Caught by the dragon mai.., p.10
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       Caught By the Dragon, p.10

           Mac Flynn
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I slipped discretely into my clothes and Darda led the lord and me down the long halls to the ground floor. We passed many other servants of various sizes, and some even of different builds. Swarthy ones with beards and thin ones with pale skin. Some of them wore the green and red colors, others had on clothes that matched those colors of the other dragon lords. All of them stepped aside and bowed their heads to us as we passed.

  The main stairs led to a large entrance hall that connected with the castle's interior courtyard. Darda led us left and into a magnificent banquet hall. There were no primitive benches crowded with ruffians. Here there was a single long table with high-backed chairs and elegant curves. The wall opposite the double-doors was covered in tapestries that depicted dragons flying over countrysides. Several of them bore the crest of the Dragon Lord's household.

  At the end of the table farthest from the doors sat two familiar faces. One was the pale, young dragon lord, and the other was Stephanie. She turned in her chair and her eyes fell on me. Her face brightened with a smile. She stood and rushed over to me as well as her golden-hemmed white dress would allow.

  Stephanie clasped my hands in hers. "Miriam! I'm so glad to see you!"

  My dragon lord came up to stand beside me. His eyes twinkled with mischief. "So that is your name."

  I glared at him. "You don't have to use it if you don't want to."

  He chuckled. "I would be honored."

  The slim lord stood and walked over to us to bow his head to my lord. "Thank you for agreeing to-" My dragon lord held up his hand.

  "Not so formal this early, Cayden," he pleaded. "I had enough heads bow to me on the journey here to have had my fill of formality for the entire night."

  The young lord raised his head and blinked at him. "But My Lord-"

  "You have called me that since you were a young hatchling. Now that we are equals I demand you call me Xander," my lord insisted.

  I arched an eyebrow. "That's your name?"

  He turned to me with a smile. "I won't force you to use it."

  "I would be glad to use it," Cayden spoke up.

  Xander clapped his hand on Cayden's back and led him toward the end of the table. "Then we shall both be satisfied."

  I turned my attention to Stephanie who followed the gold-trimmed lord with a soft gaze. "Has he been treating you well?" I whispered to her.

  She started and returned her eyes to me. A blush colored her cheeks and she looked down at the floor. "Really well."

  I leaned back and looked her over. "Where are your old clothes?"

  "In our-my room," she told me.

  I arched an eyebrow and glanced past her at the pair of dragon-men. They were engrossed in their conversation. I looked back to Stephanie and lowered my voice so only she could overhear what I said. "We could try to escape this morning. They're going to give us horses. We can-" I noticed she bit her lower lip and averted her eyes. I frowned. "What's wrong?"

  "I-I-" She took a deep breath and looked me in the eyes. A small smile curled the corners of her lips. "I think he really likes me."

  I blinked at her. "What's that got to do-" Her blush darkened. I furrowed my brow. "Are you. . .do you want to stay here?"

  She cringed, but gave a weak nod. "Yes. I mean, he said I couldn't go home. Some portal thing won't let us."

  I dropped my hands off her shoulders and pursed my lips. "I. . .I guess you're right."

  Her face fell. She set a hand on one of my shoulders. "I'm sorry, Miriam. I didn't mean-"

  "We would be honored if you ladies would join us for breakfast," Xander spoke up.

  I frowned and glanced at the windows between the tapestries. Their foggy glass revealed the late afternoon sun outside the castle walls. "But it's almost night," I pointed out.

  Xander chuckled as he pulled out a chair to the left of the head of the table. "Yes, but the choosing is a special time for we dragon lords. Therefore, we celebrate our gathering all through the night and rest during the day."

  I arched an eyebrow. "So is this some sort of a frat party?"

  The dragon lord shook his head. "I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that term."

  I sighed. "It's where guys get together and prove how manly they are by drinking and eating a lot."

  Xander nodded. "Then this is similar to a 'frat party,' as you call it. But enough of talk. There is a feast before us that begs to be consumed."

  I took my seat on his left with Cayden and Stephanie opposite me, and Xander at the head. A feast of meat and mead was set before us, and I must admit I did justice to everything within reach.

  Xander speared a slice of duck with his fork and glanced at Cayden. "Where shall we take our ride this evening? In the direction of Bruin Bay, or shall we head to the Coven Caves for a fine hunt there?"

  Cayden choked on the mead he just swallowed. He coughed and patted his chest with his fist as his wide eyes stared at the dragon lord. "So far, My-" Xander gave him a warning look, "-must we travel so far, Xander?"

  "Why not?"

  Cayden glanced nervously at Stephanie. "This is my first ride. I'm not sure how far I can-"

  "True. I do see your concern," Xander replied. He leaned back and took a bite of the hunk of meat. "Perhaps a closer point on the map, or around the castle grounds. They are quite-"

  "I'd like to see this Portal," I spoke up.

  Cayden's face paled. Stephanie blinked at me.

  Xander sat up and raised an eyebrow. "Why would you wish to see that?"

  I shrugged. "For some closure."

  Cayden glanced at the Grand Dragon Lord and pursed his lips. "I think maybe we should call-" Xander raised his hand and silenced the younger lord.

  Xander dropped his hand and shook his head. "No. Closure is important, but-" he looked into my eyes, "-not without pain."

  "I'll live with it," I assured him.

  Xander bowed his head and stood. "Then I suggest we set off before darkness spoils the view for our Maidens."

  We left the dining hall, but turned right in the entrance hall and walked to the back of the castle where a small wooden door led us out onto the green lawn. The bottom of the setting sun skiffed the horizon in the far west and long shadows stretched out from the forest over the lawn.

  The animals in the nearby pastures crowded the fences and trampled dirty straw beneath their hooves. One of the species was a full-coated sheep with curved horns. A wide smile spread across Stephanie's face as she glimpsed a few lambs among the two dozen adults.

  "How adorable!" she squealed before she hurried to them.

  "Wait!" Cayden yelled. He ran after her and grabbed her wrist before she reached the fence. "Don't get too close!"

  She looked over her shoulder and blinked at him. "But why?"

  He released her and picked up a stick. "This is why."

  Cayden tossed the stick into the mess of wool. The sheep let out a terrible wail of a bleat and lunged at the stick. They beat the wood with their hooves and rammed it with their heads. The stick was smashed and trampled to broken bits.

  Stephanie gasped and stumbled back. "My god. . ."

  I looked to Xander and jerked my head in the direction of the woody carnage. "What kind of mutton are you raising?"

  "Not all that resembles creatures in your world are the same in ours," Xander schooled us. He nodded at the creatures as they strolled away from the fence. "These creatures may have wandered into our world long ago and changed their appearance, or perhaps they were changed in your world and what we see are the originals. Either way, caution is the best course of action in dealing with our plants and animals."

  Cayden grasped Stephanie's shaking shoulders and looked to us. "Perhaps we should postpone the ride."

  Xander shook his head. "No. My Maiden's curiosity will not be satisfied until she has seen the Portal."

  "Damn right," I spoke up. I glanced around. "Where are the horses?"

  Cayden bli
nked at me. "Horses?"

  I narrowed my eyes and nodded. "Yeah. This is supposed to be a-aah!" Xander swept me into his arms.

  A sly smile covered his lips as he looked down at me. "Your escape has taught me one important lesson. You are not afraid of heights."

  I glared at him. "What's that got to do with anything? And why aren't you putting me-" His wings burst from his back and stretched across the open plain. The scales shimmered in the glistening sun.

  "You may wrap your arms around my neck, but not too tightly," he told me.

  I frowned. "Why would I-" He beat his wings and we were propelled off the ground.

  The sharp blades turned to seas of green as we quickly left the earth below us. Every flap of his powerful wings lifted us ten feet.

  I looked down at the ground a hundred feet below us and yelped. My arms instinctively wrapped around his neck and I quivered against his warm chest. We reached an altitude double that and hovered in place as his wings gently flapped.

  "How are you enjoying the ride?" he asked me.

  I whipped my head up and glared at him. "You said there'd be horses!"

  He shook his head. "No, I asked if you had ridden a horse. It is much the same."

  "No, it's not!"

  Xander nodded his head at the forest in front of us. Through some fifteen miles of winding roads was a meadow. "The Portal lies there. Do you still wish to see it?"

  "More than ever," I growled.

  Cayden with Stephanie in his arms joined us. She quivered harder than me, but her driver didn't seem to mind her clinging to him so closely. "Are we ready?" the young lord wondered.

  Xander nodded. "Yes. Let us go."


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