I miss Kana and Telal. It is an odd thought, one which I never had thought I might have. For one thing, I never expected to be away from them. It felt as though I was destined to spend my whole life in Kana’s house, sleeping in her closet. For another, neither of them were particularly kind to me.
I suppose that is not true. Kana fed me, and she taught me some things. Telal taught me more, like how to read. They took care of me, even if Kana made it clear that she was compelled to do so. They went beyond what the Laws required of them, I think. They didn’t have to try to save me by sending me with Garth.
He has not done much in the way of answering my questions. I am used to this, but I thought he might be different than Kana and Telal, in that respect. I don’t know what made me think so. Perhaps I had just hoped.
I know that we are headed to a town that is populated by dragon kindred. That is why Telal and Kana sent me with him. In a few days, on my tenth birthday, the protection of the dragon laws will leave me, and people will be free to harm me if they wish. If I am among other dragon kindred, this will hopefully not happen.
I ride behind Garth on his horse. I do not like the smell of the horse. It is very different from the clean scent of Kana’s house, full of herbs and oils and other pleasant things. And Garth smells, mostly, like his horse, but also like a man who has been travelling for four days without much chance to bath.
Garth takes care of most things. He guides the horse. He knows our path. He does most of the work setting up the camp at night, though he tells me how to assist him. He has given me one responsibility, which he says is very important: I must keep watch.
This is easy for me. I send my eye high up toward the ceiling, giving me a view from above as though I’m looking at the world’s most perfect map. When I need to see further ahead of us, I tilt it slightly forward. It feels as though I can see all of Draevum stretched out before me.
We take the road for two reasons. Garth says that travel will be much swifter and easier by road, where the weave has been cleared away and the footing for the horse is steady and even. He also says that cutting across the countryside will make us look suspicious, like thieves or bandits or people with something to hide.
We do have something to hide. Me. I’m mostly safe until my birthday, but not all the way. Garth has told me that while people can’t do anything that they believe would kill me, they can still hurt me. They can put me in a cage until my birthday, with plans to hurt me then.
I keep watch for anyone coming up along the road, but also I look for hiding places. When I see someone coming, I tell Garth. If there is a place for both of us to hide swiftly with the horse, like a dense forest or grove, we do so. If only I can hide, Garth stops and takes a rest by the roadside while I try to make myself invisible.
On the fourth day, I warn Garth that there is a group of men approaching on horseback. They are armed. This is bad, because we are on a stretch of road that passes through open ground. There is no stand of trees, no ditch in which I can hide. There is only a slight rise between us, which means they haven’t seen us yet.
Garth dismounts. “Give me your wrists.”
I watch him questioningly as he sorts through one of his saddlebags, but I do as I am told. I’ve spent my life following commands. Even when I’m confused or concerned, it’s not my first thought to resist. “What are we doing?”
“We can’t hide you, so we’re going to lie,” Garth says. He has a rope in his hands. He begins wrapping it around my wrists.
This makes my heart pound in my chest. “Lie? Why are you tying me up?” I feel like I might vomit. I have been anxious when hiding, these last few days, but nothing like this.
The men that are approaching all wear the same uniform. They have swords hanging from their saddles. They move down the road with a pattern and a coordination that speaks of training.
“We’re going to tell them you’re my prisoner,” he says. “Now, remain quiet, and thing will go fine.”
I swallow, but I nod. I have no experience with this sort of thing. I must trust him. He helps me back up onto the horse, which is difficult with my hands bound. He mounts as well, and we continue moving forward.
Soon the men come over the rise. I can see them with my eyes, as can Garth. “Soldiers,” he says. It’s hard for me to hear emotion in his voice, but I think he sounds nervous. “On patrol for the King, to try to keep banditry down.”
“The King?” I ask. “Banditry? Are bandits real?”
He turns his head to the side to glance back at me. I can see, from his expression, that he thinks I must be daft. “King Veranos, of Aqa. Surely you’ve heard his name. Your village stands within his lands.”
I shake my head. “I’ve never… They didn’t teach me a lot. I think they thought I would die when I reached ten years.”
Garth shakes his head. “No matter if you died or not, they should have at least taught you something about the world.”
“I know about the dragons,” I say. “And Telal taught me how to read and write, and how to do some math. Kana taught me about herbs.”
“That’s all well and good, but they really didn’t teach you anything about your country?” he asks. I can hear the disbelief in his voice.
“I didn’t even have a name until you came,” I say.
He sighs. “That’s a good point, I suppose.”
The soldiers draw close. I see them begin to slow when they come close enough to realize that we are not normal travellers. I have a hood, but I am not wearing it. Garth didn’t instruct me to do, and anyway, a while ago he said that would make me seem even more suspicious. Like I have something to hide.
Garth slows as they do, even before the man at the front of their group holds up a hand and calls out to us.
“Halt!” he says. His accent reminds me of Garth’s, but more extreme. Garth speaks mostly like Kana, but with a bit of a turn to some of his words. Even one word from this man tells me he speaks differently that what I’m used to.
There are six men in the group, all of them wearing a leather cuirass in the same style over light chain shirts, and helmets of metal and leather worked together. I think, briefly, of the knights from my books, but something tells me these men are not like them.
“Greetings,” Garth says. We stop a fair distance from them, far enough that Garth has to raise his voice slightly to be heard.
“What is your business?” the leader says. I am guessing he is the leader because he is at the front, and because he is the one who the others are allowing to speak. He has a gold emblem on the left side of his chest, as well, which seems important to me even though I don’t know its significance. “Why are you in the company of a dragon kindred?”
“I am escorting her to the court of the King himself,” Garth says. He whispers to me. “Show them your hands.”
I hold up my hands, so that the soldiers can see that they are bound. The expressions among their faces do not change: furrowed eyebrows, set jawlines, eyes full of suspicion.
“She is my prisoner,” Garth continues.
“You take her to King?” the leader says. “That is a high claim. What business does a lowborn man such as yourself have with the King?”
“If you are to believe me, I must show you my papers,” Garth says. “Do you trust me to dismount and reach into my saddlebag?”
“Do as you must,” the leader says. “We have nothing to fear from you.”
To me, the fact that several of his mens have their hands ready on their swords, and that one has produced his bow from where it hung at his horse’s side, says otherwise.
Garth dismounts. I don’t know what to do. I keep my eye high in the air, where I can watch to see if any others are approaching, but I wonder if I should bring it down closer to where I can observe these men more easily.
From the saddlebag, Garth produces a leather tube. He opens it, withdrawing a rolled piece of paper, which he presents to the leader of the soldiers.
“I am fulfilling a request from His Majesty,” Garth says. “A request for children of Onosang. I did not seek to question his reasons for the request, only to fulfill his desires.”
The leader stares at the paper for a time. It takes him longer than I might expect, given the length of the document. I begin to bring my eye down from above, so that I might observe it discreetly. By the time my eye draws close enough, however, he rolls it up. I frown.
The leader thrusts the rolled paper back at Garth. “By the King’s orders, you are free to go.”
His men begin to complain, but the leader cuts them off. “Oi! The man has a document signed by the king himself, and set with the King’s own seal. If you’re questioning him and stopping him, you’re interfering with the King’s business.
This quiets the men, though I can still see the looks of discomfort and frustration on their faces. The man who has draw his bow does not put it away, and few hands leave their swords.
“I am free to go, then?” Garth asks.
“You are,” says the leader.
The soldiers watch as Garth mounts his horse. They do not begin moving again until we have already put quite some distance between us.
“What was that paper you showed them?” I ask. I fear he will not answer me, or that he will be displeased by my question, but my curiosity drives me to ask anyway.
“It was forgery I prepared in case I was stopped,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “So you are not taking me to the King?” I do not understand what the King would want from me, or why the soldiers so readily believed Garth’s lie.
“I am not,” Garth says. “A forgery is like a lie. Well, it’s like a prop that makes a lie more believable.”
“You are a good liar,” I say.
“I’m a very good liar,” says Garth. “I wouldn’t be able to do my job otherwise.”
“What is your job?” I ask.
“Right now, it’s rescuing you,” he says.
I like that answer. It gives me a bit of confidence in Garth which had been lacking before. It makes me realize something I did not before, which is that he’s taking a risk by trying to help me. If he had been alone, or with a real human, the soldiers might not have stopped him. I’m not the only one in danger on our journey. Garth is, as well, because he’s helping a dragon kindred.
“Thank you,” I say. “For helping me.”
“Of course,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do.”
I believe him.