Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Eight

Anna struggled, but she was no match for the two brutes who grabbed her and were dragging her through the mud further and further away from the tent where she last saw Adrian. She was getting all turned around. She was going to lose track of the bard. This side of the gorge was so full of people. She could hardly breathe.

She desperately wanted to turn into her dragon-self and just fly back home, but after the incident when she was younger, she couldn't. She promised her mother and father she would never morph into her dragon form in front of anyone who didn’t already know her secret of being a shifter. That severely limited her. She could only change before her immediate family, Farloft, Clearair and James, and her extended family of Theresa, Sarah, Adrian, and Queen Larkin. She certainly could not change in this overcrowded clump of humanity, no matter how desperate she was.

She thought to scream, but she wasn’t supposed to be here. What would they do with an unattended girl? She didn’t know the ways of these people. The authorities might be worse than this situation. What if they took her to King Minuss? She had to be smart… Think… Wait…

The men dragged her to a tent away from the rest of the settlement at the base of the Westridge. In it were other girls her age and older. They were all chained to stakes driven deep into the ground. One of the men pushed her down beside a stake and held her while the other placed the shackle around her ankle.

“That makes ten,” the dark-haired man said. “Two more and we are on our way.”

The other man, with a scar across his cheek, grabbed Anna by the chin and lifted her face up toward his. “This one is pretty. She will fetch a nice price.” He chuckled when Anna jerked her face out of his grasp. “And she has spirit as well.”


“The little girl with red hair that was here by the door… Did you see which way she went?” Adrian asked the two men standing just outside the entrance to the pub.

“Isn’t she a little young for you, mate,” one man asked as he elbowed his friend in the side.

“Maybe the bard likes to train them himself,” the other said with a grin full of rotten teeth.

“She’s my sister,” Adrian lied, but she was as good as. He had known her since she was born. “Did you see where she went or not?”

“Nah,” the one said, and the other pushed him aside to enter the pub.

Adrian was frantic. He scanned the milling crowd trying to spot Anna’s copper colored hair in the drizzling rain and the feint light of the torches.

“Pardon me, sir,” an older woman said. She had moved up next to him where he stood in the mud. “I overheard you asking about the little red-haired gal.”

Adrian turned pleading eyes on the woman. “Yes, yes, did you see which way she went?”

“I saw two men taking her that way.” She pointed back toward the Westridge. “And I got to tell you she didn’t look happy to be going with them.”

“What did they look like?”

“One’s about your height and dark like you. The other is bigger and has a scar across his left cheek.” The woman touched Adrian’s arm. “They’re up to no good. I warned my girls to stay clear of them. I would lay you odds they are slave traders.” She patted his arm. “Don’t lose hope. They have been here several days. I’d bet they have a quota to fill for some delivery.” She leaned in further. “The dark one wears a coat with a fur collar and his boots have fur tops to match.”

Adrian cursed under his breath. Anna had fallen into the worst of hands, but at least he had a good description of her abductors. He drew a coin from his pouch and pressed it into the woman’s palm. “Thank you.”

She did not refuse the money. He could tell by her dress, she could not afford to. She smiled. “Good luck, lad.”

Adrian nodded and turned to begin his search.

Adrian searched long into the night, but found no sign of Anna or her captors. Finally, exhausted and thoroughly discouraged, he found an overhanging ledge along the Westridge and pitched his small tent for the rest of the early morning hours. At dawn, he would rise again and continue his search. He had to find her before the traders took her away from the camp. His reconnaissance mission had turned into a rescue.


“I want to go home,” the girl chained next to Anna said through her tears.

She was a little younger than Anna and looked very frail. Her clothes looked unusual with beads sewn into the bodice of her dress. Her face was round as a melon. Her hair long, but worn up in braided rings on either side of her head.

Anna reached over and patted her knee to comfort her. “I have a friend out there,” she said to anyone who would listen. “He will find us and set us free.”

“I have a father and two brothers out there, but I have been here almost a week and they haven’t found me,” one of the older girls said in a discussed tone. “No one is going to come. We are going to be sold into slavery and no one cares.”

“That’s not so!” Anna countered fiercely. “Adrian will come. I know he will.” She grabbed the stake her chain was attached to and tried to wiggle it free from the hard ground.

“It’s no use,” a young girl to her right said. “They’re long. I have been working on mine for three days and it hasn’t budged an inch.”

Anna continued to push on it. If she was in her dragon form, she bet she could pull it out. In fact, she doubted the shackle would remain around her leg if she were to change. She looked around the tent. She couldn’t change in front of all these girls… or could she? If she waited until they all fell asleep… if there was a fire to attract someone to their aid… She stopped working on the stake. The stake would not be an issue. She had to work on a plan.


Adrian woke to the call of ‘FIRE!’ in the camp. He crawled out of his tent quickly pulling on his boots. He could see a fire further down the Westridge. Its location puzzled him. It was in the top of two tall iron wood trees - not on the ground as if it spread from a campfire. An ember would not have drifted that far, or caught trees that wet on fire. However…

It had to be Anna! He had no thought of gathering up his meager positions. He ran. She had shifted and set the treetops on fire in her anger or excitement… or maybe even a signal for him. He had to get to her. Conceal her before anyone saw what she was… What she could do.

He dashed toward the trees, keeping the ridge to his left. There were others running toward that area as well, but he had the lead on them because of the campsite he picked for the night.

Ahead of him, two men sprinted into his path. One had a fur collar and fur topped boots. The other was much taller and heavier built. Even from behind, he imagined if they were to turn, the larger man would have a scar on his cheek. They were headed toward a tent isolated from the rest of the camp. As Adrian ran, he spotted a limb. It was heavy and could serve as a club. He picked it up and quickened his pace. He began to gain on the men. All three men had a considerable lead on the folks from the camp who had been roused by the call of ‘FIRE!’

Adrian came up behind the two and before they could look back to see who had followed, he gave the larger man a heavy blow to the back with his makeshift club. The man fell to his knees. The other stopped and turned to face Adrian. The bard swung hard again, but the fur-collared man was quick on his feet. He avoided the blow.

By now, the bigger of the two was staggering to his feet. Adrian needed to stay free of them until some of the crowd showed up from the camp. That wasn’t going to be easy, and looked near to impossible when the two men pulled knives on him. He hadn’t wanted this to progress to a deadly fight. His thought was to knock them down and get past them to Anna. He would be lucky if he lived through this. Adrian reached down in his boot and pulled his own knife, but he never had a chance to use it.

Anna came sailing in and let out a burst of dragon fire. Both men instantly dropped their knives and became more concerned with putting out their burning clothing than fighting with the bard.

Adrian looked up and Anna tipped a wing toward the tent the men had been racing to. He gave her a thumb’s up and then shooed her in the direction of the forest in the foothills. The fire in the treetops was beginning to smolder and a small group from the camp had finally made it to their location.

“Was that a dragon?” someone asked.

“It was,” another person said excitedly.

“Small,” a third added. “Must be a youngling.”

“There hasn’t been a dragon in Baldar for centuries,” an older man said.

“Probably smelled all the food,” a woman volunteered.

“I hope you mean food, as in cooked. I’d not want the dragon to come back to hunt us.”

“Maybe that’s where my youngin’ went. Ate by a dragon.” A woman wailed.

Adrian saw this situation turning worse by the moment. He had to stop this line of thinking before someone decided it would be good sport to go on a dragon hunt. Bored camp members could be turned into a hunting party very easily.

“Are any of you missing children… youngins’?” He asked. “I think these two have my sister.” He thumbed at the men now exhausted and slightly burnt before him. “They were running toward that tent.” He pointed. “I intend to have a look. Will someone hold them until we find out what they’ve been up to?”

A couple of young men stepped forward and pushed the two men to their knees. “We’ll watch over them.” They turned to the older man with the woman. “You check and see if Shila is there.”

They found all the girls that had gone missing over the past two weeks shackled in the tent. When they found the key to the shackles on one of the men Adrian was having them hold, the two slave traders disappeared into the crowd. They were never seen again.

The woman Adrian gave the coin for information on the two abductors, came up to his side when all the girls had found their loved ones. “Your sister is not among them?” she asked.

Adrian shook his head and looked forlorn. He was a good actor – years of practice telling stories. He hated to lie to the woman. “Perhaps she went home,” he volunteered.

“I hope so,” the woman said. He could tell by her look that she doubted that. She probably thought the two slavers had been preying on the camp for weeks and shipped her out earlier with another group. She patted his sleeve and turned back toward the camp.

Adrian waited for the crowd to disburse and then slipped away into the woods to find Anna.


“Anna… Anna?” Adrian called in a loud stage whisper, as he searched the edge of the forest.

Anna swooped down from her hiding place in the treetops and alighted in front of the bard. She morphed back into her human form and threw herself into his outstretched arms.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

She said nothing, just shook her head into his chest. He took her by her shoulders and pushed her out in front of him to look her over. Her face was tear stained, but not battered in any way. Her clothing had morphed with her, so she was still in her pants, tunic, jacket and boots. Now that he saw she was unhurt his temper began to rise.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“I came to protect you,” Anna said in reaction to his somewhat belligerent tone. “And I did. I saved you from those horrible men.”

Adrian shook his head. “Men I would not have even come in contact with, had you not been kidnapped,” he pointed out. “You shouldn’t be here. You have to go home.”

Anna moved back into his arms and hugged him tightly around the waist. “I want to stay with you.”

“Your mother will be frantic, Anna.” He took her by the arms and forced her away from him again. “Theresa and Sarah must be searching for you.” He took her by the hand and started to drag her to the edge of the woods. “Come here, I want to show you something.”

He pulled her out from under the trees until they had a good view of the construction area and the catapults. “You know what those are? Those are machines that sling huge rocks at the castle walls until they crumble into dust.” He took her by the shoulders and turned her toward him. “But they also can launch huge arrows, more like massive spears. What do you think they would shoot bolts that size at?”

Anna’s eyes shifted from Adrian to the catapults, and then back to Adrian. “Dragons?”

“Yes… Dragons,” he affirmed. “When your mother does not find you, and they all figure out that you followed me, there will be no keeping her from coming her to retrieve you.” He pointed toward the catapults. “And she will be met by those!”

Anna broke into tears.

He pulled her into his arms and hugged her close. “I’m sorry, but you need to understand we are not playing here, Anna. This is war. You need to go home and get there in time to stop anyone coming to fetch you.” He stroked her red hair. “Understand?”

She nodded into his chest.

He forced her away to arm’s length again. “I will be fine. A bard is welcomed when they are telling stories, and invisible when they are silent. Having you here makes it much more dangerous for me, not less.”

“I’m sorry,” Anna sniffed trying to quiet her fears.

Adrian looked back toward the forest. “Go into the forest until you can’t see the lights of the camp, then shift and hurry home. Take the most direct route, so if your mother and James are coming, they will run into you. I don’t want them bypassing you and coming into the camp all fire and brimstone on us. We need to save that for the battle to come.”

Anna sniffed again. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”

“I know…” he pulled her in and gave her a quick squeeze. “Be careful and get home safe. I don’t want to have to face your mother when she’s angry.”

Anna stood up on her tiptoes and gave Adrian a kiss on his chin. “I’ll be home before they know I was gone.” She hurried off, only turning back once to wave at him.

Home before they know you’re gone? Adrian mused. I doubt that.

"FIRE!" by Elizabeth Babicz

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