Shifting Allegiances

Posted on July 13, 2010


This story is Part 9 of the Fire and Water series. It follows Telling Tales. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

* * *

Zaghran sat by the cave’s entrance looking at his three young pursuers, while Aurmid guarded him just outside, her hot breath coursing over his shoulder. They were little more than children, these three, thrust into matters that should not concern them. They gazed back at him, wary and curious at once.

“We’re waiting,” Findol said. “We agreed to listen to your story, so tell us.”

Zaghran sighed and looked into the fire. There was not enough time to tell them the entire history of their world, or the forces that shaped each of them through the slow progression of ages and finally brought them here to this fire. What explanation could he give to satisfy them and gain their trust? But he must begin somewhere.

“Have any of you ever heard the name Sulinor?” He saw Varala thinking through her people’s stories.

“Only one tale mentions that name, the tale of the Mother in the Time Before.” She looked up at Zaghran. “It’s another name for the One who is Everything.”

He smiled at her and nodded. Perhaps shreds of the truth did survive in places.

“Sulinor was… she is my wife. She has been imprisoned for many ages, just as I was. I could not prevent it. Now that I’m free, I will release her, too.”

He watched this information settle in their eyes, contrasting with what they thought they knew.

“And you expect us to simply let you do this?” Findol said. Zaghran chuckled. Coanh leaned forward, resting elbows on knees.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” he said. “Tell us why the Old Ones bound you in the first place.”

Zaghran stood up and stretched his cramped legs. Aurmid growled.

“That’s quite a long story. The shortest answer is that Sulinor and I were a threat to them. They bound us so that they could claim this world as their own.”

Findol got to his feet, too, frowning.

“But you’re one of them,” he said. “You’re an Old One who went against their laws, aren’t you? Isn’t that why they bound you?”

“Is that the story they left you? How clever of them. No, Sulinor and I are not Old Ones. We have belonged to this world since it was made.” He walked out into the cold air, and Aurmid bristled even as she let him pass. The three followed him.

“That’s why my kind calls you the Great Father,” Varala said. “You were here before them, and have always been part of us.” He turned to look at her.

“I never liked that name,” he said. “I don’t wish to be revered. I only want to free Sulinor so that we can live as we did before the Old Ones came. That is what each of you should want, too.”

“What would you have us do, then?” Findol said.

“I’m asking you to let me go to her. Give up this fool’s errand. Forget you ever saw me. I have little enough time to get to her without also trying to throw you off my trail constantly.”

Aurmid moved so that she was between Zaghran and the only path through the rocks. She looked at Findol over his head.

“He is lying,” she said. “We shall not break our oath to return him to the Queen. He only tells you this tale to gain your trust, Findol Grey. You must be clear now. I will not simply let him go. There will be no more discussion.”

Zaghran spun to face her. As he turned, his form dissolved into mist. When it cleared a moment later, another dragon stood in his place, glinting silver in the moonlight. Aurmid raised her head and roared, shaking the mountains. He unfurled his wings and tossed his head in reply. Suddenly Varala was at his side, once more a great red cat, snarling up at Aurmid.

“You will not contain me,” Zaghran growled. “I do not wish to battle you, daughter of Griel. I have no quarrel with you or your kind.”

“But if it comes to battle, he won’t stand alone,” Varala hissed. “I need only call and all my kin will defend him.”

Findol rushed between them, ignoring Coanh’s shout of protest.

“Stop this, all of you! Hold your tempers. We’ll have no bloodshed tonight. And we haven’t finished talking yet.”

“We will not let him go, Findol Grey,” Aurmid said. “I forbid it.”

Zaghran resumed his human form with a swirl of white mist. Varala stood beside him, hackles raised and tail puffed to thrice its size, a low growl vibrating in her throat. Findol faced Zaghran.

“I agree, we can’t simply let you go, though I’m at a loss to know how to prevent you,” he said. “Why, after all this time, must you free Sulinor now? What happens if you don’t?” Zaghran suddenly looked weary.

“Then we—all of us—will lose this world forever,” he said. “I am going to Sulinor whether you permit me or not. You’d be wise to go home to your families and be done with this.”

Findol glanced up at Aurmid, and exchanged a look with Coanh that said: We can’t stop now. After this, Varala would never desert Zaghran. Findol turned his eyes to the shapeshifter again.

“We can’t just go home,” he said. “We can’t break our oath. So we’ll follow you if you leave, since we can’t stop you without bloodshed. And if what you’ve told us proves to be a lie—”

“I will end you myself,” Aurmid finished. Zaghran grinned, his eyes on Findol, who held his gaze without flinching.

“It’s settled, then,” Findol said. “We’re coming with you, and you’ll have plenty of time to finish your story.”

Zaghran went back into the cave, laughing, Varala at his heels.

“You may prove to be of use yet, Findol Grey.”

Findol and Coanh rolled their eyes and followed. Aurmid snorted her displeasure and crouched in front of the cave to guard them.