Free Story – Wanted

This was written for a prompt for Lex Chase‘s Flash Fiction Friday series but I’ve adapted it so it works within the Dragons of Astria series.

Prompt:
While in the post office buying stamps, a man sees a picture of his husband on a Most Wanted poster.

^+^

Denys held the arrow in his hand, testing the balance of it. “This will do nicely,” he told the arrowsmith. “I’ll pick up the rest of my order tomorrow.”

Although he now had other ways in which to protect himself and Aric, Denys still found himself falling back on his archery. With a price on his dragon’s head, the last thing they wanted was confirmation there was one. The stories had grown since their narrow escape at Woodleigh, and people grew nervous. After all, dragons were supposed to be extinct and it was the first sighting in many years.

“I look forward to it. Of course.” The arrowsmith seemed pleased with the arrangement they’d made. “My wife will be grateful for the herbs you promised in exchange for them.”

“I will enclose directions as to the use of them,” Denys told him. Although the arrowsmith’s wife had some experience, Denys preferred to ensure they were used properly, especially as most also had the potential to cause harm if not used correctly.

He felt his husband’s presence brush against his mind, and smiled. The longer they’d been together and the more Denys embraced the dragon within himself, the stronger their connection became. It comforted him knowing he’d have a sense of whether Aric was in danger even when they were apart.

Aric, on the other hand, was concerned that Denys was not embracing his dragon as much as he should. He still fought the physical change, despite being warned that he needed to change at least once between new moons or he would be left with no choice. The longer between transformations, the harder it was to remain human after he and Aric made love too. The passion between them created heat in more than one way. They’d fled several villages because of it, and both men were tired, especially as they had no choice but to make their way on foot. Horses and dragons did not get along.

One of the king’s men strode into the smithy. He approached the arrowsmith, glanced at Denys, then dismissed him.

“This poster needs to up in here,” the soldier said. “I have already placed one outside.” He didn’t wait for the arrowsmith to answer. “Have you seen this man?”

The arrowsmith looked at the poster, then shook his head. “What’s he wanted for?”

“That is the king’s business, not yours. If you see him you will report it at once. Understand?”

“Of course. It’s a decent reward. Whatever he’s done to deserve it, I’m surprised the king wants him unharmed.”

“Are you questioning your king?” asked the soldier.

“No! Of course not.” The arrowsmith backed away quickly although the soldier hadn’t drawn his weapon. “And if I see him, I’ll be certain to let you know.”

“Good.” The soldier nailed the poster to the wall.

Denys edged forward, curious, but was unable to see the poster with the soldier still in front of it.

“Do you know this man?” asked the soldier, turning quickly as though sensing someone behind him.

“No—” Denys started to say, although he hadn’t got a good look. He glanced at it. Then froze.

A drawn likeness of Aric stared back at him.

That couldn’t be right. Surely the king wouldn’t put a price on the head of his son? There was no name on the poster, no hint of Aric’s true identity as Brandric, crown prince of Astria. Not many knew his likeness as their father had not allowed either Aric or his sister to venture far from their home. Since the queen’s passing, he’d become obsessed about keeping his children safe.

It did explain why the reward would only be paid if Aric was delivered unharmed. The king might be desperate for his son’s return, but he wouldn’t risk his wellbeing.

“Are you sure about that?” The soldier eyed Denys suspiciously. “I think your reaction suggests you have.”

“I haven’t seen him,” Denys said calmly. He felt familiar heat start to build inside. His vision whitened. He swayed on his feet.

Please no. Not now.

He shoved the dragon down. He had to get to Aric, to warn him before he was seen.

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you.” Denys took a couple of steps toward the door. Instinctively, he reached for the bow he carried on his back, but stopped himself just in time. Perhaps if he kept to the illusion he wasn’t a threat, he couldn’t persuade the man to leave him alone.

The soldier blocked his way. “I don’t believe you. I think you should answer a few questions before you leave. The king is very keen to find this fugitive.”

“Let him go,” a familiar voice ordered from the doorway. Aric stood there, the hood of his cloak down but his face in shadow. He held a sword in his hand.

The soldier drew his own sword and turned to face the intruder. “Who are you to argue with the wishes of the king?”

“Tell the king that this particular fugitive does not wish to be found,” Aric continued as though the man hadn’t spoken. His tone boded no argument.

Denys sighed. Aric had a lot to learn about keeping a low profile, but now wasn’t the time to argue about that.

The soldier gasped when Aric stepped into the light. His sword wavered and he dropped to one knee. “Your—”

“So you have no issue in putting up posters and questioning others in order to find me, but it’s a different matter when we come face to face?” Aric shook his head. “Leave this man alone, Roul. The king has no argument with him.”

“The king….” Roul quickly got to his feet, and gripped his sword with both hands. “I do not wish to fight you, but I will.”

The arrowsmith ducked under a nearby table, sensibly keeping out of the argument.

“No, you won’t,” Denys said, his dagger against Roul’s throat. He’d slipped behind the man while he was distracted by Aric. “We are both leaving now. You haven’t seen either of us.”

“But—”

Denys put pressure on the sharp edge of his knife. A thin trickle of blood ran down Roul’s throat. “I don’t think you heard me,” he said.

Roul didn’t move.

“Good.” Denys glanced at Aric and shook his head. They would be discussing this incident later. “I don’t need rescuing,” he said.

“It didn’t look that way to me,” Aric said. He grinned, then reached for the hood of his cloak. “Are you with me?”

“Always.” Denys removed his knife from Roul’s throat, pushing him forward onto his knees in the same motion. With his other hand he pulled up his own hood, knowing its magic would prevent him from being seen.

Quickly, he followed Aric. He’d always felt Aric’s presence, even when he was cloaked by enchantment. Aric’s hand gripped his, and together they ran through the streets. He’d have to find another source of arrows.

Not only that, but now that Aric also had a price on his head, they were running out of places to hide.

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