The Dark Times

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The Dark Times; Part 8

Boldly Aituár opened the creaking door of the inn and stepped inside. She had expected the place to be crowded, since it was almost lunch hour - but the place seemed completely deserted! Then she could feel a shiver down her spine, as if she had received a warning signal, head tingling.

She quietly stepped backwards toward the door, opened the door carefully, and then fled. Right next to the inn there were some bushes, and Aituár quickly dived under them and threw herself down on her stomach, not a moment to soon.

She could hear the door opening creakingly, and the sound of heavy breathing.

'What are you doing out there?' called a male voice from inside.

'I thought I heard something!' replied a dark voice from nearby.

'Well, check it out - we don't want any witnesses!' said the first voice.

Aituár tried to make herself very small, lying very still with her face down, hoping that her green and brown clothes would be camouflage enough. Heavy steps passed the bushes and continued towards the village centre - only to turn back. Suddenly something ran across her back and dashed out of the bushes, and Aituár bit her lip trying not to cry out loud in surprise.

'Ptui, ptui, ptui! Go away, black cat!' exclaimed the dark voice, so close to her that Aituár winced. She held her breath, hoping that the swaying branches would not reveal her, but it seemed the owner of the voice was busy elsewhere. She heard a loud and agitated 'Miaoooorrrr!' that seemed to indicate that the invisible man had tried to, and possibly succeeded in, kicking the cat.

The door of the inn creaked open, and the dark voice called 'It was nothing - just a cat!' and then the door slammed shut. Aituár decided to stay where she was, at least for now. From time to time she could hear, in the distance, from the village centre, angry shouting and the clanging of weapons.

Aituár eased one hand into the shoulder bag to make sure that the egg had not been damaged - it felt smooth and warm, and the mere touch felt soothing. She must have fallen asleep, because suddenly she was jerked wide awake by the sound of hoof beats approaching. Aituár peered out through the lowest branches, but did not see much as it was already beginning to grow dark.

The hoof beats stopped quite abruptly, close to where she was lying, and all of a sudden a black darkness seemed to ooze into her mind. Aituár tried to tell herself that she was only imagining it, but whatever it was, it was slowly spreading inside of her, making her feel cold, making her lose all hope, making her...

With a last effort, Aituár reached for the dragon's egg again, and a streak of light and warmth seemed to flow through her arm and into her mind - and then she lost consiousness.

When Aituár woke up, it was already pitch dark around her. Carefully she wriggled her way out of the bushes, trying to sense anything out of the ordinary, but there was no coldness, and no darkness of the mind - just the usual darkness of the night.

She stood hesitating for a moment, not sure if the soldiers were still around or not, when she heard a faint sound as from someone crying. Carefully she approached the source of the sound, moving quietly among the shadows.

Aituár turned around the corner of a house - and then she stopped, in surprise. It seemed that the man squatting in front of her was just as surprised, not to say terrified. He looked exhausted, and was clutching a little boy in his arms.

'Please don't give us away!' he whispered, agony written across his face.

Aituár was just about to give a soothing answer, when she felt a faint pecking on the inside of the egg - she still had one hand inside the bag.

'Oh no!' she thought, 'Not now! Not here!'

Who was the mysterious dark rider?
Who is the stranger carrying a child? Friend or foe?
... and is the egg really going to hatch - now?


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