To Lure a Dragon
"Selendrile-" Alys began, her good intentions trailing off as he turned towards her, his congenial mask slipping away to show frozen horror as he moved in her direction, her name emerging from his lips as he stretched out his hand. She saw all this in slow motion, and yet her reflexes weren't quick enough to dodge the arrow flying at her back. She was probably fortunate she didn't try. Alys blinked at Selendrile, a rushing whistle passing by her right ear. She could see the white tail feathers steering the path once the arrow barely missed her head and continued on course, towards Lora.
Selendrile made a grab for the arrow mid-flight, but he was slightly too far away for his fingers to successfully circle around the shaft and halt the journey. A fraction of a second later it quivered an inch from the bundle in Lora's arms, the stagnant arrow vibrating in mid-air as though it still had energy to continue moving but was unable. It hovered like that just long enough for the eye to register what was happening before dropping harmlessly to the floor.
"Witch!" The injured archer hissed from the threshold, his wounded body prone and curled protectively around his bow. This time, Alys realized, she wasn't the one being insulted. With her foot, she stretched and nudged the front door closed.
Lora's head was bent over her son, whispering words of comfort into his ear. Alys took a step towards them and Lora raised her head, eyes immediately locking with Alys's. Lora's expression was calm and confident, and Alys was struck by how unconcerned she was about the fact her baby almost died.
"I told you," Lora murmured just loud enough for Alys to hear. "I couldn't leave the house."
"The house protected you?" Alys asked, confused but also intrigued.
"No. It protected Avery."
Why? Alys was about to ask when Selendrile cocked his head to the side and stared at the small child. "I believe," he spoke. "That the young prince defended himself."
Young prince? Alys was barely able to voice the question in her head, yet alone speak it out loud, before Lora responded with something equally as perplexing.
"Avery's too young to have come into his powers," Lora informed Selendrile with the confidence of a woman who was sure she knew what she was talking about.
"He's an elf," Selendrile corrected. "Any powers he may have are latent. Of course, he is only half elf."
Alys almost did a double-take at the tone of voice Selendrile was using. Lora probably didn't detect it since this was the first conversation she had with the dragon, but Alys was well-versed with many of Selendrile's moods and tones. He thought he was superior. To a child. It was almost laughable.
Lora pulled back, affronted, and Alys reevaluated her thoughts as to what Lora heard. "This is foolish," Alys interrupted before a petty squabble broke out between her two living friends. "We should get out of here before someone notices that about five people are missing and they all band together and come look for us."
"Or the house catches on fire," Selendrile said ironically, staring at a spot on the ceiling which was glowing with embers. Flames had yet to break out, but if the other dried-wood houses in the town were any indication, it would take little time for the whole house to be engulfed by fire.
Alys missed the pointed meaning behind his words because she was too busy appraising Lora, wondering whether the other woman would ever willingly leave her house now that she thought it was protecting both her and the baby. As far as Alys could see, her idea was founded. Something had saved the baby's life a few minutes before. There was no denying that. Carefully, Alys looked behind her to make sure the door was still closed. She thought it might be wise to pull the archer lying prone outside in through the door so his body wouldn't be visible, but the man had already fooled them once. "Lora, I'm uncomfortable with this situation. Can you guarantee that the house can protect you if we're surrounded like a hunted deer? Are you sure it wasn't just a one time thing?"
"I have faith," Lora responded demurely, cooing at her baby for a moment before raising her gaze to meet Alys's. Her eyes burned fervently with her conviction in the magical elvish powers surrounding her house, and the fanatical expression reminded Alys of Inquisitor Atherton. More than ever now Alys was convinced that it would be wrong to leave Lora behind, but it was incredibly obvious that they would never get her out of the house willingly. The backup plan of knocking her out and letting Selendrile carry her out was no longer an option, because the last thing Alys or her dragon companion needed was for the house, or the baby, to believe them to be a threat and deflect. They would lose Lora's trust for sure. The only option left was trickery of the verbal persuasion.
"Do you have enough faith to risk Avery's life?"
Lora smiled serenely. "You asked me that question before, when I was relying only on his promise. Now that I've seen it for myself, I know that he was telling the truth about protecting me."
"Alys," Selendrile interrupted. She turned her gaze towards him. "The roof."
"The roof is on fire."
Alys looked up, finally able to see the unhealthy glow of the smoldering wood and thatched roof above her head. She muttered a vulgar swear-word she had learned from her father during the days he had worked while sickly and ended up ruining a quarter of his products through ill timing. It was not a period in her life she enjoyed remembering. Her concerned gaze turned back to Selendrile as she asked him what they should do with simply a glance.
"It can't protect you if it burns down," Alys told Lora, turning her attention back to the major problem at hand. Lora wasn't listening to her, she was staring at the ceiling herself with a stricken look on her face.
"No," Lora whispered, pulling Avery up so his cheek was next to hers. "He said that so long as I lived here I would be safe. He said that nothing could happen to me here." Tears were streaming fresh tracks down Lora's dirty face. She turned her anguished glance to Alys. "Shouldn't that mean that the entire house was protected?"
Alys didn't know how to respond. She opened her mouth, sure some comforting platitude would come out, but she realized she didn't want to comfort Lora in this instance. She wanted her frightened enough to step out the door and enable them all to flee.
Selendrile stepped forward. "He didn't just forget about you. If we're referring to who I believe we are, he's been missing from court since last summer."
"Think about it, Lora," Alys chipped in, shooting a look at Selendrile to tell him he was explaining this to her later. "This place didn't protect you from Conrad."
The wall ignited, the fire crawling down the dry wood.
"I have faith," Lora said hollowly, rocking back and forth. In her arms, Avery wailed in protest. His cry was barely distinguishable over the roar of the entire wall engulfed in flames and spreading.
"Leave," Selendrile shouted to Alys.
Instead, she stepped forward, her hand pressing against Lora's shoulder. Since her palm touched, Alys assumed she wasn't considered a threat. "I think it's time to leave, ok?"
Lora looked lost, staring wildly around her home and not comforted by what she saw. Slowly she nodded, taking a step towards the front door.
"The back," Selendrile commanded impatiently, herding them both towards the back entrance which had been closed off for the winter. He made quick work of pulling off the nailed boards with his bare hands. While he was doing so, Alys reached over and pulled the blanket tighter around Avery's mouth, the smoke coating the air was so thick it caused her to cough sharply. "Wait here."
Alys watched Selendrile's back as he exited the house and thought uncharitable things about his sanity. Neither Lora nor the baby seemed to be as affected by the smoke as she was, and Alys hoped Lora didn't take it as another sign that the house was protecting them. The thought certainly entered Alys's mind. Her lungs were just weaker, she told herself, after the sickness she had survived earlier that winter.
"I didn't tell him," Lora said.
"What?" Alys asked with her shirt pressed tight against her mouth. Still, she couldn't help but cough after the word robbed her lungs of air.
"Selendrile. I didn't pass on the message to him."
Alys simply shrugged in response, not willing to risk speaking again. Inside she didn't quite feel the relief she had expected. It seemed that her worries about that issue were long-past and Lora's timing didn't help. Maybe if she had less on her mind, she would be far more enthusiastic to hear that Selendrile didn't know she loved him.
As though he heard her thoughts, the blond dragon popped into the doorway. His hair gleamed in the light from the burning town like she was used to it doing, and he looked like a valiant knight with the sword strapped to his hip. "Run for the woods and don't look back," he told them. Alys thought it sounded rather ominous. Lora nodded solemnly, and Selendrile shot a concerned look towards Alys. She nodded like she knew he wanted, though she wasn't sure if her already burning lungs would allow her to run anywhere.
Lora bolted out the door and Selendrile pushed Alys out after her. For a woman with a babe in arms, Lora made quick work traversing the frozen ground and in no time she was zig-zagging into the sparse trees leading into the forest. Alys drew to a halt in the middle of the open back yard, doubled over and wheezing. It felt like the flames engulfing the house were now coating her lungs, and she couldn't draw in a breath. She forced herself forward by two steps before she fell into the frozen mud and newly budding grass on the ground. The earth smelled of decay, and the scent caked her nose as she strained to breathe. It seemed like an apt smell to accompany her final breath, she thought hysterically as she struggled to regain her footing.
"We can't stop," Selendrile breathed as he swooped towards her and yanked her to her feet. She took two more steps with him dragging her before she saw the first man run from behind Gorge's house.
"Sel-" she warned. In the distance Alys could see the bouncing white of Lora's dress disappear into the forest, and she felt a sense of relief that at least one of them wasn't trapped. She could only hope that there was no one waiting among the trees.
Behind the first warrior stepped another man, this one with a crossbow. Alys could barely see the weapon in the dim light, but what illumination there was emphasized the bulk of the triangular weapon aimed straight towards them. The first bolt whizzed through the air, narrowly missing the two of them by inches. As the crossbow was being reloaded, the first man was on top of them, swinging his sword over his head with a war-cry which echoed through the night. Selendrile sneered, easily drawing his own sword with a smooth shlick of metal and meeting the bone-jarring swing of his opponent without a flinch as the steal screamed. Selendrile pushed back against the locked swords, deflecting the attack and returning with one of his own.
While this was happening Alys's attention was on the man with the crossbow. She didn't like the idea of Selendrile forgetting about him and getting shot in the back mid-fight. She doubled over coughing, her body bent and convulsing like someone who was sick and couldn't get enough air into their lungs. Which, of course, she was, but she was also so much more than that. When she stood, one of her waning supply of knives was clutching in her hand. With a flick of her wrist, she released it and followed through, watching as the blade hit her target exactly. The man fell, already dead from the knife sliding through his eye like butter and entering the brain.
Selendrile swung again with his sword, his movements leagues more graceful and accurate than his opponent's even though this was the first time he had truly fought with a weapon. Alys allowed herself to watch him for a moment as he spun lethally, his hair swinging behind him like a pendulum of golden doom. This was, she was sure, what real sword-fighting was supposed to look like in the Arthurian romances she loved so much. She shook off her trance with a rueful shake of her head and cautiously approached the crossbow shooter. She couldn't detect any other men waiting to attack, but that didn't mean they weren't hidden in the shadows.
Alys stared down at this latest foe who had challenged her blade and lost. She felt that familiar twinge of regret for what she had fallen to, but also a sense of pride in her work. The blade had bisected the eye, leaving almost mirror imaged globs of gelatinous fluid leaking blood on either side of the blade. Alys felt her stomach churn as she grabbed the hilt of her knife and twisted as she pulled, enabling her to remove the knife with her minimal strength. Quickly, she wiped the blade off on the man's shirt, not looking down at it or into the ruined eye of the man lying on the ground. Quietly, she shoved the knife back into the scabbard and turned to see how Selendrile was doing. It was not surprising to find that he had worn his opponent down and was now zeroing in for the kill. Alys turned her eyes from him and scanned their surroundings. She barely noticed that her breathing had regulated itself.
"Ha!" Selendrile crowed as his opponent fell to the ground from an unspecified fatal wound – Alys hadn't quite been watching. His eyes locked with hers, blazing with victory from his match and the conquering of a mortal art of weaponry. Again, his amethyst eyes widening at something behind her was the only warning Alys had before something bashed against her shoulder and she fell heavily to the ground. She rolled on to her back in time to see the sword coming through the air, blade aimed for her throat. Kicking out with her booted foot, Alys hit the man right between the legs. It was not a move she had learned in warrior training, but one Risa had taught her long ago.
"Guh," he grunted, jerking away from her. Alys used this second of reprieve to jump to her feet. She considered going for the man's sword, but considered it a risk she wasn't willing to take. No sooner had she regained her footing when her shoulders were seized from behind. Alys jumped slightly, ready to berate Selendrile for startling her when she noticed the look on the face of the man in front of her. He was smiling. "Hold the lad. He's feisty."
Alys struggled as the person behind her slid his arms around her upper torso, trapping her arms to her sides. She tried to kick at him, but the man seemed impervious to her foot connecting with his shin. Alys shrieked as the blade of the sword flew towards her neck.
"Hold on," the man capturing her rumbled. "You're gonna hit me."
"How about the stomach?"
"How about you just let me go?" Alys asked sweetly. Instead, she was thrown to the ground again and the second man drew his sword as well. Alys cowered in the frozen mud of spring, glad that at least they'd be able to bury her body quickly. As the two men advanced towards her, she knew that her pitiful little blade wouldn't help her now. Frantically she glanced around for the fallen crossbow, but found it too far away for her to reach. She wondered where Selendrile was.
As if hearing her silent prayer, he flew through the air with a dragon's roar. Golden scales gleamed in the light of the moon and the flickering flames of the burning houses. His body looked like armour and his skin was twice as thick. Selendrile slammed bodily into the men, skidding to a stop on the rotting grass of last autumn. His taloned feet flexed, scarring the ground and eliciting a scream from one of the men trapped beneath him. His familiar purple eyes zoned in on Alys, still quaking with fear on the ground, and then he turned his attention back to the last of his foes. The man brandished his sword threateningly, the blade shrieking with an ear-splitting sound as it raked against dragon scales.
"What the-" the bandit questioned, staring up and up into the hauntingly frightful face of the dragon. Again, it seemed as though Selendrile sneered at his opponent, expressing with a single expression what he thought of their challenge.
The dragon's head swooped down, grabbing the man's head between his powerful jaws, and lifting.
"No!" Alys called out, attempting to stop Selendrile from killing a human. She didn't know why it was different for him to do so now after he had just killed one in human form without her really noticing, but it was. Alys thought it might have something to do with the eating part.
Selendrile ignored her, tightening his grasp. Blood splurted from his mouth and covered everything in a rain of crimson red. Selendrile shook his kill until the man's hand went lax and the sword fell from his grip, then Selendrile dropped him completely.
Alys stared down at the body and wondered why Selendrile hadn't made a snack out of it.
Without a sound, he changed back to a human male. Selendrile stood proudly with his feet immerged in the scars from his own talons. He was naked save for the coating of blood trailing down his chest. He leaned over and offered his hand to Alys. For a second she eyed him wearily, and then let him help her to her feet. Once she was standing again, a feeling of safety washed over her and she grabbed at him, pulling him against her in a hug as she sobbed against his shoulder. Her warm tears splashed against his skin, cleaning a trail in the blood towards his heart.
"Shhh," Selendrile shushed her, stroking her hair in a comforting gesture. "You're safe, I promise."
"How can you keep me safe if you'll just leave again?" Alys hiccupped, her inability to breathe caused by a whole different problem. The tears continued and she warred with herself to stop just in case there was someone around who could hear.
"I won't," he said vehemently, his voice harsh with the sincerity of his promise. "You're mine forever."
Oooo. Ominous sounding, isn't it? Selendrile. You bad boy. Oh, and also:
Surprise! The End!
Watch for the sequel. It'll be out soon (whenever I get around to writing the first chapter).