Aira peered up as the man sat cross-legged in the dirt across the fire.
“Okay. I came back. Shall we start with names?” the man spread his hands and craned his head down to look at her, “Hello?”
She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, trying to calm her beating heart. So much could go wrong here, and even if she transformed into a wolf to run, he could fly. She wouldn’t be able to escape.
Finally, she looked up, “I’m Aira.” Should she have given her real name? It was too late now.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Aira. My name is Tal Zee, though you may simply call me Tal. I am from a kingdom called Lartnek, far west from here.”
“Why are you way out here then?” she asked despite her worries.
“Good question,” he smiled, and once again, Aira saw pointed eye-teeth and felt her own with her tongue. At least that was something they had in common. “I am on a mission set by my granddaughter. She heard of a disturbance out this way and sent me to mediate. That’s my role in my old age. Mediator!”
“Granddaughter! You don’t look old enough for grandchildren!” Aira gasped, her eyebrows leaping up.
Tal laughed, “I appreciate that. I am several hundred years old at this point.” he tapped his chin, “Not quite sure how many hundred years. More than two, and I hope to Nailan less than 10.”
He blinked at her, “I’m a dragon. Well, half anyway, but that half is the important factor concerning my age. You see, dragons are what the academic world calls Immortal. My brother thinks that the name doesn’t really make sense because dragons can and do die. Sickness, battle, falling out of the sky after falling asleep flying, you know, the normal ways. But dragons tend to live hundreds of years more than most other races here on Lasrevinu, our lovely planet.”
Aira groaned, “Okay, you’re old. I get it.” No one who spoke like that was less than half a century.
“Mmhmm,” Tal leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, “So. Why are you way out here?”
She looked away from his green and black eyes, “Do I have to talk about it?”
Aira jerked her head up and frowned at the dragon. He asked a question, and she didn’t have to answer it? What sort of strange creature was this?
“Seriously, no. I truly do want to know, but you just met me, and I have found, over the years, that forcing someone to talk about something they do not wish to talk about is a terrible way to come to an understanding. I know that you are in some sort of trouble. I would like to hear what you have to say about it, but you don’t have to tell me.”
She sighed, “Well, my… my friend called soldiers to arrest me. Because of something I told her. Because of something I might be. I don’t know. Anyway, they chased me all the way to a river nearby, and I was able to escape over it. I ran until I couldn’t anymore, and then I made a fire, and then you showed up.”
Tal nodded, “Something you might be. That wasn’t a good friend, I suppose. Though when I was young, younger than you, I think, the very people who were supposed to care for me and keep me safe hurt me because of something I was. Or at least half of what I was. Then, later, people who I thought bore me no ill will sent me away because of the other part of me.” He sighed and ran his fingers through his jet black hair. “Every situation is different, but if you ever feel like telling me more, I may very well understand.”
It was odd. Aira actually thought he might be telling the truth. It still seemed fantastic that a stranger appeared out of the darkness and wanted to not only help her but listen to her story. That didn’t just happen. Ever since that robed man at the river had told her to trust him (was that Nailan?), everything seemed to be turned on its head.
“I hope you won’t suggest I go back,” she said suddenly.
“Of course not. In fact, I won’t suggest anything. I will share the watch tonight as we sleep, and then, in the morning, I have to continue on my way.”
“To be a mediator?”
“Yes. Some werewolves are squabbling over something or other. They weren’t very specific. I happen to have some experience in werewolves, being half myself, so naturally, I was the choice.”
“Oh! I”m a werewolf too, you know!”
“Really?” He smiled, “I suppose that is where the pointed teeth and ears come from then? One can’t assume, but I was hoping…”
“Hoping that I was a werewolf?”
“Why, yes! How fortuitous it would be that I was on my way to help settle a problem with a group of werewolves, and I come across one on the way. It would be a great help to me if you decided to tag along.”
She pursed her lips. It might be a good idea if she could trust Tal. That way, she wouldn’t be alone, easy meat for the soldiers if they ever crossed the river. And it might be an interesting journey. She might find a place where she belonged. Trish’s face flashed in front of her thoughts, and Aira felt her stomach squeeze. She had thought she had found that with Trish.
“Okay, Tal. I’ll go with you!”
“Great! We’ll set off in the morning.” Tal stifled a yawn, “Now unless you have an objection, I will take the first sleep. Wake me in two hours, and I’ll take the rest of the night. Sound good?”
She nodded. Aira wouldn’t be able to sleep right now, even if she wanted to. Tal smiled and curled up, using his cloak as a pillow. Aria looked at him for a long while before settling herself down to watch the night.