The had been climbing the mountain for what seemed like hours.
The bugs swarmed in the woods. Finn whipped his head back and forth to try and knock them off of his face. Arven was, for the most part, unbothered by the bugs. In fact, he seemed completely indifferent to everything he was doing. Arven wasn’t tired, he wasn’t sweating, and he wasn’t swatting at the annoying bugs flying up his nose. If Finn didn’t know better, he would think Arven was a robot or something. No one could resist the primal urge to swat at annoying bugs.
“So this princess,” Finn paused to take a swig of water, “do you know her?” Finn asked when he found the silence too uncomfortable to bear anymore. Arven stayed quiet while pushing a palm leaf out of his way and stepping over a red ant hill.
“I know of her,”
“And that means?” Finn drawled out as he jumped over the red ant hill that was bigger than his foot. The tropical areas brought bugs of all sorts, including ants that could eat you alive. Arven, Finn noted, was far more reserved than Arve could ever be. Arven didn’t talk as much, and he seemed less trustworthy than the crazy brat. But when Arven did speak, it put all Finn’s concerns to rest.
“I know that she advocated for the dragons, rather than siding with her people. The people saw the value of the dragon skins and horns, while she saw the value of their life. She was not a popular royal.” Arven paused when they hit a steeper incline. Arven grabbed the root of a tree, and started to pull himself up the skinny trunks. The trees groaned weakly when he propelled himself forward.
“So tell me about your curse. Who would want to make you live twelve years in the past for half a day?” Finn followed behind Arven’s steps. He was desperate to keep the silence from seeping in between them again.
“If I do recall, you told Arve it was none of his business when he asked, right?” Arven was being short with him. Finn thought, and then agreed. But he was desperate to keep the conversation going.
“Alright, I get it. Four years ago, I was working in Cape Rillite when I met a witch. I was in the king's guard as a skilled swordsman. But I was getting older, and the newer, younger guys were going to take my job, you know?” Finn paused to see if Arven was even listening. For all he knew, Arven wasn’t.
“I asked her to make me stronger. And- and she did. When I draw my sword I become the world's strongest man, but I have no control over what I do or who I fight. I become a monster. And if I lose the sword, or try to use another, I get very sick, and then die.” Finn finished. The climb had gotten steadily steeper.
Arven stayed quiet for a long time. The only sounds were the crunch beneath their feet and the birds that sang.
“I was six when I was initially cursed. But it didn’t start until I turned eighteen. I was cursed to live twelve years in the past from midnight to noon. I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it.” Arven sounded bitter when he talked about it.
“Who did it?”
“Doesn’t matter. But when I find him, I’ll kill him.” Arven had reached a flat part in the cliff. It was a clearing, and possibly a trail that lead upward.
“A male witch? And why kill him? Why not just have him undo what he did to you?” Finn knew that he shouldn’t have asked as soon as he had. The questions were in invasive of the secluded man’s privacy. Arven was too untrusting to answer these questions truthfully.
Before Arven even got the chance to respond, a dragon let out a thunderous roar.
“Hurry!” Arven shouted as he ran toward the noise.
Finn took off in the same direction as Arven. There was just one problem. Finn didn’t know the game plan. Were they attacking? Were they killing the thing just like the poster asked? Where was the nest?
“Are we killing it?” Finn screamed over the roar of the dragon ahead. He could see Arvens bright red jacket ahead. It stuck out against the dark green brush they pushed past. Finn’s hand gripped the handle of his sword. He could use the sword if he had to.
“Uh, how about we catch up to it first!”
“That was not an answer!” Finn yelled back at him. He let the sword at his hip relax. Finn would never get used to not going for his sword when preparing for a fight. He was a guard for years. Anything that scared him was put at ease by that sword. But not anymore.
They came to a sandy clearing. They neared the top of the first hill. It wasn’t the top of the mountain but was high enough for a dragon habitat. The dragon growled with its head low. Arven was nearing it with an outstretched hand. The dragon snapped again and flapped its wings in a threatening gesture.
“This is a strange dragon. One of the only times I wish I was Arve. I would be able to talk to it.” Arven said to Finn when he reached the clearing. Finn agreed it was strange. Strange that Arven thought his alter ego could talk to dragons.
“Young kids can talk to dragons. They lose the ability after puberty.” Arven walked toward the dragon with an outstretched hand. It growled low again.
Then Arven did the weirdest thing. He just sat down. Finn gripped his sword. This dragon was clearly territorial, and was big enough to swallow Arven whole.
Arven took the only weapon he had, a silver laced dagger, out of his coat pocket and threw it aside. The dragon watched and then laid its head down. The dragon seemed so at ease with such a little gesture. Finn slowly approached, but the dragon bared its teeth at him and snarled. Finn raised his hands in surrender and then took the sword off his hip. He dropped it over by the dagger.
“You realize this is strange, right?” Finn mumbled to Arven as he sat down. The dragon settled again. It’s head rested on the ground like that of a puppy. Dragons were only ever territorial of their nests. But it was definitely not nesting season. Dragons fly north in the winter months to mate and lay eggs. It was a hot, dry summer in the Southern Hemisphere. This dragon’s attitude felt off in a way neither Finn or Arven could really explain.
“Strange. But maybe it is territorial of the princess? Perhaps they have a bond.” Arven was shooting in the dark. Bonds were rare, and normally could only be formed over years of contact. Some Daculians had bonds, but even those who worshipped the dragons as gods lacked the ability to formulate bonds. The idea that a princess of Carnil could bond with a dragon would be unheard of. There were too many thoughts racing around and Arven was so unclear of what he should do. Is this why the harbormaster warned him against taking the job?
Thunder crackled in the west. The dragon was startled and flapped its wings and shifted its tail uneasily. The dragon's head turned to look at the oncoming storm. The clouds were dark and the wind blew the salt from the ocean in their faces. The dragon hummed low. It wasn’t a snarl, so much as a warning. Mountains in Carnil were not safe during storms. Anyone worth their salt knew that.
“Let’s find higher ground.” Arven was scanning for a trail of some kind.
“It’s just a storm, we should be fine.” Finn argued. The dragon hummed again. It was directed at Finn as if it was arguing with him.
“Can’t. Carnil is built on unstable ground. Mudslides are common in these areas.” Arven started toward an unmarked trail but the dragon stood in the way. It roared again but not at them. The wing was held down to the ground like a ramp. An open invitation to get on the creatures back. Arven grinned with excitement.
“Never ridden a dragon before,” he said gleefully. Finn saw the light in Arven’s eyes that told him maybe Arve wasn’t so far gone. Finn watched as Arven climbed up the dragon's wing and plopped himself down on the creatures back like a kid at a circus. The dragon hummed for Finn to follow.
Finn had also never ridden a dragon. Or even been close to one before. In Cape Rilitte, dragons were only ever seen flying above during their migration north. The dragons light blue scales were softer than he first imagined. He cautiously stepped on the wing and lifted himself onto the dragons back. Arven held onto the creatures pointed horns and Finn shamelessly held on to Arven.
“I’m not a fan of heights.” Finn seemed to wait until they were hundreds of feet up in the air to say this. Neither Arven or the dragon heard him. The air rushes past their ears so fast it was impossible to hear anything but the screaming. Screaming now coming from Finn.
The dragons long wings flapped relentlessly as the dragon landed near the peak of the mountain. There was a cave, and three other dragons. Two of which were juveniles. The three dragons had bright green and yellow scales rather than blue. The cave was formed from rock with a rounded entrance.
“That was amazing! No wonder the northern countries practice riding.” Arven hopped off the dragons back like a little kid screaming, “Again! Again!” Finn climbed off the dragon and watched at Arven lined up the sundial to find out what time it was. Finn could look at the sun and give an almost accurate estimate of the time, but he knew Arven was looking for exact numbers.
The dragon lead them to a cave and curled up into a protective ball beneath the ceiling of the cave. Dragons came to lands like these for the high caves. They raised their newly born young here, high up and away from danger. But this dragon was alone. No young, so no need to return to this place. Arven noted it as another oddity with this dragon. Finn and Arven joined the dragon under the cave.
“I have about four hours. Let’s get some sleep.” Arven started to lie down as he said this. Finn leaned up against the dragon with his knees drawn in and his arms crossed over them.
“It’s only eight. You can’t be tired yet, right?” Finn questioned without thinking. He had forgotten that Arve hadn’t eaten in days, hadn’t been on land in maybe months, and has been up far earlier than he has. He dragged his fingers against the smooth blue scales of the dragon. Finn loved the feel of the scales against his rough hands. Dragons were magnificent creatures.
With a soft, tired chuckle, Arven answered, “Sleep isn’t in Arve’s dictionary.”