(Hope you ain't getting tired of this story. I now know where it is going. With any luck, I'll be able to wrap it tonight. Keep your fingers crossed.)
Annabella followed the river's edge. She walked two kilometers before she veered off onto a path that led back to where she was staying. Within minutes she was back to the cabin that she shared with her father and two brothers. She was pleased to find the cabin empty. The men had not yet returned from their morning hunt. She busied herself chopping vegetables. She placed the cut veggies into water-filled kettle, swung the kettle over the fireplace, and lit a fire. She seasoned the stew with salt and basil. All the stew needed was the meat her father and brothers would bring home with them. She let the stew simmer and went outside to wait for her family's return.
Her brothers were carrying a deer; the deer's legs tied together over a pole and each brother had an end of the pole on their shoulders. Her father, smiling proudly, led the brothers back to their cabin. He was carrying several rabbits banded together and tossed over his back. He also toted the hunting party's bows and quivers. Annabella greeted them under the tree they used to hang and gut game.
Father slung the rabbits on to the table next to the tree. "These," he told Annabella, "are your brother's spoils." He then swept his arm towards the brothers hanging the deer. "That is my morning kill," he boasted. "Your siblings are no match for your father."
Annabella looking at the rabbits said, "My brothers killed three. Father, you have only one."
The brothers quickly joined in to tease their father. "That's right, father. We shot three times as many as you."
Their father joked back, "Well, if you feel that you are the better, then you survive on your kill and I will on mine. We'll see who suffers hunger pains first."
The family jests with each other as they gut and skin the animals. Annabella uses the rabbit meat to add to her stew. After an appropriate cook time, the family sits down for their mid-day meal. In the after dinner talk, Annabella tells her family about meeting the boy and the dragon. Her father takes a particular interest in the story about the death of the boy's family.
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The boy saddled up Ambernia. The saddle fit the dragon as a collar, it held tight above it's shoulders allowing room for it's back wings to spread out unhindered. Like a horse, the dragon could not be strangled, so there was no discomfort tightening a saddle around it's neck. The weight of the boy in the saddle was centered between the dragon's shoulder blades while the boy's legs wrapped the creature's throat. The horn of the saddle was what the boy held when flying. The dragon did not have reins. Instead, to turn the dragon right or left, the boy would apply pressure with his leg for the direction he wanted to go. To rise the boy would shift his weight backwards. To land he would give two quick kicks with his feet. Even with the commands, the boy would seldom use them. Ambernia would sense the way the boy wished to go, and would travel that way before the command was given.
The boy sat in the saddle. The dragon poised for take off waiting for the boy to decide upon a direction. All their gear and supplies loaded into the saddlebags. Ambernia knew the boy was thinking about the girl. Would he decide to seek her out? Or would they continue on their aimless quest? Finally the boy asked, "Ambernia, do you remember where you got the peaches?" Ambernia flew off towards where it had found the peach tree.
The peach tree grew at the west end of a small garden. At the east end of the garden stood a pear tree. The garden itself produced corn, radishes, carrots, turnips and onions. This garden belonged to Annabella's neighbor. In fact, the turnips, carrots and onions that she used to make stew had come from this garden. Her family exchanged meat for vegetables with the lady who tended this land.
Ambernia hovered next to the peach tree while the boy reached into its limbs to pluck the fruit. He stuffed one saddlebag to its limit with peaches. The boy loved peaches as much as Ambernia loved black olives.
"Let's head back to our old campsite," he instructed the dragon. Ambernia obeyed. It knew the boy was hoping to encounter the girl again. It was a rarity to keep the same campsite for two days in a row.
Back to the clearing, the boy removed the saddle and bags from his dragon. He ate a couple more peaches while Ambernia fed on raw turnips. To pass time, the boy took a couple rabbit pelts from the saddlebags and continued to sew them together to form a hat. The needle he used for sewing was made from animal bone and his thread was thin strips of leather. This would be the sixth hat he fashioned in the past two years. He enjoyed making them but despised wearing them. The finished product would be left behind when the two journeyed on. Unless the girl came back. The boy would be happy to present her the hat. He wondered if she would wear it. He hoped she returned so he could find out.
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Annabella's brothers were throwing knives at a tree stump to see who had the better accuracy. They always found ways to compete with each other. They were a year apart in age; one eighteen, the other nineteen. Annabella, who was fifteen, was frequently called on to judge. Which brother was stronger, which was faster, which was more agile, which could hold their breath the longest, which could climb higher, which was smarter, which had the harder muscles, which could eat more, which was more handsome, which is the best swimmer... Their individual competitions never tied, yet when looked at in totality, one did not outshine the other.
Throwing out the dish water from cleaning their plates from the evening meal——venison steaks——Annabella shouted over to her brothers, "Will you boys stop that and go and get more water from the stream?"
The brothers agreed, took four buckets and headed to the stream. As they went out of sight, her father approached her and said, "I'm not going with the boys tomorrow. They can hunt without me for a day."
"Oh," said Annabella with surprise, "do you have chores to keep you home?"
"You may have replaced your mother to the boys, but don't start thinking you replaced her to me."
"What do you mean?"
"Do I have chores?!!" he mocked. "You are still my daughter and I do not answer to you."
Annabella hurt by her father's stern retort said, "I'm sorry, father. I did not mean to talk down to you. I was only being curious as why you are staying home tomorrow."
Her father, although quick to anger, was quick to regain calm. "I am not staying home. I have business elsewhere. Annabella, you are my youngest, and female, but I find myself confiding in you rather than my sons. Perhaps that is wrong. Ever since your mother died, it feels like you are the one keeping our little family together. I have a mission tomorrow and I will be gone before you or your brothers waken. I do not wish to tell them tonight about my plans. When the sun rises, you can tell them I went on a task. Tell them I wish them to go on the hunt without me. I should be back by the following morning."
"And you won't tell me more?"
"I will, but not until I return."
"Okay, father, I will send my brothers out by themselves in the morning."
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The following day, the boy awoke to find Ambernia watching over him. This was how he greeted everyday since he first met the dragon. He said, "Good morning, Ambernia."
The boy went into the bushes to make his toilet. Returning to the camp, Ambernia held out the water canteen for him. He drank several gulps and then took a peach from the saddlebags to eat. He said to the dragon, "I hope we get some meat today. A boar would be tasty, but I would settle for pigeon." The boy sniffed his armpits and added, "I better bathe. Maybe I'll catch a fish while in the water. We haven't had fish in a long time."
The boy walked down the wooded slope to the stream. He removed his sandals and dove in the water. He tried washing his clothes while wearing them. Soon he was enjoying the water so much that he began to swim in circles. He dove to slap the rocky bottom. The stream was barely six feet deep at the center. He spotted a short overhang on the opposite side and swam to it. He climbed out of the water and onto the overhang. He cannonballed the four foot drop back into the stream. He liked it and did it several more times.
The boy spent an hour in the water before returning to his camping area. When he stepped back in the clearing, he found Ambernia riding Annabella on its shoulders without the saddle. Ambernia was staying low to the ground and Annabella was laughing, fully delighted with the ride. The dragon saw the boy and landed. Annabella hopped down and walked over to the boy.
"Good day, sir," she said. "Fine animal you have there."
The boy did not know how to react. He was glad to see the girl, but was also jealous that Ambernia gave her a ride without his permission. The thought entered his head like lightning: 'Is she trying to steal my dragon?' Ambernia, sensing the boys concern, shook his head, no, she would not replace the boy.
The boy smiled weakly and said, "Good day, Annabella. Yes, Ambernia is a fine dragon, one of the best." Behind the girl, Ambernia nodded his head in agreement.
(Looks like I did it again. I am stopping now. I will try to conclude again tomorrow. I hope someone besides me is enjoying this little yarn.)