Duty is an Erien based story by Terri Pray.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and FilterForge.
“What are you doing?”
The large black dragon lifted her head at the question and arched one bony eye ridge. “I was, at least until a few moment’s ago, enjoying the sun.” She yawned, blinked at the bright sunlight and rose up into a sitting position before she fixed her gaze on the gangly youth. “Weren’t you supposed to be with one of your tutors?”
The dark haired teenager glanced back over his shoulder and stepped around the large rock that the dragon had claimed. “Well, maybe, once I’d finished my chores. Can you believe that they expect me to make my own bed now?”
“Lessons, young prince.” Orent repeated the point. This wasn’t, sadly, the first time her young human had tried to avoid the work. Chores, lessons, work in the stables, time spent with his father and the council learning the ways of the court, all of these were things the teenager did his best to avoid at every possible chance.
“But lessons are boring, and the day is beautiful. I thought - well - maybe we could go flying? If you’re not too tired, my lady?”
Orent chuckled and rolled out her shoulders and then stretched out her wings. Light glinted off the wings, her silver tipped claws gleaming, drawing attention from several guards who patrolled the outer walls of the castle. She sighed and turned her attention back to the teenager. No, not just a teenager but her bonded human. Prince Rhodan, heir to the dragon throne, prince of the blood and all around pain in her scaly neck. Thirteen, still growing, arrogant and unwilling to work, her human had a lot of growing to do.
“They will be looking for you, princeling.” She tipped her head and looked down her nose at him. “You should return to your tutor and complete your lessons for the day, then we can discuss flying.” If his father released him for such pleasures, which she doubted.
“Ah, you’re old and tired, I understand.” Rhodan stepped back and gave her an elaborate bow.
Orent bared her teeth. “You would make a good snack, young prince.”
“Is it permitted for a bonded dragon to eat her human counterpart?” Rhodan took a step back, pasting a cocky grin into place. “Your link to the soul gem and… and the royal house. Wouldn’t that prevent such an action.” He glanced over his shoulder at the wall and the guards as they patrolled their way around the castle. “Besides, there’d be too many witnesses here - you’d be marked and…”
Orent lifted her head and roared, letting the full force of her breath knock him back onto his backside, legs sprawled, eyes wide, his carefully tended hair now a mess.
“Lady Orent?” One of the guards, a young woman with red brown hair caught back in a tight braid, sprinted across the courtyard to the dragon mound. “Is there something wrong?” She stopped a few feet away from the sprawled prince.
“The young prince appears to have forgotten where he is supposed to be, Guardswoman Bresai.” Orent kept her gaze on Rhodan. “If you would do me a personal favor and escort him either to his father or his tutor, I would be grateful.”
“No… I can…”
“Of course, Lady Orent, it would be my pleasure.” Bresai performed a bow, one hand placed over her heart, her other hand resting on the hilt of her sword. “My prince, if you would follow me.”
“No.” Rhodan glowered as he got to his feet. “I won’t. I’m not going!”
“My prince, please…” Bresai rose out of her bow and offered her free hand to the prince.
“I said no, don’t you understand when a prince says no, he means no and you have to respect that.” He lifted his chin. “If you touch me I’ll have you dismissed!”
Orent sighed and rolled her eyes. What had she done wrong to be lumbered with a human that acted in such an annoying way? In all of her years serving the Dragon Throne, the humans she had been bonded with had been wiser, had understood their place in the world and now this. “You were too young for the bond,” she grumbled at the teen. “You will apologize to Guardswoman Bresai for your tone, my prince and then a second time for your threat.”
“Wh…what?” Rhodan stammered. “You can’t be serious. She’s in service to my family. I don’t apologize to servants.”
“Perhaps it is time you began.” Orent shifted her attention to the guardswoman. “If he doesn’t apologize, then I will personally punish him.”
“You can’t, you’re my dragon! You’re supposed to fight with me and obey me.”
Orent’s head threatened to pound. “Someone hasn’t paid attention to his lessons.”
“I’m not going to apologize and you’re not going to punish me!”
“My lady, do you wish me to send for his father?” Bresai inquired with a polite smile.
“No, I believe it would be best if the child and myself had a long talk.” The dragon glanced up at the sky. “Please inform the King that I will return with his son when this matter has been dealt with.” She launched herself into the air, snapping out her wings in order to catch the air. Magic vibrated through her body, her bones and into her wings, gifting her with the ability to fly. She soared upward, gaining height before turning, diving down, extending her fore claws and grabbing the stunned prince in one claw before turning on a wing tip and carrying him beyond the castle walls.
“Let me go!” Rhodan demanded, struggling in her grasp.
“I could, my prince, but you wouldn’t like it.”
Rhodan snarled, kicking and fighting against her grip. “Now!”
“As you command.” Orent opened her claws, letting the young prince fall.
A piercing scream rang out as he fell, arms splayed, fingers parted as he fought against the currents. “Orent!”
With a laugh she dived down after him, snagging him back out of the air. “Now, you were saying?” She caught the current, letting it lift her high, the prince held firmly in her gasp once more. “Something about being let go? Are you sure about that? I can let you fall if you really want to, but as I said I really don’t believe you want me to do that.”
Rhodan whimpered and clutched one of her claws. “No, no more dropping.”
Orent smiled. “Good. Now, I suggest you stay quiet until we land. Then we’re going to do a lot of talking.” Well, she’d do the talking and he’d do the listening if she judged the situation correctly.
Rhodan tightened his grip.
Why hadn’t the boy been older when she’d been called to bond with him? A year of whining, attitude and temper had pushed her to the brink, but she was bonded and it was her duty to train him, to prepare him for the throne, but there was something about this boy. He didn’t care about the throne, only about his position. She’d tried to push him into explaining things, but he’d refused, walling up the answers behind lies, deception and defiance.
She turned, heading out toward the sea. The beach, the rocks, that would be the place they needed. They wouldn’t be disturbed there. The rocks weren’t easy to climb, humans avoided them and yet the view, the peace offered there, ideal for what she had in mind.
She soared over the rocks, choosing the place before she swooped down and dropped Rhodan onto a heavy moss covered patch of rock, smiling at the yelp that rang out. There was no easy place to land when you were a human. She followed him down, rear legs extended, wings stretched out to slow her rate of descent. With a low chuckle she curled her tail around the large rock and turned her gaze on the teenager.
“You - you’re in trouble. When we get back to the palace, I’m going to tell my father what you did and then…”
“Then what, my young prince?” She arched an eye ridge at him. “I’m a dragon, bound through blood and magic, just as your father is. Just as you are. Yet it would appear that you’re the only one who doesn’t quite understand how this works.” She tipped her head and let her tongue snake out as she licked her lower teeth. “You’d be an interesting little snack, but then I’d have a stomach ache. All those lies and secrets would cause a few problems. Acid, you understand?”
Rhodan pushed to his feet and set his fists on his hips. “I am a prince of the blood.”
“The prince of the blood. An only child. Still, there are others who could take the throne if needed. You have a cousin or two as I understand it and they might have a better grasp on the role of prince than you appear to have.” She let a cold, hungry tone seep into her words. “You show nothing of being a prince. You’re rude, arrogant, ignorant, and foolish. I have tried, I have been patient and yet you demand, pout, push and act as if the world is here to serve you.”
He scowled up at her, jaw set. “It is. I’m royal blood, the only child of my line and…”
“And you’re replaceable.” She lowered her head, meeting his gaze head on. “Do I need to leave you here for a couple of days before that sinks in?”
He paled and took a step back. “No, please. I - I don’t like it here.”
She looked around, taking in the rock, the crashing waves as they struck not just this outcrop but the rest of them. “What’s not to like? It’s peaceful here. You might get a little wet, but I’m fairly certain, at least fifty percent certain, that the water won’t rise high enough to cover the rock. At least not all of it. You might have to climb up but I doubt the water will reach any higher than your knees.” She lifted her head and made a point of looking at the sky. “Once you’re settled you’ll be fine, you’d have to hold on, but there are enough ledges around… yes, you’ll be fine.”
Rhodan’s eyes widened as he took another step back and a third, shaking his head as he did so. “Please, don’t.”
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t? You haven’t attempted to listen to me, refuse to apologize to anyone no matter how you behave. No. I think this will do you the world of good. A few days, three at most, then I’ll come back to find you. I’m almost certain you’ll survive.”
Tears shone in his wide eyes and he blinked and looked away. “You’re scaring me.”
“Am I?” She kept her voice cold. “Tell me why I should care when you don’t care how you treat others?”
She tipped her head to the left. “No, I don’t think you are.”
“Lady Orent, please…” Rhodan swallowed hard, his dark hair glinting from the sea spray as he lowered down to his knees. “Forgive me, I was wrong, I’ve been… been rude.”
She flicked her tail, hiding a smile that threatened to claim her lips. This was a start but by no means the end of it. “Then we need to talk.”
“Away from here?”
“No, I think no.” If she took him away so soon, nothing would be accomplished, at least not long term. “Here suits me just fine and the tide hasn’t turned as yet, we have time to talk.”
He looked over his shoulder toward the sea, but didn’t rise. “Are you sure, that the tide hasn’t turned I mean?”
“I’m far older than you might ever believe, I know when the tide has turned and when it has yet to do so.” Older than he would believe, he was too young to grasp the centuries she had lived or the things she had seen. “Settle yourself, princeling.”
He looked at the water and then shifted to sit on his backside, his knees pulled to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs. “Yes… of course. I just, I want to go home, my lady. Need to get away from here before we drown.”
There was no chance of them drowning, but the boy didn’t need to know that. Not right now at least. “You were rude to the guard.”
“Was I? She’s just a guard, lady. Not a dragon, not like you, not powerful and she has to obey me.”
“Just because someone is supposed to obey you, and just so you understand she has to obey your father or me, or her commander, but not you.”
He blinked, opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again.
Good, the boy was learning to think before speaking. “You’re still too young to give orders to soldiers and that’s what a member of the guard is. There might be extreme circumstances where you will have to give an order, such as if the castle is attacked and there’s no one left to take command, but this isn’t something we expect you to face.”
Rhodan lowered his gaze, heat flushing across his cheeks. “Yeah, well how come no one has ever told me that before?”
“They have, I’ve been there when I’ve heard guards, servants, even your tutors correct your behavior.”
And therein lay the problem.
“He’s barely spoken to me since mother’s death.”
“Ah youngling, death, grief, it does strange things to people, but your father will return to normal in time. When he does, do you really believe he’s going to want to hear about your poor behavior? You, his son and heir, bonded to a dragon. The only such bond for this generation?” Several generations if the truth be told, though the boy wasn’t ready to hear that.
“He doesn’t even care that I lost my mother.” A small snivel broke through the words and he ducked his head. “I lost her too, I needed her, still need her and she’s dead.”
Orent lowered her head, her gaze fixed on the young human. Slowly and with care, she reached out through the bond they shared, touching the rolling knot of emotions. The wall that had been there, crumbled, letting her in for the first time. “You will always miss her, Rhodan.”
“I- I wasn’t ready.”
“You would never have been ready,” wasn’t that the truth. Even when you knew it was coming, losing a parent still hurt, continued to hurt through the years but he wasn’t ready for that part of his growth. Better to focus on this, on the acceptance of pain, before she tried anything else.
“She left me alone!” Anger flared into life as the teenager lifted his head, his eyes glinting. “She walked away, gave up on me.”
“Oh, young one, she did nothing of the sort.” Anger, a normal stage in grief. Not just in humans but in dragon kind as well. She’d faced her own grief and would continue to do so. There was a child she’d left behind to answer this call by the gem. “She didn’t want to go, but powers beyond her control summoned her. Death is a powerful force, it is seldom defeated but I’m sure your mother didn’t want to leave you behind. No mother wants to walk away from their child.” She hadn’t. She blinked, pushing those thoughts away. This wasn’t about her, about the child she had been forced to leave behind, this was about her bonded human, her charge, and the pain he was feeling. She was, after all, still alive and would be able to find time to visit her son. There may be years and miles that separated them, but not death.
“What would you know about it!”
Her jaw tightened.
“You’re a beast, you don’t feel the way we do, you - you’re a monster!” His hands clenched into fists, his face screwed up in anger as he took a step toward her. “I hate you! You’re the reason she died. You have to be. You came just after she left. I-I’m not an idiot, you couldn’t have come if she’d still been alive.”
Perhaps, but they would never know. “I came when I was called, Rhodan.” Orent forced her voice to remain calm. “And if you continue to speak to me like that I’ll return to my original plan of leaving you here for a day or two.”
“I won’t tolerate rudeness from the one I am bonded to.” She sniffed and looked away from him, toward the shore. “You were doing well enough…”
Rhodan fell silent.
“Well then, I will leave you to it.” She stretched out her wings, tensing on her back legs as she made sure the sky above her was clear.
She eased, slowly, back down. “Why should I stay, young prince, when you forget so quickly everything that we had just discussed? When you blame me for things you know I had nothing to do with and still act as if you have the right to lash out at everyone around you?”
He scuffed one foot over the dirt, his shoulders slumping. “I’m hurting.”
“Oh, I’m well aware of that, but that’s no excuse for what you have done. If anything it would be wise if you remember others also suffer.”
“Not in the same way!” He snapped, his eyes narrowing as he looked up from the dirt.
“Oh not exactly the same way, but there are others who are grieving. The kitchen maid you shoved yesterday, did you know her father is dying? What of the stable boy you slapped last week? His brother is ill. And the guardswoman - she buried her lover two months ago.”
His jaw dropped, eyes widening as he looked up at her.
“Your father’s loss is but one, the same illness that took your mother, killed many in the land. You are not the only child, the only son who has lost a mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister or best friend. You are not the only one in pain, young one.” She rolled out her shoulders before folding her wings back along her body. “No one is denying your pain, no one is saying you should not hurt, what I am saying is your pain is no excuse for the pain you then inflict on others.”
He sat down on the dirt, pulling his knees against his chest. “I didn’t know.”
“You didn’t ask, didn’t look at anything or anyone else around you and for the first week or so that can be excused, to some degree. It’s been a year and still you use that pain as an excuse to lash out, to act out, hurt others around you and speak without thought.” Pain, she could understand what he felt, and the loneliness that the lack of contact, of help from his father had brought into his life.
He ducked his head down, resting it on his knees.
Had she done the right thing in bringing him out here?
Yes, he needs time, a safe space to grieve, to cry.
The boy had his pride, it had been both his shield and his weapon over the last year.
He’s had time.
But not alone. Not away from prying eyes and those who may judge him. She let some of the tension ease from her body, that anyone would judge a thirteen year old boy for the emotions he was dealing with was, to say the least, distasteful. Yet humans were an odd bunch. Dragon kind didn’t let younglings deal with grief on their own, even if their own parents couldn’t step in, others within the community would do so. That was the nature of life, their people looked after each other, they refused to let their hatchlings and young ones face such things on their own. Only when they were old enough to face the tests were they allowed to step into such things without someone at their side, but even then there were those who would step in to help.
Humans. Not an intelligent species.
“Men don’t cry. That’s what I heard one of the guards say.”
“When she died?”
“No, not then, years ago. Maybe when I was ten.” He frowned and scuffed something away from his cheeks. “Men don’t cry, no matter how much they hurt. That’s a woman’s thing.”
Orent rolled her eyes. “That is a foolish thing. Men, women, they both cry. There’s nothing wrong with tears, sometimes they are needed in order to let you move past the pain and heal.” What did humans teach their young? Women cried, she’d seen women and girls in tears but now that Rhodan mentioned it, men crying had always - at least from what she’d seen - been a rarity.
“Men are stronger than women and they don’t let people see if they’re hurting.”
Ah… that old belief. “So, women are weaker, is that what you believe?”
“Yes… no… I don’t know.” He frowned, knuckling one eye. “No, I’ve seen women who are stronger than women. Mum was… I mean, the queen… she was very strong. Even when she was sick, but she cried.” He shifted a little, uncertainty rolling through him. “Are women weaker? You don’t count - I mean, you’re a dragon not a woman.”
Orent bit back a growl. The boy was making progress, so snapping at him, or rather the situation, wouldn’t help. “I am a female dragon. I cry on occasions, and will again in the future. I see nothing weak about tears, nor do I believe that men shouldn’t cry. Male dragons have been known to cry and I know your father has - though he does so in private. Perhaps because of people who would mock them for being human, for feeling pain and grief.” Humans, they really didn’t make sense in how they handled things. Women, men, they were both weak in places, strong in others, and the Kind needed a good, hard shake. That she would deal with once matters with the boy were settled.
“So, it’s okay to cry?”
“Yes, and if you want to do so in your room instead of in the open, that’s just fine as well. But never mock another for their tears or what they feel.”
Rhodan snuffled and looked away. “I don’t know if I can, I mean here no one but you can see or hear me.”
“Pride can be a problem but I understand that you wish to use it as a shield.” She closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. “That you wish to hide your tears is a choice I will support if for no other reason than to give you time to heal.” If the boy feared he would be tormented by others if they realized he was crying, then he would be more likely to continue to bury his emotions instead of dealing with them. A very human thing.
“It’s not pride!” He snapped, rising to his feet.
Orent tipped her head softly, half lidding her eyes. “No secrets between us, young one. If I am to be your dragon, if we are to spend your lifetime together, then you must learn to speak with me.”
Rhodan’s lips compressed into a tight, thin line.
“I see, you believe I will share what you tell me?”
He gave a sharp nod.
“You’ve never had the bond explained to you, have you?”
“M-mother would have, but…”
“Yes, I understand.” So much had been lost with the death of the queen. Her compassion and knowledge would have made this so much easier, but there was no turning back time, no means to bring the woman here even in spirit form - not without crossing into the realms of darker magic. Was the death the real reason she had been called by the soul gem? There had been times, generations, when there had been no need to call a dragon to serve along side of the dragon throne. Yet the death of the queen had been followed by the call. One so strong that she had been forced to turn away from her own son.
“Father won’t explain it and my tutors say it’s something I will come to know in time.” Rhodan continued, curiosity touching his eyes. “I thought… I assumed if I said I didn’t know, that I’d drive you away. And you’re all I have left.” He reached out, moving closer to Orent until he was able to rest the palm of his left hand against one of Orent’s legs.
Without thinking Orent brought her wings around, lifting her left foreleg until she was able to wrap them around the now trembling boy that her duty and the magic of the soul gem had bonded her to. “Then I need to teach you.”