A commotion could be heard in the fields as men ran, and many pointed when the creature circled in low. Fortunately, the creature chose a back corner of the far quarter, by the Vergen forest to set down. It did not look, from that distance, nearly as big as its’ shadow, but no one doubted what it could do. It flamed the grain in that corner before setting down.
Margueritte and Elsbeth came to the edge of the wood, laughing and sighing for the stories they told and heard from Goldenrod’s storehouse of stories. Some of them were about the Kairos, the Traveler in Time, and that embarrassed Margueritte a little. She reminded Goldenrod that she was not supposed to talk about lives which Margueritte could not herself remember, but Goldenrod said they were elf perfected stories, so who knew how much of them was true. Margueritte accepted that and listened while Goldenrod told about the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well.
“They should have been named Moe, Larry and Curly,” Margueritte said, even as Goldenrod became very agitated.
“What is it?” Elsbeth asked.
“Roan and Morgan again?” Margueritte wondered because that was the only other time she saw Goldenrod in such a state.
“Worser,” Goldenrod insisted, and she flew into Elsbeth’s hair to hide. “Dragon.” Her voice sounded barely above a whisper. As if on cue, Margueritte’s horse reared up and Elsbeth’s horse stepped back from the field and shook her head vigorously, so both girls had a hard time staying up and keeping control of their mares.
“Get down.” Margueritte commanded when she could, and Elsbeth did not argue. The horses, well trained, did not run, but they did step further from the edge of the woods. The girls quickly tied them to keep from losing them, and none too soon as even then the dragon came to land in a great ball of fire. The smoke and the acrid, acid smell came instantaneously, before the mere smell of burning grain and charcoal. The beast roared once. It sounded ear splitting. Then something happened which shocked Margueritte to no end. The beast spoke. It said only one word. “Hungry.” It spoke in a strange tongue, and it looked to snatch up a horse from the edge of the trees. The horse got cooked in an instant, and with great jaws and almost useless front claws the horse got quartered. These bite-sized morsels were then taken into the worm’s mouth rapidly, one after the other, to become four lumps in the worm’s throat. Margueritte watched the worm undulating to swallow the lumps as far as it could.
“Where did that horse come from?” Elsbeth asked. She peeked around Margueritte’s shoulder. “Owien,” she shrieked. The master at arms could not be seen, but Marguerite guessed he got injured and dragged somewhere behind a tree by the boy who now knelt behind his master’s shield, facing the dragon, with his master’s sword pointed up, though he could barely lift it.
“Stay here!” Margueritte commanded her sister like she never before commanded anything. Not that it would do any good, she thought, as she turned back toward her own horse.
Margueritte reached out in time, not for the Danna who said this was not the place for her, and neither for Gerraint, though he was a great warrior in his way, but for Festuscato, the Roman Senator who came north in the days just before Rome fell to the Goths and Vandals. Festuscato had some practical experience with dragons.
“And several saints.” She heard the words clearly in her head, paused and closed her eyes. She went away, and Festuscato took her place, dressed not in her dress, but in the armor he called from home. That armor was a gift of the gods and the last made before the time of dissolution, and the sword called Fate was one of the two that came after Caliburn. At the moment, however, Festuscato felt mostly interested in the cloak which was woven by the hand of Athena herself. It was fireproof, among other things.
Festuscato got up on Margueritte’s mare which he judged would give him the least problem, though he did not like his choices, and with a kick, horse and rider bounded out into the open.
Festuscato knew he had a few moments yet. Dragons were quick to strike and eat, but then they had to take time to swallow and think about what to do next. They had been bred by a strange race, the Agdaline, who bred a command language into their system. Festuscato knew that language, but he felt uncertain if the dragon would respond. “Do no harm.” Festuscato shouted in the Agdaline tongue over and over as he approached the beast. “No fire. Do no harm.”
The dragon looked at him as he approached and turned its’ head at the sight almost a full one hundred and eighty degrees, so Festuscato could be seen upside down. The head snapped back as the man came to face the beast. He was ready to hide beneath his cloak on the least provocation, though the horse would have undoubtedly become toast.
“Do no harm. No fire.” Festuscato repeated.
“No harm.” The dragon said in barely discernible tones.
“No harm. No fire.” Festuscato repeated, again.
The dragon looked straight up and belched a great roar of flame. Festuscato was barely able to keep his horse under him. The dragon still smoked when it came to look again on horse and rider. “No fire.” It repeated.
Before another thought might enter the dragon brain, Festuscato spurred to snatch up Owien. Their other horse, the nag Owien got to ride was apparently too old and lazy to even run too far. “Can you ride?” He asked the sergeant at arms, who just came around from being knocked unconscious when the dragon snatched his horse.
“I think so,” he moaned. His arm looked busted all to pieces. Festuscato helped him up on the nag, put Owien in front and took the sword and shield to discard as an unnecessary burden. At the edge of the woods, he knew the dragon had nearly finished swallowing.
“No harm. No fire.” Festuscato repeated the command. The dragon said nothing in response. It merely stared at them with the fire dancing in its’ red eyes. Neither did Festuscato wait for an answer, but immediately rode towards Elsbeth, snatched her by the hands so she would ride behind him, and they did not stop riding until they were well away. They turned from the top of a small hillock by the woods and heard the dragon roar and spew fire once more into the sky. It took to wing and paused only briefly over the far pasture to snatch a cow in its’ larger hind claws. It flew north and passed right over the rider’s heads, who followed its’ flight as well as they could until it got lost in the clouds.
“Owien, dear,” Festuscato said, inadvertently calling him by Margueritte’s term. “You need to get your master to the house, but not too fast lest you worsen his condition by banging across the uneven ground.
“Yes sir,” Owien said.
“Your name, Lord?” The sergeant asked, though the delirium of his pain came on him, so he had to struggle to keep conscious.
“Festuscato,” he said. “And I will see to the girls and their safety.”
Owien started out at a slow and steady walk which he did his best to maintain even after he reached the flatter fields. Luckily, the old nag seemed content to move at that pace.
Festuscato took Elsbeth back to her own horse. When they got down, Elsbeth stared at him. Goldenrod came fluttering back from wherever she had hidden and clapped both hands with delight. Elsbeth squinted and cocked her head, though not nearly as far as the dragon.
“I can kind of see my sister in you,” she said. “Only she doesn’t have any red in her hair and your light brown eyes don’t look like her green ones.”
“But Elsbeth. Aren’t you forgetting what you should do when you are saved by a brave knight?” he said.
Elsbeth stiffened briefly, but then she saw he was teasing her. She played along with a curtsy. “Thank you, most brave and noble knight.” Then she went one further and stepped up to kiss his cheek. He laughed and immediately traded places with Margueritte, who continued the laugh, and Elsbeth joined her in the release of their fears, until they fell to the ground, laughing. Goldenrod’s fairy laugh, a powerful enchantment in its’ own right, kept them at it until they could hardly breathe. Goldenrod then broke the spell with her question.
“What are we laughing about?”
It got late, well after all the talk of dragons and other monsters had subsided, well after Owien had been praised and Elsbeth had kept silent for once, and well after bedtime when Margueritte sat straight up in bed. It came to her like an electric shock. She had no idea who Festuscato was.
Margueritte and Elsbeth are surprised by Visitors from the Real World. Don’t Miss it. Until then,