The next morning was overcast, with a fine mist hanging over their rock and a thick fog rolling in from the north. Arabella felt a little guilty about the large bundle she’d made of her plunder from the dragon’s cavern. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, wondering if he was regretting his offer now that he saw how much she’d taken. He didn’t appear to be aware of her at all, however. He was staring out to sea with an intent look, as though watching something.
Arabella stared as well. “Is there a ship?”
“Pardon? Oh, no, I see nothing out there.” The dragon gave a curious shiver. “It is inside that I am seeing something.”
“Inside? Are you feeling ill again?” She put a hand on his side and probed for pain, but felt none. “Perhaps you should rest another day.” She said it half worriedly, half hopefully, and the dragon laughed.
“Get on. Or should I carry you?”
“No,” she sighed. “I will get on.” She hitched up her skirts and accepted the help of his long clawed fingers as she scrambled on to his back, lugging her bundle with her. She was grateful that he made no comment on its size.
“Slide back a little,” he ordered. “To where my neck meets my wings. That will be the safest and most comfortable place for you.”
“Have you carried people before?” she asked as she slid obediently backward.
“Nay, most are too frightened of me to come anywhere near.”
“I can understand that.” She settled her bundle in front of her. Her perch was surprisingly comfortable, with the dragon’s neck rather thinner there so that her thighs were not strained to straddle it, and the bones of the wing a support behind her.
“You dared come near.” Anthony snaked his head around to look at her.
She smiled ruefully at him. “I was desperate.”
“Do you feel desperate any longer, Arabella?” he asked as he turned slowly around to face the water, his tail sliding back into the mouth of the tunnel.
“Nay,” she said thoughtfully. “I do not. Mostly thanks to you, I believe. You have convinced me that, though a grievous sinner, I am not damned for all eternity.”
“I’ve always wondered about that,” Anthony said, flexing his wings.
“Whether any unwilling human is damned for all eternity.”
Arabella gasped at this heresy.
“Well,” Anthony said defensively. “All eternity is a long time for a loving God to punish someone. Having experienced God’s good justice myself, I rather doubt that any person willing to make reparations for his sins would be damned. I think damnation is something you choose.”
“You choose! Whatever do you mean?”
“I mean you choose Satan rather than God, you reject God as we are told to reject Satan. It must be an active sin, not a passive one. And you wouldn’t cry about it afterward.”
Arabella shook her head. “Do all bishops have such strange thoughts, or is it just you?”
Anthony’s wings flapped slowly. “I believe I have passed far beyond being a bishop. I think I am seeing a glimmer of what I was sent to learn.”
Before she could ask him what that was, he launched himself off the rock. Arabella shrieked as the air whipped the wimple from her head, and they dropped toward the water. It seemed to her they dropped for an eternity before the huge wings began to flap. Their fall slowed, and they soared up and away from the rocks and the waves, climbing into the sky. Arabella had to tell her lungs to take a breath. She scooped in air with a desperate heave, and threw herself forward over Anthony’s neck, trying to find a handhold. Her fat bundle of treasures was squeezed tightly between her and the dragon, as her hands scrabbled for purchase.
“Stop that, you’re tickling me.” Anthony twisted his head around. “Don’t be frightened. If you drop off, I’ll catch you.”
Arabella stared at him, lacking the breath to tell him his statement did not reassure her, and she wished he would attend to what he was doing. She was relieved when he faced forward. He leveled out into a steady flight, and she began to relax. She watched the water skimming by below her, and gradually she was able to draw a normal breath. This must be what a hawk or a falcon feels like, she thought. This freedom, this amazing release from the bounds of the earth. She sat up a little and watched open-mouthed, as they swooped around the island. She closed her eyes, feeling the wind rushing through her short hair, the faint mist in the air dampening her face. It was wonderful.
Anthony seemed to feel so too, for he suddenly bellowed, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders over vast waters. And in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’”
Lacking such erudition, Arabella merely threw her head back and yelled as loudly as she could in response. They sailed in over the mainland, and the dragon bellowed again, a wordless cry of joy. The shoreline passed in the blink of an eye, and they were soaring over the trees. Daringly, Arabella released one hand from her grip on the dragon’s neck. She thrust her arm out and felt the wind whipping past it. She laughed, tossing her head. She took a deep breath and threw out her other hand. She sat there with her arms wide and her head back, shrieking and gripping the dragon with her thighs. She could feel the rumble of his laughter between her legs.
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