The adventures of Analia and Elise continue in a far off land.
|THE LONE TRAVELER CHRONICLES
Book Two –Lady Dragon Riders
Analia’s back was sore and each time she bent over she broke a scab and the slow bleeding started seeping again. The nasty wounds left by the cat-of-nine-tails were not serious, but they were extremely painful. Given time, the ugly marks would disappear, if she was provided the opportunity to properly heal. In accordance with Father Ignatio’s ruling, as the new Pater-Omnia, she was whipped on the second day of captivity and again on the third. When she was taken to be whipped on the fourth day, the massive mob screamed for mercy. They were at first enthralled by the bloody spectacle, then saddened, and then became outright furious.
They had assumed that the whipping of a defenseless maiden would be choice entertainment and fun to watch, but, when they noted the agony on her beautiful features as each lash landed on her tender flesh, they cringed as if feeling the lashes themselves. To satiate their demands for leniency, Father Ignatio officially suspended all further whippings, highlighting the wonderful and blessed mercy of the Church.
Analia was imprisoned in a large cage, approximately a ten foot cube made of inch thick square bars with a small five foot cell door secured by half inch thick chains and a massive lock. The iron cage was anchored in the center of a large cobblestoned courtyard by more thick chains with iron poles containing a circular eyelet driven four feet into the hard packed ground. Each morning at the eighth hour and each evening at the sixth hour, she was taken from the cage into a room in the castle dungeon where she could perform her toilet in private.
The remainder of the time she took her meals and slept inside the cage on the crisscrossing bars of the cage bottom. She had initially been given no blanket or cape to protect her from the iron bars resting on the cobblestones or the chill of the night air, however, several matronly women had defied the guards and provided her with thick though rough blankets. An entire platoon of guards surrounded the cage, day and night, and kept the gawking crowd from getting any closer than twenty feet.
Late on the seventh day of her captivity, Analia noticed two large wolfhounds milling about the thinning crowd of people. They were acting a bit unusual, far too curious for simple hounds. After a few minutes, they separated from the milling thong and boldly walked up to the side of the cage and lay down on the cool cobblestones. The guards glanced at each other, shrugged their shoulders, but did not run them off. Their instructions were to keep people away, not dogs.
A few moments later, Analia heard a low whisper and looked around for the source. “Look down,” a rough voice ordered. “She glanced down at the two wolfhounds with their heads resting on their forepaws. There was something unusual about their snouts, not noticeable from a distance.
‘It’s me and Kevin,” Kenzy whispered. “We’ve shaped our mouths so we can whisper, look away like you are paying no attention to us.”
Analia leaned her back against the stout bars and whispered, “Any word from the others?”
“Father Ignatio set an ambush for us and captured me and Kevin,” Kenzy replied. “Sir Geoffrey was down-stream and they missed him so he is still free. We easily escaped from the guards as wolfhounds and made our way back to a barn which was our rendezvous point but no one showed up. We transformed back into ourselves and went to an inn for information. That is how we learned of your imprisonment. What can we do?”
“You heard of Father Ignatio’s and the council’s edict?” Analia asked.
“You mean the part about declaring a holy war on the west and north?” Kevin chimed in.
“Exactly! Like it or not, your people and mine must join together to fight against this holy imposter. I know my people, especially my uncle Ryykon, and they will not shy away from a declaration of all-out war. This iron cage is far too strong to be opened, so the best thing you two can do is to go north and try to unite your people. Even those Picti and Scoti Lords who presently have an alliance with Britanica must join us in this fight for freedom; they are fools to think otherwise.”
“Aye, that they are,” Kevin replied. “Are you certain your people know of your imprisonment and how terrible you are being treated? We have heard nothing of them.”
“Ignatio sent them a missive, or said he would. As for knowing my location and situation, I have seen both Dragon Riders and Valkyri in the skies, they have sharp eyes. My father and King Robert will not stand by and let me rot in this cage for long. I can almost see my Uncle Ryykon storming the gates now.”
Kevin looked sharply at the iron cage; the stout bars were no larger than ten inch squares with massive chains anchoring it to the ground spikes. “Be hard for anyone to escape from this thing,” he mused. “Even the dragons could nae pick it up and fly away with it.” He glanced into the corners of the open courtyard. “I see that new scorpions have been placed in each corner, would be a deathtrap for them if they tried to rescue you.”
“I have ordered them to stay away,” Analia answered. “You need to go now and try to convince your people to join our fight against Ignatio and the Church. I am positive that he is an evil necromancer and not a true believer as he pretends. I do not think they will harm me further unless they become desperate.”
The two large wolfhounds stood, stretched their backs, and slowly walked through the ring of guards. The last she saw of them they were trotting through the thinning crowd which made a weary path for them. Analia was tired and sore. The food she had been given consisted of old bread, a small piece of dried cheese, and questionable water. Due to the constant pain in her back, the uncomfortable bars, the gawking people, and the chill nights, she had been unable to sleep for more than a few hours each night and her strength was rapidly dwindling. It was nearing evening as the shadows were steadily creeping over courtyard, which was why the usual mass of gawkers was thinning out, little of interest for them to see in the darkness.
She suddenly noticed the double squad of guards heading in her direction. They were ordered to escort her to the inside dungeon cell so she could perform her toilet. Once the cage doors were unlocked and unchained was the easiest time for her to escape, and Father Ignatio was taking no chances on any foolish attempt at rescue.
They were half way to a side door of the main keep when the guards on her left let out a scream. Several fell to the cobblestones and others backed away in fear. DarDar stood in the gap holding a club the size of a small tree. She could tell that he was trying to separate the guards from her without killing them, for if death had been on his mind, half of them would be bleeding from crushed skulls. He was swinging the enormous club back and forth, knocking the spears and shields from their hands, and slowly taking measure of their numbers. Analia knew it was a valiant but doomed effort, for scores of guards came running from every direction carrying long lances and quickly surrounded the angry giant.
“DarDar, stop!” Analia yelled seeing they were about to run him through from several directions. Evan a person of his massive bulk could not withstand the razor sharp tips of the jousting lances welded by experts.
DarDar slowly lowered his club and stood with tears running down his face. “DarDar hep,” he muttered. “DarDar, hep Audi.”
“The men will kill you if you do not throw down your club,” Analia mind-spoke. “It would hurt me very much to see you killed, DarDar.”
As soon as his massive club struck the cobblestones, several burly guards on each side forced him into the iron cage and secured the door. Not even the mighty strength of the half-ogre could break the powerful lock and chains. “I will return soon,” Analia mind-spoke again. “Thank you, DarDar, for your courage and bravery.”
Analia rushed her toilet and quickly returned to the cage. She wanted to comfort DarDar for she knew the gentle giant would be deep in anguish at failing in his attempt to rescue her, an attempt that was doomed from the conception though conceived through love. When she returned to the courtyard, the blacksmith was already there holding four thick iron bracelets and a heavy steel hammer. The bracelets had circular eyelets into which the end of a chain could be inserted and hammered together.
“Tell the monster to let this blacksmith place the bracelets on him,” the Captain of the Guard ordered Analia. “Otherwise I will have my men kill him and it would be a shame to lose such a valuable slave.”
Analia complied with the Captain’s demand and watched as the blacksmith slid the iron bracelets over each of DarDar’s thick wrists and hammered them in place, then did the same to his ankles. “Before long I will see to it that they are removed,” Analia mind-spoke to DarDar. “We must first do what these men order until we are rescued by my father and friends.” DarDar glanced at her and she still saw sadness and regret in his eyes. “You must be brave and await another opportunity to help us escape and protect me when the time comes.” His wistful eyes lit up at her encouraging words.
Half an hour later the guards returned with the blacksmith and several pompous nobles. Following in their wake was the Pater-Omni and a bevy of fat bishops. Analia did not like the looks on their faces as they were in a festive mood and looked like a gang of naughty boys about to enjoy a secret spectacle.
Father Ignatio instructed the guards to open the door and remove the ogre. As soon as he was removed, the gate was again closed and locked. “Remove his shirt and chain the beast to the cage,” he ordered smiling at Analia, “with his back to the outside.” As soon as DarDar had been properly secured to the stout iron cage, Ignatio spoke again. “Since we have been deprived of the pleasure of seeing you whipped each day as I had planned, we will allow this beast to take your place.” He then backed away to a safe distance to one side.
A massive jailer with barrel size arms stepped forward and cast the long thongs of a cat-of-nine-tails on the cobblestones before him. Tied within the leather thongs were pieces of sharp metal which would dig deeply into a prisoner’s back as the lash was laid on. It was an ugly instrument used to torture and to inflict the utmost damage and cause certain death if too many lashes were given.
“Twenty lashes!” Father Ignatio yelled, staring at Analia with a smug grin. “The number of lashes you should have received over these past four days.”
“No one can survive such a beating with those metal bits tied to the thongs,” Analia returned. “His back will be turned into bloody strips. As a man of God, how could you allow such a horrible thing?”
“He is not a man,” Bishop Bynum quickly replied. “He is a beast, an abomination to the Church and to mankind.”
Father Ignatio gave the signal for the jailer to commence the lashes. DarDar glanced through the bars of the cage at Analia, uncertain what was happening to him. “Be strong, DarDar,” Analia mind-spoke. “These evil men are going to hurt you.”
When the first lash landed, DarDar screamed in agony. The pain was something he had never experienced before. Five lashes later, he was bleeding profusely from the ripped and bloody furrows in his back. His mind was in a fog of anger, fear, unusual hatred, and despair.
Father Ignatio halted the whipping and sauntered over to inspect the deep wounds. “He bleeds,” he remarked with a smile. He backed away and signaled for the lashes to continue.
DarDar could no longer scream, as the nine bloody thongs tore into his flesh, he shuddered and felt dizzy from loss of blood. Analia reached up and grabbed his massive hand that was chained to the cage. “DarDar die,” he mind-spoke to Analia. “Pain bad, no live more.” The coppery smell of blood and the rank smell of sweat permeated the air and splatters of blood with small chunks of skin and flesh were scattered on the cobblestones.
“Stop!” Analia screamed. “You’re killing him.”
Father Ignatio raised his hand and the sweating jailer backed off wiping his brow with his bloody and sweaty forearm.
“Eleven lashes,” he smirked. “I’ve known men who withstood fifteen lashes before they eventually died. This creature is much larger than a human; nine more lashes will do him well. The next time you bring an ogre into my holy realm think again, little Imperial Princess.” Ignatio returned to his position and signaled for a servant to bring him a cup of cool wine and to the hulking jailer to continue the lashes.
As the next lash struck home, Analia could feel the awful pain through DarDar’s thoughts. She could also feel that he would surely die before the last lash struck his back. She was in an agony of turmoil and her mind was racing for some way, anyway, to stop the jailer. She concentrated on the bloody cat-of-nine-tails ordering it to fly away and at the same time attempting to draw DarDar to her so she could take him out of harm’s way. Suddenly, the cat-of-nine-tails flew from the jailer’s hand and out of sight over the courtyard battlements. At the same time, a ring of brilliant electrified fog surrounded her and DarDar and the smell of burning ozone filled the air. Within seconds, they were rushing through a tornado like tunnel heading away from the cage and courtyard.
Father Ignatio, the bishops and nobles, and the guards stood gawking at the stout iron cage in fear and awe. There was a large circle where the ogre had been secured to the iron cage. It was if someone had taken a hot blade and cut a circle around the ogre, the ends still dripping melted iron. There was no sign of the ogre or of the Imperial Princess, they had completely disappeared.
Father Ignatio quickly broke free of his sudden trance. “I told you she was a sorceress!” he exclaimed.
Analia felt as if she was moving through a bright sparkling tunnel, swirling around and around as if she was in a wine barrel rolling down a steep incline. The sensation finally stopped and the sparkling mist suddenly disappeared. She was lying on an embankment of soft green grass next to a gently flowing stream, the sky through the overhanging limbs and leaves above her was a deep clear blue and the air had the scent of exotic flower blossoms. She sat up and noticed DarDar laying a few feet away, his face buried in the plush grass. The cage he had been chained too had disappeared but he still wore the metal bracelets on his forearms and ankles. His back was a torn mass of bloody stripes and mangled flesh and he appeared to be in a deep sleep. She noted that his chest slowly rose and faded indicating that he was still alive.
Analia stood and scanned her surroundings. She was in a small valley through which flowed the meandering creek, with gentle hills to her left and an open prairie carpeted with lush green grass to her right. Small copses of trees dotted the landscape and she could just barely see a small herd of deer cropping grass in the distance. The air was warm with a gentle breeze rustling the tree leaves and causing small groups of pink and blue flowers to dance to the tranquil flow. It was a thoroughly delightful and peacefully quiet scene.
She stood and walked over to the clear stream and looked into its shallow depths. The water was clear and she noticed small minnows chasing each other around in the shallows. Analia bent over and scooped a handful of the clear water and slowly sipped the delicious and cool beverage. She was aware that she had used her unknown power to free them but she had no idea where they were. After the harsh imprisonment of the cage it felt like she was in a dreamland.
She heard a low moan behind her and turned to see DarDar sitting up holding his head. He was obviously still dizzy from the transition to this peaceful place and groggy from loss of blood. “DarDar water,” he mind-spoke to Analia. She broke off a large leaf from a water plant, made a tube out of it filled it with the cool water and took it to him. He quickly drank the full leaf and asked for more. After several trips back and forth, the gentle giant was finally satiated.
Analia looked closely at his torn back. The bleeding had stopped. Thankfully, they had removed his shirt so there was no material embedded in the wounds. “DarDar wait here,” she mind-spoke. “I will look for plants to help DarDar heal.” As she walked slowly along the bank of the small stream she spotted some lavender, a few sprouts of aloe vera, and a standing of lemon thyme. She knew that each had good healing properties, the lavender possessed antiseptic properties, the aloe vera was often used for burns, cuts and infections, and the lemon thyme was favored in her home village to treat wounds of all kinds. She picked a little of each and returned to DarDar.
Unfortunately, she had no mortar in which to grind the plants into a paste but she had noticed a large flat rock while looking for the plants. She picked up a hand sized stone to use as a grinding stone and took the plants to the flat rock to crush. Within minutes she had a paste which she scooped into another large leaf, added water, and stirred it. She then returned to DarDar.
“This may sting a little,” she stated, “but it will help you to heal and hopefully take away some of the pain.” She generously spread the paste over DarDar’s wounds noting that he barely flinched at her soothing touch. “Audi hep DarDar,” he grunted.
Analia helped DarDar to the shade beneath a large oak tree so he could rest then contemplated her state. She was still sore from the lashes she had received and the dress she wore was filthy and encrusted with dried blood and dirt. She looked longingly at the cool crystal stream then ambled over and waded out until she found a spot deep enough to bathe in. The cool water caressed her tired body and soothed her dry skin. She noticed a small white and purple lily near the bank and used a rock to crush its bulbs. The bulbs produced a soapy lather which she spread over her arms and face, then rinsed off. She repeated the action with more crushed bulbs and lavishly soaped her dress. By the time she was done, she felt much better and somewhat cleaner.
Analia returned to the soft grass on the bank and sat in the cool shade next to DarDar. She was hungry, but hunger had never bothered her in the past, it was just an annoyance she would take care of when the opportunity presented itself. She was more concerned about where she was and how she would get back to her friends and family. For all she knew, she might be in a completely different world for she had no idea where her powers had taken them.
For a while she dozed while leaning against the stout oak tree, but was soon awakened by the rowdy noise of two birds fighting in the branches above her. They were gorgeously plumed in a myriad of bright colors, but, she had never seen their kind before. While glancing up, she noticed something in the air in the distance. She walked from the shade of the tree to get a better look and noticed half a dozen huge clear bubbles floating in the sky. They were some distance away so their size must have been enormous, easily as large as a small house.
As he watched, one of the bubbles collapsed and a large object flattened out below it and began to gently glide in her direction. As the object neared, it began to circle above her and slowly spiral down towards the grassy field. In the distance, other bubbles were popping and the objects beneath them gliding through the gentle breeze all converging in her general direction.
As the first one drew closer, she suddenly recognized the gliding object. It was an enormous spider, its body flattened out like a billowing cape, the long legs tucked beneath its huge body. As it neared the waving grass, its legs spread out and it gently landed. Analia was shocked to see a rider on the spider’s back. The rider and spider carefully made their way to within fifty feet of where she stood. Analia was frightened by the enormous arachnid but also mesmerized by the grace and beauty of the rider.
The gargantuan spider was easily the size of a large war horse and its body and legs were covered in bushy black hair and its legs extended out to a good twenty foot circumference. As she watched, the monstrous spider settled down in the grass on its huge abdomen and the rider gently slid from a saddle on its back. As the rider approached Analia, she could see that it was a woman or girl, about her size or a bit smaller. Her skin was as black as the spider’s hair, and she was well built and incredibly beautiful. She wore a form fitting black tunic and carried a long hollow pole in her left hand. A purse or leather satchel hung from her hip. Her face displayed no fear but simple curiosity. The young girl asked Analia a question in a language she did not understand. The language was melodious and flowed over her tongue like a calm breeze.
“I am sorry,” Analia replied with a bright smile, “I do not understand your language.” She also noted several more riders nearing her location.
“Aaaah, tis the common tongue you speak,” the girl replied with a return smile. “I asked who you are and from whence came you and the giant?”
“We were being held captive in Britanica,” Analia stated. “I am originally from a place called Camalund, but, I am also the daughter of Emperor John of Angalund. While visiting Britanica, I was accused of being a sorceress and imprisoned. My companion, DarDar, though originally from that land, was an outcast. He now accompanies me as a friend.”
“We know well the Church of Britanica,” the girl replied with a trace of bitterness. “They have tried to convert us to their one true belief but through their deceit we easily see.”
Analia glanced around her and noted there were now a dozen more dark skinned girls, all very young and dressed the same, and all carried the long hollow poles. “In peace and friendship, may I ask your name?”
“I am called Terpsi,” she replied. We, my people, are called the Fir-ana and my friends and I are Flattie Riders.” She pointed at the other girls standing near. “We are warriors and protectors of our people.”
“Flattie Riders,” Analia mused. “The flatties I assume are the giant spiders?”
“They be, and they are much more intelligent than many would think, however, they have made a pact with us but allow only females to harness them.”
“Just like our Dragons and the Tertius, or great war birds ridden by the Vaklyri,” Analia replied. “We, my sisters and I, are also flying warriors so we have something in common. How is it, Terpsi, that spiders can fly?”
Terpsi smiled with her pearly white teeth. “Actually, they do not fly, they glide. They emit a light gas through their silk glands which expands the silk into a large bag. As the bag expands and becomes lighter than the air around it, they, and their mounts, are lifted into the air. When they reach the height they want they simply prick the bag, letting the gas escape, and then they fold their legs and flatten their bodies and glide like a leaf. We can travel for miles and maneuver for hours using the air currents to take us where we want to go. They are more agile than a cat.”
“Arga hate cats,” a mind thought came to Analia. Analia was shocked but realized that the giant spider nearest her had communicated via mind-speak.
“Your mount, told me she hates cats,” Analia whispered. “I did not know they could mind-speak?”
“Mind-speak?” Terpsi frowned. “What is mind-speak?”
“You don’t speak with your mounts through your thoughts?” Analia questioned.
Terpsi looked at her with concern. “Are you the sorceress that you have been accused of being by the Britanics?”
“I do have unusual powers,” Analia replied. “But, they are not evil powers and I do not use them to harm anyone. I mind speak with my dragon, named whiff, and with the great war birds, obviously, I can speak with your flattie. You call her Arga.”
“We cannot mind-speak with the great flatties,” Terpsi returned with a cautious smile, but yes, I call my friend Arga.
Analia opened her mind to the great spider and received an instant flood of information. “I see you through the mind of Arga,” Analia shortly stated. “The hollow sticks you carry are weapons that shoot darts which do not kill but paralyze your enemy with the venom of the spiders. Your people abhor killing and keep your enemies as incapacitated prisoners until your enemy rulers sue for peace. You are a peaceful people who love farming and art and have never been defeated.”
For several long minutes Analia described in detail what she had learned of the Fir-ana from the giant spider’s thoughts. By the time she finished, all the Flattie Riders had settled in a circle around her, most I complete awe of her unnatural abilities.
“Tell us of your land and customs?” one of the other Riders asked. Once again, Analia provided a lengthy and detailed description of the kingdoms of her land and the recent history and battles that had taken place. She left nothing out and described how her friends had come to her rescue and how her great benefactor and protector, Merlin, had helped stop the great war.
“Where is your friend now, the dragon Whiff?” Terpsi asked
Analia smiled and looked up into the clear blue sky. She had tried to contact Whiff while bathing in the stream but he did not answer.
“I am not certain,” she replied. “I feel as if there is a barrier of some kind preventing us from communicating, hopefully, it will go away.”
“You and your friend must join us at our great village,” Terpsi stated. “Happy my people will be to meet a Princess from a far-away land and our healers will help your friend.”