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~ Previous Chapter ~
The joys of walking with dragons (and miryhls). Poor Jaymes.
“THIS IS UNDIGNIFIED,” Rhiddyl grumbled as she – entirely without success – attempted to creep stealthily through the undergrowth. Beneath the cracks and creaks of forest debris and disturbed branches, a rumble of agreement sounded from the miryhl at Jaymes’ side.
He wasn’t about to argue. It was undignified for a dragon of Rhiddyl’s size to crawl up the back of a ridge through heavy forest. It wasn’t any better for a miryhl, even one so compact as Argon. It was noisy and uncomfortable and frequently hazardous as the mud-slicked slope sent any one of their party sprawling at any moment. But no matter how much noise they made or how much mud they smeared all over themselves, it was still more discreet than flying over the ridge. Their scouts might have reported that Reglian had destroyed all the pirate ships in the cove, but that didn’t mean it was safe for them to go flapping over the citadel as if the war was already won.
It wasn’t. Just because a few pirate ships had been smashed up, didn’t mean all the pirates had left the town. Or that any of the kaz-naghkt had left the citadel.
In the brief few days since Jaymes and Rhiddyl had reached Buteo, he’d learnt a lot about life around Aquila after the majority of Riders had been forced to flee. So while Reglian’s showy outburst might have looked good and caused a lot of fuss, in truth it was more bark than bite. The pirates had never been their real enemy. It had always been the kaz-naghkt.
“I am a Clan Skystorm dragon, a being of the air, I am not made for walking in the woods.” Rhiddyl proved her own point by slipping on a slick mass of roots and sprawling flat on her chin. The ground throbbed with her irritated growl, attracting a familiar black and white nakhound who pounced gleefully on the dragon’s nose. When Rhiddyl curled her lip, warning Bumble away with a snarl, Jaymes’ companions shifted nervously away from her.
He sighed. The inhabitants of Buteo had disappointed him. After surviving an entire winter on Aquila’s mountainsides, he had assumed they would all have been made of sterner stuff. And they were, when it came to frosts and snow and blizzards and kaz-naghkt. Throw in a dragon and they backed right off, holding up their hands and talking about securing the farmsteads for the Riders’ full return.
While Jaymes, Argon and Rhiddyl had been saddened and dismayed by their cowardice, Lieutenant Imaino hadn’t been the least bit surprised. The Resistance had been through a lot, he explained, and enormous dragons were a final step too far. So he’d allowed most of his former comrades to remain behind, only insisting that the few remaining Riders and nakhounds came with Jaymes and co as they made their way towards the battle. There had also been a handful of volunteers, possibly shamed into it by Argon’s obvious disgust, not to mention the entire host of feral and recovered miryhls who were eager to play their own part in regaining their home.
Jaymes had been glad of their company at first, but had grown less and less grateful as the walk through the woods shortened tempers and dampened enthusiasm. They only had to climb one ridge, and it wasn’t even at the highest point, but mighty gods, did the miryhls make their displeasure known.
“If Maegla had wanted us to walk all the time, she would have given us four legs and no wings,” one of the older miryhls muttered.
“Well, I have four legs and wings,” Rhiddyl pointed out, as she regained her footing, shaking off the persistent attentions of Bumble, “and I am most definitely not made for walking.”
“Such fuss, Rhidystel,” a familiar rumbling voice sounded from the tree shadows. “And yet you look most fetching in your camouflage. I applaud your ingenuity.”
When Reglian stepped out in front of them, Jaymes sighed with relief. Partly because he didn’t feel comfortable bossing about anyone who was ten times his age and many times his size, no matter how young she was in dragon terms. It was also good to see Reglian in his smaller human form rather than his full Thunderwing shape. Jaymes had a feeling even Imaino might get nervous if that’s what had stepped out of the shadows to meet them.
“Who’s this now?” the lieutenant asked Jaymes quietly, as Reglian bent over to fuss over Bumble’s enthusiastic greeting, while Rhiddyl launched into bitter complaints about what she’d been subjected to and how Reglian wouldn’t be laughing if he had no choice but to take the same route in full dragon form.
“Ah, where are my manners?” As quiet as Imaino had been, the dragon nevertheless heard him over all the fuss. “Archivist Reglian kin Thunderwing Clan Skystorm at your service, brave Rider. And I am glad to see that you have recovered, young Jaymes. I trust Emberbright is doing equally as well.”
Imaino shot him a quizzical look and Jaymes sighed. “Ember still sleeps,” he told the archivist, patting the warm back of the dragonet draped over his shoulder. To Imaino he explained, “Reglian is one of the senior dragons who accompanied us from the Cleansed Lands.” Not that he’d gone into much depth with his stories – they were all so far-fetched and he’d been much more interested in the Resistance’s activities on the mountain.
Imaino nodded slowly and eyed the newcomer. He glanced from Reglian’s tall but undeniably human-sized form to Rhiddyl’s impractical dragon shape. Jaymes shook his head before the lieutenant could ask something tactless.
Thankfully, Imaino held his tongue and bowed politely in Reglian’s direction. “Well met, archivist.”
Reglian returned the bow and frowned at Jaymes and Rhiddyl. “As invigorating a mode of exercise as this undoubtedly is, a walk up the ridge was not what we planned. I’ve been searching for you all morning. Why aren’t you using the tunnels?”
Rhiddyl flexed her silver claws in the mud, sides huffing indignantly as she no doubt built up another flood of complaints.
Fearing that if she got started again she wouldn’t actually stop, Jaymes jumped in first. “The tunnels have all been blocked up or destroyed. Even if there are some that still lead to the citadel, we didn’t have the time to find them. This was the quickest, most discreet way of getting here that we could think of.”
“Hm,” was all Reglian said in reply. Whether he agreed with the plan or not was impossible to tell. However, given his recent thunderous display on the other side of the ridge, Jaymes doubted the Thunderwing rated discretion all that highly. “Never mind that now, I’m just glad I caught up with you before you went any further. A word, Rhiddyl, if I may.” He tilted his head at the young dragon and the pair of them walked a small way aside, Bumble watching them go with a frustrated whine as Reglian ordered her to stay.
“Looks like we’re taking a short break,” Imaino sighed. “Settle down, everyone.” He waved for miryhls, men and dogs to find a spot to sit while they waited for the dragons to finish their chat.
Stroking one hand over Emberbright’s back and patting Bumble with the other, Jaymes glanced around for someplace free of mud and caught Imaino’s eye.
“Let’s try over here, shall we, student?” the lieutenant invited, indicating that they should move a little closer towards the rumbling dragons.
Jaymes’ conscience gave a small twinge at deliberately eavesdropping. Until he reminded himself of all the times the dragons had done just that to the Riders. Besides both Reglian’s rumble and Rhiddyl’s fluting voice carried far enough on their own that he didn’t have to try too hard to overhear them anyway.
And then a third voice joined in and Jaymes’ conscience fell silent in favour of sating his curiosity.
~ Next Chapter ~
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