A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler
Analia was bitter, bored, angry, and above all else, extremely frustrated. It had been nearly two weeks since she was brought into the palace in Alataria and she had been consistently refused permission to see Queen Lizbeta or even the Regent, Lord Connahe. What irritated her more than anything was that she was even refused permission to visit with Whiff. She knew the dragon was doing well, they often talked through mind-speak, but Whiff was also bored, needed exercise, and anxious to roam the freedom of the skies. Unexpectedly, Whiff and the Great War Bird she had named, Primus, had become friends. “Definitely not kissing cousins,” Whiff reminded her, “but we have grown to respect each other’s point of view. “He’s not bad for an overgrown pigeon.” Analia’s growing depression was always lifted somewhat by Whiff’s odd sense of sarcasm.
The only activities she had been permitted was learning proper etiquette, reading books on history, science, and mathematics, and short visits with one of the apprentice scribendi to instruct her in the ways of the Empire of Angalund, her alleged homeland. The occasional visit from the boy, King Domides, became her most dreaded concerns. He was perhaps the most evil minded person she had ever encountered. He was selfish, self-centered, immoral, and malicious, and a dozen other faults could be added to that list. He had once ordered her to completely undress in front of him or he would have her dragon killed. Thankfully, Nania had come to her rescue and threatened to advise his mother of his ribald activity. Analia knew the Kingdom of Alataria would suffer greatly when he reached eight and ten, the time he would legally assume the throne as king.
She had most evenings to herself. After the servants had retired she would often cuddle into the corner of a great window, wrapped in a thick warm blanket, and think deep thoughts as she watched the stars sweep across the heavens. This was one of those quiet evenings. Analia looked up at the blinking stars and her mind slowly drifted back to happier days.
She was back at the school and her uncle Ryykon had just introduced her to the great dragons. Talina, one of the Dragon Riders, had remarked that she must be very special because the king of the Rook had accepted her and no one else. She thought of the many hours she spent tending to Whiff and assisting in other important and mundane chores.
The classes taught by the Wing Commander before she could even get on the saddle with Whiff and fly, were intense and very demanding. She had to learn such terms as Air Wing, Squadron, Flight, Angle of Attack, Bogey, Bitches, Check Six, Dash Two, Fangs Out, Feet Wet/Dry, Jink, Nugget, Pucker Factor, Section, Sortie, Wingman, and scores of other words that she thought could not exist in the context in which they were used. For days on end, she studied and learned. She was a quick learner and the remainder of her small class of four looked to her as their class leader. Only those who had been accepted by a dragon advanced to the school.
Her maiden flight was one she would remember forever. As she exited the great Rook cavern she could feel the mighty strength and surging power of the massive dragon between her thighs. Exhilaration overcame fear, floating among the sky like a cloud was pure heaven, diving down towards a gorgeous landscape thousands of feet below with her long hair billowing behind her, filled her heart and stomach with butterflies. As she learned to maneuver Whiff into combat formations and flying in unison with the other Dragon Riders, her face lit up with pure joy, her spirit bounded, and she could barely catch her breath from the incredible excitement and intense pleasure. She was certain that this was what she was born to do.
During the evenings, after a long day of flight sorties, studying, and weapons training, she would relax with her fellow Riders and classmates and discuss the day’s harrowing events. She became very close to Talina, who had been advanced to Flight Leader. Although she was two and twenty, she was more like Analia in both spirit and age.
After the fifth week of steady and intensive training, she was allowed to leave the school with other Riders to enjoy the markets, shops, and taverns of the small town of Dragon Hill. Talina introduced her to many of the squires and men-at-arms in training, most of them her age or a year or so older, and a number of the town folk, many of whom made their living from supplying the school with its considerable needs.
She remembered one evening in particular just before she graduated from flight school. Talina, Kyra, and Janea talked her into going to their favorite tavern. They said the place was always filled with the cutest squires and it also provided great entertainment. A well-known local minstrel was paid to keep the customers happy and buying drinks, and he pooled his tips with the barmaids. They arrived around the eighth hour and the place was packed full. Talina, always one to plan ahead, had sent her friend, Sean MacAngis, a Khelti of all things, to reserve a spot for the three Riders. Analia had been taught to believe that the Khelti, mercenaries for hire, were nothing but barbarians and ignorant brutes.
Upon entering the smoky tavern, Talina spotted Sean at a table in the rear with several other young men. As they took the stools reserved for them, Sean introduced the squires as Pieter,
Robert and Andre. Talina took her place next to Sean, Janea sat near Andre, Kyra joined Robert, the youngest squire, and she sat next to Pieter. Pieter was fair haired and lanky with broad shoulders and ruggedly handsome features. He possessed a warm smile that seemed to be a natural part of his face.
For several hours they enjoyed the minstrel’s pleasing music and riveting stories, drank more ale than they should have, and had a wonderful time. The life of the party turned out to be Sean, who displayed a winsome spirit of carousing and revelry. He definitely was not the savage that the Khelti were alleged to be, he was well educated. She also learned that Pieter was top of his class in both academics and martial training, through Sean’s loud prattle, not his own bragging, and that he had a soft spoken voice and easygoing demeanor.
Over the next few months they became inseparable friends. Although most simply remained friends and playmates, she could tell that Sean and Talina were developing something more serious than that. As for her and Pieter, she felt something drawing her to him but she did not know how to break the barrier of shyness that contained her. She knew that he felt the same way and was somewhat bashful, but there was a growing bond binding them together that had not yet fully developed.
On one of their personal outings, Pieter took her on a picnic to one of his favorite spots located in the hills overlooking the Great Freshwater Sea. The place was serene and pristine with an abundance of wildlife and thousands of birds singing in the branches of the sweet scented conifer trees. They spoke of small things and their hopes and dreams for the future.
She could tell that Pieter had very close ties with his family, because he loved to tell stories of his boyhood on his father’s estate located deep in the mountainous terrain of Province Donedon. He spoke of how his father, Ser James Schermon, was a stern disciplinarian but also a gentle and kind sire and how he and his two brothers, John and Philip were constantly getting into trouble. He understood that as the third son he would not inherit the estate, that was the law of the land, but he spoke well of his eldest brother and how he would be very honored and proud to serve him as a squire and eventually as a knight.
Pieter told her of a great sword his father owned, forged from metal that fell from the sky, and how his ancient grandfather, centuries past, had found it in a beautiful crystal lake. He spoke of how Ser Schermon had been rewarded by the King for his heroism in battle. The Schermon family had served the kingdom for countless years and their heraldry was branded in history and won with honor, distinction, and prowess. His father promised to give him the great sword when his time came.
She warmly remembered their first, and last, kiss. It was a spur of the moment thing and both were so shy and inexperienced, their noses kept getting in the way. After a while they simply gave up and giggled all the way back to the school.
Analia awoke still sitting in the window sill, the blanked wrapped snugly around her. Nania was standing a few feet away shaking her huge index finger in exasperation. “You should use your bed, Ana,” she scolded. “You will catch a cold sleeping in that drafty old window.” Nania had shortened her name to Ana because she found it difficult to pronounce Analia. She had a habit of shortening everyone’s name, including the servants, to suit her whim.
“I didn’t mean to, Nania,” she replied. “I hate that huge bed; it’s like sleeping on a gigantic lumpy sack with a ton of grain and the quilts smother me.”
“Well, I do have a bit of welcoming news,” Nania smiled, her face taking on a gruesome look. Her troll features did not at all fit the intended smile; they only turned her into something more frightening. “Her Grace has decided that you may have the freedom of the inner keep, but, you are not to venture beyond. Is that understood?”
“It’s more like exchanging a small prison for a larger one,” Analia replied. “When am I going to be able to spend time with Whiff?”
Nania smirked. “We both know that is not possible, little one. I fear they think you will fly away and never return.”
They would be right, Analia thought. The sooner she could escape this revolting place and return to her friends the happier she would be. They kept her in the dark about everything. She heard no news of Robert, nothing about Alataria, zilch about the plans to send her to Angalund, nothing at all. Were it not for Whiff, she wouldn’t know anything that was happening and he didn’t know much, cooped up in his own prison.
“If I have the run of the keep, the first thing I am going to do is go to the kitchens and break my fast,” Analia decided. “By the time my food is brought in by one of the servants it’s almost not worth eating. I am tired of eating cold food. I know it’s a petty thing, but, at least I can explore my surroundings a bit.”
“Very well,” Nania replied. “As soon as you dress in something warm, and presentable, I will escort you.”
Analia looked perturbed. “I thought I had free reign to go anywhere in the keep?” she asked.
“Anywhere in the keep, providing, you are escorted!” Nania winked. Analia had grown quite fond of the huge ogre like woman. Her butt ugly appearance may terrify little children, even frighten adults, but she knew that Nania had a kind heart and very gentle soul. Nania had also grown to enjoy Analia’s company, headstrong and intractable though she was.
As they left her chambers, the guards looked at each other in consternation, but Nania addressed them in her usual gruff voice and they accepted her orders without hesitation. The walk to the kitchens took a while since they were intentionally placed on the bottom floor with easy access to outside deliveries and centrally located in the keep. As they entered the huge chamber, the overpowering smell of fresh bread and other delightful aromas made Analia’s stomach growl.
The room was gigantic, with half a dozen large hearths and huge cast iron caldrons hanging on blackened metal spits. Other enclosed brick ovens were used for baking. There were many utensils, frying pans, pots, kettles, waffle irons and cutlery of all kind. Barrels and boxes of flour, grains, spices, and other cooking ingredients were stored in an alcove. Along one brick wall, tables were arranged for the kitchen staff to eat, and other racks loaded down with fresh baked breads, pies, and other food. Spits also hung over another hearth bearing quails, chickens, ducks, and succulent wild game. The kitchen staff numbered in the scores, there were pantlers, bakers, waferers, sauciers, larderers, butchers and carvers, milkmaids, butlers, serving maids and scullions everywhere.
Analia suddenly realized that the entire keep, guards, men-at-arms, knights, squires, maids, servants, royalty, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, were fed from this single large kitchen, and there were other kitchens in other smaller keeps around the Royal Palace grounds.
She and Nania strolled over to one of the unoccupied tables and sat down. It was improper that one of royalty wait on themselves. Actually, it was not proper that one of the royalty even be in the kitchen. Everyone in the great room turned their heads and gawked at them. It was as if they were seeing something incredible for the first time, which they were. They were not accustomed to one of the royal snobs entering their working domain; many even resented it, displaying carefully concealed hostility.
One of the servant girls headed nervously towards their table to see what had brought royalty to the kitchen. She was rudely intercepted by one of the scullery maids who offered, practically demanded, to take her place. The servant girl gave her a dirty look since scullery maids were the lowest of the low in the kitchens and had no right to approach royalty. As the new girl neared their table, Analia recognize a certain walk from somewhere in her memory. The girl was at least one and twenty, dirty, unkempt, her hands and arms red from scrubbing pots and pans, and her tunic was stained with liquid and food particles.
The scullery maid bent over their able and glanced behind her, then whispered. “The Naked Gander at seven.” Nania was outraged, but Analia placed her hand on her arm to keep her from standing up in anger. “Talina,” Analia whispered. “How in the name of the six kingdoms did you get inside this castle?”
Talina smiled and winked. “No one wants to be a scullery maid; the job is a dead end, literally. Besides, the majordomo liked what he saw. “She wiggled her pretty behind. “I’ve been stuck in this disgusting kitchen for almost a week and fighting each day to keep the lustful guards from raping me. Can you get me a position as one of your chamber maids?”
Analia glanced at Nania, who gave her a skeptical look. “Who is this person?” Nania asked. “She certainly doesn’t belong here. For one, she has the look of a Viturian, and secondly, she is far too attractive to be a lowly scullery maid. Some royal snit would have scarfed her up by now. No disrespect meant, Your Grace.”
“She is very special to me, Nania,” Analia whispered. “She is like a sister, a big sister, and the closest thing I have to family. Please help? She will not be a burden, I promise.”
Nania growled then glanced behind Talina. “You better do something fast,” she stated. “The senior chef, Acros, is heading this way and he doesn’t look very happy.
“Some bread and marmalade,” Analia stated in a loud voice. “And be quick about it, girl!”
“Hey, Nania,” the huge man grunted as he waddled up to their table. He was grossly overweight with huge sweat stains beneath his beefy arms. His immense head was as bald as an egg and he could have challenged Nania for the ugliest contest. “Was dat new twit bothering ur Grace?” He bowed so low to Analia she could see the harry crack between his buttocks.
“No problem. Acros,” Nania smiled. Analia could see she was actually flirting with the troll. “Her Grace has free run of the keep now, and against my advice, she wanted to visit the kitchens. It seems as if that young girl once worked as one of Her Grace’s better chambermaids and she was thinking of putting her back to work.”
“Wot ever ur Grace wants, she can ave.” Acros replied. When he smiled at them, his broken and brown stained teeth stood out like tombstones in a moonlit graveyard.
“To be certain,” Nania grinned. “Be a good boy and see to it that the child is cleaned up and have someone escort her to Her Grace’s chambers after we break our fast. Also, let’s keep this to ourselves, eh Acros? No need to get the upper crust involved.”
Analia grabbed Nania’s gargantuan hand. “Thank you, Nania. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Nania looked defensively around. “Your Grace should not show such a public display,” she whispered. “What will the peasants think of you?” They watched as Acros instructed one of the kitchen maids to take Talina in hand. It was obvious she did not like the order for she gave Talina a dirty look.”
“Word will still get around via the grape vine,” Nania mumbled. “The girl was jumped above others to a much better position in the palace pecking order. Servants will talk, guards will listen, and before long, the upper crust will get wind of it. I hope you haven’t given them reason to remove poor Nania’s head, Ana?”
Although she was still anxious to explore the nooks and crannies of the keep, the unexpected joy of finding Talina curtailed her appetite for adventure. As soon as she wolfed down her bread and marmalade, she asked Nania to escort her back to her chambers. She waited for what seemed like hours before Talina was brought in by an apprentice chamberlain. She had been thoroughly cleaned and wore a shining new tunic. Analia quickly ushered the other chamber maids out of her private study room, and turned to hug Talina.
“You must be crazy to take such a risk!” Analia blurted. “They would flay you alive if they find out who you are.”
“Then we must not tell them, Your Royal Highness,” Talina sniggered. “I’m here to free you. As you know, we have been shooting down all the messenger birds going in and out of the capitol. We found a note on one of them that indicated you had been captured and taken to Alataria. The note was coded but our young genius, Pieter, figured it out.” Noticing Analia’s raised eyes and slight blush, she continued. “Pieter is fine, even with the loss of his family, and the rest are doing well.”
“What about Pieter’s family?” Analia quickly asked. “I have had no news of anything since I was placed in this gilded cage.”
“You don’t know anything, do you?” Talina whispered. “Your uncle killed the tournament champion in defense of the King, but King George is dead, killed by an assassin. Before his death, he had Ser Schermon commit suicide by way of Trial by Combat, and he beheaded Pieter’s two brothers, John and Philip, as accomplices. His family was sold into bondage and Pieter was ordered into bondage but we saved him and we are hiding him in the forest.”
Analia was utterly jolted and had to quickly sit down on a settee before she collapsed. “How could such a thing happen?” she asked, tears forming in her eyes and running down her cheeks. She knew how much Pieter loved his family and she felt utterly distraught. “Ser Schermon was a good man, a great knight, a wonderful father.”
“Rumor has it that Queen Denize was behind the entire affair,” Talina replied. “One of the servants at the Donedon estate, who recently joined us, said she overheard the Queen speaking about obtaining the castle as a retreat, no matter what it cost. She was in attendance with Lord Alwaythe at the time, Ser Schermon’s liege Lord.”
For several hours they talked of the past, of good times, and of the present dire circumstances they found themselves in. Finally, Analia asked the question uppermost in their minds. “How are we to escape? Just today I received permission to roam the keep, with an escort, no the less. They would never let me beyond the keep knowing that Whiff was waiting for me.”
Talina looked puzzled. “Whiff?”
“My dragon,” Analia replied. “He is locked inside one of the great rookeries and they keep a giant loaded catapult outside the massive doors should he somehow break out. He told me that he could roast the catapult crew before they could act, if he got through the doors.”
“He told you?” Talina looked both frightened and alarmed.
“I can communicate with Whiff,” Analia charily stated. “I can also communicate with the other dragons and the great war birds of the Valkyri Riders. I do so with some kind of mind-speak.” She spent a long time convincing Talina of her ability to communicate with the great creatures. Her final argument convinced her. “I talked with Whiff just now,” she stated. “He told me that you left your dragon about two kilometers outside the city near a small stream. There was a great walnut tree overhanging the stream and your dragon has a fixation for walnuts. Whiff said he now has a bellyache from eating the entire tree full of nuts.”
Talina was astonished at the prospect and concept of mind-speak, but she had no choice but to accept it. Analia had proven her point. “My plan was to locate you, somehow get you to an open location at a preselected time, and fly in on my dragon and take you away. It was a very simple plan and depended entirely on how quickly the Valkyri Riders reacted. I don’t know if dragons fly faster than their great war birds but it was a chance. I assumed the Valkyri kept a patrol around the capitol at all times, but I haven’t seen any over the entire past week.”
“A flat place on top of the keep would work just as well, would it not?” Analia replied. “If we could find one, your simple plan might still work.”
“True,” Talina mumbled. “There is still the complication with the war birds and their riders.”
“Give me time to talk with Whiff and Primus and I’ll have our answer,” Analia stated. “I think they have become friends since they have been talking with each other over the past few weeks.”
“Primus?” Talina asked.
“King of the War Birds,” Analia smiled. “They call themselves, the Tertius. I also talk with him.”
Talina shook her head and crossed her fingers as a sign to ward off evil spirits. “Are you certain you are not an evil magician?” she asked, not expecting a reply.
Over the next few hours, Analia talked with Primus and Whiff about an escape plan. She also sent Talina to scout the top floors of the keep to find an opening to the flat roof leading to the battlements. Whiff assured her that he could break through the great doors if his fellow dragon removed the outside bar and ran off the catapult crew, and Primus promised that his people would not respond in any way. They would refuse to fly if their Riders attempted to intercept the escapees. A strong bond was growing between the dragons and war birds and both were nearing an increasing state of dissatisfaction with humans in general.
“I found the perfect place,” Talina stated, when she returned to Analia’s chambers. “There’s a large flat landing on top of the third tower and no guards posted there. I guess they figure the Valkyri Riders can take care of the high places, most of the housecarls are posted along the outer walls.”
“We’re all set,” Analia replied. “Whiff will attempt his escape with the help of your dragon two bells from now. Our job is to get to the place you found when the time comes. They will pick us up there.”
“What about your ogre?” Talina asked, pointing at Nania as she supervised several of the chamber maids. “She will keep to her duties and demand to escort you.”
“Don’t worry, I can handle sweet Nania.”
Talina rolled her eyes and watched as the huge woman picked up a large settee and casually carried it across the room. The settee was at least four hundred pounds but she handled it like it was a child’s toy.
When the time arrived, Analia told Nania she wished to get some fresh air and preferred the tower for privacy over the interior garden which was always packed with fawning lords and ladies. Nania acquiesced and the three of them headed for the cold stairwell. Nania kept eying Talina, wondering why the girl was still with them, but she decided her little Ana had not had companionship for such a long time; she treated her more like a sister than a chambermaid.
When they reached the roof of the keep, there was a gentle breeze and the temperature was moderate due to a bright sunny afternoon. Analia spoke to Whiff and informed him that they were in position. She glanced at Nania. “It is a bit chilly up here Nania, would you please return to my chambers and bring me a shawl or scarf?” Her intent was to get Nana off the roof before the dragons showed up.
Nania gave her a curious look then glanced at Talina. Her look indicated that it was the chamber maid’s job to fetch the shawl but she did not press the issue. She quietly left the roof.
Whiff was fired up. Primus had promised that his kind would not interfere, but dragons and war birds had been enemies since time immemorial, and Whiff was not totally certain he could fully trust the huge bird. Here goes nothing, Whiff thought, breaking the meager chains the humans had used to secure him to the marble wall. He strolled over and pushed against the gigantic doors. They were heavy, absurdly heavy. He continued to push until he received a mind-speak message from his friend on the outside.
“Hold your horses,” the dragon spoke. “I’m still half a klick from the castle.”
“There’s no time like today,” Whiff snidely spoke back. No wonder the door wouldn’t budge, the darn locking bar was still in place.
The men-at-arms manning the huge crossbow, or scorpion they called it, reacted in fear as a giant dragon suddenly appeared from the sky and dove on their position with flame pouring from its mouth. They ran in panic to get away from the flames. The dragon attacked the scorpion and tore it to splinters, then ambled over to the rookery doors and removed the locking bar.
“You’re good to go,” he mind-spoke to Whiff.”
Whiff pushed against the incredibly heavy doors. He pushed harder but they opened barely a crack. Suddenly, Primus flew down and joined him. Together, their massive power forced the doors apart. They glanced at each other with the expression, ‘we did that together?’ The female riders had finally recovered from the shock of what they had witnessed and were rushing towards the two with their powerful bows drawn.
“I heard my number called,” Whiff spoke, glancing at the advancing warriors. He quickly cleared the exit and vaulted into the sky. Primus flew back to his high roost in the Rook.
Analia and Talina watched the action from their perch on the high tower and hugged each other in glee. A voice from behind startled them. They turned to see King Domides standing near the door holding a wicked dagger in his boyish hand.
“Thought you’d get away from me, did you?” He was addressing Analia. “No little bitch can treat me the way you have and not receive your just punishment. I’m going to gut you and then your pretty friend, then throw you both over the battlements before you’re dead.”
Before they could react, Nania suddenly appeared behind the king. She noticed what was happening and quickly grabbed for the boy’s wrist holding the sharp blade. Her grip was bone crushing and Domides quickly released the dagger. As he did so, he suddenly backed up in fear and pain and before he could catch himself, fell between one of the arrow ports and over the wall. They heard him screaming, then a solid meaty thud as he hit the flagstones below.
Nania looked distraught but her gaze turned to sudden terror as she saw two enormous dragons land on the roof. The two young girls ran to the dragons and hoisted themselves on to the saddles. “Come with me Nania!” Analia yelled, holding out her arm. “They will torture and kill you and blame you for the King’s death.”
For once in her life, Nania was completely terrified. She barely heard the words Analia spoke, but she understood them. She continued to cower back from the huge dragons. Analia motioned for Talina to launch, and then talked with Wiff in mind-speak. As Analia and the great dragon rose from the ground, the dragon reached out with one enormous claw and wrapped it around Nania. “Don’t harm her,” Analia spoke. “Bring her with us, it will mean her death to stay here.”
Hours later, they neared Lorainne, the Capitol of Camalund. As they approached, they spotted a large formation of dragons and Dragon Riders angling in formation in their direction. Analia had previously landed and persuaded Nania to ride behind her on the saddle. She was concerned about the Dragon Riders; it looked as if the entire Flight Wing was coming for them. She signaled for Talina to fly on to her destination and broke left and banked to lead the quickly approaching Dragon Riders away.
Suddenly, from behind her, she spotted another large flight of the giant war birds with their Valkyri Riders mounted on them. They were also converging towards her. It looked as if both Air Flights were determined to fight it out to see who got the prize.
If you would like to read more of Analia's continuing adventures, all chapters have now been posted. Chapter Ten at: