A Tall Cliff & A Long Fall
Aleyne was determined to find out information about the leaders of the bandits, even if it meant hunting where it would be the most dangerous. Tonight she had taken the trouble into her own hands. As she left the city, darkness descended and covered her travel. She worked her way up to the forest and blended into the trees. She had been restless and the problem of the bandits had been keeping her awake too often so tonight she had decided to do something about it on her own. She slipped through the woods, like a shadow quivering against the tree trunks, and by midnight was along the southern edge of the forest. As she followed close to the cliff that marked the border between trees and badlands, she heard the muffled sound of two men talking. Leaving her horse she silently pulled out her bow as she moved close enough to listen. After a while one of the men turned to leave. Aleyne stood and backed to give some room. Along the edge of the cliff she kicked some loose rock and it crumbled off, rattling down the drop-off. Instantly both men were on their feet. She stood to fire but was too close to the edge and lost her balance stumbling just as one of the bandits let fly his arrow, sinking it into her shoulder. Down she went, trying to find something to grab and knocking large rocks loose. They went clattering down the face until they struck the floor below. Finally she was able to grab a rock on the face with her right hand, breaking her fall. Her left arm and feet were dangling. She then realized that she was still holding her bow in her left hand. She secured it by pulling it over her head then she tried to find something to grab with her left hand. Above, she could hear the bandits talking.
“I guess that is the end of that pest.”
“I will let Ross know. Maybe we will get the bounty.”
It sounded like they left. Someone named ‘Ross’, she thought, I wonder if that will be useful, if I ever get off of this cliff. The moon was out. In the moonlight she looked right and left trying to find a place to climb up. Her arms were beginning to shake with fatigue. Then she saw a ledge she could climb to. Curling up on the ledge. She rubbed her arms. Then she probed the arrow wound with her fingers. The arrow had broken off in her fall. Morning finally came after a fitful night as she tried to catch some sleep and stay on the ledge. Aleyne searched the cliff face for a place to climb to that might help her get up. She did not notice a bronze dragon on a cliff above her. Looking below she saw a drop of several hundred feet. The elevation paralyzed her. I hate heights. She closed her eyes tightly. Taking a breath she opened them again and went back to searching the face. Finally she saw another ledge further along and she decided to try to get there and hope that she could find a way up from it. Slowly she worked her way over, often hand over hand when there were no footholds. A couple times she knocked loose large rocks, causing her to hug the face and pray. Half way there her left shoulder started trembling and the blood was beginning to flow. She was now going one rock at a time, resting her shoulder after each. Finally, she got to the ledge and her heart dropped. There was no route up to be seen. The only place she saw to go was down. She had no idea how far down was to get to the bottom and what was there when she got there. But that was her only choice. Slumping against the rock wall she rubbed her bleeding arm, her eyes closed as she prepared for what was next. In her mind she heard an unfamiliar voice.
“Hello, little one.”
Eyes flying open she stared at the open air ahead of her. Then she realized it was a dragon who spoke. “Hello?”
“I have been watching you. Your will is strong.”
“I have reason to be strong willed.”
“That is obvious.”
“Is there something you need?” Her thoughts were abrupt. She had reached the end of her patience, even with a dragon.
The dragon was amused, “You are the one on a cliff with no place to go and you ask if you can help me?”
“I can always do something, even if I was on my final journey.”
“Your final journey? Are you an elf?”
“I am half-elf. I was born in Aerandora.” She wondered why the dragon asked.
“Why are you here?”
“Because I was hunting to see if I could get some information about the bandits and I fell off the cliff.”
Now the dragon was more curious, “How can you hunt?”
“I am a scout. I have been one my whole life. Hunting is all I know to do.” The pain and hopelessness made her reply sound short.
Abruptly the dragon asked, “Who is your father?”
Aleyne was completely surprised by the question but spoke her father’s name, “Aettan Dianarran Agrurova.”
The dragon cried and made a noise like a sob.
Aleyne suddenly understood, he was her fathers’s friend when Aettan died. “You are my father’s name-bound. I share your sorrow.” There was a long silence and she thought maybe the dragon had left.
The dragon finally spoke, “I will take you where you need to be.”
“Thank you.” He flew down for Aleyne to jump upon his back. He was the biggest dragon she had ever seen, a beautiful bronze dragon with markings like a wild animal. She leapt, closing her eyes in terror, opening them again when she felt herself secure ahead of the dragon’s wings.
“Where are we going?”
“Please, to the palace.”