She heard the whirring wings before she saw the burst of color settle between Silverwing’s ears. The horse shook his head impatiently sending black mane and one small fairy dragon into the air.
"You know he hates it when you ride there."
The dragon fluttered his wings furiously and huffed a tiny puff of smoke at the horse. The horse responded with a brief flick of his ear.
"If you had trained him properly he would behave. Stubborn beast."
"He’s trained quite well, he just doesn’t like you perching near his ears. Come sit on my shoulder."
"I don’t like your shoulder. I especially don’t like it when you are wearing your fish hide armor. It is hard to get a firm grip."
"I’m not sure the mer people would appreciate you calling this fish hide armor. Even so, if you don’t like it, then fly, Teryn. There’s a reason you were blessed with wings."
"If I wanted to fly all the time, I would be a bird. I’m not a bird, I’m a dragon."
She glanced over at the iridescent creature. "Forgive me, my friend, but you are much closer to a hummingbird than a true dragon."
He snorted another puff of smoke in obvious disdain. "That shows what you know about dragons. I’ll sit on your shoulder, but I’m not going to talk to you until you get that beast under control and let me ride up there."
"I’ll see what I can do about training him better one day. Until then, enjoy the ride."
True to his word the fairy dragon sat in silence, preening his scales. Maija looked at him for a moment and then away when he ignored her. There was something different about him. Her attention drifted to the scenes about her. Training in the arena stopped as students turned to watch her ride past. She could almost hear the subdued whispers. Sister Katran straightened from her work in the herb garden. She put her hands on her ample hips and stretched her back. Maija watched her pristine white apron flutter in the breeze. Why did it remind her of a woman waving her scarf in farewell to her champion? "I’ll be home tonight," she said to no one in particular. I hope.
She shook the doubts from her head. The law was clear, no one may enter the council chambers armed. Even if she left her weapons outside, they might not consider that enough. Wearing armor into the council had never been done.
Initiates were digging a new irrigation canal to the gardens. Bonnlei Creek had changed course and shrunk since last year, making the old irrigation systems useless. They had cut down on the water to the hay meadows and it showed. The clover should be lush and ready to cut by now, but it was dull and stunted. They would be lucky to get two cuttings this time and that wouldn’t be enough if they had another harsh winter.
She saluted the captain at the gatehouse as she passed by. The two young guards stood at attention, but she saw them look at each other with unspoken questions. Word of what she was doing had already spread across the academy.
A work detail labored in the sun further down the road. Wood clearing gangs were normally long finished by now, but the death toll had been unusually heavy in the forest last winter. The dead trees were cleared not only for the lumber, but also to cut down on fire fodder. The trees, like the clover and the pastures, looked muted. The brilliant green of their early summer foliage was a softer, less vibrant color than she had ever seen. It was like looking at the landscape through a dingy veil. The land almost seemed sick.
She blinked as a brilliant light flashed in her eyes. "If you do that again, I’m going to feed you to a troll."
The fairy dragon snorted and flapped a multi-colored wing in the sun, blinding her again. Untrue to his promise not to talk to her, he responded. "Trolls know better than to eat fairy dragons. We flutter around inside them and give them indigestion for weeks. And gas, lots of gas. Even other trolls don’t want to be around a troll after he has eaten one of us. Sheka cats are the only things who can eat us with any degree of comfort."
"Then I’ll feed you to a sheka cat."
The tiny dragon snorted in derision. "You know there are no more of them."
She looked at the pompous little creature again. Her brow creased as she studied him. "I thought you weren’t talking to me?"
He stopped smoothing a scale and cocked his head sideways. "I decided you have suffered enough."
She chuckled. "Thank you. I hate suffering."
"I know. You are an elf. Dragons, on the other hand, are used to suffering. It is our lot in life."
"Aha! I just realized what is different about you. Your body scales are whiter."
"I have no idea what you are talking about and neither do you."
"I most certainly do. You’ve been eating Sister Katran’s moon blooms. They always make your scales whiter and your wings more colorful. I should have known it when you first blinded me."
"Sister Katran has moon blooms?"
"You know good and well she does and she will mash you like the bug you are if she catches you eating them. You have no idea how hard she’s worked to get that growing in her herb garden. How will she have any seeds for moon oil if you keep eating the blooms?"
"I know exactly how hard she works. She should be thanking me properly. The bushes will bloom even more profusely if they are thinned periodically. She guards them like a she-troll watching over a fat cub and I risk life and limb to help her. Small thanks I get for my troubles too. I don’t know why I even try."
"You’ll be lucky if you get a proper burial if you don’t stay out of her garden."
"Don’t blow smoke in my face. I hate it when you do that."
"You don’t appreciate me either. I don’t know why I bother with you elves."
"Because you crave attention and easy food."
"I’m a dragon. Dragons don’t need attention."
Maija looked to the west. The skies should be filled with dragons, real dragons, by now. She had only seen three mating pairs this season.
"How many dragons came back to nest this year?"
"Four pair. They are getting fewer and fewer all the time. Before long they will be all gone and then so will the fairy dragons."
"Fairy dragons will never die and neither will the singing dragons if we have anything to do with it. I only saw three pair, I wonder how I missed the fourth."
"Sendi and Illiya are not well. They have not been flying much."
"Why didn’t you tell me? We could have sent healers to them."
"That is why I came to you and then I heard this ridiculous rumor about you going to kill the council members."
"I ‘m not going to kill them. I just want to talk to them."
"I’m sure those swords will make them listen."
She refused to argue with a dragon. Especially when he was making more sense than she was.