Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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16. Nests, Crashes and Hatchlings

Nests, Crashes and Hatchlings

 

                A dozen men rushed at them all at once. She could’ve killed them all, but she knew Aravi wouldn’t take kindly to it. Alex punched one of them in the gut, attacked another with the hilt of his sword. But it wasn’t long before their hands were bound. Margil stared at them helplessly as the others led them back into the darkness of the labyrinth of caves. Melaina felt the cold metal of spears digging into back, piercing the cloth. The sharp point had even drawn blood, but she wouldn’t show pain.

                Alex was at the head. As the cave filled with light it was obvious to everyone that he was desperately looking for a means of escape. The men hadn’t bothered to unarm them, but Melaina knew she had no hope of untying her hands. Her skin was chafing, another thing she tried to ignore. David was doing the worst out of all of them, with his wounded arm.

                She gently shrugged her shoulders. Manny had been hidden when they emerged in the clearing, and the men were clueless about him. Slowly as they reached the opening of the cave he slithered up her arm and around her neck, taking in the surroundings and the men with spears. As he did when threatened, he hissed loudly.

                Most of the men startled on seeing him. Some ran, recognizing him for the death-wish that he was. But some of had the presence of mind to fight. She stepped back as they lunged their spears towards her. Drawing out the sword, she tried to fight them without killing them, grazing the sword across their chests, making superficial yet painful wounds. They stepped back and fell. She pointed her sword at them, motioning for them to go back.

                Some of them heeded her advice. Some of them didn’t. She knew she couldn’t kill them. She didn’t want to kill them. She saw the regret in their faces, but the sense of duty of prevailed. She sprinted off into the opposite direction, praying that she wasn’t getting herself lost in the maze of caverns. Finally she saw the light, and she went faster. She could hear Alex and David behind her, and the footfalls that were further behind.

                She didn’t even understand why she ran. They had the advantage of knowing the terrain, of number and weapons. They had no hope. But then again, things were never on her side. She kept running, putting the burning pain in her lungs away. She couldn’t be distracted.

                Finally she was back in the open air, and she braked to a halt, knowing that if she ran she would fall off the side of the mountain. Taking a step back she leaned against the dragon’s nest for supporting, taking heaving breaths to slow her heart. Alex and David were by her side in seconds. She knew that they should keep running, try to hide in the forest.

                But she didn’t have the strength. With a cough she collapsed onto the ground as the soldiers with spears came into sight. She closed her eyes. It wasn’t the way that she had imagined her death. She thought about it for a second. It was exactly the way she had imagined her death. Dying on an adventure. Only she had never expected that her first adventure, her first quest, would be her last.

                Well, she would go down fighting. She reached for her sword and opened her eyes. There was no one in front of her. Alex and David were still by her sides, just a bit further off than she remembered. She stepped forward and looked in front of her. Nothing was different, except for a piece of soil that was darker than the rest and a smell of ash in the air. She looked around, at the stricken expression on Alex’s face.

                Finally it dawned on her. Swiveling around, she faced the nest. Golden eyes met her own. A scarlet dragon, the size of a wheelbarrow perched on the edge of the nest, her wings tucked to her sides and a curious expression on her face. Melaina wondered how she knew that the dragon was curious. For all she knew the expression she saw could just as well have been hungry.

                A weak sound came out of her. She hated herself for the frightened squeak, and straightened up. No, she had already gone through the fear of adventure. She was supposed to be brave. And if she died, well dying by a dragon’s hand, even if the dragon in question was tiny, was a noble death.

                Before she could withdraw her sword or take another step the dragonling jumped off the edge of the nest and landed gracelessly in front of her. The young beast cocked its head to the side, taking in her appearance. Melaina forgot to fight, realizing that she wasn’t in harm. The dragonling nipped at her shirt, and carefully circled her, its scarlet tail brushing her boots every so often.

                Melaina got down on one knee and took the dragonling’s head into her head, rubbing the scaly skin affectionately. Although the scales were rough they were warm. She was already used to Manyar. She noticed the small horns, the thin head. The dragonling was a female.

                “Gia,” she breathed out. That would be the dragon’s name. She saw David shaking his head in fear. He already realized her intent.

                “Step away, Mel, before that thing hurts you,” Alex warned her, gingerly taking steps closer with his sword in an outstretched hand.

                “Don’t be ridiculous, Alex,” she said. Rubbing Gia’s ears affectionately she added, “She loves me.”

                “She nearly turned a man into a pile of ash just five minutes ago, I don’t think she’s exactly capable of love.”

                “I think she is,” Melaina said absent-mindedly, sitting down on the ground as Gia rested her head on her shoulder. The dragon’s warm body, warm breath stifled her, but it felt good.

                “Mel!” Alex yelled, waving his hand in front of her. He still stood a few foot away, with just his hand stretched out. “We have to leave. And I highly doubt we’ll be able take it along with us.”

                “Her,” she corrected.

                “Do I look like I care?”

*             *             *

                They trudged through the forests again. Getting down the mountain had been difficult, and that too without being seen. Melaina hated the way that her adventure was going. Their supposed weapons wanted them dead. She hadn’t seen Aravi, and they were running out of provisions. Her bag, which had once been too heavy, was now far too light. And worst of all, she had left Gia behind.

                Finally Alex allowed them to stop, deeming that they were far enough away.

                “We’ll set up camp here tonight,” he said. “We’re far enough away.”

                She took the first watch. On top of the mountains she saw spirals of fire, a large one and then five tiny ones. She wondered what Gia was doing. She tried to convince herself that it was better for the dragon to be free. All previous experience told her was that dragons and people did not mix well.

                She fell asleep trying to get the warmth of Gia’s embrace out of her mind, but the cold wind kept reminding her. David was the last one to take watch. As the sun came up the sudden heat was comforting. He sat down on the forest floor and looked at his two companions. Alex slept just as he stood, stiff as a board and with no expression. Mel had her arms wrapped around herself, and her eyebrows knitted in thought. She was disappointed about the dragon.

                Manny was coiled on the ground next to her. The forest was silent. He saw the coming up, almost touching the horizon. But there was no birdsong. The silence was calming, lulling. He closed his eyes once to take a breath.

*             *             *

                He was being jolted awake. No, kicked awake. As another bout of pain hit his gut he woke up and stood up. Alex was furious. He had seen the man in anger before, but he was red in the ears. His fists were balled up, and thanks to quick thinking he avoided the first punch. But the second hit him square in the jaw.

                “Ow!” he yelled. His arm still hurt, he was in no shape to fight. “Mel! Did you see that?”

                “You deserved it Davie,” she sang back. He paused at the happiness in her voice. She should’ve been miserable. Alex had denied her a scaly pet. He didn’t think anything in the world would make her so cheerful so quickly. Turning his head he saw the reason for her joy, and his misery.

                She had a pile of sticks by her feet, and she threw it. The dragonling bounded up in the air and shot a blast of flames, reducing the stick to cinders. He saw Mel’s happy smile and couldn’t help but feel like he was watching a demented version of a child playing with their first puppy.

                “Oh dear,” he thought out loud. The dragon doted on her. She followed Melaina like a tail, never leaving her side. Of course Mel found it to be adorable.

                Finally after the dragonling had swallowed a wild pig that Alex shot, and the rest of them had their breakfast, he sat down in the clearing. During their hunt Alex had made it clear that he didn’t want a dragon around Mel. Or more specifically, around himself. Alex nudged him to start talking as Mel stroked the dragonling’s back.

                Davie had to admit that in some light, the beast was a bit cute. He cleared his throat and got rid of his conflicting thoughts. He reminded himself that although she was cute at the moment, it wouldn’t be long before she grew out of it.

                “Mel, we don’t think it’s a good idea to keep this dragon with us,” he said.

                “What?”

                She expected them to be against her keeping Gia. It was fear. But she knew that Gia wouldn’t hurt her, or any of them.

                “Dragons and people don’t mix well, Mel,” Alex added. “Look what happened to Dain.”

                “Dain stabbed Gia’s mother repeatedly while she was helpless. Of course she retaliated when she had the chance. And Gia,” she said, looking at the dragon’s round russet face, “Gia saved my life, our lives.”
                “But she can’t do well without her mother,” Alex tried. “She looks very young.”

                “That is true,” Mel admitted. She saw that the dragonling, although healthy, was just no more than a few days old.

                “Fine,” she agreed. “We’ll leave her back at the nest.”

                It was not the answer he had hoped for. Alex frowned at her idea. He had wanted to just get rid of the dragon, not go back to the place where people waited for them with pointed spears and a lifetime’s worth of hostility.

                “We can’t do that,” he commented. “Remember Aravi’s descendants? The ones that want us dead?”
                “You are an incredibly dense young man,” a clear voice rang out. Melaina smiled at the familiar voice. Finally Aravi had revealed herself again. She wondered if she would help them, show herself to Margil and his people. The warrior queen slowly materialized in front of them, her silver shimmering cloak flowing out on the ground.

                Mel exclaimed joyfully, “Aravi!”

                “Yes Melaina,” the woman said to her, taking Melaina’s chin with the tip of her finger. “I congratulate for completing my instructions.”

                “But we didn’t, Aravi,” the girl said dolefully. “Your descendants… they wouldn’t listen to us. They thought that we were against them. They tried to kill us.”

                “You found my descendants, Melaina,” the woman answered. “But they are not my weapons.”

                “So, this sword…”

                Melaina looked at Aravi’s sword, resting in her hand. It was a beautiful thing, and she knew that it had a sharp edge. It would take down dozens of men when in the right hands, but she doubted it could change the fate of a war.

                “No, the dragons,” Aravi replied, looking at the russet colored bundle of scales that playfully circled around Melaina. “The dragons are my weapons.”

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