Title: Going Home
Food. He always thought of food.
Te’llana laughed into the wind and slapped the dragon’s neck with the palm of her hand. The dragon’s eyes whirled in its face as it looked at her and below, above and ahead all at once. She leaned forward, the wind whipping her face and making her eyes water; she loved flying. No matter how bad things got, no matter how much her husband yelled at her, Te’llana could always fly. The dragon peaked its ascent and then sharply dove, low hanging clouds making her clothes damp as they plummeted as one being towards earth, her stomach rising into her throat. She never felt so alive as when she was on the back of a dragon, and with the frequency that they sought her out, Te’llana thought they knew it too.
The winter settlement spread out below them like a children’s toy, and a little away from it was the clearing where Te’llana lived with her husband, the other Dragon Speaker. The ruddy brown dragon Te’llana had taken to calling Toph rumbled deep in his throat and circled above the clearing.
::It’s okay, you can set me down.:: Te’llana’s voice sounded cheerful in the dragon’s mind; while most dragons were not talkative, they were social and liked company. They were also sensitive about relationships, be them dragon, or earth or human. It hurt that even the dragons knew Te’llana was not happy; it was probably why they came so frequently to her and not her husband.
Toph snorted, hot air rushing back and over Te’llana and then the dragon began a slow, spiraling descent.
Te’llana bounded off of the dragon, sliding down its scaley hide until she landed on the ground with a grunt. Toph’s horned head swung around and nudged her. Te’llana always loved the cooing, purring noises the dragons made in their throats, it reminded her of babies, which only made the dragons snort and look at her with their heads cocked to the side when she tried to explain. In the language of dragons, she understood this to be a reprimand.
She peeled off her riding leathers and rubbed Toph’s face with loose sand. The way he flopped over and presented his belly made him seem like a large dog the Animal Talkers were fond of.
“Te’llana,” a harsh voice called from the safety of the trees.
Te’llana’s heart fell. She’d hoped for one more night alone; the moments of freedom she was allotted were too few. “Yes Husband’s Mother?” She didn’t leave off scrubbing the dragon’s belly; she could not be faulted for doing her duty. There were too few Dragon Speakers and too many dragons.
“Come with me, now.”
She started at the direct command. It was within her right to refuse; she was doing her duty, but her husband would hear about it and then he would be angry at her. Sighing, Te’llana dusted off Toph and slid off of his belly. ::Go now. Come again when you like.::
Toph rolled his eyes and snorted, burrowing into the sands and making no move to leave.
::Fine. I’ll be back later. They cannot keep me all day and night.::
She followed Husband’s Mother in silence, as the woman preferred Te’llana to be at all times, and went back to the village. Te’llana was not a native of the tribe and kept to herself mostly, happy to remain aloof in her home with only her dragons to talk to and her husband to care for. Even after four years, the women did not accept her and the men looked at her with jealousy; their wives were not slim, with hair the color of the sun and eyes like the sky.
They went to the hut that served as the village meeting grounds; Te’llana was wary of this place. Since the village had never accepted her she rarely joined in anything, preferring her lonely dragon hut instead. All of the village adults were there, which only made Te’llana nervous. Being summoned did not bode well. What had she done? Her husband had complained about leaving the laundry out too long but that did not warrant a rebuke from the entire village. Panic created a tight knot in her throat. For a moment she thought about bolting, but that would only make her husband angry.
Te’llana took her place in the line of her Husband’s Family as least important, next to her Husband’s Brother. The village chief stood in the center next to a low fire, a roll of papyrus in his hands. He looked at her with those same unfeeling eyes he’d turned on her when she’d begged him to not marry her; she’d never forgiven the man for making her marry her Teacher.
“We have a message from the Seshaw Tribe.”
Confusion was on everyone’s faces. Te’llana didn’t know why this involved her. Husband had gone with some other men to help the Seshaw raise new huts because his own Father could not go.
“The tribe was raising huts and were attacked. Os’acca was killed, the others are injured.”
Te’llana’s flesh went cold; she should be crying and sad. That’s what a good wife would do. That’s what she should be doing, but instead she was so happy! No more nights spent fearing what else he would want her to do, what else he might do to her. No more days spent in drudgery, flinching at shadows and mistakes. Her husband was dead. Around her others wailed loudly for her loss and there was talk of a war party, but Te’llana heard none of it. She was a widower; at eighteen summers she was finally free. Eventually she mustered tears, ducking her head from the disapproving looks; she probably wasn’t crying enough and her wails were not loud. But her tears were tears of joy. She could go home, to her own people and see her mother again. There were so many possibilities now, her heart swelled with joy!
Flinching, she turned to face Husband’s Mother. Os’anna. She was Os’anna, not Husband’s Mother. “Yes, Os’anna?”
The woman scowled at her and gestured to the family hut. “Come and eat with us.” It was a command and not a request.
Biting her lip, Te’llana followed the woman into her domain where already people were leaving offerings for the dead. She tried to make herself small and out of the way but there were so many people pressing into the hut and smearing their tears on her face and patting her cheeks. Several women commented about her lack of a child, there was no one left to take on Os’acca’s name.
Os’anna sniffed loudly and waved one woman away. “It’s okay, Te’llanna will marry my youngest son, Os’ubba, and their firstborn will be named Os’acca in his honor.
Te’llanna went cold and then hot. Her large eyes were stung by the smoke from the incense. She felt eyes on her. Turning she saw Os’ubba standing near the entrance to the hut, looking at her. She had always been wary of her husband, but she was afraid of Os’ubba. He got loud and violent, and several times Os’acca had been called into the village to handle his little brother. Te’llanna felt like the hare caught in a trap. She had to get out of here. She had to leave.
It was the dead of night; she’d been forced to sit up for a long time with Os’anna and then she lay awake listening to the three bodies breathing heavily until she was sure they were asleep. She had to go now. Os’anna would not let her go. As much as the woman didn’t like her, having her in their family made others jealous. Te’llanna would never understand the woman. She ran up the path to her hut, hoping and praying Toph was still there. The meadow with it’s sandy shallow was empty. Te’llanna wanted to cry, but she knew it was worthless; dragons didn’t often just wait around.
She forced herself to take several deep breaths and climb into the hut. She would have to go on foot until a dragon came looking for her, so she would need to carry her saddle and riding leathers. That meant she couldn’t carry much else. She made a bundle of two spare sets of clothes, a water bottle and what dried foods there were. Os’anna would be upset if she took anything else, and to be honest, Te’llanna didn’t want to keep any reminders of these four years.
Looping the straps around the saddle she made a pack out of it, and carried the rest in her arms. Home was back towards the village, but she wanted as much distance between her and it before the villiage woke. The forest was quiet; it welcomed her like a friend, folding over her, covering her. These parts she knew so well. The hollow where roots grew, the dark places where mushrooms sprouted, and the clear pool that rose up from the ground. These were what she would miss, and these she could not take with her.
A dark shape blotted out the moon and then another and another. Te’llanna froze and looked up, but they were gone. She changed direction and ran for the meadow. Three dragons crowded each other, their heads swinging around. She whistled and loped towards them, the saddle banging awkwardly on her back. She greeted each of the dragons quickly and imparted her need to them. The way the three dragons trilled and looked at each other, Te’llanna had the suspicion they were not telling her something. Had they known? Were they here to protect her?
She lost no time in saddling the golden female, Jasmine, and pulled on her riding leathers. Crawling up into the saddle she held on, feeling a thrill of new beginning, of chance, of hope.
She was going home.