Skor waited in the dining hall with all the others, ignoring the perpetual parade of looks and whispers. He sat with the other dragoons, a blot amongst their brilliant rainbow of colors, but still one of them, discussing those things that only dragoons could discuss.
He ate and drank slowly, carefully, because it was always so hard to see through his dragon eyes—special dark glass secured in leather frames that buckled at the back of his head. Everything around him was shrouded in darkness, and it had been so long since he’d been without the dragon eyes by the light of day that he could not really remember what it was like without them.
The dragoon beside him, Mor, said something that made Skor and the others laugh, and someone clapped Skor roughly on the back before cheerfully stealing his wine. In retribution, Skor stole the man’s sweetmeats and made a crack about his mother.
Their ribaldry was interrupted by the call of the watchers, and all the hall went silent with the first rush of excitement—the dragons were finally returning. Winter was over, the cold was broken, and the dragons could finally return from the fiery mountains that kept them warm while the rest of the world froze.
Skor kept eating while everyone else rushed about, racing from the great hall and out to the ward. He stole back his wine and finished it, then ate a last sweetmeat. Wiping his mouth and hands off, he finally stood up and left the great hall to join the crowd arranged in a ring along the edge of the ward. The center of the ward was left clear for the dragons to land, and everyone cheered as the first appeared in the sky above and began to descend.
The first dragon to land was Mor’s dame, a beautiful lavender dragon with gleaming white horns. She growled playfully and preened for the crowd, and rumbled softly as Mor strode up and stroked her head and neck. Amidst a new wave of cheering, and the joyful cacophony of bells and trumpets, Mor mounted his dragon and flew off.
A few minutes later, the next dragon came down, a pale mint green that nipped at Clor as she approached him. So it went, over the next few hours, as dragon after dragon arrived to carry their dragoons away. Finally, the sun began to set, and the dragons ceased to arrived, and the people began to trickle back into the keep to enjoy a last bit of wine before walking or stumbling to bed.
They all glanced at him briefly as they passed, then their glances skittered away again, no one ever quite sure what to make of the man whose eyes were perpetually barred from the sun, who dressed all in black where the other dragoons wore such bright, festive colors.
Skor ignored them all, save for the man who stopped as he drew close. He was little more than a shadow behind Skor’s dragon eyes, but Skor knew his appearance by heart. His hair was red-gold, short and mussed from a hand ever running through it. His eyes the deepest blue, the color of a twilight sky, and his face would have been pretty save for the terrible scar that had ruined his right cheek several years ago.
It was the scar that Skor had always loved best, or perhaps it was simply that it was the day Captain Fane of the castle guard got the scar that Skor realized he loved him. “Captain,” he greeted levelly.
“Dragoon,” Fane greeted, voice just as idle. They had never spoken much, he and Fane, for the castle guard was kept busy on the ground, and the dragoons busy in the sky. Every now and then, however, there was a pause, and in those pauses Skor watched and wanted and wished.
Outside of his fellow dragoons, Fane was the only one who did not seem baffled or frightened by Skor’s strange appearance, the fact that his eyes would never again see the sun. But Fane was also predominantly of the day, and rumors buzzed that he was destined for the King’s youngest daughter, and Skor had nothing to offer him that could best sunshine and royalty.
“Was there something you needed?” Skor asked, honestly confused. There was no reason for Fane to stop to speak to him, and they generally only spoke as a matter of necessity.
Fane smiled, and more than a little of his lost beauty found a place in that smile, even in the fading light. “I wondered if you’d like some company, while you wait. The keep is quiet, and I’ve no designs upon more wine and drink.”
“As you like, then,” Skor replied congenially, fighting an urge to fuss with his dragon eyes. Most of the time he didn’t mind them, but sometimes it would be nice not to have half of his face covered in dark glass and leather.
He tried to think of something to say, but he was not used to idle conversation with any but the other dragoons. “How was the capital?” he asked at last, referring to Fane’s recent journey all the way to the royal palace—probably, everyone had said, to confirm his betrothal, though the wedding would obviously be a few years off, as the young princess was only fifteen.
“Tedious, as ever,” Fane said, mouth quirking in the flickering light of one torch. “I always miss the relative quiet here.” Skor snorted in amusement, to hear their battle-ridden lives described as quiet. Fane’s mouth curved. “I did say relative. I much prefer battles to ballrooms, whatever that says of me.”
“That you have sense?” Skor replied, and Fane laughed. Skor wished there was a tactful way to ask about engagements, but even if there was, he was not exactly possessed of tact.
He saw movement in the dark sky, a shadow that momentarily blotted out the stars. The shadow slowly descended, circling steadily toward the ward. There was a leathery flap of wings, the rush of displaced air, and amongst the friendly hails of the night guard, a dragon landed near soundlessly in the middle of the ward.
With a faint pulse of magic, Skor extinguished all the torches in the ward and the nearest surrounding on the inner curtain, leaving the bulk of the keep in absolute dark. He removed his dragon eyes and attached them to his belt.
In the dark, his eyes gleamed the same silver gold as the full moon hanging heavy in the sky above. The same color gleamed in the eyes of his dragon as Skor approached her. “Hello, beauty,” he said softly, rubbing Whisper’s cheeks, the tender skin around the base of her gleaming horns. Her scales gleamed like wet black pearls, and her breath was hot as she nuzzled against him, nearly knocking him over with her weight and force. “I missed you, as well,” Skor said with a soft laugh.
She made a soft crooning noise and flexed her wings, then folded them neatly on her back. He cocked his head, curious that she was settling rather than preparing for them to leave. The scuff of boots on stone drew his attention, and he turned. Where before Fane had been dark to him, a shadow, now he was clear as day.
Here, in the dark of night, Skor’s vision was perfect. All dragons bestowed their powers upon their dragoons, and Skor had been granted the rarest of all dragons, of all gifts—a Night Dragon, to whom night was day, and day was night. His magic allowed Skor to remove all light, to manipulate shadow, to thrive in the dark that made others cower.
“Beautiful,” Fane said as he drew close, and though the word must be for Whisper, he looked straight at Skor. “I have always been grateful that our last brood gifted us a Night Dragon.”
Skor laughed softly, rubbing his knuckles firmly between Whisper’s eyes. “We aim to be useful, Captain. I am glad we seem to be succeeding.”
Fane made a soft noise, and said, “It has little to do with your usefulness, Dragoon. I admit, though, that I have few ideas about the uses to which I could put you.”
Startled, Skor left off petting Whisper and looked at him. Deciding to meet bold with direct he said, “Won’t your princess and her father take issue with that?”
In the dark, Fane’s mouth twisted with a wrenching sadness. “If I told you a secret, would you keep it?”
“Yes,” Skor said, not dressing the word up with flowery phrasing and pretty vows. Words honestly meant were simply put, or so had always been his experience.
Fane nodded, but then motioned to Whisper. “May I?”
“Of course,” Skor said, and stepped slightly to the side, letting Fane draw closer to pet Whisper himself. She crooned at him, eyes hooding with pleasure at being fawned over by both of them.
“My princess, as you say, will not take issue. Neither will her father, for I am her father.”
Skor stared blankly for a minute, before the full weight of his words truly registered. He opened his mouth, and then closed it again, because there was no need to ask. The king was nearly seventy, and his queen only thirty-three. She was notorious for the lovers she took to her bed. Fifteen years ago, young and in no position to refuse a new and voracious queen… “I’m sorry,” he said softly, because he could not fathom what it must be like for Fane to be so far from his daughter’s life.
Fane just nodded, and seemed to relax a bit, and only then did Skor realize how much tension had been in the line of his shoulders. He stroked Whisper’s nose again, then said, “No one knows, save the king, queen, myself, and now you. I go home periodically to see her, but that is all. She is a princess, and while well-favored, I am just a Captain.”
The tension in Skor’s own shoulders bled out, and he smiled softly with the knowledge that maybe he had something to offer the Captain that outstripped sunshine and royalty after all. He reached out and placed a hand on Fane’s shoulder, pulled him gently closer, then slid his arm to wrap around Fane’s neck as he drew him down for a kiss.
One of Fane’s arms slid around his waist, each of them still with a hand on Whisper, who rumbled in a way that Skor knew to be approval. He smiled into the kiss, then took it deeper, breaking away only when he needed to breathe. “Would it be permissible for me to take you for a ride, Captain?”
Fane laughed against his lips. “As I said, the night is quiet; I think it permissible. But you had better follow up on the nuance to those words later, Dragoon. We have danced around one another long enough.
“Agreed,” Skor said, and licked Fane’s lips before adding, “I’m a dragoon; we always follow up on our nuances.” He pulled away as Fane laughed again, and swung up onto Whisper’s back, then extended a hand to help Fane swing up behind him.
He waited until Fane was settled, his arms firm around Skor’s waist, then whistled the command to rise to Whisper. Growling with eagerness, Whisper launched into the sky, carrying them off into the moonlight.