A Long Night

Kaia stalked Direfent’s wide parapet in the dark of night, glaring at the river below her. Swirling fire between her fingers, she wrestled with the tangles of worry that snarled her thoughts. He had actually left without her. She should’ve gone with him. There were only two of them after all. They didn’t have to be invisible to go unseen, and the western border was so vast, they could’ve taken their time and circled around. Maybe Madoc would’ve wanted to come with his men to get a better idea of the Rastgol’s defenses. There were so many options.

The sentries on either of the corner battlements gave her a wide berth, but Gus’ worried eyes followed her as she paced, his long muzzle opening in a wide yawn.

Torches lined the walkway, throwing her shadow back and forth across the path. Did he have to make a decision so quickly? Couldn’t he have waited for them to get a better sense of the situation? Especially after yesterday’s battle. What if the Rastgol attacked Direfent again? What if the Lost raided another village? She gripped the edge of the battlement, her palms heating the stone as she bit down on a scream of frustration.

“Couldn’t sleep, Dragon?” Madoc walked along the wall to gaze out at the west beside her.

“I’ve slept plenty.” Kaia looked at him from the corner of her eye. Though he had a good-natured manner, there was obviously no love lost between him and Klaus. “Did you send Klaus across the river to spy on the Rastgol?”

Bracing his arms against the smooth stones, Madoc chuckled deep in his throat. “I wish I could take credit for such an excellent idea.” He clicked his tongue. “Get information on the enemy and get Thane outta my hair? If he hadn’t come up with the idea himself, I would’ve said it was a stroke of genius.”

“Did he say why he wanted to go?”

“Something about wanting to see if these were Idriel’s dead or if there was another necromancer he needed to take care of.”

Kaia’s fingers tightened into fists. “It isn’t like him to do something so reckless.”

 “Perhaps not, but I’ve noticed Thane is quite different from the last time I saw ‘im.” Madoc shrugged, a smile peeking out from beneath his beard. “Less restrained, lighter, less insufferable… and perhaps a bit more impulsive.” His grin deepened in his weathered face. “I suppose someone must be having a positive influence on ‘im.”

Kaia blushed at the words, looking quickly away into the night. “Well, if it’s my bad habits he’s picking up, then I suppose I’m partly to blame.”

“Enough of that.” Madoc dismissed it with a wave. “Thane is grown and capable of making his own decisions.” He turned to her. “As are you.”

“Oh, am I now?” Kaia humored him with a narrow-eyed grin.

“Ya know, we could use your gifts here, ‘gainst the Rastgol.” He gestured to the river. “After decades of war, we could finally safeguard the border.”

Kaia shook her head. “I’m just one more sword. I’ve told you before, I don’t use my fire on the living.”

“Even after ya saw the Rastgol don’t share yer reservations?”

Kaia flinched as the boy’s screams echoed through her thoughts, the stink of burning flesh singeing her nose. “My flames are meant for the dead, and the dead alone. It takes a lot of yanaa to burn even one man alive.”

“Bosh,” Madoc snorted. “I’ve seen yer power, and Valente Conrad told me what ya did to his old man.”

Kaia froze. “Valente Conrad was here?”

Madoc nodded. “Not two weeks ago. Seems like a better man than his father. He agreed to lobby the Faveno regent fer more men.” His smile had faded into a glower. “We’re always short these days.”

“I… I see.” A chill swept away Kaia’s heat. She could only imagine what Valente Conrad thought of her now.

“You saw the village,” Madoc said, his voice low and urgent. “Think of how many ya could save. Not just soldiers, but innocents too. There are even rumors that they accept human sacrifices in exchange for a reprieve from their raids.” He spat over the battlements as if the words left a foul taste in his mouth.

Kaia nodded. “The Rastgol are horrific, but…” The memory of Conrad’s screams as she burned him alive branded her with a visceral agony. She swallowed, voice shaking. “If I were to turn my fire against them… I think it would kill me too.”

Madoc paused at that, the frown smoothing from his lips. Sighing, he straightened. “I suppose yer right. I guess I must be desperate if I’m asking one girl to fight an army’s battles,” he scoffed. “No offense, Dragon. Yer certainly an ace up the sleeve, but even that’s no replacement for a good hand.”

Kaia nodded, squeezing her laced fingers. “Klaus and I could never have taken on Idriel’s army without Okarria’s warriors at our back.” She glanced into the empty courtyard. “But now there are so few of them left.”

Madoc crossed his arms. “That there are. The Guards of the State-cities stay close to their homes, and the hands we get here are all fresh off the farm. By the time they’re trained enough to fight, we’ve got more empty bunks to fill.” He tapped his fingers against his thick bicep and leaned against the far wall. “Ya know, fire or not, we could always use a couple more good fighters here if ya’d like to stay on.”

“Even Klaus Thane?” Kaia’s smile widened with mischief.

He grimaced, his face folding comically under his beard. “I was talking about you and yer wolf. But I suppose if he’s part of the deal, we could stomach him.”

Kaia laughed. “I do appreciate the offer, but I’m afraid our duties don’t let us stay in one spot for long.”

“I suppose I should be glad that someone else is watching our backs in the east while we’re facing west.” He shrugged. “Regardless, ya’ll always have a bunk here should ya ever need one.”

His words stoked the warm flames in Kaia’s belly. “Thank you, Madoc.”

“That said, you go back to that bunk, Dragon.” He clapped her on the shoulder. “Yer Shadow will return with the dawn whether ya stay up all night worrying or not.”

Kaia chuckled. “Is that an order, Captain Madoc?”

Turning away, Madoc glanced over his shoulder at her. “Only a fool would give orders to a Dragon.”

Grinning, Kaia returned to her room anyway. But despite his reassurances, sleep did not find her. And in the morning, neither did her Shadow.

Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!