what's real is this

by Chris J

Request: Brian/Nick - something with dragons

"My brother swears he saw it," said Nick breathlessly as they climbed the last peak and stood overlooking the pass. "He'd not lie about it."

"The same brother who once convinced the village elders there was a firebird nesting in the woods?" said Brian. "That brother?"

"That's different," said Nick. "Everyone knows firebirds aren't real."

"I've not known a soul who's ever seen a dragon, neither."

"I've not seen the land across the sea, but I believe folk when they tell me it's there," countered Nick. "There are histories of dragons, you know. I've read them to the littles at home."

"We've been traveling two days now and we've seen no sign of it." Though Brian wasn't sure they'd even know a sign of it when they saw one, seeing as how he'd never known anyone to have seen one before. Something charred, perhaps?

"Through this pass, there's a cave," said Nick. "You know the one, we've seen it when returning form the faire, with my da and your cuz. You can just see it from here." He pointed, full-armed, into the distance.

It was a wide crack of darkness on the mountainside, that was all Brian could tell. "And we'll see the dragon there, you say?" They came through this pass once every year at least, and had never seen anything amiss 'round the cave.

"He's made his home in there," insisted Nick. "My brother told me."

Nick's younger brother had also once put the village on pirate alert for days, because he was convinced that ol' Handless Sven had come back from the grave and was sailing the seas again. Brian would take his tales for precisely what they were worth. But Nick was so excited about the idea of a dragon, and Brian couldn't bear to let him down, even if it meant a week-long journey to the east.

"So what do you intend to do, then, if we find one?"

"Fight him," said Nick, swinging his hiking stick in the air. "And everyone will know how brave and strong I am." Brian watched him silently. "Or maybe just go back home and tell them it's there, for certain."

"Well, either way, it won't be tonight," said Brian. "Dark is falling, and that ledge below looks a good place to set up camp."

Nick didn't argue the point; even he wasn't foolhardy enough to go charging into a dragon's lair at a time it was rumored to be most active. He wasn't really foolhardy at all, but once he got a notion in his head... well, there wasn't much to be done about it.

Brian continued watching the cave as they picked their way down to the ledge, and almost stumbled when he saw a puff of smoke leak out of it and drift up into the air.

"Did you see that?" said Nick. Brian knew that voice, and it wasn't excited, it was afraid. "Did you... that was smoke. There's really..."

...a dragon in there, Brian finished in his head, though smoke wasn't proof. It could have been a campfire, it could have been dust from a rockslide, it could have been a lot of things. But it wasn't, and they both knew it.

"We should go..." Nick looked back the way they came, but darkness was falling fast, and they would not make it far if they tried. "We know now. We should return to tell the others."

"At dawn," said Brian, turning him back around and leading him the rest of the way to the ledge. "We'll sleep here, and at dawn we'll find our way back. Let the village elders decide how to pursue this."

"I didn't think--" began Nick, then shook his head. "You must think me a coward now."

"I think no such thing," said Brian, settling them down under a tree that clung fast to the side of the mountain. "You're the only man who braved this journey to begin with. The others did not come."

"They didn't, did they?" said Nick, agreeably, clinging to that. "Just me. And you."

In the morning they would start their return and Nick would see that Brian was right. Nick was young, but brave and not stupid. He would become a great man some day, and Brian wanted to be there with him to see it.

Nick molded himself to Brian's side and stayed there, clearing intending to spend his night just like that, and Brian wouldn't have it any other way.

For LJ Ficlet Request Meme, for . January 27, 2004

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