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Authors: Donita K. Paul

DragonLight (28 page)

BOOK: DragonLight
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A hatching egg predominated the drawing. The style was like those of other murals they had seen. But in the others, a group of travelers had been pictured against a landscape. Here, a talon pierced the shell from within, and light streamed out. Mist obscured the trees and mountains in the background.

A hush fell on the crowd as they waited for the visitors’ response.

Woodkimkalajoss spoke from among the people. “What is it, Lady Kale? What does the picture mean?”

She shook her head. “It could mean anything. I’ve never known what the murals mean until later when something happens that seems to be an enactment of the scene. But this could be a fluke and not related at all to our quest. In the paintings we’ve seen before, there have been people in the picture.”

Some of those who had tagged along lost interest and wandered away as Kale and Bardon circled the fallen wall and scrutinized the mural from different angles.

Woodkimkalajoss remained with a few other onlookers. Kale turned to the man. “Do you know who painted this?”

She expected to hear the same story she had heard before: A traveling man who traded his talent for dinner and a place to stay had come and gone years before.

“Don’t know his name, but I know where he went.”

“Where?”

“North. He was bent on finding that meech colony, just like you. Of course, he never came back. Seems to me that means he found it.”

“Why?”

“Cause it’s a mite easier to get into that place than to get out.” He scowled and looked at the travelers who had been left behind—Kale, Bardon, Sittiponder, and Toopka. “You’d do better to stay here or go back home. But I’m thinking you’re probably going to follow those others.”

All four nodded. “Yes sir,” said Sittiponder. “We are. Toopka’s got something grand to do. I want to be there to see it.”

         
36
         

T
HE
F
IGHT’S
O
N

The aroma of freshly baked bread lifted Kale from the depths of slumber. She rolled over. A sharp rock reminded her that she was not at home in her comfortable bed. She was on a quest.

Much to Toopka’s dismay, Bardon had decided to spend the rest of the day in Arreach and begin the next leg of their trip in the morning. Toopka’s dramatic pout had escalated when Seezle announced she would go on ahead. The kimen wanted to reunite with the other kimens trekking north for some undisclosed reason.

Kale shook her head over the natural aloofness and secrecy that characterized kimens and shook her finger at Toopka as the child continued to mope over being left behind.

“Of course, you couldn’t go with Seezle, Toopka. What are you thinking? She travels as fast as a breeze, and you would be cranky for a comfortable ride on a dragon’s back within minutes.”

Kale gladly provided the equipment needed for a campsite out of her moonbeam cape hollows. Bardon set up the tent, and Sittiponder helped Kale prepare an evening meal. The twilight hours had been comfortable, almost normal.

Kale rolled onto her back and placed her elbows on the mat. With her hands across her stomach, she measured the expansion of her waist. Yesterday, her fingertips touched. Today an inch gap lay between the tips of her middle fingers. A baby. Soon. Bardon would be a marvelous father. She’d—

The children!

She sat up on the pallet and reached across the narrow tent to retrieve her talking gateway. The night before, she had checked for a message from Namee about Holt’s mission to save the children, but there had been no news. She’d left an image for Namee.

Bardon came in, ducking under the flap.

“Good morning, sleepyhead.” He held out a plate of buttered rolls and pastries. “The town baker has his ovens up and running, thanks to the urohm crew and Pat’s ingenuity.”

Kale tossed him a grin but kept working on opening and aligning the small gateway.

Bardon sat cross-legged beside her and put a muffin in his mouth. “I see you are eager for news.”

She nodded. He pinched off a piece of sweet mullin and held it in front of her mouth. She parted her lips, and he poked it in.

“Thanks,” she mumbled as she chewed the tasty morsel.

The opening of the gateway snapped twice before clearing.

“I forgot to have Regidor look at this,” she complained. “I hope it holds out. I can’t see where the error is, but I’m sure he could fix it in a flash.”

“Have you had Pat look at it?”

Kale leaned back and stared at her husband. “I never thought to ask him. I’ve got to remember to use Pat’s unique talents, or I’m going to have him permanently miffed at me.”

Bardon chortled. “Not as long as he’s well fed. He does love to eat.”

“So do I.” Kale reached for the plate. “Give me another bite.”

She retrieved her pastry with the piece missing and took small bites as she fine-tuned the mechanism. “It looks like we have three messages. One from Mother and Father, one from Namee, and one from Regidor.”

“Find out about the children first.”

Kale plucked a string in the lining of the gateway, and an agitated Namee appeared.

“I’m overrun,” he said. “Children everywhere. Oh yes, Holt and his company of warriors were successful in their storming of the fortified academy, but oh my! The children came in and ate and ate and ate. Some have parents retrieved from Paladise on the night Holt escaped. The ones who found no parents to greet them cried and cried and cried. Mistress Orcutt has done wonders in soothing them. Most of these ex-Followers have nowhere to go. The children with parents could go home, but the parents are reluctant to return. They say their houses are sold or occupied by unforgiving Followers.” Namee rubbed his hand across the top of his head. “How can one be a Follower and at the same time be dogmatic and unforgiving? It is a juxtaposition of ideals.

“Holt organized games in the great hall. Not quiet games, mind you. Loud, very loud, and boisterous. I had the servants remove all the statues and art, and, well, all the breakables.”

Noises of laughter and shouting came from somewhere beyond the scene depicted in the gateway. Namee closed his eyes, sighed, and opened them. “But they’re safe. Some of them show signs of being emotionally damaged, but Mistress Orcutt is mothering them, and I’m sure, with time, they’ll be fine.”

The image blurred, the gateway issued a series of odd noises, and the middle space closed in on itself.

Bardon frowned. “Was that the end of the message, or did the portal break?”

“I don’t know.” Kale ran a finger over the rim. “I hope it’s not broken. Where are Pat and the others?”

“Out getting breakfast.”

The small portal sizzled and popped. Another image came into view. Lady Allerion looked serene, as usual. Sir Kemry sat beside her.

“Kale,” said Lyll, “if you get this message before you see the message from Namee, rest assured that what he says in his report is before this message, and we have since then taken many of the children off his hands. If you get this message after you listen to Namee, then you will know what I’m talking about here.”

Kemry glanced adoringly at his wife. “Love, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, and I’ve been with you.”

She tilted her chin at him, puzzlement clouding her expression. “I’m sure Kale will understand perfectly.” She looked again through the portal. “We’ve come back to your castle, dear. We brought all the children whose parents still remain under the influence of the Followers. Namee and Mistress Orcutt are housing the families while the Follower issue is resolved.”

Sir Kemry focused on the talking gateway. “Paladin is taking action. Now, dear, this is hard for me to relate, and I know you will be distressed.” He paused.

“What?” Kale sat up straight and peered at the contraption. “Don’t you dare zap out on me now, little gateway.”

“Does it respond to scolding?” asked Bardon.

“Of course not!”

“Hey! I’m not the wizard in the family. It was a perfectly legitimate question.”

“Shh!” Kale adjusted the gateway. “Does Father look sick, or is that just a bad image?”

Sir Kemry’s face had definitely paled. “The Followers have issued an execution proclamation against all dragons. There’s an enormous bounty. Paladin has declared the Followers’ activities to be illegal. There are many counts against them, including embezzlement, child slavery, and murder. He’s written a cease and desist order, but the corruption in local governments is making it hard to enforce.”

Lyll grasped her husband’s hands. “Oh, Kemry, I didn’t know this. What can we do to help?”

“First, we are supplying sanctuary. Those being persecuted by the sect can find refuge in the castles of most of Paladin’s wizards.”

Kale turned to Bardon. “Should we go back?”

Sir Kemry’s voice interrupted Bardon as he started to speak.

“I know you children are thinking you should come home and help. But I specifically talked this over with Paladin, and he believes your quest for the meech dragons is merely the task we are able to readily discern. Paladin believes that Wulder is guiding your steps north for a more important mission, one that you will recognize once you arrive. So go, accomplish your goal, whatever Wulder puts before you, and then come home.”

The image turned to a haze before fading completely away.

Kale and Bardon sat in silence. Finally, Bardon took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Did you say there was a message from Regidor?”

Kale nodded.

“I’m confused, Bardon.”

“So am I.”

“Weren’t the Followers keeping Paladin sequestered? Not exactly in prison, but restricted so he couldn’t act. What has changed?”

“I have no idea. Maybe Regidor will shed some light on the matter.”

She changed the threads of the gateway fabric with slow and deliberate movements. As much as she dreaded what might be another disturbing communication, she did not want to break the fragile link they had with others. The configuration took more time than usual. One of the components repeatedly slipped out of place. When she was satisfied with the weave, she tightened the last cord.

The center of the talking gateway blinked white, then gray, then black. Kale pressed her lips together. Regidor’s solemn face appeared.

“This trek north is getting to be a bother. I think we’ve run into every type of adversity imaginable. Gilda complains she is growing mold. It has rained almost every minute since we crossed into the Northern Reach. The nights are frigid. Too often, lightning has kept us on the ground. We are reduced to crawling over ugly terrain when we should be flying. I doubt you will have any trouble catching up to us, my friends.

“Sir Dar and Lee Ark have gone off through a gateway, responding to some urgent message from Librettowit. Gilda and I have battled various creatures, but Lee Ark said before he left that these beasts are only hungry wild animals, nothing genetically developed by the late and unlamented Crim Cropper. Our forces have been scattered, and I don’t mind telling you, traveling in the Northern Reach is a bit eerie. I should like some cheery company, so come quickly, will you? We’ve also encoun—”

The gateway sputtered and collapsed.

“Argh!” Kale lifted the limp strands in her hand, folded them, and put the portal away in its traveling container.

Bardon stood and helped Kale to her feet. “I’ll call the others and start packing.”

She followed him out of their tent. Heavy, moist air filled her lungs as she stretched the night’s kinks out of her back. A flutter in her abdomen surprised her. She grinned and almost called Bardon, but the slight movement did not repeat. Her husband would have to wait a day or two before his hand resting on her stomach could detect the stirring of their child.

She examined the horizon to the north. Black clouds obscured a ridge of mountains. A wind swept over Kale, scuttling dry leaves and scattering dust at her feet.

“The sky doesn’t look friendly this morning,” she commented to Bardon.

He stood from his chore of loosening the ropes that bound the tent to stakes in the ground. Squinting against the dirt hurled in his face by the stiff breeze, he followed her gaze.

“No, not inviting at all.” He put his arm around her shoulders and sang.

“If you follow the road where the merry dells grow,

You’ll find a song and a dance as you go.

But the path that is dark with a friend’s tale of woe

Will profit you more than you know.”

She joined him on the chorus.

“I’d rather go home and sit by my fire,

A good meal and warm bed is my greatest desire,

But a world of ease when I’ve turned my back on a friend

Is not a world of peace but a black void without end.”

Kale sighed. “I’ve never liked that song.”

Bardon hugged her closer. “Surely it is the unpleasant melody that puts you off.”

“Surely it is the call to uncomfortable duty.”

He kissed her forehead. “After we find the meech colony…”

“We can go home.”

“And after we put down the Followers’ uprising…”

“We can sit by the fire.” Kale sighed again. “One can always hope.”

BOOK: DragonLight
11.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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