A placid breeze ever so slightly stirred the silver-feathered shafts of the arrows. The breeze continued on, passing over the black quiver, and disappearing into the forest.
The young man watched it go, following its path of frolicking leaves with his eyes. He sat in the fork of a tree, one leg propped against a branch to anchor himself. A long and slender bow was grasped in one hand.
The rabbits in a nearby clump of grass were not as interested in the arrows as the breeze had been, and they looked at the man himself. They saw a man of perhaps twenty years, though his forest green eyes told of a greater age. His hair was dark, if not black, and it hung in long, greasy, unkempt strands around his angular, but handsome, face. His dress was rugged: a dirty black shirt, over which was a dark brown leather jerkin. His pants were also black, as were his travel-worn boots. Other then that, there was very little on him. A bottle of water and a packet of food strapped to his belt. And a quiver hung behind his back.
The quiver was simply wrought, but the arrows—the arrows were crafted of great beauty. Their slim shafts were of a shady wood, strained with veins of gold. The arrowheads were silver and looked sharp enough to slide through iron. The feathers balancing the shafts were also silver. The bow that the man held was of the same wood as the arrows, and a silver thread stretched from tip to tip.
At the rabbits’ first glance, the young man seemed to be in an easy posture, but if they’d looked closer, they would have seen his rigid shoulders, his controlled breathing, his tense jaw, and the white of his knuckles as he gripped the bow.
Somewhere out in the forest, a bird sang.
The man’s head bobbed up, almost as if he been asleep, and he peered out to the ground below. In a moment more, he had dropped from the tree onto the leaf-strewn earth. Then he vanished.
Not simply walked away. He simply was not there.
The rabbits in the grass darted back to their burrow in fright.
* * *
A path like moonlight stretched out before the young man, and he walked on it without reserve. The song of the bird, a wood thrush, led him on.
There had been a time when he hated the steam-like voice. A long time ago, in another life. Or at least it felt like another life. A life in which everything burned.
He squeezed his eyes shut, but that did not make the memories evaporate. The thought of a branding kiss on his forehead made him flinch.
Follow my path, the wood thrush sang.
The silver notes washed the pain of the memory away. He lifted his head and continued forward, his stride long.
He did not ask where he was going. He went wherever the path led and was not afraid.
Once he’d followed another path, a path that had almost destroyed him. There was a time, centuries and centuries ago, when he had been a Faerie Prince of a long forgotten realm. Even as a child he had felt the deep sense of insecurity, as his home fell into decay. The feeling had worsened as he grew older, and he’d spent many sleepless nights listening to the whisperings of his father and mother. A wood thrush had sung to him in comforting tones, but he’d hated it. At last, unable to bear the tension, he had run away, hoping to find a place of peace. But instead of finding peace—the Dragon found him.
As terrifying as the Dragon had been, he’d offered what the boy was searching for, and deceived, the prince had taken the bait.
There it was again—the memory of the flaming touch of the Dragon.
The young man smoothed a hand across his forehead as though to brush off the remembrance.
Being a dragon…Ha! That had led to anywhere but peace. The Dragon’s Path led to Death. More memories flooded in. The terror-filled hours in the Dragon’s valley, surrounded by other dragons, other doomed souls.
He had run again, this time vanishing into the expanse of the Red Desert, hoping to die. To the rest of the world, he had. No one ever remembered the prince of the soon afterwards fallen Faerie realm. The entire world forgot him.
But the dragon boy had not died out in the desert. The wood thrush had come to him, only it was not a wood thrush. It was the Prince. The Prince of Fartherstshore. The much hated enemy of dragons. But as close to death as the boy was out in the merciless realm, the once upon a time Faerie prince felt no hate.
The Prince of Farthestshore had nursed him back to health, and the boy realized that the peace he had always desired was offered to him in the service of this great Prince. But he was still a dragon.
Another painful memory came to the dark-haired one’s mind. But this time he did not flinch. Painful as it was, this one brought with it great joy and freedom. For he had let the Prince of Farthestshore kill the dragon part of him, leaving the boy behind. Afterwards he was knighted to continue on in the Prince’s name, and he was given a new path. A path that led through the Near World, the Far World, the Wood Between, and sometimes even into the Netherworld. But it was the Prince’s path for him, and he followed it. Century upon century he’d followed it, flitting in and out of peoples’ stories with none noticing him or any of the good deeds he performed. But that didn’t matter. The Prince saw. The Prince knew.
The boy that was now a man came suddenly out into another patch of trees, and he paused as the path did not go on anymore. Quick as thought, his hand went up, withdrew an arrow and set it taut on his bow. In the forest below him was a child. He knew already this was not his target, but he let his gaze linger on her odd appearance all the same. She was covered in veils. She was covered in veils, and she was softly singing.
In that moment he saw the wildcat. The tawny beast was creeping along a cliff edge toward the unsuspecting girl. He drew the arrow up to his eye, and aimed along the shaft—but then he paused. It was spring here; the cougar was gaunt and showed signs of being a mother. It had kittens to feed. It did not know right from wrong. Death was not necessary in this case. Dropping his bow, he swept up a large stone and flicked it through the air like a missile. The rock struck the beast in the shoulder, and with a wail of fright, she turned and darted away.
The little girl jerked up with a cry. She looked around, and he ducked behind the bush. Then he heard her tiny voice crying out, “Beana! Beana! Where are you?”
The path continued on, and he followed it. Through woods, and deserts, and cites, he kept on its trail.
Follow my path, the wood thrush sang.
* * *
Many years and saved lives had passed, and still the archer went on. One night the path led him out to a mountain fortress in the dead of night. He paused on a battlement, looking down in horror. The stone courtyard below him was cluttered with dead bodies of soldiers, yet this was not what caused him to draw his breath in so suddenly.
The Dragon had been here.
He had been here very recently, and the leftover sensation of his presence made the man’s stomach lurch in pain. Blacked stones still glowed from where the Dragon had released fire. But where was he now, and why had he left?
The man’s eyes scanned the bodies, and the moonlight enabled him to see insignias that he recognized as from the mortal and corrupt land of Shippening. Then he saw, in one corner of the yard, a Shippening archer rise to his feet and stealthily string an arrow on his bow. The observer’s gaze darted to the direction the barb of death pointed. On the far side, another figure stirred, but this one was almost like a shadow, though his eyes, as they blinked open, shone like the sky. “Rogan…” he moaned. “Oeric….” The moon caught the emblem on his armor.
The watcher’s fingers tore into the stone wall on which he crouched. The shadowy one with the sky eyes was a knight of Farthestshore! And he was about to be killed!
The enemy’s’ arrow was about to be released—but the silver arrow was much faster. With a cry the Shippening man fell, the silver feather on the arrow shaft gleaming white underneath the eye of the moon.
The Farthestshore knight turned with a startled gasp as he heard the cry of death, and he whipped up his sword. But all was silent. And save for him, there was no other living creature in the courtyard.
For his unknown rescuer had continued on the path.
Turning, the knight ran back into the fortress, calling for the aid of the men hiding deep within.
* * *
Not long after, the green-eyed archer was tested. The path had sometimes taken him through terrifying places, but one day as he walked along it, he suddenly froze, for in that moment he realized where it would pass through. It was a place that he had known all too well.
“No,” he whispered, shaking his head. “No…don’t have me go back there. Not there…please.”
Do not be afraid. I will let no harm come to you. Follow my path.
He shook his head more violently, and his heart thudded. “No! I won’t see that place again. I’m not going back there!” In a burst of panic, he spun around to go back the way he had come, but he halted in shock.
There was no path behind him.
Trembling, he looked over his shoulder.
The path only went forward. It never went back.
Setting his jaw, he shoved his black hair behind his ears, and took two steps forward.
The world around him swirled in black and red.
Then he stood in the cavern.
The darkness was overcast in red, as if soaked in blood. He looked up to see, in a hole in the roof of the colossal cave, the night sky in which hung the moon. The moon was crimson.
“Orden Hymlume`,” he whispered. “Moonblood….”
He looked down and saw a dragon, human form, at his feet.
He was in the Village of Dragons again, but to his surprise this dragon slept. A few feet away another dragon slept as well.
And then he noticed all the commotion and ruckus that rang out from the center of the cavern.
In the middle of the floor was the Dragon’s throne—how he shivered at seeing it again.
But there was a girl bound to this throne, a girl who was both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Upon the Throne’s dais, two figures were crumbled, presumably dead. There was another living person there, a woman in lavender and green, and she was bent over to check the fallen bodies.
All around the expanse goblins fled shrieking, (what were they doing here of all places?) and in a corner was a golden-haired army protected by a dome of light. Sleeping dragons sprawled out across the floor. Fire licked up from the ground in various places.
One dragon, at least, was awake.
Then he saw her.
She was across the cavern, a humungous monster of red, and now that he saw her, he could not tear his eyes away. He remembered her from his time of being a dragon. She was called the Bane of Corrilond.
Another figure of scarlet dashed ahead of her.
He narrowed his eyes upon it and saw that it was a man. The dragon was pursuing him to kill, and she spouted out fire. The scarlet-clad man rolled to avoid the flame. He went in the roll as a man…he came out of it as a cat. As a cat he had greater speed and agility, but that would not aid him, the archer knew, as he saw the Bane of Corrilond gather herself for a flood of fire.
The young man’s hand flew back to his quiver, and in a blink he was sighting down an arrow.
Flames licking around her teeth, the dragon’s throat dipped inwards as she prepared to let out a fire ball that would consume her prey.
The archer’s fingers released. The silver arrow flew forward. It streaked across the room and thudded under the jaw of the dragon.
She roared, jerking her head to the side, and as she did, she released her fire. The aim was thrown off, and though the fire rolled out like a wave, the man saw the cat leap behind the body of another dragon to safety.
“Eanrin!” a voice shrieked.
After yanking out the arrow, the Bane of Corrilond turned her head towards the Throne from whence the cry had come and saw those upon it. She roared, and lumbered forward to kill them.
“No,” the archer hissed, and he stepped to the side for proper aiming, not noticing that he stepped off the path to do so.
The bow was bent, the arrow was ready…
Follow my path, the voice sang.
Stunned, he looked to see that the path was once more going forward. “But…but, my Prince! I could be of more help here! I could save them! They are your people!!! Let me help them!” he protested.
I will care for my people. I am with them, just as I am with you. You follow me.
The man hesitated. But then he stepped back on the path, and went forward. The cavern and all that happened there faded away and he once more stood in a forest.
The tree branches arched above him like beautiful lattice framework. A zephyr stirred their leaves like distant chimes.
He breathed deep, inhaling the sweet smell of honeysuckle.
He was no longer afraid for those he’d left behind. The Prince was faithful, and even if some would come to the shores of the Final Water they would not be left behind.
The moon was shining silver again, and the path went before him.
No one knew of him. No one knew his name, save for himself, the Prince, and those over the Final Water. No one knew how he slipped through their lives, saving some, aiding others. One day, when all who were called crossed over to the Farthestshore, the wonderful deeds of theirs, great and small, would be told. There people would hear of him and know his name.
But until then, it simply did not matter.
His hand went up, and he slid the silver arrow back into the quiver.
The Prince’s path went before him, and he followed it.