Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Twenty

Late last fall, the people of Kerth worked hard to build a barrier across the mouth of the gorge through the Westridge mountains from Baldar to Kerth. The plan was for Clearair and James to set it on fire, preventing the enemy from entering the kingdom. That barrier lasted for about a day. Then it was overcome by a large portion of the Baldar troops, including the men and horses pulling the catapults.

Clearair kept James safely away from those killing machines. Farloft and his friends would have to deal with them when they arrived, which she hoped would be soon. She knew her mate must be on his way. She could have called to him. They were heartbound and he would hear her, but she was reluctant to have him come charging in lacking the reinforcements they needed so badly. One dragon would not make a difference against this overwhelming force. And, she did not want King Minuss unleashing the sons of Thrax on them. So far, they had not shown up and she was sure that was because Farloft was not here. It was a vendetta they wished to settle. They really had no interest in the war.

The fifty handpicked archers from the Queen’s guard remained at their stations in the rocky outcrops of the cliffs above and continued to rain arrows down on the advancing enemy, but their supply was running low. Some were hurling stones at this point. The enemy troops were climbing over the last of the smoldering barrier, followed by soldiers on horseback. Clearair and James were doing their best to box them into the gorge, with sweeping runs of fire across their path, but there were just too many.

Clearair spotted the gryphon flock speeding toward them. She called to James and they rose above where the enemy troops could hit them with their arrows, spears and lances, so they could meet with the gryphons.

“We’re here to help,” Snow announced as soon as he was within range. “I’m Snow. Farloft sent us.”

“We’re very pleased to see you,” Clearair answered. “We seem to be fighting a losing battle.”

Storm came to a stop, pumping his wings to hover beside her. “You must be Farloft’s lovely mate… and James…” he said nodding in the younger dragon’s direction. “Can you signal your humans and get them down from their perches in the rocks?”

“I can, but what are you intending to do?” Clearair asked.

“Seal the gorge.” Snow said with a determined chirp.

“We thought about doing that earlier, but the rock is immovable. Even for a dragon. The walls of the canyon are solid.”

“I think I can manage.” Snow turned to the flock behind him. “Stay back and let me work, then we can all do cleanup of the stragglers and any that chose to try to cross the mountains using deer or elk trails.”

Clearair didn’t understand how the gryphon intended to seal the gorge, she just knew that James and she had very little left to give to this fight. They were exhausted from their efforts. She gave out a mighty roar and when the archers of Kerth looked toward her, she waved a wing as a signal for them to retreat. They spilled from the cliffs like midgins running from a hungry gryphon.

Snow landed on the tallest peak he could find that overlooked the canyon. The flock all settled behind him. The enemy troops, now undeterred, started to spill out on the Kerth side, by the hundreds. The men on horseback pushing the foot soldiers forward.

Snow sat and held out his claws before him. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Energy in the form of long blue/white tendrils flared up between his talons. The clouds overhead, which had been patchy, began to gather in a blanket over the gorge. There was a deep roll of thunder that was so low it vibrated the chests of the men clustered below. It echoed off the sheer rock walls of the canyon, its ominous rumble warning of the havoc to come.

Snow stood up on his hind legs, using his long cat tail to balance himself. The energy crackled in the air around him. His fur stood on end and his wings unfurled. He let out a deafening squawk that made every ear within hearing ring. The blue/white power in his claws shot up into the clouds. The clouds crackled and flashed as if they might explode, and then with another fearsome rumble of thunder, lightning began to fall from the heavens like heavy sheets of rain.

It struck the walls of the canyon cracking the stone. Long fissures snaked through the solid rock sending pebbles, flying like stinging insects, to pepper the troops below. Men hollered, and horses screamed. The men used their shields to cover their heads, but the lightning kept striking and soon the small rock chips from the walls were stones the size of mallets, then anvils, and finally boulders the size of carts and wagons. Within minutes, the walls of the gorge were crumbling into a pile, blocking the entrance to any except the most experienced mountain climbers.

The flock behind Snow rose into the air and shrieked with approval. They dove into the settling dust to stop those who had made it through the canyon prior to the avalanche. The Queen’s guard stood their ground and fired at the advancing horde.

James landed beside Snow. “That was incredible. I had no idea gryphons possessed magic.”

Snow ruffled his feathers with pride and smoothed his fur down. “I learned from my Grandfather Storm.”

Clearair called to James. “Come, we will finish this.”

Snow looked to James and chirped. “Just call me, Avalanche.”

“Avalanche it is,” James grinned back. “Let’s do this!”

Farloft made a clumsy landing in the courtyard, trying to avoid the mass of people squeezed into the open area. The dragon couldn’t remember any time the castle had this many people within its walls. He roared to announce his arrival and hopefully, bring Theresa or Queen Larkin to him, rather than him trying to seek them out in this bedlam of bodies. Instead, it was Adrian who arrived first.

“It is so good to see you,” Adrian said, as he pushed through the last of the crowd around the dragon. “How does it look out there?”

“Not good, but I brought help.” Farloft was standing with his back to the front walls of the castle. He heard the whine of a boulder as it was ejected from the catapult. It missed the wall, sailing over it and headed into the crowd. Farloft extended his wings to shield the humans in the courtyard. It struck him hard on the radius bone at the front of his wing and rolled back to fall off.

“Are you alright?” Adrian asked when he heard the big dragon groan overhead.

Farloft retracted his wing and shook his shoulders. “Could have been worse. The bone’s not broken.” He looked around at the exposed people. “Why aren’t they in the Great Hall?”

“It’s packed already.” Adrian answered.

“I need to talk to Theresa or Queen Larkin. Can you find them for me?” Farloft heard another boulder leave the catapult, but this one hit its mark. The wall inside spit out tiny rock projectiles into the crowd. “We need to get these people to safety.”

Adrian didn’t have to find Theresa, she was making her way toward the dragon through the crowd. She heard his roar when he landed. He leaned down and nuzzled the top of her head when she got within reach.

“Why aren’t these people in the tunnels,” he whispered into her hair. “They are exposed out here.”

Just than another boulder came flying over the wall. Farloft could hear its path. He pulled Adrian and Theresa to his chest, dipped his head and brought his wings forward to cover them in a tight wing wrap. The stone hit his shoulder this time and bounced out into the crowd. He heard a scream and wished his reach could have been further. When he looked up, a woman was sitting on the ground, her head bleeding as others did their best to help her. Luckily it looked like the boulder grazed her rather than hitting her full on.

When Farloft unwrapped his wings, Theresa pushed her way through the mass of people to the injured woman. Someone handed her a cloth and she pressed it to the woman’s head. She turned back toward Farloft.

“The dais is stuck. The mechanism must have been damaged.” She waved a hand at the dragon. “See what you can do.”

Farloft made his way to the Great Hall and then in, pushing and squeezing people to one side or the other. Queen Larkin and Haben were more than aware of the urgency needed to shelter the people in the courtyard. With the help of several of the queen’s guard, they were trying their best to force the dais to one side. Unfortunately, they were not succeeding.

Queen Larkin looked up as soon as he entered, and her eyes followed him as he approached. “Farloft, it is good to have you home.”

“It is good to be home, though I would have liked it under better circumstances.”

“We think the vibration of the building somehow damaged the entry trigger,” Larkin explained.

“Let me try. Move aside,” Farloft ordered as he came around the platform.

He remembered it moved to the left, so he sat on the right side and placed his front paws on the six-inch thick stone dais. He took a deep breath and hoped he could free it without caving the dais in on the stairs. If he cut off the humans escape route, by blocking it with the door, he would never forgive himself.

He pushed, but the lid remained firmly in place.

“Daddy,” Anna said quietly at his side.

He was unaware of her being here, but saw how it must have happened. He had hoped she was safely at home in the family lair waiting for the signal to lead the humans to safety.

“Anna,” he took a moment to nuzzle her.

“I can help,” Anna suggested.

She meant, she could turn into a dragon, and between the two of them, perhaps move the dais to one side. He wasn’t about to let her reveal her secret to all these people. At least, not unless he absolutely had to.

“Let Haben and his men help me first. We’ll try it one more time.” Farloft nodded toward the Captain.

Farloft could hear the catapults still pounding away. Where was Rymit? Why hadn’t he toppled those destructive war machines?

Haben lined up his men to either side of Farloft.

“On three,” Farloft instructed. “One… Two… Three!”

They all shoved, and the dais gave way this time. It moved perhaps a foot to the left.

“Again…” Farloft ordered.

They shoved it again and this time the stone cleared the opening by about two feet.

“Give me some room,” Farloft said.

He put his rear paws on the edge of the sliding dais and his front paws on the stationary platform edge. He pushed with all his might. The slab of stone finally gave way and slid to one side, revealing the staircase to the tunnels below.

“Quickly,” Queen Larkin commanded, as Farloft moved aside. “Get the people down into the tunnels.”

Haben and his men began to usher them down. Soon the Great Hall was almost clear of its initial residents and filling with those who had been trapped outside in the courtyard.

Theresa and Adrian entered and turned the injured woman over to her family for help down the stairs. They went to stand with Farloft, Anna and Queen Larkin.

“Where is Sarah?” Farloft asked with concern.

“She is in the tower.” Theresa patted the old dragon. If he had not come, they might have lost everyone. “We have worked on the magic of the medallion you sent and we have a plan if and when, the castle wall falls.”

Farloft turned to the Queen. “You should go, Your Majesty. Be with your people.” He hooked a paw around Anna and pushed her toward Larkin. Take Anna with you. She can lead the way once you are down the river and on the other side.” He turned to Adrian. “You go with them.”

“No,” Adrian objected. “I am staying with Sarah.”

“You have the DragonCall. You must go with them,” Farloft insisted.

“I’ll give the call to the Queen or Anna.” Adrian started to take it off.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Farloft said gruffly. “James gave it to you. No one else can use it.”

Theresa was looking at the dragon when he said this. She knew he was lying. She has never known Farloft to lie. The DragonCall had belonged to her brother and she had used it many times in play to call the dragon. But for whatever reason the dragon had for making the bard leave, she thought it must be a good one, and therefore kept her mouth shut.

Adrian fingered the call hanging around his neck. “James never said anything about that.”

“He didn’t need to,” Farloft huffed. “You were the only one he wanted to have access to.”

The Queen had taken Anna and was one of the last to head down the stairs. “You must go,” Farloft said, and pushed the bard with a paw toward the entrance to the tunnels. “Go! I will look after your female.”

“She’s not…” Adrian started to object.

“Shhh…” Farloft held up a paw. “Off with you.”

Adrian dropped the call back down the front of his shirt and ran toward the staircase. “We’ll talk more when this is all over.”

“Indeed, we shall,” Farloft confirmed.

The bard was the last down the stairs.

“Why did you lie to him?” Theresa asked.

“If you and Sarah have a plan, and must stay behind, then I must have a plan to keep you safe.” Farloft snorted in agitation. “If you don’t make it down the tunnel, then I must carry two safely above the flight path of the arrows. I cannot carry three.”

Storm Awakening - by Elizabeth Babicz

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