Eryl couldn’t find out much from the other dock hands about the ship with the dragon banner, but he was waiting when the first of the crew debarked and managed to convince the first mate to let him help with unloading the cargo. When the first mate tried to pay him for his work, Eryl asked for a meeting with the captain instead.
“She was so surprised by the request, I think she agreed out of curiosity more than anything else,” Eryl explained to Senara back in their room that night. He hadn’t returned to the inn until well into the dinner hour, and wanted to wait to tell her about the meeting until they could speak alone.
“Was I right?” Senara leaned forward, on the edge of her cot, eyes bright. “Are they from Isola?”
Eryl nodded, beaming. “Captain Kaidan almost fell overboard when I asked him.” His smile dimmed. “Then he almost threw me overboard. I don’t think many people outside of the island know its name.”
“So what happened?”
“I told him I needed his help. That stopped him long enough to listen. I explained about Blaze and that we need to get them to safety. I don’t think he believed me until I told him about the bond, though.”
“Will he help us?”
“He wants to meet Blaze, and you. He wants to speak to all three of us together before agreeing. He’s asked to meet tomorrow morning.”
“It could work,” Senara stood and walked to the window, trying to pinpoint the Isol ship in the darkness. “If I get up early enough, there won’t be anyone about to see me. No respectable merchant would be awake so early.”
“The ship from Sunpeak is scheduled to leave tomorrow,” Eryl said, standing and joining her. “It is just a merchant, I found out. There’s no reason for anyone aboard to recognize you, and coming back from the ruins shouldn’t lead you near the docks as it is. I think it will be safe enough.”
“All right,” Senara agreed. “We’ll meet with this captain tomorrow and hope he’s willing to take us with him back to Isol.” She reached out to Blaze and explained the situation to them.
Is the ship large enough to carry me? Blaze asked with some apprehension. I am a good swimmer but I don’t think I can keep up with a ship for very long.
“It is,” Eryl confirmed, smiling at Senara.
Good. I hope we can leave soon! I will miss my ruins, but I’m tired of being apart from the two of you, and of hiding.
Senara and Eryl were up before the sun the next morning and found Captain Kaidan waiting outside the inn when they exited. He greeted them with a nod, looking Senara over with an assessing gaze as Eryl introduced her. “Shall we?” He glanced up toward the ruins. “There is much to be done today, especially if we decide to take you on.”
Are you going to be here soon? Blaze sent when they were halfway up the path to the ruins. I’m still trying to tidy up.
That startled a laugh out of Senara. Kaidan looked at her in question and she explained, “Blaze is nervous to meet you, I think. They’re trying to ‘tidy’ up the ruins.”
“Please tell them there is no need for that,” Kaidan replied, the hint of a smile at the corner of his lips. When they reached what had once been the temple’s courtyard, Kaidan stopped beside a toppled column, running a finger along one of the engravings. He looked at Senara in surprise. “This was a temple of Dusk? A fitting place for a dragon to seek safety.”
“What makes you say that?” Senara joined him at the column, seeing his finger rested on a dragon’s tail.
“Dusk was the first dragon,” Kaidan answered. “They were charged by the rulers of day and night to keep evil at bay during the in-between times, flying across the sea to usher one home and welcome the other as day changed to night and night to day.”
Really? Blaze had come out of their den upon sensing Senara and Eryl so close. I did not know that. There’s nothing in my memories about gods and goddesses, save for what Senara and Eryl have told me.
Kaidan straightened, his entire demeanor changing at the sight of the young dragon. He smiled and bowed, moving to stand before Blaze. “That is because dragons have no need for gods and goddesses,” he explained. “Your kin need worship no one.”
“You can hear them?” Eryl asked in some surprise. “I thought it was the bond that let us communicate.”
“The bond strengthens your communication,” Kaidan said, “and lets you speak over distances. But a dragon may speak to anyone in their presence, if they so wish. It is very rare they choose to communicate with humans outside of Isola.”
I do not think I am typical of the dragons found outside of Isola, Blaze said, feeling a little worried, but I don’t mind so much, because I have my friends. They nodded toward Eryl and Senara, who moved to stand beside them.
“On our island, dragons and humans are great friends,” Kaidan said, smiling at them. “There, you will fit in just fine.”
“Will?” Senara asked. “Have you made up your mind?”
Kaidan nodded. “I had to see for myself that Blaze truly wished to leave the mainland, and that they wanted to remain with the two of you. That is clearly the case, and so you are welcome to join us on Isola. A dragon so young is a great treasure for our people. We would be honored to have you among us.”
“Treasure?” Eryl frowned. “What role, exactly, do the dragons play on Isola?”
“You misunderstand me,” Kaidan said, holding up his hands. “I mean treasure in the sense that a young dragon is a member of the island to be cherished and celebrated. Your island kin,” he turned to Blaze, “produce eggs even less frequently than the dragons on the mainland, due to the island’s smaller size. There have been no new dragons born to us in my lifetime or of the past few generations. Blaze will be welcomed with open arms. As to their role, it will be whatever they wish. Some dragons help retrieve or shape the obsidian we trade, others work as smiths, some are teachers, some are farmers. One is a poet of some renown on the island. There are all manner of opportunities from which you may choose. All we ask is that every citizen contribute how they can,” he glanced at Senara and Eryl, “dragon and human alike. Is this acceptable?”
They did not need to discuss it. As one, Blaze, Eryl, and Senara nodded. It is, Blaze answered for them.
“So, what now?” Eryl asked.
Kaidan walked to the edge of the cliff, glancing down at the harbor. “We do not stay in any port for long,” he explained, “to protect our secrets. The ship leaves on the evening tide. Blaze, it is that one, with the dragon banner. Do you see?”
I do, Blaze confirmed, moving to join Kaidan.
“Can you get to the ship unseen?”
Blaze considered this. I can glide down from the western face of the cliff and swim over, as long as none of the fishing ships are out yet. I don’t think I can stay beneath the surface all day, though.
“You won’t need to. Our hold has a dragon hatch that opens from below. It is easier than dragons trying to squeeze down the ladders to get to their quarters,” he explained.
Are there any other dragons with you?
Kaidan shook his head. “I’m afraid not. They don’t usually join us when we sail to the mainland. But it means you’ll have the space to yourself. I’ll return to the ship as soon as I can and have the hatch opened for you.”
I’ll go gather my things, Blaze said, pausing to touch their nose to first Senara’s shoulder and then Eryl’s. I will see you both tonight. Then they disappeared into their den.
“Let’s head back down. I’ll let my crew know to look for you,” Kaidan said, turning to them, “and you can make whatever arrangements you need for leaving. Be on board by the fourth bell.”
“We will,” Senara agreed, feeling a rush of relief to at last be on the way to their final destination. “Thank you, Captain. You don’t know how much this means to us.”
Kaidan’s eyes softened and he glanced back to where Blaze had disappeared. “I can imagine, though. You’re both very lucky to have been so blessed. I hope you appreciate that.”
Mistress Angela took the news well that Senara would be departing a day early. “I understand,” she said with a smile. “When your ship comes in, you must take it! I expect tonight to be quiet as it is, with everyone preparing for tomorrow, and you weren’t expected to work the solstice. Good luck to you both, and should you ever find yourself in Silverfin again, you are always welcome here!”
“Thank you, Mistress Angela,” Senara said, tearing up at the warm farewell. “You have helped us more than you could ever know. I hope you realize how much we appreciate you.”
She and Eryl did not take long to pack. Despite the length of their stay, they had not accumulated many new belongings, as they’d been saving their coin. A few new pieces of clothing, a comb and mirror set, and two codices were the sum of Senara’s new additions. Eryl had somehow ended up with a small collection of potted plants. He arranged them with care in a small wooden crate and shouldered his pack. “I think that’s everything. Should we head to the ship?”
“Not quite. I need to return these to the library.” She nodded at a small pile of texts on the windowsill beside her cot. “Why don’t you go ahead to the ship and I’ll meet you there?”
“Are you sure?” Eryl hesitated. “I can go with you. There’s no hurry, we still have a few hours before we’re expected.”
“Yes, but Blaze is probably already aboard. One of us should check on them. I’ll be all right.”
“Well,” he hoisted his sack and then reached for Senara’s, “I’ll go ahead and take this. Don’t get too distracted by all of the texts!”
“I won’t,” she laughed, holding up her hands at his skeptical expression. “There and back, I promise. I’ll see you soon.”
The librarian greeted her with surprise, since she was returning her borrowed items so soon. When she explained she was leaving the city, he told her he was sorry to see her go. “I confess I was going to offer you work here, if you wanted a break from playing at the inn,” he sighed. “It’s a shame you’re going. But I wish you luck in your new endeavor!”
She left the library and crossed the square, pausing in the middle to take a final look around her favorite part of Silverfin. I’m really going to miss it here, she thought to herself.
The question hit her like a punch and her eyes snapped to the person standing in front of her. It was a young man wearing the blue and black of a Blackbird royal messenger and seemed to have just come from the academy. Recognition hit her like a second blow. It was Kenny, the very same messenger who had brought her father news of Blaze’s fallen mother. “I’m sorry,” she managed after a few tense seconds, trying to recover herself, “but you must have me mistaken for someone else.”
“No,” Kenny narrowed his eyes. “I really don’t, which is very interesting, seeing as how you’re supposed to be dead.”
Ah, I guess Enyon did convince Father to cover up my disappearance. Well, it almost worked. She closed her eyes, trying to think of a way to buy some time, and took a careful step back. “Really, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Stop,” Kenny hissed, reaching out faster than she could have imagined to grab hold of her wrist. He squeezed tight, like a vise, and she had to bite down a whimper at the jolt of pain. “I won’t pretend I know what this is about, but I do know his Majesty wouldn’t want you parading about some backwater Radian town looking like a commoner. You’re coming with me, your Highness, and we’re going to get this all sorted out.” Without another word, he pulled her out of the square and toward the harbor.
Senara’s mind raced as Kenny dragged her down the street. His grip was unshakable and every time she fought it, he squeezed harder. She could call out for help, but there weren’t many people around and everyone was focused on preparing for tomorrow’s celebrations. She suspected help would be too slow in coming. Kenny seemed to be avoiding areas with a noticeable guard presence, which ruled out that avenue of assistance. They passed through area of town with the nicer inns where merchants tended to stay and she realized he must be taking her to the Peakian ship. If she could get free once they reached the docks, maybe she could lose him and get aboard the Isol ship without him seeing. Then she just had to stay below decks until it left Silverfin. Of course, that still left the problem of getting free of his grip. Maybe she could distract him–
Senara, are you almost here?
She stopped walking and Kenny let out a curse, wheeling around with his hand raised as if to strike her. She raised an eyebrow at him and he dropped his hand, scowling at her. She returned the scowl with a pleasant smile, feeling much better about her situation at the reminder that she didn’t have to deal with this alone. I’m on my way. I’ve run into a bit of a situation, however.
“Get moving,” Kenny growled, yanking on her arm again. She stumbled after him, letting herself be pulled along as she communicated with Blaze.
What do you mean?
There was a royal messenger on that ship from Sunpeak. I had the misfortune to run into him. He’s trying to take me back to his ship.
Panic colored the dragon’s response. Are you hurt?
I’m not, she hurried to assure him, but I might need help getting loose of him.
Blaze was silent for a few moments and she suspected they were consulting with Eryl. This was confirmed when they sent, Eryl is on his way.
Relief flooded through her and she had to stop herself from hurrying her steps. The sooner they reached the docks, the sooner she could get to safety.
Kenny must have sensed her shift from worry to hope, because as they reached the more populated docks, he stopped and said, “You walk in front of me.” Then he twisted her arm behind her back before she could protest, moving close behind her so that casual observers would not see she was being held against her will.
“Even if I am who you think,” she managed to bite out over the pain, “do you really think your king will thank you for bringing me to him. If this princess is supposed to be dead, don’t you think he’d prefer it be left alone?”
Kenny snorted. “Your so-called death robbed him of a goal he’d been working toward for quite some time. He managed to salvage it, but I imagine he’d like to see the party responsible for nearly ruining his plans is properly punished.”
Senara paled at the note of menace in his voice. Had her father covered up her disappearance with a story about her death, or had Enyon convinced him she’d been killed in her attempt to flee Hakon? If her father really had believed her dead and learned that she’d run off instead…she shuddered at the thought of his reaction. Kenny felt it and laughed. “That doesn’t leave me much incentive to come with you,” she managed.
“It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on giving you a choice, then, isn’t it?”
They passed the Isol ship and Senara scanned the docks, trying to catch sight of Eryl. He had to be here somewhere. They passed a narrow alley and a heartbeat later, Senara found herself lying on the cobblestones, pulled down by Kenny as he fell. She realized he was no longer holding her and scrambled to her feet. Eryl stood over Kenny in the alley, a quarterstaff pressed to his throat. “Where did you get that?” It was the first thing that came to mind as she stepped into the alley and took in the scene.
“Borrowed it from the captain,” he said, glaring down at Kenny. “Don’t move,” he ordered, pushing down with the staff. Glancing up at Senara, he asked, “Are you all right?”
She nodded, rubbing at her shoulder, which had been jerked by the fall. “I will be.” She swallowed and looked at Kenny, who stared up at Eryl with ill-conceived rage. “What are we going to do with him?”
“We can’t let him follow us.”
“He was trying to kidnap me, we could turn him into the guard,” Senara suggested.
“No time,” Eryl sighed. “Captain got a message from his people. The ship’s leaving now. He can’t wait for us to deal with the guard.”
“Moon and stars!” Senara hissed. She glared down at Kenny. “Why did you have to turn up now?”
“Go ahead and kill me, then,” Kenny spat.
Eryl looked tempted, but he sighed and shook his head. Shifting his grip on the staff, he held out a hand and said, “Let me have your head scarf.”
“Tie him up?” She guessed, slipping it from her hair and handing it over.
“There’s a grate on the door over there,” he nodded further down the alley.
Together they hauled the struggling Kenny to the grate and tied his hands around it above his head. He’d be able to get free eventually, but by then they would be long gone. He could try calling for help, but he was far enough back in the alley that no one was likely to hear him from the busy street. They ran for the ship, Senara sparing one glance back at Kenny and hoping her father wouldn’t believe him about seeing her. “Thank you for coming for me,” she told Eryl once they reached the ship. Kaidan called for the crew to cut the lines and make way as soon as they stepped foot on the deck.
“Thank you for asking for help,” Eryl replied, looking down at her with a relieved smile. Before she knew it was happening, he’d wrapped her up in his arms and was squeezing her in a fierce hug. “Come on,” he said, offering her his hand as he set her down. “Let’s get below. Blaze will want to know you’re all right.”
She glanced around the deck before they descended the ladder. No one on the crew seemed particularly worried about their earlier departure. “Is anything the matter on Isola? Why are we leaving ahead of schedule?”
“Oh, that!” Eryl laughed and helped her down the last step, guiding her through the ship. “Everything is fine. But when Kaidan heard someone was trying to stop you from coming with us, he said we’d leave as soon as we had you aboard. I think he was worried Blaze might try to go after you.”
I might have, Blaze agreed, but I knew Eryl wouldn’t let you be stolen from us again.
“No one is taking me away from you two,” Senara promised as they reached the part of the ship reserved for dragon passengers. She reached out and scratched the side of Blaze’s face, turning to Eryl with a fierce smile. “Not ever.”
Eryl let out a sigh of relief. “Good.”
“Eryl,” she looked down and saw they were still holding hands, and glanced back up, smiling. “I think you should know, I really do mean it. There’s no one who could take me away from you.” She held his gaze, hoping he understood, and his breath caught. He stepped closer, sliding a hand around her waist.
“Truly,” she agreed, and when he leaned in to kiss her, she met him halfway.