Chapter 31

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Chapter Thirty-one

Jaxx paced restlessly in his room. His neck and shoulders were on fire from holding Ella in the same position for so long and he could barely keep his eyes open but he was too worried about Ella's condition to rest. He wondered how she was doing and prayed that the healers would be able to help her. He worried that he had pushed the dragons too hard by urging them to fly at top speed all the way back. The trip that had taken most of the day on the way out had only taken a couple of hours on the return.

He had seen to Ciarran's needs before he came to his room, giving her plenty of water to drink and fresh straw to sleep on. He checked her wings for any sign of damage and to his relief she appeared fine. Before he even finished his examination, she had fallen asleep in her nest, completely drained.

Jaxx dreaded facing Lord Drakkar. What would the lord do? Whatever it was, Jaxx deserved it. He should never have allowed Ella to come with him and when she did, he should have protected her better. It was his fault that she was hurt now.

Jaxx's heart started pounding several times when he thought he heard steps outside of his room, but each time it was a false alarm. He badly wanted to go to the infirmary and check on Ella, but the guard in the doorway would not allow him to leave. He wondered if this imprisonment was a sign of what was to come.

It was nearly dawn before Jaxx was summoned to the lord's working chambers. He waited in the hallway while the guard announced his arrival. The guard motioned for him to enter the room and he squared his shoulders and walked in.

Lord Drakkar was staring out of the window, his back to the room. Jaxx sank to his knees, head down, eyes cast to the ground. He knew he had no right to speak, but he could not stop himself. He had to know if Ella was alright.

"Please sir, how is she?" Jaxx asked, before taking off his shirt and leaning forward on the lord's desk in the punishment position. He hoped that the lord would choose to answer. He could take any punishment as long as he knew that Ella was going to be alright. Still in position, he looked up at Drakkar so he could see the man's face.

"Ella is in a magic-induced coma," Drakkar said. He turned from the window and his eyes widened when he saw Jaxx leaning shirtless against his desk..

"What are you doing, boy?"

"I am your servant to use at your will," Jaxx said.

Drakkar blinked. He walked around him, examining him closely and grunting when he saw the scars on Jaxx's back.

"You may rise," Drakkar said, his voice level. "Tell me what happened. Where did you go? And why?"

Jaxx stood and kept his eyes focused on the lord's chest. He did not want to stare the lord in the eye and make him think he was challenging him. "We found a lagoon on an island off of the eastern shore, my lord," Jaxx said. "I was picking fruit and Ella was swimming."

Lord Drakkar started. "I know that island. It is nearly a day's flight from here. What were you two doing flying so far away?"

Jaxx remained silent.

"Explain," Drakkar said. "We have no time for games."

Jaxx hesitated, knowing his answer would sound ungrateful and anger the lord.

Drakkar made an impatient sound. "Answer me, boy, and look me in the eyes when you do it."

Jaxx raised his eyes to meet Lord Drakkar's and felt his cheeks burn with heat. "I was looking for a place to live with Ciarran."

A muscle twitched in Drakkar's cheek. "Why?" he asked through clenched teeth. "I have extended you my hospitality, offered you a home, as well as food, clothing, and education. And this is how you thank me? By running away with my niece?"

"Sir," Jaxx said in a rush, "I couldn't let you...let anyone...take Ciarran away from me. I thought if I left... I told her not to come... And now she's hurt and it's all my fault. I'm sorry, my lord, I'm so very sorry."

Drakkar glowered at him. "Why did you think I would take Ciarran away from you?"

Jaxx looked down at the floor, "Because I am a failure, sir." He choked on his words. "I tried. I really tried, but I have no skills and no magic. I know I am not worthy to be a Dragon Rider." He blinked away the hot tears that threatened to spill from his eyes.

Drakkar looked at him coldly. "I see," he said, "so you decided to steal the dragon before she could be taken from you?"

Jaxx flinched. He had hoped that Lord Drakkar would not see his actions as a crime. It could not really be stealing, could it? Ciarran was his dragon and he belonged to her. He loved her and he knew that she loved him. They had come to this place together. He felt a flash of anger. How could he steal her when they belonged together?

"None of us are truly worthy to be a Dragon Rider," Drakkar said. "We are chosen, whether by the dragons or by the gods, no one knows. Once that bond is made, only death can break it."

Jaxx snapped his head towards Drakkar, his chest pounding in terror.

Drakkar growled. "No, we do not kill children to separate them from their dragons. Do we look like barbarians to you?"

Jaxx shook his head, embarrassed. "No sir. I would never think that, sir."

"Now that I know why you ran away, explain why you decided to take my niece with you."

"She didn't give me a choice," Jaxx said, his voice miserable. "She made me take her."

Drakkar's mouth twitched. "Please continue. You found this island and then you were attacked?"

Jaxx nodded.

"What attacked you?"

"I don't know, sir. I've never seen anything like them. They were part bird, part human and part serpent. They grabbed Ella when she went into the cave to explore."

The lord frowned thoughtfully and pulled a book off of one of his shelves. He paged through several chapters before turning the book toward Jaxx to show him a drawing. "Is this what they looked like?"

"Yes, my lord, they looked exactly like that."

"Those were water harpies. Their magic works like poison, trapping their victims and killing them slowly."

Jaxx shuddered.

"Harpy magic would explain the marks on Nala, but how did you escape? Water harpies are not known for giving up on their prey easily." Drakkar eyes widened. "Where are these creatures now? Did they follow you? The rest of the keep could be in danger if the harpies decide to stay and make a nest nearby."

Jaxx shook his head. "No, sir. They are all dead."

Drakkar stared. "Tell me exactly what happened, from the beginning."

Obediently, Jaxx told the story. He could feel his rage building again as he recalled Ciarran's pain and fear. On the other side of the keep, in her nest, Ciarran woke up and screamed, sensing Jaxx's distress. Drakkar's Gareth bellowed a warning in reply.

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