In this story are some of my favorite characters. Their replicas sit on the shelf above my computer.
The Dragons of Fyre
BY Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing
Drakon halted his horse at the end of the pass and stared at the collection of houses and the fields beyond. Last night he and his companion had ridden well past moonrise so they could reach the village this morning. Fall had arrived. Reds, yellows and oranges blazed across the hills.
Why had this village remained untouched? Ten years ago, the lord of Sea Cliff had attacked High Peaks and ravaged the villages closest to the tower. Of the three settlements sworn to High Peaks only this one remained. The answer had to be treachery. Drakon wondered if he would learn the names of the traitors.
*You will not,* the Old One said. *They are dead.*
Drakon tightened his hold on the reins. Every time the ancient yellow dragon spoke to him, he felt warmth and delight. Years ago, his inability to speak to the dragons had doomed him to ten years as a slave. *I wish they were alive so I could see to their punishment. Their treason made me Lagon’s prisoner and a thing to be sold to the priestesses.*
*Better a slave than living under the evil one’s control the way the heirs of the other towers do.*
A year had passed since Drakon’s escape from the temple of Fyre. Though he had sworn to see the man dead, the lord of Sea Cliff Tower remained alive. A need for vengeance invaded Drakon’s thoughts. His family, his near kin and innocent villagers had been slaughtered on that dreadful day.
*Patience,* the Old One said.
“Behold the lush growth of the fields,” His companion drew his steed to Drakon’s side. “Look at the height and fullness of the fyrethorns. The harvest will be abundant.” He raked his fingers through his gray-tinged brown hair.
Drakon shook his head. “I see, but do we need all this for one dragon?”
Radlan shrugged. “Who are we to cry about good fortune? There are few dragons in the land. From what I have heard there are five pair at Sea Cliff and none at the other three towers.”
Drakon’s jaw clenched. His desire for revenge flared anew. If only there was a way to defeat Lagon and free the High Peaks dragons.
*Have faith. There will be more dragons at our tower.*
Some of Drakon’s tension ebbed. *First patience and now faith. I’ll try. Before I gain those virtues, there’s a harvest to be completed.* He prodded the steed with his heels and the horse trotted down the trail into the village.
As Drakon dismounted the headman bustled across the commons with a hand extended in welcome, “My lord.”
Drakon straightened. Would he ever become used to being named as the lord of High Peaks Tower? “Just Drakon. Am I in time to help with the harvest?”
The gray-haired man nodded. “The men have started in the fields and the crew for the fyrethorns has just assembled.”
Drakon pulled on a pair of heavy leather gloves, grabbed a sack and strode to the row of fyrethorn bushes. Radlan had been right about the size of the harvest. A wry smile crossed Drakon’s face. The increased yield was due to the seeds he’d brought from the temple, the only good thing to from his stay as a stud in the harras.
A half dozen young women and four young men joined him. Drakon glanced at his fellow workers. One young woman flipped her glossy ebony hair over her shoulder. He swallowed. Her beauty made him wish for what was impossible.
Of the men, three were his age. The one with black hair was older. He glared at Drakon and drew the beauty away. Drakon frowned. Why did the man dislike him when they had never met?
He shrugged off the stares of the others and moved along the hedgerow pulling handfuls of the long blood red thorns. As he removed them bunches of crimson berries were exposed. The young women pulled the clusters and dropped them in baskets.
At day’s end, Drakon stared at the sacks of thorns and berries he helped carry to the storeroom. A bountiful harvest indeed. He walked to where Radlan and the headman stood. “We’ll need more than two carts to carry all the fyrethorn products to the tower.”
The older men laughed. Radlan clasped Drakon’s shoulder. “We’ll take just one load of thorns and berries. The other cart will carry grain and vegetables for the winter. Before the storms we’ll return for the rest and for flour ground from the grain.” Radlan led the way to the harvest feast.
“Do you think the other villages will be rebuilt?” Drakon asked.
Radlan nodded. “There’s talk of a division in a year or two. The people sworn to High Peaks Tower are still recovering from the invasion. Forget your questions and enjoy yourself.” The older man winked. “I’ve noticed several of the young women watching you.”
Drakon stiffened. If they knew what had happened to him ten years ago, they would avoid him. He crammed those memories away. Radlan had suggested keeping the days he’d spent as a slave a secret. Drakon wished he could talk to someone about his treatment in the temple of Fyre.
He glanced at the gathered people. Though most of the older men and women wore what they had for the harvest, some of the younger women had changed into bright colored skirts and blouses.
Aromas of cooking meats rose from a pit where a steer had cooked all day. Other meats hung on hooks over the coals. Drakon lifted a large wooden trencher and took some of the steer and a chicken leg. His stomach rumbled as he moved to a long table where kettles of cooked vegetables, grains and bowls of greens and fruit were displayed.
He grabbed a mug of ale and looked for a place to sit. Beneath a large oak tree, he noticed a group of young people. One of them waved. “Lord Drakon, come and eat with us. We’re glad you returned to the tower.”
As Drakon started toward the group the young woman he’d noticed earlier stepped in front of him. “Tiron, leave him alone. I’m claiming him.”
Drakon swallowed. One side of her blouse had slid from her shoulder and nearly exposed her breast. Would she issue commands he would have to obey? The sweet scent of her perfume brought memories of the priestesses at the temple. He was torn between following her and joining the larger group.
She touched his arm. “Come with me. There is much I want from you.”
Her voice held a demanding tone that seemed familiar. He walked beside her.
“Lord Drakon, when will there be dragons at the tower?” someone called.
Drakon couldn’t spot who had shouted. “There is one in the cavern now. The Old One said there soon would be more.”
“We heard you couldn’t speak to them.”
“True in part.” Drakon smiled. “I do not need the tea when I speak to the Old One.”
The young woman tugged on Drakon’s arm. “Forget those fools. Come with me.” She stepped closer. “Our kin ties are the most distant of any girl’s in the village. I’m destined to be your wife.”
Drakon gulped a breath. Like a vise, uneasiness gripped his chest. Her cloying perfume brought flashes from the past he struggled to forget. She reeked of desire the way that the priestesses had. “Just who are you?”
She led him to a sheltered place in the grove of hardwoods on the outskirts of the village. The leaves rioted with colors from pale yellow to russet. Drakon halted and nearly spilled the ale when the young man who had glared at him during the harvest appeared.
“Bejan, I’ve brought Drakon so you could speak to him about the dragons.”
“I have nothing to say to someone who was a slave.” Bejan turned and walked away.
How had he known? Drakon had told no one. Had Radlan let the secret slip? Or had Lagon spread the story of how he had sold Drakon?
“You’ll lose out on a chance to be a speaker, but I won’t.” Bekla sat on the ground and arranged her skirts so one of her thighs was partly bared. “Drakon, come closer. Though he’s my brother, he’s a boor.”
Drakon sat on a log at arms distance from her. He gulped some ale and began to eat. “What do you want to know?”
She leaned forward and her blouse gaped to expose her full breasts. “I want to be the wife of a dragon speaker. You are the only one at High Peaks. I want to ride with you when the dragons rise to mate.”
Drakon put the trencher on the ground. “The yellow does not mate. There are no reds or blues in the cavern.”
She edged closer and brushed her hand over his thigh. “A dragon rises here.” She licked her lower lip. “Come to my aunt’s house at moonrise.”
His stomach clenched. She commanded like the priestesses had. This time there was a choice. He had escaped from the harras. He didn’t have to obey her. Though he felt ill, he rose. “Don’t wait for me.” As he strode away he realized he had taken the first step toward freedom from the conditioning. Never again would he be trapped by a woman’s demands. A dull headache began.
When he reached the commons, he looked for Radlan but didn’t see the older man. Drakon stopped and talked to several of the villagers. Though he searched for Tiron and the other young people, they seemed to have vanished. Finally Drakon slipped into the headman’s house. He sat on one of the beds in the guest room and rubbed his aching head. At least the pain wasn’t as acute as when he’d drunk the berry tea or when the priestesses had used thorns as a punishment. Strains of music and the buzz of voices filtered through the shuttered windows. He had no desire to take part in the merriment.
When Drakon woke the sun had just risen. He broke his fast with food left from the feast and then joined the villagers in loading the wagons. After he and Radlan mounted their horses, they led the men who drove the wagons up the slope to the trail leading to the tower.
During the two-day trip, Drakon’s thoughts drifted to his escape from the priestesses. How fortunate he’d been to have been chosen as one of the studs to travel with the women who sought a rebellions acolyte and the stone seeker who had aided her escape. The man had provided a waterskin and torches to light the way through the dark passage. As Drakon had hurried along the tunnel, earthquakes had caused rocks to fall. He had burst into the open moments before the tunnel collapsed. What had caused the quakes? Perhaps he would never know.
*You are finally home.*
The voice of the Old One broke into Drakon’s reverie. *I am and we have brought a cart full of thorns and berries and left as much or more behind.* He smiled. Each time he spoke with the yellow, pride filled his chest. He wasn’t the misfit he’d been named by his father and brothers. Unlike them, he needed none of the berry tea for the speaker’s path to open.
*As was in the old days. When the carts are unloaded, come to the cavern.*
Drakon joined the men unloading the wagons. Once this chore was finished, he prepared the Old One’s meal and wheeled the barrow across the forecourt to the cavern.
As he entered the vast hollowed space, he wondered how the area had been made. Was it a natural phenomena or had magic been employed?”
*Part of each. The wizard friend of the dragons aided their escape and carved the mountain to make a refuge for them.*
The crystal pillars set about the cavern rose from floor to dome. The bright light momentarily blinded Drakon. The colors reminded him of the fyrestones the priestesses had used in their rituals. Side chambers, some dark and one cold enough to store meat lined the left-hand wall. Soft sand covered areas of the floor. Near the feeding trough and the area around the warm pool were solid rocks. A pair of streams, one hot and the other cold united to flow over a waterfall. Beside the waterfall was a wide ledge. The water left the pool through a drainage hole on the far side.
Drakon poured the meat mixed with thorns and berries into one of the stone troughs. He sat on the sand beside the Old One’s wallow.
The yellow dragon lowered his head so Drakon could scratch the leathery skin between his eyes. *Was the trip a pleasant one?*
Drakon wrapped his arms around his bent knees. *The harvest was plentiful and the food at the feast delicious.*
*I sense worry in your thoughts.*
*There was a young woman named Bekla. She tried to seduce me.* He closed his eyes. *I can’t do what she wants. My memories of the temple are too strong and she made me think of the priestesses.*
*Those memories will fade.*
*It’s been a year and they’re still strong.*
*And longer was needed to set the conditioning.* The Old One moved to the trough and ate. *Go to your dinner. Sofona cooked all day preparing for your homecoming. The men from the village will leave soon.*
Drakon patted the dragon’s side. *I’ll come tomorrow.* He left the cavern and walked to the tower. Inside the large kitchen the men from the village lifted packs of food Sofona had prepared for their journey.
When they were gone, Sofona sank on a bench. A few strands of gray wove through her brown hair. “I’m glad I don’t have to feed a large crew every day. There’s a plate for you in the warming oven. Where have you been?”
“With the Old One. He wanted to know about the harvest. I also took him a feeding.”
Sofona laughed. “I doubt he needed one. He went out this morning and returned with a wild boar. I took a ham and some of the meat for us. He devoured the rest.”
Drakon ate a bite of the pork and savored the flavor. He smiled fondly at the man and woman who had become his family.
* * * *
Arana shielded her eyes against the glare of the sun. Four blue dragons circled a single combatant. She stared at the changing pattern of the battle. There could be but one ending. How could the lone dragon from High Peaks Tower survive when he fought with no speaker? She closed her mind to the multiple voices she heard.
One of the creatures dove. The embattled one turned and raked his claws along his opponent’s side. A second blue attempted to swoop from above. The besieged whirled and caught the edge of the attacker’s wing with his foreclaws and pulled free. The injured dragon joined the first in retreat.
Arana began to hope. She knew nothing of battle strategy. Though she could have spoken to the High Peaks blue she couldn’t distract him for she had no advice to give.
Her hopes plummeted. The remaining opposing pair dove toward the High Peaks blue. Though her favorite twisted, he was too slow to prevent the largest of the others from clamping teeth-filled jaws on his neck. Arana’s scream was echoed by a piercing roar from the pens. She watched as the embattled dragon tumbled to the rocks. She ran to the far side of the landing field. The blue’s broken body lay on the rocks where Arana had witnessed the death of her foster mother.
Gone, she thought. Now all that remained of High Peaks’ lineage was one red and one green dragon. And her, but she was only a foster child.
Arana leaned against the wall and fought to stem her tears. The cool autumn breeze carried the briny scent of the sea. In the distance she saw the sails of an approaching ship. Did it carry traders or wizards? If the ship belonged to either group, Lagon would leave the tower to bargain with them. The wizards welcomed any chance to obtain the hide of a dragon.
She rubbed her arms. Since the battle had ended, her services would be needed by the dragons and the speakers. She was the only one of the slaves who had no fear of the huge beasts. Her ability to hear and speak to the creatures allowed her to move freely in the pens.
She was also one of the few slaves who knew the ingredients of the antidote for the tea made from fyrethorn berries. Most of the men suffered from headaches after a speaking session. None of the four who had controlled the battle were like her for she spoke to the dragons without drinking the tea.
One after another the blues landed. Hisses and pain-filled cries filled the air. Arana was torn between going to the beasts or the men. A keening cry rose to a piercing shriek and vibrated through Arana’s bones. A red dragon emerged from the doorway to the pens. Arana ran across the landing field dodging the hissing beasts to reach the surviving red of High Peaks Tower.
A smaller green dragon scurried after the red. *Soothe her. She will not heed me.*
Arana blocked the other voices and sent words of comfort to the red. As the beast’s cries softened, Arana stroked the leathery hide. Her mouth flew open. She sensed the presence of eggs. When had the pair mated? Somehow they had managed to slip free from the pens for a mating flight.
*I hid them.* Verde’s voice held laughter. *I am of their lineage and do not want to be the last of the High Peaks dragons.*
Arana stood on tiptoe and stroked his neck. *When will she lay the eggs?* She couldn’t hide the fear rippling through her thoughts. Lagon, lord of Sea Cliff Tower would surely destroy the eggs before they hatched.
*How can we keep Lagon from learning?*
*I will mask her so the evil one will not know.*
Though Arana had no idea how she could hide two dragonets or care for them, the news brought hope. *Return to your pen. The blues are settling. I must deliver the potion to the men and tend to the wounds of the dragons.*
Arana crossed the landing field and strode past the entrance to the tower. She opened the door of the stillroom. Unlike High Peaks, the tower here was surrounded by a wall. Halls connected the various buildings that abutted the walls.
She filled a basket with linen, needles and ointments needed to care for the dragons. She took a flask of water and added herbs for the antidote. Arana carried both through the halls to the room where the speakers lay on padded lounges.
Arana poured the contents of the flask into a pot of hot tea. One of the slaves filled cups and gave the liquid to the men. One by one they roused. Arana turned toward the door.
She stiffened but turned to face the lord of Sea Cliff Tower. The man had taken away the freedom she had earned at High Peaks for her ability to speak to the dragons. When he had killed the lord and his sons, Lagon had made the women of that tower into slaves. She bowed her head to hide the hatred in her eyes. “What is your command, my lord?”
He lifted her chin. His ice blue eyes glittered with remnants of pain. “After you treat the beasts, you will seek me.” A cruel smile curled his thin lips.
She nodded. “I hear and will obey, my lord.”
He grasped her arm. “Soon you will do more.”
“As you command.” The words nearly choked her. She pushed the door open and entered the central hall. From there she left the tower and crossed the landing field to the massive stone building that housed the dragons. The hisses and growls of the four blues reached her. Where should she begin?
*I will tell you,* Verde said.
He directed her to the dragon with a long row of talon slashes along one flank. She cleaned the ichor away and slathered a numbing ointment around the edge of the wound. When she finished the creature’s roars ceased. She daubed healing salve on the open areas and spread strips of linen over the anointed places.
She left the first pen and entered a second and set about mending the tear on the dragon’s wing. A finely woven cloth was placed beneath the tatters. By the time the wing healed, the stitches would disintegrate and the cloth would drop away.
Once the minor injuries of the other dragons had been treated, Arana left the pens. *Verde, thank you.*
*When they are hurt they listen to me.* Verde sighed. *Maybe that’s why I was born green.*
*Could be. As you mature you will learn more.* Arana repacked the basket. She wished Verde could persuade the blues to defy their speakers.
*Arana, no. The evil one would kill the speakers and find new ones. Or he could destroy the dragons and sell their pelts to the wizards. As long as he lives I will not do this.*
*I know but I wish we could free them.* As she crossed the landing field and walked toward the stillroom, a prickling moved along her spine. Her hands formed fists. She steeled herself to face Lagon.
“Arana.” His hand clamped on her arm.
The basket thudded on the ground. “My lord.”
“How fare the beasts?” He turned her to face him.
“The wounds will heal. Two will need several weeks of rest before they can fly.”
“The High Peaks blue was a mighty fighter. Does the red of that lineage grieve?”
Arana nodded. “In the confusion after the flight she would have flown away but I calmed her.”
“Don’t dampen her spirits too greatly. I want her to rise to mate.” His gaze drilled her. “When she does my blue will follow. With eggs of her get my dragon stock will improve.” He shoved Arana against the wall. “On that day you will drink the tea and fly with her.”
Arana bit her lower lip. She couldn’t let him see how her fear verged on the edge of terror. “What if she won’t rise?” She couldn’t let Lagon know the red was with egg.
His thin lips curved into a smile that held no hint of humor. “When you speak to her she will have no choice.” He scraped a fingernail along her cheek. “You are as ripe as the dragon. You will bear my son.” He clamped his teeth on her lower lip.
She winced. A sullen anger built inside. She sought to hide her repugnance toward him. He liked his women to cower and obey his commands. In the ten years and one of her captivity here, she’d seen ten women ordered to his bed. She’d seen the bruises and witnessed the lashings as each one failed to produce the son he desperately wanted.
He caught a lock of her hair and wound it around his finger. “Hair the color of flames. Fire is what I demand from you.” He pressed his mouth over hers. His body touched hers and his phala remained flaccid. Once again she was spared a mauling.
Lagon laughed. “Soon.” He held one hand against her throat. “Let your fears grow so I can feast on them when the dragons rise.” He released her.
Though relief threatened to bring her to her knees, she pressed against the wall for support. She thought of her fellow slaves. Most feared him, but one or two lusted to be in his bed. She didn’t understand their fascination. Though handsome, his icy blue eyes and thin lips spoke of his cruel nature.
The blue gem in his ear was said to be a payment for the youth he’d sold to the slavers. The boy had been from High Peaks Tower. Had he been the youngest son of the lord, the boy who had been her friend? Lagon had announced Drakon’s death when the women from High Peaks had reached Sea Cliff.
Her eyes closed. Though she tried to form a picture of her friend, she failed. For several years after her captivity had begun, she had dreamed of the young man and of being rescued.
The sound of boots against the stone floor announced Lagon’s departure. Arana released her held breath. She returned the basket to the stillroom, then ran down the inner hall to the bathing room. There she scrubbed away the odors of her labor and the stench of fear. She dressed. Instead of going to the rooms where the slaves were housed she walked to the landing court. At the edge she stared at the sea. Waves crashed against the rocks. Far below servants removed the dragon’s hide.
The ship she’d seen earlier had docked at the wharf in the nearby village. She noted the green flag and knew the ship belonged to the wizards. She breathed a sigh of relief. Their arrival meant Lagon would leave the tower once the hide had been scraped and the curing begun. He would eagerly negotiate a sale.
* * * *
Verde scurried along the corridor past the pens holding the dragons. The High Peaks red had fled from her pen and prepared for flight. *Not yet,* he commanded. *Return to your pen until after the sun sets.*
The dragon whined but followed his order. Verde’s chest puffed with pride and he swallowed a roar. The sound would alert the servants and they would discover his presence. He needed Arana’s help. He peered from the entrance to the pens and saw her standing at the wall. *Come.*
*What is wrong?*
*The High Peaks red has freed herself from her pen. I kept her from taking flight. She will go tonight. Could you bring her an extra feeding and put in thorns as well as berries?*
Arana ran across the landing yard to his side. *If she escapes the eggs will be lost.*
*If she lays them here Lagon will destroy them. She must go. If her eggs are destroyed I will be the last of my lineage.* The thought caused grief to fill his voice. “She wants to go to High Peaks.”
Arana stroked his side. *Then we must pray she reaches her destination. There is a cavern there with warm sand and a pool for swimming. There must have been animals that escaped when Lagon invaded for her to hunt.* She shuddered. *He will blame me.*
*Will he beat you?*
*A punishment I will gladly bear. I’m sorry he didn’t sell me to the slavers when he sold some of the women from High Peaks. I think he might have sold the last son of the lord, too.*
“Does the son still live?*
*Who knows if he does or where he is?* She squared her shoulders. *Let me bring meat for the red.* For an instant she wished she could flee with the dragon.
*We will find a way for you to escape.*
* * * *
Lagon smiled. A slaver’s ship had docked. The wizards on board would pay well for the dragon’s pelt and they would wait in port until the skin was cured. He left the tower and walked down the path to the rocks. One half of the blue pelt soaked in the brine. Though a red brought more coins, he had a use for the remaining High Peaks dragon. He intended to bargain for another blue gem and a string of red ones for Arana.
When images of her naked and bound to his bed arose, his phala throbbed. He drew a deep breath and fought to control the image. When he took her for the first time she would be in the speakers’ hall after a mating flight. The heirs of the three other towers would witness the event so no one could say the son she bore belonged to another man.
He barked a laugh. She disliked and feared him. He would possess her. Once she gave him a son he would make her his wife. From the moment he’d seen her during the takeover at High Peaks he had desired her. But she had been a child. No longer.
“Come back.” A woman’s shout interrupted his reverie.
He wheeled and saw the only child of his loins running from her nurse. Her ebony-colored hair had escaped its braid and flew in a dark cloud around her face. The girl halted at his side. “Why did you kill the dragon?” Her dark eyes flashed with anger.
“For my own reasons. You have no right to question me.”
“He was brave. I watched the battle from the tower heights. If he had fought one or even two dragons, he would have won. Who was his speaker?”
“He had none.”
She put her hands on her hips. “You should have kept him. He was stronger and cannier than the Sea Cliff blue.”
Lagon’s hands clenched. How could she have a loyalty to High Peaks? She was his daughter, not the get of the long dead lord of that now deserted tower. He grated his teeth. That lord had taken the woman Lagon had wanted. In the end, the Lord of High Peaks Tower was dead and Lagon had possessed the woman until she had ended her life after Lorana’s birth.
“Go to your room,” he commanded. The moment he was sure Arana was with child, Lorana would go to the slavers.
* * * *
Several days had passed since he and Radlan had returned from the village. Drakon climbed the stairs past his room on the second level of the tower and continued until he reached the square area at the top. He walked around the wall surrounding the edge and halted at one of the corners. He rested his elbows on the capstone and peered in the direction of Sea Cliff Tower.
Though the distance was too far to see the tower, he remembered every moment of the five-day journey by horse. He’d been forced to ride with Lagon. A gag had prevented speech. All during the trip, Lagon had gloated over his victory. At the journey’s end Drakon remembered how berry tea had been forced down his throat. When the agony of the headache had ceased he’d been aboard a slaver’s ship. Drakon sucked in a breath of cold air. Would Lagon ever pay for the death and destruction he had wrought?
*Old One, what’s wrong?*
*The last red of High Peak’s lineage. Soon she will lay her eggs. Eggs we need.*
Drakon started to the door. *When will she arrive?*
*She will not manage the distance. We must go to her.*
*What can I do? How far must I ride?* Drakon did not like the thought of leaving High Peaks.
*You will fly with me.*
*Men don’t fly.*
*In the past men and women rode on the backs of reds and blues. This is what you will need. A fur pad and long leather straps. Fur-lined sacks, stones to heat in a fire and pieces of fur to cover them and cushion the eggs. Find the sleeping sacks. I will need an extra feeding of meat and thorns. You must also carry a feeding in a leather sack.*
Drakon clattered down the steps. In the storeroom he gathered the supplies the yellow had requested. He pulled on a heavy jacket and took a pair of gloves.
When he entered the kitchen, Sofona appeared in the doorway of the hall leading to the quarters she shared with Radlan. “Is the Old One ill?”
“No. We go to rescue a High Peaks red and her eggs.” He told her what the Old One wanted.
“I’ll wake Radlan. He’ll bring the feedings.”
“Make sure he packs a second one and adds thorns to both. I must figure how to fasten these things to the Old One’s back.”
Sofona laughed. “You will fly like the men and women on the tapestry that once hung in the great hall.”
Drakon nodded. He had vague memories of the massive wall hanging. Hadn’t he seen and used that weaving after his return? Maybe the tapestry had been a different one. “I believe I will.” He carried his gatherings to the cavern and placed them on the sand.
The Old One sent pictures that Drakon followed, carefully placing the fur pad over the ridges on the dragon’s back. Because the yellow’s spinal ridges were narrower than the reds and blues there was no room for a saddle. He fastened the straps to the pad, ran one on either side of the Old One’s neck and united them with the pair drawn over the dragon’s rear legs.
Radlan arrived with the feedings. While the yellow ate Drakon added the rocks and furs to the two enormous sacks and tied them to the riding pad. As soon as the Old One had devoured the meal Drakon climbed to the dragon’s back. He fastened himself to the pad. The yellow moved from the cavern, across the forecourt and stepped over the edge. The great wings unfurled.
Drakon’s stomach felt as though it had dropped to the ground. Just before they crashed into a stand of towering firs the Old One caught an updraft and they soared into the moonlit sky. With caution Drakon relaxed his hold on the fur.
*Drakon, open your speaker’s path and call the red.*
Drakon sent a silent call to the High Peaks dragon. The yellow’s voice joined his. *I do not know your name. I am the son of the dead lord of High Peaks Tower. I want to help you.* Over and over he sent the message.
*I am the Old One, a yellow of High Peaks’ lineage. I want to help you. Call us. Lead us to you.*
*Who?* The voice carried undertones of pain, sadness and fear. The emotions vibrated through Drakon.
*Once I was called Jade. I am your controller. Where are you?*
*Gone from Sea Cliff. Past the captive towers. I thought to reach the cavern but I stayed too long. My mate is dead. The evil one set the other blues on him. My eggs arrive soon.*
Drakon heard despair in the dragon’s voice and sought to give her hope. *You must live. We need your eggs or the lineage is ended.*
*We will take the eggs to safety,* the Old One said.
*Will my dragonets be free from the evil one?*
*You have my pledge,* Drakon said. *They will fly and I will be their speaker. I was a slave. Now I am free. Your offspring will be cherished. I will rebuild High Peaks Tower and see those of Sea Cliff punished for what they have done.*
*Not the dragons,* she said. *Just the evil one. The dragons have no controller and their speakers must obey the evil one.* Her voice sounded louder. *I must land and wait for you. The eggs come soon.*
Before long, Drakon saw a large dark shape on the ground. The moonlight revealed the red’s resting place. The Old One spiraled down and landed near the laboring dragon.
*The eggs,* the red cried. *You have come in time. Care for them. High Peaks Tower will grow strong with honorable speakers and dragons.*
Drakon quickly untied the straps and slid to the ground. He started a small fire to heat rocks to bury beneath the furs in the sacks. As he worked, he wondered what he could do to fulfill the red’s predictions. How could he rebuild the line of speakers? They were usually the sons of the tower’s lord. Thoughts of being with a woman filled him with panic. Memories of the conditioning by the priestesses of the temple of Fyre bound him with iron bands.
*Not always the sons,* the Old One said. *Speakers can be found among the kin both near and far.*
*And in ones not tied by blood,* the red said.
Were they right? Drakon sat beside the grieving red and encouraged her. The first egg arrived. He nearly protested when the Old One caught the blue egg in his talons and licked the shell.
*Pick it up. Breathe on it,* the yellow dragon said. *Then place the egg in one of the sacks. There is no blue to perform the rite. Your breath must do.*
When the red laid the second egg, the Old One licked the shell and rolled the egg to the female dragon. Her tongue moved over the surface.
*Do not touch this one with your skin,* the Old One cautioned.
The red began to shake. *Speaker, my time has come. Name the dragonets and care for them.*
*Old One, you must teach them.*
*There is a green of our lineage at Sea Cliff. He was hidden and cared for by Arana who can speak to all the dragons the way you can.*
Arana. Drakon’s thoughts drifted to his childhood in the tower. There had been a girl four years younger. His parents had rescued her from the slavers. She had earned her freedom because of her ability to care for the dragons. Could Arana the red spoke of be the same girl?
*The evil one has made her a slave again,* the red said. *She helped me escape.*
A picture of a young woman entered Drakon’s thoughts. Her hair, the color of flames, told him the truth. She was his friend and playmate. *Why did he enslave her? She was free.*
*There are no free women at Sea Cliff. There are no free dragons except the green. Verde is his name.* The red rose and unfurled her wings. She lumbered forward.
Though she rose from the ground, Drakon knew she would never clear the trees. *Old One, stop her.*
*She chooses death. Honor her choice and honor her. Open the feed sack. While I eat, call the green.*