Barak was distracted by his thoughts on how to keep Venator from killing Ladon the whole time they spent riding up the mountains to the dragon’s lair. Going over one idea, he supposed Ladon might be able to kill Venator himself; he didn’t know if he really believed Venator had killed seventeen dragons, no matter how many fore-scales were on his shield. But, then again, Barak didn’t want to have to resort to killing the dragon slayer. That would be complicated enough.
Fortunately, it was three days to the place where Ladon was hiding. On the third night, hopefully he could signal the dragon to discuss the situation. Until then, there wasn’t much he could do.
On all his other four trips, he had “fought” Ladon by himself, returning after a day or two with a faked fore-scale, self-inflicted wounds, and other false evidences of the confrontation. But that would be difficult to do now. Barak desperately thought of a way to resolve the situation, but the only solution that he could think of was to kill Venator.
When they arrived near Ladon’s cave on the third day, Barak cautioned against entering before morning, since a dragon would have an advantage in the dark. He was relieved when Venator agreed with him, and they camped in a secure cleft for the night. Finally, when the boy drifted to sleep, he departed to speak with the dragon.
“Ladon!” he hissed when he found Ladon trying to sleep in a corner of his new lair.
“What is it?” the dragon grumbled. “Why are you here? Aren’t we only supposed to meet tomorrow?”
“Yes, but there’s a hitch. There’s another dragon slayer with me. Claudius Phineas Venator. Have you heard of him?”
Now the dragon seemed much more attentive. “No, I haven’t heard of him. But this is not a good development.”
“What should we do?”
“I don’t know. We could try to fake my death – although that would be very difficult, particularly if this dragon slayer is any good. Alternatively, we could kill him. That would perhaps be the best idea. Dragon slayers die all the time on their quests.”
“Must we kill him, though?”
“I will if you won’t. I’d be better at it, anyway.”
“I suppose. So you want to do it tomorrow during our ‘fight’?”
“No, I want to do it now. Let’s go.”
The dragon stood up on its four reptilian legs and followed Barak out of the cave and to the cleft where Venator was sleeping. Barak ducking inside and checked the young dragon slayer’s blanket.
“He’s not there!” Barak announced, coming out to face Ladon.
“Well, where did he go? Is there any place he might have gone?”
Barak thought hard. “We passed a pond today on the way up. He might have gone back to bathe there.” Barak pointed in the direction of the pond.
“I’ll check it then. You stay here.” Ladon launched himself into the air, flying in the direction indicated by his accomplice.
Barak sighed, sitting down while he waited for the dragon to return. It was in this relatively unoccupied position that he suddenly felt a prick on his back. He swiveled around, only to find Venator himself standing behind him, shadowed in the dim moonlight, his young face rather unpleasant.
“That was an interesting conversation,” he said. “I didn’t know you were in the habit of consorting with traitorous dragons.”
Barak chose to ignore the antagonism. “Where have you been?”
“I was waiting for you to fall asleep so that I could go bathe, as you guessed. But then I heard you get up, and move toward the dragon’s lair. I was intrigued. I followed, and hid just as you two came out again, planning to kill me. You know, you really should choose some better company. It’ll come back to bite you one of these days. Don’t you know that dragon is Ladon, one of the traitorous Accursed?”
“Yes, I do know,” replied Barak, perplexedly. “But how would you know? Neither of us mentioned his name.”
“I recognized him. We’ve met before.”
“When all the Accursed met together to decide the new High King.”
Barak still had no idea what Venator was saying. He changed the subject to something he would be able to understand.
“You don’t need to kill him, though. You could join us. We’d still be paid.”
Venator laughed. “I’m not here for money. I’m here for the Accursed.”
Barak sighed, disappointed. “Well, it was worth a shot. Anyway, Ladon will be back soon, so you’d better scamper.”
There was the echo of the beat of large approaching wings as Venator replied. “I suppose so. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you later.”
With that, the pressure on Barak’s back was gone. He looked behind him, to find that Venator had disappeared. A moment later, he heard the sound of swift hooves vanishing into the night, and knew that the dragon slayer was gone. He turned back to where he expected Ladon to appear. Impatient, he climbed into the cleft, going to Venator’s things to see if he could find anything particularly useful or valuable.
He first came upon the dragon slayer’s shield, covered in seventeen fore-scales of varying color. In the center was a black scale in the shape of a crown. He tossed the shield out of the cleft and continued to search through Venator’s possessions.
Barak didn’t find anything additional until he opened the clothing bag. He took out a small jewelry box before digging deeper into the bag where, turning over a shirt, he found something that intrigued him: a dress. And then he found a few more. Why would dragon slayer Venator be carrying dresses?
However, before he could ponder on this any more, a loud thump outside alerted him to Ladon’s return. He climbed out of the cleft, carrying the jewelry box, to find Ladon eying the shield suspiciously.
“He wasn’t at the pond,” said the dragon.
“No, he was here,” Barak replied. “You just missed him. Also, he knows what we’re planning.”
“Then it is imperative that we catch him.” Ladon paused. “Have you seen the center fore-scale here?”
“The one like a crown?”
“It’s the High King’s. I’m sure of it.”
“Did you ever see the High King’s fore-scale?”
“No. But that doesn’t shake my certainty.”
“Well, I have some other concerns. I found dresses in Venator’s bag.”
Ladon took a moment to respond. “So?”
“You’re not surprised that a dragon slayer is carrying dresses?”
“I think this dragon slayer may be Cynthia Athano, the High King’s murderer.”
If Barak had been confused before, it was nothing to what he was feeling now. However, he mustered together his thoughts, and spoke on what he was sure about.
“Well, whoever this person is, we still need to find him.”
“Yes, as soon as possible.”
Barak frowned. ‘As soon as possible’ was a little too soon for his taste. With all that had been going on today, he was tired.
“Let’s start tomorrow morning. I’m exhausted, and so is Venator. He’ll probably lay low tonight anyway.”
“Fine,” agreed Ladon, turning back toward his cave. “But we leave at dawn.”
Final part to be posted on Friday. After that…the Twilight review!