Maiden Flight, page 18
Adora took Jared’s advice and spent her evenings sewing a set of clothing for herself out of the incredibly soft leather he had given her. It was the finest hide she had ever owned, and every time she stroked it as she worked, she thought of the tall, strong man who had touched her slumbering heart with the gift. Remembering Kelzy too, she used two of the precious, incredibly strong dragon scales, sandwiched between two layers of hide to make protective soles for a pair of soft boots that laced up her legs and held the leggings close to her body.
The outfit was somewhat indecent, fitting so closely to her skin and emphasizing the curves of her womanly form, but she couldn’t resist the soft swish of the leather next to her skin and the warm feel of it between her legs. It reminded her that, although she had a grown daughter now mated and probably starting a family of her own, Adora herself was still a young woman. She had seen only thirty-eight winters and could still have more children of her own, if she really wanted to do so.
She had not even given thought to such ideas. Before meeting Jared, that is. Suddenly, she felt alive again as a woman. She experienced strange feelings in her body that she had not felt in years. Actually, she was not quite sure she had ever felt the way she was feeling at the moment. Jared had awakened something within her that she had not even known existed and she really wanted to see where it would lead, but she was scared.
Jared was not very encouraging. Although he had given her the specially treated leather and been so incredibly thoughtful about her safety, he had given her no outward sign that he was interested in her as a woman. In fact, he had done quite the opposite. He had been polite to the extreme at all times, but somewhat distant. He had not been rude exactly, but not warm either. Still, there was something about the man and his quiet strength that appealed to her. His thoughtfulness was even more attractive, and the fact that he was gorgeous and superbly built didn’t hurt either.
She had pants, boots, a shirt and a small head-covering that would protect her from the worst of a skith venom spray, should she be caught in a dangerous position. Personally she thought she would never need such protection, but she was a practical person and knew well the value of being prepared for all contingencies. Plus, the leather was so scrumptious that she could not resist making a complete set of gear for herself from it.
The design for the clothing was from her own imagination and perhaps a little strange-looking, but very functional if she did say so herself. She had used the precious dragon scales to reinforce certain parts of the outfit like the knees and arms and to add a bit of decoration around the neckline. Kelzy’s sparkling blue-green looked beautiful against the soft brown of the hide.
Gareth and Kelvan had dropped in to check on her briefly on their way home from patrolling the border the day before, but she had not seen her daughter for a while. It would be a few days yet until Kelvan or Rohtina were free from their duties long enough to fly Belora and Gareth over for a proper visit, and Adora looked forward to it already.
But today was the day to replenish her herb stock, so Adora found herself on the deer trails in the forest near her small home with a sack of herbs she had already collected, and more to gather. The first inkling she felt that something was wrong was when the birds grew quiet. Since Jared’s warnings, she had learned to be even more observant of her surroundings than before. The birds going quiet could mean nothing, or it could be something quite dire. Adora cocked her head, listening, and felt the little hairs on the back of her neck creep up in alarm when the sounds of the forest did not resume after a reasonable amount of time.
Rising slowly, she collected her satchel of herbs and headed quietly for her house. She had enough herbs for one day and the unnatural quietness of the forest was getting to her. Moving as softly as possible, she retraced her steps back to the track just above her cabin, but stopped dead when she saw the huge, brownish slithering tail disappear inside her cabin’s front door.
And it was in her house. Probably lying in wait for her to return.
Skiths were large, dangerous predators that hunted with cunning, though their mental capacity was nothing like a dragon’s. Still, they were formidable foes when pushed into the open. Normally inhabiting the rocky outcroppings to the east, wild skiths did not, as a rule, prey on humans, preferring easier prey like livestock or wild beasts. The new king of the land to the east, however, had pushed the skiths beyond their normal hunting grounds and somehow gotten them to act as a first wave of his army. How he had done that was anyone’s guess since skiths could not be reasoned with, yet he had succeeded.
Adora pulled her hood up over her head, well aware that there could be more where that one skith had come from. She wore her new suit of clothes as she had every day since it had been made, but she could not return home. Her only hope was to head for the village. If there was a skith here already, they may have gotten to the village or were heading there. She had to warn the people.
Moving lightly on her feet, Adora skipped through the forest toward the village but on the hill before the small town, she stopped to take stock. She could see even from this distance that the skiths had already been there. Their great bodies had pulled down several houses and the acid stench of their spray drifted on the wind, burning everything it touched that wasn’t stone.
The village was empty, the people either dead or long gone, running for their lives. She could do nothing there, she knew. Even worse, she realized as she observed for just a moment too long, a few of the skiths were still there!
One sighted her, and with a deafening scream, alerted his comrades. With a shudder, Adora ran back into the forest, hoping to lose them, but the skiths, though legless, were fast on her track. She ran and ran, but soon realized the skiths would outdistance her easily, closing her in from both sides, and she would be trapped.
Adora thought back to Jared’s advice. She had to find a sturdy tree that she could climb. Preferably one with a very leafy canopy that might shield her from at least some of the spray they would no doubt shoot up at her in their hunting frenzy.
There! Just ahead, she found a sturdy oak that reached at least thirty feet or more up into the sky of the forest. Scrambling, she jumped for the first limb and climbed as fast as she dared, out of breath from running but unable to stop even for a moment. The skiths were coming fast now and she had to get out of their range.
Too late, she realized as she felt little pelting impacts against her lower legs and she smelled the unmistakable scent of burning leather. She looked down briefly. Two skiths slithered around the base of the tree, trying to reach up and grab her with their strong jaws, spitting venom as they snarled at her. She looked up and climbed higher. The leather Jared had given her was protecting her for the moment, but she didn’t want any more of the venom to hit her. She was not sure if the leather would stand up to a second barrage of the deadly acid.
She settled in the tree as high up as she could go and took a second to look down. More skiths had joined the first two and their writhing bodies tumbled and climbed over each other, trying to extend their reach. She knew they were relentless hunters. They would not give up for days and she did not think she could last more than a few hours clinging to the spindly branches near the top of the tree. The situation was desperate.
Adora closed her eyes and felt tears gathering as she prayed. She prayed to the Mother of All and then she turned her thoughts to her dear Mama Kelzy. She reached out, as she never had before, and tried desperately to send her thoughts—her final words of love—to the dragon who had been such an important part of her childhood and who filled her heart still.
“Mama Kelzy! If the skiths get me, I want you to know I love you. You are the mother of my heart.” Adora’s arms started to tremble as her strength and the burst of adrenaline started to fade. “Tell Jared his leathers worked. He’s a beautiful soul and a good man. I’m going to hold on as long as I can and then I’m going to jump from this tree. I only pray the Mot
Adora returned to her prayers, focusing her thoughts and trying to steady her shaking limbs. There was nothing to do but wait now. She had to hold on as long as possible, and then, she had to end it with what dignity she could.
In the Lair, Kelzy trumpeted distress, her mind panicked, but clear in her orders. She called Jared to her and launched into the air even before he was fully seated. Her distress called to two other dragons as well, her son Kelvan and his mate Rohtina, and their knights soon flanked her wild flight toward the forest.
“What is it?” Jared asked his dragon partner quietly as they flew desperately for the forest. He deliberately included both of the other knights and their dragons in the conversation, linking them the way knights in battle were linked.
“Adora!” Kelzy’s voice was panicked, almost irrational. “Skiths have her surrounded. She’s in an old oak tree, but her strength is failing. She doesn’t know I heard her! She doesn’t know we’re coming.”
“We’ll get to her in time, Kelz. We must.” Jared’s voice was grim and he bent closer to the dragon’s neck to reduce wind resistance. Every second counted. “I want you two to fry the skiths and keep them busy while Kelzy and I get Adora out of that tree.”
“Yes, General Armand. We’re with you.”
Lars was always the more correct of the newly formed pair and the respect in his thoughts for their commanding officer translated to steadfast devotion, trust, and a willingness to follow their commander, General Jared Armand, and his partner, Lady Kelzy, to the ends of the earth and beyond. Rohtina seconded her partner’s words with a roar as Kelvan followed suit. The younger dragons headed a little lower, diving to gain speed as they headed for the location Kelzy shared with them in her mind. They would go in first to occupy the skiths while Kelzy and Jared tried to hover long enough to get Adora.
“We’re almost there, Kelz. Try to bespeak her. She might hear you now.” Jared used his hands and strong legs to stroke Kelzy’s tense shoulders, hoping to offer what comfort he could to calm her so they could act rationally and deliberately to rescue the woman that had become all too important to him in such a short time.
“Adora, child! Hold on. We’re coming!” Kelzy’s voice boomed through all their minds. She was using all her strength to try to make Adora hear her over the distance that separated them and it was forceful indeed.
The single word was weak but definitely there. The small group flying desperately closer felt heartened.
“Hold on, child. Jared and I will get you. Hold on!”
“I see her!” Kelvan reported from just slightly ahead of the others. “It’ll be a tough grab, Jared.”
Jared looked over the position of the small woman in brown. He felt some satisfaction as he recognized the leather he had picked out and given her. She had done as he’d suggested and made a rather unconventional suit of clothing for herself. It may just have saved her life, he realized as they drew nearer and he could see the acid streaks on the lower half of her body. He ground his teeth at the thought of her being hit by skith venom.
“I see what you mean. Get to work on the skiths and I’ll figure a way to get Adora.”
The two younger dragons swooped down through the leafy canopy and soon roars of flame were heard along with skith barking and bellowing. The knights too were employing their slings and even their swords as they got close enough to engage the slithering skiths. Jared left them to it, trying to figure a way to get Adora out of that tree and onto Kelzy’s back with him, but it was not possible. She was positioned just wrong in the tree and obviously too weak at this point to move the great distance needed for him to be able to grab her.
“Kelz, you have to snatch her.”
“No! I could kill her! It’s too dangerous.”
Making such a snatch in mid-air would demand all of the dragon’s considerable skill as well as unflinching cooperation from Adora. If either of them moved at the wrong moment, Kelzy’s dagger-sharp claws could rip her apart.
“It’s the only way. She trusts you enough not to move. You have to snatch her out of that tree.”
They both heard a disastrous yowl of pain from below. One of the dragons was hurt!
“It’s now or never, Kelz. Those youngsters are good, but they can’t wipe out the whole nest of skiths down there alone. For that matter, even if we helped, it wouldn’t do much good. We need to get Adora out of that tree now. Do it, Kelz. Do it now. She’s running out of strength.”
Kelzy sent her thoughts to the woman in the tree. “Baby, I’m going to make another pass and reach out for you with my foreleg. Don’t resist and above all, try not to move. Do you trust me, child?”
“I trust you, Mama Kelzy. Whatever happens, I love you, Mama.”
“Oh, baby, I love you too. Hold still now. I’m coming to get you out of that tree. Don’t move! Please, baby, don’t move!”
Kelzy made the final pass, glad to notice Rohtina was making her way out of the tree canopy, flying awkwardly but still under her own power. She was hurt, but she was clear of the skiths. Kelvan still fought below.
Kelzy concentrated all her effort on reaching out to her human child, snatching her out of the tree without hurting her. She reached out, timing everything as best she could in such bad circumstances and was gratified to feel Adora’s waist in her grasp. She closed her talons as gently as she could and felt the small woman in her grasp flinch uncontrollably.
“Adora! Are you all right? Did I hurt you?”
“I’m all right. Thank you for coming for me.”
“Hold tight now. I’ll have you to the Lair in just a few minutes. I won’t let you go, sweetheart.”
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