Noren saddled Evena, and mounted her. It was a couple hours since sunrise and the realization that the partner of his heart was a member of the persecuted race of dragons, whose existence he had still then doubted. He now understood the source of the change in how Silmavalien had regarded the ‘gods,’ which he had encouraged, back in Treas. He had attributed it to his own influence, but now it was clear that it was, in fact, due to realizing that the dragons, declared enemies of the gods and of all good, were, in fact, creatures much like everyone else. If her devotion was real – and he knew it was – how the shattering of her beliefs must have disturbed her! In the midst of the hurt that thinking about her, and how she had scorned his trust, he felt a new admiration for how she had handled herself in the midst of such dreadful potential danger and the collapse of her whole belief system and view of the world. His love was an imperfect, yet wonderful, person.
Noren had hidden Elninya among his blankets and scant belongings, in the thickest, most hidden portion of the thicket. He had one empty saddle bag with him, and all his coins. He rode toward the city of Delenois at a good trot, for he meant to cover the remaining several miles quickly.
When Noren got to the gate, the guards stopped him. “What’s yer name and where’re ye from?” asked one, a bit roughly.
“I’m Noren,” he replied. “I’m from Treas, which is in the foothills, east. Why?”
“This is a city an’ we need ta’ know who goes in an’ out,” the guard replied. He had a red mustache, which was odd to Noren. “Why’re ye here, Noren?”
“To get supplies, like salt, for us. It’s my first time doing this.”
The other guard had meanwhile written in a sort of book. They waved Noren to go in, and he rode Evena through the gate. What was that all about? he wondered. No one had ever told him that the guards asked questions before allowing one to enter. Has it changed since the last time one of us went to a city, or had the older ones forgotten, or did they not think it worthy of note?
The city was full of people. Noren was sure there were more people crowded around him on the wide flat cobblestone street than lived in Treas. He asked from a lady in a lavender dress – the sort of which in Treas no one owned more than one, but which, Noren soon learned, was not even worn by the noblewomen in that city – where he could find salt, and dried fruit.
“Salt would be the blue shop, two houses past the river, on your left. The dried fruit would be Dorsons’ on Lantern Street, seven houses from the First Rose of Spring Inn,” she replied shortly.
“Thank you,” said Noren. She was already moving away. “Oh – and your dress is very nice.”
She looked back at him, with an expression which bewildered him. Was she pleased by the compliment and attention, or did she feel snubbed? What had he said wrong? He rode on, confused, looking for a ‘Lantern Street.’ Surely the river could not be missed. How could he get along with city-people, in their unknown environment and customs? was the question that occupied his mind.
The salt was very expensive, and he knew that he would have to use it sparingly. He asked the lady in the shop if she had heard of anyone named Silmavalien. She would probably do sewing and knitting, or something like that. He was told, No, why should she know, and what did he want? He replied that he was curious. He had heard of her, even met her, but he did not know where she lived. After that, he left, to look for the dried fruit seller.
He led Evena to the banks of the river, and held the reins while she drank. Then, he remounted her, and wandered around the city, looking for the dried fruit shop on Lantern Street.
Noren had soon spent most of his money, and he knew that he would have to make it somehow, if he wanted to have what he could not hunt. He figured he would sell deer-skins, whenever he passed through a city. He asked around for a lady named Silmavalien, who knitted and sewed, and lived on the edges of the city. When asked why, he replied that he had once met her, and wanted to buy a scarf from her, but had forgotten to ask where she lived.
When the sun began to get low in the western sky, Noren rode out of the city. He stopped by the guards, as everyone had to do. Why he could not imagine. It came into his mind that he would have to ask someone that, someday. He urged Evena – who had done very little all day – into a comfortable canter, and reached the thicket in several minutes. He picketed her under the eaves, where there was still much grass, and slipped with his new-bought supplies into the thickest part, where he had left Elninya.
She had stayed rather where he had left her, and that was a good thing. She was very hungry, and he had been uncomfortably aware of this, even several miles away. It was odd, to have such an intimate bond, against which space was of nearly no account, and he figured that the nearer and more intimate a connection the less time and space can dull it.
Noren fed Elninya all the meat he had, and ate dry bread. If he had to live primarily on what he hunted, he figured that before too long he would miss even this hard, stale bread. He strung his bow, and shot a squirrel, which he boiled, for a breakfast for Elninya. She was so voracious that he was sure that she would eat every bit of it.
Noren snuggled with Elninya under the covers, and contemplated the change that had come over his life. In some subtle way – impossible to point to, invisible when attended to, but always there, hovering on the periphery of his awareness – everything had changed. Tastes, smells, sounds, colors, and contact-feel had all shifted, in some indescribable way, or was everything just wider? Certainly, for his little Elninya, all was incomparable width and freedom, to that of her egg. He glimpsed that she had spent innumerable ages, cramped in the confines of that egg. Yet ever she looked to the sky, and the impression and the yearning it aroused were ever in her mind, and her heart. Noren realized that not till now had he ever really noticed the sky, yet alone understood or contemplated what it might mean. It was quite beyond him to understand what it would be to be a bird or a dragon – a flying creature. Yet, through Elninya, the desire, not only to know what it was like to fly, but to fly, had entered his heart and blood. It was a thirst, which might be satisfied by flight, but never quenched by anything else.
Noren drifted into sleep, thinking of these things, with Elninya in his arms.
He woke very early in the morning, and shot a raven, at first light, for Elninya’s dinner. She had awakened before him, to watch the dawn, and devoured the squirrel as soon as he got it for her, which was just after he woke up. She was already noticeably larger and heavier than she had been after hatching.
Noren intentionally entered Delenois rather later than the previous day – he had a strange feeling that he did not want to meet the same guards twice. When he entered the city, he merely told the guards he was looking for an old friend. In the city, he wandered the streets near the wall and gate. Every so often, he knocked on a door. If he was answered – which was often; many of the homes had store-fronts – he explained that he was looking for a friend, who had recently moved. Her name was Silmavalien, she made clothes, and he had heard that she lived right around here. Nobody knew of anyone like that.
It was twilight when Noren rode out of the city, and cantered down the path, to ‘his thicket.’ Tired, he did not shoot anything for Elninya, but tossed her the raven, and ate a hasty dinner himself. He went to sleep, snuggled with her, warmly enough under all the covers he had.
It seemed to Noren that it would be unwise to remain near the city any longer, though he was not absolutely certain that Silmavalien was not there. He had no idea how strange his behavior might be, or how long it would be before someone wondered what was the matter with him. That was the one thing he hated about being a Dragonrider – of course, he loved Elninya no less for it. One could not afford to appear weird, lest someone should investigate or question one, and one somehow accidentally give the truth away. He abhorred having to hide who he was, like a criminal. The two things that consoled him were that he was not a criminal, whether he would be considered one or not, and his love for Elninya. He would rather have her than anything civilization could offer. He would rather die with her than lose her. Nonetheless, the whole situation was a nuisance.
Early in the morning, Noren shot a couple quail, which he proceeded to cook, before leaving. Thus, it was nearly noon when Noren mounted Evena, rode her to the road and back eastwards. In one saddlebag were all the scant provisions he had, his bow and arrows, and much of his clothes. In the other was Elninya, snug with a couple blankets, and with the tie loosed just enough to admit air more freely. She did not at all like to jiggle and bounce while Evena trotted, so instead Noren alternated between a brisk walk and an easy canter, and they traveled a lot slower.
Noren encountered a few travelers on the road, almost always in groups, and mostly middle-aged or young men. He was surprised at Elninya’s knowledge of every single individual. She told him that the men were day-dreaming about selling their wares, or that they were concerned about thugs and his quickly-moving mounted figure aroused their fears, even before he saw them stiffen and put their hands in their clothes, only to relax as he passed. She told him that one woman was going to see the Oracle at Delenois, about the fact that she could have no children.
Elninya, Noren asked her, can they hear you?
No, they could not. She could only hear them think. She did not know them as she knew him, she only heard their thoughts as he could hear them speak.
As the sun prepared to descend in fire behind the world, Noren looked for a place for them to spend the night. He chose a grove of trees about half a mile off the road, and rode through the grasses to reach it. He picketed Evena there, where she could eat the wet grass. He undid the saddlebags, and gently put Elninya’s on the ground, for her to crawl out of. He untacked the horse, and went into the grove. Noren and Elninya ate dinner together, and then went to sleep together.
Tomorrow, he would spend the day hunting whatever kind of animals he could find in these savanna-lands, between the Orenial Rivers, before they merged about two days’ ride south of Delenois. Two things bothered him: what might a coyote do to a dragon? and, would he find anything whose skin he could sell? If he hunted coyote, probably, and he was pretty sure a dragon could eat coyote, but he would rather hunt deer than small game and coyote.
Noren noticed that Elninya’s skin got dry and cracked easily, so he used the fat-oils of the animals they ate to moisten her skin.
Excerpted from DragonWing Copyright © 2019, 2020 by Raina Nightingale
Release Date August 1st