--Chapter Fifteen: A Friend Returning
It started just like any other ordinary winter’s day. Isa’s woke up late and walked to the tavern to get some breakfast. Harro would have opened the place earlier in the morning. And while no customers were expected, as usual, at least one person had to tend the tavern at all times just in case a traveler came by.
When Isa walked in, her mother and father, along with Dauvit (the hotel manager), surrounded a man at one of the tables. He was wearing chain mail that Isa recognized as the type Incria’s soldiers wore. His face she did not recognize: ugly and scarred across the right cheek, but not mean. He spoke with a rasp in his throat, but he sounded merry.
“Oh, Isa! You’re here just in time,” said Harro. His broad face looked even more jovial than usual, and his hands beckoned her quickly to come hear the man speak. “This man brings news about the war!”
“What news?” asked Isa, skeptical.
“It’s over,” said the man. “Incria has won. Desdon’s generals surrendered yesterday. Now all lands east of the Yearling River are part of the Kingdom of Incria.”
“The Yearling River...” Isa repeated as she walked toward the gathering. “That’s still very far east of here, I think...”
“Yes. Incria cannot claim any lands west of that due to a pact with the elves. The heartlands remain neutral territory by treaty.”
Isa’s face showed her confusion. “So... if Incria is still east of here, and you’re an Incria soldier, then why are you this far west?” she asked.
“I went to war to help my family back home. But now that I’m done, I can get back to what I was doing before: searching the country for a place to settle down. My father has offered me the inheritance to his watchmaking shop, but my little brother loves that place so much more than I do, so I’m letting the family business pass to him.”
Ewen was impressed. “That means you’ve been traveling all over this land, haven’t you?”
“Before the war hit my town, yes. I did quite a bit of traveling indeed. I have even been to this village several times before, and I have eaten in this very tavern. I know because I recognize you.” He indicated Isa. “You probably don’t remember me... what with all the customers you must have every year—and it’s been so long, too.”
Isa shook her head. “Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know you off the top of my head.”
“That’s alright,” said the soldier. “To be expected, in fact. My name is Asmir of Peadston.”
Said Ewen, “Well, Asmir, you’re a nice young man, and I must say your news is very welcome in these parts. We’ll cook up a good meal for you; you must be so tired after being out on the road this long.”
Asmir laughed. “Believe me, ma’am: after the war, a few days on the road means nothing.”
The hotel manager, who had come for his breakfast and stayed out of curiosity, decided it was time to take his leave; several of the rooms would need to be tended and repaired in some places before the next busy seasons arrived. Harro and Ewen, meanwhile, left to start cooking. This left Isa alone with Asmir.
Asmir seemed nice enough and was more than willing to talk. Isa’s face, however, showed an emotion decidedly less cheerful than his.
“What’s the matter?” asked Asmir.
After a pause, during which Isa looked him over carefully, she said, “I do remember you... Or that is... I remember your name...”
“Yes... but the last time I saw you, you looked very different.” Forgetting her manners for a moment, she asked, “What happened to your face?”
“Oh.” Now Asmir lost his smile, and his voice cracked as he said, “War does this type of thing. It’s unfortunate, but I fared much better than some, I assure you. Suffice it to say, just because you win in the end does not mean every outcome was good along the way.”
Isa tried to look past the scar and hear past the broken voice. It was not easy, but when she paid close enough attention to the details, she realized that this man was in truth the very same man she had seen the previous summer. He was the man whose image lay ingrained on her mind for a long time after he left...
“Tell me,” Isa said. “How exactly did Incria win the whole war so quickly? This thing had been going on for generations...”
“Well, as I understand it, Desdon put a lot of stock into a scheme to take over the trade routes from the West and heartlands, but every time they sent troops, none came back. There were rumors but no confirmed reports that a dragon was blocking the way.”
Said Isa, “Uh... Well...”
“Let’s just say I can officially confirm those reports. But I’m pretty sure the dragon never hit a single person who did not attack him first, with the exception of one battle.”
“Really, now! Have you seen the dragon?”
“Talked with him, as a matter of fact. His name’s Crispo. Nice guy, generally good heart, but don’t get on his bad side or wield a big sword in front of him.”
“Makes sense,” said Asmir. “But how do you know for certain that he would only hit people who struck him first?”
“He promised me he wouldn’t kill any innocent people. I’m just taking him at his word and hoping he sticks to it. Unfortunately, I have no proof... I prefer to think positively.”
“Huh. But there’s still one thing I don’t get, if indeed the dragon is the explanation as to why Desdon lost: there must have been so many Desdon soldiers sent to face him... Yet I saw no remains or bodies along the road to get here. A lot of black ash, yes... But no bodies. What would a dragon need with so many people?”
Isa shrugged. “Got me there,” she said.
Meanwhile, in the southern mountains...
“I’m telling you, Crispo. You killed too many! There aren’t enough freezer reserves in all of Aren Country to take care of this! We’re already full up, and the mild winter isn’t helping to relieve us of the supply. What are we going to do with all these humans?”
Crispo considered this as he and the Chief of Agriculture (an orange female dragon) stood in front of a valley full of newly transported human carcasses.
“How about a party,” said Crispo. “Call every dragon in the land together for a celebration. It seems the only fitting thing to do, after all; the war is over, and once word spreads to Incria’s citizens that they won because of a dragon, we may never have to be attacked again!”
“Hm. Sounds good, actually. Been a while since we could celebrate something, right?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Wow,” the Chief said under her breath, almost not believing the situation. “A day when humans and dragons can actually coexist in peace... Do you really think it’ll happen?”
“I know it will! I’ve always, in the back of my heart, believed that if only we understood each other, we could get along. In my five thousand years of life, I’ve never given up that hope... that dream. Call me a bleeding heart or what you will, but I think that with a little healing, our two species will begin to realize that it is our similarities that bind us and our differences that, rather than divide us, make us stronger in the end. It is only a matter of time before we come to see each other not as rival species, but as coexisting entities on this planet. We will be united in our goal for peace, and we will take heart in mutual support—shared happiness in the good times and shared grief in the bad. Our bodies may be different, but when all is said and done, we will know that our souls are in fact made of the same spiritual fiber... That is my vision for the future...”
“Wow. Very touching, Crispo.”
“Now, let’s get arrangements made so that all these baked humans don’t go to waste.”
“Good call. I’ll go phone Ferdy. With any luck, we’ll be reheating these people for feast by nightfall!”