Caught by the dragon mai.., p.6
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       Caught By the Dragon, p.6

           Mac Flynn
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I hurried straight across the grounds in a line perpendicular with the castle and rushed into the woods. They weren't as friendly close up as they were from afar. The thick limbs of the ancient trees blocked out the moon, and there were no paths. The brush made my penetrating the forest difficult. Their brambles clawed and scratched at my clothes, tearing and filthying them.

  I persevered and thirty feet into the woods I was rewarded with a dirt path made by wild animals. It arced around the perimeter of the castle and followed the road. I followed the path and kept a close eye on the castle, watching for signs that my escape had been detected.

  It was not until five minutes later, when I had reached the front of the castle and had a choice to follow the road or go down to the glen, that the rooms in the castle were lit with a great glow of urgency. They must have found my empty room and the bedsheets. My foes would now be watching the road. I rushed down the hill, but chanced a glance over my shoulder. A dozen men poured from the gate with torches in their hands. One of them shouted orders and they spread out across the open grounds and road.

  I wanted to see no more, and rushed down the hillside. The path was rocky and muddy from the recent rain, and many times my feet threatened to slip from beneath me. Below me the town twinkled with festive lights, no doubt from the Maiden choosing. The whole place was madness.

  The animal path veered from the road, but that was good. The men on horses galloped down the road. By the light of their torches I saw they bore the crest I'd seen on the chests of the gate guards.

  I let the path lead me away from them and down to the small glen a mile away from the road. The glen was a sunken meadow through which ran a bubbling creek. The waters fell from a small, steep hill to my left and into a circular pool of water. Above me was the clear night sky, and around me was a quiet serenity.

  I collapsed against one of the larger boulders that bordered the water. My feet were glad for a rest. I leaned my back against the hard stone and sighed. My body ached with tension and the exercise. My heart drummed to a quick beat. My drowsiness was surpassed only by my hunger, and I regretted not taking provisions. However, the soft gurgle of the stream calmed my thoughts somewhat, and I closed my eyes. I would take a short nap. Maybe the sun would be up soon and I could escape through the brush.

  "What do you mean by this transgression?"

  I jumped to my feet and spun around. Across the pond stood the Dragon Lord. His back was concealed in partial shadows, but his eyes glowed with an unnatural red light. They were also narrowed, and at his hip was a sheath and sword. One of his hands lay atop the hilt of the sword.

  I snorted. "You're the one who's transgressed. Several kidnapping laws, if I'm not mistaken."

  "You cannot escape me. Return to the castle at once," he ordered me.

  I looked around for a weapon of my own, and snatched a smooth river stone from the ground. I held it up in a throwing position. "Get away! I know how to use this!" I shot back.

  I was surprised when his eyes widened. His grip on his sword hilt tightened. "Let down the stone. You don't know what trouble it can cause here."

  I scoffed at him. "Like I'm doing that."

  His eyes narrowed again and he stepped fully into the light of the night sky. It was my turn for shock as the light revealed a pair of large, red, dragon-like wings at his back. There was the unmistakable canvas-like skin with the thin bones to which they were attached. They were folded behind him, but I could still see that their wingspan must have been enormous.

  The Dragon Lord unsheathed his weapon and made a dash toward the pool. I saw he meant to attack me, so I struck first. I launched the rock at him, but my aim was-well, as reliable as ever. The stone fell short and to the side so that it plopped into the pond near the base of the waterfall.

  A gurgling arose from where the stone had dropped in, but it wasn't escaping air. The bubbles continued to rise and flowed over the rest of the pool in a large wave. The Dragon Lord skidded to a stop short of the bank and stumbled back. The ground shook in unison with the bubbles. I stumbled backward. My heel tripped on a rock and I fell onto my rear.

  A column of water burst from the pond and rose twenty feet into the air. It twisted into a giant spindle shape that spun faster and faster. The width of the column shrunk with each turn, but the width didn't stay consistent. Rather, it took the form of a human.

  The excess water drained into the pool, and in a moment what water remained of the tornado burst outward, showering the Lord and me with its wetness. I covered my face with my arm to shield my eyes from the damp, and when I looked at the pool again my jaw dropped open.

  There, floating ten feet above the surface, was a beautiful woman. She wore a long blue dress that flowed around her like the waves of the ocean. Her skin glistened like white alabaster and was without blemish. Her long, thick hair lay across her shoulders and streamed down her back, and was the dark color of the shallows. The woman's eyes were the color of the clearest waters, and they were focused on me.

  When she spoke her voice held an echo like those in seashore caverns. "Why have you transgressed me?"

  The Dragon Lord stepped forward and knelt on one knee. He lay his sword in front of him and bowed his head. "She meant no harm, My Lady. She is ignorant of this world."

  The woman half-turned to him, but her eyes remained on me. "Then she is a Maiden." It was a statement rather than a question.

  The Dragon Lord nodded. "Yes, chosen only this evening by me."

  A ghost of a smile crossed her lips. "I see. She must be very bold to have escaped the Castle so quickly."

  The lord's eyes flickered up to me and he pursed his lips. "Yes, very bold, but I will punish her in a fitting manner."

  Anger makes one forget their predicament, and mine was no exception. I jumped to my feet and glared at him. "Like hell you are! I'm not going back there, and you're going to let those other-" My not-so-eloquent speech was interrupted by the twinkling of laughter.

  The woman between us tilted her head back and laughed. "My my, Dragon Lord, but you have chosen a wild one. She has escaped your castle, eluded your men, violated my waters, and now berates you before me, all in one night."

  The lord bowed his head. "I am sorry, My Lady. I swear it will never happen again."

  She arched an eyebrow. "It won't? What a pity, for it amuses me." She floated down to my side of the pond and brought me back to the trouble at hand. I shrank away from her, but her eyes caught mine. Her magnetism was overwhelming. I couldn't retreat. She strode up to me. I shook like a leaf beneath her awesome beauty. "Don't be afraid, little Maiden, for I wish to give you a gift." She cupped my cheek in her palm and smiled at me. Her touch was cold and warm, like the deep and shallow waters of the pool before me. "May your body grow with your love, and let it accept your master in all his forms as your form."

  As she spoke her hand glowed with a brilliant blue light. The light soaked into my skin and slipped through my body, leaving me with a warmth like that of a blanket on a cool winter's day. The main focus of the heat lay on the branding on my shoulder, and I swore it soaked into the depths of my skin at that spot.

  The woman released me. M shaky legs collapsed so that I sunk onto my knees. She stepped back onto the pond so her bare feet just touched the surface of the water. Small ripples were her only trail as she floated away from me.

  She stopped at the center of the pond, and her beautiful smile radiated from her face. "Good luck, little Maiden. Sleep well, my darling."

  A cocoon of water slipped upward from the surface of the pond. It enveloped the woman in its wet embrace and retreated back into the water. The woman vanished with the cocoon, and the sight that remained was the astonished look of the Dragon Lord.

  I didn't get to savor his astonishment as a wave of disbelief and fatigue swept over me. That was no mirage of an insane person.

  The world spun around me as I clutched my he
ad and swayed from side-to-side. The last I knew was of the Dragon Lord gliding over the pond toward me and catching me in his strong arms.


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