“You are agitated.”
Toport glared at his companion. Chitzxkorek stood tall and proud next to him, though she was considerably smaller in size. Her golden scales glistened like polished pearls in the fading sunlight. She was a fine dragon, beautiful and kind. Her long tail lay perfectly still, coiled around her position on the cliff face. She had noticed the way Toport’s tail twitched, his muscles flexed, and he rumbled occasionally as if impatient. The mighty General Toport was indeed agitated.
“You know my stance on this, Chitzxkorek,” he growled in reply. “Lord Gronax never should have agreed to this.”
“Our liege considered your counsel, General,” she reminded him. “This was no easy decision. In the end he chose what was best for our people. We cannot wage two wars, but the child must be protected.”
Toport sneered. “There will always be two wars in which we must fight for as long as this god-child lives,” he argued. “Have you forgotten the words of the prophecy? How many of our kin turned on their own even in Haven!”
Chitzxkorek listened to his rumblings patiently. As General of the dragon army of Haven, he was naturally concerned about the signs and winds of coming war, but this matter stood beyond his control. Prince Gronax had spoken.
“The god-child will be safe, Toportanill,” she promised. “I will keep her as my own and conceal her from Ariana until she comes of age and can set out to undertake the proper trials of Ascension.” She studied the larger dragon. “Or do you expect I will fail in my duty?”
The General snorted impatiently. “As your own,” he echoed. “As I recall, you did not raise your whelps as ignorant weaklings. The god-child would be much better suited to a martial upbringing.”
“Her parents disagree.” Chitzxkorek looked out over the hills north of their chosen location. A solitary figure moved through the tall grass toward them. They would be here soon. “We do not know what power the girl will wield, Toportanill. Sealing it away until she is ready is the only way to ensure that Ariana does not simply track her down as a babe and kill her.” A more meaningful tone seeped into her words. “You sensed her when she was born. We all did. That power…”
“That power was immense,” Toport agreed. “It surely alerted Ariana to the god-child’s existence, true.” He returned his glare to Chitzxkorek. “But I recall better than most the ramifications of games such as these. Arais’kei may believe that she must endure the trials for the sake of the damned prophecy, but the last youngling forced into such a role did not fare so well, did she?” His voice had become a snarl by the time he finished. Chitzxkorek stared at him, startled. She had not considered the similarities between this god-child and the young dragon Toport had once adopted, long ago.
“General,” she said softly, “what your daughter faced-“
“Was worse than anything that could befall the god-child,” Toport recited with a sarcastic huff. “We do not know that, despite Arais’kei’s reassurances. She assured me then as she does now, but as before she withholds details of what she Saw in her accursed Vision.” His voice quieted. That figure stealing across the plain was close now. “We have known about this god-child’s prophecy since our births, Chitzxkorek. Her cause is our own. But I will not lend my support to this decision to hide her away as if she is but a normal human. It spells disaster not to prepare her properly.”
“Then why have you come here now?” Chitzxkorek challenged.
Toport exhaled, his eyes now locked on the approaching figure. He did not answer her, but Chitzxkorek noted his stare, his stance which tensed, and his aura which flared with anticipation. She smiled to herself. For all his bluster, Toport was alike an excited youngling granted the opportunity to meet at last his long-time idol. They had indeed known of this god-child’s prophecy since their lessons as younglings. Both of them were eager to meet the girl who would one day bring peace to war-torn Camriiole.
The figure at last paused before the pair of golden dragons. Chitzxkorek lowered her head respectfully, but Toport did not mimic the gesture. His expression remained fierce, as if his maw could do little else but sneer.
“Lady Jahcivan,” Chitzxkorek called gently, keeping her voice from echoing over the fields of grass or into the canyon behind them. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Jahcivan eased her hood back, allowing waves of flaxen hair to breathe about her shoulders. She wore a simple smock with a pale blue hooded cloak. For a goddess, she appeared decidedly unremarkable, but Chitzxkorek discerned her intent to blend in should anyone else have seen her. This meeting was secret, closely guarded by the god-child’s parents and known only to four dragons sworn to silence.
The bundle of cloth in Jahcivan’s arms was made from fine silk, carefully concealing the god-child she had brought to them.
“Greetings, fair dragons,” Jahcivan answered. “I hope you are well this day.”
“We are, but let us not linger here.” Chitzxkorek lifted a taloned hand. “Let us see this god-child, that you may be off before Ariana realizes what you have done.”
“As you wish,” the goddess replied, her voice a hush. She drew the silks apart to reveal the soft, plump face of an infant fast asleep in her mother’s arms.
Toport stood transfixed by the sight. Only her face was visible within the bundle of silk, but he beheld so much more in that moment. The god-child was so sweet, so innocent like this. It was difficult to imagine the future which lay before this babe, but Toport saw it as if it manifested before him now: a peaceful, happy upbringing in some human village north of where they now stood; a life of joy and love, as any human wanted and deserved; the truth of her identity causing the destruction of any hopes and dreams she may have conjured; and the darkness of war shattering her perfect innocence. She would lose everything. She had to, in order to live up to this prophecy and to all the expectations they would inadvertently place on her young shoulders. It could break her. It would surely break her heart.
Toport did not hear the words Jahcivan and Chitzxkorek shared. He no longer cared. They simply could not do this to the god-child. He drew himself up suddenly and released a snarl that startled both his dragon companion and the goddess who had joined them. His claws punctured the ground and his wings opened behind him, creating an even more imposing presence with his sheer size. Jahcivan took a step back, moving an arm to cover her child protectively. But she misunderstood the cause of the change that had so abruptly come over Toport. He was angry, but he had no intention of harming that precious infant.
“You are fools!” Toport roared. Chitzxkorek tried to quiet him, but the greatest of the dragon generals would not relent. “All of you! This whelp will needlessly endure such horrors, such pain, and that will lie on all of our shoulders!”
“Toportanill,” Chitzxkorek chided. “Stand down. The decision has been made.”
“It has,” he snarled at her. “And that fool prince will feel the weight of his decision soon enough!”
Jahcivan gazed at Toport, alarmed but pleasantly surprised by the reason for his wrath. She called out to him then, her voice gentle and low.
“I do not agree with my lord Rafrin’s insistence on this matter,” she said. Her words drew Toport’s fiery gaze. “In this, you and I are of like mind. But I cannot defy my King, as you cannot defy your Prince.”
Toport growled. “It is unacceptable!” he bellowed. But then a new sound struck him silent. The sweet bundle in Jahcivan’s arms stirred and began to wail. It was so foreign, so unexpected. Toport stared at the infant god-child as she squirmed and blubbered as if in protest to the noisy rage which had roused her from her peaceful slumber. It jarred him. As Jahcivan cooed and soothed the baby, Toport lifted his head and spread his wings so that he might take to the skies.
“I will have no part in this,” he said in a much lower voice. He crouched low, but paused when Jahcivan called his name.
“Promise me,” she said. She held the infant close as she quieted. Toport looked at them. “Promise me that if these plans lead her to disaster and anguish, you will protect her.”
Toport sneered as he watched Jahcivan. His voice was just a rumble, but perfectly clear. “I will make such a vow,” he said. “But I make it to the god-child, not to any other.”
He then launched into the air, his powerful wings carrying him away from the meeting place. His aura stretched wide around him, seeking to sense that god-child for as long as he could before he drew too far away. He clenched his teeth, and then roared into the darkening sky.
Background Music: “Psalms” by Miguel Johnson.
Cover image by Jes.