10. Her confrontations
“Miss Bryn,” Semon had a calm gentleman like tone, “Who is this girl with you?” He gestured to Lidia.
Lidia planted a disapproving glance on him, “I just told you we are all going to be eaten by a maath and you wish to stop at the side of the path and make conversation? I’m her sister, sir. Now, get out of our way.”
“We must keep moving,” Bryn told anyone that would listen.
Bryn steered Nimble around the assembly of gentleman. They watched her with glazed over expressions. Not fully understanding what was happening.
“What is she speaking of,” Thad asked his companions. They watched the pack rapidly make their way down the path. “There were no reports or news of a maath living in these parts of the woods. I checked the papers myself.”
“Why would they lie about that, Thad,” Arion argued, “Besides, did you not see the bandages on that girl’s legs? She had been attacked recently.”
It did not take much to convince them all it was in their best interest to hurry.
As the gentlemen took up a quick pace to follow the pack, they kept an open eye on every side, but still did not quite notice a very large shadow creeping passed them in the trees.
The pack pushed on as hard as they could without causing pain to Lidia’s legs. Once they had lost sight of the gentlemen, Kai returned to the pack. He did not slow the group down or warn them, he did not have to, the brothers understood him just by glancing at his movements. There was indeed trouble ahead. Animals were all over the forest and they were coming out to stop the pack from reaching their destination.
The pack’s running was in vain, they were fleeing right into Lady El’s trap.
The first wave was the large birds that swooped down to scratch at heads, and pulled at hair and fur.
Bryn yelped when a bald eagle tried to claw at the back of her neck. By the second assault from the eagle Bryn had her pistol drawn, she shot at the large bird forcing the white head to retreat.
As they were all distracted by the enemy in the sky, they hardly noticed as they were also being attacked from the ground. Lorn snarled as he plunged into the lines of wolves that surrounded them. Nimble let off a bellowing roar, startling the ranks as the pack crashed against a mass of animals.
Bryn would take careful aim before firing a shot with her revolver, she wanted every shot to count.
The brothers knew how to brawl together as a unit, but several coming at them at once was more of a challenge.
Burnt held his own. The brothers got him out of scrapes he might never have come back from otherwise.
Lidia was not able to help with her wounds holding her down, it aggravated her greatly. She had pulled out her staff, beating at anything that got close enough. It was painful work and she expected any moment for her stitches to break. Any wrong move or jostle they would tear and she would start to bleed again. She sent up a prayer to lessen the pain, to hold the stitches together. Without her noticing at first, she found the sharp daggers in her legs had abated, and not once did a stitch burst that day.
With a rumbling roar in the distance, the maath crashed in on the bloodbath. The maath could smell the gore and wanted some.
Lidia tried to be brave, but trembled at the noise. Bryn could feel the younger girl quacking, wrapped in her arms.
They had no way of escaping that beast, not while they were pressed with wolves, coyotes, badgers, birds of prey and other woodland predators. Bryn would have despaired if not the unexpected happened. The company of gentlemen came upon them at the same time as the maath, with their weapons drawn. The maath was drilled with bullets from pump-action shotguns and rifles. It caused the beast to turn on the gentlemen.
Even though the pack did not trust or particularly like the gentlemen, they did not wish them to die, so they did their best to assist.
Bryn hardly knew what she was doing. Anything that bore its fangs at her she fired off an ear piercing shots. The girls were startled when Nimble, stood up on his hind legs in his attempt to look foreboding towards a wild mattath that was facing him. Bryn lost her balance and tumbled off the saddle, landing on her back in the dirt. Lidia had a bit more of a warning before it happened. She swung her leg around to sit normal and leaned forward, grabbing at the saddle as Nimble tilted back. She hollered with pain managing to stay in the saddle.
Bryn was on her feet almost as soon as she hit the ground and she aimed the barrel at the wild mattath and shot the animal in the face and then shoulder. It scared off the creature and Nimble was saved the brawl.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Lidia reassured her sister as Bryn approached her again, “I can handle Nimble on my own.” Without another word or letting her sister protest. Lidia kicked Nimble forward and the two of them had their share of damage making.
Bryn hardly had time to rejoin the fray herself, when someone was at her elbow clinging to her arm.
“Arion,” She shouted when she saw him.
“You must come with me,” Arion insisted. He had blood splattered against his chest, staining his leathers, his normally perfect hair was tousled. A rifle was hanging useless in his hand, “It is not safe here.”
“You’re jesting,” Bryn said sarcastically. It was such an obvious thing for him to say that she could not help it. She pulled her arm free from his reluctant grasp, to shoot at a ram that was about to charge.
“I am in earnest,” He followed behind her, “Come with me. I will get you away from here. You would be safer with us not here in the middle of nowhere.”
“You are the reason I am in the middle of nowhere,” Bryn irritably said.
Arion grabbed at her again, this time taking her hand. “I did wrong by startling you. Let me make it right.”
Bryn fired another shot at a wild dog, her heart leapt in her throat as she did. The creature was too haggard and dirty to be one of the brothers, and was about to snap at her neck.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Arion.” She was half tempted to strike him since she could not shake off his grip.
With those words Arion was pushed too far by Lady El’s influence and he became more of a puppet rather than a free thinking man. His grip tightened on Bryn and he dragged her towards his own white mattath. It was hard to drag a woman that was so grounded. Bryn was as sturdy as they come. With a sharp tug she wrenched her arm out of his hand and laid a hard blow to his jaw. He staggered back more shocked that she had punched him. Bryn would not raise her revolver to him, she was physically incapable of shooting him. Arion’s eyes were erupting as he charged at her again, flinging the rifle from him as he did. Bryn dropped her revolver as the two of them collided. As they collided he tried to throw her over his shoulder. She tried to pry him off of her and let him have a few punches and kicks.
Lidia was on the opposite side of the frey when this happened having no idea her sister was in so much danger. She was growing excessively tired just from steering Nimble in the right direction and swatting anything that tried to snap at her legs. The brothers had done their best to stay close, but the fighting at times ripped them from her side.
Nimble reared up once more when four wolves bombarded him. Lidia had no strength to cling on this time so she fell to her side. She was helpless and unable to stand, so she unsheathed her cutlass. She sliced at one of the wolves, while she was still sitting on the ground. Desperate for help she looked around. Her eyes alighted on Bryn, who was being tossed to the ground with Arion on top of her. Lidia’s protective instinct gave her a burning strength as she shouted her sister’s name. She managed to lift herself from the ground to her knees, calling Burnt to her.
Burnt obediently sprang towards her, followed by a coyote that one of the brothers tackled to the ground and maimed without Burnt noticing.
“Burnt,” Lidia tossed a pointing finger towards Bryn. When the dog’e eyes lockedonto Bryn, Lidia instructed, “Defend, Bryn!”
Burnt burst into a run snarling as he sprang onto Arion. Burnt had his jaw around Arion’s shoulder biting down brutally. The man yelped with pain.
It gave Bryn the opportunity to escape from under him, giving him a swift kick between the legs as she did. Once she was arm’s length away she shouted at the guard dog, “Burnt, release. To heel.”
The dog obeyed opening his jaw and stepping from him. He did not remove his guarded eyes from the man as he moved to Bryn’s side. Bryn stared down at the dirty man. He was putting pressure on his shoulder with the opposite hand, it was not bleeding, but would bruise nicely.
“Are you done, sir,” Bryn asked.
He looked into her eyes. There was now anger in him that was beginning to fester. Lady El was warping his mind too much.
“You are going mad now. Is that what you want? If you come at me again, I will not stop Burnt or any of the other dogs that are with me.” With that said Bryn turned her back to him. She snatched up her revolver, her knife was lost in the grass. She aimed at a cougar that was swatting at one of the brothers and fired another round. After that she needed to refill the cylinder. Burnt followed Bryn, and was very aware of Arion’s movements behind them.
Arion thought about what she had said, or he would have if an eagle did not take it into its head that it would scratch his face. In fact, Lady El had commanded the eagle to do so, she was cross with the poor man for failing to carry Bryn away from her sister and away from the book. Arion was forced to defend himself, he was better at it when he found his rifle.
Bryn began to search for her sister, she was growing excessively worried. Lidia had sent her best defence, Burnt, to save Bryn.
“Burnt, seek Lidia,” She did not know if he would understand those commands. The dog’s eyes brightened for a moment. He sniffed the air as he scanned the area with his eyes. He sneezed before bolting away, forcing Bryn to pick up the pace. They passed two of the brothers taking down a cougar, both of the dogs were bloody and staggering. Bryn spotted another one of the brother’s faltering before two lynx. She took aim at one of the cats and struck it in the extended paw. She shot four more times until one lynx fell dead and the other took flight.
She caught sight of Nimble and gasped when she saw his rider was gone. She glanced around to discover she had lost Burnt. While she momentarily panicked someone stepped in front of her. Semon’s had feathers in his hair. His heavy shot gun in both hands.
Bryn inwardly groaned. She did not have it in her to fight off every gentleman as they came at her one by one. In her desperation she frantically tried to think of a way she could talk the man out of it.
“If I gave you the riddles to freeing the dragons would you leave me alone,” She cautiously asked.
Semon did not react right of way. His will was fighting Lady El’s.
“Do you have it,” He asked, still struggling inwardly. The part of him that was not his own told him to attack Bryn, to not heed her words.
Bryn was, unsure if it was wise to share this information. “We have put together part of it. It’s a long story, but my grangran found the answers. The riddle is more than one, it is over sixty riddles to decipher. They are supposed to be put into words.” She let that sink in a moment. “Will you help us or hinder me. Because, I will fight you if you insist, and I will win.”
That simple question, not the threat, broke Semon free. With a deep breath and lowering his weapon he said, “Of course I will help. It’s why I am here.”
Bryn let out all her pent up air and nodded at him. What had possessed Semon, the crazy that was whispering to him, had dissolved from his eyes.
“We have to find my sister,” She explained, “She has the notes.” She looked about her, still not seeing her sister.
“Lidia,” She called loudly, “Lidia!”
“Here,” A distant voice shouted back.
Bryn turned about until she locked onto her little sister. Lidia was standing, bent over, with her back against a tree. She was waving one hand over her head, to catch Bryn’s attention. In her attempt, Lidia was unaware that not far from her was the maath. The raging beast was trying to recover from being blinded in one eye. One of the gentlemen had aimed a true shot and smote it in the socket.
Bryn forgot all about Semon as she raced to the tree, praying the giant would not notice Lidia.
The maath shuffled about before it caught the scent of a human girl.
It was then that Lidia stiffened as she heard grunts coming nearer. She glanced about and spotted the maath between two trees, slowly making its way towards her. Instead of crying out, and since she could not flee, she faced the creature, bloodied blade ready.
Before Bryn could take aim, Burnt burst towards to maath, barking as he faced the maath head on, tempting the maath’s attention away from Lidia. The dog surged upon the maath’s snout and tore at it savagely taking a big chunk off.
The maath snarled with rage. With one swipe of his front paw he knocked the dog away from him. Burnt was on his feet as soon as he hit ground.
Lidia was shouting at Burnt the entire time. She was trying to make him stop, but the dog was deaf to her commands, he was going to defend his owner no matter what.
Burnt did not charge the maath this time, but barked violently. If the maath took any step in the general direction of Lidia, Burnt would snarl and snap his jaws. The maath, growing more and more agitated, swatted the dog aside. It then pounced on Burnt slamming its front paws on the dog’s body, crushing him. This time Burnt did not rise.
Bryn was already at her sister’s side and supporting her up as they both watched the dog take the blows. As Lidia watched her faithful pet fall for the last time, a few tears escaped her stubborn eyes and streamed down one cheek as she gazed at the body, without moving. She wanted to scream, to take the maath on her own, she wanted to do something foolish. Except she had to make sure Burnt’s sacrifice was not in vain.
Bryn lifted her revolver at the maath, trying to aim for the remaining eye. Semon who was at their side also pumped his shotgun and readied to fire it.
The maath, was disoriented since he was partly blind and now could not smell anything but his own blood. Bryn and Semon waited a moment, the beast was so weak.
“What are you waiting for,” Lidia coldly asked.
Semon pulled his trigger first. An explosion of noise came from his big gun. Bryn had to plug one ear as she shot off three of her own rounds.
The maath raved and roared. It tried to charge them, but stopped when an explosion pierced his side. Nestor joined the bombardment. With the three of them attacking the maath, the beastly giant had no chance and collapsed groaning in defeat. They all heard a loud exhale escape his closed jaws, before he stopped moving altogether.
When it was all over Lidia sunk down against the tree. It took all her strength not to weep right then and there.
With the giant maath dead and since the dog-brothers were keeping the still attacking wild animals at bay, away from the humans, Bryn had time to console her sister.
Bryn bent over Lidia, a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Lidia, I need you to listen,” She waited until Lidia raised her eyes, “ Semon said he would help us with the remaining riddles. We need to do this now, if we can. These attacks won’t stop if we don’t. So, do you know where the notebooks are?”
Lidia was having troubles mentally grasping Bryn’s words. There was only a vague recollection of what was said. Without questioning anything she reached into her pockets. Most of her trousers were actually the pockets, because they had cut off the ruined fabric when she was attacked. She pulled out the two journals from separate pockets to hand them to her sister.
Lidia glanced at Semon and Nestor who had joined them. Semon was explaining all he knew to his little brother. Nestor at first appeared to be against his brother, but a few words and one slap across the back of his head later, indicated acceptance and he was as docile as his older brother.
“Do you trust them,” Lidia quietly asked.
Bryn nodded respectfully. “We have to.”
Bryn beckoned the now ready gentlemen to her. With very few words spoken Semon and Nestor sat beside Bryn. With Lidia overlooking them they set to work. Bryn explained what had been found, what they had put together and what was missing. Sir Nestor scanned the verses Lidia had scribbled out. After only a glance he shook his head.
“You have it backwards and misplaced words. They don’t flow.”
“I thought so,” Lidia grumbled. She tried not to take offense of such criticism.
Nestor produced a pen from his coat to begin his work. He completely destroyed Lidia’s progress and jotted down his own notes. Semon watched over his brother’s shoulder and voiced his own opinion on what should be done after each sentence. They even started three arguments that Bryn had to put to a stop.
Several times one of the dog-brothers would make his way over, allowing themselves a rest from the fight in order to observe what was happening in that corner of the trees. Bryn would reassure the dog that they were not in danger of the gentlemen, by stroking their heads or backs, and the brother would depart. At one point Kai made his way in their direction to recieve his pat on the head. When Semon spotted a wolverine coming towards them, he scrambled to grab his shotgun. Before Bryn could explain that the beast was no threat, Lidia with preplanned intent, tossed a hunk of dirt, that had been at her fingertips, directly at Semon’s chest. The impact knocked the man onto his bottom, where he sat gawking at her.
“It’s alright, sir. The wolverine won’t harm us,” Bryn hurriedly explained, since Lidia only stared back at Semon, “The wolverine’s a friend, our pet.”
Semon and Nestor stared wide eyed at the wolverine as he approached Lidia. He sniffed at her and rubbed his head against her cheek as a way of comfort. Lidia exchanged the kindness by rubbing his back affectionately.
“Well,” Lidia asked after noticing the gentlemen staring, “Have you finished?” She had hardened her heart against her emotions, and so sounded hollow. She aimed her leaking hostility towards the gentlemen.
They bent over the pages once more, like children being caught neglecting their homework.
While they were working, Arion was an emotional mess, and could not think properly. In his shame and confusion he fled the fighting. He wanted to be released from his torment. Thad happened to be nearby and followed his friend. He had no taste for blood and would rather depart, even if it meant leaving Semon and Nestor behind.
“I think we have done it,” Nestor reported with a satisfied smile. “Are you sure this is actually going to work,” He asked anyone.
“Let’s find out,” Semon answered as he took the journal from his brother. With a graceful reach, Semon offered the finished product to Lidia, “I believe these are yours.”
Lidia shook her head, while she was touched by Semon’s humble offer, it was given to the wrong person.
“They belong to Bryn. Her and our grangran would have solved this a month ago if Lady El had not cheated and wiped her memory.”
Although Semon did not altogether understand, he shifted the opened book towards Bryn.
“Shouldn’t we all do it together,” Bryn suggested as she took the journal.
Lidia rolled her eyes. “Just read it.”
Bryn squirmed in her seat nervously. She cleared her throat and chanted the poem. It had a much smoother rhythm than the first time she had tried.
Once finished they waited. All they could hear was whimpers, snarls and breaking bones of animals all around them.
“It didn’t work,” Nestor complained, as if he knew it was hopeless all along.
“May I see the journal?” Lidia extended her hand to her sister.
Bryn passed it to her and Lidia scanned the lines with a critical eye. She did not know very much about poetry, but she knew about dragons.
“Bryn, does this look right to you,” Lidia asked. Bryn readjusted her postion to sit closer to her sister and see what Lidia was pointing at. “’His wings are bars of iron’?”
“Not the wings, but the limbs would be,” Bryn agreed.
The sisters did not see as the gentlemen blushed with embarrassment at their ignorance.
Lidia took the offered pen and made a few scratches to correct it. She swiftly handed it back to her sister and Bryn read it aloud once more.
His Strength is in his jaws;
And his power is in the muscles of his belly.
He swings his tail like a pine,
His bones are tubes of bronze,
His limbs are bars of iron.
The mountains bring him food,
And all the beasts of the fields play there.
Under the stones he is covered with shade,
The cedars and the brooks surround him.
If an ocean rages he is not alarmed;
He is confident though the waters caved.
Can anyone capture him when he is awake?
Can anyone pierce him with holes?
Can anyone throw him down?