Keeper of the Dragon

The Guild Master of the Mahavada, golden braid swinging behind him, pushed open the heavy, wooden door of the guild-home and leaned out into the biting, winter wind. His clear, blue eyes fell on an old man standing shin-deep in the snow, gazing up at the sunset.

"Come here and stand with me," the old man said, without turning around. "The sky is so beautiful."

The Guild Master smiled. "Please come inside, Grandfather. It's cold, and it'll be dark soon."

The old man chuckled. "Oh, you're probably right." He turned to face the Guild Master.

Time had been kind to Leland Blackhawk. Even now his face was mostly unlined, save the spider webs of wrinkles around his eyes from years of smiling. His long hair still hung thick—gathered at his neck with a string, for he was no longer the Guild Master—silver instead of gold. He made his way back to the door, stepping in his footprints. Ivo took his coat and hung it by the door.

The guild-home had hardly changed in all these years. Long ago Leland's son had ascended to master of the guild; now with Ivo in charge the position had stayed in the family for an astonishing three generations. The faces that looked up at Leland as he entered had altered over time, but the welcoming in their eyes was the same that he had seen in the Mahavada since he was small.

Masimony, Anshu and Midori's own granddaughter, sat cross-legged on the floor by the fire, polishing a sword as sharp as flame. A thin, delicate, gold chain glittered around her neck.

Anshu had managed to hold the Tribe of the Phoenixes of the Sun together until his death—his murder, actually—and afterward when the Phoenixes scattered, Masimony had fled to join the Mahavada and the safety of the man she had known since the day she was born. Her partial human heritage displayed itself only in the night-black hair hanging in her face that no Phoenix of her light coloring could have.

There, the man with the blue eyes and the long, black hair, the one talking with his wide-eyed apprentice—that was Arden, Azumi and Leland's second son. They had had four children altogether, the daughter their last. The first had come into the world an unusually short time after their marriage. They had suspected, and as soon as the boy opened his golden eyes, they knew him to be Brisingamen's. They had tried as hard as they could, with much success, to love Breca anyway. After all, he had not asked to be born. Breca had been an odd child, though, and several years after his half-sister was born he had gone mad and drowned himself in the Pool of the Nereids. That year Leland had resigned as the Guild Master, heartbroken, and he and Azumi had no more children afterwards. That resignation had gotten Arden chosen as the next Guild Master, and only recently had Arden resigned himself to spend more time with his family and his apprentice. Too, Anil's twins visited on occasion, but often they were too busy with the affairs of their own Tribes to leave.

Leland smiled. Yes, he had been happy here for many years. He had only one thing that he deserved to complain about now.

"Ivo, I don't know how much longer my knees can take these stairs," he laughed, leaning on the banister and his grandson's arm for support as he made his way up the stairs.

"Grandfather, you know there are open rooms downstairs. You and Grandmother could move anytime, we'd all help you with your things," Ivo told him. "Why don't you?"

"Pride, Ivo. How could I let a few stairs get the better of me?" Leland shook his head cheerfully. "I just may take that offer up soon, though."

Azumi had already gone to sleep when he reached the room. The lamp had burned down low, but still lit the room warmly. Leland watched her as he changed out of his snow-wet clothes. Amazing, he thought, that she could still be so beautiful after so much time had passed. Most of the scars that traced over her skin had faded so that they were barely noticeable now.

Leland drew the colorful quilt up over Azumi's shoulders, smoothed back her white hair, and kissed her cheek before resting his head on the pillow next to hers. "Good night, Azumi," he whispered.

"Good night? I'm still awake." Azumi opened her eyes. "Watching the sunset again?" she teased sleepily, poking him in the shoulder.

"I want to enjoy them while I still can," Leland told her, eyes twinkling merrily. "I'm not sure how many I'll have left."

Azumi laughed and moved to rest her head on his shoulder. "You'll have many more sunsets, love. Many more sunsets."

Leland held her, an arm around her shoulders, as they had done in their younger days.

Both drifted to sleep, peaceful, warm.

Neither woke the next morning.