The Captain

Atanaqui lunged forward without a single thought for her own safety, reaching forward to snatch the horn from the woman's grasp. The soldier eye's widened, not expecting her reaction, but her sword came up swiftly, and Atanaqui skidded to a halt, only just out of reach, trying to regain her balance.

Her action had gained her precious seconds, or it would have, if she hadn't felt her balance shifting. In the time it took her to right herself, the horn had tavelled the short distance to the woman's lips.

A loud, piercing note emnated from the metal instrument, ringing in Atanaqui's ears painfully. It was cut short when she crashed into her oppenent, sending them both sprawling on the ground.

The soldier rolled to her feet and brought her sword down in a full sweep, and Atanaqui's good hand scrabbled to her belt. She knew that even protected by her chainmail, the blow would cost her. She held up her injured arm and managed to gasp out a few words.

"Stop, I'm on your side."

The sword stopped centimetres away from her body as the woman stopped swinging. She looked wary.

"Then why did you stop me from calling the others?" the soldier asked coolly, moving the sword tip so that it rested at Atanaqui's throat.

Atanaqui took a few seconds to think of the answer.

"Because I was sneaking up on the dragon. And now you've gone and warned it."

She made her tone as harsh and authoritive as possible and moved the sword point away from her with the dagger she had finally managed to pull from her belt. The soldier didn't react, gazing over at where Atanaqui had last seen L'uskdra.

It was fortunate for her that he had seemed to be sleeping when the soldier had appeared, because that made her story more veritable. Now the silver dragon's eyes were open and gazing coldly at them both. Atanaqui shivered, realising that she would never willingly put herself on the receiving end of that glare.

While the soldier was ditracted, Atanaqui jerked her hand, indicating that L'uskdra move. He growled low in his throat, a deep, menacing sound, and Atanaqui hoped that he had figure out what Atanaqui was trying to do.

The soldier had moved away from Atanaqui, lifting her sword in the direction of L'uskdra. She beckoned to her, and Atanaqui stood up, brushing dust from the black material of her cloak.

"We can't take that on by ourselves. We need reinforcements," the woman muttered, and Atanaqui realised with a flare of triumph that the woman had at least accepted her story – for now.

Right on cue a wave of mounted soldiers appeared over the ridge and galloped in a tight body towards them. An bow twanged and an arrow dug itself into the ground between L'uskdra's front claws. He looked surprised for a moment, then swung his head around at them and roared.

A spout of flame gushed from his mouth, scorching the grass in front of the riders, and causing their mounts to skid to a halt. L'uskdra used the distraction to spring into the air, his injured wing flapping weakly, only just accomadating his weight. Atanaqui could see that he would only last a couple of kilometres.

As he swooped overhead, Atanqui met his eyes, still tainted red from his fire-breathing. I hope you know what you're doing, they said. And I hope that you really are going to help us.

Atanaqui felt weird as she interpreted the second thought. It had obviously not meant to be there. But she knew that she had to help the dragons, for the sake of her mother. She knew there was a good chance of Aliriann being alive. L'uskdra had said that the dragons had only wanted to harm Scelaris.

Her thoughts faded as she watched L'uskdra fly out of sight, looking oddly lopsided. Then she became aware of the soldiers surrouding her.

A few of them had crossbows, which were pointed directly at her. Those with other weapons stood with them in offensive posistions. Atanaqui noticed that most of them were long spears tippped with silver. Presumably to fight dragons.

They were all looking at her with hostility, all except for the woman soldier. A scout, Atanaqui realised as she took in the heavy armour of the others compared to the light chainmail of the woman.

"She's on our side," the scout insisted. She was arguing with a compact man of medium height, who had a mop of fair hair and hardly looked like a seasoned veteran. Except for the fact that he had two long scars running down his right cheek, ending at his chin, and the lines on his face. Atanaqui judged him to be a bit older then her father, in his mid-forties. He was standing arms folded, eyes narrowed at Atanaqui and occasionally flicking back to his colleugue.

"And how do you know that?" he asked slowly in a cracked, dry voice.

"Well, the dragon wasn't trying to help her. And she wasn't having any contact with it that I saw."

"Hm," the man said, frowning. "That hardly tells us that she's not in leaugue with them. There was a someone riding that dragon when it came out of its hole."

Atanaqui, well aware of the weapons aimed at her, took a step forward, and the man reacted by reaching for his spear.

"You wish to speak?" he said, his voice suddenly the slow, condescending drawl that Atanaqui had heard so often from her father.

"Yes, I do," Atanaqui replied scathingly. "I was taken prisoner by that horrible beast." Sorry, L'uskrda, she thought to herself. "They attacked my family home and took me. I don't know what happened to my family. But I managed to escaped from the dragons and I was trying to kill that one, but your scout interrupted."

She figured that she shouldn't have said the last line when the scout scowled at her. But it couldn't be helped. She had to sound just like her father – confident, condescending and rude. That was how you earned respect as far as she could tell from the various envoys from the king that had visited her household before.

The officer looked suitably impressed, but he was still suspicious. "Where's the proof of that?" he demanded.

Atanaqui tried to think of an impressive way to justify her story, and it took her a single second to remember her clothes.

Only wealthy people, usually nobles, could afford gowns as expensive as the one she was wearing. And she had fastened the gown with her famil'y coat-of-arms She drew back the cloak, folding it carefully across her arm as she struggled to remove her chainmail shirt. As the armour came off, she noticed that the offcier's face change from suspicion to almost fear.

He gestured to the crossbowmen, and they lowered their weapons to their sides. Then he stepped forward and reverently took the chainmail short from her, but when he reached to take the cloak, Atanaqui drew it away, unwilling to give it up. To anyone who hadn't touched it, it would just look like a normal cloak, not cleverly disguised armour.

"As you can see," she said coolly, reaching up to unpin the brooch she was weraing from her robes. "I am of noble birth. And I would most definitely not ally myself with those creatures."

Then she silently thanked her father – something she would never, ever have done before in her life willingly – for unknowingly teaching her how a noble was supposed to act. Her mother was far more different; she would have shaken hands and chatted away like an old friend.

She thrust the brooch into the officer's hand, then showed him her torn shoulder. "As you can see, they viciously attacked me, but I managed to fix myself up."

The man was nodding, now completely believing her. He nodded to his horse, a magnificent chenut stallion who was watching the proceedings with intelligent eyes. "If my lady would like to mount, I will take you to where you will be safe."

Atanaqui nodded distantly and approached the stallion, glad that her mother had taken her out riding so many times when she was younger. She was much more acclomplished at riding that she was at fighting. She pulled herself into the saddle, refusing the officer's outstreched hands. When she was firmly seated he turned to the scout.

"Go straight back to camp and tell the Captain that we have a young lady in need of medical aid and a place to stay safely."

The scout nodded and mounted her horse before racing across the slope. Atanaqui was glad that he wasn't probing her anymore, and focused all her attention on controlling the charger, who was much larger and powerful than any horse she had ridden before. She held the reigns almost nervously and waited.

It was almost amusing when she saw the officer forcing another soldier off his own mount and took the horse for himself, leaving instructions for the young man to, "Search the surrounding mountainside on foot for any traces of the dragon, just in case." More likely he just wanted a comfortable way to get back to camp.

"If I may ask, my lady," the officer said. "But I never caught you name." He fastened her mail onto her saddle, but slipped the brooch into his pocket.

"My name is Atanaqui Mediasker," Atanaqui said. "Daughter of Lady Aliriann and Lord Garreth Mediasker." She had previously disliked all the formal terms, but they were proving to be very useful.

She saw a tiny glint of recognition in his blue eyes, and felt uneasy. He knew her father, but how well she could not be sure. He said nothing, only nodded graciously.

"I am Sir Jaraval Ingal, knight in service to the noble King of Seilon. We were sent on a mission to destroy all the vicious dragons, because they have stolen from our King's treasury."

Last time I heard, the King was the one who stole, not the dragons, Atanaqui thought as she started the stallion into a trot, which progressed into a canter. Then she began to have doubts. What if L'uskdra had been lying? Maybe the dragons want me to steal it, not return it. I've never heard of the Dragon's Eye before.

Then Atanaqui realised she was being stupid. What use would the dragons have for a tiny gold-and-black stone unless it actually did something. Still, Jaraval could be telling the truth… she had to get to the palace an investigate. After she had dealt with this group of soldiers.

Around her the soldiers had formed a defensive ring, all riding back to the entrance to the dragon's caves, Atanaqui realised. Jaraval rode beside her, urging his newly aquired mare faster to catch up with his original stallion. They crested the rise, and Atanaqui saw the gaping hole directly ahead. She could also just make out the tiny shadow that was the scout and her horse reaching the mass of people and weapons, then dissapear somewhere inside.

As they neared, Atanaqui saw a golden shape rise from the centre of the hole and recognised D'licast, her scales hued a deep bronze by the rising sun. The dragon roared a tongue of flame, engulfing a group of crossbowmen, before diving back into the darkness. Atanaqui wondered if that had been on T'varla's orders or not. She had a hunch that it was the latter.

Jaraval steered her horse to the very edge of the camp, where a mass of finely embroidered tents stood with the crest of Seilon fluttering in the just present breeeze. A waste of time and effort, in Atanaqui's opinion, if they were just going to be destroyed in a battle.

Still, she was feeling drowzy now, having been kept awale for the entire night, and she welcomed a comfortable place to sleep.

Jaraval brought his horse to a stop in front of the largest of the tents, and Atanaqui stopped as well, climbing off the stallion's back and hurrying inside, after snatching up her mail and cloak. She wasn't going to leave her protection behind. The two soldiers on guard took no notice of her.

The inside of the tent was lit with two large lanterns, and on a small desk in one corner stood a few candles, their flames dappling the outspread maps and notes with orange and gold. Atanaqui was glad to see that the Captain wasn't as stingy as her father.

The Captain himself stood behind the desk, his armour emmaculatly polished, and his clothes looking ruffled. Atanaqui guessed that, like her, he had stayed up all night. Or he had just woken up and was trying to put on a show of dignity.

He was tall, his head brushing the roof of the tent. He had dark hair, but what colour was hard to see in the dim light, and his black eyes were thoughful and brooding. None of his features stood out, except for the long, bristling hairs on his chin, which almost looked like a beard. He was younger than Jaraval, and at his waist he wore a powerful broadsword.

He didn't need to look up as she approached, for his eyes had been fixed on her since she had enetered the tent.

"So you are Garreth's daughter?" he asked on a deep, slow voice. "I am Captain Aresto Guillyn. He's told me a bit about you." He looked her up and down critically. "You match his description well enough, but still… where is the brooch?"

He spoke to Jaraval, who quickly pulled it out from his pocket and moved around the desk to hand it over. The Captain held it up to a candle, so that Atanaqui could see it from where she was standing.

Carved into the gold and silver metal was a serpent curled around a shortsword, with the rose of Seilon claasped in its jaws. The rose was a pale silver, and the serpent's scales were studded with tiny blue sapphieres. It would have cost a fortune to make, if Seilon hadnt been a country rich in precious minerals, especially silver.

It seemed strange to Atanaqui how well the animal suited her father – sly, cunnning and smooth-tongued – and how much the rose symbolised her mother, who was delicate, fragrant and petite enough to go unnoticed sometimes. She didn't know what her mother's crest had been before she had married Garreth, and she had never thought to ask before.

Captain Aresto examined the brooch carefully, then held out his arm with it delicate clasped between his forefinger and thumb.

"It is genuine," he said, and Atanaqui thought his voice sounded like a purr. "You must be tired. I shall organise a tent for you, and find a healer for your shoulder."

He called in one of the guards by the door and whispered a few harsh words in his ear, sending him scurrying out. There followed a short, awkward silence in which Atanaqui occupied herself with the task of avoiding any eyes. It was a relief when the guard finally poked his head around the tent flap, openeing his mouth to announce someone.

That someone promptly pushed him out of the way and came to stand in front of Atanaqui, looking her up and down. She wore dark blue robes embroided with gold thread, and had long red hair that clashed horribly with the blue. Her eyes were a piercing green, and her sharp-featured face wore a permanent frown. She also looked quite young, Atanaqui realised. Only five years older at the most.

The Captain cleared his throat. "Atanaqui, this is Cyniquelle, one of our healers. She'll take a look at your shoulder."

Atanaqui nodded, feeling uneasy by the woman standing in front of her. She saw Aresto shooting the guard a crackling glare that seemed to be asking, why did it have to be her? The guard gave a half shrug, then hastened out of the tent.

By this time Cyniquelle had taken a firm hold of Atanaqui's good shoulder and forced her onto a nearby stool. Then she turned and looked at the two men, her permanent frown becoming even more deep. The Captain nodded at her and left, taking Jaraval with him and leaving the words, "We'll organise your quarters," behind him.

"Imbeciles," Cyniquelle muttered to herself, peeling back Atanaqui's sleeve. "They call themselves knights, and they can't even be in the same room as a casualty."

Atanaqui nodded understandingly, secretly thinking that it wasprobably the healer herself that they had been trying to escape from. She looked down at her shoulder, expecting to see blood soaking the bandage, but to her surprise there were only a few specks of red. Cyniqulle nodded approvingly as she slowly unrolled the fabric.

"Did you do this yourself?" she asked. Atanaqui nodded. "Well, you did a good job, I have to admit. Some of the knights can't even wrap it on firmly." She pulled the rest of the bandage off and placed it on the nearby desk, not even glancing at the maps that lay underneath.

"You used herbs, then?" the healer continued. "I'm surprised. No offence, but most nobles rely soley on us for this kind of thing because they're so hopless."

This time Atanaui's nod was genuine. "I agree. My father's completely hopeless. It was my mother that taught me this."

"Men," Cyniquelle said under her breath as she pulled a blue bag from the folds of her robes and fished out a folded cloth. She dipped it into the water jug on the desk and used it to wipe Atanaqui's wound.

Now that Atanaqui had a clean view of her shoulder without blood, she was shocked that it didn't hurt more. There was one deep wound on the back of her shoulder, and two smaller ones at the front where L'uskdra's claws had sunk in. They were still bleeding a little, but not gushing blood like they had been doing before.

Cyniquelle didn't even blink at the wounds and continued her work. "Never seen that before. I guess I'll be seeing a lot more by the end of this little outing." She smiled weakly, and Atanaqui was surprised at how smooth her face looked without all the frown lines. "Or maybe they'll send me back to the palace for some reason or other."

She discarded the cloth on top of the bandages, and Atanaqui could have sworn that she smiled as the map underneath began to spoil. Then she reached into her bag and pulled out a curved needle and thread.

"The cut's not infected, but it still might become bad, so it's best to stitch it up. Unless you just want to keep using herbs, but that takes an age to heal."

Atanaqui took one second to decide, and nodded. "Stitch it up please." She reasoned that if she could somehow learn how to do this, then she could fix L'uskdra's wing when she next saw him.

Cyniquelle gently placed a herb that Atanaqui had never seen before on the deepest wound. "This may hurt a bit, but I've tried to numb it a bit. Here, eat this." She gave Atanaqui a handful of small black seeds to eat. Poppy, Atanaqui thought as she slowly chewed them and felt herself getting even more drowsy then she already was. It was an effort to stay on her stool.

She didn't feel the needle when it pierced her skin, only when the thread began to be pulled slowly through. But she gritted her teeth and slowly the first wound was sewed up. Then the next one. On the last one she had figured out well enough how stitching was done and looked away, sickened that it was her own skin being sewn up like a piece of cloth.

Finally it was finished, and Cyniquelle pressed a wad of marigold onto the stiched-up wounds. Then she fastened a new bandage over it all and tied it neatly before packing everything away. She left the bandage on the desk.

"That's everything done," she announced. "Now you should probably get some rest."

Atanaqui nodded drowsily, wondering if she should ask for some of the thread and a needle now or later. But then Cyniquelle took her by the arm and steered her to the entrance of the tent. Outside, Aresto was waiting, looking impatient. He nodded to a tent that had been set up not far away, and Atanaqui stumbled towards it. She was cursing the poppy for making her act so uncoordinated, but when she finally lay down on the bedroll that had been set up for her, she was glad that it helped her fall asleep faster.

Author's Note/s: As soon as I created Cyniquelle, I knew I would love her!

Anyways, more pronunciation. And you might say what's the point of putting this information all the way down here when you've probably been saying the names completely differently for the last 10-15 minutes. But if I put it up there, then I'd be giving away all the characters. :P

Jaraval (Jarra-vahl)
Aresto - Do you really need to know? By the way, Guillyn is pronounced like the name Gwylin
Ciniquelle (Sin-ee-kwell)

By the way, my chapter titles suck!