Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Seventeen

Farloft and his clan had always been friends with gryphons, but there were dragon clans that avoided or even chased gryphons from their territories. He chose to sit at a safe distance and wait while Snow scouted out the rookery and made first contact. He chose a peak overlooking the nesting area and sat where everyone could see him and know he did not pose any threat. He also could be summonsed from this peak, or fly in and defend Snow if the gryphons chose to take offense for finding him fraternizing with dragons.

The rookery was huge. There must have been over one hundred pairs in the flock, in addition to younglings and hatchlings. It had been a den of churrs, chirps, and squawks before the guards, posted at the perimeter, announced their arrival. All was deathly quiet now.

Farloft could see Snow, where he stood at the bottom of the cliff peppered with nests. He was followed in by two of the guards – large coal black gryphons with bright orange beaks and claws. Several more guards were dispatched. They were posted around the rookery to keep an eye on Farloft, and to look out for any other uninvited guests.

Snow was greeted by two gryphons a bit smaller than him, and one large red bird who looked to be a foot taller than he was. Snow was obviously explaining their mission. He looked over his shoulder several times in Farloft’s direction. Eventually, he waved a wing to the dragon, inviting him in.

Farloft sailed gently down and landed behind Snow.

“This is my friend, Farloft,” Snow said. “Or you can call him Old Scale Back, if you prefer.”

Farloft was in the middle of an extended wing-bow when he snorted and raised he head in indignation at the final part of the introduction. His frown was met by chirps of laughter, and a teasing grin from Snow.

“No really,” Farloft countered, “I prefer Big Green of all the names he calls me.”

“Big Green, it is then,” the large red gryphon agreed. “I am Malard. Don’t even get them started on that one,” he chirped and ruffled his wings. “You can imagine…”

The two other gryphons with him proceeded to quack like ducks ending in churrs of gryphon laughter.

“See what I have to put up with?” Malard asked in a sympathetic tone. “Let’s get away from these youngling heads and find a quiet spot where we can talk. You won’t have any trouble fitting in the central area. Follow me.” He spread his wings and lifted off headed toward the higher reaches of the rookery.

Farloft and Snow followed along with the two black gryphons who turned out to be brothers, Mencer and Naric.



The central area was filled with birds. Farloft had never seen so many gryphons in one place. Malard was explaining the history of his flock to the traveling pair. It seemed they had come to the right spot to seek assistance in their quest.

“So, you see, ancient tradition requires a gryphon of the WindCrest flock to prove themselves. When a gryphon reaches a certain age, they must go on a quest and bring back some object to add to the flock’s treasures.” Malard waved at the back of the cavern they were sitting in.

The wall was a glittering array of items hung on pegs and piled on the floor in a large heap. There were things as simple as shiny rocks or shells along with things as large as armor pieces, like breastplates and helmets.

“It has been centuries since there was an opportunity for a quest as challenging as yours,” Malard said.

The flock around him chirped and squawked their approval.

“Many of our young ones would love to have the chance to prove themselves in battle.” Malard gestured to the rest of the flock. “Am I right?” he squawked.

There was a riotous call of approval from every corner, wall and crevasse of the cave.



“That certainly went well,” Snow said, as the two of them headed home to Kerth after a huge morning celebratory feast.

“It certainly did,” Farloft had to agree. There were going to be at least fifty gryphons joining them later this spring. “I will have to find a new title for you, Bird. Perhaps Flock Rouser.”

Snow did a barrel roll in the sky next to the dragon. “I kind of like that one, Knight Chaser.”


Malard and his playful tormentors by Elizabeth Babicz

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Sixteen

The ocean crossing was easier this time. Farloft and Snow made their way through the dappled sunshine filtering through the trees of the Shadow Forest. They were seeking Soary and Sanna, the tiny forest dragons. It didn’t take long before the two sisters found them. They, unlike the others, did not take any convincing. They were eager to join.

“We have never been so far from home. It will be wonderful to see more of the world. Like a Dragon’s Youngling Trek,” Soary said, her delicate butterfly wings, of iridescent blue spots on coal black, pumping with excitement.

“It will be a hard flight that far, but I am sure we can do it,” Sanna added. Though they were sisters, her wings were a pattern of yellow brightening to orange on the tips.

Soary’s wings continued to pump with excitement. “We will start right away.”

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Fifteen

James was helping fortify the bridge across the Great Divide from the farmland to the village in Kerth when he noticed the sea dragon’s approach. He jumped to the obvious conclusion Farloft had sent it. He could not tell from the submerged shape whether it was a male or female dragon, and when he landed on the shore to try to speak with it, its only reply was to study him with huge opalescent eyes, which made him exceedingly uncomfortable. He decided to go get Clearair. Perhaps she knew how to communicate with the stranger. 


“Clearair!” James called, the minute his feet hit the landing outside the lair. “Clearair!”

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Fourteen

Snow sat in the shade staring out over the lagoon as the dragon lay snoring at his side. He saw the ripples traveling across the water when Lemira entered around the spit of sand that divided the bay from the open sea. He rose up and watched her as she glided into the lagoon. It was as if she were flying underwater. Her wings thrust down and back, and with each thrust, her head crested the water, followed by her back. She was a beautiful shade of blue-green with spots of lime green, which glowed in the dusk of evening, on her wings and fanned-fish tail. When her head rose out of the water, she gazed at the shore with huge opalescent eyes.

“She’s here,” Snow announced with a tap of his soft paw on Farloft’s head.

The dragon snorted and came to his feet. “Oh, yes…” He stretched out his front legs and rocked back on his hind ones to get the kinks out. “Come on. I’ll introduce you.”

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Thirteen

Snow swooped in and grabbed a lightning bolt in his talons before it had a chance to strike Farloft. He tossed it aside and went back to gathering up the clouds overhead and folding them together to push them away like blankets into a closet.

It had been fun when the storm first overtook them as they were crossing the Ateaa Sea. It was warm then, but it had stopped being a game about an hour ago when the rain turned to sleet in the higher elevations of the storm, and the sea became so rough the pair could not lower themselves out of the colder air mass. Both Snow and Farloft were becoming weighted down by the accumulation of ice on their wings, and the only place to fall was into the water below.

Snow flew up beside his friend. “How much further to the island?”

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Twelve

Clearair huffed smoke as she stomped across the meadow in front of Theresa’s cottage. “How could you be so reckless? I told you not to leave the valley!”

Anna cringed under her mother’s heated glare. “I’m sorry.” She had already explained to Clearair, James, Theresa, and Sarah why she left and what happened. It only seemed to make her mother angrier. She did it because she was worried about Adrian. She could only say she was sorry so many times. “I know I was wrong to disobey you.” She was in her human form, tear stained and hugging Sarah.

James leaned down to whisper in the Healer’s ear. “I tried to calm Clearair down on the way back.” 

After the initial relieved greeting between the three, when they ran into Anna headed back home, Clearair had turned into this raging smoke breather.

“She’s just upset. Anna gave her quite a scare,” Theresa whispered back. She was in sympathy with the mother dragon, but there was nothing they could do about it now. It was over. They needed to put it behind them and move on. Theresa walked out past Anna and placed her hand on Clearair’s shoulder to stop her pacing. “She made a mistake, but obviously what she went through, and what Adrian impressed upon her, has sunken in. I don’t think she will be disobeying again.” Theresa turned toward Anna. “We have your promise on that, right?” she doubted she needed it from Anna. The child looked almost as scared of her mother as she must have been by the slavers who abducted her.

“Yes,” Anna said. She sniffled and clung tighter to Sarah. “Yes,” she repeated.

Clearair huffed smoke, but made no counter proposal to rectify the problem. “Perhaps you are right, Healer,” she said to Theresa. She turned to Anna. “Come with me. You’re to stay by my side until I say differently.”

Anna morphed into her dragon form. She pressed her head into Sarah’s chest. Sarah gave her a kiss on her muzzle. “She’s angry at you because she loves you and you worried her. You worried us all. Keep that in mind and do as you are told. She will forgive you.”

Clearair sprang into the sky and Anna followed at a safe distance.

“Boy, am I glad I’m not Anna,” James said.

“Me too,” Sarah agreed.

Theresa sighed. “Me three.”

*** 

The Great Hall in Kerth was quiet except for the footsteps of the three women. Queen Larkin, Theresa and Sarah intended to investigate the tunnels beneath the castle that Farloft revealed to them. The dragon said they were a maze and that he was not sure which led to the river and which spider-webbed their way further into the mountain.

All three women were dressed for exploring. They had on pants, tunics, boots, and heavy coats. The Queen had the kitchen prepare them each a pack with rations for three days. The cook did not feel it her place to question the Queen’s need for the supplies.

Larkin informed her Captain of the Guard, Haben, what she intended to do. She had to put her foot down when she said she was leaving him in charge while she was gone. He wanted to lead a troop of men in to investigate the caves, but the Queen did not want the knowledge of their escape route to go any further than her Captain. She ordered him to stay and she chose to take Theresa and Sarah because they heard the original plan from Farloft prior to him leaving and were already sworn to secrecy.

The women proceeded to the far end of the hall and up to the podium. Farloft told them the entrance lay beneath the dais, and the secret of how to access it. Queen Larkin placed her fingers on the eyes of the king depicted on the base of the podium and pushed. The top of the dais slid to one side revealing a wide stone staircase, which descended so far it disappeared into the darkness below.

“Well, ladies,” the Queen said, “are you ready for an adventure?”

Theresa grabbed a torch from one of the sconces on the wall behind the podium. She extended it to Sarah who tapped it with her staff magically igniting its flame. The Healer turned back toward the gaping hole. “Ready when you are.”

Queen Larkin stepped to the wall to retrieve her own torch, which Sarah lit. The Sorceress preferred to keep one hand free, so she merely spoke an incantation and the dragon on the top of her staff began to glow with a light as brilliant as the torches in the other women’s hands.

They began the descent slowly down the stairs.

At first, the walls to either side of the walk were the same stone as the castle and mountain, but as they went deeper, the walls turned to an ebony color with a shine as if they had been polished. Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, the dais far above their heads closed, as if it knew they were on level ground.

“That is unsettling,” Larkin said as the opening ground closed with a thud.

“I guess we won’t be going back that way,” Theresa added.

“I feel like we have been buried alive.” Sarah raised her staff to have a better look at the stone roof above their heads.

“Farloft said there was a way out and he is rarely wrong,” Theresa said with confidence.

“Rarely…” Sarah said with a raised brow. “I would like the sound of that better if you had said, never.”

Theresa smiled in a relaxed way. “Well, even dragons can be wrong on occasion, though they hate to admit it.”

Larkin raised her torch and they could all see that there were five separate tunnels leading out of the main cave at the foot of the stairs. “Let’s hope this is not one of those occasions.”



They decided to stay together and explore as a group. They also chose to start with the furthest tunnel to their left. It made since that one would run parallel to the river and eventually spit them out by its side. However, that was not the case. They marked the walls with chalk every fifty feet or so, and after wondering around for what seemed like hours, they found their own marks on the wall. That tunnel went in a circle.

They sat at the foot of the stairs and ate what they thought to be lunch, but there was really no telling in the dark of the tunnels. Luckily, someone had equipped the main cave with over a hundred sconces with torches sitting in them, so the women would not be without light.

“Do we just continue on around and do the next tunnel,” Sarah asked.

The Queen swallowed the then answered, “I think keeping to an orderly fashion is best. What do you say, Theresa?”

“I agree.”

The rest of what they thought might be the remainder of the first day they looped around through the ups and downs of the second tunnel, only to come out back at the cavern through the entrance to the third tunnel.

“Well, that was fun,” Theresa said. “I don’t know about you ladies, but I am tired and ready for some sleep.”

“I will join you after I eat something. My stomach thinks my throat has been cut,” Sarah said, as she dug into her pack. “Oh bless the cook,” she exclaimed when she pulled out a paper wrapped parcel. I’ll bet anything these are her brownies.” She opened the package to reveal four plump squares of chocolate goodness. “I am in heaven.”

“No,” Theresa said. “You are in a cave and you best only eat one of those in case we are stuck here longer than three days.”

Sarah was already enjoying the first one. “Or, I could eat them all and die a happy woman.” She grinned through chocolate stained lips.



The next full day was spent following the twists and turns of the fourth tunnel. They were all disappointed and a bit concerned when they came up against a rock fall, which blocked them going any further.

Larkin said out loud what they were all thinking. “I certainly hope that was not the way out.”

“Surely, Farloft would not pick this time to be wrong,” Theresa countered. “We still have one tunnel to go.”

“But it’s the furthest from the river,” Sarah pointed out.

Larkin turned to lead the way. “We won’t know until we can get back to the entrance.” She had to find an escape route for her people.



They were about to begin what they hoped was the last day of wandering in the caves.

“At least we don’t have as heavy a pack to carry today,” Theresa said, trying to look on the bright side.

“But it will be further to walk if that far tunnel is the one,” Sarah added.

“Well, we won’t find out sitting her.” Larkin rose from the foot of the stairs. “Let’s see where it leads us.”



There was a steep incline to the tunnel almost immediately and it kept climbing for what seemed like a couple of hours. The women needed to stop and rest to catch their breath on occasion.

Eventually, the tunnel took a sharp left and leveled out. The walking was easier now, but seemed to go on endlessly. Theresa’s torch went out first, followed later by Larkin’s. They had only Sarah’s magical light to guide them.

After several hours the tunnel began to gradually descend and eventually level out again.

“Is that light up ahead?” Theresa asked, trying to see past Sarah’s staff.

“It is!” Sarah said in a relieved voice.

“I hear the river,” Larkin said in an excited tone.

Within another few minutes, they were at the mouth of a carver. It was covered by hanging vines, and trees set out from the entrance about ten feet, which obscured the setting sun through their dense branches.

When the women emerged on the other side of the trees, they could see the river a couple of hundred feet below.

“We made it,” Sarah exclaimed.

“Farloft was right.” Theresa leaned back against a tree. “I have lived her my whole life and never noticed this cave.”

Larkin smiled. “When, if, the Baldar pursue us through the Great Hall, I hope they make the same assumptions we did and take the tunnel on the left first.”


Light at the end of the tunnel by Elizabeth Babicz

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Eleven

“Remember your manners,” Farloft instructed.

“I don’t need to be reminded to be polite,” Snow retorted with an indignant ruffle of his wings. “You are as nervous as a hatchling on their first flight. What has gotten in to you?”

Farloft stopped and looked back at the gryphon as they walked up the stone staircase leading to the shrine. “Naza is possibly the oldest dragon on our world. We need to show her respect.”

“I get that, but didn’t you also tell me she was one of your oldest friends?” Snow asked from behind him.

The staircase was narrow, suitable for humans and horses, so Snow had no trouble with it, but Farloft was larger and blocked the way.

“Yes… Yes…” Farloft conceded. “But I haven’t seen her in a long time. I am not sure she will remember me.”

Snow patted the dragon on the tail to soothe him. “Who could forget Farloft of Kerth?” he asked in a cheerful chirp.

Farloft noted it was the first time he had called him by his actual name on this journey. It didn’t help relax him in the least.



Naza lived, and was cared for, by the monks of the temple of the Flying Fans. Her home was in a cave on the top of the mountain retreat the monks lived in. The long winding staircase through the mountain’s core led to the dragon’s lair. The monks saw that the ancient dragon had all she could wish for, food, drink and comforts.

When Farloft and Snow finally made it into her presence, the old brown dragon lay on her pile of soft things, her tattered wings spread out to her sides as the monks palmed soothing oils over the membranes softening them to prevent further splitting.

Farloft stepped forward, extended his wings and bowed to the ancient dragon. “It was kind of you to see us, Naza.”

Naza waved a wing. “Nonsense, Farloft, you know I would always grant you an audience. What news do you bring me? I hear you have trouble brewing in your kingdom again.”

Farloft was always amazed at how much this elder dragon knew even though she never moved from her place in this cave.

“Yes, I am afraid my kingdom will soon be under siege, my dragoness.” Farloft shook his head in dismay and his neck spikes rose in anger. “The Baldar threaten us once again.”

“I told you to roast them the last time your human called you to battle,” she clucked her tongue dismissively.

“It was not Farloft’s fault,” Snow spoke up, even though he had not been officially recognized as part of the conversation. He had heard the story from his grandfather. “The King of Kerth was a kind-hearted man and hoped that just showing strength would keep them at bay.”

Naza’s lavender eyes cast over the gryphon. “See how well that worked?”



The monks brought food and drink for the two dragons and the gryphon. It was a privilege to have another formidable dragon visit their retreat. Naza and her guests settled down to talk well into the night.

After hearing of what Farloft observed about the Baldar King’s preparations for war, Naza stood in an unsteady stance and rearranged her soft things before settling down again. “I am afraid I have more troubling news for you.” She let out a deep sigh. “I heard of your battle with Thrax.”

Farloft’s neck spikes rose at the mention of the eastern dragon’s name. The battle had been vicious, and James was caught in the middle. Had it not been for the monk, Sim Chuk, who accompanied Thrax to Kerth, both Farloft and James might have died.

“He wouldn’t listen,” Farloft started to defend himself. It was not right for dragons to kill dragons.

Naza shook her head. “Calm yourself, Farloft. I heard all that happened from Sim Chuk. He told me how he had to intervene. We all know Thrax was out of control. He had let his hate fester and grow over so many years. Even his mate, Du, could not calm his heart.”

“He took a mate?” Farloft said with surprise. He had not known.

“Yes. They were not heartbound. I do not think Thrax ever really loved any dragon other than the forest dragon he lost his heart to when you first knew him. But he did mate and had two sons. Their mother died shortly after their birth, so they were raised by Thrax on stories of your misdeeds.”

Farloft didn’t like where this was headed.

“Graa and Kang heard the call from King Minuss. They are going to join his forces against Kerth.”

“Why didn’t you tell us sooner,” Snow asked in a puzzled chirp of objection. “We’ve all heard the story of the battle at the Great Divide between Farloft and Thrax. We have to move quickly to stop them, or at least hurry to gather the forces to move against them.”

“I did not impart my knowledge sooner because you cannot confront them here – they have gone into hiding. And I have been told that they are not due to join the king until the snows melt in the High Reechs.” Naza placed her paw over Farloft’s. She could feel his fear and concern. “You now have a firm timeline. The king will not go to battle before Graa and Kang join him.”

Farloft heaved a big sigh. She was right, as always. He now knew exactly when the troops, and dragons, would move against Kerth. He also knew it would now be a battle between dragons.

“Do you have any space in that pack for something small,” Naza asked eyeing Snow’s backpack.

“I suppose so. If it’s not too heavy.” Snow rose and opened his pack to show Naza what room existed.

“Good… Good…” the old dragon intoned. “Sim Chuk sent something for you when he heard about Thrax’s sons, in case you two came this way.” 


Snow ruffled his feathers. The day had turned into night, and the night back into day. He had dozed a bit while the two old dragons spoke, but what he did hear gave him the impression that the old dragon had magic at her disposal. She knew things she should not have known, stuck on this rock in the middle of nowhere. Even the monks assisting her could not explain her insight and knowledge of a world so vast. They had learned she knew Farloft and Snow were coming before they came within sight of the monastery.


Naza reached to her side and opened the lid of a large trunk. She pulled out a medallion on a gold chain, and a small red book. “Sim Chuk told me to tell you to give this to your Healer. She will be able to help you with the combination of it and the book. Do not lose it and you must return it when the battle is won.”

Snow liked the positive sound of that. She did not say, ‘if’ the battle was won.

Farloft reached out for the medallion. He recognized it immediately as the one Sim Chuk came to Brownbriar to retrieve from Theresa years ago. It possessed incredible power in the right hands. He handed it to Snow. “Keep it safe. It is very precious.”

Snow turned it in his claw. He could see his reflection in the large pink center stone, and smaller reflections of himself in the red jewels surrounding the pink. It was very pretty, but it also made him uncomfortable. He thought he could feel it pulsate.

Naza handed him a small piece of leather. “Wrap it in this and tuck it away. It is not for you, Bird.”

Snow folded it up in the cloth and placed it and the red book in his pack. He felt a sense of relief when it was safely packed away.

“Where will you travel next?” Naza asked.

“I thought to see if I could persuade Lemira to join us. As you know the Great Divide runs through my kingdom. If the enemy seeks to use it as a way to bring troops into the land by water, she would be invaluable.” Farloft looked to the wise old dragon for her approval of his choice.

Naza nodded in agreement. “It will be hard to get her to agree, but if anyone can, you are the dragon.” She reached out and wing bumped him in encouragement. Her skeletal touch feeling like a butterfly’s caress.

*** 

Farloft sat with the monk Naza sent to assist him. The scribe brought his table, stool and writing instruments.

“I am ready,” the young man said with his bamboo pen in hand.

“Please write small. This will have to be concealed,” Farloft said before he started to dictate.

The monk nodded at his instructions.

“Dear Theresa,” Farloft began. “I have learned that Thrax has two sons. They intend to join forces with King Minuss. The siege is set for late May. Sim Chuk sends his regards and the enclosed. Love, Farloft.”

The monk finished writing and set his pen down.

“Please fold it as small as possible and give it to Snow.” Farloft nodded toward the gryphon. “Snow, put it with the other two things Naza gave us in your pack.”

After the monk left, Snow turned toward Farloft. “I am not leaving you to deliver the medallion to your healer friend. You need me, even if you think you don’t. You would have starved coming over the pole if I had not been there. Who knows what could happen to you in the South or West of this world.”

“Calm yourself, Thunder-butt. I am not sending you away. I have someone else in mind for my delivery mission.”


Naza - by Elizabeth Babicz

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