This is a story I wrote earlier this year. I may rewrite it sometime, possibly for my fruit of the Spirit story on gentleness. If I do, the end will be more dramatic...but here is my original story.
By Hope Schmidt
As I ride from the stables of Almathea, I hope I won’t regret what I am about to do. There is no reason to be nervous. All I’m going to do is face the Wildridge Dragons – dragons who have already wounded both my brothers – and get their help to save the country. I am Lady Lithea, daughter of Lord of the Southlands, after all, trained by experts in both the sword and bow; though if truth be told, they are experts which must still weep secret tears at my incompetence at both weapons. And since I am not armed right now, it really doesn’t matter how good…or bad, I am.
That is it. I am regretting my decision already. But the drought is getting worse, and I am the only one left. Well, besides my Father’s one hundred and one guards and the young men flocking into the castle from around the kingdom in the hopes of winning honor and, I suspect, my hand. I’ll have none of that. And none of them know a wit about dragons or how to gain their help. Not as though I’m an expert either, but I think I figured it out last night as I lay in bed, and that is why I am now galloping down the deserted road in the predawn gloom.
I avoid Almathea’s main gates, which I know will be shut in any case, and rein in Torrent, my mare, at a small postern gate no larger than an ordinary door. A key hangs from my belt and I slip it into the keyhole and swing the door open noiselessly. It really ought to be guarded, I note to myself. After Rizal slipped through our guards two weeks ago I wonder that Father has not thought of it. But this morning I am glad. I lock the door carefully behind me, remount, and ride toward the main road. Once there I urge Torrent forward.
I don’t bother to examine the sky for clouds as the dawn springs upon the land all too rapidly. There won’t be any clouds there. At least not as long as Rizal has the Storm Stone.
On either side I see fields of wheat, corn, and beans wilting as the first rays of the sun gleam across the horizon, promising a hot day. Dust rises from the road, choking me and making my eyes burn. I throw a light linen scarf over my mouth and lower face, breathing through it as best as I am able. But I refuse to slacken my pace as I turn Torrent into the dried bed of the Azure River…or what should have been the Azure River. A suspicion, which has been growing in my mind, returns with force as I am forced to pull Torrent to a walk as the ground grows uneven. A drought is devastating enough. But soon rain will be devastating as well, and with the Storm Stone…if someone was smart enough to think of it….
I push such thoughts from my mind. The sun rises slowly and shadows begin to fall around me as the riverbed enters a forest. I dismount and slap Torrent’s flank.
“Go on home now,” I order. “You won’t be able to help me here. And if I fail I won’t need you anymore either,” I add under my breath as I begin clambering up the side of the riverbed to the forest.
Torrent snorts and watches me, then turns and trots away down the river bed. Once she is out of sight I suddenly wonder if I should have fastened a note to the saddle so my parents know Torrent is supposed to be coming home alone and I’m not lying hurt along some roadside. I grit my teeth as a stone slips under one boot and my knee bangs against rough clay. I tighten my grip on a tree root and, with a final heave and scramble, roll over the top of the river bank. Hopefully my parents wouldn’t think much of Torrent’s return. It won’t be the first time I’ve sent her home alone.
I spring to my feet with a grunt and trudge into the forest. Leaves crackle under my feet, but I make no effort to be silent. I am still miles away from the dragons’ nest and if they are around they will see or smell me before they hear me. I just hope they won’t chase me away before hearing me out. I think once again of the Storm Stone and of Rizal and quicken my pace. If I’ve thought of it, then I’m sure he has too…and if he hasn’t decided to set it to motion, that is only because he has a worse plan.
I walk steadily, not rushing, but in no way lingering. Even in the cool shade, sweat begins to drip down my back and dampen my forehead. I think about how much more pleasant it would be to be astride a dragon, soaring above the tree tops. We used to ride them, or so the stories say. They also say the dragons can breathe fire and mind talk, but I have my doubts about the latter. In any case the Division happened. More like the Grand Misunderstanding of the Age. Even though open war averted, the dragons retreated to their mountain fastness and we’d gathered on the plains. Neither side had, to my knowledge, ever tried to contact the other since. At least not until the last fortnight when the Strom Stone was taken and my oldest brother, Tivin, decided to go try to enlist the dragons’ help in getting it back.
I almost laugh to myself as I remember Tivin’s return. He was barely able to hold onto his horse and his arm was wrapped in a blood soaked bandage. It wasn’t funny he was wounded, of course, but honestly…he’d tried to trap one of the dragons so he could talk to it. Men…there is more to getting help then strength. Jaken didn’t do much better, and that is why I am going. Because I fear nothing will change and larger and larger parties will be send out until they do indeed catch or wound a dragon. And if war followed…the drought would be the least of our worries.
I take a drink of water from the flask hanging by my side. The sun is now nearing the peak of the sky, and ahead of me I see the purple and green cliff faces and slopes of the Southland Range. I move cautiously now.
Once I hear a dragon’s airy whistle stream overhead and I freeze. But he passes on and after a short time I follow.
I am near now. Very near to the foothills of the Mountains…and the valley containing the dragons’ nest. At least I assume the last part. The truth of the matter is no one has seen the nest for over a hundred years.
The forest ends.
I pause, reluctant to venture out into the open where I know I will be seen within minutes...if I hadn't been already, that is. But there is no turning back now. I take a deep breath and step onto the open hills.
I hear nothing as I continue forward. I wish I would. Anything would be better than this watchful silence. The dragons can see me; I am sure of that. I can almost feel their eyes examining my every move. What are they doing? What are they waiting for? Will they hurt me? I picture myself crawling back to the road then being carried back to the palace, blood soaked and humbled. I push such thoughts from my mind. They are enough to make me turn and dash for the cover of the forest...which at this point is probably the worst thing I can do. Dragons respect braveness if nothing else. And so I keep on, up one hill and down another until I reach a hill higher than the rest. Only it isn't a proper hill. It is more like a long ridge, curving away from me toward the mountains.
I pause, turning in a full circle, my hands outspread. "I am Lithea, daughter of Lord Helvin." I announce in a clear voice. "I have come to speak to the Queen of Dragons."
I sigh and consider heading up the ridge. But if it is indeed the dragons' nest then stepping one foot on that ridge is probably the worst thing I can do.
"I must speak to the Dragon Queen," I call again. "It is a matter of the gravest urgency."
"Really." A smooth, low, but completely feminine voice growls from behind me.
I gasp and spin around as a great green dragon folds her wings and cocks her head to look at me. My gaze is immediately drawn to her eyes; great golden orbs with narrow slits as black as clouds before a mountain storm. She doesn't look particularly friendly, but at least she doesn't look like she is going to hurt me...yet.
"Well?" She demands. "I believe you called me."
I feel like the dragon is coolly considering what she should do with me. To hurt me or not to hurt me? I find my voice at last. "You are the Queen?"
"The one and only." She draws herself up. "Now what is so important that Helvin sends his daughter to me after both his sons have been wounded...you’d better not be part of some trap."
"Oh no, I came alone." I hurry to assure her.
"Good," she says grimly. “Or death would have followed where we wounded before.” She looks closely at me. “Are you armed?”
“Do you see any weapons?” I demand, my courage rising the longer I speak.
The queen cocks her head and glares at me.
So suspicious, I think to myself. Though after two incidences which she must picture as attacks, I don’t really blame her. “No, I don’t have any weapons.” I say with a sigh.
“Why are you here?” the queen asks abruptly. “Is it about the Storm Stone?”
“How did you know?” I stare in surprise.
The dragon chuckles. “Look around you, Lady Lithea. Helvin does not have the power to make it rain on his own lands and not on the mountain, and he would never let such a drought proceed if he did have the Storm Stone. So who has it?”
“Rizal,” I reply.
The queen frowns. Her suspicion of me seems to have passed. “Rizal. The man’s heart is black with evil. So what does he mean to do? Set fire to the dry grasses and trees then work up a wind and destroy the Southland?”
I raised my eyebrows. I hadn’t considered that option. “I was thinking of perhaps a sudden storm…flash flooding.” I reply. “With Almathea in the valley and the dragon nest at the foot of the mountains…” I look toward the ridge and let my voice trail off.
Concern rises in the queen’s eyes. “Follow me,” she orders curtly.
She turns and I have trot to keep up with her. We round the ridge and the gaping mouth of a cave opens to view. I smile in excitement. I’ve always been interested in dragons, and even with the situation as serious as it is, I can’t believe I am finally entering the den of the famed Wildridge Dragons.
The cave isn’t as big as I expected it to be, but numerous tunnels lead away into shadows. Right before us, a great arch lead back outdoors…out into the nest, I presume.
“Mother!” a voice exclaims as a deep blue dragon, slightly smaller than the queen but still towering over me drops from the ceiling.
“Later, Adriana.” The queen smiles. “Call the council together. I will wish to speak to them in a few minutes.”
Adriana obeys, glancing at me reluctantly.
“And now.” The queen turns on me again. “I assume you know how to get the Storm Stone back before it is too late and that you need help from the dragons or else you wouldn’t be here.”
I nod, impressed by the queen’s perception.
“And what is it exactly that you need?”
“A ride,” I say, then cringe, hoping I hadn’t been too blunt.
The queen’s eyes darken and she frowns.
“Father and our best generals have poured over maps of the Southlands and of Shadowfen.” I hurry to explain. “Our trackers followed Rizal as far as the Marshwelt River and we suspect he has the Storm Stone in his wind tower on the south bank but the only way to cross the Marshwelt at this time of year is by dragon…and as far as I can tell, infiltration from the air is our only hope of regaining the Storm Stone in any case.”
The queen nods slowly. “So why do you think the stone is there?”
“It is the only wind tower where the Storm Stone can be held securely in Rizal’s hands and yet still be in range of the Southlands. And,” I add, anticipating the queen’s next question, “The tower is one of Rizal’s most secure fortresses besides his keep in the heart of Shadowfen. Its only vulnerability is from the air.”
“The council will never approve,” the queen mutters, more to herself than to me. “I myself hold no anger against you humans, and I know you speak the truth. But the council would not be so easily swayed…especially after the traps set by your brothers, no matter how good their intentions were.”
She paces the chamber then swings toward me. “But you…are you here to recruit us, or are you planning on traveling onto Shadowfen yourself?”
I swallow hard. I’d rather hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but I am ready in will, if not in mind. “I will fly to Shadowfen myself if I must. It by surprise we will take the Storm Stone, not by force.” Though force would be handy and reassuring as well, I think to myself.
The queen nods. “Then it is settled.”
My heart skips a beat, partly from fear, partly from excitement. What is settled?
“The council is gathered.” Adriana announces as she reenters the chamber.
“Good.” The slightest hint of a smile curls the queen’s lips. “Lady Lithea, let me present you my daughter, Princess Adriana. Adriana, Lithea. How do you feel about flying Lithea to Rizal’s wind towers?” she demands abruptly.
“To get the Storm Stone?” Adriana asks eagerly, then cut herself off.
The queen glares at her daughter. “How long have you been listening?” She doesn’t wait for a response. “I will deal with you later. You both must leave now while I keep the council occupied.” She pauses and sighs, then nuzzles her daughter. “Be careful. Even dragons aren’t invulnerable you know.”
“We should be back by evening.” Adriana grins then turned to me as the queen sweeps off. “On my back then. Hurry up.”
“But…” I retreat a step. The speed which with this conversation escalated has set my mind in a confused whirl. I can’t face Rizal alone. That was never my plan. Actually, I didn’t have much of a plan after enlisting the dragons’ aid.
Adriana lifts her head sharply and turns, sniffing a cool breeze which suddenly rattles through the cavern. The next moment she leaps for the entrance into the nest valley. I follow, but hardly see the carefully tended mounds with their pale greenish eggs. Instead my eyes are drawn to a dark shadow to the south.
Clouds. Black clouds. Another cold gust of wind races toward us and even as I watch lightning flickers in the distance.
“On my back!” Adriana yells.
I don’t hesitate this time but grab one of the horned projections along Adriana’s neck and swing myself onto her back, glad I am wearing my riding pantaloons instead of a dress. There isn’t much to hold onto, so I squeeze my legs tight and grasp the short horns as best I can.
“Go!” I yell. “Don’t spare yourself for me.”
I instantly regret that last comment as Adriana leaps into the air with such speed I nearly lose my seat. I grit my teeth and hang on as though my life depended on it. And within seconds it does, for the mountain and Dragon Ridge seem to drop out beneath me. A few seconds more and Adriana evens out.
I take a deep breath as I straighten and gain a firmer seat. I glance at the clouds again, wondering what Rizal’s plans were. Fire, from the lightning and sped on by the wind, or flash floods? I can’t tell which would cause the most damage. I’m sure Rizal would do both if he could. The thought sticks in my throat.
“Adriana?” I call out in horror. “What if Rizal sets everything on fire and then, when it has run its course, sends the floods?” I can barely hear my own voice over the rush of wind and beat of Adriana’s wings, but I know she hears me for I can feel our speed increase.
I look down and instantly wish I hadn’t. The countryside is slipping away. At this pace we will be at the wind tower within the hour.
Within the hour. And then what? I wasn’t even armed. A dragon princess and an unarmed girl. What were we to do against Rizal? For Rizal would be with the Storm Stone, of that I had no doubt. Such destruction as I saw looming over my land was not something he would allow and underling to do.
The minutes stream past as time blurs together.
“Almost there!” Adriana yells back to me.
“Already?” I gasp as I look about me. Thick blackness races toward me. I choke as it surrounds me and then it is gone. I glance back and realize it is one of the outlying wisps of clouds.
Adriana jerks and I scream involuntarily as I almost fall. I abandon the horns and throw my arms as far around her scaly neck as I can, hanging on desperately as Adriana’s flying grows more erratic, first in one direction and then in another.
“Harder to hit a moving target with lightning,” she shouts back at me.
I don’t reply, but stare ahead through the racing shreds of blackness towards a shadow looming through the clouds.
“Wind tower!” I suddenly shout as the great stone tower bursts into clarity. Adriana sees it at the same time and twists to the side. I bang my chin against her neck but ignore the quick flash of pain and turn toward the tower as Adriana circles back.
“The roof!” I yell.
“I know!” I hear her retort above the wind as Adriana turns once more in a tight circle, rising even higher. The wind screams about us and a bolt of lightning snaps through the air with such a brilliant flash that I am momentarily blinded.
I blink in time to see the roof spreading out below me.
Adriana lands lightly on a round platform at the highest point of the roof. I slip off and my knees buckle.
“Are you alright?” Adriana asks.
I nod as I push myself to my feet and stumble to the railing. The wind tower is round and narrower than would be normally expected due to its height. But wind towers are built of black iron-stone and can stand tall and strong against the most furious gales. Lightning flashes again and I gasp as I gaze down into the courtyard below.
“Why, it’s an army!” Adriana exclaims.
I nod mutely as I gaze at the long columns waiting below.
“But they can’t cross the Marshwelt, can they?” Adriana demands.
I shake my head. “Not now. But after fire and flood…there would be no one left to stop them.”
“But what do we do now?” Adriana asks in a tight voice.
“Stop the fire and flood,” I reply grimly, turning from the railing. “There should be a trapdoor around here somewhere.”
“I think I am standing on it.” Adriana shifts her great bulk and I see a large iron ring fastened to the ground. I drop to my knees, tracing the outline of the trap door, then pull on the ring. It doesn’t budge.
“Let me try.” Adriana shoulders me to the side. She probably does it lightly for a dragon, but it still sends me tumbling to the ground.
“Sorry,” she exclaims as she inserts a claw in the ring and heaves.
“It’s not moving,” I inform her dryly.
She pulls harder, but still nothing, though I am sure she could have broken any regular lock.
“Let me see it again,” I say.
Adriana moves aside reluctantly and I kneel again at by the door, examining the hollow closer. It almost seems…I squint as lightning flashes once more then pull up the ring.
“You aren’t going to be able to lift it if I can’t.” Adriana sighs as she steps to the railing. “I wonder if we could enter by a window.”
“It’s not all about strength,” I respond as I twist the ring. It revolves a small piece of stone and then I hear a satisfying click. I pull at the ring again and this time swings back easily.
“The storm is almost to the Marsh-” Adriana cuts herself off as turns back toward me. “How did you do that?”
I just wink, but sober quickly as I see the storm stretching its long fingers toward my home. “Come on. We have to hurry!”
Adriana just looks at me.
I open my mouth to speak, then glance at the trapdoor then back to Adriana. There is no way she could fit through. “I see. Wait here then.”
I turn and hurry down the ladder, shutting out Adriana’s protests above me. They hold too much reason and I am terrified as it is. The only reason I am going forward is because I know the consequences of failure. I have to get the Storm Stone and I have to get it now.
I reach the floor and release the last ladder rung. I am in a small, cold, dark room. Thankfully the door is unlocked and swings open soundlessly when I press it.
I glance out into a dim corridor where several shielded torches cast pools of reddish light. A cool breeze sweeps past me as I cautiously step outside. A bolt of white lightning once again snaps through the clouds and I realize with a start that I am standing on a sort of covered porch, with only a row of pillars between me and the balcony.
Slowly I move forward, keeping to the shadows. The pillars and balcony continue. This would be the Watching Porch, I note to myself as I run over what I know of wind towers. Right below the Watching Porch should be the Wind Room, a vaulted chamber with windows of all sizes and shapes. This was where wind was tested, where messages were sent and retrieved…in normal towers that is. In this tower I am sure the Wind Room is being used for quite another purpose.
I find the stairs and creep down them. I still don’t know what I am going to do when I find Rizal…I am hoping the situation will give me a clear answer.
It doesn’t, and the word which springs to mind is ‘impossible’.
Lithea? The word echoes in my head and strangely sounds like Adriana. Lithea, can you hear me?
Adriana? I think back.
So you can hear me. Good. What is the situation?
I didn’t know you could mind talk! I exclaim.
I thought everyone knew about it. Adriana retorts. Situation?
Good and bad. I look though the cracked door. Good news is that the Storm Stone is here. Bad news is that Rizal is also here, along with nearly a dozen guards.
Are you fast? Adriana asks after a pause.
Could you grab the Storm Stone and make it back to the roof if I attracted everyone to one side of the tower?
I considered the proposition. That could work, but there is a Watch Porch beneath the roof…basically a balcony which wraps around the entire tower. You can pick me up there, on the north side.
I see it…brace yourself. I am coming.
Almost before the words came into focus in my mind I heard a dreadful roar followed by a bright stream of flames raking across the west windows of the chamber opposite me.
Not enough. I say. The guards are rushing towards the windows but Rizal is still by the Storm Stone.
Another stream of flames follow, some of them finding their way into the chamber. Even from my distance I feel the heat, and several of the guards collapse. Rizal spins toward the windows with an angry glare.
You have his attention now! One more time…and be careful.
I tense my body, waiting. Once more flames blast through the windows.
With a curse Rizal strides toward the windows.
Careful, he’s coming! I shout as I push the door noiselessly open and dash lightly into the room. Fear gives wings to my feet and I snatch the Storm Stone from the table in the center of the room. It is a dark swirl of purple and blue, but there is no time to stop the storm now.
I turn to dash from the room just as several shouts ring out at one time behind me. I don’t look back as I leap up the stairs.
North side now! I shout in my mind.
I burst from the door and onto the Watching Porch and see Adriana’s shadowy figure waiting at the balcony. I dash for her, leaping on her back as Rizal leads several guards from the tower at a run. But they are too late. Already Adriana is springing into the air.
The wind buffets us as we fly away and Adriana jerks to the side as a lightning bolt nearly strikes us.
Right, I berate myself. This storm is Rizal’s doing so he can still control it. I cradle the storm stone and whisper softly to it. The blue and purple swirl away and slowly a golden light begins to shine from the heart of the crystal like stone.
Around us the wind still whips though my hair, but now it is because of the speed at which we were traveling, not because of the gale. I look down to see the Marshwelt River below. The Southlands are unharmed.
“We did it!” I yell.
“But it could do with a little rain.” Adriana cocks her head. “Where do you want me to put you down at?”
“Bring me to the palace,” I say. “And you may be sure, that once everyone knows what you have done you will be quite welcome.”
“I would hope so.” Adriana chuckles as she banks softly to the right toward Almathea. I whisper to the stone again.
Before long we will be home and I will be greeting my parents. Then we’ll go to Dragon Ridge with Adriana. By the time the day is out, I know our two races will once more be friends.
I lay my head on Adriana’s neck and close my eyes as she flies gently on. The first drop of a gentle shower falls on my cheek and I smile.