Learning to Fly (7 Hunters)
Ezra usually liked to sleep in whenever possible, but a command from the king was hardly something to ignore. Ezra had actually gone to the stables earlier than expected to look over the horses. He had been observing the others as they rode and was sure he had at least picked up enough skill not to embarrass himself too badly. Vin had also been giving him some pointers, although the horses were not as cooperative as they could’ve been. He had noticed that horses and other such mammals tended to be skittish around him. It was as if they could sense that he was not human—even when he was in human form. King Michael surely didn’t want to walk. Ezra had to find himself a mount that could tolerate a dragon.
“JD! What on earth are you doing out here at this time of the morning?”
“I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep. King Michael wants us to escort him for a morning ride! I just wanted to make sure I was ready. I came to take a look at the horses. Buck’s been giving me riding lessons on Flower, here.” He patted the brown horse next to him.
“Well, Buck says that’s because she’s so sweet and dainty—just the kind of horse for a new rider like me. He just made that up. She told me her real name was Blaze, but I could call her Flower if I wanted. Buck is so full of it sometimes.”
“He does have a way with a tale.”
“Are you here to look at the horses, too? Sometimes I come here just to look at them. Other times we get to talking. They like to talk and they know all the best stories. I worked mostly with the dragons back home, but sometimes I had stable duty if we were short-handed. I know lots about horses, but I never got to ride any. Only rich people and cavalry soldiers got to ride the horses.”
“I thought I might familiarize myself with what is available. Vin has begun teaching me, but we have been having trouble finding a suitable mount.” Just then Ezra felt something jerk his cloak. Ezra spun around to find a large black horse chewing on his clothing. “How rude! That is my cloak, sir, not your breakfast.”
The horse nickered at him in what sounded like laughter. He continued to chew on his cloak. Ezra pulled it free with a swift tug. Annoyed, the horse leaned forward and butted Ezra with his head. “You don’t know who you are dealing with, sir.” Strangely, the horse really didn’t seem to know. This rude horse was the first one to not look at him with wild eyes or skitter away from him in fear.
Laughter filled the stable. Ezra and JD turned to see King Michael standing in the doorway. “JD, Ezra, I’d like you to meet Jet Aurum. We just call him Jet. He’s arrogant, smart, annoying, and mischievous. He’s also hard-working, fast, loyal, and brave—not at all skittish. I think you’ll find him to your liking, Ezra.”
The King was smiling at him oddly. Did he know of Ezra’s problems finding a horse to ride? If was almost as if he had read the young dragon’s thoughts. If was not the first time Ezra wondered if the King had been granted strange abilities by the spirit of Itreya just as some of the Hunters had.
There were stable hands working all around them, but Ezra noticed that King Michael had not asked any of them to ready his horse for him. The King got all the necessary tack himself and saddled his own horse, a beautiful, graceful white. Something about the act put Ezra at ease. This was not a man of leisure or one who abused authority.
The King was also dressed in simple clothing—well-made and expertly tailored, of course, but nothing decadently extravagant. Ezra had always imagined kings draped in hand-embroidered silks of gold and silver with fine fur cloaks, trimmed in jewels. King Michael never wore such finery. For special functions he dressed more elegantly, but never showy. Ezra had found himself quite fond of fine human clothes. He didn’t really understand why, with all his riches, the King didn’t dress with more flare, but at least he was always sharply turned out.
Ezra suddenly noticed that the King and JD had already readied their horses. Michael was smiling at him again. “My pardon.”
“We’re in no hurry, Ezra. Take your time. I will warn you that Jet is a gentleman. If you treat him with courtesy, he will respond in kind. There was a brash, foolish young man here several years ago who thought horses were stupid animals that should be treated as such. He wasn’t as solicitous as he could have been with the way he saddled and rode the horses. Jet taught him quite quickly how to treat a horse with manners. In fact, I think I still have the scars from where he bit me in the rear.”
JD burst out laughing. Then quickly covered his mouth. He wasn’t sure if it was okay to laugh at a king.
Ezra looked appalled. “Jet wasn’t punished, was he?”
“Oh, no! Well, no one would ride him for a time. But he didn’t seem to mind all that much. Aunt Matilde said it was a good lesson to learn in how to treat those who are dependant on you. It was a lesson that could translate very well to ruling a kingdom. Treat the people you command with contempt and a heavy hand, and they just might turn around and bite you.”
Ezra looked at Jet with a wary eye. Jet stared back at him. “Is it safe to ride him?”
“As I said, he is loyal and true. You just have to earn it. And JD?”
“My little story was meant to be humorous. It’s really okay to laugh. I’m not going to have you thrown in the dungeon or beheaded.”
“Thank you, Majesty.”
“When it’s an informal setting, please call me Michael. I’m not a very formal person, JD. I try to avoid as many of the trappings of my status as possible.”
“Why? You’re the king! You can do anything you want. King Toman of Belen always wore the finest clothes, and rode in the showiest carriages, and ate the most wonderful food, and…”
Michael laughed. “I get the idea. It’s different here in Itreya. The royal families are charged with the care and protection of the land and people. The motto of the royal house is ‘From the People, to the People’. It’s a bit of advice, but it’s also a warning.
The spirit of Itreya chooses the ruler and she doesn’t have to pick from the royal families. She has more than once chosen a ruler from among the merchants and laborers. She can also un-choose a ruler. There was one in particular, King Gregory the Bold. That was seven generations back. He let the power go to his head—turned into a bit of a tyrant over the years. The land chose a new ruler to replace him. He, of course, wasn’t about to relinquish his crown in order to return ‘to the People’. He was emolliated in a blue flame after he tried to kill his replacement. The new ruler was quickly crowned the next morning.
It’s good to remember that the crown and all its trappings aren’t mine by right, but by privilege. I think it’s best to just avoid a lot of the temptation and not indulge in the luxuries too much. Most of the Itreyan rulers have been like that. My Great-Aunt Matilde, who ruled before me, even liked to do some of the castle shopping herself. She would go into the city dressed as an ordinary citizen. People often mistook her for a cook or a laundress. She would dress like that around the castle, too, unless she had an official function to attend. She drove her bodyguards crazy because she was always sneaking off to visit the museum, the library, or even the pubs.”
Ezra had managed to convince Jet that his intentions were good. The horse had allowed him to saddle and mount once Ezra had asked properly. The young dragon thought that perhaps the two of them would get along well, after all, since they both seemed to appreciate good manners. Even though he had been determined to get on Jet, he’d still listened intently to the King’s words. He was learning a great deal about Itreya and about its ruler. It dismayed Ezra to realize that he’d lived his entire life in Itreya and knew very little about it. He could see that JD was also rapt with attention. But then, the Belenite was interested in everything, soaking up every new experience like a sponge. He and JD had that in common.
“Are you ready, Ezra?”
“It’s Michael. Now you say it.”
“Very good. Perhaps someday you’ll be able to say it without wincing. I live in hope. Now, let’s be on our way.”Part 4