JAYMES WOKE UP cold and disorientated. A chilly wind was blowing against his back and a rock was digging into his side. All around was dark, but as his eyes adjusted he found it turning to shades of grey. He groaned, trying to remember where he was today.
A gust of frigid air washed over him, snatching at his blanket. He grabbed it back out of reflex and pulled it over his face. More air, some rocks, a little dust, then darkness as Rhiddyl landed carefully above him.
“Good morning, Jaymes,” she fluted cheerfully. “I believe spring is finally arriving in these northern latitudes. I saw primroses!”
“Great,” he yawned, sitting up. “Where’s Ember?” He went to push his hair out of his face and encountered bare, waxy skin. It still surprised him every time, but at least it didn’t itch or hurt anymore. The continual cold of the Heighlen had been good for something.
“Not far,” Rhiddyl assured him, nosing through the blankets.
Jaymes rubbed a hand over his heart, feeling the spark of warmth that was his connection to Emberbright, his dragongift. Who even now, so far from Nimbys, so long after the kaz-naghkt attack and his own injuries, slept soundly. No one understood why, but Jaymes wasn’t too worried. For one thing she was starting to warm up, more with every day, and the spark in his chest that connected them together was ever constant.
Focusing on that little flicker of heat, he reached a hand behind him and instantly found his dragonet. Warm to the touch, but not so hot as to raise a sweat. He closed his eyes and searched for the bond that connected them. It was there, he could feel her, he just couldn’t talk to her.
He sighed, opened his eyes and found Rhiddyl peering down her long nose at him, wide eyes worried. She was always so very worried about her passengers, determined not to mess up her big assignment.
Jaymes smiled. “Ready to move on?”
Rhiddyl whistled her approval, placed her nose against his belly and lifted him to his feet. “Let’s go!”
* * *
SPRING IN THE Overworld was a strange season, Rhiddyl thought as she waited for Jaymes to finish packing up his camp. When they’d left Nimbys, there had been leaves budding on the trees and flowers increasing in the meadow. The mornings had still been chill, but the frosts had mostly passed and the sky rained water instead of sleet or snow. Yet from the moment she set out on Elder Goryal’s orders, at first carrying both Jaymes and Emberbright as they continued to recover, it felt like she was turning the months back.
The Lowlands had been green and pretty, reminding her of home in the Cleansed Lands. Except it had been cold there too, far colder than she was used to in the fields of her Clanlands. Flying mainly by night to avoid being seen, Rhiddyl had shivered her way beneath the stars, eager to find some high isolated mountains on which to bask again. They’d found those in North Point, Jaymes’ home country, where the peaks were high and the people scattered and scarce. Rhiddyl had been able to travel in daylight then, but even with sunshine constantly shining on her wings, it was still cold. Snow still lay on the ground in many places and sleet fell from the occasional storms they encountered.
By the time they reached the Heighlen, Jaymes was well enough to fly on Argon again, though Rhiddyl still carried Emberbright. Partly to ease the weight on the miryhl, and partly because she enjoyed the company. Even if the little dragonet was constantly sleeping, she liked the feeling of warmth cradled against her chest.
It snowed in the Heighlen during spring. The trees up there were evergreen and shrouded in whiteness. Rhiddyl couldn’t remember a time when she’d been so cold. Yet there was beauty in the bleakness. Sharp mountains that rose up like blades between glaciers, which creaked and groaned and cracked as they chewed their slow, inexorable way through rock and stone. Storms came more frequently, meaning Rhiddyl often had to carry all of her companions - Argon included - or find some place of shelter where she could huddle them all beneath a wing. When the sun did shine it was piercingly bright but did little to warm the blood. The only thing that did that was moving.
So move they did. West, west, ever westards, towards the setting sun. Until they reached the place where the peaks turned softer, crumbled away beneath the weight of the weather, and the glaciers had joined together to form one vast, frozen sea. As incredible a sight as the Ice Sea was, Rhiddyl was glad to turn her back on it as they finally headed south.
Down the valleys and glaciers, down from the highest mountains into snow-filled valleys. Down to where the thaw had finally begun and patches of brown grass were slowly turning green. Down to the edge of the Heighlen and the edge of the Cloud Sea.
Despite the cold and the last bout of snow that passed over them in a brief but bitter blizzard, Rhiddyl was excited. The Cloud Sea stretched out before them, seemingly endless in its whiteness, but the sky above was bright blue and the sun was a blazing spot climbing to its zenith. It had grown since they’d left Nimbys. Not a huge amount, not particularly discernable even to her eyes, but it felt bigger. Hotter. Brighter. Summer was coming and soon Rhiddyl would remember how it felt to be warm again.
Spreading her wings beneath the fine spring weather, Rhiddyl raised her face to the sky and tasted the wind. Clear, clear, clear. For miles and miles all around. It would be a good day to fly.
She looked down at her companions. Jaymes had finished packing up his camp, shifting his bags onto Atyrn’s saddle. The little miryhl was fluffed up against the cold, but he seemed just as eager as Rhiddyl for the flight ahead. Even Jaymes moved more freely, a bounce in his step, his cheeks red. Part of that was from the scars, a lot of it was the cold, but he seemed excited too. His eyes were bright and his smile cheerful.
The only one of their group not showing any enthusiasm was Emberbright, yet Rhiddyl was almost certain the little dragonet could feel it too. Her curl was less tight and she gave a soft purr when Jaymes picked her up, the first sound she’d made across the whole journey. Rhiddyl wasn’t sure Jaymes had heard it, but he must have felt something, because he cuddled the dragonet in close to his chest and closed his eyes as he breathed her in.
“Ready?” Rhiddyl asked gently, stretching out her front foot in invitation.
Jaymes opened his eyes, patted Argon on the wing, then stepped onto Rhiddyl’s palm. “Ready,” he said, settling inside her grip as she lifted him and his dragonet against her chest. He could have sat on her back, of course, but Rhiddyl preferred to hold them both. It kept them close, kept them sheltered and she could watch over them better here. If Jaymes got too cold or too nauseous or needed to stop for any reason, it was far easier to tell from here. It was comforting too and made them all feel less alone in the wide wilderness they were traversing.
Nodding for Argon to take off first, Rhiddyl shuffled to the edge of the cliffs that rose several hundred metres above the turbulent sea. The miryhl swiftly soared on the strong winds, spiralling up into the sky and leaving plenty of space for the dragon to join him.
Flexing her wings in readiness, Rhiddyl checked her companions one last time - receiving a thumbs up from Jaymes - and pushed off. Rocks rattled down the cliffs in her wake, but Rhiddyl was gliding. Then, with a thrust of her wings, they were rising and soaring, spiralling around Argon into the blue sky. The wind was cool across her scales, but Rhiddyl relished the feel of the sun and the open air.
Tucking her nose gently beneath Argon, she flung him forward with a flick of her head and, laughing, they dived forward into the day.
The Heighlen fell swiftly away behind them, already forgotten, as they looked eagerly ahead over the empty sea, waiting for the moment when their final destination would appear. Even though Rhiddyl knew it would take several days, and she would need to remain airborne for all of them, with Argon hitching rides and rests on her back, she was eager for the challenge.
The time of ease and loneliness and cold was over. The time for action was almost here.
Picking up on her excitement, Argon dashed playfully in front of her nose and she nipped at his tail feathers, making him squawk and Jaymes laugh.
Leaning forward in her grip, arms thrown out wide, the Rider whooped. “Aquila here we come!”
~ Next Chapter ~