Fox lay perfectly still. The dry branches of the plains shrub were brittle but dense. He had slid underneath these shrubs while still invisible, careful not to disturb the scene too much. Dragon’s senses were as fierce as dragons themselves and would spot almost any irregularities. Fox slowed his breathing, gripping his charred bow in one hand and cradling his pack in the other. Stone he thought, be like stone. Fox remembered playing dead in his cell back in the Octagon. It had only worked once, after that the guards taught him not to play such tricks. The lesson had been administered by a iron shod boot, a bruised rib was potent subject matter.
As Fox lay there, he realized that it had seemed so long since the Octagon. So much had happened since. So little had happened since. Fox remembered his vow the day he had forsaken himself to Damie’s cause. “Azaziel, the life of Nicodemus is over, there is no worse pain to feel, I have no heart to be broken. I give this mortal self to Damie, only show me the way and I shall serve.” The words still stung. What had Azaziel really meant when she promised a life of heartache and heartbreak? Fox could not have imagined either at the time, so he assumed she had been talking about the pain of service. Fox remembered his Paladin lessons. No man is truthfully immortal. That privilege is reserved for the gods alone. People will die. They have value, but their memory cannot be made to paralyze you. It is, perhaps, the Paladin’s greatest trial. Brother Iscariot’s words had seemed callous at the time, but Fox deeply respected the elder paladin and had meditated on the words many times. He had thought that Azaziel’s words were no more than a reminder of this lesson. Yet now, it seemed as though Azaziel’s words had been more prophetic. She had known Fox’s soul even then. She had spoken of herself and their trial.
The dragon had passed again. Fox wiggled himself from under the bush and began a careful, low to the ground, run. Fox had already studied the flight path the dragon was on over the last few passes. There wasn’t much time to get to the next copse. Another hundred yards or so. Fox kept his breath steady as he sprinted the last few yards and slid under a small dead tree. A few moments after that Fox could hear the steady beating of the dragon’s wings again. Fox lay still and silent.
What does she want me to do? She knows I can’t just walk away from this. To join her hiding in the north? Fox thought of Bardr and what the north would mean for him. Besides, its not like I’d be welcomed there. My presence would only serve to endanger the child further. I am not Erindale, and in any case he would not have just turned his back on the world. Fox’s inner struggle was the exact opposite of his body’s struggle. Fox’s body lay flat, motionless and hidden under branches and dirt, as if part of the dead tree. A child, thought Fox, I will have a child. The thought was most likely the most foreign thing Fox had ever felt. How would a child ever come to understand such a man as me? Fox listened the the rhythmic beating of the dragon’s wings as it passed over him slightly to the south. Fox considered himself for a moment, thinking of his purpose, his past, his present. The dragon has split us, confused us and now flies overhead ensuring that we do not regroup. Damie’s church has done the same.
The dragon was moving away again. Fox slid out from under the fallen tree, looked out over the plain ahead and spotted an old decrepit wagon. It was far. Far and obvious. Yet there was nothing closer. Fox started moving. This time Fox took less care to be so low down, knowing he’d have to move much more quickly to get to his next safe point. Fox broke into a run, checking over his shoulder at the dragon and gauging his remaining time; not long. Fox started sprinting across the plain, his feet trusting the grass hidden ground underneath him. One wrong step and a twisted ankle would mean the end. Fox’s elven heritage did not fail him however as his well placed steps guided him closer and closer to his target. Wings could just barely be heard again in the distance meaning the dragon was passing its halfway mark on its flight path. I’m not going to make it, thought Fox. Fox silently cursed himself for not making his decision to move faster as he strained his leg muscles to carry him faster. Even if Fox made it to the overturned wagon, the dragon would see him get under it. Fox waited for the angry bellow of the dragon, knowing it was coming.
The horns blasted out carrying for miles on the long flat plain.
Other horns came up to join the first. Cavalry! thought Fox as he took the final strides towards the wagon and scrambled underneath, being careful not to disturb the earth around the wagon too much. The space under the wagon was dark and moldy. The smell almost made Fox throw up on the spot. Carefully, Fox dug out a little earth on the side of the wagon he had dashed under and tried to peer out. Nothing. The wagon had set into the earth too much and there would be no way Fox could get a look at what was going on. The sounds of the battle were enough to tell him though. The dragon’s roars were angry but strong. There were no sounds of the cavalry over the dragon’s enormous bellows. Fox hunkered down and waited.
It seems most battles go this way, thought Fox. The group is strong, their wills are stronger, but this is the first real defeat we have tasted, and we have paid dearly. Fox didn’t know how many of his companions had died thus far. He had seen Gavis hang back and assumed the worst. The fact that Lisanne and Sam had continued running confirmed that. I have trusted and the man I trusted is dead. Fox wanted to be angry. He wanted to be angry at himself. He wanted to be angry at himself like he was angry at himself for all the others that had died or been hurt because of him. Fox thought of the priest he had slain, so long ago. He thought of his mother and father. He thought of Monroe. He thought of Azaziel. He thought of the girl he’d been unable to save.
Anger did not come. Instead came resolve. The church still moves me around the board like a pawn. We attack when we are commanded, we run when we are pushed, we fight with each other when the strings are pulled. No more. As long as we continue to only react, we are still the dogs of the church. Fox lay there in the dank mildewed darkness for long moments before he realized the dragon was silent. Fox refused to move yet. The silence felt wrong.
Long moments passed, until in the distance Fox could hear it again. The wings were pounding the air again. Slowly the sound grew. The dragon must be passing close this time, Fox mused. The sound continued to grow until Fox was certain the dragon was over top of his wagon. The seconds grew longer and longer and Fox waited for the earth to shatter when the dragon landed. Instead, slowly, the beating of the dragon’s enormous wings moved away. Fox took a chance. Slowly the wagon lifted slightly and the earth allowed forth a filthy elven man. Fox found the dragon in the distance flying towards Montique’s manor. Tiny shafts seemed to be sticking out of the dragon’s hide. Arrows. Fox doubted that the dragon was badly injured, but hoped the foray would convince the dragon to take a small rest before continuing his search. Fox looked back towards where the battle had occurred, seeing smoke rising in the field not far from his original hiding spot. Arrows mean bows. Fox’s lip curled in the slightest of smiles as he began running towards the carnage of the cavalry charge.