults usually treated me like any other child. The respect and reverence with which they spoke to me was unsettling. They treated me as if they were my followers, instead of my allies.
I turned to Safrina and asked "Why do they treat me that way? It disturbs me." She blinked at me for a moment before she answered.
"We are not treating you properly, young princess? I apologize," she said, looking ashamed.
"No you are treating me perfectly, too perfectly. I am not used to being treated with such reverence. I would be much more comfortable if you could treat me as an equal. I do not wish to lead you but allies are always welcome," I explained. "You do not want us to be polite?" she asked giving me a look that made me wonder if she was questioning my sanity.
"Politeness is welcome, but I wish to be treated as any other member of your group. It would help me be more comfortable." I explained.
"Of course, anything to make you more comfortable with our presence." She said and smiled. I smiled back and relaxed.
Several minutes later, Twilight's hunger registered in my thoughts, I need to hunt; you should warn the others that I will be in the forest. I do not want to cause any more trouble.
I walked to the fire where Safrina was giving orders to members of her group and whispered, "Twilight is going into the woods to hunt, and you should keep members of your party out of the northern half of the woods. Twilight will bring more than enough meat for your company so no hunting parties will be necessary," She looked at me in silence for a moment.
"I will inform my company." She said stiffly. I could see she was a little overwhelmed by the intelligence Twilight has that she wasn't expecting. I wondered absently if they would ever get used to her. I didn't count on it.