Chapter 9.1 – Graith
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Ralph seemed extremely worried and Graith felt uncomfortable for being the cause. He abandoned his farm and had gone chasing through the mountains with a dragon. And here was Ralph waiting on an explanation. He shifted in his seat, unsure how to broach the topic he was about to share with his only friend.

“Ralph, I’m leaving,” Graith said.

It was a starting point, but the worst was yet to come. Graith folded and unfolded his hands nervously. The serious look on Ralph’s face however, changed to one of shock in an instant.

“But - why?” Ralph was grasping for words. “You have the farm. You have Mero, and the cow and the chickens. I wouldn’t be surprised if you produce a third of the towns wheat Graith.”

He talked rapidly, in denial that his friend was about to up and leave everything behind.

“The cow’s gone. I brought the chickens with me. I was hoping you’d take care of them for me. Mero will be going with me. What else am I leaving behind? Hell, look at my life here. I don’t have family. You’re my only friend. Everyone else hates me.”

Graith was growing frustrated at his quaint life he’d been leading. Before now he’d never even considered leaving. After even a small bit of excitement he was weary of farm life and he was getting away from it. He’d felt guilt over Ralph’s letter yes, but as shocked as his friend was, Graith thought that perhaps it was a bad idea to tell him about Zel.

Thinking of her brought the gentle touch of her mind to his. It relaxed him slightly.

“I met someone Ralph. Out in the mountains. She wants to travel. I’m going to go with her.”

The worry and shock in Ralph’s eyes faded slightly as he took in that bit of information. In fact, a sly smile was spreading across his face.

“Oh, found a lady friend did you Graith? About damn time.”

“Well -” Graith started before Ralph cut in.

“Of course, you would want to travel with her if that is what she wants.”

Ralph laughed, and reaching over, grabbed Graith by the shoulder. The anxiety was gone from Ralph’s face, replaced by joy for his friend. 

“What’s her name? And where is she? Sarah would love to meet the woman who captured your icy heart!”

Graith shook his head, blushing red. That was not how Ralph was supposed to take that. What was he supposed to say? Oh well, you see, she’s not a human. She’s a dragon, so of course she can’t come into town…

Laughter in the back of his mind made him blush more.

Oh, hush it you. You thought I should tell him in the first place, what if he wants to kill you?

Maybe it’s for the best if you let him think I’m your lady love. At least then he won’t sic the town on me with pitchforks and torches! Zel’s mental laughter rang loudly in his mind.

Graith cleared his throat and tried to speak, but the lie he was about to tell stuck before he could say it. Instead he decided to go about it another way - tell a partial truth.

“Her name is Azelia, Zel for short. She’s meeting me outside of town, so I won’t be able to bring her to meet Sarah.”

Ralph nodded along, perfectly happy to accept this information.

“Graith, I’m just glad you’ve found yourself a woman. Even if it’s taking you away from the village. What are you going to do with the farm?”

Graith let out a sigh. The farm. His family’s home for the last four generations.

“I’m just going to leave it. It’ll be there if I ever decide to come back. I’ve cleaned everything out except the barn. I wanted to leave you with the keys to the house. Just in case.”

He dug the keys out from beneath his shirt and pulled the leather thong they were looped on above his head. Ralph took them carefully as he knew how much the farm meant to Graith. Or well, how much as it had. He didn’t know how removed Graith felt from it all now.

“One more thing Ralph, I’ve harvested this year’s crop, but didn’t bundle it yet. It’s drying in the barn. It should be ready in another week or so. You can keep the profits from it. But don’t let ol’ Sal undersell you per pound.”

Ralph nodded. Graith knew that it was a lot of work for the farrier, but also knew that that was a lot of extra money for the year.

“Graith, that’s a lot of money. You’re sure you don’t want me to just set it aside for you if you come back? Say something goes wrong with you and Zel? I wouldn’t want you to be short.”

“I’m serious. Keep it. Even if something were to happen between us, I don’t think I’ll be coming back any time soon.”

With that, he stood. Ralph followed the motion, still unsure about the fact that his friend was leaving their little village forever. Graith reached out, and Ralph grasped his arm. It went from a friendly shake to a brotherly hug as they both realized they might never see one another again.

“Take care Graith. If you ever need anything just send word. Sarah and I care about you deeply.”

“And you Ralph. You take good care of Sarah.”

The left the little office and turned toward where Mero had made himself comfortable chewing hay. He had pulled the little wagon with him to reach it.

“Oh yes. About the chickens…”

Graith was more than a little nervous about dumping them with Ralph who already had a menagerie of animals to take care of.

“Yes, yes. They can stay. Are they good egg layers?”

“They are. Well, except the damned rooster. He crows at the morning sun alright though. Some nights I’ve thought about eating him for dinner.”

They both laughed and Ralph helped Graith unload them from the wagon.

Then it was time.

Graith was itching to get on the road, and he could feel Zel in the back of his mind, her feelings echoing his. He walked towards the cart, scratching Mero’s ear before getting on the driver’s bench.

He carefully backed the horse and cart up until they were outside the barn near the house. Ralph was following, making teasing comments about how in love Graith must be. Instead of answering, Graith just shook his head.

“You be safe now Graith, you and Zel. The world is a dangerous place. Keep your eyes out for that dragon!”

Graith flushed red again and could only nod and wave as he reined the horse into motion.

That was it - he was on the road.

On the way to meet up with Zel, and to help her find her clutch. A sense of anxiety swept over him as he rode through the center of the village.

Don’t worry. I can protect you Graith. The voice in his head was soothing.

I’m not worried about my safety. It’s more a worry of - I’m not sure - never coming back. This is my home.

It’s not. No one there cares for you with the exception of Ralph and Sarah. You don’t go to town events or even to the tavern for a drink except for rare occasions. Shall I go on?

As she’d spoke Graith relaxed. Zel was right. It wasn’t his home, not really. Sure, it was where he had lived but he was apart from everything that went on. At this point he wasn’t even sure he needed a home. The road was going to be his home, and it was going to be exciting.

Zel chuckled but said nothing else. She was still half an hour away. Graith settled in, prepared to ride all the way to Dunlaith.