A man stood by the cliff edge. From his view-point he could hear the surf breaking on the rocky shore hundreds of feet below and the wind whistling through the branches of the tree that he stood beneath.
White and grey albatross floated on the air currents both below and above him, their sad aching cries echoed up and down the shore on the breeze. The sky was a brilliant clear azure and except for a few stray wispy clouds there was nothing in the sky but air and sea birds. There was a chill bite in the air, but it was not so cold that he wore a cloak. The wind toyed with his long black hair, whipping it across his forehead and lashing the ends into his pale blue eyes.
Those same eyes scanned the horizon where the restless ocean met the unchanging sky patiently waiting. His hands, encased in leather gloves, gripped and twisted the worn straps of a burlap bag that rested at his feet.
Fernando thought to himself, here he was the picture of patience and they were late. Very late.
For a while he stood there gazing across the ocean, until frustrated he tossed his bag against the side of the tree.
Even if they were late and he was to be kept waiting, he would not wait breathlessly in anticipation like a lovelorn maiden for her noble white knight, Fernando swore to himself. Not for hours after the flight time anyway.
Seating himself next to his bag, he pulled an embroidery needle from the pocket of his leather jacket. Along with the needle came a length of bright red thread; thick, durable, and as smooth as a lady’s skin.
Fernando smiled as the thread glowed in the afternoon sun. The thread was only made in this remote area and was the sole purpose for his travels here. Thankfully the natives did not see silk thread as anything more than a strong fiber. A spool of silk thread at home would have cost a month’s wage of singing. His smile grew satisfied, the trip was well worth the inconvenience.
A flash of light in his peripheral vision had Fernando searching the sky, but it was only the white albatrosses. The sky was still empty. Where were they? He thought. He was tired, he was sore, he hadn’t slept in a proper bed for weeks.
The natives were social, friendly and welcoming, every one of them. However, they lived humble lives and their belief of appreciating the forests around them meant that their homes were in the trees. Fernando was tired of tree houses. He wanted to rest in a house made of dead wood, that in turn was rooted in stone, and had functioning plumbing.
He sighed. Still, the reason why the prices of silk was so low was exactly because the Senoi were so humble. If they were merchants the prices would have been atrocious.
Especially for this beauty, Fernando smirked as he reached once more into his jacket and reverently shook out a shiny, gleaming expanse of ebony cloth. Even for the Senoi this fabric was precious. He had had to trade a few pieces of his finer embroidery for the few yards that he held in his hands. The fabric would not snag, it would not dull and most importantly it would survive exposure to sea water. When he was through working with the cloth, it would cost a fortune at home on the island. He was considered an artiste in embroidery after all.
Biting his tongue, he began to outline a wing and, stitch by stitch, the phoenix took shape. Fernando’s world shrank to his needle, the cloth and the tiny stitches. Before long he had traded the red for a deeper colour, a rich burgundy wine, and had begun to fill in parts of the bird.
“Yet another one?”
He started, but took the time to carefully knot and cut the thread before stowing away the needle. Composing his features into studied aloofness, Fernando looked up at the woman who had spoken.
The woman, dressed in red leather, leaned against the tree. Her bronze fox mask hid her expression, but her voice had been amused and patronizing.
His wait was finally over. His ride had come at last.
Fernando shook his head at her as he rose to his feet, “Hello Morgan. You know this,” he held up the silk, “is the reason why I am here. What did you expect?”
Morgan simply shrugged one shoulder; an indifferent reply.
Looking at the embroidery in his hands, Fernando shifted his fingers so that the silks rippled and gleamed in the sun. “Yet another one?” he repeated. With a smirk he turned his head to regard the woman.
“This will have eternal beauty to my eyes,” he declared, displaying the shimmering cloth to her. His eyebrow quirked at the fox mask, his grin turning playful. “You, however, are too travel worn and rough for my tastes.”
The woman took a step around the tree towards him, pushing up her mask revealing a face of one twice his age. Her emerald eyes were laughing. Morgan flashed her teeth and took another step to brush up against him; at a hand span taller than he, this suddenly placed her feminine attributes just under his nose.
Fernando’s quick-witted mind stuttered to a stop, then after a second began to whirl. He may have said she was not to his tastes, but that did not mean he could ignore her. Even less so when Morgan was so close he could smell the leather from her vest. Maybe he should revise his thoughts of entertaining an older woman. As much as they bantered back and forth, he really did like Morgan. She was more like an older cousin than a lover though. And she had never done this before. In fact, she was more likely to knock him flat for inferring she was “travel-worn” than challenging his perspective on women. Oh the possibilities were endless!
Taking the black cloth from Fernando’s suddenly lax hand Morgan looked down at the distracted young man. She laughed inwardly at the sight. Fernando, despite his words, was clearly and completely focused on her chest.
The Senoi, she knew, were happy to greet guests and wayward travelers, but they were very strict on a certain rule. Pre-marital sex. In the small villages that Fernando’s travels took to find these textile treasures, everyone would know everything that he did. Fernando would have had to be celibate while visiting the Senoi or risk being banned from ever seeing his coveted silks ever again. And he had been among them for a month of treasure hunting.
Fernando’s eyes were not moving. However, his expression was turning contemplative and contrary to her actions, Morgan did not want to entertain that notion.
She was amazed her forward motions were so effective. She would have to thank Kenton for the suggestion. He had asked her to stop answering insults with violence when it came to Fernando and turn the tables on him in a different way. Knowing Kenton, he would have expected this exact reaction from Fernando. Morgan only wished Kenton had suggested this earlier. Unfortunately for Fernando, she was not interested in the young bard.
“That’s too bad,” she whispered to him. Fernando’s eyes had been unfocused due to his inner thoughts, and when Morgan spoke, they refocused on her lips.
With another internal laugh, and an apology to Kenton that the opportunity was too good to pass up, Morgan placed a hand in the middle of Fernando’s chest and pushed.
The young man, with a single blink and a gasp, stumbled back and vanished over the cliffs’ edge.
Having dispensed with Fernando, Morgan eyed the cloth speculatively for a moment. It was a pretty piece, she allowed. Not likely his best, but would still fetch a very good price at the market.
Chuckling to herself, she tucked it safely into her own vest pocket. Stooping to gather up the bag, she hollered at the emptiness beyond the edge, “Kenton! Have you caught him yet?”
A smug snort echoed faintly up the cliff.
Curious, she peered over the edge and looked down. “Kenton!” Morgan exclaimed, dropping the bag and collapsing to the grass.
Her strident laughter rang through the sea air.
Sitting below on the shore was a huge bronze creature out of the mists of fantasy, and in one enormous claw was the left foot of the very irritated, very wet, young man.
The dragon had paused from his sport to turn his head up to the woman above, “I’ve caught him. Should I throw him back?”
The dragon’s bass voice reverberated up the sandstone cliff. All Morgan could do in reply was to laugh harder as the implied image of Fernando being flung upwards came to mind. The dragon simply shrugged an immense shoulder in imitation of Morgan and recommenced dunking the struggling man into the ice-cold water.
“Kenton! Stop this moment! Desist!” The man managed to sputter out between coughs and gasps. “You scaly over-grown newt!”
“Now Fernando, that’s no way to speak to a dragon of my size. Nor should you insult my partner as you did.” The dragon admonished the man. “Besides I have a reason for this,” the dragon paused again to mock sniff Fernando. “You don’t smell very good.”
“Morgan! Call off your dragon! He’s drowning me!” The unfortunate man wailed as the dragon cheerfully lowered his prize to the waves.
Kenton winced and shook his head. The man’s voice had cracked mid-phrase and had hit a sensitive nerve in the dragon’s hearing. He nonchalantly raised the man up to eye level, about twenty feet up from the water. This was a bard? Fernando had stopped shouting and was now hugging himself for warmth. His face was beet red and his ears were as blue as his eyes.
An interesting combination, Kenton thought to himself. He couldn’t blame the man. Spending a month in the forest, thrown over a cliff, caught five feet from the rocky shore and then dunked for a good ten measures could not be beneficial to his health.
And, as Fernando’s retrieval unit, they had arrived late as well. With that thought the dragon heaved a regretful sigh. He took great entertainment in seeing the usually articulate Fernando sputter like an outraged hen, but he could not continue with good conscience. In sighing, Kenton’s breath dried the bard’s clothes and warmed him.
“Happy now?” The bronze creature rumbled at the pathetic figure dangling from his talons.
“Yes. Wonderful. How am I going to get the salt out of this? Do you realize how expensive these clothes are? Do you even understand how ruined they are now?” Ungrateful, the bard glared at the dragon, clearly still outraged. The image, however, failed as Fernando was still upside down.
“Especially after it’s been dried by that fetid breath of yours.” The bard continued, “Kenton, what have you been eating?”
The dragon snorted, amazed at the audacity of the young man. “Well if that’s what is bothering you so much … I supposed I could rectify that.”
Fernando’s eyes widened and his mouth gaped open, “No magic!”
“Oh no, no magic,” Kenton agreed amiably. “There is a pure, simple, and obvious, solution to your problem.”
Fernando’s eyes went even wider and his mouth worked to speak out, but only a frantic gurgle escaped.
A low thunder of sound emitted from the dragon’s chest. Kenton was chuckling. The beast eyed the bard once more, tightening his grip. Kenton did not want to drop Fernando unintentionally. There were better things to do than continually dip the bard into the water by the rocks. There was a much better option available.
The dragon crouched and launched his muscled frame up into the air. With ease, the bronze caught a warm draft and spiraled up and out to hang above the dark water further from the shore. Oh a much better option.
Morgan had just been able to stifle her mirth to a few hiccups when she felt the wind current change. She rose to her elbows just in time to see her mount drop the screeching bard back into the briny sea.
The rider blinked and grinned. She wondered how good Kenton was at ocean fishing.