The weather was miserable. We were enduring our umpteenth day with the temperatures dipping well below zero on the Fahrenheit scale, and the Arctic had nothing on us when it came to wind chill. I stopped listening to the weather reports when the meteorologist crowed about negative 55. Or maybe it was when he gleefully forecast another three-to-five inches of white stuff on top of the previous four three-to-five-inch snowfalls, much of which still covered our Minnesota neighborhood.
The chill in the air extended to the indoors, as my characters still blamed me for not preventing Dragon and my Arrogant One from heading off on their own, back to the land to which the wish listeners had taken us last May. They feared for the safety and wellbeing of their comrades.
And they blamed me for my Old Dwarf departing as well. When the Lord of the Forest revealed to my Old Dwarf that the elf had abandoned the mortally wounded Dragon, there was no stopping the head-strong dwarf. He and the unicorn had galloped into Dragon’s illusory fireplace and disappeared. We had heard naught from dwarf nor unicorn since. We feared we might never again see them.
I shivered, as much from the icy stares of my characters as from the winter weather. I sat on the couch, pulling a blanket closer around me. I hoped it was warmer wherever Dragon, my Arrogant One, and my Old Dwarf might be. And I feared we might never know.
* * *
The evening was unusually warm, and the trio of knights standing guard over Dragon sweated in their chain mail and plate armor. Despite the heat, Dragon was not sweating. She shivered and convulsed as the knights watched, helplessly.
“She needs to be kept warm.” Sir Hrolf looked around for something to place over the trembling beast. “We need blankets.”
Sir Daniver shook his head and raised his eyebrow at the younger knight. “She needs warmth, for sure, but one of our blankets would barely cover one of her taloned hands.”
Sir Hrolf ducked his head and blushed. “Well, we need something with which to warm her. She’s shaking so much, just the sound of her teeth chattering is sure to alert the green drake to our presence.”
“A fire would provide some heat, but it would also pinpoint our location for the drake or any other foe in the vicinity.” Sir Jeneseer rubbed the back of his neck and sighed.
Sir Daniver stroked his chin and furrowed his brow. “Leaves make a good blanket.”
“Sir?” His two young charges frowned.
“We could gather some limbs and large branches, weave them together with vines, place them over the beast, and pile as many leaves as possible on top of them.”
Sir Jeneseer scoffed. “Sir, that may work to cover a horse, but this beast is far too large for us to cover with the available vegetation.” The young knight raked his hand through his hair. “Even if enough vegetation were available, the noise of us felling limbs from nearby trees and dragging them across the clearing would alert the green drake as surely as would a fire . . . or as will Dragon’s current shakes-and-shivers.”
Sir Daniver sighed. “You are right, of course. I am grasping at straws. If we cannot quiet the beast, we will surely have to deal with the drake that attacked her. I do not relish going up against a foe so powerful, yet we are honor-bound to protect Dragon.”
“We could use more able-bodied defenders to augment our numbers.” Sir Hrolf curled his lip. “I do not imagine the dishonorable elf might let slip news of our predicament once he reaches the castle.”
Sir Jenneseer snorted. “That one? He will speak only to those who will further his agenda and share only news that will aid in his quest.”
Sir Daniver nodded. “I fear we are on our own; and, as darkness is almost upon us, we need to set our defenses now.”
Sir Hrolf nodded, but Sir Jennesser was staring at a figure approaching on the road that led from the other side of the clearing. “Look there! Is that the Lord of the Forest?”
The trio of knights watched as the equine walked sedately along the path. As it entered the clearing, the knights could barely make it out in the fading twilight.
Sir Daniver squinted in the direction of the figure. “Nay, that is not the unicorn. That is a horse and rider.” He continued to squint as the figure drew nigh. “Why . . . why, it is the elf! He has returned!”
* * *
The Arrogant One slid wearily from the horse’s back. He looked at Dragon, shivering and moaning in the shelter of the trees at the edge of the clearing. He turned to the knights. “Has there been any change in the beast’s condition?”
“You can plainly see there has not.” Sir Daniver crossed his arms over his chest. His words were soft, but his anger was barely concealed by his tone. “Why have you returned?”
The elf sighed. “The road would not end.”
“What?” The knight furrowed his brow. “I do not understand.”
The elf related the events of his futile attempt to flee to the safety of the castle. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/02/10/dire-plights/ “And so, I gave the horse his head, and he brought me back here.”
“What is the force behind such trickery?” Sir Hrolf frowned. “Would the wish listeners have done this?”
Sir Jenneseer shrugged. “Mayhap. Or perchance the Lord of the Forest guided the elf back here to assist us in defending this beast.”
The Arrogant One scoffed. “What help can I be? What chance do the four of us have to defend against the drake that inflicted such wounds on this beast? If she could not protect herself, how do you expect us to do better?”
Sir Hrolf smiled. “How did we have any chance of defending our castle when last you and your companions were in this land?”
The other two knights and the Arrogant One all looked at Sir Hrolf, their lack of comprehension clearly showing in their faces.
The young knight smiled again, smugly. “Magic.”
“Magic?” The elf gaped at the knight.
“Yes, magic. Illusory magic, such as you and your companions used to help us save our castle.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/home/
The elf continued to gape. “You know my magic is unreliable at this time. That is why the beast and I are here in your world – to seek the source of the problem. And . . . and even if my power was up to par, I . . . I would need time to prepare . . .”
“Well, ye be outten time, elfie.” The Old Dwarf seemed to appear out of nowhere at the elf’s elbow. “Ye best be gittin’ ta work.” The stocky figure’s face was grim, and the look he gave the elf left no doubt in the Arrogant One’s mind what would happen if he did not comply.
“How can we help?” Sir Janneseer approached the elf, his shoulders squared and his jaw set.
Before the Arrogant One could answer, the dwarf motioned for them all to be silent. He whispered to the elf. “Tha very firstest thin’ ye best be doin’ is ta be castin’ one o them ward thingies Dragon al’ays be usin. Ye be knowin’ wat I be talkin’ aboot. A spell ta be keepin’ pryin’ eyes and ears outten’ our bizz-ee-ness.” He motioned toward the nearby hillside. “Elsewise, we be havin’ some unwanted company real quick-like.”
The elf’s eyes widened, and his throat constricted. “I do not cast wards. That is one of Dragon’s talents! My aptitude is illusory magic!”
“Do na be handin’ me thet twaddle! I be rememberin’ thet time, more’n two years past, when ye be in league wit thet evil wizard, Morcant. Ye be kidnappin’ me and Cleric, and ye be hidin’ us in tha shed loft. Then ye be settin’ a magical barrier wat be keepin’ us hidden from everyone.”
The elf furrowed his brow. “Yes, yes, I remember! That was not a ward, but a spell of concealment, much like the one Dragon uses to keep the neighbors from seeing and hearing the illusory stable and horses she created for three of our company. I learned the spell from Morc . . . I mean, er, from another magic user.” He turned red as he remembered the incident. “Yes, I might be able to use that same spell here to hide us all from the drake. If my magic will work, that is.”
The dwarf gave a short nod of his head. “Ye be givin’ it yer best effort, elfie.”
The Arrogant One began mumbling an incantation, hoping against hope that he would be able to cast the requisite spell, with no unintended results. Beads of sweat formed on his brow, and he could barely choke out the conjuration.
* * *
The drake moved quietly as a shadow through the grass. His green scales blended with the lush foliage, camouflaging him perfectly. He snaked his way down the hillside, inching along toward the wounded dragon and her companions. He tested the air, searching for the flavor of fear. He tasted it, strong and intoxicating, from some unknown source. It was not the dragon he had wounded earlier, nor her knightly companions. Perchance it was the other biped, whose species was unknown to him. But it mattered little. He tasted fear – stark, naked fear. He rolled it around in his mouth and savored it.
* * *
While the Arrogant One attempted to cast the necessary spell to conceal the group from the approaching drake, the Old Dwarf walked over to stand by Dragon. The creature was still convulsing and shivering, but not as violently as earlier. “Be she gittin’ better, or be she gittin’ weaker?”
Sir Daniver placed a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. “We do not know enough about dragons to determine her condition. We can only wait and hope that she is on the mend.”
The dwarf reached out and stroked Dragon’s muzzle. “Beastie? I be here, beastie. Ye do na be dyin’ on me now. Ye do na be leavin’ me! Ye be gittin’ yerself healed up and well agin’, beastie.” The dwarf’s voice cracked, and he hid his face in his hands, so no one could see the tears streaming down his face.
* * *
Dragon struggled against the searing pain. The shattered bones in her arm were slowly knitting, and the leathery skin and skeletal frame of her wings were mending. The gashes that ran along her left side were still open and bleeding. They burned with the poison from the green drake, poison that now coursed through her feverish body. The pain was almost unbearable.
Suddenly, Dragon felt something else. Something was reaching through the pain, nudging at the edge of Dragon’s consciousness. A voice. Dragon heard a voice. Whose voice? She strained to hear. Did the voice say Beastie? She knew that voice! The diminutive owner of that voice was someone from her past, from two different pasts in two different worlds.
In the more distant world, that voice had been shy and sweet. The young owner of that voice had carved little gifts for her. There had been a miniature dragon, about the size of his fist, carved from a piece of reddish stone; and there had been a small, white figure with hair and beard, a reasonable likeness of her friend who had carved it.
In another world, a more recent world, that voice had grown gruff and cantankerous, but the aging owner of that voice was someone she knew would give his life to protect her, as she would give hers to protect him.
What is he doing here? He must not be here! Dragon thrashed about, frantically trying to find her friend. I must warn him!
Will Dragon be able to warn her friend, my Old Dwarf? Will she succumb to her wounds, or will her friend be able to save her? Will my Arrogant One be able to cast his spell, and hide the group from the green drake? Be sure to join us again next week as this exciting adventure continues. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!