Katie whistled for her horse, and he came right away. The other horses followed, except Lockhart’s horse, Seahorse, and Boston’s Strawberry. They were not finished munching on flowers for breakfast, and Seahorse even stamped his hooves like the unruly child he was.
“Strawberry,” Boston called, and the horse came. Seahorse still resisted but did not want to be the only one left standing in the field.
While the horses got saddled, Sukki asked what the opposing army was doing. “They are just standing there being quiet. It feels creepy.”
“Spooky,” Nanette agreed.
Decker lifted Tony’s hands. Tony held his handgun at the ready, but he pointed the gun too low, anticipating the recoil. “No recoil until after you fire,” Decker said.
“I can’t think of anything we can do to send them away. This looks like a stalemate,” Lockhart said.
Lincoln walked up, having just put Ghost in the harness. “Don’t look at me,” he said.
Cadmael offered a thought. “It looks like the whole army from Caracol.”
“Maybe we could talk to them and see what they want?” Gabor suggested.
“Major, ever do any sharpshooting?” Decker asked. “Six hundred meters is not that far.”
“Yes Colonel,” Katie answered. “But I don’t think we are starting with sharpshooting.”
“We see if we can talk,” Lockhart agreed. He started forward. Katie, Cadmael, and Gabor went with him. They got about a hundred yards toward the forest when they heard someone in the army line shout a command. Lockhart could not tell what was said, but at once, the whole enemy line rushed forward. More than five hundred, and maybe a thousand Caracol warriors hit Elder Stow’s screens at once. They bounced off, but he heard Elder Stow shout, “No, no. No.”
Lockhart quickly turned and brought everyone back while the Caracol warriors tried again and again.
“No,” Elder shouted once more, and the screen disappeared. Three thousand Caracol warriors crossed the line, screaming murder. Decker and Katie opened fire with the rifles set to automatic. Lincoln, Lockhart, and Tony added their handguns to the mix. At that distance, given the way they were all bunched up, they would hit something.
Boston gave her handgun to Nanette who bravely walked up beside Decker and pulled the trigger. Boston did not have time to make explosive arrows, but she had her wand. Alexis was already calling up a wind strong enough to blow dozens off their feet. Boston made her flamethrower which at least slowed the charge.
Sukki rose up, seeing that Elder Stow was busy with the screen device. At twenty feet in the air, Sukki could see the whole Caracol army. She looked at her own hands. She could not control her power well enough yet. She did not practice. She still scared herself. She could not just stun them to put the whole Caracol army unconscious. She could fry many of them and leave charcoal bits on the ground that used to be human beings, but she could not bring herself to do that. She made up her mind that she had to do that when something intruded through the air.
A dragon flew between the travelers and the army of Caracol, spewing fire on the army the whole way. That fire, far more powerful than Boston’s little flame thrower, turned the whole front of that line into a burning, screaming mass of humanity. The ones behind, or who were not disabled by the fire, turned and ran for their lives. Decker, and after a minute Katie mercifully shot the men who were burning and screaming in pain. After another moment, Tony joined them. Then Lockhart pulled his shotgun and finished some of the last. It felt like a horrible thing to have to do, but no one talked about it, ever.
Cadmael stood like a stoic and watched flanked by young Xipetec and old man Kaax. Gabor and most of his escort crew were on their knees, and a few were crying. A few more screamed and shrieked when the dragon turned in the sky and came in for a landing. Lockhart stood out front and yelled at the top of his lungs.
“No fire. Do no harm. Friends. Friends.” He repeated the phrase in the Agdaline tongue that all dragons were bred to obey. “No fire. Friends.” Of course, whether they obeyed when they got big and went wild was always a question, but there was nothing else they could do. They stood in an open field without so much as a rock or tree to hide behind. “Friends.”
The travelers gathered behind Lockhart. The Mayan kept their distance, and many stayed on their knees. The horses kept their distance as well, but they did not run off, being magically tied to their riders. They shuffled away from the beast but stayed within reach.
The dragon landed and raised its head high in the sky. It burped a small burst of flame into the sky and repeated Lockhart’s words in the Mayan tongue. “No fire.” People looked up and saw someone on the neck of the dragon, riding the dragon, like they once saw Ixchel, daughter of Maya, the corn woman goddess, who rode a different dragon a long time ago.
Lincoln whispered to Alexis. “This is a different breed. It still has all its feathers, like a baby.”
Alexis nodded and answered. “And it looks more like an actual worm than most, with hardly any claws front and back.” She pointed. “The folded wings are hardly noticeable, the way they blend into the body. It is a wonder it doesn’t set itself on fire with those feathers.”
Lincoln clarified. “I read about that. They are leathery and fireproof, a strong protection that is more flexible, though not as strong as scales. Most dragons, especially the more dinosaur-looking type, shed their feathers at a certain age when their scales begin to harden. But a few of the more obvious worm-like breeds, the kind that slither but don’t really walk, wear their feathers their whole life.”
Alexis nodded, as the dragon said another word. “Friends,” and Lockhart noticed the dragon spoke in the Mayan language, not the Agdaline. He was about to say something when they heard the person overhead riding on the Dragon’s neck.
“Boston,” the woman said.
Boston shouted back. “No way. I’m not climbing on a dragon back to get my hug.”
The woman, obviously Yamaya, laughed. They heard it as the dragon lowered its head to the ground and let a little puff of smoke out from its nostrils. Yamaya slipped down and opened her arms. She grinned, but Boston remained wary, being so close to the big dragon’s head. At last, though, she could not help herself and ran into the hug. Everyone smiled, though most looked at the dragon to see if it reacted. It watched but stayed quiet.
Yamaya went around to hug all of the travelers. It felt a bit like she was sending the dragon a message that these people were okay, and the dragon should not hurt them. Then she introduced her dragon and stepped over to scratch behind the dragon’s ear.
“This is my friend, Gluga,” she said. “She is my protector, though she says she is more like my mother, and I am like her baby. She never had any babies.” Gluga snorted and shot out her tongue, briefly, like a snake might taste the air.
“Glugh?” Lockhart said as he tried to grasp the Agdaline word. “Injury?”
“Hurting,” Yamaya said. “Gluga was a prisoner in a stone-built cage in Tikal for five hundred years. She cried and told me how much being a prisoner hurt her. We figured out how to set her free and we escaped to the wilderness around Uaxactun, but that is a long story.” Yamaya looked up and saw a face she recognized. “Cadmael,” she said. “How dare you return here.”
Cadmael fell to one knee and lowered his head. “These people appeared to belong to you. They said as much. I do not understand most of what they say or how they can do what they can do, but if they are not of the gods, as they claim, then they certainly must belong to you. I felt it only fair to guide them and give them as safe a passage as I could. I still owe you my life.”
Yamaya looked like she could not stay mad. The smile came back with force. “Thank you, but you and your friends can go back south if you do not want the Lords of Tikal to find you.”
“Yes, please. Thank you,” Cadmael looked relieved that he was not going to be eaten.
“And these men from Tayasal?” Yamaya asked, not sure what to ask, exactly.
Somehow, Gabor found the courage to answer. “My Lords said to take these people to Tikal and offer them for the sacrifice, to prove that Tayasal is still loyal to the great city and not willing to submit to the advances of King K’an of Caracol. I see now that was a wrong-headed and foolish idea. My few men could not take these people anywhere they did not want to go. Please, mighty Queen of the Serpent. May we live?”
Yamaya shook her head and sighed. “Go ahead. Take your men and leave. Be content to live beside the lake of plenty and do not come here again.”
Gabor bowed his head and did not have to yell to get his men to hurry back the way they came. Cadmael, Xipetec, and old man Kaax also bowed, and with more reverence and less desperation. Then they turned and followed the men of Tayasal.
“They planned to give us to Tikal to have our hearts cut out?” Tony said, and people looked at Yamaya.
“It is what we do,” she said. “But honestly, I don’t understand all the politics involved. All I know is the people are divided, like polar opposites mostly on stupid little stuff that should not matter. It is like the hundred year’s war with Catholics and Protestants killing each other over stupid stuff. It isn’t like your Civil War where a couple of big issues divided the people and needed to be decided. It is more like your twenty-first century where progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans can’t even talk to each other. Only here, the cities fight each other all the time, and have for years. And why? Mostly over stupid stuff. They just can’t agree. I don’t understand politics. Why can’t people just be nice to each other and live in peace?”
Gluga lifted her head a little and nudged Yamaya gently. Yamaya’s smile returned, and she nodded. “Come on,” she said. Gluga will lead the way. We cross a few fallow farm fields and get to an old causeway that will take us to the old city where we are living. Come. Get your horses and come on.”
Yamaya started walking, and Gluga slithered out front, making a nice indent in the field. It took a bit to gather the horses. Ghost, for some reason, did not appear bothered by the dragon. So soon they headed out across the field, following the woman and the serpent.
The travelers stayed one night in the Wilderness of Uaxactun before they went on to Yamaya’s old city which Lincoln identified as Mirador.