The Duke and the Duchess

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Chapter 17

Nick followed the road for a few miles. He knew from his map that it soon turned to the southwest, and when he reached the turn he continued on straight. He followed a cow path and veered past a farmhouse, then walked alongside a field, through a copse of trees, and across a meadow.

He had decided to stay away from the ports for awhile. It would be too easy to be recaptured there, and with the requirement to have a pass to get anywhere near a ship he couldn't see a way to get on board one safely. Perhaps later the mages wouldn't be looking for him as actively as they would at first and he might try it. But first he was going to visit the dragons.

The duke made up a tale as he went along in case anyone asked him who he was and where he was going. He would be Hank, a lad from a farm where there were too many sons, going to see his uncle in Pech to work on his fishing boat. The uncle only had young daughters and needed help, and Hank wanted to learn the trade.

Nick found himself enjoying the walk. The dawn was bright and nearly cloudless, the day turned warm, and no one bothered him. The mages surely would be watching the roads and the ports, and no one would be looking for him wandering the countryside.

He gnawed on a hard biscuit Spider had packed for him, and was pleased to find he had dried meat and fruit as well. The first day he avoided people and just ate his provisions supplemented by a few stolen peas and beans from untended fields. One of his waterskins held wine, the other water. He drank the water and decided to rid himself of the wine as soon as he found an inn; carrying both was awkward and too heavy for a long journey.

By midafternoon he came upon a narrow dirt road and followed it. He reached a village before dusk and found a tavern. There was no inn, the village was too small and too out of the way to support one, but the drinking establishment would do.

The owner was pleased to trade stew and ale for the wine, and didn't mind if Nick slept in the stable either. The duke kept the skin from the wine though, and just shoved it empty into his knapsack. There was plenty of fresh water available, and for now he didn't need to carry large amounts of it. But if he could convince Sandy or another dragon to take him back to Anglia, he would need water and food for the journey. He wouldn't be able to cook fish as he had before, and he might very much need the dried meat and fruit then as well as a lot of water.

In the morning he told the innkeeper his story and got coppers in exchange for two silvers, saying that the money was all his father could spare for the journey and he needed to be careful with it. In sympathy the man gave him a free breakfast and Nick went on his way, pleased he wouldn't have to show any large coins for a very long time. He didn't want to be targeted by thieves and showing gold would not only be dangerous but would also make people suspicious of his story. He had a few other coppers and some silvers too, plenty for him to get to the west coast.

Nick soon discovered that farmers have a good deal of food, a lot of work to do, and very little money between crops and were more than willing to give him dinner, breakfast, and a place in the barn to sleep for just a copper and an hour's labor.

Fortunately, the first place he stopped didn't ask him any questions when he showed his copper. The farmer wanted help milking his cows, a chore Nick had never even seen done much less tried himself.

He knew theoretically that the milk came out of the udder. Nick perched on a stool by a cow's side, put the pail underneath and tried pulling on a teat. The cow turned her head and looked at him and then swished him with her tail, but very little milk came out. The bag certainly looked full, but he must be doing something wrong. He peeked behind him at the farmer who was quickly filling his pail and tried to observe his technique.

Nick tried again. The cow swished him harder, mooed, and lifted her near hind foot. The duke shied away. He hadn't even thought about getting kicked. Behind him he heard laughter.

The farmer said, "Here, like this," and showed him how to roll his fingers down the teat. "Where are you from, you don't know how to milk?"

"Um, my father owned a . . . a store. I've never done farm chores before."

The man shook his head and said, "How about wood. Can you chop wood?"

Nick knew how to do that from his camping trips with his brother Richard. At his nod, the farmer said, "Okay, you go chop wood there around the side of the house, I'll do this."

The duke dug his gloves out of his pack and went to work. The farmer snickered at the gloves when they went in to eat, but Nick didn't care. As the son of a merchant he wouldn't have callouses on his hands, so at least his revised story would work.

The next morning when he left after breakfast, Nick realized he really was enjoying himself. It was a little drizzly, but he didn't have any paperwork, no one was waiting for him to solve problems or use his magic for anything. It was the first time since he'd become an adult that he didn't have any responsibilities. There wasn't even a deadline for him to get home.

He chose prosperous-looking farms for his stops. They had better food and cleaner barns. He often got food to take along with him from the farm wife, so he ended up throwing away his hard stale rolls.

He walked for days before the land began to rise and turned rockier, and he knew he was finally approaching the coast. There were fewer farms but more sheep and cattle ranches. He wasn't sure exactly where he was, but when he topped a rise and saw the ocean, he though he might be south of Pech and the dragon beaches. He asked at a cottage and was told Pech was indeed to the north, and he was pleased he'd figured correctly.

At the coast there was no beach where he was, just a cliff face down to the water that ranged from fifteen to fifty feet high with the occasional jumble of rocks at the bottom. There were no villages, farms or ranches right along the coast, just the odd cottage near a path down the cliff to an isolated bit of land, often with a small boat drawn up on it.

The cottages could give him fish, chicken or goat, and a few vegetables from a garden for his copper, but didn't have more than the chicken coop and a goat shed for outbuildings so he often had to sleep outside. Three days of walking brought him to the top of a cliff above a wide sandy expanse. He could see a line of rocks far out in the sea and little dots rising and falling from them. By the elongated shape he knew they were dragons, not birds.

The young duke tried calling out to them, but their behavior didn't alter. Either the dragons didn't notice him or didn't care about him. He walked along the cliff looking for a way down, but didn't find a path. It was about thirty feet high there, too far to jump or scramble.

Maybe the dragons were used to seeing people walking around on shore. Nick decided he would wait for a while and walked over and sat down on the cliff above a small blue windowless building halfway between the base of the cliff and the water. No one seemed to be there and at first he didn't realize what it was. There was nothing around it to indicate anyone lived there except four fat stone pillars set wide apart in a square pattern in front of the odd little house; then he noticed there was no outside handle on the door.

He immediately lowered his profile so he was just peering over a rock at the edge. After an hour or so a mage walked out of the building. Nick didn't recognize her, but he knew what she was since the only way into the house was by transporting magically, and besides she was wearing the bright colors the mages favored. He kept his head down, just peeking now and then to see what was happening. The dragons were rising from the distant rocks and flying into shore, and some rose out of the ocean as well. Feeding time.

The larger creatures landed below him on the beach, surrounding the square while the mage shot unformed magic into the pillars and the ground between them. Some of the smaller dragons landed behind the large ones and some landed on the cliff near him, waiting their turn. A dark brown one he thought he recognized spoke to him in his head.

I know you. You Prince Henry.

"Mahogany?" Nick whispered.

Yes, that you sound for me.

"Can the mage below hear you?"

No, you want me to think to her?

"No! I'm hiding from her; I don't want her to know I'm here."

Okay, we all ignore you.

"When she leaves, could you ask Sandy to come and talk to me?"

Sure. I go now, big dragons done and mage gone too. Time for nice yummy magic.

The smaller dragons dropped off the cliff and Nick watched them glide to the sand. The mage was gone and most of the big dragons were either launching themselves into the air or sliding into the water. The smaller dragons gathered among the pillars, some lying on the sand between them and some licking the cylinders of stone.

Nick felt a breeze and saw a shadow over him. He looked up and a large tan dragon he recognized landed beside him.

"Sandy? It's nice to see you again."

Prince Henry, there's something wrong with you.

"No, I'm fine. I wanted to talk to you about taking another trip."

Your magic isn't right.

Nick looked around but there was no one in sight. He pulled back his jacket and shirt sleeves and showed one of his red bracelets. "These have iron in them so I can't do normal magic. I can still ground power though," he added, knowing Sandy's concern was mainly for his ability to provide magic to the dragon.

Not as good, but better than nothing. I'll take you down so you can put some in the feeding ground for us.

Before Nick could respond, Sandy enclosed him in one fist and fell off of the cliff, opening his wings and landing by the pillars. The big dragon set him down and all the small dragons that were still there stared at the human.

Well, good will was worth something. The duke walked around, pulling power and grounding it as he walked. The dragons all waited politely until he finished, and then Sandy laid down on one area he'd infused and the others crowded into the rest.

Nick thought it was the right time to ask for a favor while the big dragon was soaking up his magic.

"Sandy, I need to get back to Anglia. You brought me here, would you take me back?"

Don't be silly. Why would I go back there?

"You said the magic there was good, and I could give you more. And you're kind of responsible for me being here against my will."

There isn't enough magic there for all of us. And we've already tasted it, why go all the way there when we have perfectly good magic here.

"Everyone doesn't have to go; I just need one dragon to take me there. Then you could come back. I would give you a reward, what would you like?"

Sandy snorted and gazed off at the ocean. No, I have everything I need. My friends and family are here, I would never leave them. There are plenty of fish, and the mages give us good magic. So no, Prince Henry, find someone else to take you. None of us will, none of us would go off alone no matter what the reward.

"Are there other dragons I could ask?" Nick wasn't sure he could trust any other dragon, especially with no magic to defend himself, but he was far less likely to be captured among the dragons than he would be trying to get on a ship. He would just have to take the chance.

There's another group of us on the other side of the human place up the coast, but we told them all about Anglia and what it tasted like, so I doubt they would want to go either.

"Would you put me back up on the cliff? My stuff is there."

Sandy obliged and then flew off toward the distant rocks. Nick picked up his pack and waterskin and started trudging north. It wouldn't hurt to ask the other dragons in spite of Sandy's doubts and it was too soon to expect a lower level of vigilance in the ports.

He was surprised when he reached Pech. He had expected a squalid little fishing village, but it turned out to be a nice-looking town. From a hill above he could see piers and a few fishing boats, but also two inns, a number of stores and quite a few houses.

But a large town also meant there could be mages around. Nick decided to take the chance and went down into Pech. He needed to replace the remainder of his provisions with fresher dried provender and he also wanted to take a closer look at the boats.

What he really wanted was a hot bath, a shave, and clean clothes, but he didn't dare. The bath alone would expose his bracelets and he didn't want anyone looking at him closely as an innkeeper might. Right now he was dirty, smelly and hairy, and he was fairly sure he could walk right past most people in his peasant clothing and they wouldn't pay the slightest attention to him, including the mages who were searching for him.

The young duke bought what he needed and walked down to the wharf. The boats there were small, and he could see the ones out in the ocean were too. Beyond them he could just make out a reef or rock barrier in the distance so the fishermen couldn't go out far and they were sheltered from the worst of the waves. None of the craft he saw were big enough to survive an ocean voyage, even if they could get through the barrier. He walked away and headed out of the north side of town.

It was late and he needed a place to sleep. He thought of the nice soft bed he was passing up back at the inns, but found a large manor house with an extensive stable. Nick knew better than to go to the front door. Instead he found the stable manager and offered his copper for food and a place in the hay.

The man sneered at him and demanded three coppers. The duke stayed in character and bargained for two, and the superior servant agreed. Nick got a plateful of good food, but not much sleep. There were three stable hands and at least twenty horses that he had to share with, and one of the men snored.

He got the same breakfast as the hands and went on north. By midday he spotted another beach with a half dozen dragons snoozing on it near a green windowless building with the same sort of pillars outside it. The cliff was just a ten foot slope there, so he slid his way down and approached a large tan dragon that was awake and gazing out to sea.

Nick was a little worried. He couldn't shield or protect himself, but these were very similar to the dragons he had traveled with so he didn't expect them to be aggressive.

He walked up to it and gave a little bow as the dragon turned its head toward him. "Greetings, I am a traveler who wishes to go to Anglia. Great and powerful dragons such as yourself could certainly carry a human that far."

The dragon looked at him lazily and responded, Go away, you're annoying me.

"I could reward you when we arrived. What would you like?"

The powerful creature looked more alert as it lowered it head to his level. I am getting quite annoyed now. Do you want me to eat you?

"Ah, no, please don't. Perhaps there's another dragon that might be interested?"

None of us wants to go flying all over the place. Besides there's not enough magic there to support our tribe. Try the war dragons; sometimes they do things alone. They're in the hills over there. Now go away or I'll bite off your head.

Nick gave another quick bow and quickly scrambled back up the rise. The hills the tan dragon had indicated looked steep and rocky, and he suspected they were farther way than they looked. He started walking.

If nothing else, he was doing a good job wasting time and eventually the mages would stop looking for him or at least not look so hard. The duke wasn't entirely sure he wanted to meet war dragons, but he felt he had to try it. He couldn't remember doing anything could get him killed without magic to protect him. Talking to the shore dragon didn't count; he respected them, but didn't fear them at all. A war dragon was a different creature entirely.

Others were brave and fought battles and risked death or maiming without magic. Was he that brave or was he a coward? Nick wasn't sure, but if he faced the more aggressive war dragons maybe that would prove to himself that his courage wasn't just a product of his magic.

It took two days to reach the foothills, and by then those hills looked more like mountains. The next day he found a track and followed it up to a quaint village nestled in a high valley. He filled his second waterskin at the village well, but found what he wanted in a meadow above the town. There was a small yellow and green striped windowless house with four pillars out in front of it. He withdrew into a group of pines where he could watch the meadow, and settled down to wait.

But he was too late for that day's feeding, so he pulled out his cloak from the bottom of his knapsack and wrapped himself up in it as the sun dropped below the peaks. He was still a little chilly but he didn't want to draw attention to himself with a fire.

He slept fitfully, but woke early to a gust of wind and the sound of dragon wings. Nick withdrew a little and ate and donned his knapsack and waterskins over his cloak. He wanted to be ready to ride on a dragon if he got the chance. He move closer where he could watch for the appearance of a mage, staying low behind tall grass and bushes at the edge of the meadow.

The dragons were smaller, more slender, and moved more quickly than the shore dragons and came in bright colors. Various shades of red, green, blue and purple predominated, but he saw a few orange and yellow as well. Eventually the yellow and green door opened and an older mage came out and began feeding magic into the pillars and the ground between them. The dragons crouched at the edge of the area and Nick stayed very still, even holding his breath when the mage was facing in his direction.

When he was done, the mage simply disappeared and the duke knew he had transported to his next stop on his rounds. The dragons surged forward and Nick waited a little while and then stood up and walked slowly out of the trees. He needed to talk to the dragons before they were all done absorbing the magic and left, but he also didn't want to startle them or annoy them while they were still feeding.

When the larger creatures were finished and the smaller ones had taken their places, Nick approached the biggest one near him. It looked at him and cocked its head slightly to one side, but did nothing else which was encouraging.

He bowed a little--it never hurt to be polite--and said, "Greetings. My name is Nick and I am looking for a dragon to take me to Anglia. How may I address you?" He didn't want to tell them he was Prince Henry; they didn't seem to talk to the mage who came to feed them, but he couldn't be sure they wouldn't.

The big green dragon responded by showing its teeth and lowering its head to right in front of the duke. Give me one reason I shouldn't bite off your head.

Why did they all want to decapitate him? He quickly responded, "While I'm currently unable to do magic out of my hands, I can still ground it through my feet."

The dragon lifted its head and replied, Show me.

Nick walked around between the pillars pulling in magic and grounding it while the dragons watched. When he was done he stepped out of the square and the creatures began tasting what he'd left for them.

When they were finished, the green dragon turned back to him. You are foolhardy to come here unexpectedly, Mage. What do you want from us?

"I want a ride to Anglia, a land to the north of here."

You would provide magic on the journey and when we arrived? But there would be none on the way back. That would make returning difficult or the dragon that took you would have to stay.

"That's true," Nick agreed. He didn't really know, but perhaps the war dragons used magic more quickly than the shore dragons.

A red dragon pushed forward. What about meat? Once in Anglia, you would provide meat as well as magic?

"I would, for one dragon. I couldn't provide enough magic or meat for all of you."

Nick waited while the dragons' heads turned toward each other as they conversed among themselves. Finally the green dragon thought to him, None of us wants to go to Anglia alone. It is a place where the old stories say bad things happened, many dragons and mages died. Here we are safe and can live our lives in peace. Magic is given to us although we must hunt our own meat, but that is not difficult.

I would consider going. A medium-sized blue dragon pushed forward, and Nick was amazed to see it change color. The blue faded to pale gray that darkened almost to charcoal.

The red dragon commented, That's the mage killer. What do you think will happen to you, Mage, if you trust him?

Nick avoided the question. He didn't know anything about dragons called mage killers, if that actually was a type of dragon, and there was something about this dragon that scared him. They were all waiting for him to say something. "Um, I never saw a dragon that could change color before."

If you look at me closely you will see that my spines are different too, and my claws are shorter. I am not meant to fight with tooth, claw and tail. I am the only remaining dragon that can do magic.

Time to go, thought the green dragon. Another agreed, Yes if the mage killer eats him it would be better if we didn't witness it.

In a high wind, a burst of sound, and flashes of bright colors the war dragons flew off leaving the duke facing the mage killer. The way the creature was examining him made him very uneasy and he wished he could shield, but he was also intensely curious.

The dark dragon moved toward him and Nick thought it would be smart to keep him talking until he had a better understanding of what the creature might do. And he was too far from the trees to be able to escape into them before the dragon could catch him.

"I didn't know any dragons were made that could do magic."

The mage killer stopped advancing and replied, There were only eleven of us. Eleven mages each gave a part of themselves to create us and eleven mage-dragon pairs fought together. The number eleven was amusing, we thought the enemy would count and assume at first there were ten of us, and when they discovered the eleventh they would fear there were twelve and waste their time searching.

The dragon took a step closer. Nick refused to back up, even though he was starting to wish he was a mile away. "You need to feed on magic, but you can do magic?"

They made us without an aperture so we would be dependent on our mages. I have channels and reservoirs and ejectors and can do magic as well as any mage, if I can absorb enough. The little I get now I use to make myself appear as a war dragon as well as the usual need for magic to fly.

"Why are you hiding among the war dragons rather than living with other dragons such as yourself? And why are you called a mage killer?"

We were designed to kill enemy mages and there are no more of my kind left. At the end of the fighting there were only two of us alive, both wounded and without our slain mages. Like many other dragons, we followed the ships coming here. I had an injured wing and couldn't fly well, but lagging far behind saved me. When the mages on the ships discovered my friend following them with the other dragons, they attacked him with their magic and killed him. I stayed below the horizon, flying low and trailing the other dragons that were flying high in the air as far back as I could. If the mages knew I was here they would kill me too, so I cannot allow you to tell them. We leave here together or I leave alone.

For the moment Nick ignored the threat. "You're one of the original dragons? But that would make you hundreds of years old, at least."

The dragon took another step towards him. Are you afraid I'm too old and frail to fly all the way to Anglia?

The duke could see the dragon looked sleek and healthy, and wasn't sure if it was lying to him or not.

What I want is a place where I can live without hiding what I am. I would need your protection and the protection of your liege lord and a steady supply of magic and meat. In return I would be your dragon friend and protect you and your property. It would not be the same as with my original mage, we would not be as one, but it would be better than here.

"You mean you would stay in Anglia?"

Why would I come back here? I hide among the war dragons and they let me feed with them because they don't want to fight me, but they not my kind. There are no more of my kind so it doesn't matter where I live. Are there many mages in Anglia? I haven't had an intelligent conversation in centuries and it would be nice to be able to discuss magic again.

"No, not many." Nick wasn't sure if he was the only one or not, but there were probably others coming forward now to be in the Royal Coven.

Would anyone there try to harm me?

"Not if you were my friend. I would protect you and the law in Anglia says doing magic isn't an automatic death sentence. If you're a member of the Royal Coven you would be safe just as I am, and there's no law against a dragon joining. The other mages here are looking for me to force me to stay here, so you have no need to worry about me running off and telling them about you either."

Now I see why you didn't just get on a ship. Very well, we will go to Anglia.

It sounded like a good idea to Nick, but he still wasn't sure he could completely trust the creature and perhaps the feeling was mutual. Still, having a loyal dragon that could also do magic would be a tremendous defense against invaders.

"What are you called?" he asked. If this dragon truly had a human partner at one time, he must have a name.

Pwcca, but you can call me "Puck," the last word said aloud. They named all of us after malevolent spirits.

Nick was surprised. "You can talk?"

Yes, but I don't like to. My teeth don't meet together like a human's so I can't say ess well which makes me sound juvenile.

Nick held up one arm and pulled back all the cloth covering the padded iron band on his wrist. "If you can do magic, is there any way you can get these iron bands off my wrists without hurting me? It would be safer to ride you if I am able to catch myself if I fall."

Let me examine it.

Puck touched the band gently with one extremely sharp claw. The duke could see that it was shorter and more slender than the claws of the shore dragons, and wouldn't usually touch the ground when the dragon walked.

The dragon ran the side of his claw around the outside of the padded band, chose a particular spot and sliced open the covering and padding to the metal underneath. Nick could see he'd found the place where the ends of the iron bar met.

"Does the touch of iron bother you?"

Oh yes, but not my claws so much. If I take off the cover it will be loose enough that I think I can insert the tips of my claws and pull it apart.

Nick nodded assent and Puck deftly sliced off the coverings. The bare iron on his wrist was unpleasant, but the dragon quickly put the tip of one claw from each hand into it and pulled. The duke was afraid the pressure would break off the slender tips of the claws, but that didn't happen. The ends of the iron circle parted slowly, and when there was enough space he slid his wrist out. The second cuff was off in a few minutes.

The duke shook his hands a moment as if it was circulation being restored rather than magic as his ejectors filled. It was both pleasant and a little painful, but the pain quickly ceased and he shot unformed magic into the ground.

If you slow down and broaden the flow I can take it directly from you rather than the dirt.

Nick did as Puck asked, and the dragon stepped into what was now a streaming cloud of magic and opened his wings. The mage redirected his flow, widening it to match the creature's impressive wing spread. He could see a faint jagged line that ran down the soft tissue of Puck's left wing; the dragon hadn't lied about having an old wing injury.

Puck slowly turned a black so deep it was like a starless night sky and then said, "Enough." That was wonderful. This is the first time in a very long time that my reservoirs are full. I ate this morning so I am ready to go to Anglia now. Are you prepared?

"Yes," Nick replied as he walked to the side of the dragon to see where he could sit among the spines.

It's too bad my old leathers have rotted away. I had a very nice set in black with a little saddle for my mage and carrying pouches. Do you see the two short heavy spines next to each other? Sit directly behind them and use them to hold on. Let me give you a boost.

The black dragon pulled back his left foreleg and Nick climbed up on it. Puck flicked it up a little and the duke flew up, landing on his belly in the clear space behind the short spines, glad he hadn't been thrown higher and landed on them instead, although the tips weren't sharp like the other spines.

"Uh, thanks, but I think next time I'll just float myself up," he said as he straightened himself out and got settled. He slung the waterskin straps over one spine and his knapsack over the other. "Does that feel okay?"

Yes, it's fine. Mage, is Nick your full name?

"No, I'm Prince Henry Nicholas Warwick, Duke of Sothalia."

Puck turned his head around and Nick felt a rumble underneath him. He was startled to see the dragon grinning at him and realized he was laughing. Apparently mage killer dragons had more control of their faces and tongues than shore dragons as well as having longer thinner toes that increased their ability to manipulate objects.

A prince and a duke? Funny, you don't look like either one. But at least you can probably afford to feed me. Hold on tight.

Nick grabbed the spines and felt Puck gather himself and spring into the air, beating his wings. They rose quickly, circled once, and headed toward the mountains.

"Wouldn't it be easier to head out to the ocean and fly over the water?"

It would be more obvious. We're not out of danger until we are out of sight of Incelia; mages can follow us through the air you know. But they don't bother with the mountains, they just check a few places along the coast. It should be nearly dark when we get there and they only come during the day so we should be able to leave unseen.

The flight through the mountains wasn't too uncomfortable. Nick put up a shield to cut down on the wind and Puck apparently knew the area well. He kept to passes and valleys mostly, occasionally rising over a ridge or zigzagging through a narrow gorge. The duke held on to his spines during the more acrobatic flying, but otherwise had no need to. He realized the mage killer dragon had been made for a rider, the spine padded with bands of muscle that weren't so wide that they stretched his legs apart uncomfortably. If he'd had a saddle it would have been very much like riding a horse, except for the extremes of motion.

They reached the edge of Incelia suddenly. The light had just begun to fade when they came up over a ridge, and Nick could see the ocean. They did a long glide across a downslope of pines and then bare rock. Puck settled on the rocks near the edge of a cliff.

"Why are we stopping?"

Stretch your legs and take care of whatever you need to. I don't plan to stop again until I must or until we reach Anglia. There's no one around.

Nick used his flat shield to float down and did as the dragon suggested. Before it was fully dark he was back on Puck and they were over the water. He took a quick look back and could just see a five hundred foot cliff behind them which explained why the mages didn't bother checking the area much.

Nick hadn't wanted to distract Puck while he was negotiating the mountains, but now he asked, "So do you like fish?"

I can eat it but I'd rather have meat. I like cow, sheep, horse, pig, or deer. But I don't eat humans. It's not that they taste bad, it's just that we were ordered to eat the fallen enemy soldiers and it always felt wrong to my mage, although he didn't have to eat them. But we dragons were given nothing else after a battle.

"Good, I don't want you to eat people. Believe me, I'll find something else for you. But it's a long flight and there isn't anything else around to eat except fish until we get there."

Don't you have a supply of food with you? Will you need fish? Because I had a nice doe this morning and I won't need anything for a few days.

"Yes, I have food and water, but we'll need to stop for . . . um, bodily functions."

No, as long as you can feed me magic, we won't stop and we should be there by morning.

"I think it's going to take longer than that, it took days coming here. And how do I feed you magic from up here?"

Like you did before, direct it down into my body or feed it into those two short spines in front of you. You just have big main channels, but I also have little tiny channels all over plus those spines have both channels and limited ejector capability. I'll let you know when I need it. Hold on, I'm going to full speed.

And suddenly they were traveling at tremendous velocity, and Nick could see it wasn't all from Puck's wings; in fact his wings were barely flapping. The dragon was using magic to propel himself and his wings and tail for stability and steering.

The duke's first thought was that he could really use a saddle. And then he realized they actually were going to be in Anglia by morning, as least on the southern coast. If they arrived in the dark they would have to wait until it was light before he could give the dragon directions. It would take a little while after that to reach Sothalia, but they would be there tomorrow. He would see Elizabeth and be home tomorrow.

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