Friday, December 29, 2017
"Dusty! Dusty!" a little voice shouted at her ear. "Wake up! They're here!"
Dusty sat up, grabbing at anything she could use as a weapon. How had the orcs gotten so close? Where were they? Where was she?
Blue stood on her pillow leaping up and down. She looked around in fear --
"Mama! I can hear mama!"
Well, that woke her from her rest. Mama. Big dragon and she would be looking for her lost son. Dusty threw herself out of bed, almost tangling in the blankets and began looking frantically around. A knock on the door startled her, but her grandmother's servant, Mistress Paulina rushed into the room with clothing in hand.
"Oh good, you are awake. We just got a signal --"
"Dragons are coming. Oh dear. I don't have time --"
Mistress Paulina was expert at getting people ready for events. With the help of two other maids, she had Dusty dressed and her hair fixed as quickly as possible. By then, Blue could see the dragons -- three of them -- in the window. He jumped so much that Dusty had trouble getting hold of him. He laughed and giggled and bounced more as they hurried down the stairs and out into the courtyard.
The guards had cleared everything they could out of the way, but Dusty could tell that still didn't leave enough room for the three enormous dragons who were circling lower in the sky. Fox stood to the right of the door and smiled brightly. She wanted to grab and hug him but now was not the time. Dusty had beat grandmother and her guards out to the grand stairs leading into the building, but the Queen arrived only moments later.
"Oh my," the queen said. "I do hope --"
"Mama!" Blue shouted.
One of the dragons swept out of the formation and straight down at them. Dusty gasped but hadn't even time to back away before the vast, aqua-colored creature landed with a thump against the courtyard -- she saw stones crack -- and everything trembled.
Blue squealed and leapt from Dusty and to his mother's long snout as the dragon's head came closer. Dusty bowed her head while Blue talked so fast that even she couldn't follow him, though every time Blue said 'orcs' his mother growled.
Then the larger dragon's head turned and focused unerringly on Dusty. "Where are the orcs?" she growled, the angry sound sending the ground trembling.
"They're running back for their lairs," Dusty said, fighting to keep her voice steady while she looked into the enormous eyes -- and tried very hard not to see the big teeth.
"You let them go?" she answered, her eyes narrowing.
"I thought it most important to get Blue to safety," Dusty replied. "I didn't have the ability to fight the orcs --"
"Blue?" She blinked and then her lips curled back in what was not a smile. "You have named my son?"
"I -- Just to call him. Not a real name, of course. It hardly seemed proper for me to call such a fine creature baby."
Blue, who had settled on her leg, preened. Dusty saw the mama dragon's eyes turn back to her son and blink. The anger that had been there a moment before seemed to melt away.
"You did quite well, Princess of the humans. And may I say you seem quite accomplished in understanding dragons for one so young. Even those born with the gift are usually not so adept until far later in life, which is a shame for such a short-lived race."
"Thank you, Lady Dragon," she said and hoped that title worked.
The dragon had looked at her son again and gave a little nod. "Blue is a good name. We shall keep it."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, mama! I so wanted a name. And I will be wiser now! I'll do much better. I won't be a problem again!"
"Somehow, I find that rather doubtful."
Dusty smiled, but she was trying not to sniff. She could tell by the way the older dragon moved that she was preparing to leave and Dusty would not see Blue again. She had been trying to prepare herself for this moment, but it was all she could do to keep from crying aloud.
Lady Dragon turned her head and gave an unexpected nod to Queen Olivia. "This one has done well. I apologize for the misunderstanding about where my young one -- where Blue had gone. I will send funds to help rebuild and replace livestock."
"That is most generous," Queen Olivia answered and barely concealed her surprise. Dusty couldn't remember a time when dragons had paid humans for the trouble they created. This marked a considerable change in their relationship.
"You will not, I hope, mind if we chase the orcs back to their caves?" Lady Dragon asked.
"Not at all."
Both of them grinned, which was a rather odd sight.
"Also, I think it time we have an ambassador," Lady Dragon said and gave a sideways nod to Dusty.
"I thought the same thing," Queen Olivia agreed, and Dusty felt her heart do a double thump. "We shall give her some training and send her to visit with you -- and Blue -- in a few months if that suits you and her."
"Yes, that will work well," Lady Dragon said, and both of them looked entirely at Dusty this time.
"I would be honored," she said, despite her fear at the idea of such responsibility. On the other hand, she would see Blue again.
"I think, then, that my granddaughter has found her choosing and her future."
Dusty grinned agreement, watching as Lady Dragon backed away and then lifted into the air with a few flaps of her wings and a lot of magic. She soon couldn't see Blue as they sailed up so high, but it didn't matter. In a few months, they would meet again.
And she had the feeling that it was going to be an adventure.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
They pressed in as close to the gate as they could manage while the soldiers fought the orcs. The orcs had seen her, though. After that, the power of their yells and the pounding of their feet and hands unsettled the horses, and she couldn't get control of her frightened mount. Fox grabbed her and pulled her off one horse to his, but it was no better. He got them both down to the ground and with their backs to the gate. Fox pushed Dusty behind and put himself in front of her --
The gate opened. They both fell inside, Fox landing on her and apologizing as he stood and helped her up. Then he saw that the orcs had shoved themselves right up to the gate and were trying to get inside while the guards fought to hold them back. Fox leapt to help them.
"Go Dusty! Get to the Queen!"
Dusty spun and ran, her heart pounding with fear for those she had left behind. More soldiers were arriving, though. She saw Kratis with them, but he didn't notice her, the somewhat ragged girl darting away from the trouble.
Guards stood at the main doors and tried to stop her from going inside the building.
"I'm Destiny!" she shouted in frustration. "Princess Destiny! Let me get in. I have news for my grandmother!"
They looked at her in shock. Then one shoved a door open, and she darted past them. Servants and even cousins tried to stop her and ask where she'd been. She had to shake them off, and they probably thought she'd gone mad.
"Blue!" she shouted as she ran. "Blue!"
Dusty found no sign of him. She ran, frantic and yelling, her voice going hoarse. The Queen was in the Great Hall as Dusty had hoped. She ran past guards. People began to shout, and the guards caught her.
"No! Grandma -- I have news about the orcs!"
"Let her go," Master Stuart ordered. "Princess --"
"He has to be here! Blue!"
She thought heard a little voice somewhere above her, but it was soon drowned out in the shouts of the others. All the people seemed frantic, and they were growing louder.
"Everyone be quiet!" she shouted.
Dusty wasn't certain why they all obeyed her, but everyone fell silent, except for movement -- and a voice --
"Dusty! Dusty! I'm here!"
The sound had come from above her, probably along one of the columns that braced the ceiling. She couldn't see in the shadows though. "Come to me Blue."
"So many angry people. Afraid!"
"They won't hurt you. Come to me. You can trust me."
He scurried straight down the column to her right and leapt to her shoulder and then wrapped his little hands around her neck. She felt almost faint with relief.
"That --" Grandmother began. She left the throne and came to stand before Dusty, her eyes wide. "That is not a lizard."
"He is a baby blue dragon, Your Highness. He was stolen by the orcs and his mother will be looking for him."
Silence for a heartbeat or two -- and then the Queen spun to the person standing by Dusty.
"Master Stuart! To the mages. Tell them to get a message to the dragons immediately!"
Master Stuart left the room at a run. Dusty had never seen him run before. For a moment she could only stare in wonder. Then she thought she ought to sit down. Queen Olivia called for chairs, and the two of them sat right there in the middle of the Great Hall. Dusty did her best to tell the story of her adventure while Blue crawled up on her shoulder and surveyed everything.
After a little while, she became aware of the silence, not only in the room but outside the building as well. The quiet worried her, especially when Master Stuart hurried back into the room, looking a little red-faced and defiantly winded.
"The mages have sent the word, Majesty," he said with a bow to the queen followed by an unexpectedly bright smile. "And then the mages stood on the walls and told the orcs what they'd done. It worked better than any other defense we've tried against them. They are retreating in haste. I suspect they'll run all the way back to their mountain caves and hope the dragons can't find them if they burrow in deep enough there."
"Now all we can do is wait for the dragons to come to us," Queen Olivia said. She sounded, rightfully so, worried about that prospect. "Destiny, you and your friend will have the Green Suite until Blue can go home to his mother. I think you could both use some rest."
"Yes, thank you," Dusty said. She could hardly force herself to stand again, and Blue, who must have fallen asleep, tumbled into her arms and curled up again without much notice. Even Queen Olivia smiled at the sight.
Master Stuart walked with her out of the hall and toward the stairs. People stared where she passed, and a whisper of words followed her. There would be some who didn't approve of what she'd done, but that was a part of life at the court.
A few servants had rushed on ahead of them.
"Sir, there was a soldier who helped me, and I want to know if he's all right --"
"This Fox you mentioned? Don't worry, I'll see to him. You've had quite an adventure young lady!"
She took the next two steps in silence. "I always wanted an adventure, you know," she finally said. "But it was scary, and so much depended on me. I'd never tried to use my ability with animals like I did."
"And you did well," he said. They'd reached the door to find a servant who usually served the queen, an honor Dusty had not expected.
She was so tired, though, that she barely remembered sitting down on the bed, just to rest....
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Where was Fox? She suspected he was still trying to lead the orcs away, but then she saw another two join the rest of them and thought those might be the ones who had been following them. Dusty feared that they had hurt Fox and she didn't know how to find him. The best idea seemed to go back to where she'd last seen him, so she grabbed the bag back up and hurried away from the square.
A shame she couldn't scurry across the shadows and up the walls as readily as Blue had and be safely inside the walls, though that shelter might be an illusion from the way the ground shook.
Dusty slid around the corner of the building --
And ran right into someone. They both yelped.
Fox. He looked a bit more disheveled, and there was dust in his hair, but he caught hold of her arm and grinned.
"You're all right," she said, though she wasn't entirely sure. He looked shaky and pale.
"Well enough," he answered. "Sorry you couldn't get into the castle. I saw the other orcs arrived. Soldiers are coming, too, but I don't know what they're going to do. We have to find another way --"
"I sent Blue in. He climbed the wall and went over the other side. So he's safe for now."
"Good work!" His hand tightened on her arm.
"I just fear that he'll come back out and look for me," she admitted. "I told him to go to the mages or the Queen if I don't arrive, but I don't think he will trust them."
"We need to get you inside. Let's get to the soldiers. They might be our best chance."
She gave a weary nod. There was no telling what they were going to do now, but she supposed it wouldn't take long. That was her best hope now -- well that and the idea she could soon take a bath and sleep in her own bed.
Fox kept hold of her arm. She had been a little woozy there, and maybe a bit lost. However, before too long Dusty got her senses back and helped to make certain they did not run into any other orcs -- because there seemed to be even more orcs out searching now.
There were also soldiers, and the one on the horse in the lead was her brother, Donid.
"Dusty!" he cried out before she could even greet him. He leapt from the horse and threw the reins to one of the soldiers. He grabbed her into a surprising hug. "Where have you been? We thought the orcs had you --"
"They did, sort of. We've been running from them for days. I have to get inside, Donid. I have things grandmother needs to know."
"Fox," Donid said to her companion and gave him a slap on the shoulder -- luckily not the injured one. "You're with her? Good. We'd just gotten orders to charge and scatter the orcs at the gate so more of the soldiers could get out. I suspect that will be your best chance to get in -- if we can get you close enough without the orcs realizing it."
"Just charge through," Fox said. "Get Dusty on the horse --"
"I want you with me," she said and surprised them both. "Fox has been smart and gotten us through the orcs so far."
"Then up you both go. Don't argue, Fox. Just get her inside."
There was no time to say anything more. The orcs were bound to figure out the soldiers were coming up behind them. Dusty let Donid help her up and then Fox got up behind her. She had already whispered some calming words to the horse who stopped fidgeting.
"We're going to go in a wedge up to the orcs and see if we can't break a path through. I think, Dusty, that you should stay back until we get to the gate and it opens. There's no use coming with us if we can't get that far."
"He's right," Fox agreed. "I need a spear or something else I can use to shove them back. Dusty, you just lean over the horse's neck and keep him going straight."
"Yes. Yes to all of it. Be careful, everyone."
Donid gave her a distracted nod. He was directing the soldiers, and before she could say more, they formed up and began to jog forward. One had given Fox a spear and drawn his sword instead. They had shields, but she thought those wouldn't be strong enough to hold back the blows of orcs.
Where were the mages? They had to be preparing to attack -- and with that thought, she realized that moving fast before the mages struck was the best idea. No time to think. No time to worry about anything except getting in, finding Blue, and sending word to his mother.
The soldiers were already up to the orcs and were doing an excellent job of knocking them back and knocking them down. The opening appeared all the way to the gate, but it wasn't open yet.
Then she heard a worse sound still.
"More orcs are coming behind us!" she warned.
Fox turned to look back, and she heard him mutter a curse. The gate was still not open.
"No choice. We have to go now and hope the gate is opened by the time we get there," Fox said. "We don't dare get caught here with orcs at our backs and in front of us."
"Yes," Dusty agreed.
She leaned forward and urged the horse to be calm one more time as they headed out into the mass of fighting men and orcs. The gate had not opened. Donid, his cheek bleeding, darted toward them with a look of worry.
"More orcs!" she called out as soon as he was close enough to hear. "More orcs coming behind us! We couldn't stay!"
"Get to the gate!"
And the battle closed in around them.
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Frantic birds had begun to gather in the tree above her. Several dogs and even a few cats came at a run. Dusty thought she saw rats and mice scurrying along the edge of the buildings. They had all come to help her, but she feared they could do nothing more than the humans were doing.
"Go," she told them. "Go and be safe!"
They didn't want to scatter. As Dusty started away, a few of the braver one stayed with her. Fox looked at them with a nod of appreciation, but he didn't suggest that she send them against the enemy.
The two of them had slowed; they could not help it. Fox held a hand to his wounded arm which he must have bounced and tested a few too many times in the last hour. Dusty limped along at a sort of jog. They'd abandoned the main road. Without saying so, they'd both realized the orcs would have no trouble on that broad expanse. Instead, they went through back alleys, warning people away when they saw them. The narrow paths would at least slow the orcs --
But not stop them. Dusty had begun to hear the sound of buildings coming down. Oh, there would be so much destruction! She only hoped that no one was hurt.
The orcs came closer. Dusty could hear their grunts and growls. Shivers ran through her body, and she feared she would fall.
Fox caught her arm and pointed to a tiny crevice between buildings. "Beyond -- beyond that another row of buildings and then you'll be at the square outside the castle gates. Not far Dusty. Go."
She nodded as she gasped and started for the opening -- and then stopped when she realized that he was not coming with her.
"Go. I'll just slow them down a little by making them think you went a different way. I'll see you in the castle." He even smiled and waved her on.
She couldn't stand there and argue, but tears came to her eyes now as she slid sideways through the opening and into the shadows. Blue made a soft, worried sound, still hidden there in his bag. She held him close and tried not to sniff. She didn't want him to know how scared she was for him, Fox, and herself.
By the time she got out of the little crevice, she could hear the orcs in the area she had left behind. Fox had seemed to lead them elsewhere, and she needed to take advantage of the extra time he gave her. Not far to the castle. Not far to home and safety. The orcs would not get into the castle. They had magic there, and he imagined that the mages were preparing to deal with the orcs even now. That gave her strength. The castle really did mean safety.
But she still had to get there, and as she finally reached the edge of the square, Dusty found she had more trouble than she thought. The two orcs who had been following them were not the only ones to break through into the city. A dozen more stood outside the gate, their enormous hands starting to pound the ground so that everything trembled.
She'd never get Blue in that way.
Dusty slid back into the shadows again, and this time she opened the bag. Blue looked up at her, his eyes huge. She feared he trembled as she pulled him out.
"You are a brave dragon," she said. "And now you must show me how wise you are."
"Mama says I need to learn wisdom," he whispered. "I don't know how to be wise."
"Oh, I think you learned a lot of it on this journey," Dusty replied. She knelt there in the shadows and feared she would have trouble getting back up. "Do you see where the shadow of the castle crosses the square?"
"Y-yes," he whispered.
"I want you to run through that shadow, up the wall, and into the castle grounds. Then get to the building and wait for me. If I don't get there in an hour -- or if the orcs do break through -- find the queen or the mages. They'll likely be together."
"I don't want to leave you!" he cried and wrapped his little legs around her three of her fingers. "I don't want to be alone again!"
"If you do this for me, we'll be able to call for your mother all the sooner. Imagine how happy she'll be to see you! You are going to help me by getting inside so that if I have trouble, you can warn the others."
"They can't understand me."
"The mages can," she replied.
"Oh." He blinked and looked at the shadow and the wall. "What if they see me?"
He gave a little giggle. Dusty just hoped that this was the right choice. Getting Blue into the castle seemed the wisest decision just now. She couldn't fight orcs, but she could -- like Fox -- lead them away from the baby dragon.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes." He leaned up and forward until his little tongue gave her a kiss on the nose. "I'll be brave."
Dusty put him down on the ground. He gave a little stretch, and then, without any more urging, Blue darted out along the edge of the building and then into the darkest part of the shadow.
Dusty watched him, glanced at the orcs, and then back to him. She thought it took too long for him to reach the wall. The orcs began to yell louder, but they did not seem to be looking his way.
Up the wall -- he climbed it so swiftly that for a moment she lost track of him. Then she saw the shape of him, tiny and distant, on the upper wall.
Blue would be safe.
Now she had only to worry about herself and Fox.