The dragon must have been huge, because it blocked part of the sun. Its white, feathered wings made it almost look like a cloud. She could see light reflect on its face, as if there were glass there. Trava squinted. It did seem like there was glass on its face. Odd. It was far away, but not nearly far enough for Trava to feel comfortable.
Trava cursed and tightened her grip on the bucket of water. Much of the water had spilled when Sajag had grabbed her, but it was still heavy.
“I didn’t mean to scare you when I grabbed you,” Sajag said quietly.
Trava pursed her lips. “I’m glad you pulled me out of the dragon’s sight,” she said in a whisper. She doubted the dragon could hear them from this far away, but best to be careful. “How can we make sure that it won’t eat us?”
Sajag got a little ahead of her so that he could turn back and meet her eyes when he spoke. “We can’t,” he said. “But it should go for the deer carcass that I left by the river. It was probably hunting deer, after all. The deer would not have been running around if something hadn’t frightened them,” Sajag said. “We need to get back to the village, and hope that the dragon stays busy eating deer.”
Trava didn’t have enough air to ask more questions. So instead she thought. Sajag wasn’t trying to kill me, she thought. He tried to save me. She frowned. So he’d killed somebody, but he’d still been a good person other than that.
The person he killed must have been a terrible person, Trava decided. Trava walked quickly, the water sloshing in her bucket.
A little bit of water splashed on Sajag’s clothes, making them look darker than they actually were. He glanced up at her face, then at the bucket.
Trava knew that look. He was willing to take the bucket if she gave it to him. It would probably be more efficient that way; Sajag was stronger than she was.
Sajag would be less able to harm her if he were holding the water.
She passed the bucket into his waiting hands, and they picked up the pace.
“Thank you,” Trava said.
Sajag was still being kind, just as he had been all the time she’d known him. Sajag must have had a good reason for killing someone. Not that I want to know his reason anyway, Trava thought.
They made it back to the village by the time the sun had made it to the middle of the sky.
Sajag set the bucket of water down by the door to the tavern. He turned to head into his hut.
“Wait,” Trava said.
Sajag turned to face her. “I’m sorry about how I reacted when you told me you’d killed someone,” Trava said.
Trava swallowed. “I’m sure you had good reasons,” Trava said. “I don’t need to hear them right now. I just wanted to let you know that you’re still my friend.”
Sajag met her eyes. “I’m glad you are,” he said. He didn’t turn to go back into his hut for a few long moments, instead holding her gaze. Then Trava picked up the bucket and brought it inside the tavern.
Trava closed the door to the tavern and set down the bucket of water. She heard whimpering coming from the back rooms.
It didn’t sound like her father. The old man must be making those sounds, Trava thought. She walked toward the back rooms.
Trava peered through the doorway and saw the old man tossing and turning on his mattress. It looks like he’s having a nightmare, Trava thought.
Trava entered the old man’s room and knelt down by his cot. One of his elbows clipped her arm as the old man thrashed.
She could make out what he was saying, despite him interspersing words with moans. “Its eyes,” the old man said, “I need to poke out the gold eyes. I can’t, I can’t.”
Trava backed away from the old man’s bed. I have a gold eye, Trava thought. And the old man was also talking in his sleep about dragons.
It was too much of a coincidence. She’d seen a dragon today, and she had a gold eye. The old man had to know something about the dragon, and maybe about why Trava had differently-colored eyes than everyone else.
He claimed to know my mother, Trava thought. She wasn’t sure how much the old man knew, and how much was just the alcohol talking.
The old man’s mutterings were getting too loud. They might wake her father. Her father needed to rest to recover from his illness. Trava sighed. I should wake the old man, she thought. I can’t just let him keep making noise. She stepped back over the old man’s cot and bent down by his ear.
“Excuse me,” Trava said.
The old man’s eyes shot open and looked straight into her eyes. “Dragon!” he shrieked in his shrill voice. Trava slapped her hands over her ears. That probably woke up Father, she thought ruefully.
“Shut up,” Trava snarled.
“Whatever you say,” the old man said. He was still looking into Trava’s eyes, and he looked terrified. “Don’t kill me.”
Trava rolled her eyes. She’d wanted the old man to shut up, not make frightened statements.
The old man’s face started to turn red, and Trava stepped out of the way. The old man vomited onto the floor.
She’d need to clean that up, but she had questions for the old man first. “What were you talking about in your sleep?” Trava asked.
“I wasn’t talking about anything,” the old man protested.
Trava frowned. She wished she hadn’t woken the old man up. She probably would have learned more from him talking in his sleep than she would from him now.
“Trava,” her father’s voice called from the other room. “Is our guest all right?”
Trava sighed. She glared at the old man. “Listen,” Trava spoke in low voice so her father wouldn’t hear her. “My father wants to talk to you, but immediately after that you will pay for your room and answer my questions. If you’re cooperative, you can stay another night. Otherwise, you’ll be out freezing in the woods.”
The old man tried to get up, but toppled over back onto the bed. “Pay?” he said. “You expect me, the-“
Trava cut him off. “Yes,” she said. “I do expect you to pay. Now get up.” She walked over to him and offered him a hand. It was the only way he was going to get up, most likely.
He grabbed her hand and rose to his feet unsteadily. Trava supported him as he stumbled, hunched over, into her father’s room next door. That was harder than it should have been,Trava thought. The old man’s clothing was bulging in unusual places, like he was carrying jars around in his shirt. That would be ridiculous, Trava thought. But it would explain how heavy he felt.
Her father was lying down on his mattress. His eyes were open, so Trava thought he was awake. “Father,” she said, “I’ve brought our guest in to see you.” She gently lowered the old man down to sitting on her father’s mattress. Her father sniffed the air. “Trava, did someone puke?”
Trava glared at the old man, who had collapsed on her father’s bed. “Yes, Father,” Trava said. “Our guest did.”
“Please clean that up,” her father said. “I’d like to speak with our guest.”
“Yes, Father,” Trava said. Trava stepped out of the room, but didn’t get the bucket to clean the mess in the old man’s room. I’ll clean it later, she thought. She wanted to hear the old man’s conversation with her father. She was curious. She might find out something more about her mother. Or that dragon I saw, Trava thought. Trava heard her father cough from inside the room. She peered in, concerned.
“Trava,” her father said. “Please go clean up the vomit in the other room.”
Her father was blind, but he could still hear well. It made it difficult to eavesdrop on him. She walked over to the bucket of water and grabbed a rag, letting her feet fall heavily on the wood floor so that her father would hear her walking away.
Then she walked to the old man’s room and set the cleaning implements on the floor. She tip-toed as quietly as she could over to her father’s doorway.
Her father was sitting up on the bed, and seemed to be coughing a lot. The old man was talking.
“Well, you see,” the old man said. “I met her eighteen or nineteen years ago. She wanted help finding a village to stay in. Now I’d been around a lot, I knew about this village and some others. I took her around, you see. She decided to stay here.”
“I recognize you,” Trava’s father said suddenly. “You came into the tavern with her the first few nights. I remember thinking that you were courting.” Her father laughed, but it turned into a cough toward the end.
“No! You couldn’t have recognized me,” the old man shook his head vigorously. “I used a disguise that time.”
“Oh,” Trava’s father said, “My apologies. I can’t really tell how people look, you know.” He pointed toward his white pupils.
The old man looked into her father’s eyes and jumped a bit. Trava smiled, amused. Everyone she knew had brown eyes except her father, herself, and Sajag. People tended to be surprised the first time they saw someone with odd eyes, though the old man shouting “Dragon!” at her had been a worse reaction than normal.
Luckily, the old man didn’t shout at her father. Trava would’ve kicked him out if he had. Instead, he said, “Fine, you recognized me. Here’s what I came to tell you,” he paused and made a sweeping arm gesture. “Your wife requires the presence of her daughter.”
Her father’s eyebrows rose. “And how do you know this?” he asked.
“Since you recognized me, you know I was here when she came to this village. I was also with her the day she left. She told me that when her daughter was grown she would need to tell her some things.”
Her father looked skeptical. “I don’t want you to take away my daughter,” he said carefully, “She’s all that I have left of my wife. Why can’t you let my wife know to come here if she needs to speak to her daughter?”
The old man shrugged his hunched shoulders. He didn’t get that Trava’s father was blind. “I haven’t spoken to her since Trava was born.” He turned his head and looked at Trava. Trava stood extremely still. Did the old man know how long she’d been listening? The old man smiled at her creepily, then turned back to her father. “Trava needs to go to Arden,” the old man said. “Her mother will find her there. I can take Trava to Arden if you’re worried about her safety.”
He father sighed, and then he coughed loudly. It didn’t seem like he would stop coughing. Trava ran in to help him. She pulled him to a sitting position and hit his back three times. He coughed some phlegm on the straw mattress. “Thank you, Trava,” he said, “Take a seat on the floor and listen to what our friend here has to say. He says your mother wants to see you.” Trava sat. She could listen now without any worries about being discovered. Better yet, she could ask the old man questions. “So,” she said. “You actually knew my mother? Why did she say she wanted to see me when I grew up?”
The old man looked down his nose at her. “Your mother is a very important person, Trava. She doubtlessly needs you for something that will make anything you’ve done thus far in your life look insignificant.” Trava didn’t like how the old man was speaking to her. It was far too condescending.
“And you want to take me to see her?” she asked.
The old man scowled. “I’ll take you to Arden. She can find you there. If we go closer to where I think she is, we’ll die.”
“Death isn’t so bad,” her father said. He laid down on the mattress. “You just worry about what you’ve left behind. Trava, take care of my tavern for me.” His eyes drifted closed. “And tell your mother I love her.” His breathing slowed.
Trava grabbed her father and shook him. “Father!” His eyes flopped open, but she couldn’t see any life inside them. She shook her father more and he coughed.
“You,” she said to the old man. She shoved her father’s coughing body into the old man’s arms. “Hold him upright while I get water.” She leaped up from the floor and rushed to the old man’s room, picking up the bucket of water. She stepped out of the old man’s room and back into her father’s room.
He was already dead.