Chapter 7: Parting
The next few years passed swiftly, much as the past ones had. Almonihah continued to grow, both in size and skill. Llinos even started to teach the young half-dragon a few druidic spell-prayers, the words and gestures used to importune Naishia for blessings. The Druid explained that all priests of the different gods used some form of spell-prayer to call on their gods. These spell-prayers were the way dictated by the gods to receive their aid in the form of magic. Llinos taught Almonihah a couple simple spell-prayers of healing, as well as a few other useful spell-prayers.
Almonihah’s skills with weapons continued to improve, as well. He was becoming accustomed to fighting with a small sword in each hand, though he knew very well from watching Zrathanzon that he was nowhere near as skilled as his mentor in swordplay. He was quite proud when he graduated from the small practice bow he had been using to an actual shortbow, though he used it more like a longbow.
Varack’Nara also matured. He didn’t grow much larger than he already was, but he mellowed considerably. By the time the spring of the year in which Almonihah was probably 13 (he hadn’t been keeping very careful track of his age), it was obvious that something was on his mind. Something that involved girl griffons and nests. Sadly, Almonihah agreed when Zrathanzon said it was time to let him go. They took off his saddle and the other gear he carried and informed the griffon that he was free to go. After nudging the two half-dragons with his beak in a way that Almonihah guessed was his way of saying goodbye, he took off, circled twice, and then flew off towards the mountains.
Almonihah sighed. He had gotten to be quite skilled at riding Varack’Nara, and almost as good at shooting his bow from griffon-back as from level ground. In truth, though, he would miss both the company of the griffon and the treasured time flying, free from the ground in a way he might never be again.
Despite missing his griffon friend, the year passed just as swiftly as the past years had. The yearly loop was as familiar now to him as Zrathanzon’s voice. They neared Llinos’s valley a little early this year. Almonihah was looking forward to seeing Llinos and Garekh. The wolf had aged quite a bit as well, but he was still a good friend, even if both of them were too old now for romping around like pups.
As they passed the tree marked with the symbol of Naishia, Almonihah frowned. “Something’s wrong,” he said to Zrathanzon.
The Ranger looked down at his pupil in surprise. “What is it, Almonihah?”
Almonihah was silent for a moment. “Something doesn’t feel right.” He thought for a moment more. “It doesn’t feel… peaceful here, like normal. More… angry?”
The older half-dragon was silent for a moment, then started jogging. “You’re right. Something’s wrong. Let’s go!”
Almonihah ran to try to keep up with his mentor, but slowly fell behind. After a little while, the half-gold dragon topped a ridge and disappeared from sight. Almonihah hurried to catch up, reaching the top of the ridge just as Zrathanzon came back up.
“Stop!” the Ranger yelled as he saw the younger half-dragon, but it was too late.
The area on the other side of the ridge looked like a battlefield. Dead men and animals were strewn about the clearing, including an elven man with a wolf at his feet, both with arrows sticking out of them. None were moving.
Almonihah could say nothing, only shake his head in useless denial of what his eyes reported. To have his family killed not just once, but twice…
“I’m sorry, kid. I was coming back up here to tell you not to look, but…” the Ranger’s voice trailed off uselessly.
“But what!” Almonihah yelled, seeking to push back grief with anger. “What could you have told me! They just weren’t here right now? It would have just made it worse.” He was struggling to keep from crying as he yelled. “At least I know the truth this way…”
He thought of his father, and his unknown fate, then pushed the thought away as Zrathanzon spoke.
“A misunderstanding,” the Ranger said, as he looked over the scene. “I know that man,” he pointed at one of the dead humans, “a hunter and a trapper. He comes into these parts of the forest sometimes. He was always a bit antisocial, suspicious, even paranoid. He probably saw some animal, say that wolf there,” he pointed at a wolf with a bandaged leg, “Limping his way in here, saw him wandering around bandaged sometime after, and decided that someone here was gathering the wild animals to attack. Seems like the kind of thing he’d think of.
“He gathered together some other hunters and trappers in the area,” he gestured at the other human corpses, “and came here to take care of the problem. They found Llinos here with Garekh. Someone fired an arrow, and the whole valley started to attack the humans. They must have thought killing Llinos would stop them. It just made the animals angrier.” Zrathanzon shook his head, a mixture of emotions playing across his face as he did. “It ended like this.”
Almonihah trembled with pent-up rage and sorrow. “Stupid humans!” he yelled, running over to the nearest human corpse and kicking its head. He fell to his knees with an inarticulate growl and started pounding on the dead hunter’s chest until he felt a gentle, clawed hand on his shoulder.
“Does it make you feel better?” Zrathanzon asked, gently.
Almonihah shook his head, still holding back tears. He felt sure that nothing would ever make him feel better.
Zrathanzon sighed long and loud. Then he spoke. “All we can do is bury them. At least they can respect each other in death.”
Almonihah had no desire to do anything, but for some reason, his feet followed his mentor’s. The Ranger produced small shovels from his pack. Almonihah had long ago concluded that the pack much be enchanted to contain all of the equipment Zrathanzon apparently carried in it. Then he handed one to Almonihah and instructed him on how to dig graves.
Almonihah threw himself into the work, transferring all his rage into the soil. He attacked the ground savagely, as if it was some evil monster he had to slay. While the graves he dug weren’t exactly regular in size or shape, they did get dug. By the time he was finished, the worst of Almonihah’s anger and sorrow had passed.
He did, however, flatly refuse to help bury the humans.
They got to Llinos last, in some kind of instinctive show of honor to the fallen druid. It was now that Zrathanzon noted that the elf had been holding something in one of his hands. Gently prying the fingers apart, he saw that it was a finely carved likeness of a unicorn in what a student of heraldry would call a rampant position.
“It’s another symbol of Naishia,” he murmured, as much to himself as to Almonihah. Examining it more closely, he found a small ‘A’ on one of the hoofs. “I think he was making it for you, Almonihah.”
The Ranger handed his pupil the symbol. Almonihah accepted it, tears again threatening to burst forth. He choked them back as he clutched the symbol to his chest.
They buried Llinos, as they had the animals and the humans, in one of the graves they had dug. Zrathanzon planted a seed from a nearby tree at the head of the grave. Both half-dragons were silent as they finished their work, then made camp.
Despite being physically exhausted, sleep evaded Almonihah that night. In fact, he didn’t even try hard to sleep. Rather, as soon as he thought his mentor was asleep, he arose from his bedroll quietly, still holding the unicorn symbol. He walked over to Llinos’s grave and stood there in silence far into the night.