To my dear, faithful readership:

I honestly have no excuse for this delay. All I can say is that life got the better of my for a while. Lethargy is a curse, as is laziness. All I can do is offer up this humble chapter and hope that you like it anyway. In case you've completely forgotten what's been happening, here's a

BRIEF SUMMARY OF RECENT EVENTS:

Two chapters ago, the red dragon, which had kidnapped Alys, was killed by the combined efforts of Selendrile and the noon sun. However, Selendrile was gravely wounded in the battle, so Alys had to run back to the town of Quinn to get help. Since Mother Margaret was occupied with a bar brawl that had broken out spontaneously at the tavern, Alys enlisted the help of Renn, the notorious dragon-hater who is in love with her. After tending to Selendrile's wounds, Alys, Renn and Selendrile are all sitting around doing nothing, and the witch (also a half dragon that looks like a pink hippopotamus) is fast asleep.


Chapter 13: In which the Silent find a Voice

The small group around Selendrile had been silent for some minutes. Alys was sitting with her back against the golden dragon. The witch had turned back into her dragon shape and was napping, her snores cutting through the air like a knife grating against stone. Renn looked as if he had turned to stone. Alys had her doubts that he would ever speak again. Presently, however, he looked up and, making a valiant effort not to let his gaze stray towards Selendrile, said: "I…should probably get back to the inn now. Mother Margaret will be wondering where I am."

Alys nodded regretfully. All of this was probably too much for Renn, who had grown up hating and fearing dragons. She was probably lucky he hadn't started yelling "Witch!" and run away.

Renn hesitated. "I'll go see what I can do to help her—she'll need it after that fight—and then, I don't know," he paused, "maybe I'll come back."

Alys was dumbfounded as she watched him get up and head slowly back in the direction of the town. Maybe she had underestimated him after all.

Hours passed. Dusk began to settle over the motley group, and the air gradually became cooler. Alys, resting comfortably against Selendrile's warm side, didn't notice. Her eyes were closed and she was in a half-doze, not sleeping but not awake. An air of contentment had settled around the three; there seemed no reason for anyone to move until eternity.

Only one thing indicated that the picture was alive. There was a small dot in the distance growing larger and larger until it took the shape of a man weighed down by a large bundle on his back. But Alys didn't notice anything until a shadowy figure stood before her, blocking the last rays of twilight.

She opened her eyes, her gaze settling blearily at the newcomer. For a moment, she simply stared. Then, her brain caught up with her and she jumped to her feet. "You came back!" she exclaimed, beaming at Renn.

The latter couldn't help smiling back at Alys's enthusiasm. "What can I say. . .I couldn't leave you out here all alone. Besides, Mother Margaret thought you might be hungry."

Saying this, he reached behind him and took off what proved to be a truly tremendous pack, filled mostly with two large blankets but also with some sandwiches wrapped in paper. One of these he handed to Alys, who accepted gratefully. "What with everything that's happened, I almost forgot I was hungry," she said, smiling.

The group was wrapped in peaceful silence once again, interrupted only by the sound of the witch's snoring and jaws working at Mother Margaret's cold chicken-and-lettuce sandwiches. Until a particularly loud, rasping snore cut through the air.

"What was that?" said Renn. Alys opened her mouth to reply and then closed it again. It hadn't been the witch this time; she felt sure of it. The pink dragon's snoring had developed a certain rhythm that was easy to follow, if grating to the ears. But this last snore had a different resonance.

An idea crossed her mind that she immediately discarded. Surely it couldn't be…. But the vibrations settling against her back gave her the confirmation she needed. Without warning, she let out a stifled giggle.

"It's him!" she whispered between giggles, gesturing at the sleeping form behind her. "Oh, this is too perfect—wait till he finds out that he snores...I'll never let him live this down!"

Even Renn cracked a smile, though he glanced uneasily at the golden dragon.

Though Alys was sure Selendrile's snoring would continue to be funny for some time, she decided to change the subject out of consideration for her other companion. Besides, there were one or two things she still wanted to know.

"So tell me about this fight back at the inn," she said, forgetting about Selendrile for a moment.

Renn seemed grateful for the distraction. "Oh, that. It was the strangest thing. One minute everyone was eating lunch, like any other day, and the next—it was as if something had snapped. All at once, everybody just got up and started punching each other. It was eerie, the way they all seemed to be thinking the same thing at once. And the atmosphere! It's like everything everyone'd been holding back for years, ever since that—that—"

—dragon came in and ruined our lives, Alys continued mentally when he broke off—

"—thing happened, was just let loose. You know, fear, anger, frustration, the works. It was like a dam breaking. Like nothing I've ever experienced," he said, letting out a deep breath.

Alys had the strangest feeling she knew exactly when it had happened.

"And none of them were even drinking!" Renn added. "I mean, it was only just noon, and they had to go back to work. Normal people, doing normal things, and then this. Mother Margaret was still trying to get them to calm down when I got back. We were helpless, really. We let it burn itself out in the end. Didn't seem to be much else to do."

He chewed his sandwich thoughtfully, trying to work things out in his mind. "Eventually, they sort of got tired of it. Went home, just like that."

"Renn, I think I might be able to explain it," said Alys.

Renn looked at her doubtfully.

"I have a hunch that your fight happened at the exact same time the red dragon was killed. From the way you've described it, it sounds as if everyone in town felt it somehow, and suddenly had to get rid of all those emotions that built up over the years. Strange thing, magic. But I think, once they figure out what's happened, or once you tell them," she said, looking at the wide-eyed Renn meaningfully, "things will change in Quinn. I expect they'll start by having a celebration."

Renn was staring at her with a mixture of awe and revulsion. "That's what you think, is it?" he managed, sending a sidelong glance at the golden dragon. "Sounds…logical."

Alys nodded encouragingly, glad he seemed to be making some progress. Not that useless after all, she thought in the direction of the sleeping witch.

Renn and Alys continued talking for some time. It was starting to get cold, so Renn offered Alys a blanket that she decided to sit on, as the ground was rather uncomfortable. But the warmth emanating from Selendrile's side was sufficient to keep her warm through the coldest of nights. Eventually, around the time the moon rose, her eyelids began to flutter. She wasn't exactly sure when, but at some point, she drifted off to sleep.

This left Renn all alone with a girl and two sleeping dragons. Or one dragon and a half-dragon, anyway. Renn wasn't too fussy when it came to carnivorous mythical beings.

All at once, he realized that he was not the only one awake. A prickly feeling at the back of his neck told him he was being watched. His gaze slid around the makeshift campsite but came upon nothing unusual, which did not settle his growing feeling of unease. Finally, he looked at the golden dragon again. And started. One large, catlike eye was fixed unblinkingly on him. Don't…panic…he thought to himself, resisting the urge to hide his face in his hands. Alys was friends with this thing. Surely that counted for something?

He was quite sure he had no intention of saying anything. What could he have to say to a people-eating lizard, anyway? But the words slipped out in spite of themselves.

"Why'd you do it?" he whispered, bracing himself for a snarl or a flash of teeth that would indicate what this beast thought of his attempts at conversation.

Nothing happened.

That's right, he thought. Alys had told him, somewhere in their conversation, that Selendrile couldn't talk in his dragon form, at least not in human language. Something about that made Renn feel just a little smug.

Which would explain his overwhelming urge to bolt for the inn and hide under his bed coves when he heard the dragon speak to him.

Well, not speak to him, per se. The words had seemed to reach his brain without the unnecessary obstacle of his ears. Which was impossible, right?

Why did I do what, small human?said the dragon without moving his lips.

Somewhere in the deep abysses of his being, he found a thimbleful of courage that prodded him to speak. "Why'd you go after the red dragon?" he whispered, amazed at his own daring. "Alys told me as much about it as I could listen to. If it hadn't been for that thing with the sun, you could have died. And you knew that all the time, didn't you?"

He watched the golden dragon warily, in case it decided to jump up and rip his face off despite its injuries.

The dragon did not deign to answer him. Then again, Renn, in the dragon's place, would have kept silent as well. To his astonishment, however, after a time the golden dragon did speak again, his penetrating glare fixed on Renn, who would probably never again be this brave in his life.

Her, said the dragon, looking away for a second. This suited Renn, whose eyes were beginning to water from the effort of not blinking.

"You mean—" he broke off, with a glance at Alys's sleeping form.

The golden dragon blinked.

"You risked your life…for a human?" he continued, knowing that he was digging his own grave with every word he spoke. What was wrong with him?

This time, the golden dragon said nothing at all. It closed its eye, which Renn took as a sign that this conversation was closed.

Renn pondered what he had learned from the dragon. So there were two…people…vying for Alys's heart. This knowledge did not surprise him, Alys being who she was. But that he was competing against a dragon—a dragon! It was all too much. It seemed impossible that this thing could actually have feelings for the wonderful person that was Alys, and yet, it made sense. He couldn't explain it. He wondered if the dragon knew that Alys returned its feelings. Probably, if it had taken the trouble to battle a being stronger than itself for her.

Renn sighed, wrapping his blanket more tightly around him. It had been a long, long day.

His thoughts began to drift as he rested his head against his empty pack, which served him as a makeshift pillow. Before long, he, too, was consumed by sleep. That left the small group at peace for the night.

Or did it?

A faint rustling announced the presence of wind, upon which a protective wing was lifted over the sleeping form of Alys. As Selendrile had, correctly, guessed, they were no longer alone. A dark shadow passed over the moon, plunging the four into darkness. Silver scales glittered in the moonlight as eight dragon limbs landed on the ground without a sound. Two dragons, identical in color and size, were illuminated by the moonlight. They were distinguishable only by the way the dragon on the left side held its left foreleg.

Black eyes met amethyst, and there began an exchange that, to an outsider, would have appeared wordless. Nothing but the occasional snort, which had a curious bell-like quality, pointed at any kind of communication.

Finally, the discussion seemed to be complete. A ripple passed through the assembled creatures that words cannot describe, though Alys, who felt it in her dreams, certainly tried.

The silver dragon directed its piercing stare at Selendrile and was met head-on. A sort of staring contest ensued, neither party wavering for a second. At length, both dragons, by some unspoken agreement, inclined their heads, the third dragon looking on with an unreadable expression. Simultaneously, it seemed, the two silver dragons raised their wings, beating at the air until they had gathered enough power to propel themselves from the ground. They departed as noiselessly as they had come, leaving the golden dragon, the witch, and the two humans alone again, as if nothing had ever happened.

Except for a small disturbance involving moles, nothing stirred for the rest of the night.


So that was the first chapter since January. Could be better, could be worse. I purposely added a bit of mystery at the end there, so you'll have a reason to read my next chapter, which I'm planning as the last one. Oops! Did I just let that slip? Oh, well. . .as always, I humbly ask you to review this chapter, so I know what you like and what you think I'm doing wrong.

Many thanks!