As he rode back into the glow of campfire, Aldous sat motionless in the saddle, listening.
Sheathing sword before bending to lay a calming hand high on Fandor's neck, he gently stroked the big chestnut just behind the left ear.
"Shhh my friend, we don't want the beast below to hear us."
With nostrils flared and breathing deeply from the climb back to their hillside lookout, the horse tossed his head knowingly.
"That's it, gently now." Aldous murmured as he swung one leg over the stallions back and slid stealth like to the ground, "We don't want old Margan to hear us, or we'll be dinner! You don't want to be dinner for a dragon do you?"
Seeming to understand every word the Knight said, Fandor lifted one leg, bringing hoof down hard upon sodden pine needles as if to say "No, I don't!"
Affording a quiet chuckle, Aldous led the horse just outside the flickering of flames, tying the reins off on an under branch of the nearest tree. "Neither do I, but if I don't get something hot to eat soon, I might die of starvation!" he growled, reaching in to rummage through the saddle bags that rested gently against the flank of horse.
Removing a thin tightly bound roll of cured meat for himself and a near empty sack of grain for the stallion, he gave a fleeting thought as to his good fortune at having found the only person on this side of the Great Lake that had any knowledge at all as to the lay of the land and all the places a dragon might hide.
Shaking the grain to one corner of the bag, he rolled down the neck of the sack before sitting it at Fandor's feet.
Aldous sighed. "It's a good thing we came up here. Having little to eat isn't nearly as bad as being a little bit to eat!"
Tilting head, Fandor looked at his Knight Protector as if the man had suddenly gone mad.
Slapping the horse gently on the rump, Aldous again chuckled, "Don't you dare look at me like that! You just remember not to insult the hand that rolls the sack!" With that he left the horse to quietly feed. Spinning on heel, he headed over to sit fireside, warm his hands, eat, and to think of what was to come.
Collapsing atop the bedroll blanket, Aldous untied the cotton strap from around the bundle, took out a piece of leathery meat, bit off a goodly chunk, and began to chew.
It had been a long few weeks. From the time he and Fandor cantered out from the castle gates until they had begun their treacherous climb to camp, nearly a full three months had passed.
As Aldous rode, his days had been consumed with thoughts of vengeance, victory, and restitution.
He would let his mind drift unchecked. He thought about all the ways to defeat a dragon. Sometime soon he'd allow himself the luxury of a nice little skirmish high up in the mountains. Knight against beast. It would be his grandest moment. His finest victory. Or so he thought.
Swallowing, then taking another bite, Aldous allowed his thoughts to float back to his boyhood home. He thought of his mother, the woman who had taught him about truth and respect, and a father - a Kingsman - that he only knew by the stories his friend's fathers would recall with all the fierceness of men having together, gone into battle.
And more recent, back to his family's one room thatched cottage ablaze with dragon fire. To the desolation of village after village, and to all that he had lost. To all those things and people he had loved most. To Woodhaven.
As he took one last bite, his mood had changed to match that of the surrounding darkness. Looking out across the dying fire, he offered an almost silent pledge to both homeland and King, "Tonight I wait. Tomorrow I fight!"
For now, bone weary, he was content enough to eat and rest.
Pulling threadbare tunic over head to roll tight into a makeshift pillow, he sighed one final time before laying back and almost instantly falling asleep.
As Fandor's mouth bit tinkled quietly in the night, Aldous slipped into an uneasy dream of childhood ambition, back to a time when he was just a lad, a simple farm hand with the unenviable right of having been born The Last Ascendant.