Weekend Wind Down – Follow That Dragon (2)

In Dragonheart, there is no such word as impossible

The three winged monsters took to the sky and A’a’shanto opened the portal.

The cold and blackness was like sticking your head in a bucket of ice water, and it made Wenda question her own motivation. Was the change in her attitude to Willet any more than dragon pheromones? Was it fair to offer him the hope of a happy ending she may not really be ready or willing to give? But then they landed on the velvet-smooth turf of the Master dragon’s own garden and she looked into her husband’s shadowed eyes. It was a sorrow to realise those shadows had been put there by her coldness and pride, and she understood that it was for her to put things right. However, she allowed none of that to show in her face, merely putting her hand in his as they stood together.
“It would be rude to shift before the master,” Willet whispered.
“It’s no hardship to wait, and I don’t think it’s a power play.”
“No. I’ve been told about this. It’s a ritual and to do with the master’s connection to Dragonheart itself.”
A’a’shanto finished communing with the stones of the castle and his consciousness returned to the sunlit afternoon.
“I thank you for your courtesy,” he said gravely. “I will not take human form for what must follow, but you are welcome to make the change if you so wish.”

The pair flowed into their human shapes, each choosing formal attire. The dragon’s brief nod approved their politeness.
“Follow me if you please.”
Willet offered his arm and Wenda put just the tips of her fingers in the crook of his elbow.

She had never been to Dragonheart before and it was hard not to gape at its sheer magnificence. The wide corridors were richly decorated and hung with priceless tapestries, and everything was built to dragon scale, making her rather regret having made the change to her inferior human size. But then she looked at the polished marble beneath her feet and had a mental image of hooves slithering and sliding on the cold, hard floor. Human form was best suited, she thought.

“The Hall of Judgment,” A’a’shanto intoned formally. “Will you enter to witness dragon law?”
“We will.”

They walked onto a granite platform upon which sat the scratched black stone of the double throne. There was already a female on half of the seat, who Wenda surmised was the master’s mate. The female dragon inclined her head in greeting, and a shifted dragon in the form of a narrow-featured elderly man escorted the centaurs to a pair of ornately carved chairs placed to the left of the throne. They took their seats just in time to see a duo of armoured dragon guards escorting the first of the accused into the chamber.

It was the red dragon. He hung upside down from a pole which was carried on the shoulders of two shaven-headed beings that Wenda would have hesitated to call human.
“Ogres,” Willet breathed.

There was a stir at the back of the hall accompanied by the by now familiar pheromone shock.
“Mama’s come for her pound of flesh.”
“And she has brought N’a’mma,” Wenda said in a sick little voice.
She grabbed for Willet’s hand, which felt cool and firm and seemed able to anchor her to reality.

The ogres dumped their burden like a trussed chicken and left, shouldering their pole. For a moment there was no sound except breathing and the gentle sussuration of draconic scales

The master dragon broke the silence.
“Who speaks the charges?”
An elderly dragon in a black robe spoke slowly and in doom-laden tones.
“The red dragon Z’o’raster is charged that he did aid and abet others in the theft of hatchlings.”
“How do you plead?”
Z’o’raster hissed his defiance.
“I make no plea. I am a free dragon and I do not recognise your petty laws.”
A’a’shanto regarded the red with some distaste.
“Untie me and I will fight you to the death,” the red taunted.
The master dragon’s mate spoke.
“You will fight nobody with your poisoned claws.” She raised her voice. “Kill him.”
One of the armoured guards swung what was obviously not a ceremonial axe. There was surprisingly little blood.
“Dragons know they are dead quite quickly,” Willet explained.
N’a’mma crowed her delight.
“Bad dragon dead.”
“I do believe he is,” Mama purred.

The clean up was brisk, efficient and practised, which made Wenda feel more than a bit queasy.
“I think it’s the contrasts,” Willet remarked quietly.
“Pheromones, and hatchlings, and razor-sharp axes, and the sheer pragmatism of elderly servitors with mops and buckets.”
She nodded, and for a moment just hid her face against the fine white lawn of his shirt. He rubbed her shoulders gently, if a little nervously, pleasantly surprised when she relaxed under his hands.
“I’m sorry Willet,” she whispered. “I’m finding this difficult, and I don’t suppose it is going to get any easier.”
“No. I don’t suppose it is.”

As if by some unspoken signal, the chamber fell silent and the doors opened to admit ‘Auntie’. She was not being carried but walked on her own feet, although she was tethered to four of the giant ogres. When she passed N’a’mma she snarled and tried to pull towards the hatchling, who stared her in the eyes unblinkingly.

Dragging their charge to the front of the chamber the ogres kept a uniform tension on the leashes so the female dragon was unable to do more than snarl and swear.
“Who speaks the charges?”
The same black robe clad dragon stepped forward.
“The female V’a’zza is charged that she did conspire with others of her family to steal and enslave an entire clutch of hatchlings.”
“How do you plead?”
The female looked around her as if seeking support, but seeing nothing but stony faces and dragons who refused to meet her eyes.
“It’s strange how those whose greed for gold produced this plan are only too willing for me to take all the blame. Should I name you?”
There was some shuffling of feet and as a full squadron of dragon guard filed into the chamber and lined the walls.

A’a’shanto spoke with the full weight of his mastery of draconic mysteries.
“The names are known. Each will face judgement. For now it is your own fate that should concern you.”
V’a’zza’s face was twisted with hatred as she stared at him.
“Oh yes. And will you kill me?”
He smiled slowly, and even the defiant old female wasn’t proof against the sheer malice of that smile. She dropped her eyes to the floor and stood in silence.
“Kill you? Why would I do anything as merciful as that? You will be crippled and live out what remains of your life chained in the castle forecourt as a warning that the dragon master is not minded to leniency.”

For a moment, Wenda thought the old female was going to faint, but she pulled herself together and stood straight.
“And who will be brave enough to maim a member of the master dragon’s own clan?” she sneered. “Who will you get to do your dirty work?”
A’a’shanto did not deign to answer her.

One minute he was on his throne, the next in the air above the prisoner. He dropped his head to a place between her wings and bit once.

The awful sound of crunching bone and the single scream of draconic agony almost brought Wenda to her knees. Willet braced her.
“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” he murmured.
Wenda stared steadily at their joined hands while she gathered enough voice to answer him.
“I’m not. It’s a reminder of what dragon beauty hides. I just wish it hadn’t happened when I was under the influence of sex pheromones. The juxtaposition is disturbing.”
“It would have been worse without the sexual excitement.”

She looked up intending to argue, only to see how rigid was his jawline and how hard he was working to keep a lid on his emotions. He put his free hand behind her head and turned her face into his broad shoulder.
“This you really don’t need to see.”
Wenda had no will to argue and when she heard a horrible slithering sound accompanied by the muffled cries of a creature in agony she was glad to be not looking. The sound of a slamming door was the cue for Willet to remove his hand. She sat back in her chair and the master dragon’s mate regarded her steadily.
“We are not unnecessarily cruel,” she said slowly. “The old one would have crippled N’a’mma in exactly that same way. You do not need to walk or fly in order to lay eggs.”
Wenda wondered just how much more she could take, and if it hadn’t been for her husband’s hand holding hers she thought the world might have slipped from her grasp entirely.

She was saved from possible embarrassment by N’a’mma who bustled up to the base of the dais.
“N’a’mma can come?”
A’a’shanto reached down with one clawed forepaw and the dragonet heaved herself up onto the throne between him and his mate. She pointed.
“Mine friend Wil-let and Wen-da. Haves silly names, but me likes.”
“Should they have dragon names?”
“Should. Can give?”
The master dragon nodded.

He stood to his full height on the black stone throne and the room fell silent.
“The winged centaur Willet and his mate Wenda are declared dragon friend. I name them S’a’aaha and S’h’aaha.”
There came a roar from the floor of the room as the assembled dragons greeted their honorary siblings.
“The names are appropriate. You would say strong flier and pretty bird.”
The centaurs bowed their heads humbly and let the waves of draconic emotion wash over them. By the time the chamber had quietened slightly, Wenda felt like a piece of flotsam that had been battered by a raging storm.

Willet stood and bowed.

“It is our honour,” he said steadily and Wenda was proud that he could stand on his feet and speak with such clarity whilst being battered by dragon thought.

As if aware that the centaurs were right at the limit of their endurance T’i’asharath spoke from the obsidian throne.
“Enough now,” she said softly. “We have unfinished business here.”
“We do,” A’a’shanto signified his agreement. “Read the names of those accused of conspiring with the maimed one.”

The black-clad functionary stood and read out a list of about a dozen draconic names. As he spoke each one, the dragon guard unceremoniously grasped the named one and dragged him away.

“And that just leaves whoever wanted to breed dragons.” Willet looked enquiringly at the master dragon.
“It does indeed.”
Willet and Wenda were vouchsafed the image of a man. A man sitting in a richly decorated chamber, with a priceless glass of deep red wine in his hand watching as a mostly naked woman danced to a sensuous rhythm. Willet swore and Wenda looked at him in some surprise.
“He is known,” Willet grated.
“Known and yet still he weaves his vile schemes,” T’i’asharath spat.
“He does. Believes himself untouchable. And thus far it has been no more than the truth. Our justice cannot touch him. Perhaps it would serve all of our purposes if he was brought to face the might of draconic law.”
A’a’shanto smiled. “What a splendid idea,” he all but purred. “However it would require a certain amount of turning of a blind eye.”
“That could be arranged.” Willet turned to Wenda. “Will you await me here? I won’t be long.”
Wenda didn’t want to be left alone in a chamber full of excited dragonkind, but she could see no alternative. She set her chin and nodded.

N’a’mma sensed her disquiet and smiled in reassurance.
“S’h’aaha will be safe. N’a’mma gives oaf.”
There was a moment of shocked silence in the chamber before the whispering broke out.
The dragonet lifted a pudgy paw.
“Be silent,” she commanded. “Would shame by behaviour.”
A’a’shanto snapped his teeth together and the room come to order.
“Did you not hear your princess?” he asked with deceptive mildness. Then he spoke formally. “I name S’h’aaha guest friend.”
After having dropped his bombshell he snapped his wings and was gone, with Willet on his tail.
“Temper, temper,” his mate was openly amused. “I suspect that he had plans for you, my lady.”
Wanda felt herself flush uncomfortably.
N’a’mma reared up on her hind legs.
“Not do,” she said firmly. “N’a’mma give oaf.”
T’i’asharath bowed her proud head.
“I stand corrected little one.”

After that it got easier, and Wenda managed to not cringe in her chair although she still mentally counted the moments until Willet returned. She was beginning to feel that she may have been abandoned when there was a small disruption in the light and a rather flustered Badger appeared in the seat next to her. The room fell silent as the dragons stared at him. He sat up straight and snarled.
“I am sent by the master dragon A’a’shanto. He would have a cage prepared and placed on the stone of judgment.”
For a second nobody moved, then T’i’asharath hissed.
“Did not my lord send an order?”
Two of the dragon guard bowed very low and scuttled off.

N’a’mma smiled her baby dragon smile.
“B’a’dger,” she crowed delightedly. “You still got hrrdudu?”
“No. Master dragon took it.”
“He big feef. Is mine.”
Her mother spoke from the back of the hall.
“It is not yours miss naughty.” Then the golden queen’s voice changed from motherly affection to high formality. “I name B’a’dger guest friend. Hear this well.”
The shock in the room was palpable as the queen made her way to the front of the room and ascended the platform to stand beside Badger and Wenda.

For once in his life Badger said nothing, merely regarding the room with his round golden eyes. Wenda put a hand on his head and he turned to favour her with a canine grin.
“Who’d a thought it,” he breathed. “A dragon with some sense of decency. And now we wait. Shouldn’t be long.”

The first thing that happened was the return of the dragon guardsmen accompanied by half a score of ogres who were manhandling a sturdy iron cage. The ogres carefully set the cage on a particular spot in the floor, then bowed to the dragon throne and went to wait quietly in the rearmost corner of the chamber.

Badger twitched his wet black nose.
“They are coming.”
Wenda looked into his eyes and receive the ghost of a wink before there came an enormous bang and the smell of sulphur.

The empty cage now housed a nobleman dressed in claret velvet, who still held a Venetian glass goblet in one hand. He looked about him in surprise and some hauteur. Because he was facing away from the dragon thrones, he saw only a room full of well dressed people all of whom were regarding him with unfeigned interest.
“To what do I owe this dubious pleasure?” he drawled.
Nobody bothered to answer him, and he frowned in displeasure.
“I asked you a question.”
T’i’asharath hissed and the man’s head snapped around. He found himself looking at three dragons, one woman, and a dog. He focused on Wenda.
“What is the meaning of this outrage?” he demanded.
She found herself unwilling to bother with such arrogance, so she just looked limpidly into his furious eyes.
“What’s the betting he throws the glass?” Badger was amused.

Almost as he spoke, the priceless vessel flew through the air, only to be neatly caught by an athletic male dressed in smoke grey robes.
“Finders keepers,” he said as he tossed off the small amount of wine left in the bottom of the glass. “An excellent vintage. I do so hate to see good wine go to waste.”
“Quiet fool,” T’i’asharath spoke mildly enough, but even so the young dragon subsided.

The man in the cage began to swear, before he collected himself and started to weave a spell. One of the watchful ogres peeled himself off the rear wall and approached the cage. He shot a snake-quick arm through the bars and clasped a thick-fingered hand about the man’s throat.
“Naughty, naughty,” he rumbled as the man’s eyes started to bug out. “Live or die ma’am.”
T’i’asharath looked at the struggling human and her eyes were pitiless.
“Live. For now. But don’t tolerate any disobedience.”
The ogre loosened its grip and the prisoner drew in a laboured breath. He opened his mouth and the ogre squeezed.
“You only speak when you are told to speak.”
The man’s face was turning blue before he was allowed his next gulp of oxygen.
“Be careful not to break its larynx,” the golden queen dragon recommended, “my brother may want words with it”.
The ogre laughed.

Came the sound of wings outside and A’a’shanto shouldered his way into the room followed by Willet. They shared a particularly draconian grin.
“I wasn’t even sure that would work,” the dragon remarked.
“Well it was certainly impressive. Now they know he’s gone, I wonder how long the party at his house will go on for?”
“Days. Maybe even weeks.”
The master dragon looked at his prisoner.
“Is he not behaving?”
“Not. Sweared rudely.” N’a’mma piped up. Her uncle smiled down at her, but this was a completely different expression from the pitiless draconic smile he had bestowed on the prisoner.
“Does N’a’mma want the hurrdudu?”
“I do. It mine.”
“Let Mama take you home then. The hurrdudu is at the place where you play.”
The dragonet gave a crow of delight and scrambled up to sit between her mother’s wings.
“We go,” she announced dramatically and there was a sudden flaw in the light.

A’a’shanto looked at the centaurs and Willet nodded.
“My mate doesn’t need to see this, and to be quite honest neither do I. If you have no further need for us.”
The master dragon laughed wickedly.
“You cannot be persuaded to remain for our own party?”
“Least of all that.”
T’i’asharath looked at her mate in some exasperation.
“Leave them. We owe better courtesy than that.”
“It is only to joke my love. The centaur and I understand each other well enough.”
“You do?” Wenda was openly incredulous.
“We have spoken,” Willet explained, “spoken of our differences and our agreements. But now would you like to go home?”
“I would. Although I will confess to a desire to know what comes to that creature in the cage.”
“He dies,” T’i’asharath was coldly dismissive, “and it will not be an easy death.”
“Oh. Good. I think. As long as I don’t have to watch.”
“You do not. B’a’dger will bear witness.”
The German Shepherd shook his blonde ruff.
“I will so do. If the master dragon will declare me guest friend.”
A’a’shanto drew himself up to his full height.
“I declare B’a’dger guest friend. To disrespect him is to disrespect the Dragon Thrones.

The silence was as deep and dark as a forest pond and T’i’asharath looked at Badger for a long moment.
“Have you ever wished you could fly?”
“Almost every day of my life ma’am…”
Wenda gripped Willet’s hand as if her life depended on that connection.
“Surely she cannot. That’s an impossibility…”
“I don’t know, love, they say that nothing is impossible to those bonded to Dragonheart.”

Badger walked over to the basalt thrones and the dragon mistress leaned forward to blow her cold draconic breath into his nostrils.
“I name thee brother,” she intoned and somewhere in the bowels of the castle a deep-toned bell sounded.

Badger sneezed, then turned himself almost inside out trying to look at his own shoulders. His wings didn’t grow as Wenda and Willet remembered their own wings growing it was just that one minute Badger was an ordinarily handsome canine, the next he had white feathered wings. He flexed them experimentally then lifted himself off the ground to hover about three feet in the air.
“I can fly,” he cried in a great voice. “I can fly.”

Willet looked at his friend and a smile spread from one cheek to the other.
“At least you won’t be needing a lift home.”
“Cheek. I could still bite you.”
The unspoken love she heard in those few words made Wenda feel once again how near she had come to pushing Willet away and nursing her own bitterness into a lonely old age. Badger looked into her face and winked.
“Just keep a hold of him now.”
“I will.”

The dragons all looked suitably bewildered, although Badger privately thought that A’a’shanto understood a lot more than he was prepared to give away. He gave Willet a little push with his nose.
“Take Wenda home. She’s had about as much as she can take.”

Willet looked at his drooping wife.
“Will you trust me to carry you?”
Wenda nodded and he flowed into his true form. She clambered onto his back and wrapped her arms around his naked torso.

And so they went home, leaving Badger to bear witness – both to the messy and protracted death of one who sought to breed dragons for his own profit and to the wild orgy that followed.

Much later, as she lay in her husband’s arms, Wenda asked the question that was uppermost in her mind.
“Was there going to be a wild party in Dragonheart?”
“Probably. I hope Badger is enjoying it.”
“Would you have stayed if it wasn’t for me?”
He laughed and rubbed his face in her soft brown curls.
“Not me. Didn’t we have our own party here?”
Wenda stirred and writhed against his warm skin.
“Correct answer my husband. Correct answer.”

© jane jago 2017

'Follow That Dragon' is one of the stories in The Dragonheart Stories: Fairytales for Grownups by Jane Jago

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