Korbin awoke sometime later and found himself at the bottom of a ravine sometime later, dazed, but otherwise unhurt.
Miraculously unhurt, he thought, quickly sending a prayer of thanks up to the heavens.
He stood up slowly and stiffly, brushing off the reddish-brown liquid off of his arms and legs. He wondered if the liquid was in his face and hair, too.
What happened to me? he wondered. ‘Raiah? Are you there? Did you see how I fell?’
‘I’m here,’ he thought, still dazed.
‘KORBIN!!! Korbin! Oh merciful heavens! Korbin! Are you alive?’
He winced, and put his hands over his ears. ‘Not only am I alive, Raiah, but there’s nothing wrong with my hearing.’
‘But I saw you fall a long way down. I saw you lying at the bottom of ravine, you were covered in blood. How could this be?’
‘I wish I could answer that, Raiah.’
He looked again at his arms and legs. ‘I am covered in blood. Only it’s neither mine nor uncle’s. This is dragon’s blood.’
From the darkness of her tower, Zaeraiah’s eyes gleamed. ‘Oh, Korbin…’ she breathed.
He was walking to a nearby creek now, intending to wash it off.
‘It’s sticky and uncomfortable. I’ll try to wash it off as best as I can.’
‘Korbin, the Crone told me something once about dragon’s blood.’
‘What is it?’ Korbin asked, intent on getting the sticky stuff off of him and kneeling beside the creek.
‘She said that the person covered in it becomes invincible.’
‘Invincible?’ Korbin thought, putting his shirt on again, ‘we’ll just have to see about that. Right now, all I want to do is get home to you as soon as I can.
* * *
Korbin’s journey home was done in half the time. It seemed as though his heart, and his feet, had wings. He didn’t seem to get tired like he used to as the days went on. He did not know whether the dragon’s blood had affected him or not, but what he did know was that he needed fewer and fewer hours of sleep the nearer he got to Bast.
It’s because I can hardly wait to see you, he told Zaeraiah in his thoughts, and to bring the bloom for your lady mother.
Zaeraiah had other ideas. ‘It’s the Gift, Korbin. The dragon’s blood was a Gift. The Gifts grow, remember what the Crone said?’
‘I’ll believe it when I see it, Raiah,’ he told her, laughing softly. He was within one day of Bast now, and they both had to hold on just a little more.
* * *
Korbin knocked at the gates of the realm, and was given entrance, with guards escorting him to the castle right away. Meister Willem ran down the steps excitedly, and thew his arms around his son.
“My son! You made it home!”
“Father!” Korbin embraced his father with all his might.
Korbin’s face fell. “I’m sorry, Father. Uncle died saving my life. I will tell you everything, but you must take me to Lord Jondell now. I have the bloom that will save Lady Sonaly.”
They began to walk to Lord Jondells’ chambers, but at one point Willem stoped to look at his son.
“You are different, boy. Your face—I don’t remember seeing it this red. You look so ruddy and strong, was it just because of all the time you were outdoors?”
Korbin caught a glimpse of his countenance in a glass window. It was true, there was a reddish glow to his cheeks, and he knew it did not come from the summer sun, or the cold wind up in the mountains.
“I can explain everything, Father.”
* * *
When Lord Jondell saw the dragonsblood bloom in Korbin’s hands, he immediately had Dame Hulde summoned to the castle to prepare the concoction to cure his wife.
Dame Hulde had insisted that she needed Zaeraiah for the preparation. “It’s because of her Gift, my Lord. She will know what to do, and how to apply it. She is young now, but one day her power will far surpass mine.”
Lord Jondell agreed, and had his daughter brought down from the tower. She and Dame Hulde stayed with Lady Sonaly all night long, and when the morning came, the Crone brought Lord Jondell the news that Lady Sonaly would live.
* * *
Later that day Lord Jondell called together all the citizens of Bast. Lady Sonaly, though still weak, was able to sit up in a chair beside her husband. The Crone, the Council of Elders, every last citizen came. Even Lord Jarrad and his retinue from Keat were present. The only one absent was Zaeraiah, who was back in her tower, but who could see everything in her mind.
He proclaimed a pardon to Korbin, for his success on the Quest, and for bringing back the dragonsblood bloom that cured Lady Sonaly.
The crowd cheered for Korbin, who stepped forward, and bowed his knee to Lord Jondell.
“My Lord,” he said, loud and clear. “I thank you, and I thank the heavens above for your pardon. But I must ask you and Lady Sonaly for one more thing.”
Lord Jondell’s face softened as he looked at his wife. “Speak, Meister Korbin.”
“I ask you for the hand of your daughter, Lady Zaeraiah.”
A hush fell on the crowd.
Lord Jondell shook his head. “Zaeraiah is betrothed. Even if she refuses to marry, the betrothal cannot easily be broken. But more importantly, you know the Ancient Rule, Meister Korbin. The Gifted must only marry the Gifted. The bloodlines cannot be diluted, lest the Gifts disappear from among us all.”
“If I can prove that I am a Gifted One as well, will you let me marry Zaeraiah?”
“How are you Gifted, Meister?”
Korbin walked forward until he stood in front of Lord Jondell and Lady Sonaly, in the midst of everyone. He removed his shirt, and showed his back to the Lord and Lady of the Realm.
“My uncle Alaroc was killed by a dragon when we went to get the dragonsblood bloom to cure Lady Sonaly. But he threw his knife into the dragon’s heart, and it was slain. It fell against the dragonsblood tree, shaking it, and I fell out. But as I was falling the dragon’s own blood fell on me. I woke up in a ravine, unscathed. But see what is on my back.”
On Korbin’s back was a bright red mark in the shape of a dragon. The crowd gasped.
Lord Jarrad roared, “Enough of these sorcerer’s tricks. Lady Zaeraiah is to be married to me! She was promised to me! I will have her yet.”
“Dame Hulde,” Lady Sonaly said. “What does the Ancient Rule say about breaking a betrothal?”
The Crone spoke up. “A duel can break a betrothal, my Lady. And a duel will prove if young Meister Korbin can stand against Lord Jarrad and his Gift of Strength.”
“Very well,” Lord Jondell said. “Bring the Lady Zaeriah down.”
* * *
Korbin and Lord Jarrad stood face to face in the middle of everyone.
Lord Jarrad had chosen to fight hand to hand. He stood, a full head taller than Korbin, and twice as broad in the shoulders. Korbin had to look up in order to look him in the eye.
Lord Jarrad laughed. “I feel like a dog being chased with a stick! Well, come on, boy, let me make short work of you.”
Everyone could see when the red dragon shape on Korbin’s back begin to burn and glow. Lord Jarrad began his attack, tripping Korbin, punching him, kicking him on his face, chest, back, legs… but no matter what he did, Korbin kept getting up. Whatever blood Lord Jarrad drew seemed to dry instantly.
Zaeraiah, sitting beside her mother, at first averted her eyes, the watched, spellbound as Korbin kept getting up again and again.
Finally, Lord Jarrad grew tired. He drooped down, panting.
“Do you concede, Lord Jarrad?” Korbin asked him.
Lord Jarrad narrowed his eyes. “Never!” He shouted.
Korbin walked back a few step, hunched down, and yelling, rammed Lord Jarrad with his right shoulder into the other man’s belly, causing him to finally fall. He lay curled up on the ground, whimpering and catching his breath.
“I concede…I concede…” he said. “I renounce my betrothal to Lady Zaeraiah.”
The crowd cheered. Korbin’s mother Berthe and his brothers and sisters had made their way to the front of the crowd. Berthe was weeping openly, but cheering loudly at the same time.
Lord Jondell helped Lady Sonaly stand up. “Meister Korbin, you have more than proven yourself. You are free to marry Lady Zaeraiah. As for you, Lord, Jarrad. Go from whence you came. Guards, escort every last man from Keat to the gates of the realm.”
Zaeraiah ran and threw herself into Korbin’s arms. “You came back to me!”
Korbin lowered his lips to kiss her, “I promised you, didn’t I?”