Mistress of Dragons
The wind grasped at his clothes, trying to pull them off, but his mind was so concentrated on his task, the whip of the wind didn?t hurt across his face. Exhaustion was at the edge of his mind, trying to stop him from completing his task, but an uncompleted task always backlashed when left alone. The wood was beginning to look fuzzy, but its atoms were as clear as his hand in front of him. He slowly manipulated them into a cris-cross pattern, instead of the usual straight pattern. The lightning streaked across the sky, and rain started pelting down and smashed his clothes tight across his body. The light the lightning supplied showed him that he had succeeded in his try. The wood now looked like gold.
His exuberance was almost enough to make him forget his fatigue. Cairbre?s body felt like it was weighted down with lead, and the storm wasn?t about to let up. His view from the top of the hill showed him that the creek in the middle of the meadow was about to overflow. If he wanted to get away before it did, he?d have to run, and his body wasn?t in any condition to try that. His druid?s robes weighed ten times more than normal, and he could barely lift his arms. His mind was unusually sharp, but it always was after a spell, unlike his body which was always exhausted from working magic.
Cairbre focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and tried to get across the meadow in front of him. The grass was up to his knees, entangling itself in his robes, making his progress even slower than he thought it would be. The rain was coming down so fast it felt like little things of ice falling from the sky, making it hard for him to see. The creek was dangerously high when Cairbre was halfway across the meadow, and from his position he didn?t know how far he had to still go. The edge of the forest was in view, but it looked so small and far away his hopes for getting out of the storm were waning. His sharpness of mind was beginning to fade, and his mind strayed from his task, until he realized he?d stopped. Blackness was beginning to set in, but the roar of the storm, and the far away ocean made him sway with the power held within its cries. He felt the gentle, loving earth beneath his arms, and knew he had fallen, but could not find the strength to care. All that was on his mind was combining with the Goddess and his precious daughter. I love you, little one . . . and I always will. I can?t believe I won?t live to see your next birthday. Take care, my sweet Nuala. That was his last coherent thought.
The bag was heavy after carrying it for hours on end. The small piece of wood that had single handedly killed her father, was in it, and she would not barter with it, no matter how hard her companion and maid, Keira, tried to convince her too. Her friend still refused to believe it was wood, it looked so much like gold, it could have fooled anyone, including her if she didn?t know better. The tingle of magic tickled her skin as she shifted the bag, making her wiggle and she had to suppress a laugh lest she give herself away.
Trickery was as important at that moment as breathing is on a regular basis. Her white hair was bound at her nape, hidden under a clothe, as was ?proper?, but that wasn?t the real reason. Men were searching for her, well really for the thing that was in her bag, but they knew, if they found her, they?d find it. Nuala didn?t really know why they wanted it so bad, it was just a piece of wood that looks like gold. The thing was evil, it had drained her father of all his energy, and he had died trying to get away from a storm. She remembered that night well, unfortunately.
Her screams resounded through the night, her nursemaid Keira held her close telling her everything was okay. The lightning screamed its rage at being interrupted by a mere slip of a girl for no reason at all. ?Keira! Where is father? I dreamed he lay dying in the storm! Keira, I want my da!? her sobs racked her small body, fat tears rolling out of her strange eyes. She reached out a shaking hand and grabbed the one constant in her life, next to her father.
?He went out for a little stroll, then he was going to complete his job for Belinus. You and I both know that he will return, it?s just taking a little longer than he thought.? Keira said, rubbing her little charge?s rare white hair, making little soothing noises, trying to calm her to no effect.
?I saw him! Keira, I saw him! He was laying face down in the mud, not breathing, not even moving! Why wasn?t he moving? To live you must breathe, that can only mean that he is dead! But, da can?t be dead! What will I do without him? What will we do without him?? Nuala was near hysterics when she reached her last question, her sobs coming even faster, and Keira started to feel herself waver. Her charge had known things before, which she couldn?t possibly have known, yet she couldn?t believe that her boss, Cairbre, was really dead. ?Where is da?? Nuala asked again, her violet eyes glistening with more tears, that Keira knew, now after the initial shock, she wouldn?t let fall, no matter what.
That was the last thing Nuala said, until a year ago, when Belinus had died and Brennius had taken his place. That was when she received the piece of wood/gold, which was now more precious than life to her. A hand grasped her arm, forcing her mind back to reality, away from the path of memories. Keira silently warned her to pay attention. They were outside the gates of Comlaich, the guards of the city, searching everyone. They would have to sneak through while someone else walked in. Luckily, it didn?t drain her to make the guards look the other way, when she needed them, too. She slowly gathered magic from within her, gathering it around her being and Keira?s body. Then, slowly whispered into the guard?s heads. Look, look the other way.
An old lady, clinging to a young man, had just been checked and her progress through the
gate was slow. Nuala threw her hand up, and Keira slipped into the town, then into an alleyway. Nuala approached slowly, keeping her thoughts silent, while concentrating on the guards? thoughts. She knew the moment they saw her, it was an alarm in their minds, so she was ready when they asked her to stop. ?Lady! Halt! You cannot go into Comlaich, not until we make sure you are not a threat to our god, Brennius!? The guard who had spoken, thrust out his hands, grabbed both her arms, and pinned them to her side.
Nuala made herself face her captor, and found herself looking up into a set of cold, gray eyes. She wanted to smile in satisfaction when he flinched, violet eyes were a mark of the gods. The followers of the Goddess considered it a blessing, saying it marked great power. It also was considered a grave offense to hurt one of ?The Marked Ones.? On the other hand, the followers of the Sun thought it a curse, and if found by one, she would be killed on the spot, she could only hope that her captor was a follower of the Goddess, mother of all. She soon had her answer.
The guard tightened his grip, making it hard for her to concentrate on anything but the pain. He leaned close, and she could smell horse, sweat, and iron on him. When his face was an inch away from hers, close enough for her to smell the kik* on his breath and to see his rotten, yellow teeth, he stopped. ?I warn you, hatshep*, not many here like your kind. So watch yourself.? He stepped back, easing his grip on Nuala?s arms, then without warning dropped her to the ground.
Laughter erupted from the crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle. Nuala?s hand instinctively went to her head scarf. She could see the purple ends dangling in front of her shoulders, where they were supposed to be, but that didn?t mean her scarf hadn?t fallen back to reveal her hair. She breathed a small sigh of relief when her hand contacted the dyed lakta*. She looked at the booted foot in front of her. It was shinier and decorated more than a regular soldier?s boots. She pulled her lithe body into a tight ball, her traditional robes wrapped around her. She didn?t dare raise her eyes, heeding the guards warning.
A heavy hand grasped her shoulder. Fingernails dug into her shoulder, making her want to flinch, but she wouldn?t allow herself to look so weak. She bite her lip, the pain there keeping her mind from rebelling against the pain in her shoulder. The ground started looking farther away, and she realized whoever it was, was lifting her clear of the ground. She tentatively lifted her eyes, but this time she didn?t look the person in the face. Her eyes saw nobler robes than her own, with the kati* usually worn by nobles. His kati announced that his name was Cian Adair, and the son of Ahearn Adair. She didn?t need to look up to know she was in trouble. Cian was said to be the closest person to the head priest of the Sun. She would die soon.
The hand stayed on her shoulder after she had risen, but the force of the grip intensified. ?Who is this person that refuses a simple search, Bevan?? the deep, rich voice asked of the man who had dropped me. I kept my eyes on the ground, hoping, nay, praying to the Goddess to get me out of this alive. If I could have used magic to get away, I would have, but the pain kept my attention on my shoulder, and Lord Adair had me by the shoulder.
?She didn?t tell me her name, or why she was coming into town, Lord. She hasn?t said anything, Lord Adair.? She could feel the men?s gazes on her, and the rest of the crowd, too. She didn?t even acknowledge them. She just kept her gaze on the ground. She could see her own hand shaking out of the corner of her eye. Her whole body felt numb, all except the now unendurable pain in her shoulder. She bit her lip, trying to concentrate on anything except her shoulder and her fear.
?Miss? Look at me!? his grip tightened, Nuala didn?t know how, because it had already hurt so much, but he did. She slowly lifted her eyes from the ground, and deliberately looked him in the eye a moment, and then looked away. She heard a swift breath being taken in, and felt the hand muscles flinch. Good, she thought to herself, a wicked smile forming on her lips, let him flinch. She knew she wouldn?t get another chance so she slid out of his grasp as he gathered himself. The crowd breathed in a collective breath of shock, for she had been leaning into his hand, as if otherwise she wouldn?t be able to stand.
She, herself, wasn?t sure if she could stand on her own, she was so scared and afraid. She was scared, but she wasn?t powerless. The gate was still functioning and an old couple was heading through at that moment. She seized her opportunity, drawing on her extra energy and a little of her magic, she forced everyone to look away, and ran. She realized as she glided through the gate that there was a commotion where she had just been, and that she had made everyone look away except Lord Adair, and he was raising the alarm. Too late! Too late! Keira here I come!
She ran to the alleyway that Keira had gone through earlier, and quickly read the array left behind for her. Keira must have known Nuala had been caught, because she had set up a message using what was originally in the alley. Long ago, Keira had been worried how to communicate with her about where she was, when Nuala wasn?t with her. They had found a way with the rubble lying around in different places, and this message gave her specific directions to Kopel Lodge.
She darted down the dirty alleyway, taking a right and then a left and finally, just when her abs started hurting and she was running out of breath, she came upon the Kopel Lodge. A single lamp burned at the front, lighting up a broken down sign with the name of the lodge, written in rickety handwriting. She knocked on the creaky, old door, she could feel the impression of a thousand hands doing the same thing that she was doing now. A young woman answered the door, contradicting the feel of antiquity that hung around the place. The young lady stared at her, then finally overcoming her fear of Nuala?s strange eyes, she asked the young women?s business at the Kopel Lodge. ?I am supposed to meet a friend who is staying here. Nakia Dephtati.? The young woman looked suspicious, but did not reproach Nuala. She closed the door, not caring if Nuala froze to death in the cold, or if someone tried to take her. The creaking of rusting bolts announced when the young lady was back.
?She will see you now.? The young lady stood to the side and allowed Nuala her first glimpse of the place she was now staying at. The narrow hallway was tinted a dark gray that allowed a person to only see as far as their lantern, or their accustomed eyes allowed. The smell of rotten meat assaulted her nose as she crammed her small body through the door. It amazed her that Keira, so bigger than her, had fit through that tiny, tiny door. Nuala had to squint to even see where the stairs began. The young lady, she still didn?t know her name, pointed up the stairs and told her that the person she sought was in the third room on the left. She also warned Nuala not to mistake the second room for the third or even the fourth room for the third, in this, she said, you must trust me. Nuala knew from the tone in the woman?s voice, that it was imperative for her to count the doors right.
Nuala put her foot on the first step and a loud creaking noise sounded throughout the lodge. The dust that came off the railing as she touched it, made her want to laugh and sneeze at the same time. From the accumulation that came off onto her hand, she knew it hadn?t been cleaned in a while, maybe not even since it was installed. It might have been her imagination, but she could have sworn nothing could have been darker than the hallway, but the upstairs certainly was darker. She put her foot up to catch the next step, and there wasn?t one. She fell, sprawled on her stomach in a spread eagle fashion, and got dust all over the front of her. It was like the people never cleaned, but of course, that would make the palace and royal guards not search here for her. They hated the dirt and dust as much as she did, but she would learn to deal with it. She had no choice.
She cursed silently, as fluid in cursing as any of the sailors that helped her and Keira escape persecution before. She slowly moved every body part, making sure nothing had broken or bruised to badly. Her shoulder was still complaining, but this time she had landed on it, and it now had another excuse to bruise. Nuala grimaced at the image her mind produced for her, of what her shoulder would look like in the morning. Keira would have a fit. Once she was assured the damage was only minor, she shifted her weight onto her now steady hands. A small sliver of pain shot up her arm from her left wrist, but she ignored it, concentrating on quieting her mind so she could pay attention to getting to the right room. She tentatively reached out with her mind to the closest person in the room to her left. Her muscles screamed in rebellion against the movement of getting herself upright. Her legs felt like she had just run a marathon, and she was equally out of breath. What was making her like this? Surely, not a simple fall, when she miscalculated and took an extra stair that wasn?t there. No, something was wrong. She needed Keira now!
Nuala quickly forgot her misgivings and called out to her friend, and the one constant companion in her life, her anchor to the past and present, without her, how would she remember, who would remember with her? Nuala focused all her power on the single image of Keira in her mind. Keira?s long black hair being cut jaggedly with a knife, by a man trying to get at her charge. Keira had never flinched from her loyalty to her dead boss? daughter. Nuala?s mind frantically sought Keira?s mind, her energy draining, while her physical body swayed on its feet. The world started to spin slowly, and her stomach and head were in disagreement about which way it was moving. Her eyes unfocused and refocused, not actually sure which they liked better, they just helped her stomach and head get even more confused than they had been.
Ice cold hands grabbed her upper arms, not in an iron fist like the man earlier that day, but gentle, persuasive, coaxing her to stand up. She slowly rose, leaning heavily on whoever had her by the arms, and frankly she didn?t care who it was, as long as she was no longer alone in her misery. A soothing voice kept on saying her name, but she couldn?t form any reply, it was like her lips didn?t understand what she wanted of them. Not even her eyelids would obey her commands. They remained closed no matter what she tried. A soft, cool clothe wiped over her face, relieving her of the heat that was radiating from her, like heat radiated off the sun. The Sun! Of course, the Lord must be looking for her, and he was making her sick!
She pushed with her mind and will to make just her fingers move. The now normal numbness started spreading up her arm, and she refused to give in. There it was. Whenever she got close to defeating the numbness, Nuala would feel an invisible force pushing on her, not her physical being, but her magical being. She had been right in her guess, this wasn?t a normal sickness, someone was intentionally making her ill. A quiet, peaceful presence was nearby, but although it had the semblance of peace, she could feel the fear coming from it. She gently reached out to this new person, and realized she knew whoever it was! It was Keira! Nuala made a new effort to break the bonds holding her hostage in her own body. A serpentine voice spoke in the back of her mind, making her convulse and unwillingly listen. You may have won this time, but don?t celebrate for too long....
Nuala came to herself with a start. She really had expected the pain to be far worse than it really was. Her shoulder still ached, but not as badly as it had when she had fallen. She could feel a ilope* underneath her, the soft cushions remained silent as she circumspectly rose, trying to get a good view of her surroundings. The red of the room blended with the deep brown furniture, what little there was that could be called furniture. Next to the ilope that she was lying on, there was only a small chest, another small chest, and her bag of belongings. ?I thought you?d never wake up!? Keira exclaimed, with a sigh of ease. ?You were out for so long, Nuala, that I was scared of losing you! I screamed your name, wiped you down when your fever got high, but it still wasn?t enough. I figured out that it wasn?t natural about the time you reached out for me. I?m really glad you?re safe. We must leave soon.?
?Has the knarr* left yet?? Nuala asked cautiously, her head had started pounding the moment Keira had started talking, and it didn?t feel like it was likely to abate soon. Her hope of escape began to wane as Keira slowly shook her head yes.
?It left two days ago. You?ve been out for a week.? A week! How did that happen? If the knarr had already left, then they were stranded! But, she couldn?t stay here, Lord Adair would certainly be looking for her. She looked at her companion, her face draining away of all its color. Her friend didn?t look any better. She obviously hadn?t slept since Nuala had come down with the strange ?disease?. Keira?s famous black hair, which she had been named for, was dull and limp against her pale face. She met Nuala?s gaze, but quickly looked away, wringing her hands, refusing to meet her friend?s gaze again. ?I?ve talked to some of my shipping mates, and there is a boat leaving for the Olakes. I?ve had your ticket here.? Keira grabbed on of the chests, and shuffled through its contents, until she found the ticket. ?Now, before you can complain and yell, I?ve made up my mind. You are being hunted, and you must get out of the country. There?s only one ticket, and you?re going, no arguing!?
Nuala knew Keira was right, but had a hard time understanding anyway. They spent the next hour arguing over it. In the end Keira won, her logic was flawless, and she was right, Nuala needed to get out of the country. If she stayed, Brennius would eventually catch her and force her to show him how to rearrange an elements atoms to make it different. Then he could change things to what he wanted them to be, and he would have total domination. That wasn?t allowed to happen. Even if Brennius somehow didn?t find her, the followers of the Sun would, and then she would be dead. Neither option was to her liking, so she must leave, there was no other alternative.
The next morning, they set off for the docks, the crew of the knarr had loaded the ship during the night. The captain had been told the real name of the person who was his guest, and knew why they made such haste. The crew was paid no matter what, they didn?t know why they had loaded during the night, but they didn?t complain or ask, it wasn?t their place to know about such things. The captain, Captain Halifax, was a tall man, very muscular, and a very dignified man. Nuala knew get respect for the man as he calmly took her hand, the only sign he showed of nervousness, was his constant glances at her scarf-covered head.
The breeze in the wind told her that the tide was good, but a storm was coming in, and if they wanted to get away from it, they would have to leave right there and then. Nuala turned to her constant ally, the one person who had been there the whole time, and she couldn?t stop the tears the wound up going down her face. The warm air, cool breeze, and the sounds of the crew at work, suddenly didn?t feel welcoming anymore. She had always loved traveling, but Keira had always gone with her. She realized that she had never, truly, been alone before. When her father was still alive, he had been her constant play mate, and when she got older Keira was her dearest friend. And now, she had to leave the one anchor in her life behind, just so she could continue that life. She wanted to scream that life wasn?t fair, but she didn?t. It wouldn?t help, no matter how hard she wished it. She had to leave. Before it had seemed like it might be possible, but now, faced with the parting they had both dreaded, they both thought it impossible.
?I...I don?t know what to say, Keira. I can?t believe you?re staying behind, but I know I must go.? Her hands were shaking as she slowly reached up to hug her friend. The fierceness of her grip, and the responding force of Keira?s, reassured her that her bedfellow didn?t want her to go, as much as she didn?t want to leave.
?You must leave, sweetie. But remember dear, old Keira. I?ll always be here for you when you need me.? Keira whispered into her ear as they embraced again. Both of their faces were wet with tears as they pulled away. Nuala felt like she was in shock, but she was functioning normally. She slowly walked down the dock, and Captain Halifax offered her his hand. She gratefully took his offered hand, and stepped down into the craft. The provisions were at the other end of the boat, there were so few of them, she knew they would be stopping somewhere else for more. Nuala raised her hand in farewell to her friend, just as a mighty gust of wind rushed into their sail. After a minute, and her friend being nothing more than a speck on the opposite shore, Nuala started bawling, no one could get her to stop.
To be continued . . .
A dictionary of unknown words:
*kik- alcoholic beverage
*lakta- material used to make clothes; soft/smooth like silk, as tough as wool
*kati- describes person?s heritage, used with dyes (the way arranged), usually worn by nobles
*ilope- bed/platform; has high railings around whole bed except a small section for entering and leaving; usually soft cushions placed in different places for comfort.
*knarr- cargo ship; a Viking cargo ship; said to have been used by Erik the Red.
May dragons bring you wealth
and guard your treasures
May they banish darkness and enlighten you
May female dragons grant you inner power
May the Dragon Queen
neutralize your enemies
May Dragon Spirits
give you power over Elementals
May weather dragons
bring rain at your request
May Ti'amat effect the changes you command
May Ishtar grant you Dragon Power
May Ishtar grant you Dragon Power