Friday Flash: The Steed and the Page Boy
So, I says to myself the other day: “Self! There are far too few dragons here on your site. Why are there not more dragons?”
And then Bazelli goes and posts this prompt for the week:
The challenge: Keep one emotion in the forefront of your mind while you write a scene (1000 words or less) but do not tell us what that emotion is. The story should speak for itself. The theme this week: “flight“
And what do you suppose I’m supposed to do with that? Oh wait.
So, here’s this week’s Friday Flash, coming at you at 1,266 words.
The Steed and the Page Boy
By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.
Valigash surveyed the burning fields and the ranks of the fallen. The assault against Dethlak’s horde had turned into a route, and even Valigash himself had not emerged from the debacle unscathed. He limped as he picked his way through the corpses, searching for some sign of his companion, Hibold. Here and there, the moans of the fatally injured rose to Valigash’s ears, but he could spare them no comfort. Where the ground was not trampled, grass blackened by fire still flickered and glowed . Smoke drifted through the air on oily currents. Hibold lived, if only barely, and Valigash would need to find him if anything from this day would be salvaged. Luckily, Dethlak’s horde had withdrawn – though victorious they were not without heavy losses. Yet, time was short. So Valigash searched.
He paused and sniffed at the air, trying to separate Hibold’s distinctive scent from the stench of charred flesh and the ragged smell of vomit and defecation. The link was so weak, now, that Valigash could only vaguely tell what direction Hibold was in. There was something in the air. The scent of valour, and of pain. And… something else. Not fear, but… Valigash broke into a gallop, still careful about the bodies around him. The wound in his hind leg shot pain through his back and neck. Hibold must live! There, at the edge of the field, he found his companion.
“Val… Vali… gash.” Hibold’s voice was weak. Bodies piled up around him, the limbs of humans and hordlings mixed and tangled. Hibold lay on a blackened stretch of ground, propped against heap of bodies. The broken tip of a hordling spear tore through the blue and gold of Hibold’s tabard, impaling his golden eagle charge and staining the cloth red. “You… must… fl.. fl…” Hibold’s voice failed him as he sputtered flecks of blood. “…again… not…”
An angry snarl erupted from a nearby tangle of hordling bodies. A gray-skinned creature leaped up, curved blade – slick and black with blood – in its hand, razor-lined mouth agape as it launched itself at the broken from of the wounded knight. Valigash spun quickly, his barbed tail lashing out, but he was too slow. The hordling crumpled to the ground, but his sword was already embedded in Hibold’s chest. The last of the knight’s lifeblood faded, and Valigash felt the link vanish into darkness.
Valigash snorted, his claws churning the blackened earth. He tried to incinerate the body of the offending hordling, but the fire in his belly was quelched. His head thrashed in disbelief. No. No. Hibold Sir Ormorant, Valiant of the Queen could not be dead! Teeth and tail and claws lashed out violently, slashing through the bodies of the already dead hordlings lying about.
Valigash wanted to cry out, to let burn the energy inside him, but without the link, he was cold. There was no spark. No fire. Without the link, how would he serve the Queen and the People of Tennel? How would he fight back against the hordes, against the might of Dethlak, against the fire of his brother, Sordax? Valigash raged, but the fire in his belly stayed cold. All around him, the smell of death rose up to smother him. The smell of death and…
He stopped. It was the smell of something else. The scent he had smelled before. Not of fear. But of what? Not, determination? He turned and fixed his gaze on the jumbled mass of bodies near Hibold. And there he saw it. Stepping out from behind the mass, timidly, was a human child. Curly brown hair peaked out from the rusted helmet on his head, soft hazel eyes gazed uncertainly from the eye-slits. A short dirk was in the boy’s hand. He couldn’t have seen more than sixteen human winters. Valigash snorted and stared at the child. He beat his wings and stamped the earth in a warning display.
“You…” The boy’s voice was high, softly choked. “You’re Valigash. You’re Sir Ormorant’s dragon.”
Valigash shuddered his head, neither confirming nor denying.
“I… I tried to protect him, but when I saw you coming I thought you were one of Dethlak’s dragons. I was scared, and I hid.” Valigash snorted again, and turned to look away from the boy. What was a child like this doing in the armies of the Valorous of Tennel? The boy stepped toward the dragon, reaching out an unsteady hand. Valigash trotted backward, avoiding the child’s touch.
“The hordlings are all gone, now,” the boy continued. “But I think they’ll be back soon. Without Sir Ormorant and the other Knights of the Air… they’ll burn down Celes Tennel.”
The sun hung low in the western sky, casting an orange glow over the distant walls of Celes Tennel. Valigash gazed toward the eastern horizon, now cloaked in a star-studded violet haze. In the distance, he could sense his brother, Sordax. And he knew that with him was another army of hordlings, fresh and hungry for blood. The Valorous of Tennel were all but crushed. Less than a tenth of the army had survived. Valigash had seen it from above, before Sordax’s fire had sent him tumbling from the sky, before he’d lost his rider and companion.
He felt the boy’s hand on the hide of his back haunches. Valigash tensed, and almost turned his claws on the boy before regaining control of his instincts. He relaxed, slightly. He felt something stir in his belly.
“My name’s Timoth. My friends call me Tim. Except I haven’t any left, now. I was a page with the Knights of the Horse.”
Valigash turned again to regard the boy. He was rambling. But it wasn’t out of fear, alone. There was something else.
“They’re all retreated back to Celes Tennel, now. Those that survived, anyway.” Valigash nodded his understanding. Hordling pikes had proved a deadly line against the Knights of the Horse.
“What are we going to do without the Knights of the Air, without the Valiants?” Tim asked. Valigash cocked his head to the side. “We can’t just let the hordlings overrun the city!” Valigash dipped his head low in agreement. There was a smell of something else, now, in the air, coming from the boy. He felt a warm glow in his belly.
The boy regarded the dragon quietly. There was something glimmering in the child’s eyes. Something Valigash thought he had seen before, in the eyes of another. The boy’s hand reached to touch the straps of Valigash’s saddle. The dragon tensed again, ready to throw the boy back. But the child’s eyes held him fixed. The boy swallowed, clearing his throat. There was something stronger than fear in the page.
“We’ve got to do something. We can’t let them destroy the city.” The boy’s grip on Valigash’s straps tightened and he pulled hoisted himself into the saddle. Valigash reared and pawed the air with his talons, his wings beating, but the boy hung on. Valigash stamped and trampled, but the boy strapped himself to the saddle. Valigash bucked, but the boy grabbed his reins. The page tugged on the reins. He was doing it wrong, but Valigash could sense what the rider wanted. He broke into a gallop even though the page tugged as though he wanted a stately trot. He flapped his wings. He could feel the wind in the child’s hair. He stamped once more against the earth before leaping into the air. He climbed toward the gray clouds, stained with the greasy soot of the day’s battle. He soared. There was fire in his belly.