The Skadivers' Tale

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To the Dragons

TO THE DRAGONS

Early in the morning, they were awakened. Their clothing was all fresh and clean, and bundles of provisions had been delivered for their packs along with plates of food for a hearty breakfast. After the brief period of eating, packing and dressing, the Company was out of the gates of Olden and marching north to the Unknown Isle.

Gensonn was leading the Company, for he alone knew the way. His pace was merciless, but the companions had been well-conditioned and well-fed, so they did not complain or lag. The day was similarly monotonous as the previous days in the stone forest. The hours moved dully on, and it was well after dark before camp was made. They had gone an amazing fifteen leagues through the stone maze, and had no trouble in falling asleep quickly, leaving Gensonn alone at watch. The entire night, he spent gazing into the stars, seeking patterns with his dark mysterious eyes.

Several hours before dawn, he awakened the Company for the day’s march. After a brief morning meal, they obediently broke camp in the silence of the pre-dawn darkness and slipped once more into the alleys of stone. This day had to get them to within a league of the Dragon caves on the edge of the Gelanean Sea.

And so, it did; the Company stopped for the day after twelve leagues. The night passed restlessly for weary travelers, because they knew that early the next morning, they would face the dragons. That was enough to make anyone anxious.

Gensonn was in no hurry when he awakened at dawn. He let his companions sleep until the light awakened them. After all were finally up and stirring about, a long morning meal was enjoyed by all. Lazily, the Company broke camp and began a leisurely pace toward the dragon’s bluff caves overlooking the sea.

The rock passages diminished over the course of the first part of the walk, and the landscape gave way to slightly grassy rolling hills. The air began to change too, with the smell of the salty sea began to come in wafts on the breeze. The two previous days of claustrophobic walls of rock made the group very appreciative of the openness of the new terrain and the freshness of the air. Terry took to wing and was enjoying some up drafting and aerial acrobatics. He was entertaining the marching companions, and was leading the group by a hundred yards or so, when he suddenly turned back to them and flew with all the speed he could muster to land on Genie’s pack.

“What’s your problem, Terry?” she asked. “You’re okay.”

As the Company made its way to the top of the rise ahead, they saw what had spooked the little flying lizard—a dragon. He was sitting in a swale in the middle of the field at the edge of the bluff. The sea had also come into view of the group, but the dragon was more of a concern. He sat calmly looking out over the bluffs, like a watch. Terry became excited and let out a chirp. The dragon heard it and turned towards them. He eyed them for a few seconds and raised his head straight up, releasing a bellowing sound of alarm. When that stopped, he lowered his head to again observe the interlopers.

In a matter of moments, large gray shapes began appearing from below the bluff’s edge. The spectacle of the huge flapping wings of first two, then five, then twenty or more full-grown dragons were landing in a semi-circle formation in the field, and facing the Company.

“Stand perfectly still,” Gensonn suggested. “Kemann, come with me.” The two started walking slowly toward the largest dragon, who had the air of authority about him.

The dragons did not bat an eye at the approach of the humans, who halted a bold ten feet away from him.

“Well!” bellowed the beast, “What brings you hither, Xeltic?”

“Okay, they talk,” Sam muttered to Genie.

“And English,” she added.

“Hail, Mighty Saurus!” Gensonn began. “We come seeking friendship.”

“You come with armament,” the dragon threw back at him.

“True, but not against Dragonkind.”

“We have not spoken to humankind in two thousand years. We have not sought friendship with Humankind in more than four. I ask again—what brings you hither?”

“We are in need of your assistance, Mighty One.”

“You are warring,” stated the dragon. “You seek allies, and you come in the guise of friends.”

“You are very wise, Sir,” Gensonn said.

“You smell of Jaederon,” he came back with his nostrils flaring.

“I am Gensonn, Xeltic apprentice, and this is Wizard Kemann of the Jaederon line.”

“We should burn you where you stand.”

“And none here could stop you,” Kemann said. “But there is another who would seek to bring back the old ways and would seek to enslave Dragonkind once more.”

“And he is also Jaederon.” Concluded the dragon. “We will not aid in your human war.”

“The enemy is not human. He is the Were-Wizard, Styric.” Kemann explained. “His blood is mixed of Jaederon and Werefolk. He has begun his war on us, and he has little regard for Dragonkind.”

“We have survived for eons, Jaederon. Why should we be concerned with your fears?”

“Your numbers were ten-fold before Ingebriggt, Saurus, or so my teachings tell me,” Kemann went on. “Could dragonkind survive another such tyrant?”

“A Wizard of the Jaederon, Ingebriggt was. You are a Wizard of the Jaederon, and a young one.”

“I am Kemann. Our Company comes in friendship.”

“You come in need,” the dragon countered.

“True, but we are at your service,” the young Wizard said with a bow.

“We ask not for your service.”

“And yet, we have already been at your service,” Kemann maneuvered.

“How?” asked the dragon. He eyed Kemann intently and moved his huge head within a foot of the boy.

“We have foiled the Were-Wizard’s plan to recover the rings of Ingebriggt.”

With the mention of that, the dragon snapped back up. It was obvious he knew in an instant what Styric would have done with the rings. But he was also very shrewd, this dragon.

“You foiled him getting the rings. That would mean that you have them.”

“We do.”

The circle of dragons became very uneasy.

“The rings of Ingebriggt in the hands of a Jaederon Wizard. And you claim to seek friendship. Interesting.”

“I have not a single ring,” Kemann replied, holding his hands up that Saurus could see.

“Then where are they?”

Kemann turned to the Company and beckoned them forward. The dragons were even more uneasy. The group assembled in a similar semi-circle behind Kemann. “Show Saurus the rings,” he commanded. The ring-bearers held up their hands and revealed all seven of the rings. The dragon recognized them as what they were.

“You come here, seeking aid. You ask for aid, and yet have the power to render us witless in your control. Curious.”

“We come seeking friendship, but we do need your aid,” Kemann corrected him.

Saurus looked over the Company, and announced, “You show good faith, Wizard. We shall hold council on this and give answer before the day’s zenith.”

Then he took to wing, along with ten others of the semi-circle of dragons. The Company was knocked off-balance by the sudden wind from all directions from their powerful wings. The other dragons remained as they were, but milled about with one another, chatting in their dragon tongue.

“Very good, Kemann,” Gensonn acknowledged. The two turned back to their Company.

“There is nothing to be done now, but await,” Kemann told Hannegelt.

“Dorsea would be proud of you, Wizard,” Hannegelt said.

“The outcome will truly determine that, Hann.”

So the Company made themselves comfortable in the interim. Sitting upon the sparse grass and eating a little to pass the time. Genie and Sam were off to the far side of the group, eating some dried fruit and talking quietly.

“Terry was pretty nervous when all those dragons landed around us,” Genie said.

“He wasn’t the only one. I wouldn’t be surprised if Terry had never seen a dragon before either. He doesn’t look very old,” Sam retorted.

“They sure are big, Sammy. Who’d have thought we’d ever see one, but here we are.”

“I know what you mean. Wonder if I could talk to one,” Sam pondered.

“You’re liable to get into trouble if you go try.”

“Hey, we have two rings of Ingebriggt.”

“You know we can’t use them.”

“I know, but let’s go just talk to one. Who knows if we’ll ever get the chance to again? I mean if they decide not to help us, we’re out of here.”

“Well…” Genie hesitated.

“Come on, Amazon; they’re intelligent creatures, and if they had wanted to toast us, they would have all ready.”

“All right, but only for a minute, okay?” replied Genie reluctantly. “Come on, Terry.”

Terry jumped to her arm.

“You’re going to take him with us?”

“He’s of Dragonkind. It might make us look friendlier.”

“All right,” Sam acquiesced, and the three of them ambled over to the edge of the bluff where three dragons were talking quietly. They seemed at a loss with the approach of two humans.

“Good day, Master Dragon,” Sam said with a bow.

The middle dragon began to laugh with an airy hiss. “Yes, not your ordinary day, though, Master Human,” he replied.

“I imagine not. Would you speak with us, then?”

“I am speaking with you,” he replied impishly, and Sam laughed.

“Yes, you are, aren’t you? I am Samuel, and this is my Lady Genevieve with her friend, Terry.”

“Dragonkind with you, eh?” he asked, then growling some sounds which Terry seemed to understand. Terry growled in reply, then hummed. “You have been very kind to the lizard; I appreciate that. I am called Hazgorn. This is my mate, Vyrna.”

“Delighted to make your acquaintance,” Genie said.

“I had no idea humans were this friendly, the way Saurus tells of the old days,” Vyrna said. Her nostrils flared, and she came in for a closer sniff of Sam and Genie. She growled some Dragonspeak to Hazgorn, and he too leaned in for a sniff.

“You are not from Hordann,” he said.

“No,” Sam said.

“You smell of the Empty Cloud,” Vyrna said.

“The Hordannfolk call it Rent. Yes, we came here through the Empty Cloud,” Genie explained.

“Interesting. No doubt, Terry, as you call him, smells it on you too. Perhaps that is what drew him to you. It is very unusual that Dragonkind take up with humans,” Hazgorn said.

The third dragon had been silent. He suddenly took to wing and glided down from sight below. Terry was visibly flustered, and Genie stroked him to calm him, giving him a kiss on his head.

“So we have been told, but we have no experience in any of that. He’s just our friend,” Genie said with a stroke on Terry’s neck.

“What do you know of the Empty Cloud?” Sam inquired.

“All of Dragonkind know of it. Many of us have flown to it as it passes. It is something of a feat most dragons do upon coming of age, to try to fly into it,” Hazgorn replied.

“But you can’t,” Sam said.

“No, there is no flying into its darkness, but there is the scent of it.”

“So, as we’ve said, we came here through the Empty Cloud, by accident. We are trying to get back home, but we have to fight this awful Were-Wizard before we will know if we even can return,” Sam continued.

“You are engaging this Were-Wizard because he hinders you.”

“Right, we are kind of at Hordann’s service too. We may not succeed without the help of Dragonkind, for time is running out even as we are here,” Genie added.

“If everything is as you say, and we too are endangered, I personally hope for the Council to vote to aid you,” said Vyrna optimistically.

“Thank you, Vyrna,” replied Genie, and Terry began humming.

“Your echo does you credit, Genevieve,” commented Hazgorn.

At that moment, the Council of dragons appeared over the ledge and landed uniformly in the semi-circle again. Gensonn and Kemann approached Saurus.

“We have reached a decision, Jaederon, although I personally voted contrary. Those of Dragonkind who will join you, may join you. Since you have the rings and could do whatever without our consent, you have been granted the cooperation of those dragons who wish to give aid. I cannot ordain our involvement in such affairs, but Dragonkind are free companions, free to do as we wish. Ask me not, for you know my answer.”

“We thank the Council for its decision, and we respect your feelings on this matter, Saurus,” replied Kemann. “May we ask if there are any on the Council who might wish to join us? Their wisdom would be greatly appreciated on such a quest.”

“You may, but there are few, for many are too old for expeditions,” answered the calm old dragon.

“We will accompany you, Wizard,” said two middle-aged dragons of the Council.

“And I,” said a relatively young dragon who was as large as Saurus.

“Of course, I should have guessed,” growled Saurus. “Kondyr, Tallean, and Hazhe. Who else?”

It was apparent that only these three of the Council were young enough and also willing to go. Outside of the circle, Sam, Genie, Hazgorn and Vyrna had been listening to the discussion.

“Would you accompany me, Hazgorn?” Sam asked solemnly.

The dragon stiffened visibly and gave no reply. His mate whispered to him in their tongue. He looked at her, and there was a discussion. The Skadivers could tell that something was wrong. Had Sam said the wrong thing to a forty-foot reptile that could toast him and eat him in a brief moment?

“I shall Accompany you, and only you, Samuel,” Hazgorn answered with a Dragonbow.

“And would you then accompany me, Vryna?” Genie asked.

“Of course. You will wish to be at Samuel’s side, and I wish only to remain at the side of the dragon to whom I am mated,” Vyrna replied with Dragonbow, “I shall Accompany you, and only you, Genevieve.” The sensitive dragon’s romanticism touched Genie, and she smiled at Sam.

Several more dragons from close by also stepped forward to volunteer, and soon, the count was near twenty-five as word spread and others flew up to the top of the bluff. There was a lot of growling in Dragonspeak, and many dragon eyes were on the Skadivers. Word was spreading that these two humans had come through the Empty Cloud and many of the dragons wished to be on an adventure with these instant ‘folk legends’.

Tallean and Gensonn soon reached an amiable understanding and would be dragon and rider. Hazhe had taken an immediate liking to Kemann, and Hannegelt had no trouble in befriending Kondyr, whose mate, Schannea also wished to go and chose Princess Diedra as her companion. Dextmann and Johann found dragon partners easily enough too.

Soon all of the Company had paired with dragons, and Hannegelt called for a meeting to discuss some test-flights after the midday meal, which was already a couple of hours late. It was agreed upon, and dragons and riders went their separate ways until then.

The Company was about half way through eating when Hazgorn and Vyrna flew in with a large fish and a small fish. To the Company, Hazgorn gave the large one, but Vyrna pulled Sam and Genie aside for the small one.

The big fish was roasted by Hazgorn’s breath aflame, and the Company enjoyed ample servings of the juicy meat, but then, Sam and Genie were pulled aside by their two dragons.

“This is a special fish,” Hazgorn said. “It is fairly rare. Take your blade and cut a small piece for each of you.” Sam did as he was asked. “Now eat. It is a special fish we use in such ceremonies. It gives us vision.”

Hazgorn and Vyrna divided the rest of it with razor sharp claws and shared it.

“Sashimi,” Sam said, offering it to Genie.

They ate the fish. It was sweet, and the flesh yielding. Shortly after swallowing it, the Skadivers swooned and slumped to the turf. Hazgorn and Vyrna sat beside them with their eyes closed. The Companions, having seen, rushed to the Skadivers and tried to tend to them. But there was nothing to be done. They lay there motionless with eyes open and pupils dilating while Terry swayed in worry between them.

‘Vision’ was Hazgorn’s word for what the fish imparted. Perhaps there was no word in Dragonspeak/English for ‘hallucination’. The Hordannic sky began to spin and the Skadivers were certainly getting ‘vision’. It was like the entire cosmos was downloading into their open eyes, and then everything that had happened since they had first hit Rent came rushing back to them as well, in fast motion. If they had been conscious, they would have been motion sick. It might have looked horrifying from the outside, as their companions attended. From their side of the experience, Sam and Genie were graced with a certain sense of calm. It made sense to them. When the time in the vision caught up to the exact present, Sam and Genie blinked, and focused on the faces bending down over them.

“Wow,” Sam said. “That was intense. Is there any wine?”

“That’s some wild sushi you got there, Hazgorn,” Genie said. “Did I hear wine?”

Wine was brought to them and heartily consumed.

“How long were we out?” Sam asked.

“About ten minutes,” Kemann figured.

“Seemed like longer.” Sam looked over to see Terry nuzzling Genie. “Note to self: go easy on the ceremonial fish.”

Hazgorn backed the other companions away and looked closely at Sam. Vyrna did the same with Genie. “Are you well?”

“Yes, I think so. What was that about?” Sam asked, shaking his head clear.

“You proposed that we should Accompany you. We accepted,” Vyrna said happily.

“Oh, I think I get it, Sam,” Genie said. “It’s one of those Hordann things like, ‘at your service’.”

“What? So now we are…?” Sam lost his words.

“Bonded,” Hazgorn said plainly.

“Bonded? Like married?” Sam asked. The two dragons laughed in their hisses.

“No, not mated. Bonded. You asked us to Accompany you, and that is a solemn vow. We have now looked into your hearts, and seen that you are brave and kind—two traits Dragonkind hold to. And that was why we agreed.”

Of course, it was an honor to be ‘bonded’ to a lovely pair of dragons. Sam and Genie really didn’t understand what all of that would entail, but it was done, and they would have to figure that out—along with the thousand other things that they had been bombarded with upon their passing through Rent. The surreal quality to their situation was not diminishing, and the psychedelic ‘vision’ that they had just experienced did not help matters either. And now, they were bonded to dragons. Just another day in the life of…huh?

After recovering from the bonding ceremony, the Skadivers were asked to be the first to take a trial dragon flight. It did seem like the logical choice, since they had arrived on ‘Dragonwing’. Perhaps their sky diving experience, and their apparent lack of fear of heights was an advantage. Also, Sam had observed that Hordann had been lacking in the ‘beast of burden’ category. Having had to make the journey they were on by foot, that observation was not one that neither he, nor Genie, had been happy about. As usual then, Sam took a practical approach to the new endeavor.

The dragons’ necks were too large at the shoulder, where it seemed the obvious placement for a rider, for a person to securely hold on with their legs. It seemed like if the dragon was to do any kind of sudden movement, the rider would be ‘thrown’. Sam likened it to bull riding, and proposed adding a rope or a strap around the dragon’s neck that the rider could slip his legs into for some sense of security.

Travelling light on this quest, there was not much in the way of straps or rope amongst them, and the dragons certainly didn’t have any. Sam, however, had packed two hundred feet of paracord in his backpack because of his Boy Scout ‘be prepared’ philosophy. One never knows when one will have to figure out dragon-riding; it’s best to be prepared.

The dragons were not keen on the idea, but they did understand enough to tolerate it, and the paracord was so slight against their thick skin that it really didn’t bother them. Sam had fashioned one around Hazgorn’s neck and tested the fit, making only slight modifications. By his estimation, he would just have enough of the paracord to get everyone fitted if they were not wasteful.

The ‘harness’ was understood by several of the Company, who were watching as Sam tied it and tightened it appropriately. But no one was starting to cut up paracord until the rig was tested.

“I guess we’re on, Hazgorn,” Sam told his dragon as he mounted.

“You are on,” Hazgorn replied.

“It just means that everyone is watching and we have to do well,” Sam explained. He leaned forward to whisper into Hazgorn’s ear. “We have told these Hordann folk that we came from Sky Hold. Until now, Sky Hold has not existed. Take flight, my friend, and we will show them together what this new place can be. Just take it easy to start, though.”

Hazgorn laughed his hiss. “Just do not fall off. I will take you to New Sky Hold.” And with that, he sprang up into the air, as he had done all of his life.

Now Sam was glad he had made the harness. Truly the takeoff was much like bull riding, but once in the air and moving easily, all was well. The air rushed by and Sam felt a similar freedom to riding his motorcycle back home, only this was on a dragon! The exhilaration, the motion, the height, the quiet and the bond between this magnificent animal and him blended into an experience unlike any in this world or back home.

They circled the group at the top of the bluff, and when they passed over the edge of the precipice, Sam felt Hazgorn catch the up draft and they paused briefly lifting higher. Then Hazgorn tucked his wings and went into a dive. The acceleration was very much like the jump from a plane, with which Sam was familiar through his sky diving experiences. When Hazgorn opened his wings to swoop near the shore, the deceleration was not nearly as abrupt as the opening of a parachute, but Sam felt himself get very heavy with the G-force.

“You are not frightened, Samuel?” asked Hazgorn, seemingly a little disappointed that Sam sat enjoying the experience and not squeamish as the dragon had expected.

“No, this is awesome!” exclaimed Sam. “You are awesome, Hazgorn.”

“I thank you. To the top, then?”

“Sure, Genie is going to love this!”

Hazgorn’s wings began to labor for the climb, and Sam could really get a feel for the physical ability of his dragon. Even though Hazgorn was not fatigued by the ascension, the amount of force needed for it had to be great, and Sam was duly impressed. But then, dragons were born to fly, and it came as natural to them as walking is to a person. But this was so much more fun than walking, and Sam had had enough of that recently to last him for a long time.

They came back over the rise of the bluff and set down gently, with Hazgorn spreading his wings to slow to a stall, timed to his feet touching down. Once again, Sam felt the similarities to sky diving in flaring his ’chute for landing.

All eyes were upon them as Sam dismounted and hopped to the ground.

“Okay! That was excellent,” Sam announced. He bowed to his dragon. “Thank you for the ride, Hazgorn.” Turning to the others, he said, “The harness was fine, so let’s make the rest of them. And you are in for a real treat!”

The harnesses were made ready and fitted. Sam had seen to Genie’s harness, and supervised several others before the test flights began to go in ones and twos. Genie and Vyrna waited for Sam to be free to once again mount Hazgorn, so that they might ‘accompany’ one another on this occasion.

Genie and Vyrna took off, followed closely by Sam and Hazgorn. She began to experience the exhilaration of dragon flight, as Sam had at first, and to note the similarities that Sam had mentioned while he worked on her harness with her.

“You fly very well, Vyrna,” Genie told her as they circled the bluff.

“One cannot sit in the caves intellectualizing and reciting all day, so I fly,” replied Vyrna. And with that, she tucked her wings as a falcon diving for a rabbit. The wind through Genie’s strawberry blond hair coming out of the helmet, made it whip behind her, and she had to squint to see with the wind reaching nearly one hundred miles per hour in her face.

“Woohoo!” Genie shouted. Vyrna pulled up and skimmed the ocean at great speed, then slowed and dipped her claws into the water to pull out a fish.

“I hate to waste a good dive, when there is a snack to be caught,” Vyrna said glibly. She tossed the fish high and flew in to gulp it down in a single swallow. The maneuver caught Genie off guard, and she was thankful for the harness, without which, she would have fallen into the sea. When she righted herself, she caught sight of Sam looking on, concerned. But she was fine and smiled. She looked up to see Terry diving down to meet them. The little flying lizard came in close and landed on Genie’s arm. He was so cute, but Vyrna growled something in Dragonspeak, and Terry took to wing again.

“I told Terry that he must fly himself,” Vyrna explained. “I cannot accept a lazy dragon.”

“I understand well,” Genie agreed.

There was a trumpeting sound heard from above. “Kondyr calls,” Hazgorn said.

“That is Hannegelt’s partner, I think,” Sam commented.

“Yes. Kondyr is a wild one,” remarked Vyrna. “Saurus, his sire, cannot stand his attitude. His mate, Schannea, is a dear friend of mine.”

And with that, they began to make the climb back to the top to rejoin the others.

Sam had been watching the two ladies on their first flight, and he couldn’t help but smile. He was continuing to enjoy his ride too, but somehow, having the four of them together was more satisfying than the two guys alone. The two dragons flew up together in close formation.

“I didn’t think I would need my goggles on this quest,” Genie said over to Sam.

“Welcome to New Sky Hold, my lady!” Sam shouted in joy. “For with the help of our new friends, we have arrived.”

As much as Sam and Genie had been enjoying themselves, several of the Hordann folk were not. They were not prepared to have the feelings associated with speed and height and dragon flight. When they landed, some of their dragons did their laughing hisses as the riders went to their knees after dismounting.

“What’s the matter with you guys?” Sam shouted over to them.

“We are not of Sky Hold,” Axemann growled back.

“Well, you are now!” Sam responded. “Everyone bow to your dragons, for they are magnificent!”

The Company got it together enough to know that Sam was right, and that they needed to show respect for their new friends. They all bowed and expressed gratitude. The gesture was truly appreciated by their dragons, for they were proud souls. Carrying Humankind could easily have been considered demeaning for them, so a little ‘thanks’ went a long way.

And a long way lay ahead for them all.

But for the moment, Hannegelt, who had not dismounted, called his companions. “My friends, Kondyr calls for a meeting at the Council Cave!” he shouted. There was some general grumbling by some of the less daring riders, but all re-mounted their ‘steeds’ and took off for the Unknown Isle.

It was easily in view at only two miles from the bluffs, and the group made the over-sea trip in a matter of minutes. They approached from below and came up to a flat place at the mouth of the Council Cave. They glided to the edge and deftly landed and walked into the dim cavern, where the riders dismounted.

Mostly, the cave looked like it was a natural formation, and an ideal setting for a large group of dragons to convene. Although the dragons might have been capable of using tools to modify such places for their own use, it had always been against their philosophy to do so. There were elements inside the cave that spoke to the industry of Dragonkind. A number of large vats, all alike, were lining the back wall of the cavern. They were covered with woven lids made from some fibrous strands similar to palm leaves. Inside the vats, Sam was delighted to learn was dragon-made wine. It was already being sampled by the first to arrive.

Sam and Genie got a wineskin full of it, since there were no vessels suitable for humankind to drink from. It was a medium-sweet, dry wine and had a good body to it.

“Hazgorn, what type of wine is this?” Sam asked cautiously, for fear of some other kind of psychotropic ingredient.

“Grishen,” he answered. “We cultivate it outside the freshwater caverns on the far side of the island. We hope you relish it as much as do we.”

Kemann started the assembly by lighting his orb, and everyone was drawn to the glow. Hannegelt began.

“It has been decided that we should make back to Olden,” he announced. “We must consult with the Xeltic Priests to coordinate with Lord Gildenhanna. If our new friends agree and would fly us there as our first venture together, then we should be off.”

“How about it, Hazgorn? Are you and Vyrna up for a flight to Olden?” Sam asked.

“Shall we go to Olden tonight?” he asked Vyrna.

“If you wish, Hazgorn,” she replied, and Genie could not help laughing aloud, for the two mated dragons were so humanlike in their manner. She also admired the amount of care and consideration each had for the other.

Kondyr growled his Dragonspeak, and there was an echoing response in kind. “We agree,” he said simply.

“Then let us drink to our new friendship and for good fortune on our joint quest.” He raise a skin and the Company drank with the dragons.

Sam leaned over to Genie and whispered, “And here’s to the Air Force.”

With the ceremonial toasting completed, the dragons bowed low for the Company to mount them. They wasted no time in turning to the cave mouth and rising on the coastal breeze.

Sam counted the twenty-five dragons to find it had become twenty-eight, cruising in a wedge formation, led by Kondyr and Hannegelt. There must have been something about this formation that was just natural. Geese and ducks on long journeys used it on Earth, and the dragons used it on Hordann. It occurred to Sam that perhaps Mother Nature was broader than any one little planet.

The new ‘Air Force’ (of New Sky Hold, as it would come to be called) kept up a good pace. The Skadivers estimated the flight at about two thousand feet, and travelling at roughly forty miles per hour. Sam did some quick math in his head to figure that their pace would be better than one day of walking per hour of flight.

“About two hours to Olden,” Sam called over to Genie.

She thought about it, and liked the idea of the first leg of the journey would be short, with this new conveyance. No doubt neither dragon nor rider was accustomed to this manner of travel, and to get used to it physically might take a while. But she was perfectly comfortable upon Vyrna and chatted with her along the way. Terry seemed to be a little stressed, however, as his small frame was not built for distance at this speed. It’s not that he was not in shape for his normal lifestyle, but this was not normal. After a suitable amount of time, Genie convinced Vyrna that the little flying lizard could not keep up the pace. Vyrna acquiesced to let him ride for a while, but informed Genie that he would get stronger with time if he was not babied more than was necessary. So, Genie called Terry to her as they flew, and the flying lizard gladly joined her, panting as he clumsily landed on the moving target.

Sam and Hazgorn also chatted along the way. As he had little else to do while riding, Sam spent time looking at the clouds, wondering if he could spot Rent floating in the Hordann sky, but they were all just regular clouds like he might have seen in Earth’s sky.

“Hazgorn, how often does the Empty Cloud pass?” Sam asked.

“It is not regular, Samuel, but we see it perhaps three times a year.”

“But it might be more if it were also to pass by night?”

“I had not considered that,” the dragon admitted.

“How does Dragonkind come to speak so well?”

“Every dragon is required to learn your language. Ever since Ingebriggt abused us in our ignorance, it has been taught and practiced.”

“That’s very wise,” Sam said. “Do you like it?”

“It is interesting, but it does not have the elegant expressions of Dragonspeak.”

“Fair enough,” Sam commented, and he smiled at the dragon’s accent. Elements of the fundamental sounds of Dragonspeak were present in their English, but that was probably because of their anatomy not being ideally suited to speak any human language. The fact they could speak it at all was a feat, and for them to speak it so well was nothing short of amazing.

“Olden,” Hazgorn observed.

“I don’t see it,” Sam said, squinting at the horizon.

“You don’t have dragon eyes.”

It was another five minutes before Sam could begin to make out the city’s structure in the distance. The sunset was creating a beautiful vista as the Company came to Olden. The dragons with riders set down in the square next to the bath house, and the others landed upon the city walls, awaiting further instruction. Gensonn told the dragons to bath, if they wished, and that they would be shown to the entrance to one of the natural caverns that the city had been built upon. They were not at all adverse to the idea, so their riders departed to the High Priest’s chambers.

Dyreon was glad to see them and to hear of their success with the dragons, but he seemed preoccupied with his thoughts, for he watched the movements of Gildenhanna and Dorsea with his powers of divination.

“What is the news of my father’s journey, Dyreon?” Hannegelt asked after they were all settled.

Dyreon’s expression became grim as he looked thoughtfully at Hannegelt before he answered.

“Good fortune and Chance were with them at Kyre, but now, they are facing other perils of Jawa. Their band of seventy men and barbarians are trying to make their way to Dalyr Point. Even now, they are outnumbered by a band of tribesmen, who surround them.”

“I see,” Hannegelt said with a sigh. “And how far are they from the Point, and to Styric’s Hold?”

“Two and a half days if they be unencumbered. Three is more likely, if they can pass through the Dalyr tribe who now face them.”

“And on Dragonwing, we are sixteen hours out,” Kemann remarked. “But we cannot expect to fly straight through. The dragons are strong, but that is asking too much, and they would be exhausted at arrival.”

“Even if we left now and flew through the night, we would be too late to aid Lord Gildenhanna,” Beamann commented.

“No, the tribesmen will either attack at once, or they won’t attack at all,” Dyreon stated. “Much is left to Chance and to Wizard Dorsea’s skill, for they would stand no chance in open battle against such numbers.”

“My father and his Wizard depend on Destiny, and leave too much to Chance, I fear,” Hannegelt said, frustrated.

“Regardless of their situation,” Kemann began, “our instructions remain the same. Should they fare well, and make the Point, then good; we shall meet them. Should they fail, we still must continue. It would mean facing Styric on our own, if that is our Destiny.”

Dyreon’s face was calm. “Stay here the night. By morning, you will know which course is yours.”

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