Trava woke as the sun rose. She stretched and blinked her eyes. She sat up, then immediately laid back down on her mattress and groaned. Running the tavern always resulted in a late night. She didn’t like waking up so early.
Trava considered going back to sleep, but she couldn’t afford to be that lazy. She had to get water from the stream for making drinks tonight. Her father had used to help, but he hadn’t since he’d taken sick.
Trava pulled herself to a standing position. Even though the sun was just rising, Trava felt as though it was already too bright in her room. She didn’t have windows, but the roof had holes that light got through.
Trava opened her eyes wider and forced herself to stay awake. She marched out of her room to where the bar was. She took some of the grains that had been fermenting and set them on the counter. She’d use them to make drinks later.
Trava headed out of the tavern, squinting in the full light of the sun. I wish the sun weren’t so bright, Trava thought. She immediately felt guilty. After all, lots of people praised the sun for that very reason. Most of the people in her village prayed to the sun. Her father hadn’t brought her up to worship the sun. He was blind. The blind were people who had displeased the sun by staring at it too hard, or for some other reason.
But almost all of the people Trava knew did pray to the sun. Except Sajag. Of course, Sajag wasn’t from the village.
She peered into Sajag’s small hut. It was made of thatch. Its ceiling was so low that most villagers wouldn’t have been able to stand in it comfortably.
Sajag wasn’t there at the moment. He’d probably left to hunt before the sun had come up.
Trava set out into the woods, wishing the stream was closer to the village. It would have made her life easier.
Trava felt a frown form on her lips while she walked. She would need to get back to the tavern before that old man got up. She didn’t trust him unsupervised in her father’s tavern.
Relax, Trava told herself. He drank a lot. He’s going to be hungover. He won’t wake up until the sun has started down the sky.
When Trava was nearly to the stream, she heard beating sounds. Something’s running toward me, Trava thought, uneasily. She stepped behind some trees.
The sound of hooves beating came closer. Trava saw a deer emerge, immediately followed by two others. They were charging toward the stream, and Trava was in their way.
Trava leapt onto the tree. The deer wouldn’t try to kill her, but she might be gored by their antlers if she didn’t get out of their way. She started to climb.
One of the deer’s antlers smashed into Trava’s foot, knocking her off the tree. Trava looked at the deer in fear. She was going to get trampled. She curled into a fetal position as she landed so that she could survive hooves landing on her.
An arrow sprouted from the deer’s eye, and it fell over, dead. The other two deer ran past her and toward the stream.
Trava got up and dusted herself off. She looked at the dead deer, then looked in the direction the arrow had came from.
Her face broke into a grin. “Sajag,” she said. “I have never been so glad to see you.”
A gray-eyed dwarf picked his way toward Trava through the brambles, bow in hand. He smiled at her. “Good morning to you too, Trava,” Sajag said. He looked down at the deer he’d killed, then back up at Trava.
“It would have been less of a good morning if I’d been trampled,” Trava said. “Thank you, really.”
Sajag nodded, and smiled uncertainly. Trava had found that Sajag didn’t really care that much about thanks. He normally just did helpful things. She was glad they were friends.
Not that either of them had a lot of choices for friends. She had weird eyes, one gold and one brown, and she was the daughter of a blind man. Sajag was a dwarf. Neither of them was like the other residents of the village. Half the people in the village still expected Sajag to run off one day, since he hadn’t been born here.
Like my mother ran off, Trava thought bitterly. She went over to the river and started filling her bucket. She glanced over her shoulder to look at Sajag. He was skinning the deer he’d killed.
“Sajag,” Trava asked. “You’re from Arden, aren’t you?”
Sajag met her eyes and nodded. Trava had found he didn’t like talking about his past.
“A transient old man last night at the tavern claimed he’d been there,” Trava said. He also claimed to have known my mother, Trava thought.
She didn’t like or trust the old man, but she hoped to get Sajag to talk about Arden. She was curious.
Sajag stopped skinning the deer. “Trava,” he said, “Humans from Arden don’t treat dwarfs well. It would probably be more pleasant if I didn’t see him. I wouldn’t want to upset one of your guests.”
Trava wouldn’t mind at all if Sajag upset the old man; she didn’t care how the old man felt. My father might, though, Trava thought.
“Surely there has to be something from there you want to hear about,” Trava pressed. “Do you have any relatives there?”
Sajag immediately averted his grey eyes. Trava didn’t know what to make of that.
“I shouldn’t hear about anything from Arden,” Sajag said. “Besides,” Sajag added quickly. “Something startled a lot of animals to come running this way. I’d be a fool to waste the opportunity to hunt.”
“Why shouldn’t you hear about Arden?” Trava asked.
“Because I shouldn’t go back there,” Sajag said. He sighed, then met Trava’s eyes again. “I’m sorry that I haven’t told you about my past. You deserve to know,” he said. Sajag walked over to Trava. With him standing, and her kneeling, his eyes were at the level of her forehead.
“I do have family there,” Sajag said. “I left to keep them safe.”
Trava was burning with questions now. This was the most she’d heard about Sajag’s past since he’d arrived in the village three years ago.
“What do you mean, you left to keep them safe?” Trava asked. In her experience, you could only keep people safe by being near them. She pulled her full bucket out of the river.
Sajag paused, then looked Trava straight in the eyes. “I hope you don’t think any less of me for what I’m going to tell you,” Sajag said.
Trava frowned. “I won’t,” she said. Sajag was the best friend she had. Sun’s rays, he’d even saved her from injury moments ago. And she wanted to know what he was going to say.
“I left Arden because the priests there would have likely killed my family with me if I’d stayed,” Sajag said. “I’d killed a man, and they wanted to execute me for it.”
Trava stood up and nearly took a step backward, but she remembered there was a river there. She stared at Sajag, and tried not to let her horror show.
She tried to reconcile what she’d seen of him with what he’d just told her. It didn’t fit. Sajag had always been a helpful person, a kind person. Her friend.
Snap out of it, Trava told herself. Keep calm.
Sajag grabbed her arm and started pull Trava away from the river. A brief scream started to escape her lips.
“Be quiet,” Sajag whispered. “We need to be quiet.”
Sajag towed her along after him. He was almost jogging, so she was stumbling after him.
“What’s going on?” Trava demanded. She tried to pull away from Sajag’s arm. “Don’t grab me.”
Sajag dropped her arm and met her eyes. He almost looks like he’s going to cry, Trava thought.
Sajag spoke in hushed tones. “Trava,” he said. “Please believe me. I’d never hurt you. But you need to be quiet, or we’ll both end up dead.” He pointed upward.
Trava didn’t follow the direction of his finger to where he was pointing immediately. She considered just making a break for it.
“Please,” Sajag said. “Just look. Trust me, just for one more moment.”
Trava eyes went up the direction Sajag was pointing. She froze in place.
“Dragon,” she breathed.