All I wanted was your love
A taste of your sweet kiss
The river may flow deep and wide
But that cannot stop my longing for this

So meet me on Red Mountain
Lace of laurel, bed of moss
Where the wind's forever howling
'Neath that Northern Cross

-- Cry Cry Cry, "Northern Cross"

"You have to go?" she asked.

He nodded. He looked so fine, so young and strong in his armor, his sword hanging securely at his hip and his helmet tucked beneath one arm. His shoulders were broad; he had filled out in the years she had known him, growing from a farm boy to a soldier in the King's army.

"But I'll be back," he said.

Alexandra nodded. The wind was crying again, here on the red-earthed mountain where she lived. "I'll miss you, Teshi."

"I know." Teshi looked mournful for a moment. He told the truth, but then, Teshi always told the truth. "I'll miss you, too. But we'll meet again. When the war is over."

"The war may not be over for a long time."

"I know," he admitted, shifting his feet like a restless horse. Alexandra believed he would have mouthed at the bit, if he'd really been a steed. "But I'm only required to serve for two years."

Alexandra said nothing. Teshi was not like her, she knew; one bad spear wound, or a sword thrust in the wrong place, and he would die. Humans die so easily. They are not like dragons. Two years pass in the blink of an eye for a dragon, and a human can die in two days, or two hours, or two minutes.

It is difficult, she reflected, not for the first time, to love something that does not last forever.

But then, maybe that is why I love him.

"Must you go?" she said at last.

Teshi nodded, his face serious. It was unusual to see it so grim. Teshi was one who was always full of laughter and smiles. "If I don't go," he said, "then who will protect the people?"

There are so many other people, Alexandra wanted to say. But she could not say it. On the battlefield, who knows? One soldier may make a difference. One soldier can save so many lives. That was what Teshi would say, and though she did not know whether she could believe it, she knew that she could not dissuade him. Teshi had made his mind up long ago.

"Goodbye, then," Alexandra murmured. The wind whipped around her hair, stroking it into long tangles like blood-red ribbons. Teshi kept his hair short, as befitting a soldier; the wind did nothing more than tease it.

"No, farewell," Teshi said firmly, hoisting his rucksack more firmly on his back. He looked at her until he saw her smile, slightly, and gave her a bright, confident smile in return.

"I'll meet you here, then," Alexandra said, trying to return his confidence. "Two years from now."

"Yes," Teshi agreed. "Two years from now."

He did not look back and see her waving.

When a soldier dies, a letter is sent home to his family. They weep and wail and grieve, and they tell the soldier's friends and his lover, if he has one. And they weep and wail and grieve too, and so word is spread that young Talen has died, or handsome Kalneth, or faithful Jalat. When Teshi died, his family knew, and they were one of many families of the village of Angaar to receive a letter that day. And the village of Angaar was only one of the many villages in the country of Shelnor to receive letters that day.

But Alexandra, living alone in a cave on her mountain, did not know. And when two years passed, she went to the rock where they had parted and waited. The sun set, and still she waited; she did not feel the chill as a human would. It was only when it grew too dark for any human to see his way did Alexandra go to her cave. She was there again the next morning, fearing that Teshi had come to their meeting spot during the night and failed to find her there.

Alexandra waited the next day, and the next, and she began to scratch marks into the rock with a long, hard claw. She waited every day there, thinking that perhaps Teshi had been delayed, or that Teshi was still recovering from a wound and would be sent on his way as soon as he could travel, or that perhaps, just perhaps, Teshi had even gotten lost. It was quite possible. Anything was possible.

It was also quite possible that Teshi had died.

At last, the wars ended, and Alexandra heard and watched the dragons flying over the mountains, singing of the peace that had come at last. News! News! Hear! Hear! The war is over, there is peace at last! And she heard all that came to pass, of Kant being crowned king and declaring war upon the humans. Alexandra fretted and wondered what would become of Teshi's family and village.

It's all right, she thought. Teshi will be come soon.

But Teshi never came. Not that year, and not the next. Alexandra began to realize that perhaps--no, in all likelihood--Teshi was dead. She hoped that he had died as he wished, fighting demons, protecting the villages at his back, and the cities beyond the villages.

Dragons are not like demons. They forget, and as they get older their memories fade and become fuzzy at the edges. But Alexandra was young for her kind, and as she waited with the wind snapping at her hair and at the edges of her dress, she felt a sort of longing deep inside her. A yearning, maybe. Why couldn't humans last forever? Why had Teshi, of all the soldiers, been the one to die?

Humans live such short lives, but they seem happy in ways that their long-lived counterparts do not comprehend. How, then, were the dragons superior after all? In all the time that Alexandra had loved Teshi, she had not once felt that Teshi was beneath her in any way. He was just as intelligent as she was, if not as knowledgeable (for she was, after all, a dragon, and had seen and read many more things than he). He had been energetic in a way that surprised her, doing things as he thought them up and often not caring about the consequences. Teshi had not been reckless, merely. . . capricious. Dragons do things slowly, for they have a long time in which to live their lives. They think things through, for dragons are cautious. But humans are alive in a way that dragons cannot fathom.

Alexandra retired to her cave.

The next day, she did not go to wait for Teshi. Instead, she began winding her way slowly, hesitantly down the mountain. She did not leave her home lightly or often. Ruby dragons are solitary by nature. But at the bottom, she stopped and gazed up where she knew her cave was. Then she turned her back on the peaks and went forward, never looking back, the wind blowing at her back.

She did not know how to be human. Knowing Teshi for so many years had not changed that. But, she thought, she could learn. And then, maybe, she could learn to die as he did.

Old memories have faded
Nearly all of them are lost
Except for your face shining
'Neath that Northern Cross