It was not getting better, in fact it was getting worse. Jesop knew how many was safe for him to take and three for breakfast and three more before he left, and three more so he could eat dinner was not good. He was going to burn out his liver. He had asked for and gotten a jar of tonic to help the other organs as well.
Still, his head hurt so bad he could hardly stand to even think. He sat with his head in his hands and wondered if there was some magic they did not know about the Keeper leaving the only ruling figure. He had tried to read through reports but with his eyes blurring and words melting together he gave up.
He looked up as Treyven entered the room. The young man looked so like his father when his hair was pulled back Jesop almost thought it Teven for a moment. Teven wore his hair not braided as a full Wing but in a tail. It was long enough for the braid he was sure to get soon but had not yet earned.
“Storm said your head hurt too much for Slang to tell you but Andy just did a cork screw. And was witnessed by three Sats,” he said softly.
The oldest of the three brothers had just made rank the hard way, not by time and by trials but by simply being able to fly moves normally not mastered for several decades. A cork screw was very hard to do and many Sats learned it just enough to get the rank they wanted and never attempted it again.
A dragon had to get high enough speed then twist his wings on all four shoulder joints so the wings wrapped around him and made the dragon spin in a move called a cork screw that was very hard to do both for himself and for this rider who would have to be good just to get up to the required speed.
Jesop blinked. To corkscrew made a man a Sat. It was just that simple. Instant rank. Men had died at that level of work and Jesop knew how hard it was but then he had taught Andy and Bodie both how to fly and play scout games. By time the boys were twelve and thirteen they were both far better then many scout.
He had not even had that sink in when Andy entered the room. He was taller than his brothers but he was older and they were still young enough that might change. He was a bit finer boned than his brothers so while they all looked very alike, Andy was known as the pretty one. Not that he was “pretty” so much but just strikingly handsome.
“Why would you do that?” Jesop asked felling a little betrayed at having Andy jump rank.
“I was just…” Andy dropped it. “Can I request a leave?”
“What? Why? Don’t you want a new lair and to move?”
“No. I want to… go find dad. That’s why I did it,” he explained.
“So I can lose the both of you?” Jesop asked. “No Andy, don’t you dare go out there or I will chase you down.”
“Papa, Jes,” he said softly. “I am not as stupid as my father. I am not out to play hero or prove I can be one, I am out to go get a renegade Keeper who thinks he is in shape for such things.”
Jesop looked at the two young men who stood before him. Not only was he terribly frustrated, he was in so much pain it was hard to focus. On the other hand Andy was right. He needed someone to go get Teven and no one was likely to be able to do that except the boys.
“I’ll tell you what Andy, you go fly wherever you want to but you stay in our borders. If you leave the edge of my map I am going to be furious and not prone to trust you in such things ever again. You get one foot over the Wall and I am going to be off this chair and in the air. If you happen to get there and can reach Tohke you tell him I am considering grounding him for being so stupid.”
“I have nothing to say to him at all. But Tohke should know better and should not have gone. It’s pointless to talk to your father. I plan to say nothing at all to him for several years.”
“He’s mad,” Trey told his brother.
“I see that. Why don’t you come help me pack.”
“Love to,” Trey smiled. “We can raid dad’s kits.”
Jesop watched them go and knew Trey was going to sneak out after his brother and likely fly under him to hide the fact until they were gone for several days. Jesop wanted to object but on the other hand Trey was another set of eyes and ears and was not so far behind his brother. It was just as well they go together. They could watch out for each other.
The trail had been spotted and a battle sight had been seen but the tangle of vegetation and the softness of the ground made Tohke have to stay in the air. Not wanting to alert anything to their presence Tohke had to hang back. As they neared the ruins that stood on the edge of a stinking lake Teven was dropped off and Tohke lifted to circle away.
Teven crept up slowly and carefully. He lay in among the boulders and watched the fire. There were men who were not men. They were not orcs but something else like some sort of horrid cross breed. They stood a good twelve feet tall and were built like orcs with great heavy arms that they could use to aid them to run on. They were what had chased him he was sure. Their smell was sickening this close.
They were involved in some sort of magic and were all moving in a swaying droning dance about the fire. They added herbs into the fire as they muttered away. Smoke rolled up from the flames and added to the stink of the area.
Red Men, Teven realized. Jesop had been right after all. He felt a small chill creep over him but his focus was on what was in the center of the camp. They had a child with them.
He was a beautiful boy with fine white skin and golden curls that tumbled down about his shoulder and back. He wore nothing at all but a magic shield that he had put on himself. He sat utterly still, hands in his lap, breath steaming in the cold, his skin prickled with the cold and his eyes closed. Teven wasn’t sure what race he was or his exact age but he certainly did not belong to the hulking creatures who held him.
Teven didn’t know what to do and Tohke could not hope to get down into the ruins, he was far too big. Teven gripped his sword and slowly began to pull it out. If Teven could rush in, grab the child and get out into a more open area Tohke could scoop them up and they would be off. He could see no other hope for the child and he there was no way he was going to do nothing.
He was almost about to move when the camp was attacked. The sudden rush almost gave Teven a heart attack. The attackers were not Red Men but were bearded men in great furs with chain link armor. They raced up with surprisingly quiet speed and leapt at the camp without a sound. The fight exploded as the men attacked with axes and swords.
Teven jumped up and moved to join them. He ducked through the fight of giants all about him and ran his sword into the hairy one who had the only show of rank and who was about to spear the boy. The red man roared and whirled on Teven striking him across the chest with his great long arm.
The force of his blow staggered Teven back hard enough his breath was knocked out, his sword left in the creature’s side. Teven pivoted and ducked under his grab to grab the boy.
The boy grabbed him and clung on. Teven had no plan to fight at all. Escape was his only goal. His way was blocked though and he found himself cornered against a rock wall. The leader was rushing at him. Teven shoved the boy behind him wishing at least for his sword. Desperately he looked for anything to se as a weapon.
Tohke’s appearance startled even him. Tohke hit the wall top with enough weight it half crushed under him. With a great roar he ripped off a chunk of wall and threw it down on the thing that had stopped just short of Teven.
The wall hit so hard it didn’t even bounce, just slammed into place with the monster under it. Tohke launched up again and away before the whole wall came down trapping him. Teven caught the boy and got clear of the wall as it crumbled.
The fight didn’t last much longer. The appearance of a dragon had seemed to shatter the focus the hairy creatures had. The bearded men used that to chop them down with brutal force. Teven held the boy safely in his arms, out of the fight, ready to defend him if need be, but trying to keep out of the way.
Teven didn’t stand up until the bearded men had what few of the goblins were left, on the run. He set the boy down carefully. He kept a hand on the child’s shoulder as he looked at the great men who had come to the boy’s rescue.
The men were all large and stood not any shorter than the things that had attacked. Teven realized they were the Altan; the giants who dwelt on the western foot of the mountains. For them to be this far north or east was unheard of.
The Altan and the dragons had not ever had any trouble since the Bonding had begun but they had not had a truce either.
“Rah?” The leader asked with a surprised look as he strode over to Teven.
Teven looked at him a little shocked to hear his own name as the boy ran to the man. He was scooped up and tucked into furs.
“Rah Torren?” Another of the men asked. Teven felt his heart stop in his chest at his father’s name.
“Rah Teven,” he corrected. “Tohke.” He pointed upward. They all looked up and the boy excitedly talked about the dragon in his native language.
Teven smiled rather proud of the boys happy awe and heard Tohke roar high above, too late to do anything about. Inside his head he heard Tohke yell at him in warning but the thing that had hidden from even Tohke’s watch came out of the dark shadows of the ruins with shocking speed. It was out to kill the man who had killed his leader.
Teven felt the blow to his head and everything went utterly silent and still.
“It is witness,” he tried to say but he was falling, dropping to his knees, Tohke was roaring and pain slammed into him so hard it knocked him out. He never even felt his knee hit the mud.