"I Swear It"
ONCE UPON A TIME there was a hero." Those were the words that echoed in my mind when our blades clashed and I looked into the eyes of an innocent boy, thrust into a world of war. "This particular hero wasn't a hero at all, but a lost girl with no place to turn to find happiness and love. " Matthias, the strong Dragon Keeper, brought his steel blade around in an arc to try and catch me unawares, but the training the elves had given me far exceeded his own skill.
"This girl was simply thrown into a mix of violence and, as fate would have it, she found the dragon egg when she woke in a cave filled with sapphire light between the forest of Melagoya and two mighty empires in a magical realm. " I let out an angry growl as Matthias' dragon, Goldenheart, circled and flew underneath my silver dragon, Icemoon. He pursued.
We didn't see Arreck, the leader of the rebellion, and his dragon Calik hurling toward us. "When the egg hatched for her, the girl vowed to only keep peace as a Dragon Keeper, and to never kill unjustly. " When I had spoken those words only a day before, I had begun to cry.
I didn't consider myself a hero in many ways, but to my audience – a small girl that didn't understand the meaning of what I said – I could be a role model one day.
But then I found myself hanging there in the air, a Scythe Dragon's neck wrapped around Icemoon's, staring into the eyes of a sneering Arreck. His eyes were so misleading. One blue, one green. Neither pure.
I wanted to throw my sword, Moonblade, at Calik's neck, so close to me, but I knew that the metal, made with dragon fire, would easily pierce through the dragon's scales, and I could never bring myself to harm a dragon. Arreck sensed that weakness, but in a moment we had torn away and he was flying southward. The four other dragons with him followed, but I only watched one.
That beautiful pink Snake Dragon didn't belong there, with the enemy, a prince on her back. Phalesa belonged with her mother and father, Lathlia and Icemoon.
With heavy hearts we returned to the Dragon Academy. It amazed me how we could barely continue fighting with our many dragons, compared to Arreck's five. I knew that on the ground things would be different, especially since we had the elves with us. Maybe next time we would lead the attack…
My thoughts were scattered when we landed and I removed the saddle from Icemoon's back. I solemnly took note of any injuries.
Judah's shoulder had been cut, but not severely so and when my mother saw it she quickly got to work with a poultice of herbs. Valli, the Millennium Keeper, had an unresponsive hand that was soon deemed broken and it was placed in a splint. Her dragon, Elysmere, had several deep, small wounds on her thigh. Other than that, everyone else was only scraped up.
I saw Alicia coming toward my brother and her husband Sam, who was standing beside me and his dragon Demelius. She handed him their small child, and I smiled, watching the sleeping baby in Sam's arms. My brother noticed me there and handed the child to me.
He was only a hatchling, as Silvertongue would say. A little over three months old, Samuel Iceheart II was a beautiful boy that looked just like his father, only his wispy hair was already noticeably dark. He had Sam's green eyes and his mother's nose, if that was all he could take away from her.
As I held him I looked up at Alicia and smiled. "This is why we're fighting," I said, "but not why they are."
Ever since I had returned from Toyun, the elf city hidden in Melagoya, about four months ago, I loved learning from the 12 elves I had brought back with me, and they had stayed with our academy the entire duration while we awaited further aid from the elves.
Three young kids Garnet had met long ago while trying to convince Tash Rowansson, her great grandfather, to come to the academy and heal his dragon had come to join our ranks. Their names were Jacob, Ramira, and Tiana, and they were siblings. Jacob was the oldest at 19, Ramira was 18, and Tiana followed at 14. Ramira's dragon, Baighta, the first Blaze Dragon we encountered, hatched very quickly after their arrival. Not a single dragon hatched since, so every Dragon Keeper in our academy could freely fly with their dragons.
I still remembered the expression on Alicia's face – I was sure to never forget it – when I told her about the king of the elves, whom I had met. King Surin was the one she loved until she met my brother Sam, and when she learned that he had married, her face molded into indifference. "I'm glad we have both moved on with our lives," she told me, and then she lifted Lybia up into the air.
The little girl herself came running over to us there on the roof, already old enough to start forming words we could all understand. "Asha!" she shrieked (still refusing to say my entire first name), reaching her hands out toward me. I handed Sam to his father and hoisted his older sister onto my hip. She giggled at me. She was the one I had told the story to. The story of myself, my own journey. Me.
I looked at these children and knew what I was fighting for, why I was fighting. It wasn't for my own personal gain or prosperity, but for the ones I love. Why did it have to come down to war, though? That was what I didn't understand. No matter how wise and experienced I eventually could become, I would never understand the meaning of war.
That the elves kept in constant contact with us was admirable considering their distance and the shield that blocked their mind-speak from anyone on the outside of Toyun. It meant so much to me to know that we could have them with us within the day if we so needed it.
Let's go inside, Icemoon said to me through the mind, the only way a dragon could communicate verbally (for I had had instances where I would communicate with them in different manners, and that wasn't always so exciting). Those storm clouds are rolling in fast, he added, nervously glancing southward. We swarmed into the academy together, and I helped Valli down into the hallway with Judah, who put a comforting arm around me while we all walked solemnly back to our rooms or to the dining hall. I heard my father shutting the wooden door over the hallway and flinched at the sound it made. Judah gave me a long look of sympathy and was silent, though I could see him trying to conjure up the right words.
These days will brighten, he told me through the mind. Things will get better.
How do you-
I swear it, he added, cutting me off. I could only softly smile as we reached the bottom of the stairs and watch the others trudge into their rooms with sighs of tiredness. I turned back to Judah once the corridor was empty and stared up at him with sorrowful eyes. I felt them welling with tears. He put his hand up to the side of my face in comfort. I could see that he was ready to kiss me, but I instead laced my arms around his neck in a tearful and emotional hug.
"You can do this," he whispered in my ear as I sobbed. He paused, most likely waiting for the rebuttal that would never come like usual. "You know why? You have me, me and your family, not to mention your dragon."
"But you and Icemoon are part of my family," I whimpered into his ear. "I can trust that you will never leave me."
"Of course you can. I promise on my life that I will never leave you, not matter how cursed I may be." I pulled away and laughed slightly at him, knowing that he had said it jokingly. We then heard thumping on the steps and looked to the white marble staircase as my mother appeared. She grinned as soon as she saw us.
"Am I interrupting something?" I shook my head and wiped the tears from my eye. She slowly started to nod, but smirked at me as soon as she turned to leave.
"You weren't interrupting anything!" I shouted as she walked back down the stairs. She glanced once at me over her shoulder and stifled a giggle. "She wasn't interrupting anything, was she?" I asked Judah with an odd look on my face. He laughed and kissed me. He actually never answered my question.
The following day I was feeling better, but I could never escape the fact that we were constantly at war. Being so close to the enemy, it was difficult to focus on anything else.
That day was Icemoon's second birthday, however, and it was spent with nearly everyone training for the Dragon Academy's second annual tournament, which was to be held the next day. I was sitting in the library with my dragon trying to pair the dragons and keepers for the tournament's schedule when Valli walked in.
I looked up when she cleared her throat and smiled at her. The scar on her face was prominent since she had her hair pulled back in a bun. Her broken hand lay limply at her side, wrapped tightly in a stint.
"Good morning, Valli," I said.
"Good morning, Custos Iceheart." I always felt good when a training Dragon Keeper used the title "Custos." It meant "keeper" in the dragon language. "I feel bad that I can't really take part in the tournament this year," Valli said glumly, lifting her hand in remembrance of what had happened. "Is it okay if I sit with you and Garnet this year and watch?"
I smiled. "Of course! I wish you could still fight with the others, but then again, it would be quite unfair for them." Valli stifled a laugh and thanked me. "Would you like to help me now with organizing the names?" She nodded several times, like the little girl Valli I had once had the pleasure of knowing. This Valli was a warrior and the Millennium Keeper.
She sat down beside me and we talked with Icemoon about our past times while we sorted through the list Garnet and I kept of all the keepers currently living at the academy, including adults that never learned to wield weaponry like my mother and Kara's mother Felice, and Mexif, the large barn owl, and the beacons he lived with before moving to the academy.
"We have 15 dragons here, Icemoon," I said with shock as I tallied the numbers.
Are you counting Uphorus? he asked. I shook my head. Uphorus had remained in that same lingering position between our Dragon Academy and places unknown. Garnet talked most with him, as he was the dragon of her great grandfather Tash Rowansson, who had died quite some time ago.
"I don't think Uphorus would enjoy the tournament the way we do," I said. Then I turned to Valli and we counted all those who didn't want to participate in the second annual tournament. "My mother won't," I said surely, "but my father said he would enjoy it. Kara's parents would never participate," I added, scratching out their names with my quill pen. Valli held up her hand in reminder, and I nodded and scratched out her name as well. "I wonder if Alicia cares to fight this year."
"I'll ask her," Valli said immediately after, getting up and heading for the door before I could say anything more. I turned to Icemoon as soon as the door closed behind her.
"What was that about?" He shrugged.
Maybe it wasn't just Alicia she needed to see. I didn't understand him, so I turned back to the list and started to pair the Dragon Keepers, referring to the previous list of names to see which ones I had paired together last year. I realized that Valli had not returned only when I saw Alicia's name left unpaired on its own. I looked at Icemoon over my shoulder. He was resting his head on his silver paws, eyes closed but obviously not asleep.
"I think you were right," I said, shattering the peaceful silence. That was when Valli walked through the door again.
"Alicia said she'd rather watch the tournament this year!" she immediately exclaimed, breathing heavily as though she tried to run back to tell me quickly. I decided not to question her and instead scratched Alicia's name out.
We set to work pairing the dragons, which wasn't as difficult as it had been the previous year, when we had only six dragons to match together. It was fun for me to decide who would spar with who, as my father and Sam had been going on and on all year about their previous match when Sam won, so I put them together again. I also decided to match Silvia and Silvertongue, which would be interesting considering what had happened last year when Silvertongue won the dragon's tournament.
You paired me with Twilight? Icemoon asked, peering over my shoulder and breathing in deep huffs on my neck.
"Yes," I answered, putting my hand around my neck as he sighed. I glared at him.
That is hardly fair for Twilight.
"You never know what could happen," Valli said, smirking at my dragon. He growled deeply at her and turned to look out the window instead. "I can't wait to see how the new students will do!" Valli then exclaimed, looking over the list once more. Kara, Aestus, Jacob, Ramira, and Tiana were among the new students that hadn't yet seen the tournament, not to mention 9 of the 15 total dragons.
After Valli left, I sat back in my chair comfortably and smiled at my dragon Icemoon. I gave him a scratch under the chin and he grinned wide at me.
"I can't believe it's been two years," I said with awe.
I can't believe you're still talking about it, he growled, ruining the moment. I laughed aloud.
"You grow more like your father every day," I retorted, and Icemoon snorted in reply.
I don't know what you're talking about. I only giggled. Icemoon was not nearly as hard-headed as Silvertongue. Good thing, too. Otherwise, we would get along perfectly, and our troubles would be our favorite memories.