Scene of the Month: Dragon Stones

The votes are in and the winner for the next scene of the month, by a landslide, is “Dragon Stones”. This is sort of a good thing for all you fans of “The Wolf” as it lets the anticipation drag out a little longer, given that “The Wolf” is less than half finished and would run out of scenes long before “Dragon Stones” will. (Hey, I’m trying to think positive thoughts.)

And now, here is a random scene from “Dragon Stones” for your reading enjoyment!

Adaran awoke as the first rays of the sun filtered through the pine needles that surrounded him. He felt grimy and sticky; his muscles ached as a result of his uncomfortable position, wedged into the crook of the bough. He lifted the blanket and checked the girl. She was asleep, but stirred and whimpered as the cold air touched her skin.

He slipped his arm through the strap and climbed out of the tree. Going down was easier than going up; soon they were back on the ground, at the foot of the tree. He set the net down gently, then crouched in front of it. The girl, fully awake now, gave him a baleful look. “I’m going to cut you free,” he told her. “Don’t scream, and don’t run off, all right?”

She stared at him, saying nothing, giving him no idea if she understood or not; but he could hardly leave her in there until they found civilization. He took out a dagger and pantomimed cutting something with it, hoping she realized he didn’t mean her; then he started sawing at the fibers of the net. It proved a good deal tougher than he expected, but he finally sliced through one of them, then another; then the entire thing unraveled and fell to pieces.

The girl immediately jumped to her feet and ran around behind the tree in which they’d spent the night. He started to give chase, but then he realized that she was relieving herself. That sounded like a good idea; he went to a different tree and did the same.

When he returned, the girl was back, standing over the sad little pile of rope that had been her prison. She looked at him, made a face, picked up the net, and threw it. The bundle only flew a yard or two, but this seemed to satisfy her; she turned her back on it and folded her arms, hugging herself.

“Are you cold?” Adaran said.

She nodded.

So, she did understand him, but had elected not to respond until he set her free. He supposed that was reasonable; until now, he had probably seemed like just another kidnapper.

“I can make something to keep you warm.” He took his dagger and sliced a square of cloth from the blanket; a pair of cross-cuts created an opening for her head. He handed it to her and she slipped it on, wearing it like a small, thin poncho. It wasn’t much, but it would help.

“Is that better?” he said.

She nodded.

“Good. Now, listen. We’re lost in the mountains. I’m going to try to find our way out, but there are animals up here that would eat a little girl, and the men who put you in that cage are going to be searching for us. You must stay near me so that nothing bad happens to you. All right?”

She nodded again; for all he knew she just nodded at everything. Perhaps it would be better if he actually held onto her. He approached, intending to take her hand, but instead she darted around behind him. He turned around and she scurried to his back again, giggling; apparently this was some sort of game. He pivoted, but was too slow, and only saw one of the girl’s feet as she disappeared again.

Not only was this a waste of time; it was also vaguely embarrassing. A professional burglar, unable to catch a small child? What would Redshen say?

Nothing, of course; she would be too busy rolling on the ground in a fit of laughter.

Suddenly the girl grabbed his cloak and started to pull; in seconds she had climbed to his shoulders, where she plopped down, legs dangling down his chest, arms around his neck.

“So you’ll be riding up there, then,” Adaran said.

She giggled and kicked her feet. Well, at least she didn’t appear likely to run off. He dipped into his supply of stolen rations and found a few pieces of jerky; he handed one up to his passenger, took one for himself, and put the rest back in his pocket. Chewing the food, he started walking, moving in the opposite direction from the way they had been running the night before.

The girl pulled on his ear and then pointed at the pocket where he had put the food. He took out another small piece. “Don’t eat too much,” he said. “This has to last a while.” He handed it to her and she gobbled it down, then pointed at his pocket again. Had Dosen’s men even bothered to feed her? He reached into a different pocket, pulled out a piece of bread, and gave that to her instead. She took it eagerly, dropping crumbs down the back of his neck as she chewed.

They continued along the slope, moving steadily downward, though he wasn’t certain where this route would lead. Probably to another cliff. The ground began to grow rockier, the trees thinner; they seemed to be approaching a clearing. He slowed, moving from tree to tree, wary of detection from the air.

Suddenly he heard a screech, the cry of a very large bird. One of Dunshandrin’s eagles. He froze, trying to figure out where the sound had come from. Ahead? Behind? He couldn’t tell; the mountains created confusing echoes, the trees blocked his view of the sky.

Then, with much fluttering of wings, one of the avians landed in the clearing that Adaran had been approaching. They had been tracking him more closely than he had suspected. He flattened himself against a tree, scarcely remembering to breath. Had he been spotted? Would other avians be landing, their riders fanning out into the woods to hunt him down?

“Stupid bird.” That was Dosen’s voice. Adaran peered around the trunk and watched as the man dismounted clumsily and began inspecting his mount; evidently it was not performing to the steward’s satisfaction. “What’s the matter with you?”

Adaran slowly, silently, reached up and lifted the girl off his shoulders. He placed her on the ground and put his finger to his lips. “Shh,” he whispered.

She nodded, as usual. Hoping she would be quiet, Adaran drew a throwing knife and moved closer to the edge of the clearing, beginning a slow, silent circuit. Dosen, meanwhile, had given up inspecting the bird and was taking the opportunity to relieve himself, pissing on the cracked stump of an ancient tree. He continued to mutter complaints about his mount, the forsaken nature of the mountains, his general lot in life. Adaran felt little sympathy for the man; as far as he was concerned, anyone not being hunted through the wilderness by a gang of eagle-riding killers was doing better than he was.

When Adaran had reached a point where he had a clear shot, he stepped out of the trees. Dosen still hadn’t noticed him, so he stole across the clearing, drawing closer but staying well out of sword reach. The eagle watched him with those gleaming eyes, tracking his movements but making no sounds.

He said: “Dosen.”

The steward looked at him; his eyes widened in shock.

Adaran threw the knife. It flashed across the clearing and sank into Dosen’s breast, burying itself to the hilt. Dosen looked down at the jiggling handle, then at Adaran; then he toppled over into an unmoving heap.

Adaran closed the remaining distance between them. Nudging the man with his foot, he said: “Surprise does make a difference, doesn’t it, Dosen?”

No response. Adaran knelt and retrieved the knife, wiped it on Dosen’s clothes, returned it to its sheath. As he stood, he saw that the girl had entered the clearing and was toddling toward him. He motioned for her to stay back from the eagle, fearing it would snatch her up as a morsel; she gave it a wide berth, coming to stand beside him. If the sight of a dead body disturbed her, she gave no sign. “Stay here,” he told her, drawing a line in front of her; the gesture was obviously futile, given that she had ignored his earlier instructions, but he had to at least pretend to be in control of the situation.

He went to the great bird, examining its reins and harness, which looked similar to the bridle of a horse. The one he had ridden had not been so equipped; it had merely followed the others, attached by a tether. He moved on to the broad saddle that rested between the creature’s wings. A series of straps ran down the side to hold the rider’s legs in place; side pouches held crossbow bolts and poorly-balanced throwing knives, as well as a small amount of food and water. A mysterious tube made of wood drew his attention; it had curved, polished glass at each end, one side large, the other small. Adaran picked it up and looked through the large end; it made the cliff wall appear to be miles away. He lowered the device and made sure that the mountain hadn’t actually moved, then dropped the thing on the ground. Whatever it was, its ability to make things look farther away than they were did not seem useful. Another odd device was affixed to the front of the saddle; it was a small glass dome partially filled with liquid. Inside, some sort of needle floated on a bit of wood, pointing off to the right. Perhaps it was trying to tell him they should go that way.

The girl appeared at his side, reaching up to try to pet the eagle’s feathers. She had, of course, ignored his injunction to stay put. He picked her up and placed her on the saddle. The straps didn’t come close to holding her short legs, and he would be too busy trying to fly the creature to maintain a solid grip on her. He lifted her down again, then cleared a space in one of the saddlebags, padding it as best he could.

“What do you think?” he said, picking her up and showing it to her. “Can you fit in there?”

She gave him a withering look.

“Sorry,” he said, “I can’t think of anything better.” He lowered her into the space he had made, then closed the flap and buckled it into place. A moment later her head pushed through the space at the side of the bag, followed by her arm. He took her little hand and pushed it back into the bag. “We’re going to fly away. You have to stay in there.“ He made a flapping motion with his hands and then pointed at the sky. “Fly. Away from the mountains.” He pointed at the bag. “Stay in there.”

She rolled her eyes; but at least she had stopped squirming. Adaran put his foot in the lowest strap of the saddle and climbed into position. He figured out how to buckle himself in, then took hold of the reins. Much as he had hated flying, it was their best chance of getting out of the wilderness alive.

First, though, he had to get them into the air. He tried to remember what Redshen had told him, what she had observed, but he had never expected to have to use the information himself and had not paid particularly close attention. He gathered up the reins and gave them a tug; the bird made faint clucking noises deep in its throat, but it didn’t move. He pulled again and the thing stood up, screeching a little, sounding petulant.

“Fly away,“ Adaran said. He gave the reins a little slap. “Fly away, stupid bird.“

It squawked, but it didn’t do anything.

“Fly away!“ Adaran said. He yanked the reins hard. Annoyed, the eagle shook its entire body; Adaran squeezed his legs reflexively, afraid that he would fall off.

The bird spread its wings and launched itself into the air, leaving Adaran’s stomach somewhere below. Now he remembered: Squeeze to go up and down. He had managed up; he hoped he could figure out down as well.

They soared off the edge of the cliff, sweeping over the trees far below, rising high above the ridge.

Adaran thought he might throw up.

From the saddlebag, he could hear the little girl laughing.

The poll has been reset and voting is now open for the next scene of the month!

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