Dathen sat by the precipice of his cliff top home, staring into the plains. Beneath him, ranged a ragged circle hemming in small squares, of which he knew to be the homes of the Dog tribe.
It had been hard enough to gain their respect. They had only tolerated his presence in the village thus far because of his friendship with the king. They saw him as peculiar and pathetic. He looked down at his lean frame, at once realizing that he was not of the same muscular bulk of the other men. They had no time for him and the younger women only smiled contemptuously at him as he passed. It grieved him that the villagers could not see the value of any other man than those that did heavy labor.
He forced a crooked grin to his lips at the thought of the only one amongst them to see the value of an inventor. The most beautiful of girls he had seen. She was always headstrong and argumentative, but she cared for him in little ways, forever encouraging his genius.
So many times he wanted to tell her that he loved her, and part of him sensed her annoyance that he did not commit to the words.
He sighed wearily, tears falling silently down both cheeks. She had been gone for a week now; abducted by Quelandi bandits. Any tolerance the Dog tribe had for him diminished with her abduction. As he stared over the plains, he knew that he looked beyond the border of his own land into the neighboring country of Queland.
The Dog tribe considered her permanently lost to them, as it was well known that the southern part of Queland was in a state of utter lawlessness. Bandits congregated in groups of anything up to two hundred, but at least Dathen knew where to find them. Their leader Norbran, told him that he could be found in a fortress, abandoned by monks of an ancient order. Dathen was further informed that the fortress was built on top of a broad pinnacle of rock, impervious to any attack from the ground.
His gaze shifted to what he felt was the greatest of his inventions; a triangular sail which fluttered along its edges in the gentle breeze. He wondered, dare he? Nodding with conviction, he strapped on the metal tubes to his forearms that lay beside him. Pumping air into them, he depressed a catch. A metallic “clang” rang as a crossbow quarrel skipped from the wall of his mountain. Reloading it, he climbed within a cradle frame, beneath the sail. Tubes similar to those on his wrists were mounted in the frame.
He puffed in and out rapidly as he stared over the cliff; his knuckles whitened around the framework of his “air sail.” It was no great achievement to get in the cradle; he had done this before on a score of occasions. Just a few steps were all he needed. Was it in him?
He trotted a couple of steps then slowed as he neared the edge, wondering what needed to be in him to do it. Was it love? Was love enough to send him over the edge? Did he love Nilapa?
His pace quickened.
“I do love her,” he muttered almost inaudibly, prior to his feet shuffling free of the edge.
Dathen gritted his teeth in terror, as the air sail slowly bobbed then angled steeply for the ground. He pulled back on the frame, tilting the sail up. It arced swiftly, then with the shifting of his weight, it leveled, gracefully riding the breeze.
A smile graced his lips. He had finally done it; he was the only man who could fly. With further twists of his body, he experimented with the maneuverability of the craft. It could veer suddenly in any direction at his behest. He pulled the nose upward a few more times, arcing higher in order to be able to fly further.
Angling left, he steered the sail north. Out it went; out even more from his cliff-top retreat; out for the Quelandi border to search for the mountain fortress.
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