Caught by the dragon mai.., p.5
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       Caught By the Dragon, p.5

           Mac Flynn
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The two guards flanked me as they marched me from the room. I glanced over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of Alex and Stephanie before they disappeared behind the wall. My 'escorts' returned me to the stairs and we walked up to the next floor. The hall was a little narrower and the doors smaller and more numerous. They led me to the end of the hall a door short of the last room.

  I glanced ahead and to the right, and saw the passage turned right and followed the front of the castle. There were no doors, only the narrow windows that looked out on the road.

  One of the guards opened the door, and the other marched me inside. It was a spacious bedroom with a chimney against the far wall. The four-post bed occupied the spare wall to the right of the chimney. Plush sheets and pillows covered the bed. A dresser stood on the wall to my left, and on the opposite wall was a small door.

  On the wall to the left of the fireplace, between the bed and hearth, and to the right of the bed were three wide windows with swinging panes. They swung inward as a hole pane, and two of them were open then to allow the sounds of crickets to drift into the room.

  A figure stood at the foot of the bed with their back turned to us. When we entered the person turned around, and I recognized the face of the elderly woman from the stables.

  Her eyes widened. She glanced at the men and gestured to me. "Is this to be His Lordship's Maiden?"

  One of the guards bowed. "Yes, Maid Darda."

  She looked back to me and pursed her lips. "Very well. Untie her hands and position yourselves outside the door until our Lord comes."

  The guards bowed and left, shutting the heavy door behind them. The woman circled me and studied me.

  "Take a picture. It'll last longer," I quipped.

  She stopped in front of me and a smile curled onto her lips. "There are no cameras here, nor the electricity to use such devices."

  I frowned. "Is this place in the past?"

  "It is, but not in the way you believe." She gestured to the room. "The time in this realm is in sync with that of your world, but the technology hasn't advanced near as far."

  I arched an eyebrow. "So what you're trying to tell me is I'm in a different dimension?"

  She nodded. "Yes."

  I wandered past her to one of the windows. It looked out on the large field and the slope that glided downward to a far-off opening in the trees. "So how'd me and the other girls get here?"

  "You would do well to forget that life and think of your new one here," she scolded me.

  I turned around and glared at her. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

  "You have been chosen for a very honorable position, and even if he does not choose you as a mate you will be given a job for life as a servant in the household," she told me.

  "Is that supposed to be a good thing?" I shot back.

  She raised an eyebrow. "It very well is, but I see that you are fatigued from your long journey. Perhaps you should lie down for a spell and rest yourself."

  "I'm not going to 'lie down for a spell' or do anything that'll make me comfortable," I argued. "This place isn't my home, and never will be."

  The corners of her lips twitched upward. "Your thoughts are easy to read. I'm afraid escape is possible from the Castle, but not from the woods. You would not get far without better means of travel than your feet. The communications within the castle are closely guarded, so do not look to the other servants for help. As for outsiders, the nearest human habitation apart from the small village around the castle is over fifteen miles of rough road."

  I turned away and grasped the window sill. I didn't want to reveal any sort of escape plan I could devise, if my mind could devise one for me. At the moment it was a little tired, and her suggestion of rest was a little too tempting.

  I heard the woman walk across the floor and stop behind me. Her shrunken hand settled on my shoulder. "Forgive me for this."

  I frowned and turned toward her. "Forgive you for-ah!" A sharp burning sensation struck my shoulder beneath her palm.

  I jerked my shoulder away from her and stumbled back. She lowered her hand to her side and watched me with sorrowful eyes. "The pain will soon subside."

  I pulled down my shirt and saw a small, black scorch mark in my flesh. The mark was in the shape of the crest on the guards' armor. I whipped my head up to her. "Are you insane? What did you do to me?"

  "Merely the Marking. All Maidens must be marked," she explained.

  "You branded me?" I accused her. Even as I spoke the burning sensation simmered to a bruise.

  "The Marking is to protect you from other, less scrupulous lords, though the true bonding will take a few hours to complete," she told me. She walked to the door, opened it, and turned to face me. "If you have no other questions, then I will bid you good evening. Tomorrow I will ensure food is brought to you at the appropriate times as you adjust to your new eating schedule."

  I glared at her. "How do you expect me to eat when you're branding me all the time?"

  She pursed her lips. "The Marking is only done once. As for the meals, the Dragon Lords are regularly daytime creatures, but during the Marking their schedule will be rather erratic. You will learn in time their peculiarities."

  "Not likely. . ." I muttered.


  "I didn't say anything," I told her.

  She bowed her head to me. "Then I will bid you goodnight. Sleep well."

  The woman closed the door and I heard a click of a lock. I turned to face the window and grasped the stone sill once again.

  I pulled my sleeve down to hide the mark and rubbed my bruised shoulder. These people were mad. There was no other explanation for their behavior. They believed they were in some fantasy land of lords and ladies with damsels in distress.

  I had to get out of here. I had to warn the authorities and help free the others.

  I inspected the room for sources of escape. There was the door, but I didn't know where that led. That meant the windows were the best option. I leaned out the open window beside me. The drop was sixty feet to the packed ground Too far to jump, but not too far to climb down. The numerous sheets on the bed would be my rope.

  I went to work pulling and tying. In a half hour I had my rope.

  I looked out the window. Nothing stirred but a cool night breeze. There were no sentries pacing the castle grounds. The forest lay a hundred yards off across the expansive fields of animals and one of wheat. I would slip into the trees and double back to follow the road past the village and to civilization, and sanity. These people were obviously mentally ill. Dragon Lords and the Maidens? Medieval bullshit. The authorities would come and lock them in an insane asylum.

  First, though, the escape. There were other windows below me, and some of the rooms were lit, showing occupation. I slowly lowered my rope out the window and down the castle wall. The rope slid between the two shutters of glass where the borders met, obscuring it from view. The problem would be when my much-wider body slid down.

  I secured the rope to the bedstead and paused. Distant sounds were heard, jovial ones. The inmates were celebrating their torment of six women. I had to hurry lest this Dragon Lord show me off to his drunken friends.

  I slipped over the window frame and down the rope. I didn't dare breath. The ground came closer, but so did the other windows. I stopped above one of the illuminated ones. The ground lay twenty feet below me. So close and yet so far. I heard voices from the lit room.

  "My Lord, you must see to your guests," I heard Renner's voice insist.

  "I have only been away a short while, Renner, and will return in a moment. I'm sure they understand that the danger in the borderlands is more pressing," the Dragon Lord replied.

  "Has something new been heard?" Renner asked him.

  "Yes. The scouts have brought news of more raids by these new clans." I heard the faint shuffling of papers followed by the sound of wooden chair legs sliding against rock floor. I
n a moment a shadow appeared at the window. I held completely still and prayed the rope would do the same. When next he spoke his voice was hardly above a whisper. "Five villages were lost during this last raid."

  "And still we know nothing of these dragons?" Renner wondered.

  "They are barbarians from the north driven down by unknown forces. That is all the scouts could surmise," he told his servant. His shadow moved away from the window.

  "Let these matters rest for a while, My Lord, and enjoy yourself. You have been tense far too long," Renner advised.

  A deep sigh came from his master. "Perhaps I have. I will join the others and see their choices. I believe the young Cayden had his eyes set on your favorite."

  "Merely an oversight on my part, My Lord. A lapse of bad judgment that shan't happen again," Renner assured him.

  In a few moments the candlelight was extinguished and I heard a door shut. Now was my chance. I slid down the remaining distance. My feet touched solid ground and I hunkered down. The grounds remained deserted. They all celebrated their triumph of us and talked their insane talk about rival dragon clans.


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