Part two of my “just do it” university project. If I wait for it to be perfect, it will stay in my laptop forever!
Rulers never die alone
The king was dying. Drako, Ajawal of the City of a Thousand Islands, had lain ill in bed for weeks, barely able to move, but he knew today was to be his last in this life. The cold seeped through his body, turning his bones to ice as he fought to take each breath. Beyond the silken curtains that enveloped his bed, and as befitted a great ruler, he could hear the court quietly chanting, standing vigil in the hope that he would rise and once again be their powerful and strong leader. It was the fate of all rulers to never die alone.
It had only been a month ago that he had first felt the tingle in his finger that had crept through his body until he was too weak to rise from his bed.
The veil of darkness deepened and he knew that time was running out. He summoned all his strength to turn his head to call Dax, his spiritual guide and closest friend. The monk hadn’t moved from his side since he fallen ill and he quickly bent down to Drako’s side.
“Yes, Aja, what do you need?”
“My children,” he whispered. “Bring them now, there is not much time.”
Dax summoned a nearby servant and sent him to fetch the children.
“Help me, Dax, talk to me, don’t let me close my eyes.”
Dax took Drako’s hand where his great ruby ring, the Dragon’s Blood ring, seemed too large for his now fragile fingers.
“Of course, Aja. Do you remember when I first came here? I was only a teenager and I was terrified of leaving the monastery and travelling to the City of Islands.”
As Dax told his story, Drako struggled to focus on his voice but his eyelids were so heavy, and try as he could he couldn’t keep his eyes open. The cold was winning, he couldn’t fight it anymore.
The cold, it was on his face – stinging.
He heard a voice calling his name – Drako – Drako. Wakeup!
He opened his eye and blinked. The cold was… snow. Snow falling gently and he was lying on the ground. Ahead in the distance, he could see trees. Standing up, he tried to find out where the voice was coming from. The ground sloped away from him towards a forest, and the voice came from there. The snow crunched beneath his feet as he walked down the slope, and he was overjoyed to feel his legs and strength return, even though he knew he must be dreaming – or was this the afterlife?
“Who’s there?” he called.
As he reached the edge of the forest, the voice became louder and he pushed through the trees until he emerged onto a rock ledge that overlooked a great lake ringed with mountains. A woman sat on a rock gazing out across the valley, she had long dark hair that fell to her waist and when she turned to look at him, he saw the strength within her face, with high cheekbones and clear brown eyes under dark brows. She gazed at him steadily.
“Where am I? he asked. Am I dead?”
She smiled. “Not quite but soon you will be in the invisible lands. Your time is near – I only had this short time to talk to you before you went across.”
“What? Who are you?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. I never meant this to happen. It was not what I wanted. Your son is lost – but you have time to save your daughter.”
“What are you talking about?” Lost to who?”
Drako turned around at the sound of his daughter’s voice. Where was she?
He turned back – the snow was falling heavily now and he could only just make out the woman.
“Save her – the ring is the key – he must not get it.”
The cold, the cold was back, he blinked and looked up into his daughter Auen’s face. She was sitting on the bed beside him, tears streaming down her face. Behind her, he could see his son Bixen.
“Auen,” he whispered.
He closed his eyes again and as he opened them he saw beyond Auen to his son’s face, which seemed to shimmer and distort into that of a beast, his eyes glinting – a predator stalking his prey. Drako tried to focus his eyes and as he did, a veil lifted and he saw the monster within his son.
In that moment, his heart seemed to slow in his chest and he could hear the blood pulsing in his veins as a slow throb – his illness was no accident. The woman’s warning rang in his ears and he felt the weight of the Dragon’s Blood ring heavy on his hand. He had worn it since the day his father had passed it to him on his deathbed, as had his father before him – going back to the day his forebears had arrived in the islands centuries earlier.
Without it, no king could legitimately rule the City of Islands, and it would only stay on the hand on the rightful king. Legend had it that it had been given to his ancestor by the last dragon before it had departed this world.
The fear rose in him, giving him a burst of energy. He had to get Auen away – he had to find the strength to protect her.
“Go now, take them away – I need rest.”
They left and Dax came back to the king’s side.
“Dax, listen to me – you have to take Auen away – I fear darkness is coming – you have to save her. Take her far from here and keep her safe. Bring her back, I need to tell her.”
Dax nodded and without question slipped away. Finally, the Aja had seen what they had all seen.
Mustering all his will, Drako pushed the cold away – it could not win yet.
Auen was back by his side, trying to wipe away her tears.
“Auen – listen to me, you must go with Dax and you must listen to what he says.”
“Yes, father, whatever you want.”
“This is what I want and you must trust me.”
Slowly he pulled the Dragon’s Blood ring off his finger and put it into her hand, closing her fingers over it.
This is yours, and you are named as the rightful ruler of the City of Islands. One day you will come back and take your throne.
Tears were flowing down Auen’s face. “I don’t understand – why aren’t you giving this to Bixen?” She turned to Dax. “What’s going on?”
“Auen – you must do what I say and trust me,” Drako said.
Auen embraced him sobbing, and the torment of knowing this was the last time he would hold her was unbearable. He held her as tightly as he could, before reluctantly. He smoothed back the hair from her face.
“Remember always that I love you and I will always watch over you.”
Auen managed to nod through her tears but was to overcome with grief to speak.
“Dax, take her now and send Bixen to me – I will try to give you time but I don’t have much strength. Goodbye my friend – thank you.”
Dax nodded and placed his arm around Auen’s shoulder to lead her away. Once they were gone, Bixen soon appeared.
““Sit with me.”
Drako took care to keep his hand hidden. Now it was a battle with the cold – to keep it at bay as long as he could.