It took four days before Aden and Jennifer could be located, and three more before Thomas of Evandell sent word that he would be along shortly. Several days later, they gathered at the Triangle, and by then, Owien raced home, trying to keep up with Tomberlain and Roland. By then, of course, it was far too late.
Margueritte got taken rudely from her cart at the base of the long hill. Her hands remained tied, but the gag came off, and had been for most of the last part of the journey. It hardly mattered. Margueritte had nothing to say.
“I had rather hoped we would see evidence of your friends before now.” Finnian McVey said, and looked down on her from horseback.
Margueritte looked up at him and squinted against the morning sun; but her mouth remained closed.
“I was afraid it would come to this,” Canto said. “She will not give you what you want, so now what will you do?”
“Follow through,” McVey sneered. “That is where most men fail. The threat just whets the appetite. It’s the follow through that gets them.” He waved to Roan and Morgan who took Margueritte’s arms and began to escort her up the nearest hill.
It seemed to Margueritte that Canto might be having second thoughts. The men were all looking about, and looking up, and the horses had seemed skittish for the last several miles. Roan and Morgan looked positively frightened to death to be so close to the dragon’s lair, and they barely held on to their charge as they climbed the path that had been well worn over the last eighteen months.
Canto and McVey dismounted and followed. They seemed less concerned about the danger. Canto imagined he knew something about dragons, and no doubt banked on the wisdom that the druids had gleaned over the centuries. McVey rather banked on the odds, believing that he could escape while the dragon paused to eat someone else first.
“You druids have always been a bloody lot,” McVey said. “You should have no problem with a single human sacrifice.”
“This is not the sacrifice of an enemy dedicated to the gods,” Canto responded. “But I believe I understand your attitude at last.”
“Oh?” McVey never thought of himself as being transparent.
“Yes,” Canto said. “If you cannot get the spirits of the earth to serve you, you are determined to see that no one should have them.” He said what Margueritte thought.
McVey stopped, so they all stopped. “Those are your wards, not mine,” he drawled, not exactly denying the accusation. “But if this bothers yeh so much, yeh can go down and make sure the men are ready.”
Canto paused, glanced once in Margueritte’s direction before he returned to the base of the hill. McVey made the others finish the climb to the top.
They found a rock-strewn place at the top of the hill and a hole in the hillside which smelled unmistakably of dragon. No doubt, there was plenty of gold in that hillside as well, but no one would be foolish enough to try and fetch it. Margueritte got dragged to where two iron rings had been driven into a rock face. How anyone stuck around long enough to secure the rings without becoming dragon lunch was beyond Margueritte, but clearly, they were there for the sacrifices. Roan and Morgan secured her hands to the rings, Morgan said, “Sorry, sorry,” because of the ropes, and then they backed away quickly. He did not wait for McVey to give the order.
“Be that way then,” Finnian McVey said to her. “Though you’re a skinny little thing, hardly a snack for the beast I imagine.” He took one long look around, not at the cave, but at the hilltop and rocks, believing his eyes might see any elves or dwarfs hiding there. Truth is, they might have been there all around, but his human eyes would never perceive them, and Margueritte would never ask them to manifest in the dragon’s mouth. McVey turned without another word and stomped off, not so much as giving Margueritte another look.
There followed one moment when Margueritte heard the rumbling in the cave and McVey still looked visible; but with the sound he picked up his pace and soon became lost from sight. That gave Margueritte the moment she needed. She had to act fast. She cried out for her armor, and it came and fitted itself perfectly to her size and shape—the same armor that once perfectly fitted Gerraint, and Festuscato in his day. With this, she thought to her Athena woven cape and the cape responded. It grew longer until it touched the ground, wrapped itself around her and raised the hood up by itself which also grew large enough to completely cover her face. She remembered that Athena had told the Princess in ages past that the cape was fireproof, and indeed, many things proof. It seemed better hope than none, though unfortunately, there was no way it could stretch sideways to cover her arms and hands, spread out and tied as they were.
“Ankh.” She heard the beast close by. She shouted out in the Agdaline tongue as fast and as loud as she could.
“No fire! Do no harm! Friend, friend! No eating, no fire! Do no harm!” She wondered if it would do any good. “No fire! Do no harm! Friend, friend!” Margueritte yelled. She felt a snout touch her side. She squeezed her eyes tight and barely kept from screaming. Then there came the fire. She felt the heat. Her left hand became aflame, but quickly came free of the rope. She did scream. The snout came again and sniffed at her and blew her hood up ever so slightly with hot air. The hood fell back in place, but not before she saw the bulk of the beast. It looked larger than she remembered.
Margueritte pulled her hand inside her cloak and tried to examine it, carefully. Her glove and wrist guard prevented the worst, but the tips of her fingers were badly singed and would no doubt blister. “No fire!” She kept screaming. “No eating! No fire!”
Then one nostril of the beast poked under her hood and pushed the hood behind her head. Margueritte bit her tongue before she saw something which explained a great deal. “Mother.” She said in Agdaline. “Mother! Mother.” She saw a little, feathered serpent as long as her leg flitting beside its mother’s outstretched wing. The dragon took a deep whiff of Margueritte before it raised its’ head.
“Baby.” The dragon responded in Agdaline.
Three more babies roughly as long as the first came up beside that first, and Marguerite could see in the distance that there were perhaps five more. “Mother!” Margueritte said again. “Protecting and defending your babies.”
“Protect. Defend,” the dragon responded. “Baby.”
“Feeding your babies.” Margueritte continued in the Agdaline without realizing it. Some internal prompts were coming through time.
“Sheep,” she said quickly and waved her burnt hand in the direction away from the cave. “Sheep. Cows.” She suggested quickly.
The dragon faced her again and came close, to take one more, long sniff. “Baby,” it said.
“Mother.” Margueritte responded and tried not to scream again.
“Sheep.” The dragon said, and jumped to flight, let her wings out suddenly and flapped with all her might. It made a bit of a whirlwind which scattered her own babies. Margueritte felt sure it would have knocked her to the ground if she was not still tied by one hand. The dragon shadow made a circle on the ground as the beast went once around for a last look before it set off on the hunt.
Apparently, Margueritte is now a dragon baby. Don’t miss next week when Margueritte, Mother, and the babies all take a turn in Protect, Defend. Until then, Happy Reading