Lethargy had come upon five-year-old Zooey so suddenly that she was hardly able to stand, and the mouse Sapplehenning was unconscious and barely breathing. Mandy was holding her sister close to her, as the elves of Direhaven finished constructing the enormous flatbed cart with which they would transport the disabled dragon Shay.
“I must say Jake, that your dreams are very creative, and I mean that in more than one manner.” The Vizier Wynjeon, consort to Janellize, the Queen of their people clapped a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“When I found out that Shay couldn’t walk, I thought the wagon would just, well, happen. When it didn’t, I drew a picture in the dirt of what I’d dreamed.”
A hundred sturdy soldiers brave and hardy struggled mightily to assist the great golden dragon onto the hastily manufactured conveyance, as Mandy murmured into Zooey’s ear. “I should never have permitted you to stay, and I’m not waiting anymore. We’re leaving with some of the soldiers and going to Vovin right now.”
“No. I want to stay with Shay.”
“Think of Sapplehenning. How long do you think he can last here? Shay’s getting on the cart, but it will be slow going. We have to hurry, Zooey. Zooey?” The teenager shook her younger sister who was not non-responsive. Heaven forbid that anything worse happen to her.
“Zooey’s unconscious. We’ve got to get her out of here now. It was a mistake to keep her and the other kids here.” She turned to the dragonrider. “Dani, you stay with Shay, but I’m taking the others and getting out of here.
She turned to the elven leader. “I’m sorry Wynjeon. You offered to escort us out of here.”
“And I will make good on my promise. Sergeant of the Guard.”
“I have the duty today, Sire,” Petran replied.
“Take a squad and escort the children out of the Quag Lands and to the north toward Vovin. We will follow as we can, but the youngest ones are experiencing the deadly effects of this cursed place.”
Petran hesitated for a brief moment, revealing his fear of taking so few warriors in the direction of the dragon city.
“Is there a problem?”
“None, Sire. We will begin at once.” The soldier nodded, spun on his heel, and then began giving orders to several of the men and women nearby.
“I want to stay with Dani and Shay,” Taylor protested.
“I feel fine. I want to stay, too.” Jake also insisted, and Paris, although she didn’t say anything, looked just as determined as her brothers.
“This isn’t a debate. I don’t want what’s happening to Zooey to happen to anyone else.” Mandy was cursing herself inside, consumed with guilt that she’d given in to her little sister and let her stay. “We’ve got to stick together. Dani can remain with Shay and they’ll be right behind us.”
“At least let me stay with them.” Taylor put his hand on Celeste’s hilt trying to look as adult as possible for a nine year old.
“Absolutely not. Even if we’re traveling with a bunch of soldiers, I want you with us just in case there are any demons still out there.” She was appealing to her brother’s pride and sense of duty as, and she knew his ego and everything they’d experienced since they got here wouldn’t let him walk away.
“Well…” He looked down for a moment and then back at Dani who was working as hard as the elves in helping the dragon onto the metal and wheeled wooden platform. “I guess. But we should say goodbye to them first.”
“A fast one. We don’t have a lot of time, especially Zooey.”
The sun was already past its zenith when they set out. The four of the five Davidson children were given horses, Zooey sitting on their mount directly in front of Mandy and being held by her, while Petran and nineteen others accompanied them on foot. The mage Raibyr had joined them, which surprised Mandy.
“Don’t you need to stay with Wynjeon and the army?”
“You mean you are afraid without my influence, the forces of Direhaven may succumb to their fear of the dragon and abandon her?”
“Well, not abandon her, but…”
“I shouldn’t worry. Our vizier is noble and true. Now that he understands the situation, he will do everything in his power to rescue the dragon and return her to her realm.”
“That’s where we’re going, to Vovin.”
“Yes. From here, it shouldn’t take too many days, but the easiest route is to head north until we reach the coast, and then turn west, traveling along the shore to Vovin.”
“You know the way? But I heard no one from Direhaven has ever been to the dragon’s city before.”
“Yes, of course. It’s just that we have been rather inhibited from making any sort of visit prior to this occasion.”
“Your people were host to both us and the dragon. I guess it’s your turn to be visitors.”
“By evening, we shall we well out of the Quag Lands and into the low hills. The ground is rising even now, and soon the wetlands will be behind us.”
Mandy didn’t say anything about the Mage’s abrupt change of subject. There was still a feeling of enmity between the elves and dragons.
The sorceress looked within one of the pockets of her robes. “Still with us, fortunately. I can protect him, but only a little. We must continue to distance ourselves from this foul place to ensure his recovery, as well as that of your sister’s.”
Mandy looked down at Zooey. Her skin was dry and pale, but she was still breathing well, and she could feel her heartbeat getting a little stronger.
Taylor was on foot, leading his horse behind him and walking next to Petran. The spirit of Azzorh was no longer a distinct voice inside of him, but the memories and emotions of the long-dead warrior and guard of the Mountain Kings, seemed to make the boy seek the company of the soldiers around him.
“How do you know that some of the demon army aren’t hiding out there somewhere?”
“I’ve already sent scouts ahead and some behind to make sure we are not walking into a trap or being followed. Trust me, lad. This isn’t my first campaign.”
The boy couldn’t tell the sergeant this wasn’t his first time in war either, because he’d have to explain how he had been possessed by a man who had died centuries ago.
“But it’s more dangerous because the Gray God is gone, isn’t it?”
Petran scowled at the thought. “It is. However as we continue in the direction of the dragons, I suspect any chance of encountering even a remnant of the demon horde will diminish considerably.”
“Too bad you can’t dream us a faster way out of here.”
Jake turned to Paris but saw that she was just teasing him, not being critical.
“I wish I could have dreamed us all to Vovin, including Dani and Shay.”
“Do you think she’ll be alright?”
“I don’t know. I’m just glad my dreams led us to the Quag Lands so we could rescue her.”
“We almost didn’t get to rescue ourselves.” She looked down at her hands holding the reins as she remembered being trapped in the belly of the demon, while being threatened by what they thought was Danijel’s dark twin Sakhr.
“I know we’ve been through a lot, but we’re just about out of here, and we’ve got a bunch of soldiers to protect us this time.”
Paris looked back up at her brother. “I thought I was supposed to be encouraging you.” She smiled at him, relieved to be sharing a brother and sister moment.
“Just because you’re a couple of years older than me, doesn’t mean I can’t encourage you, too.”
She paused and her voice became softer. “We have been through a lot, haven’t we? I mean, sometimes I forget that we’re just kids after what we’ve faced.”
“I miss Mom and Dad, too.”
“We never talk about them anymore. Sometimes, I don’t even think about them for days.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “Do you think we’ll ever see them again?”
The two were riding slowly side-by-side, and Jake reached out and touched his sister’s arm. “I don’t know. I dream about all kinds of stuff, but since coming here, I haven’t dreamed about them or about home except for once.”
“When was that?”
“Remember the clown dream I told you about?”
“That’s not home.”
“It was more like home than anything around here.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Hey, anything in your book about where we’re going?” Jake put both hands on the reins again and tried to sound cheerful.
“Nothing specific. There’s a lot of stuff about the dragon war and how the demons killed a lot of them and exiled the rest here, but it doesn’t talk much about Vovin at all.”
“I guess that’s because the elves wrote the book, and we know that they and the dragons don’t like each other very much.”
“You want to know something kind of creepy?” Paris was sounding conspiratorial.
“What?” He leaned toward her slightly waiting for her to share the secret.
“I think the book changes inside. Sometimes the pages get all mixed up. Some of the stories and chapters disappear completely, and new ones show up in their place.”
“That’s crazy. I knew your book had a lot of cool stuff in it, but I didn’t think it was magic.”
“We’ve all got magic stuff about us now. You and your dreams, and me and my book.”
Jake looked toward the front of the squad. “Taylor and his ghost.”
“He doesn’t talk about it and he pretends its gone, but remember when we were all possessed by the Mountain Kings?”
Paris shuddered. “Don’t remind me.”
“Taylor had the ghost of one of the guards of the Kings inside of him. It isn’t gone, well it is gone, but it left something behind.”
“How do you know?”
“I told you, I’ve dreamed a lot of weird stuff lately, I just don’t talk about all of it.”
“Wow. Is he okay?”
“Yes. The ghost isn’t inside of him anymore, but I think Taylor remembers being a soldier. It’s why he got so good with a sword so fast, and why he’s not afraid.”
“He never gets afraid of anything anyway. Remember that time he jumped off the roof using Dad’s umbrella for a parachute?”
“That’s nothing like what he’s had to do here, or like what the rest of us have seen and done. You know that.”
“You’re right. I do.”
“Then there’s Zooey and how she can talk to animals, and even call them from miles away.”
“That’s sure saved us more than once. But what about Mandy?”
“You know you and Dani have been teaching her about healing plants and all.”
“Yeah, but that’s not magic. It’s just learning.”
“I think it’s more. I overheard Raibyr telling Mandy how she can use her magic to help keep Sapplehenning alive, but only a little.”
“I think Mandy is keeping Zooey alive, and not with roots and leaves.”
Paris blinked at her younger brother and then looked just ahead where Mandy and Zooey were on horseback with the magician walking alongside.
“Did you dream that, too?”
“I think so. I don’t always remember what I dream, but sometimes I get these feelings, like I’ve dreamed about something but don’t quite recall what it was about.
“You mean that’s how you feel when you look at Mandy?”
“I don’t think even she knows about it yet.”
“If we do get home, will we go back to normal?”
“Beats me. We still have to get to Vovin first.”
Zooey opened her eyes by the time the party was ready to make camp for the evening. They had left the swamp behind three hours before. Mandy sat next to the fire with the little girl on her lap. Then Raibyr sat next to them.
“Someone would like to say hello to you, little one.” The Mage took Sapplehenning out of her sleeve and laid him on Zooey’s lap.
“Sapplehenning!” The child sounded tired and happy, like she did when she first woke up in the morning on her birthday. “How are you?” She listened for a moment. “Me, too.” Then she looked up at Mandy. “Can we have something to eat. We’re both kind of hungry.”
Mandy held on to Zooey tight and her eyes watered. “Of course you can.”
“I’ll see to that for you.” Raibyr put her hand on Mandy’s shoulder reassuringly and then stood and walked away.
A moment later, Taylor sat with them. Then he saw that Zooey was awake again and holding her mouse. “Zooey!” He reached over to hug her, and then remembered to be careful not to smash Sapplehenning.
Mandy could feel her brother shaking and knew he had started to cry.
He pulled away and wiped tears from his face. “How do you feel. Are you okay now?”
“Sapplehenning and I are hungry. Raibyr is getting us some food.”
“I was so worried.”
“She’s doing a lot better now. I think by tomorrow, she’ll be completely back to normal.” Mandy put her hand on her sister’s forehead.
“Where are Paris and Jake?”
“Helping some of the soldiers look for more firewood.”
“We should be okay for now. Petran’s scouts found some signs that demons had come this way, but nothing really fresh. Probably, imps who had run off when the elves first attacked. They sure wouldn’t go too much further north.”
“Because of the dragons.”
“Is Shay okay? Where is she?” Zooey was softly stroking Sapplehenning’s fur as the mouse slept in her lap.
“She’s coming with Wynjeon’s army, the whole army, but because she’s so heavy, they’ll have to go slowly.” Mandy held the girl close.
“Is Dani with her?”
“Yes. Of course she wanted to stay with Shay.”
“I hope they get out of the swamp soon. It makes Shay so sick.”
“You can feel Shay like you do birds and animals?”
“Not like animals. She’s not like them at all. I do feel her a little sometimes, though. Maybe because the swamp made me sick, too.”
“Here you go.” Raibyr had returned with a bowl of fruits and vegetables for Zooey. “I thought you and Sapplehenning could share.”
“He fell asleep.”
“Poor dear. He’s had a rough time of it, but he’ll be fine by the morrow.”
“That’s what Mandy said about me, too.”
Raibyr gave the teenage Davidson girl an odd look but didn’t say anything. “I suggest you get something to eat as well, Taylor. I saw your brother and sister re-enter camp and they’re getting food ready for themselves.”
“I’ll bring you back something, Mandy.” Taylor got up.
Later, Taylor took a shift at guarding the perimeter of the camp. Zooey had long since fallen asleep, and Mandy snuggled with her in the same sleeping bag. Paris stayed up reading for a bit. Jake laid on his back and stared up at the stars.
It had been the first time he realized that he couldn’t see any of the constellations he knew about. The stars here were totally different. He fell asleep thinking of the sky and woke up listening to Zooey whispering something. Opening his eyes, he saw she was talking to a sparrow. “Thank you. I’ll tell everyone.”
The small, brownish bird flew off and the girl turned to her older sister in their sleeping roll. “Shay’s coming with the elf people army. They got out of the swamp late last night. Peabody didn’t want to get too close, but this morning, he saw Shay was still on the big cart, and she was eating something out of a big bucket and flapping her wings. I think that means she’s feeling a little better.”
“Peabody is the bird, right?”
“Of course he’s a bird, silly.”
“Did he tell you how far away they are?”
“Just that they were out of the swamp, but still kind of close.”
“We should get up and tell Petran. He’ll want to know.”
An hour later, the camp was struck and the party was ready to proceed toward the shore of the Northern Sea.
“I should say it will take two days, maybe a little less, until we reach the coast, then perhaps another five of westward travel until we reach the vicinity of Vovin.” Raibyr was addressing Petran.
“Yes, Mage.” He nodded at her respectfully.
“Mandy, why don’t I have a horse of my own.” Zooey looked but there were only four mounts.
“I want to keep you close to me.”
“I could use Taylor’s. He’s not riding it. He wants to walk with Sergeant Petran.”
“Just the same, you’re riding with me.”
“Well, okay. Oh, and Berta says she likes you.”
“I assume we’re sitting on Berta.”
“Uh huh. She says you have a nice voice.”
“Tell Berta I like her, too.”
Mandy was happy that Zooey seemed her old self again, and that they were on the trail and getting closer to Vovin with each passing hour.
However, with each passing hour, the sky became more gray and the weather colder. By noon, they all had to don light jackets, and by nightfall, it had started to rain. The soldiers deployed tents for the children and the rest of their group, though the guards had to stand their watch with no shelter.
Mandy and Zooey shared a tent and a somewhat waterlogged rat came to visit. Sapplehenning looked suspiciously at the other rodent from the safety of the little girl’s tunic.
“He’s passing a message along from a gopher, a finch, and a lizard. There’s a big storm between us and the elf army, so they can’t tell how they’re doing. The last anyone knew, they were still two or three days behind, but no one knows how Shay is doing now.”
“I’m sure they’ll all be fine. Shay has a whole army with her to protect her until she feels better, and Dani’s with her, too.”
“I know, but Opie says that they don’t usually get a lot of storms here this time of year.”
“Sometimes weather happens.” Mandy kissed the top of her sister’s head. This world was so different, that an unusual rainstorm might be the harbinger of something a lot more sinister. She hoped she was worrying over nothing, she’d seen stranger things.
By morning, the storm had moved south, but it was still overcast and cold.
Raibyr returned from the head of the moving squad and walked beside Mandy and Zooey again. “Petran believes we may be in sight of the sea by sunset.”
“That will be terrific. Did you hear that, Zooey?”
“My ears are fine, Mandy. Anyway, a seagull said the same thing to me earlier this morning, but she said something else.”
A lot of birds are heading east that don’t go that way this time of year, and all of a sudden.”
“She didn’t know and they won’t tell her.”
“We have to go in the direction they came from once we get to the ocean.”
A strong gust of wind struck suddenly and Mandy had to grab onto the horn of Betra’s saddle to keep her and Zooey upright. The Mage pulled her hood over her head and drew her robes in tighter.
“Bitter wind for the season.”
“Something’s wrong, Mandy. All of the birds and animals are leaving or hiding.” Zooey looked up in the sky as if surprised to find it empty of avians on the wing.
Taylor ran to them from up front. “We’re stopping here and setting up a perimeter. A scout just came back and said something’s approaching from the west.”
“What? More demons?”
“She didn’t know, but there’s a lot of them, and they’re flying.”
“Dragons. We’re close enough to Vovin. Maybe they found us.”
“I don’t think it’s dragons. I’m getting scared.” The five-year-old trembled in her sister’s arms.
“Dismount, quickly!” It was the soldier named Genk. He was a little roly poly and liked to tell jokes and laugh. “We need to secure the horses. Stay in the center of our unit.”
Two other warriors took the horses, and the Davidson children grouped together along with Raibyr.
“Petran said I should stay with the rest of you in case anything got through.” Taylor was alert but still had Celeste in its scabbard.
“But what if they’re dragons?” Mandy was still holding out hope.
“I must agree with Zooey’s and Petran’s assessment. The wind from the west is stronger and colder now than it was a few minutes ago. I fear it is not dragons riding the gale.”
“There they are.” Taylor pointed to what looked like a black cloud of insects, as if a massive gathering of wasps where heading their way with the storm.
“They aren’t dragons. It is worst than I feared.” Raibyr gazed into the black mass approaching. “Asmodeus must have a desperate need to keep the five of you from Vovin. He has sent the Beelzebub against us.”
“There must be hundreds. Why won’t this ever end?”
“Be brave, Mandy. There is hope.” The Mage knew her words would be little comfort for the five children, for without the other three Mages, she was uncertain what she had left to give them as the leather-winged horde of darkness descended.
I wrote this for Saturday Mix – Opposing Forces, 23 June 2018 hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to use two pairs of opposites in a poem, short story, or other creative work. The pairs are:
- permit and forbid
- visitor and host
I usually bold the words I use in the body of my story, but today I didn’t.
This is the 22nd chapter in my fantasy story about the Davidson children trapped in a strange exile world full of dragons, demons, elves, and other fantastic beings. I normally use the Thursday #writephoto prompt at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo as the motivation to write a new chapter for my novel every week, but last Thursday, she didn’t have one.
I used this prompt instead. The table of contents for my epic tale so far is:
- The Forest
- A Tale Shared Among Friends
- Mr. Covingham’s Secret
- Wilderness Pilgrims
- The God of the Dark Hills
- Hall of the Mountain Kings
- Sojourn in Direhaven
- Trial at Sakhr
- What Secrets We Keep
- The Uneasy Pact
- The Tracker
- Duel at Orholt
- Valley of Blood
- The Fallen
- Dire Beginning
Of course, all of this is a first draft, and once I get it completed (getting closer all the time), I’ll polish it offline and hopefully get it to the point where it will be worthy of publication.
With the great golden dragon Shay still grounded and only a squad of 20 elven soldiers to protect the Davidsons against hundreds of flying demons, how will the children hope to survive this latest onslaught?
Oh, Beelzebub is normally an individual, but I turned it into a variety of flying demons.
Addendum: Sue was on holiday last Thursday so her #writephoto prompt didn’t appear. She’s offering the prompt this morning on her blog, so I added the required photo in the body of the story above.
Next chapter: Last Stand.