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
survive when he fought with no speaker? She closed her mind to the multiple
voices she heard. High Peaks
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
blue she couldn’t distract him for she had no advice to give. High Peaks
Her hopes plummeted. The remaining opposing pair dove toward the
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. High Peaks
Gone, she thought. Now all that remained of
lineage was one red and one green dragon. And her, but she was only a foster
child. High Peaks
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
A smaller green dragon scurried after the red. *Soothe her. She will not heed me.*
Arana blocked the other voices and send 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
dragons.* High Peaks
Arana stood on tip-toe and stroked his neck. *When will she lay the eggs?* She couldn’t hide the fear rippling through her thoughts. Lagon, lord of
would surely destroy the eggs before they hatched. Sea
*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 hips. *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
the tower here was surrounded by a wall. Halls connected the various buildings
that abutted the walls. High Peaks
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
. The man had taken away the
freedom she had earned at Sea Cliff Tower
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?” High Peaks
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
Verde sighed. *Maybe that’s why I was born green.* me.
*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 still room, 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.”
blue was a mighty fighter. Does the red of that lineage grieve?” High Peaks
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
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
had reached Sea Cliff. High Peaks
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 still room, and 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.