|Lady in a Tower
Author: E Thorne PM
Captured and held deep within enemy territory, Sanya must find a way to escape and bring peace to the two lands. Short story. Please, read and review! Rated T, just to be safeRated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Chapters: 8 - Words: 16,786 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 03-28-11 - Published: 03-11-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2898240
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: This story is loosely inspired by the works of Anne McCaffrey and the question I always had about Rapunzel: Why didn't she try to escape from the tower? This is my first story published, so please R&R!
Chapter One: Overture to War
Someone was pounding on my door. I groaned and pulled my pillow over my head, hoping that the knocking would prove to be a dream. It was the middle of the night! I wasn't scheduled to be on duty, so the only reason I would be woken up was if there was an emergency...
"Milady! Her Majesty and Commander Thera require your presence immediately in the Dragonforce Command Center! I've orders to escort you!" someone shouted through the barracks door. I rolled out of bed and pulled on the uniform I had laid out before going to sleep, shoving my bare feet into my boots and stuffing my socks into my pockets before yanking open the door. I gave the escort my best royal glare before striding off down the hallway at an irritated pace, letting my fellow Rider hurry to catch up. I wanted to be asleep! I was twisting my hair, which was still braided as it had been when I went to sleep, into a cornet as I went and using the hair pins which I always kept in one of the many pockets of my jacket to secure it in place. My hair had to be able to fit under my helmet, but not be hanging loose. Riders normally didn't end up in hand-to-hand combat, but they sometimes did, and anything (such as a braid that reached below my hips) that an antagonist could grab onto would be a risk. I had my helmet hooked onto my belt, and as we approached the Command Center and slowed from a trot to a proper walk, I unhooked it and tucked it under my arm. I didn't have to wear it unless I was actually in flight, but I had to have it with me.
I saluted Commander Thera and my mother as my escort, whom I recognized as Rider Kerlith as we came into the lamplight, and I entered. (I didn't see Kerlith salute, but I was half-falling asleep and I could have missed it.) "Rider Kerlith, Milady Rider Sanya," our commander acknowledged us before opening the meeting. "So we are all here. Good. All of you have been flying patrols along the Remella Valley lately. I have received a report that Milidorian troops have taken up positions along the western side of the Valley. And Her Majesty has received, only a few hours ago an incredibly impudent envoy from King Tregon saying that if Dracia does not stop harassing and blackmailing the citizens of the Valley, he will be forced to send troops to liberate it."
Shock raced through us like a physical thing. Although the Valley was part of Dracia, it had only been unofficially so (until they signed the treaties next month) for about six months, and the territory had been disputed for centuries. Sending troops was an overture to war. Dracia and Milidor weren't friendly, but there hadn't been war for over one hundred years. Also, any claims about Dracia harassing and blackmailing the citizens were completely false. The Remellans had elected to join Dracia, and the negotiations and decision had been overseen by our three nearest neighbors.
"You five are the best fliers and most talented mages we have," our commander continued. "I'm sending you to Remella to confirm this report. You leave at the next quarter bell. Do not cross the Western Wall. Flying over those mountains would be considered a breach of Milidorian sovereignty and an act of war. None of us want war, but if it is fated, let them make the first move. Your Majesty?"
My mother inclined her head regally and raised one hand in benediction. "Gods all bless," she said, and with that, we were dismissed. We all bowed and left the room at a fast clip. I headed directly for Xihith's cave, since I never left any gear in my room. Everyone else had to go back and grab things, but my kit and Xihith's tack were stored in a cubby-like gap at the back of her cave. And I already had my smaller weapons with me: my sword, two daggers, a bow especially designed for use on dragonback, and knives on various parts of my person. I had several spells that would be useful in almost any situation already diagrammed and ready for use also stowed on my person. The rest of my mage kit was present, along with various other supplies, in a backpack. As I ran towards her cave, I checked to see if she was awake. Her presence in my mind was like a bank of dim embers, so I called to her as I ran, making sure she was awake. Disturbing a sleeping dragon wasn't safe for even the Rider the dragon shared a bond with.
We have to go out, I told her. It's an emergency. I know, I'm sorry. I want to be asleep, too. Her embers changed to flames as she woke up, and I didn't have to even break stride before entering her cave.
Compared to the lamp-lit command center and the moonlit night, the cave was almost impossibly dark. It smelled of dragon: incense, oranges, cinnamon, and vaguely reptilian. If it hadn't been for the fact that I had been in there before every day for the past six years and I knew where everything was, I would have tripped over something. I called light, one of the few spells I don't need a diagram for, and a small blue flame appeared, casting strange shadows and glimmering off Xihith's blue-green scales. She was awake and moving, heading for the half of the cow carcass stored in the pool under her waterfall. I sat down and pulled my boots off, then quickly removed the rest of my uniform. I still had more layers to put on; they were stored in a neat stack at the back of the cave instead of in my room; I liked to have a back-up here for times like this. Silk undershirt, silk leggings, two heavy shirts, another pair of leggings, a down-lined tunic, down-lined pants, and then the heavy Rider's jacket and breeches over that. Three pairs of socks, and silk glove liners under two pairs of thin but still warm gloves protected my toes and fingers, and then came fleece-lined boots, my scarf, and my helmet (which was also fleece-lined). By the time I had finished suiting up, I was sweating even in the cool cave, and Xihith was done eating. We had about ten minutes to go.
Xihith crouched in the center of the cave while I dragged her saddle over and lifted it onto her back. It sat exactly where it was supposed to, between her second and third spikes, right behind her wings. She stood, and I brought the belly strap around and cinched it tight. Then I strapped the two lances in place, as well as the main quiver of arrows. We didn't really use weapons, but we all knew how to use them, and if magic didn't work, a blade might. I double checked every bit of the saddle and then we headed out into the Yard.
Mother was waiting there, as she always was, the faint worry line between her eyes deeper than ever. Ever since Xihith had chosen me, she had never failed to come to the Yard to see me off. Technically, as heir, I wasn't supposed to be part of the Dragonforce. However, the royal family was supposed to attend the Ceremony of Bonding, and Xihith had chosen me. The bond between dragon and human cannot be undone, and so I was the first member of the royal family in over five thousand years to serve in the Dragonforce. (I had noticed that my siblings had not attended any Bondings since mine, however.) I embraced my mother, and accepted the cup of hot cider she had waiting for me. I only took a sip, however, before offering it to my mother. This was the parting cup, and we both had to drink. It was traditional for the whole cup to be drunk, but following tradition was not always wise if the traveler had a flight that would be at least twelve hours. I noticed that this cup was much smaller than the ones she had used when I first started flying patrols. Mother worried a lot, and I think she wanted to ensure that I had a safe flight each time with the parting cup. I noticed that the chamberlain had four other cups, too, so it wasn't just me she was seeing off this time. That made me feel better.
I noticed one of the other Riders waiting to enter the yard, so I hugged my mother again, and mounted Xihith, slotting my feet into the stirrups and doing up the leg cinches. Mother stepped back and raised her hand again. I waved, then leaned forward and gripped the handholds beyond the horn of the saddle.
I'm ready. Let's go! It's all up to you now, darling. I felt Xihith tense the muscles in her back, and then she threw herself into the air, mighty wings catching a thermal almost immediately and lifting us up, up, up.
I love the sensation of flying. The wind rushing in my face, the curious sensation that the world is moving and standing still at the same time, the land unfolding beneath us, and the sense of complete oneness with Xihith. The moon was just beginning to rise, huge and golden over the horizon, and we could see the constellations to guide us through the sky. We circled until we were facing west, and then we jumped.
Spending so much time above the Remella Valley in all weathers meant that Xihith and I could jump there even in the middle of the night. I still don't know how the dragons jump, but I am all too familiar with how it feels. There's a sudden pause of any feeling—hot, cold, breezes, discomfort, having to relieve yourself, even time itself—they all stop and then there's a really constricted stretching sensation. You're glued to where you were, but you're being pulled through a tunnel the size of your thumb to where you're going at the same time. And then there's another pause, and something I can't really describe other than as the universe going "pop." And then you're there.
We stared out over the Valley. There were clusters of light that indicated towns, and points that indicated lone farmsteads. The moon's light made the Remella River shine faintly silver as it wound through the valley like a sleeping dragon. Faintly, the night sounds of the forest drifted up to us. It was all so peaceful, and it was almost tragic to think of war coming to this tranquil place. The Milidorian delegation had seemed to accept the Valley's decision gracefully, so why was King Tregon sending troops? Maybe it had just been an act? But faintly, over the edge of the mountains, an army camp could be seen, and there was some sort of troop movement going on. It looked like more troops had arrived that day, because men were finishing pitching tents. There was also some sort of temporary encampment that looked like it was a day's march down the road. I tried to get a count of how many men. There were at least five thousand already there, and probably another thousand that would arrive the next day. And...what was that?!
Xihith was already sending what we had seen back to Geridao, the dragon bonded with Commander Thera, when something caught my attention. There was a winged shape crossing the mountains. Who? I asked Xihith, who had finished her report.
Darato and Kerlith, she replied unhappily. I can bespeak Darato, if you wish. Her reluctance was clear, and I didn't blame her. Darato had a nasty temper, worse than Kerlith's snide insinuations, and he quickly turned vicious when provoked.
Can we find out what they're doing? Or at least let Geridao know?
I just did. The only thing she did was sigh. She didn't tell us to do anything.
And we've confirmed the report, so we can go home now and get debriefed. Xihith agreed with me, for she turned and started to jump. However, this time the sensation went wrong. First there was nothingness, and then there was stretching, stretching, and more stretching. It lasted longer than it should have (at least, as close to "longer than it should have" as is possible in a state without time), and suddenly, instead of popping through, there was a silent crash and we ended up back where we started. And hovering above us, silhouetted ominously against the moon, was the black bulk of Darato, with the smaller figure of Kerlith on his back. I couldn't see her expression against the light, but I didn't need to; the hate rolling off of both of them was strong enough that it was making both of us almost physically ill. And the doubled sensations we were getting from each other weren't making things better.
"You dare...!" Kerlith spat at us. "Well, you'll regret that, my lady!" She held up a handful of something that glowed green and flung it at us. Xihith moved before I realized that she had thrown the curse at us. I fired a spell intended to knock her out, but Darato moved. And Darato moved so that when he flamed, he flamed right where we were moving. My arms were suddenly engulfed in searing heat, my leather jacket and the handholds of the saddle had turned to ash immediately, and Xihith was screaming in pain. The scales on her neck had been melted flat like glass. The sound of a dragon screaming was something I had never heard before, and something I never wish to hear again. It is one hundred times worse than a horse's scream, like a hurricane in pain. It goes into your bones and reverberates and stays there. The sound physically hurts, and what made it worse that I was feeling my burns, Xihith's burns, and her scream all at the same time. We were both in agony, and Xihith couldn't even fly straight. She was jerking about erratically, and I think this made us miss the next few curses Kerlith shot at us. She was probably affected by the scream, too. I had enough presence of mind to put an ice spell on us, but that was about it. I didn't even realize that they were backing us up until we were almost over the border. I threw a paralyzing spell at them, but that missed, and then Kerlith hit us with something that made my leg cinches undo themselves and Darato did something to Xihith that made her jerk about even more, and I was thrown out of the saddle.
I was falling, and it felt like I was falling fast even though there was no way for me to tell, in the darkness, how quickly I actually was falling except by how rapidly I was approaching the tiny dot of light below me. Suddenly I slowed as someone grabbed my helmet. Xihith. But there was a roar above, and as Xihith tried to avoid Darato, my helmet popped off.
Then I was falling again, my hair coming undone and billowing above my head like an auburn flame, while I had glimpses of what Xihith was doing through our bond. She was far above me, and I slowed abruptly as the chute in my pack triggered and shot out like a giant mushroom-shaped sail. I drifted down in the darkness, without anything to focus on except the pain and what Xihith was doing. I chose Xihith. She seemed to be flying better, and she even managed to flip over and gouge deeply into Darato's belly. He roared again, and Xihith dodged and flitted back in to attack again, and then, suddenly, she was gone. Her presence winked out of my mind. I knew she wasn't dead, but I didn't know where she was. And the wind was picking up and blowing on my burns, sending flares of pain through my head. I couldn't see my hands and arms; I didn't want to. Dragonfire burns hotter and more painfully than regular fire, and my arms felt as though they were still burning. And I was getting closer and closer to the ground, and I could see that the light below me was a group of people and I found myself thinking, Oh good I can get medical help, before I could see who they were, and then I saw that they were Milidorian soldiers. On our side of the mountains! And then I was among them, and I had a sudden impression of surprised faces, and then I hit the ground, hard, and my ankle turned at an angle it definitely wasn't supposed to, and then there were a lot of little green and white lights and the world started becoming narrower.
Then I think I passed out.