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
and ravaged the
villages closest to the tower. Of the three settlements sworn to High
only this one remained. The answer had to be treachery. Drakon wondered if he
would learn the names of the traitors. High Peaks
*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
. Though he had sworn to see the man
dead, the lord of temple of Fyre
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. Sea
*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
dragons. High Peaks
*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
“Just Drakon. Am I in time to help with the harvest?” High
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 come 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
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.” High
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
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 pot 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 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
I want to ride with you when the dragons rise to mate.” High Peaks
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 just as 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 tale 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 caused rocks to fall. He had burst into the open moments before the tunnel collapsed.
What 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, Radlan, Sophronia’s husband helped prepare 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 was rock. 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 put 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
* 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.* me.
*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 Radlan man and Sofona who had become his family.