Moonlight glinted on the water as boy and dragon flew into the night.  Aithan clutched tightly to the dragon’s neck at first, but his grip loosened as his arms tired, until he found he did not need to hold on at all.  Some force kept him firmly on the back of the dragon and he just lay against the creature’s warm fur, softly rocked by the rhythmic strokes of the long wings.

After a time they came upon land, and the dragon began to circle down.  Aithan saw a cluster of torches below them and the dragon glided to the ground, coming to a gentle landing with a final great thrust of its wings.  Aithan sat up and looked around them.  He was surprised at the bite of the cold air against his warm face.

“Others!” he blurted out, to the dragon as much as to anybody, as he saw other furry, golden-eyed dragons in the field.  Even in the flickering light he could see that no two looked alike.  They stood behind a group of horsemen, with a man of clear nobility and authority at their head, and a woman – a lady – rode next to him.

“This is the boy?  Ha, I think I would not want to face this ‘boy’ in a test of arms without having your ointment at hand, good lady!  Yes, of course, excellent!” The man laughed as he spoke these words to the woman, and a younger man behind them him laughed as well, and rode to a place beside the two.

“I would perhaps prepare a double portion, my lord,” answered the lady, and the man roared his approval.  “It seems that master Gaufridus sees the child with different eyes than our own,” she continued, smiling at Aithan.  On hearing his uncle’s name, Aithan scanned the group again, but he was not with them.

“Is Uncle Fri here, my lady?” he asked, and was immediately horrified at his own imprudence.  But she answered warmly.  “No, master Aithan, he has not come here but has been taken elsewhere.  However, we are informed that he too was freed from imprisonment, so have no concern on that score.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Aithan said quietly, looking down.  The lady spoke no more, but soon the nobleman broke the silence.

“Climb down, master Aithan, climb down and refresh yourself, and we will attend Holy Mass to give thanks for your safe arrival!  It is time you learned of your place in the world!”

At this a mounted man brought forth a horse and offered the reins to Aithan.  The boy stood and stared.  “My lord,” he said finally, “I have never ridden a horse before.  Only a donkey.  I can walk behind.”

At this the man laughed again.  There seemed to be nothing that did not amuse him.  “Help him up!” he commanded.  “He must ride, as befits his position.”  In an instant, Aithan found himself lifted onto the horse, higher and wider than any donkey, and the party turned and rode into the night, torches sizzling.  At this, the dragons, including the one that had rescued Aithan, took flight and disappeared.



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