The knights paced, wringing their hands and wincing at the sounds of Dragon’s screams. The beast continued to convulse, and cries of agony accompanied each tremor.
“We must find a way to ease the beast’s pain!” Sir Jenneseer’s voice was raw with emotion. His furrowed brow and red-rimmed eyes mirrored the compassion and empathy for Dragon that was clearly etched on the faces of his companions.
“I know of no way to help her.” Sir Daniver raked his hand through his hair and heaved a huge sigh. “The salve I applied to her wounds did little to alleviate the pain, and nothing to counter the cause. The drake’s venom is very powerful. It may prove fatal to friend Dragon.”
Sir Hrolf whirled and called to the Arrogant One, who was standing off to the side under a tree, scanning the hillside. “Elf! Is there nothing your magic can do for the beast?”
The Arrogant One scowled and shook his head. “I am not a healer. Even if I knew some basic spells of healing, I could not risk casting them. I still do not even know if the spell of concealment I cast worked properly.”
Sir Hrolf scoffed and slashed his arm downward in a dismissive gesture. “Surely it must have, else the drake would have been upon us by now.”
The elf sighed. “Mayhap. But, as I said, I am not a healer. Even if I was assured my magic would work perfectly, I do not have any skill in the healing arts.”
“But I know one who has such skill.” Sir Jenneseer spoke so softly, the others barely heard him. He repeated himself, louder.
Sir Daniver shook his head at his young charge. “Even if you know one, there is no way to safely leave this area to fetch a healer.”
The young knight blushed scarlet. “Not a healer, Sir Daniver. That is, not an ordained healer, like a cleric. But I do know someone who might help. And I am sure I can summon her here.”
The older knight gave him a quizzical look but brightened as the realization hit him. “Of course!” Sir Daniver smiled. “I had forgotten about your sister. She helped us search for the Lord of the Forest when we first discovered he was missing. She has healing powers?”
Sir Jenneseer nodded. “I am certain she does.” He reached into the pouch hanging on his belt and produced a stone, a heart-shaped piece of rose quartz. “She gave me this many years ago. She has its mate. We can communicate using the stones.”
“There is no need, brother. I am already here.”
The three knights and the elf jumped and whirled to face the speaker, who stood just a few feet away.
“Tasmin!” Sir Jenneseer ran to his sister and embraced her warmly, then gently held her at arms’ length and gaped at her. “But . . . but how did you get here? And how did you know we needed your help?”
The hedge witch answered him with a tight-lipped smile. “The Lord of the Forest sent me news of your predicament. The unicorn provided me the formula and the ingredients for the antidote needed by yon beast. I will attend her. The four of you remain here.”
“Wait!” Sir Daniver’s eyes widened. “The Lord of the Forest lives? He is safe?”
“He is, but that is a tale for another time. Right now, your friend needs my help.”
* * *
The Old Dwarf peeked out from under the branches of the stand of weeping willows. He had led the green drake down the hillside and across an expanse of forest. They had been playing cat and mouse for several hours, and the old warrior was tired. Iffins I kin jest be catchin’ me breath! He peered around but saw no sign of the monster. He leaned against the tree trunk and rested for another few moments. As he rested, he studied the deeply grooved trunk of the tree, and the easy handholds it provided. Nodding to himself, he grabbed hold of the tree and inched silently up the trunk and into the branches.
* * *
The green drake snaked through the underbrush, zeroing in on the scent of the frustrating creature he had stalked for more than two hours. Closer, closer, he edged toward the weeping willows and his quarry.
Gotcha! The drake pounced, but the rotund figure he had been stalking was gone. Impossible! Where did that little rodent go? The drake sniffed all around the weeping willows. The scent of the dwarf was strong, but the drake could not determine in which direction his small foe had gone. The creature growled and narrowed his eyes. Very well. I grow weary of this game. I will return to the hillside. The dragon should be dead by now, and the others will slake my appetite. The drake spread his wings and started to leap into the air, but a searing pain shot through his shoulder. He crashed to the ground, writhing in pain.
* * *
“Hehehe. Been ye lookin’ fer me, monster?” The Old Dwarf had caught the behemoth with his scalpel-sharp axe, neatly severing the tendons of one wing as the creature had been taking flight. “It jest be a real shame, be it not, thet I dinna be havin’ no poison ta be puttin’ on me blade.”
The dwarf dropped nimbly from the branches of the tree. He bent his knees as he hit the ground to absorb the impact of the fall, then he tucked his head and rolled onto his side. Then, he was up and running again, running for his very life, the wounded monster crashing through the trees right on his heels.
* * *
Tasmin approached Dragon, carefully avoiding the convulsing beast’s flailing tail. She spread her arms and held her hands out, palm down, while she intoned an incantation. She felt another mind entering hers, and together the two minds tried to ease their way into Dragon’s mind. The intruding duo met with much resistance. Even mortally injured, Dragon’s will was strong. She fought the unknown invaders.
Sweat dripped from Tasmin’s brow, stinging her eyes. Her shoulders ached from holding her open-armed position. Still, she remained focused. She must reach Dragon and communicate. The beast’s life depended on it, as did her own, and the lives of her brother and his companions.
Slowly, the hedge witch and the mind linked with hers wormed their way through Dragon’s defenses. That’s right. Do not fear. We are here to help. Finally, Dragon understood, and quieted.
Tasmin took a large phial from her pouch and uncorked it. She slowly poured its contents into Dragon’s mouth, holding the beast’s head up. Be careful, my friend. Do not choke. And make sure you swallow every drop!
Tasmin gently eased Dragon’s head back onto the ground. The hedge witch stood and stretched. She beckoned her brother and his companions. “I have administered the antidote. The effects of the venom should soon be nullified. Then I will aid the beast in complete healing.”
“Aid her how?” The Arrogant One tilted his head and looked curiously at Tasmin.
Tasmin explained quickly. “As I am sure you are aware, in most circumstances, a dragon has the ability to heal itself of even the gravest illness or most terrible injury. But, in addition to her broken bones and torn flesh, your friend has been subjected to an almost lethal dose of poison from the green drake. It has slowed her natural ability to recover. I possess some skill as a healer. I will add my power to Dragon’s and help accelerate her recovery. I also act as a conduit for power greater than my own, power equal to Dragon’s. The Lord of the Forest will also lend his healing touch, through me.”
* * *
Return. Return to the clearing, to your friends.
The dwarf cocked his head and tried to hear the voice. Eh?
Return to the clearing.
The dwarf shook his head at the voice in his head and continued running away from the clearing by the hillside. Nay! I canna be goin’ back ta tha clearin’! I canna be leadin’ this monster back ta tha udders, back ta tha beastie!
By the time you get to the clearing, all will be in readiness.
Be tha beastie better? She do na be dyin’?
She is recovering.
Ye be tellin’ me true, you-nee-corn? The Old Dwarf puffed along, just ahead of the wounded drake.
Yes, venerable Dragon-friend. I am telling you the truth.
The rotund figure changed direction so fast he skidded right between the legs of his pursuer.
* * *
“We need to prepare our defenses.” Sir Daniver addressed the group. “Friend Dragon, it is good that you have recovered. You and the elf should prepare illusions, legions of dragons and knights, such as the ones with which you defended our castle last time you were in our lands.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/15/preparing/ and https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/home/
Dragon frowned. “That will not work against the drake, noble knight. He would immediately see the dragons and the knights were but illusion, no matter how solid and substantial they may be. It is one of the innate abilities of my kind.”
Sir Hrolf gasped and wiped the sweat from his brow. “We had been depending on that defense! If we cannot use illusion, what do you suggest? We certainly cannot use brute force. As mighty as you are, you were almost defeated by the drake in physical combat.”
Tasmin stepped forward, staring at the Arrogant One. “The elf holds the answer.”
Everyone gaped at the elf, who threw his hands up and gaped back at them. “I have no answers. If illusion will not work, what else have I to offer?”
The hedge witch gave the Arrogant One an enigmatic half-smile. “When the time comes, you will know what must be done.”
“Are you sure of this, Tasmin?” Sir Jenneseer gave his sister a sharp look.
“I am, brother. Do not worry. This is not just my opinion. I have it on good authority.” The hedge witch smiled again.
* * *
The Old Dwarf’s strength was flagging. His breath came in ragged gasps, and his heart pounded as if on the verge of bursting. Still, the rotund figure raced toward the hillside and the clearing beyond. He knew that one hesitation, one slip of a foot, one pause to take a breath, and he would be snatched up in the jaws of the monster that was so close on his heels, he could feel the drops of venom splashing from its maw onto his armor.
I be al’mos there. Jus’ a wee bit more an’ I be safe. The dwarf repeated those words like a mantra as he reached the hillside. With feet that felt like lead weights, the old warrior dropped to the ground and scrambled up the hill on all fours, grabbing saplings and grass and vines, and pulling himself up the steep incline. At the top, he somersaulted down the other side and into the clearing.
* * *
The others were waiting for the dwarf. As he tumbled into the clearing, Dragon snatched him and pulled him out of the path of the pursuing drake.
The drake, barely slowed by the almost-severed wing he dragged along, reared up to attack Dragon and the Old Dwarf, but the knights immediately set upon him. Unable to do any real damage, the knights still stabbed and slashed with their swords, harrying the monster and keeping him from his quarry.
As the drake whipped his tail around and swept his tormentors away, the Arrogant One leaped forward. Casting all doubt from his mind, the elf chanted a spell, articulating the words clearly and with confidence.
The drake roared. Within seconds, that roar was but a shrill whimper, as the hulking beast shrank to the size of a small terrier.
The elf grabbed the Old Dwarf. “Quick! Use your axe!”
Hardly aware of what he was doing, the dwarf brought his axe down, neatly severing the head of the miniaturized monster. The grizzled warrior promptly collapsed into Dragon’s arms.
* * *
Many hours later, the Old Dwarf awoke. He was in a luxurious bedchamber, on a cushiony mattress, his head on the softest of down pillows, with a warm comforter over his weary body. Dragon, in her favored guise of an elf maiden, was sitting next to him. The Arrogant One, the three knights, and a woman the dwarf did not recognize, were also crowded around the bed.
The old warrior sighed as he reached for Dragon’s hand. “Ye be na dead, beastie! Ye be na dead!” He patted her hand and gazed at her fondly, then abruptly scowled at her. “Do na e’er be doin’ thet ta me again! I ne’er been so afeared!”
Dragon laughed. “I am alive and well, thanks to Sir Jenneseer’s sister, Tasmin.” She gestured to the young woman, who nodded a hello to the dwarf. “Tasmin is a hedge witch with considerable healing power.”
The dwarf reached for Dragon, who helped her small friend into a sitting position. “Ah, thet be better.” He extended his hand to Tasmin. “I be right grateful ta ye, lassie.”
Tasmin blushed as she shook the dwarf’s hand. “I did have some help.”
The Old Dwarf looked around. “Wale, it be appearin’ likens we all be alive, though some o us be a bit worsen fer wear. Wot be happenin’ ta the drake?”
Dragon raised an eyebrow. “Do you not remember? The elf shrank him, and you decapitated him.”
“Ye been shrunkin’ ’em?” The dwarf looked impressed.
“It was a spell that created a small problem for me in the past (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/a-small-problem/), but something . . . or someone . . . told me I could handle it this time.” The elf glanced over at Tasmin, who smiled.
“Wale I be plum speechless. Ye be right clever aboot thet, elfie!”
The Arrogant One smiled smugly, looked down his nose at the dwarf, and stated calmly, “Do not call me elfie!”
The dwarf chuckled, then turned back to Dragon. “And where be tha you-nee-corn?”
“That is a long story, one I will share with you when we are back in the other world with Mistress Writer and the others. Speaking of which, come. It is time to go.”
After some heartfelt thank-yous and goodbyes were exchanged, Dragon, the Old Dwarf, and the Arrogant One left the castle and headed back to the spot where the Lord of the Forest would send them back whence they came.
* * *
That evening, we were all in the conference room. Dragon, my Old Dwarf, and my Arrogant One had related all that had transpired. Now, my Arrogant One was regaling his sidekick, my Bounty Hunter, (and anyone else who cared to listen) with the details of his exploits. Nearby, Dragon was back in her reptilian form, lounging in front of her illusory fireplace, a contented grin on her face. Flames periodically shot from her maw in the direction of my Old Dwarf, who giggled each time as he ducked behind his shield. “Ye be havin’ ta be faster than thet iffin ye be wantin’ ta be roastin’ me, beastie!” His eyes shined with affection and unwavering devotion for his old friend.
Miles looked at me. “It’s good to have them all home again, safe and sound, isn’t it?”
I smiled and nodded.
Be sure to return each week to enjoy the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.