“She is extremely generous, thank you.”
“She suggests you keep a hundred for needs during your journey once you have left our city.” Her lips twisted into a smile, “Our Lady seems intrigued by you.”
“She is extremely generous, thank you.”
“It is insulting to be called generous. Our lady considered you extremely generous to settle for such a small price and has revised her offer closer to what you are expected to earn.”
Sylvestro said to Alkion, “I will never swear at our traders again - they are like children compared to these people.”
Alkion laughed. “I dare say it will not stop me from swearing at our tax men.”
“Oh no!” Thorn asked Claudine, “Do we have to pay taxes on what we earned?”
“Of course. Ten percent. Taxes will be about ninety coins.”
They had to pay the soldier about fifty coins, Claudine about fifteen, they agreed it was prudent they keep close to a hundred for their journey, so it meant they had about one hundred and forty five to spend. The first merchants arrived and they began to choose the items they needed. They were often tempted to buy an extra item or two, but instead cut back on their original list.
They finished two hours before sundown, bathed and wore their new clothes. Thorn grinned at them as they joined him bedecked in their gaudy clothes. “Did any of you remember to include the cost of stabling for the horses?” They all groaned.
Claudine arrived, looking far more elegant than any of them and she seemed to be a different person. She joked and even teased them, her laughter soon relaxing them.
The furnishing in Dark Cloud’s rooms was totally different from everything else they had seen in this city. Though everything was crafted by a master, the lines were simple and stark and for a short time their eyes did not have to deal with a jumble of bright colours. The table was laden with all kinds of food, but as they tasted it they realised there was no meat. The food was filling and the wine sharp and they relaxed, allowing Dark Cloud to lead the conversation in a number of strange directions. She had the gift of sensing when they grew weary of a subject and changed it, keeping the conversation mostly light and entertaining. When her mother told her she should go to bed and Dominique wished them all a good night and left, Dark Cloud sat back, her eyes deep in thought. She stood up.
“Shall we make ourselves comfortable while we discuss more serious matters?” Instead of seating Princess Cherine by her side, lady Aqutina found herself in that position.
“We will discuss the Blue Eyes of Death after we have cleared up some matters. I was disturbed last night by much of what you told me and certain implications that did not escape me. You are obviously not used to using magic on a permanent basis for survival, or else you would have performed a cleansing of yourselves before coming here. You carry the scent of dragons with you. Why is a dragon part of your group, you said they only offered to help if you found the eyes.”
Aqutina noticed that Dark Cloud did not look at her, her eyes touching each of the others but avoiding hers. Without pausing, she took the plunge. “I am an honorary dragon.”
“I found a female dragon in our land. She was dead, but next to her was an egg that was hatching. The first moving creature the infant saw was I and I impressed it. The baby dragon thinks of me as his mother.”
“That is why they did not attack! Unbelievable, a dragon that loves a human!” She moved, as if to stand up, but then sat back. “There is one more matter to clear up before I decide. I also smell the scent of a shapeshifter, the most reviled creature of all. How do you explain that.”
Princess Cherine hated the lying, so it was only natural that she was the one who broke the silence. “We call him Shadow. My brother died because of him. He is disgusting in appearance, manners and hygiene and cannot be trusted in any way.” She then described his physical appearance and mannerisms. “Is that what you call a shapeshifter?”
“It is. Why does it travel with you?” They could see that Dark Cloud was struggling to control herself and she seemed to be surrounded by the hint of an aura that writhed just beyond what their eyes could directly see. Jescus and Thorn were careful not to exchange glances.
“It is impossible to explain that.” Princess Cherine admitted. “It is time we tell you the full story and perhaps you can explain to us why it follows us.”
It was past midnight when they finished. Dark Cloud had demanded so many details that it brought the re-living of their adventure to life, making them aware of influences they had not been aware of before. As one, they stared at Thorn with cold eyes.
“You sent Candy to us. You tried to manipulate her to lead us to our deaths.”
“That is for you to discover before we return to our own lands.” He shrugged, totally unconcerned as Princess Cherine stood over him, her sword arm trembling with the need to unsheathe it and cut his head off.
“You are responsible for the death of my brother. When this is over I will kill you.”
“Either that, or marry me. Either is a danger I can live with.”
Jescus asked, “Why did you join us to come here?”
“You ask me? Surely, you too have learnt more about magic in this land than a whole life of study taught you? Jescus, when you join my bride-to-be in attacking me, remember, I have learnt far more than you.” He was deliberately provoking Princess Cherine and she was almost at the point of drawing her sword when Dark Cloud announced her decision and everything else was forgotten.
“I am coming with you.”
The next day Dark Cloud informed them that she would be ready to leave in four days. They could not leave the rest of their party without food for that long, so it was agreed that Aqutina with Sylvestro are to take them provisions. The Eratosan guards were instructed to see them safely out of the city and then wait for them to return.
That evening they did not see Dark Cloud, but the next day she visited them for a short while. She seemed amused or well pleased about something. She spoke to Princess Cherine almost as equals.
“They already make plans to take my place.”
“Who? You mean those under you? Is it a real danger?”
“Their ambitions blind them. Let them spend their coins in buying the loyalty of others, I shall be amused to see them begin afresh from the bottom.” Her hand touched Princess Cherine’s arm briefly. “There is no danger, they forget that. I have stayed for too long and have withdrawn these last years. I will return with new knowledge and perhaps be a better leader. My people have been weakening, bound by traditions that no longer serve us as well as they did. New ideas will waken them again, that is, if we survive your eyes of death. Princess Cherine, you have changed my world so much, will we survive you, even if we survive the prophecies?”
It was Thorn again who first noticed. He had spent these days alone as the others were looking for a reason to pick a fight with him. He understood that most of their anger was because of Candy, the child herself. She was so affectionate, so obviously starved for love, that they have all grown to love her. He saw no reason to enlighten them further, if they knew he was also responsible for Princess Wendy, they would lose control and attack, whatever the consequences to them. He had not lied, he had and was learning a lot and with Dark Cloud to study, he expected to become far stronger, so their journey had to continue. What he had noticed, that the others had ignored, was that none of the other leaders had tried to contact them. Knowing how it is in court, he understood that only fear could have kept them away. Still, he had expected at least one of them to contact them with the purpose of securing the death of Dark Cloud.
Despite Thorns’ theories, several of the leaders were there as they prepared to depart and they were arguing with Dark Cloud, almost shouting at her. They were demanding she take with her a troop of soldiers as guards, in case those she had named humans are not, or betray her. She waved her hand and a glow surrounded her as she settled in the saddle and rode off, expecting the others to follow. A troop of soldiers escorted them as they rode through the city. Dark Cloud made a small deviation to the center of the city and stopped before the ruin of what must have been a huge building.
“The spire of Mother Melia. She destroyed it just before she left us.”
“Do you know where she went?”
“No. She promised me we would meet again when we…when we stop existing on this world.”
Ignoring everyone else, as if in a trance, lady Aqutina dismounted and without hearing the angry muttering of the soldiers and the crowds around them, she went to the ruins and touched the remains.
“She is not the Mother! Dominique is! Your Melia is the Creator! She created all of us!”
Dark Cloud almost flew off her horse and she gripped lady Aqutina by the shoulders. “What do you mean by all of us!”
“All sentient life on our world, in both lands. I do not know how I know this, but I see it as a truth from deep inside myself.”
“Get back on your horse, we must leave quickly!” She ordered the troops to clear the way and they rode for the city limits. They could hear angry voices behind them, but none it seems dared lift a hand against Dark Cloud, so they rode out in safety. Thorn chuckled as he told himself, ‘Life is getting more and more interesting. I think our dark lady will cause us many problems.’
Long before they arrived, Shadow withdrew to the other side of the group. His shape wavered for a moment, but then he changed his mind and fatalistically resumed his normal shape. Iziko did not understand why anyone would hate him, so he eagerly pressed forward to meet his friends and the stranger. He was excited that his circle of friends is growing.
Dark Cloud pulled at her reins and her horse stopped almost instantly, those following her swerving wildly and stopping. “It is true! The shapeshifter dares to wait for me to strike.”
“And that will not happen while you are both in our group?”
She nodded her understanding, “Princess.”
“The dragon, Iziko is loved by many of us, that includes him too.”
“For now Princess. I mean the shapeshifter. It will either betray or join our enemy when it suits it and then I am not bound by your wishes.”
“Until then. The dragon?”
“No reason for me to harm it. I consider this an interesting turn of events, man’s greatest enemy loving us, how will that affect the rest of dragonkind?” Despite her words, she was nervous when Iziko left the group to approach her, in his excitement wisps of smoke blowing out of his nostrils.
“That child on its back, it is the Candy you spoke of, in thrall to Thorn?”
Princess Cherine answered almost violently and Wendy nodded in agreement, “Not anymore. He will release her or I will have his head.”
“You already have my heart - it is not enough?” Grinning at the fury in her eyes, he rode up to Iziko. “Candy, come down, I wish to speak to you.”
Candy was not fond of Thorn and some instinct had warned her a long time ago that he is not as the others, but he was an adult so she obeyed. He climbed off his horse and knelt before her.
“Do you know who I am?”
“Thorn? I do not know any other name.”
“We better not mention my other name, it is certain to send sparks flying if Princess Cherine hears it, she will think I am presuming. I am going to speak some words and you will remember that I am more than just Thorn to you. When you remember, do not fear, that man is not who I am here. I will not do anything to harm you. I promise.” With eyes huge, fear already weakening her knees, she let him bring his lips to her ears and whisper his words. She cried out with terror and Iziko spun around, his tail hitting the horse of Dark Cloud, knocking her down. She was too stunned to react instantly and by the time she could, she saw that Iziko was not attacking her, that he had run to Candy’s side and putting a front leg around her had drawn her under his head, his eyes warily staring at Thorn.
Thorn stepped back. “I told you Candy, do not fear me, I’ve grown fond of you and will not harm you again, I did promise, didn’t I?”
Dominique ran and crawling under Iziko’s head grabbed hold of Candy. She made baby noises as she caressed the little girl, her obvious love soothing Candy. As she relaxed she burst into tears and thrusting her face against Dominique she sobbed and trembled in reaction.
Nobody made a move to set the group on the journey, all waiting for Candy to recover. The Kiards placed themselves between Iziko-Candy-Dominique and Thorn and the sight of these fierce looking warriors protecting her, the obvious love of Iziko and Dominique and the look in the eyes of the rest of the group (‘her’ group) gave her the courage to become angry. Thorn had seated himself by the fire and was drinking a mug of tea made from wild herbs they had collected during their long walk, and with Dominiques’ hand in hers she went to him - keeping a wary distance.
“You are a bad man.”
Gravely he stared into her eyes and was impressed when she stared back. “I am.”
“Why did you hurt me?”
“I was angry with someone else and had to use you. Do you like the name I gave you - that at least was a nice thing I did, wasn’t it?”
“I hate it.”
“You are free to change it.”
His calm grave manner confused her. She had in fact expected him to strike at her. “Will you make my head hurt again?”
“I did not make your head hurt, you did by disobeying me. I don’t think your head will hurt again.”
Candy was aware of Princess Wendy at all times and sensing her eyes on her, she went to her. “Is it true, will he really not hurt me again?”
“If he does Princess Cherine will kill him.”
“Why? Does she love me?”
Something woke up in her and she looked around. “Yes, everyone does.”
Alkion was sitting close by. “If he hurts you in any way, I will not wait for the Princess to order me to kill him.” Thorn cupped his hand over his mouth as he smiled, for he did not fear the strength of arm of any man, only those who have real power, like Dark Cloud and Shadow.
“You know, he told you the truth, your name does suit you. You are so sweet I think I could eat you. Let me taste one of your fingers.” He mock growled as he reached for her and they all stared in amazement as she squealed, backed away and he went after her on all fours, growling as he pretended to try and catch her. They had never seen Alkion be anything but the stern soldier and wondered that Candy had touched him so deeply.
When Candy settled down in Alkion’s arms, Thorn decided to stir things up again. “Candy, be careful of who you allow to hug you, it would not be right for my future wife to have been held by other men.” As he’d hoped, everybody attacked him verbally, swearing he will never have Candy.
With a lazy grin, he leant back. “Who else would she marry? I created her and she is mine. If the Princess will not have me, I shall have little Candy - and she will love me.”
They had such an argument, Candy having retreated to her safety place, under the jaw of Iziko, that it was too late to break camp when things settled down again, so they slept where they were.
The next morning Aqutina reminded Iziko he owes Dark Cloud an apology and, abashed, he tried to apologise. Dark Cloud made a conscious effort to reply in a gentle manner, but she was also using her powers to sense him. The only other reference she made to the previous evening was to Princess Cherine when they were momentarily alone. She nodded, indicating Thorn. “That one, he will cause us trouble, he hungers to be more than he can be.”
The Princess leant over and whispered, “Do you know what he hungers for?”
“Apart from you? My knowledge and my powers. That I do not mind. That he should wish to learn from the shapeshifter, that is degrading.”
“When I was a child my tutor told me that I should try to learn from everyone, that all can teach us something.” Dark Cloud pretended to ignore her reply.
“We have been travelling for nine days. Does anyone know what lies ahead?”
“You do not? It is not that far from your city.”
“We do not travel much.”
Jescus took a twig and draw a small circle on the ground, a much bigger circle and a line cutting through it. “The inner circle is the ruined tower of Melia. The outer is the shape, roughly, of your city. It is not natural for a city to form a circle. Cities tends to be affected by the contours of the land and the availability of water. I would have expected your city to have spread out along the river. There is power emanating from the ruins that holds you close to it?”
“Perhaps a residue, it is difficult to tell with so much magic being used by all. When the first were still children, a tale was told that the spire held the gift of humanity, to remain children of Melia we had to remain within a certain distance. My presence here is evidence that it was but a childish fear of ours. I never heard our Mother make any such claim.”
“I am surprised your people allowed you to leave. That they should do so without insisting on providing a large escort is almost unbelievable!”
She looked shocked. “You expect them to dare to impose their will on me?”
“Uh, not exactly what I meant, I apologise.”
“It is what you meant. Explain.”
“People in different places are taught truths that sometimes only belong to them, so do not take offence my lady. We too have those who rule us and as you have seen we all obey our Princess,” Princess Cherine snorted softly with amusement, “but she too has a duty. If we are to obey, then she must always try to consider our safety and wellbeing, as I presume it is with you. However, if she is to expect our devotion, then she must be devoted to us also. In other words, those who rule have a responsibility to those they rule. If she were to try to place herself in danger, it would be our responsibility and right to ensure she is not endangered thoughtlessly. In our wish and attempts to protect her, she must obey us if she is a wise ruler.”
“Is that truly how it is for you? You do not rule absolutely?”
“I’ve never had it put that boldly before, but most of it makes sense to me.”
“But then you are ruled in turn by the lowest of your people!”
“What do you think of Jade and Cass?”
“I do not understand the relevance of your question.”
“They are from the poor of my people. They were not asked to join us, they ran away from their homes secretly, to be by my side, hoping to protect me if there is danger. Which of your people would do that for you unasked?”
“Why would I want them to?” Princess Cherine did not reply.
Jescus was naïve enough to think he could explain. “Let us take for example the imaginary situation where you lose your powers and have fallen into a pit. Shouldn’t a subject of yours stretch out his hand to pull you out?”
“What for, for that to happen I would have to not be the first daughter of Melia and that is obviously impossible. If in your imaginary example that did happen, then they should not, unless I had coins enough to compensate them for any danger or effort.”
“If we are attacked, you will only fight with us if we pay you?”
“In that regard, by my joining you, our rules were suspended. This is your quest and fight and by joining you, I must follow your rules. Would it make me safer if I did not fight alongside you? I assure you, if the beasts dared attack our city, there would be no thought of compensation, we would all be fighting as one out of rage that they dared attack us.”
“Your ways are strange my lady and not very practical.”
“Enough Alkion! I apologise Dark Cloud.”
“I have had the same thoughts about you, so I will not take offence. After all, you are on a dangerous journey where time might be of the essence if we are to save all life and yet you delayed our departure for a child - not even of your blood.”
Princess Cherine nodded, “She has won our hearts. At a time that we were all still afraid of Iziko, she befriended him. When Thorn used his powers to form compulsions in her mind to lead us into his traps, she fought him, even though we were still strangers to her and it caused her pain. During the dangers, at times when we had no food or water, she did not complain once. I would have been blessed if my husband and I had had another daughter such as her before he left our world.”
“His body did. I can feel he waits for me.”
“Why not impale yourself on your sword then? What holds you here?”
“I thought of it in the early days of grief, but I came to understand I am here for a set time and I must stay to do whatever it is I am here for. If we can help Wendy and destroy the blue eyes of death, it might be that I will have served my purpose.”
Dark Cloud seemed to be genuinely upset. “This is not good news! We are being led to unknown dangers to save all life by a woman who wishes to die.”
“There are always two choices when a decision is to be made. I choose the one that does not serve my needs.”
She stared at Alkion until he looked at her. “And you dare to say that my ways are strange?”
Thirty four days had passed since leaving the city without any new signs of danger. The beasts that followed them remained at a greater distance when they recognised the presence of one from the city. Despite this, they were all uneasy, as if something was threatening them. They climbed a low hill strewn with boulders and as they came over to the other side, they saw a stream lower down and next to it was a man. Even from the distance, they could see there was something odd about him. Warily the group drew closer as they descended, ready for battle if it proved necessary. Aqutina held in her hands the last of the rocks she had for Iziko.
As they approached, the figure straightened and they saw it is human shaped, except that it has two heads.
“Good day, I am wizard Tsiess and he is Chir my assistant. Are you of Mankind, or have you assumed the shapes?”
“We are humans. What are you?”
“Born of a woman, but so long ago…I hardly recall her.”
“Tsiess, are these girls? It has been so long…”
“Quiet Chir. Hmm, girls, little girls also. It has been long. Do you think we will remember how to?”
“I hope so. I do remember I enjoyed it.”
“Whatever it is you are planning, forget it. Tell us why we should not kill you.”
Tsiess stared at Dark Cloud while Chir kept on trying to attract the attention of Candy and Dominique, winking and smiling at them.
“You are of Melia?”
“Her first daughter. You knew her?”
“Perhaps. She may have been daughter of a daughter, I do not recall. Time gets twisted when I spend long periods alone with Chir. Maybe she was his daughter of a daughter.”
Aqutina asked, “Do you not share one body?”
“Ahh, that we do. You mean, why could Melia be his daughter of a daughter and not my daughter of a daughter? Surely it depends on who was using the body at the time?” He frowned. “Have you come to escort me?”
“Escort you? No old man, we are on a journey of our own. Do you know what lies ahead?”
“If it is not my journey, why should I care to know?”
“But I want to go with them Tsiess! Maybe I can have a daughter with that sweet one (Dominique) and I can keep it for later?”
Tsiess grinned at Chir, “I don’t think they will let you, not even if you ask nicely. I do remember this about Melia, she had little sense of humour and did not like us very much. This daughter of hers is just like her.”
Jescus asked, “If this were your journey, would you know what lies ahead?”
“Why would I go on a journey if I do not know where I am going? That way lies danger - many dangers.”
Chir perked up. “Danger? I want to go with. I’m bored of being bored by you.”
“What kind of danger?”
“You want a specific kind? I might remember the spells if I try and you want an easy danger. How about flesh eating rocks? Will that do?”
Sylvestro shook his head and grumbled to Jade and Cass, “Conversations in this land make me feel I’m going crazy.”
Cass grinned. “It makes a change from talking to us?”
“Now that you mention it, there is not much difference.” He smiled, his eyes betraying his fondness for her.
Jescus patiently explained to Tsiess what he’d meant, feeling foolish as he did, sensing the old man was laughing at him.
“These blue eyes, did Melia create them?”
“Why would she? Our Mother would not want us all to die.”
“I don’t know, that one had a strange sense of humour.”
“I thought you said she does not have a sense of humour, just like me.”
He flipped a hand - or maybe Chir did. “When the sense of humour is as strange as hers, it is not humorous.”
“Where is she now.” Dark Cloud hoped the suddenness of her question would get her the answer that she had tortured herself with for centuries.
“Waiting for you, same as her man is.” He pointed at Princess Cherine. Both of them reacted to his words, though not in the same way. To the Princess this was confirmation that her feelings were true and not just some fantasy born of despair.
Tsiess looked at Chir in mock anger. “If we go with them into danger and we must battle, do not dare ruin my spells with your foolishness again, you nearly cost me my life last time.”
Chir pretended to be irritated as he spoke to Dominique, “Nag, nag, that is all he does nowadays. If you spend the night with me it will put him in a better humour I promise.” Dominique shook her head and placed herself behind Iziko, Candy clinging to her hand, but struggling to see over his snout.
Shadow dared to speak for the first time since Dark Cloud joined them. “He is a human, only your kind practice sex with undeveloped females.”
Chir nodded eagerly, “It is true, some fruit are sweeter before they ripen. Oh but how I yearn. Please little one? Just imagine what we can do with two heads, though his beard does tickle, little girls say.”
“I think we would do well to leave the shapeshifter with this monstrous wizard, they suit each other. Both are disgusting!”
“Shadow stays for now Dark Cloud. As for him, he has given us no reason to take him with us. We better collect some water and leave.”
“Can you get some water for us also? We have sat here for two days thirsting. So close to water and to have a griilok in this very stream, is that not perverse of fate?”
“What manner of creature is a griilok?” Thorn asked.
“Collect us some water and you’ll find out.” Tsiess roared with laughter at his own wit.
Dark Cloud explained, “You do not have griiloks in your land? It is a creature that lives in the water most of the time. It resembles a fat many-limbed serpent with numerous mouths with venom in all its teeth. Even a scratch is fatal. If they have not recently eaten, they are almost transparent and impossible to see in the water. They have little magic, mostly an ability to send out a yearning for the water they hide in, making it seem sweeter and purer than any water can be. We must move on, magic has little effect on a griilok.”
“They can move onto land?”
“Yes. They are also extremely fast. We should move away.”
“What if we split into three parties, one keeping it occupied here while the other two collect water?”
“You wish to sacrifice some of us? That is a good plan, we could leave the shapeshifter and this pretender to humanity here as bait.” She’d also glanced at Iziko, but decided they are all too fond of him to agree to his being sacrificed, though she thought he would be a very good lure for the griilok. Feeding off his carcass would keep it occupied for days, allowing them to collect water a number of times.
Princess Cherine ignored her and asked Tsiess, “When the creature is out of the water, is it clearly visible?”
“Not if it is hungry. Why not feed it one of your horses, it will be easier to see and will not move as quickly.”
“No. Dark Cloud, you and Aqutina move upstream, at about those three trees. On my signal use magic to block the water. Wait until I signal you again before you release it. Do not travel there close to the stream. Thorn, you, Jescus and Shadow will remain closer to the stream, but not close enough for the serpent to attack you. When the bed is bare, use your powers to throw mud all over the creature. Try to keep the bed and banks slippery so that it cannot come out. Aqutina, give some rock to Iziko. Iziko, when you see the creature, direct a strong blast of flame at it. Alkion, you, Sylvestro and I will rush in then to finish off the creature if it is not dead. Even if we only wound it, the rush of water when Dark Cloud releases it will wash it away. We will drink our fill and carry all our horses can.”
“You are sending Aqutina with her as protection? If Iziko is separate from us, then we will be attacked.”
Dark Cloud stiffened. “Keep her, any beast that dares attack me is welcoming its own death.” Without waiting she proudly rode off.
“Shadow, follow and protect her if she is attacked. She cannot fight a horde of them and she is not under the protection of the dragons.” Her voice was icy as she added, “Fail and you are not welcome back here.”
“If I fail my lady it will be because I am dead. As always, your wish is my command.”
When Dark Cloud realised he was following her she waved him away. He ignored her, but prudently kept his distance. He hated and despised Dark Cloud and her people just as much as they did his kind, and for a while he wondered if there was a way he could stage it so that he would not be held responsible for her death. He then recalled his goal and decided he has to keep his enemy alive, he could not risk losing any one hope his people may have.
The stream was less than two metres wide and under half a metre deep. The griilok had dug itself a comfortable hole so that the bed there was about three metres deep. On signal, Dark Cloud damned the water and the bed was soon exposed, showing the pool where the griilok is. Only the top part of its body was exposed. Angrily it writhed around trying to work out what had happened. Thorn and Jescus had prepared the mud-slinging spell, which was useless as the griilok stayed in its pool. The two men swiftly agreed on another spell and froze the water.
“Iziko, can you lift the ice without allowing the griilok to touch you and take it away from the stream? As far as possible.”
Before he could do so, the Kiards rushed in and rocking the ice freed it. They lifted it, rolled it back up the hill, and with a shove let it roll down the other side. Unseen by them a small part of the griilok had freed itself and tried to bite a Kiard. He felt nothing, but as they walked back down the hill he got dizzy, staggered a few steps and collapsed.
Forgetting about Dark Cloud they all rushed over to the Kiard.
“Have you a spell to rid him of the venom?” Both men shook their heads. “His skin is too tough for us to cut through.” Princess Cherine looked up at the remaining Kiards. “How can we save him?”
They shrugged, though their eyes were filled with concern. “If he survives, he survives, there is nothing we can do.”
“Hold him, if he moves he will hurt me.” Aqutina carefully lay down on top of the unconscious Kiard and closed her eyes, her face peaceful as if she were deeply meditating. Agitated and afraid, Iziko kept on bumping the Kiards, so Wendy pushed at him until he looked at her. Softly she scratched him around the eyes as she reassured him that his mother will not be harmed. They stared into each other’s eyes and Wendy felt as if something had fallen into place, making her feel more complete. She wandered off in a daze until Sylvestro took her arm and returned her to the group. It took a while for Wendy to realise what had happened inside her. She had felt love for the poor baby dragon!
There was a sound like thunder in the distance and then the sound of water as it stormed its way down the stream again. They hardly noticed the sound, all their concentration, for the moment on the two lying on the ground. Thorn was deep within himself trying to sense what magic Aqutina was using to heal with, so that, if he could find the key, he could gain this power too. Because he was so sensitised to magic at that moment, he was the first to feel the storm of magic in the distance. He snapped around and then with an oath he used his powers to jump to the side of Dark Cloud. Startled she nearly lashed out at him. She gave him a crazy grin and struck at a clawed limb that was already reaching for him. Almost in perfect silence the battle raged on, dozens of creatures striving to be the first to tear at the flesh they craved.
They had to be careful they did not hit Shadow by mistake. He was flashing from one awful shape to another as he disposed of those around him and was making his way closer to the two. He saw an afidien, a creature resistant to most magic reaching over for Dark Cloud. With a scream of rage he took on the shape he hated most, of dragon. All the creatures pulled back as he roared and then he struck at the afidien, his claws tearing through its body. Within seconds the three stood alone.
“Oh Mother! The shame! To owe my life to a shapeshifter!”
Thorn grinned. “As Princess Cherine’s tutor said, take help from all who can help you.”
“You made that up.”
He grinned again, the bloodlust of battle still singing in his blood, making him reckless. “Yes, I am good at doing that. Aren’t maidens supposed to kiss their saviours for coming to their rescue?”
She shuddered. “Kiss a shapeshifter! I’d rather die.” He roared with laughter at her (probably) deliberate misunderstanding.
The unconscious Kiard murmured in his language and a split second later one of the other Kiards let go of him and snatched at Aqutina. Breaking contact was a shock for both of them. The Kiard opened his eyes with a soft moan. It took Aqutina a little longer to recover. She then flew into a rage.
“Are you crazy! You could have killed both of us.”
“He dreamt he was about to have sexual intercourse. I doubt you would have survived his dart.”
With magicians and warriors watching out at either end everyone grabbed the opportunity to bathe. Iziko would not step in the water, but he enjoyed it when they flung buckets of water over him and scrubbed him with the horse brushes. Though Dark Cloud made certain none of the males could see them as they bathed, she was not happy with the grin on Thorn’s face. Chir kept up a monologue of complaints, pleading to be allowed to see and offering to scrub their backs or any other parts they wanted.
They travelled for a few hours to put distance between the griilok and themselves, in case it is in a vengeful mood when the ice thaws. As they lay down to sleep, Dark Cloud whispered in Thorn’s ear, with a huge grin on her face, “’Tis been many a century since I was a maiden.” She quickly pulled back with a chuckle and turning her back to him pretended to go to sleep. He gave a rueful grin when he heard a chuckle escape her again.
Over breakfast next morning, an angry Jade challenged Chir, “Tell me what fruit is sweeter when unripe.”
Tsiess replied, “He was using a figure of speech…”
“Nonsense!” She stood over them in a threatening stance, her cheeks red, but her eyes cold with anger. “Little girls are not made for disgusting old men like you to have sex with. You dare try anything and wizard or not, I will have both your heads.”
Chir just did not know when to keep quiet. “That is not true, we’ve had sex with many little girls and it was fun.”
“I don’t care what you’ve done in the past, just don’t try it with our girls.”
“Tsiess, is she the one, Melia’s daughter?”
“No. The old one is.”
Dark Cloud called back, “Who are you calling old!”
“Come child, you look thirty or so, but I can see deeper, the centuries lie coiled within you.”
I hope you enjoy reading this story of fantasy, adventure and love - and should some of it be true for our reality, I hope you will love our Cherine.
Αλέξανδρος Ζήνον Ευσταθίου(Alexander Zenon Eustace)
16th February, 2020
- posted: 16th February, 2020
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