There was no moon in the night sky. No clouds either, just a smattering of stars. From the hilltop they had an unobstructed view of the valley. Somewhere down in the valley was his family and the village he had fled as a boy. He longed to see his family again, even if it was only to shake his father's hand or hold his mother in his arms, but knew that wouldn't happen any time soon. Tomorrow they broke camp and continued their journey. He mourned silently for the family he'd lost.
He was so wrapped in melancholy thoughts he didn't hear Jace as he approached. He started when Jace sat down beside him. "You took off as soon as things were set up. You didn't even eat dinner. I brought you something," Jace said as he attempted to pass over a tin plate of food.
"You eat it. I'm not hungry."
"What's gotten into you tonight? I promise it's not going to kill you. Chris and Lance did the cooking so it's actually pretty good for a change."
"You know we've got a long way to travel tomorrow, you're going to need your strength. Eat something, please?"
It was the please that did it, reluctantly he took the offered plate. Jace must have loaded the plate up as soon as the food was served, and somehow managed not only to keep the others from taking it when he hadn't shown up to eat but had kept it fairly warm. The thick stew was flavorful and fragrant. He'd only intended to have a few bites, just enough to satisfy Jace, but before he knew it, he'd finished it all. He set the empty plate to the side, trying to ignore the grin that crossed Jace's face. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now, do you want to tell me what's troubling you?"
"Homesick I suppose. I don't know what else to call it."
"Homesick? But we've only been gone eight days, so far. We've made longer journeys than this before."
"No, homesick for where I come from. For my kin, for the village I grew up near."
"Oh. You never talk about it, I guess I just assumed that you were glad to be away from there. That it wasn't a good place." Jace said quietly.
"If I'd stayed I might have been killed or my family might have been run off our farm. My leaving was the right thing."
"Why are you thinking of that place then?"
"Because, someplace down in that valley is my family. This is the closest I've been to the village or them since I left and even being this close, I don't have the time to see them again. I don't even know if it'd be safe for them if I did do so."
Jace turned to look at the valley. "Really, that is where you come from? Why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't you tell me before now?"
"What should I have said? That we would be traveling near the village that turned on me and my kin when it was discovered that I was a dragon summoner? That when I was in my tenth year an old woman at the village market saw me when I was sitting quietly waiting for my mother to return to my family's wagon creating animals out of flames and making them fly about to amuse myself. Really, what would I have said, Jace?"
"You can make animals out of flame? Really? I knew you could call to wild dragons, but creating things out of flame, this I didn't know."
He sighed, leave it to Jace to fixate on one small part of what he'd been telling him and not the most important part. "Yes, out of flame."
Jace was nearly bouncing in place as he sat beside him, "Well can you show me?" He held his right hand out, within moments it was enveloped in a white-blue flame. Jace moved as if to lean close to the flame. "Does it hurt to do that?"
"Not really, I feel the heat of it but it doesn't burn me."
"Make something now. I want to see."
He couldn't help but smile at Jace's exuberance. Concentrating on the flame, he mentally pictured shaping it into a bird. Slowly the flames changed shape into a small bird. Once formed, he moved his hand up as if to throw the bird into the air. The fire surrounding his hand dissipated and the small flame-bird flapped its wings and flew in circles above their heads. The bird lasted a few minutes before it flickered and disappeared. He created another bird, larger this time and set it aflight. Spurred on by Jace's excitement, he began to make more and more creatures.
It was the dragon that got the attention of the others back in the campsite. He probably shouldn't have made such a large creature and he certainly shouldn't have sent it so high into the sky that it would be seen by the others. But as the dragon spun lazy circles in the sky, the sounds of shouts were heard coming from the camp followed by the sound of feet as someone came running towards them.
"Jace! Joey! There's a dragon in the sky!" Justin yelled as he ran towards them. Joey sent the dragon swooping down towards Justin's head. The younger man gave a squeak of surprise and dove for the ground. When he looked up again, the dragon was gone and Jace had his arms wrapped around Joey's shoulders. Both older men were chuckling, Justin scowled at them both as he got to his feet. "I came to warn you, but if you're going to sit and laugh at me, I'm going back. I hope the dragon comes back and eats you both."
"I probably shouldn't have done that," Joey said softly.
"Probably not, but it was good to see Justin cowering for a change. One so young, shouldn't be so certain that they are indestructible."
Joey nodded, "I think if Justin hadn't grown up as he did, he might have more fear in him. Or rather maybe he'd admit to having more fear. The way he dropped to the ground makes me believe that he knows he's not indestructible."
"You're probably right. Make something else for me? Something smaller this time, just for me. Let's not alarm the others again."
Joey was quiet for a few moments, then he once more extended his hand and waited as the flame reappeared. Slowly he began to shape the fire again until a small dragonette floated just above Joey's hand. With a wave of his hand, the flames encircling his hand disappeared, leaving only the dragonette. The creature hovered there for a few moments then stretched it wings and glided over to face Jace. It seemed as if the creature looked at him in the eyes for the space of a few heartbeats before it turned and flew off into the dark sky. It flapped it's wings a dozen times before the flames dissipated and it disappeared.
The two men sat in the darkness, staring out where the creature had been. In the dark, Jace reached out and took Joey's hand in his own. "Thank you for sharing that with me."
"We should get back to the camp and get some rest." Joey said, getting to his feet without releasing Jace's hand. With his free hand he picked up the empty plate.
They were half way to the camp when Jace spoke again, "Stay with me tonight?"
"Are you sure you want me to?" Joey asked with a smile on his face, even though he knew Jace could not see him in the dark.
"I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't sure."
"Well then, wild dragons couldn't keep me away."