“No!” Ramuel sat straight up out of his dream, chest pounding, skin damp with sweat. He looked around, breathing hard. It was morning. A heavy fog covered the ground, and blocked out the sun. But it wouldn't be long before the sun burned through.
He left his make shift bed and went to wake up the princess. The sheet was empty. The princess gone. Ramuel's face tightened.
A hand touched his shoulder and he spun, drawing his sword on a fast turn. The princess gasped as the tip of the sword touched her throat. Ramuel immediately sheathed the sword. “I'm sorry.”
“I...I just thought you might be hungry.” The princess held a handful of berries.
Ramuel stared at the berries. The Paidors were vegetarians. Ramuel had been born with the appetite of the Spaltons. He craved meat. But she had taken the time to pick them. He could stomach a few.
“Thank you.” Ramuel reached for the berries.
The princess laughed and shook her head. “These aren't for you. The berries are mine.”
Ramuel looked confused.
The princess smiled – somewhat more becoming than the day before. She offered him the contents of her other hand. A small forest creature. Dead.
Ramuel looked at her. “How did you know I preferred meat?”
The princess shrugged as he took the dead animal. He looked at her a moment, hesitating. Piadors found the Spaltons' eating habits disgusting.
“Please.” The princess said. “Eat.” She sat down on the sheet and began to eat the berries one at a time. Her eyes remained on Ramuel.
Ramuel hesitated again but his stomach was screaming for sustenance. He grabbed the scalp of the carcass, dug in his claw like nails and in one swift yank stripped the dead animal of its fur coat. He dropped the skin on the ground and lifted the freshly killed creature to his mouth. The scent of blood and fresh meat was more than he could resist. He bit into the tender muscles of the animal with his sharp dragon teeth and ripped loose chunk after chunk, chewing and swallowing, savoring the meat.
The princess watched him with intrigue as she continued to slip one berry at a time into her mouth.
Ramuel finished in minutes. He tossed the skeletal remains on the pile of burnt roots and wiped his mouth. The princess was smiling at him. “Good?” She asked.
“Very.” He nodded. “Thank you.”
Ramuel retrieved his steed, mounted, and lifted the princess up behind him.
Ramuel shifted, unnerved, as the princess' arms tightened around his waist. He hadn't been touched by another living soul since he was a child.
“Are you all right?” The princess asked when Ramuel shifted again.
He grunted and nodded.
“Did you sleep well?” She asked.
Ramuel frowned. “Why?”
“You seemed restless, in your sleep.” She said. “I woke in the night and you were tossing and turning.”
Ramuel was silent for a long moment. “Just a bad dream.”
“Do you have many bad dreams?”
Ramuel sighed. “Every night.”
“Tell me about them.”
Ramuel's face tightened. “They aren't important. They're just dreams.”
The princess rested her chin on his shoulder. “Are they about your mother?”
Ramuel clenched his jaw. “I told you, they are just dreams.”
“Mm Hmm.” The princess nodded slowly. “What is it that disturbs you so much about your dreams?”
“What does it matter?” Ramuel snapped.
“Tell me.” She urged gently.
“Why?” Ramuel groaned. “Why would a spoiled princess want to hear about my bad dreams?”
Ramuel shook his head and urged his mount forward. “Fine. If it will shut you up.”
Tension tightened Ramuel's face. His green dragon eyes burned with the memory of his nightmares. “Dorian is there.” He said low, tight. “He shows me...”
Ramuel shook his head. “Forget it.”
“No.” The princess urged. “Tell me. What did Dorian show you?”
“My mother.” Ramuel whispered. “My mother and the Spalton dragon.”
The princess drew a soft breath. “He showed you your mother's rape?”
Ramuel's throat tightened until he could barely breathe. “The dragon wasn't raping her.” He faltered, gagging on the words. “She was with him.”
“With him.” He spit out harshly. “She was there of her own free will. She wanted him to be touching her.”
“Oh.” The princess said. “Do you think...”
“No!” Ramuel snapped. “I told you, it was a dream. That's it. My mother would have never given herself to a creature like the Spalton.”
The princess was silent for a long moment. “What if...the Spaltons aren't as savage as the legends tell? Maybe they can love...like the Piadors. Maybe your mother and this Spalton-”
“Shut up!” Ramuel hissed. “Just shut up. The beast raped her. I saw the scars of his attack myself. They are animals. Savage beasts. Nothing more.”
The princess fell silent and rested her cheek on Ramuel's back.
Ramuel stared straight ahead, reptile eyes hard and cold, true to his dragon nature.
Ramuel drew the black steed to a halt at the border of Azion. A cool breeze swept past the travelers and down the bright green hills spotted with purple and white flowers. At the bottom, the majestic city of Azion stretched out in all directions. A large stone wall surrounded the city. Atop the walls, watchmen were stationed, ready to warn the king of impending invaders.
A wide mote circled the city with a single draw bridge the only entrance into Azion. Ramuel's keen dragon eyes could see the deadly water creatures swimming just below the murky surface of the mote water.
“If you enter the city.” The princess said quietly. “They won't let you leave. You will be imprisoned...or worse.”
Ramuel said nothing as he stared at the walled city. She spoke the truth. He wouldn't leave the city alive. Even if Hashdod pardoned him, he would never be accepted, never be safe.
As he watched the city, Dorian approached one of the watchmen. Even from this distance, Ramuel could make out the details of Dorian's face. The face that had twisted with cruel, deadly pleasure as he ripped the life from Ramuel's mother.
“Let me walk from here.” The princess said. “They don't have to know about you. Dorian doesn't have to know you're still alive.”
As Ramuel stared at Dorian, he felt his blood begin to boil. He would never run or hide from the bastard again.
“No.” Ramuel muttered. “I will take you.”
The princess gripped his shoulders. “He will kill you.”
Ramuel ignored her and urged the small black horse down the grassy hillside.
“Halt!” Dorian commanded from the top of the stone wall.
Ramuel reined the steed in a short distance from the edge of the mote. His body was tight with tension. His hand aching to grab his sword and sail it at Dorian's chest. But the distance was too great and Dorian was adorned in steel armor.
The princess loosened her arms from around Ramuel's waist and slid off the back of the horse. She looked up at him pleadingly. “Please, good Ramuel, go.”
Ramuel looked down at her. “I can't.”
“Yes. You can. Go now and they won't catch up to you.”
The draw bridge creaked then groaned as it slowly began to lower.
“Go!” The princess urged. “You can still get away.”
“Don't you get it?” Ramuel hissed. “I don't want to get away. I told you what I seek.”
The princess turned her eyes to the captain staring down at them from the top of the wall. “Don't do this.” The princess looked at Ramuel with fear in her eyes. “Please. Go.”
Ramuel turned his attention to the draw bridge. It was half way down and lowering slowly, loudly. He looked up at the wall. Dorian was gone. Ramuel returned his eyes to the bridge. As it gradually came down, Ramuel saw Dorian's face slowly come into view. He was mounted on a large steed, both him and his mount adorned in armor.
As the bridge touched down, Dorian drove his heels into the steed's side. The large animal bolted forward, its strong hooves pounding across the hard wood planks of the bridge. Dorian drew his sword as he crossed the bridge and approached Ramuel's smaller steed.
Dorian thrust the tip of his sword to the Ramuel's throat. Ramuel sat unflinching, cold reptile eyes burning into the Captain's deep blue Piador eyes.
“Speak, half breed!” Dorain ordered. “Identify yourself!”
Ramuel glared at the Captain of the Guard. “I am Ramuel.” He spoke tight, voice hard as the steel pressed to his throat. “I have rescued Princess Tia-Mar from the sorceress Shazzator and have come to return her to her father, King Hashdod.”
Dorian's eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Rescued the princess?” He looked around as more of his men gathered and formed a circle around Ramuel and the princess. “Was she missing?” Dorian cast a sharp glare at his men. “Why was I not informed that the princess had been captured by the sorceress?”
The men glanced at each other then began to roar with laughter. Dorian grinned but his eyes remained cold and deadly when he looked at Ramuel. “Do you take me for a fool?”
Ramuel frowned, glanced at the princess, then back to Dorian. “I don't understand.” he said, confused. “I have brought the princess with me.”
Dorian kicked his steed and it jumped forward as he circled Ramuel's mount. The princess stood close to the small black horse, her face pressed against the animal's warm body, her back to Dorian.
“Show your face!” Dorian ordered her. “Who dares to impersonate the princess?”
When the princess stood unmoving, Ramuel stared down at her. “What is happening?”
Dorian reached down, grabbed the princess by the hair and yanked her around. She cried out and fell to the ground at the feet of Dorian's large steed. She slowly raised her head and looked up at the captain.
Dorian's eyes burned as he jumped off his mount and grabbed the princess by the hair, hauling her to her feet. “Behold! The princess of Azion!” He shouted. His men roared with laughter once more.
“What are you doing?” Ramuel shouted at Dorian.
Dorian thrust the woman to the ground and drilled Ramuel with hateful eyes. “How dare you bring this filth into the Orion Kingdom?” Dorian reached down as Ramuel watched, and ripped open the back of the woman's garment.
“What the hell?” Ramuel recoiled. His green eyes were wide and shocked as he stared at the woman's back. Small, thin wispy wings grew from her shoulder blades. Their transparent feathers clung to her ribs like a second layer of skin.
“Did you really think you could pass this hideous thing off as our princess?” Dorian growled. His piercing blue eyes surveyed Ramuel's dragon features. “Take them!” Dorian ordered. “Chain them in the dungeon.” He swept a warning glare over his men. “The King need not be bothered with such trivial matters as these.” His cold gaze returned to Ramuel. “I will deal with these two creatures myself.”