Sabledrake Magazine

November, 2004

 

 

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Dragon Heart

Copyright 2004 Jason Bolton


"Highness," someone called from far away in the darkness, ripping Andorra from the arms of the big strong hero who had a hold of her.

"Highness," came again as she watched the last of her dream fade away.

Opening her eyes slowly, Andorra could see that she was in her bedchamber with, to her disappointment, only Kolletta her maidservant as company.

Only a dream, she cursed to herself. Deep down she knew that being the fourth-oldest heiress of the Knight Sir Kaladan, she had little hope of being betrothed to any of the heirs to a royal of higher rank than her sire. Sadly she had met all the heirs of all the knights and squires on the planet and none of them had stood out to her liking. With three older heiresses getting first choice she was doomed to have to settle for the meager leftovers. And that didn't include the heiresses of the other knights and squires that she had to compete with.

Oh well, she sighed. Maybe in the next life.

"Oh good, Your Highness, you are awake," Kolletta said, opening the window to Andorra's bedchamber. "I have prepared your azure skirts to wear to lessons. His Knightship has requested your presence for morning feast. There is a guest who came to the hold late after lamplight who he wants to introduce to you."

"Who is he?" Andorra asked climbing from her bed and stepping behind her dressing blinds where Kolletta helped her out of her nightgown and into her girdle and skirts.

"His name is Baron Kirken but he rules no star system his title warrants, at least that is what I have been told by Elad who served them ale last evening. He has his heir with him, Korel, who is just a few seasons older than you if my eyes have not deceived me when I glimpsed him this morning in the hall. He is quite the rogue too if you will forgive my tongue."

Andorra pondered Kolletta's words as she looked on while the last of her skirts' laces were tied. They then went before the mirror as Kolletta did Andorra's hair and make up. She gazed at her reflection, seeing the beautiful brown haired, blue-eyed elven princess that she was, barely three hundred twenty seasons of age, adolescent for a gray elf.

Her curiosity for the stranger and his hair went strong more so for the heir wondering how long they would be at Benaroya Hold.

"Nothing in that regard was said in front of Elad, highness," Kolletta replied when asked on the matter. "But there was a considerable amount of luggage brought with them and they were given the west wing guest apartments."

"The west wing guest apartments?" Andorra asked surprised. "But they are used only for guests who are staying at least a season. Are all of the guest chambers full?"

"Why no, highness. In fact only two of them are occupied."

This was all very strange. If Lord Kirken and his heir Korel were going to stay that long surely her sire would have known in advance and then she would have heard about it before now? Hopefully there would be answers at morning feast.

There was no more discussion on the matter as Andorra waited impatiently for Kolletta to finish applying the little eye shadow and lip gloss her sire allowed. Once it was done, Andorra headed out the door, holding her skirt as she went, and down the steps into the feast chamber.

There were twelve people sitting at the table as she entered the chamber and took her place between Adriana and Azoria, her sisters who were on either side of her in age, Angelia and Aorynette her oldest siblings sat on the same side in the chairs closest to their siress. To Andorra's left on the other side of Azoria was their sire Sir Kaladan and across the table to his left sat Arden, Adrek and Asyn, her older brothers. Next to them sat the guests: Baron Kirken and his heir Prince Korel.

Baron Kirken had the air of royalty about him and he dressed the part in a teal tunic with gold seems, puffed sleeves with several rubies embroidered into the cuffs and breast pockets. His silver hair was cut short and well combed while his beard was trimmed neatly. His expression was pleasant but serious while his build was broad like a terran, not slender like an elf.

Perhaps he was a half-elf, Andorra thought, turning to look at his heir for the first time.

Prince Korel was roguish as Kolletta said, with a long silver mane tied back in a ponytail. The beginnings of a beard trimmed into a goatee accentuated his rakish smile. His steel colored eyes seemed to pierce hers as he watched her from across the table. His tunic of night blue with silver seams and puffed sleeves was decorated with several sapphires. He also had a broad build that seemed to want to burst from his tunic but his pure elvish features gave no doubt of his untainted heritage.

Andorra's sire introduced her as she settled into her chair and explained that she was always last so that her entrance was most memorable. Andorra blushed profusely as Baron Kirken let out a billowing laugh and stated that she was a wise princess who would undoubtedly catch the heart of a Duke's heir for her trouble.

" I am betrothed to Prince Gershwyn, third heir of Baronette Serrat," Andorra's oldest sister Aorynette volunteered, always monopolizing the attention of guests.

"So your sire has told me, congratulations, milady." Baron Kirken nodded. "Having met the Prince only once I am convinced it will be a good match for both you and your honorable household."

Andorra could see the amusement that had flickered in and out of Baron Kirken's eyes and she knew exactly why it was there. Prince Gershwyn and Princess Aorynette were a perfect match because they would betroth someone to maintain their reputation, rather than for love. Andorra knew that most of these betrothals were quickly plagued with scandals and the couple would get a reputation for providing the commoners with amusement. Both of them were also self-centered and pompous perfectly living up to the popular opinions commoners thought all royals were.

Andorra's thoughts were interrupted by Angelia asking how long his lordship was going to be there at their hold. Angelia had always been the curious one and Andorra could almost kiss her second oldest sister for it.

"With your sire's permission Princess Angelia, easily until the middle if not end of next season," Kirken replied bringing his goblet to his mouth for a long swig.

"Will Prince Korel be attending lessons with us then, your highness?" Angelia continued.

"I do not know any reason why that cannot be arranged. What are your thoughts on the matter, Korel?"

The prince seemed to look over at Andorra when he answered, "As you wish, sire."

"Good, then it is settled," Baron Kirken said, cleaning the last bit of food off his plate with a roll. "When can he start?"

"Today, if it pleases you, your highness," Angelia replied unable to hide her excitement.

"I see all of you have finished your morning feasts, so off to your lessons," Sir Kaladan commanded. "Andorra, please take Prince Korel with you, since you are both roughly the same age your lessons will be together.

Andorra's heart drummed in her chest in excitement but she remained outwardly calm as she gave her sire the old, "Yes milord," curtsey and headed out the feast chamber's main doors with Prince Korel in tow.

They walked silently down the corridor despite Andorra's many questions. She didn't know where to start and didn't want to come across as being unmaidenly. She decided then to let him speak first which he did as she finished her thought.

"You must have a hectic life with so many brothers and sisters, princess."

She laughed despite herself. "Do you not have any brothers or sisters?"

"Yes, two younger sisters but they live with my siress on Scarsdale," he replied simply.

"Your sire is the Baron of Scarsdale?" Andorra gasped for she knew that it was one of the star systems in the Realms capital province of Tristani. It was a great honor to rule anything in that province.

"Actually the Baron of Scarsdale's name is Guiderius Houdayne," he answered. "We only live in one of the outlying holds on Scarsdale Four."

"It must be hard being away from your harem for such a long time." Andorra couldn't imagine being away from Benaroya Hold for anymore than a cycle.

"I do miss my siress and sisters dearly but my sire says it is necessary for me to be presented to all of the royals he has acquaintance with." As he spoke the words, Andorra didn't think he was very happy about it.

She wondered silently what his sire did instead of ruling the solar system he was entitled to, but she couldn't ask. Such a private question would be unmaidenly and she refused to be scandalized for curiosity's sake.

All through her lessons she found herself losing her train of thought and looking over at Korel who was always diligently studying. He was an enigma to her, one she was determined to unravel.

That is, if Angelia would leave them alone long enough. Already the sage had to move her older sister away from Korel because she continued to whisper questions at him. But Andorra knew that as soon as mid-feast came Angelia would fall on him like a raven on a dead rat. She couldn't let that happen. So just before it came time for the sage to dismiss them, Andorra cast little spell that she had learned for just such an occasion.

Just as she whispered the last words and pointed at Angelia, her sister, with one hand over her mouth and one on her stomach, Angelia shot up and ran from the classroom. Everyone in the room began whispering and when the sage realized it would take some time to get them settled down again, he dismissed them for mid-feast.

"That was not very nice," Korel commented.

The blood ran from Andorra's face in shock at the thought of doing something he would disapprove of.

Seeing her reaction to his words, he said, "But I only wish I had thought of it myself." And he gave her a grin.

Andorra laughed with relief and replied, "You also know the spell?"

"It was one of the first I learned during my short time at the Magus Academae," he answered.

"You were an apprentice at the Magus Academae?" She couldn't believe he had even been to, much less attended the Realm's school for wizards on the capital planet of Tristani Prime.

"For about a hundred seasons," he said simply, in a tone that suggested it was all he would say on the matter.

"Can you teach me some of the spells you know?" she asked giving him the eyes that her sire could never refuse.

"If you want to learn magic, why not ask your sire to send you to Tristani to take the test?" he suggested.

Because the Magus Academae only took fifty new apprentices every four seasons, every applicant had to take a test for admittance and you could only take the test once, she thought.

"I do not want to become a wizard," she answered. "I just want to learn some spells so I can impress people and my sire refuses to hire a tutor for me."

"Perhaps you should heed your sire, princess," he remarked. "Spells should not be cast merely to impress people."

Andorra sighed resignedly and didn't pursue the subject but Korel, seeing her downcast, relented.

"Perhaps a few spells would not hurt," he remarked and he was almost blinded by the smile that lit up Andorra's face at his words.

"Oh thank you," she squealed with glee. "I will be responsible with those spells, I assure you."

Everyone was again at the table for mid-feast except Angelia who, her siress explained, was mysteriously ill, letting her eyes rest on Andorra for a brief moment. Andorra knew she was in trouble but decided it had been worth it because if Angelia had been there Korel would not have offered to teach her some spells.

So it was that her siress called Andorra to her sitting room where she was scolded thoroughly and restricted from leaving the hold for five cycles, which meant she could not ride her griffon Liala.

Instead, she spent the time with Korel learning to cast a light spell at the end of an ordinary staff. It took her four cycles to memorize the spell while the entire fifth cycle to get the spell right enough to work. The bright flame that appeared at the end of the staff neither hurt her eyes to look at nor burned her when she touched it. It was however as bright as a small candle, that Korel promised in time and with practice, could become as bright as an unshuttered lantern.

For the next half a season, Korel taught Andorra about a dozen spells that she wrote down in a book that she hid under her bed. She was a fast learner he told her and only once they had almost been caught when a web spell went amiss. She had hiccupped while casting it and it missed the barrel she had aimed it at instead it pinned one of the hold's other guests birds to the hold's outer wall. Luckily Korel was there to show her how to cancel the spell and release the bird. Once it was free it flew away and Andorra never saw it again.

The two became the best of friends, even when they weren't meddling in magic, they were never apart for very long. Then came the day that Andorra was summoned to her siress' sitting room where she had not been to since the day she had gotten in trouble. So she was naturally worried when she knocked on the door and was told to enter.

Inside, sat both her siress and her sire. He had just returned with Korel's sire from where she did not know. They bade her to sit across from them and when they saw her discomfort explained that she was not in trouble but they had something very important to discuss.

"Do you remember Viscount Galeron who visited us on the first part of last season?" her sire asked.

Of course she remembered. How could she forget how he had filled their hold with his entourage and nearly feasted them into poverty? They were still repairing the stables that a pair of his heirs had accidentally set ablaze.

"Yes I remember, his highness," was all she said in reply.

"I have just returned from his castle where we discussed a betrothal between you and his second heir, Rakyn."

"Oh my," she replied in shock. Thinking hard she remembered Rakyn for he had been with his sire at the hold. She had thought at the time that he was rude, pompous, and a fool. He was always trying to show off when her and her sisters were around and she had then dismissed it as immaturity. This, however, shed a different light on the whole thing.

"It would be a match good for all of us," her siress explained.

"What did you tell him?" she asked her sire and she could see his discomfort at the question he had hoped she wouldn't ask.

"I told him that I would have to talk to you on the matter first but I didn't foresee any reason why not." As he mumbled the last words his eyes were on the floor in guilt.

Andorra knew that if her sire ordered her to become betrothed to Rakyn, she would have no choice but to obey. She also knew that normally he would never have offered her into a betrothal she didn't want but this was an opportunity that most maidens of her station would kill for and if she refused, she would bring scandal to herself and her harem. This was something that she refused to do.

But then there was Korel who she cared for deeply and had hidden hopes of the two of them becoming betrothed. She was sure he felt the same way even though they had never spoken outwardly of it. It was the answer to two of her dreams, one wanted the other unwanted. She hoped to betroth someone of a rank such as Prince Rakyn held but didn't want to betroth someone without love.

"Can I consider the matter before I give you my answer, sire?" she asked but she already knew what the answer had to be. She just wanted to stall for a little while.

"Of course." Sir Kaladan nodded. "But I must have your answer within ten cycles."

"Yes, sire," she agreed.

Afterwards, she headed out to the hold's courtyard where Korel had been waiting anxiously for her. He quickly asked what was said, but her only reply was a soft request to ride with her.

On the backs of two griffons they headed east past the Whispering Woods and the towering White Plume Mountains to the edge of Gold Dust Lake. They sat in the sand where Andorra tearfully told Korel what her sire had told her. His reaction was not what she expected.

"Well that is wonderful news," he remarked with a smile. "Congratulations. It could not have happened to a better princess."

This only made her cry more as she realized he didn't share her feelings.

"Why do you cry, Andorra?" he asked honestly not knowing the answer. "I thought this is what you had wished for."

"I wanted this to be with you, you big brainless half-orc," she sobbed hoping it would make him admit his true feelings for her.

"What?" his shock obvious. "You do not know what you say, Andorra. We are friends and that is all we can ever be."

"Why? Do you not care for me?" she challenged.

"More than you will ever know," he answered warmly. "But we can never be more than friends."

"Is it because you are betrothed to another?" she inquired half-heartedly.

"No, I am not. I would have told you. Please don't push me for an answer I cannot give. Just believe me when I tell you friends is all we can ever be."

Before she could press him further, there was a loud rustling in the bushes behind them and they both jumped to their feet. Korel pulled a sword out of his saddle sheath.

Three hulking orcs emerged from out of the foliage, each brandishing shields and spears, and they immediately began to spread out. Shaggy manes of hair did little to conceal their ugliness, and their lips could not hide the jagged teeth protruding from their out thrust jaws.

"Mount your griffon and flee," Korel ordered.

"Not without you," Andorra returned, her eyes dry and lips moving silently but quickly. She thrust out her hands at one of the orcs and it was covered in a glowing web it could not escape.

Korel began to shout at the orcs in a language Andorra didn't understand but then the orc in front of Korel replied in the same language. There were several more exchanges between them then the orc suddenly thrust his spear at Korel. But Korel parried it with his sword while touching the orc's animal hide shield with his free hand and it burst into flames. The orc squealed in surprise and threw the shield aside and gave Korel another thrust with his spear that was again parried. But this time, with the shield out of the way Korel came forward and landed a left jab into the orc's face sending him staggering back.

Just then Andorra let out a scream as two orcs grabbed her and began pulling her into the nearby bushes. Distracted by this, Korel did not see the orc he had been facing recover from his blow and come back forward.

The orc's spear sank deep into Korel's arm, causing him to howl in pain and drop his sword. Andorra cried out as she saw Korel get hit and it drove her to fight more viscously, if vainly, with her captors.

The orc continued forward pressing his advantage at his now unarmed foe. Korel made no attempt to pick up the sword but instead stood his ground and emitted a deep growl. The griffons took flight and the orc stopped his advance when he saw Korel's eyes turn bright red. Then, before the orc's eyes, Korel's body began to change. His neck began to stretch while his body began to expand, his cloths disappearing, wings spouted from his back and horns from head. Then in a flash of light a towering steel dragon scowled down at the orc who Korel had been fighting.

Stepping on the petrified orc, the dragon headed through the bushes where Andorra had been taken. In her struggle she had seen Korel change but had fainted from the sight just before he began to move. Seeing the dragon approach, the orcs holding her let go and tried to flee but they were cut in two by a giant claw.

When Andorra awoke she found Korel the elf lying next to her, blood seeping from his wounded arm. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were glazed.

She had to get him help right away she knew but she couldn't leave him to get a cleric from the hold because it was too dangerous to leave him alone and it might take too long. So she had to get him back to the hold.

As she went to get the griffons, which had returned after the beach was empty, she couldn't shake the memory of Korel turning into a steel dragon. She had heard of polymorph spells that turned the caster into any creature they desired but she didn't think he had time to cast a spell.

Clearing the question from her mind, Andorra pulled the griffon by their reigns to Korel and with great effort she put him in the saddle. Taking a rope from his saddlebag, she cut it with his sword and tied his hands together around the griffon's neck then his feet to each other under its chest behind its eagle's talons. That and the magical charm the griffons used to keep a conscious rider in the saddle would be enough; she hoped to keep Korel from falling to his death. She mounted her own griffon, and with Korel's reins in hand, kicked its flanks and they were off. Several times during the trip she glanced back at Korel, his arm still dripped blood, his face grew paler by the minute and Andorra became more and more worried.

When they landed they were met by the cleric and most of the hold, for one of the lookouts in the towers announced their approach. Korel was carefully removed from the saddle and taken to the cleric's rooms nearby with Andorra not far away.

Heralded by questions from both sires, she quickly explained he was wounded fighting off several orcs who had attacked them. They would have asked for more details but Andorra refused to leave Korel's side where she silently prayed to Daemyn, the god of the dead, not to take him yet.

The cleric announced that there was a spell on Korel that blocked her curing spells and until it was removed, she was helpless. Baron Kirken immediately ordered transportation be made ready for him and his heir only. Sir Kaladan obeyed without question, having his own personal hover carriage made ready.

When they were loading Korel, Andorra tried to climb in as well but the Baron ordered her out and she knew by the tone in his voice he was to be obeyed. With only the Baron and Korel aboard, the hover carriage left the Hold.

Sir Kaladan ordered his daughter to follow him and he led the way to the library where he closed the door behind him. Alone, he asked her to tell him the entire story in as much details as she could remember. She told him everything except their conversation details and Korel turning into a dragon.

"He was hit by the orc's spear and dropped his sword when I passed out. When I awoke, he was lying near me and the orcs were dead. So I put him on his griffon and returned to the hold." When she finished she waited silently watching her sire pace before her, deep in thought.

Finally, Kaladan dismissed her and she tiredly went to her bedchamber surprised at how exhausted she felt. When she arrived she was met by Kolletta who helped her change while bombarding Andorra with questions she was too tired to answer so she remained silent. Finally, it felt like a season later, she crawled into bed and despite her worry for Korel, fell into a deep slumber.

She awoke with a start late the next cycle, quickly dressed, with Kolletta's help, and went to the feasting chamber where her sire sat brooding with just a goblet as company. He looked up and gave Andorra a small smile which she returned as he asked if she was hungry. She said she was and ordered a servant to bring her food. They waited in silence until the food was brought. Because they were between mid and evening feast it consisted of cold food, breads, and cheese mostly.

Andorra scarfed it down as maidenly as she could until everything that had been put before her was gone including the griffon's milk in her goblet. Her sire chuckled saying she had the appetite of a lord rather than a maiden but promised not to tell anyone. Thanking him for it she asked if there was any news of Korel.

"None as yet but the guards I sent to the place you were attacked have returned," he announced. "They found the places where the orcs had been killed but there were no bodies only bloodstains on the ground. From the fresh tracks that were found it looked as if they were carried away by other orcs but they were long gone by the time my guards arrived."

He was about to continue when a guard came forward, bowed, and told Kaladan that his carriage had just entered the hold's outer gates. He then thanked the guard and dismissed him with a wave of his hand then turned to Andorra who had anxiety in her eyes.

"Let us go together to get the news." And with that he left the feasting chamber with his heiress on his arm.

He felt her hold tighten as they entered the courtyard in time to see the carriage come through the hold's inner gate and stop before them.

Kirken emerged from it and came towards them, his face expressionless. He had obviously not slept since he left but he only looked mildly haggard for it. Standing before Kaladan he looked at Andorra and said that thanks to her quick wit and steady head, Korel would live.

When Andorra asked where he was, Kirken told her not to worry, he was with those who could heal him. Then he asked if he could speak to Andorra alone which Kaladan grudgingly agreed to let him. Kirken waited until her sire was safely beyond earshot then turned to Andorra.

"Korel told me exactly what had happened and how he had defeated the orcs," Kirken explained. "What do you remember exactly?"

Andorra knew exactly what he wanted to know and wondered whether she should tell him but she saw in his eyes that her hesitation told him everything.

"I see," he replied to her unspoken words. "Have you told anyone what you saw?"

"No," she answered shaking her head. "I would never do anything that could hurt Korel."

"So then you understand the dangers he and I would face if our true identities were revealed?"

It was at that moment that she realized what she had seen wasn't Korel the elf polymorphing into a steel dragon, but Korel the steel dragon polymorphing back from being an elf. Which meant Baron Kirken was also a steel dragon in disguise.

When she was little, she had been told tales of knights and dragons, but she had always thought that that's all they were, just tales. Then she thought about those tales and in them the dragons were always evil, never once the hero. She knew without a doubt that if she had seen a dragon before that day with Korel, she would have seen it as evil and probably fainted. That was why she had fainted when she had seen him return to being a dragon because it was what she had subconsciously been taught to do.

With all of this going on in her head she gave Baron Kirken a smile and said, "Of course. I care about him too much to let him be hurt because of foolish tales told to young ones at bedtime."

"Yes," he grumbled. "He told me the two of you were in love."

"He said he loved me?" she stammered not wanting to believe she had heard him wrong.

"Yes, he said he loved you and you him but you must understand something Andorra, you two are completely different kinds of creatures. He will live three of your lifetimes and we die when our mate dies. Also you could never bear him heirs. I do not even want to think about what kind of creature would be spawned if you tried. So you see, your love for each other is foolishness and it will only break your hearts in the end. If my business here was finished I would take him away and never return but it will not be for another half a season at best."

"So Korel will be coming back?" she asked hopefully.

"Yes, he will return in two or three cycles when he is well again but I want these foolish notions of love to end, Andorra. When we leave, we will not be returning in your lifetime and you will not be coming with us," he reproached gently and walked away.

She knew he wasn't saying these things to hurt her, he was just being honest but it still hurt none-the-less because he was right. Her and Korel could not build a future together. That night she cried herself to sleep mourning the loss of what might have been.

Kolletta woke her the next morning and Andorra joined her harem for morning feast where her brothers and sisters bombarded her with questions. She answered all their questions as simply as she could and when they finally ended, Andorra asked where Baron Kirken was.

Her sire explained he had taken the hover carriage earlier to fetch Korel and bring him back to the hold. Andorra tried to hide her excitement at the news but was unable to concentrate when she returned to her lessons. All she could think about was seeing Korel was well, with her own eyes.

When he returned the next cycle, he nodded curtly to her and walked off when she had greeted him. She had felt like she had been punched in the stomach and she ran to her bedchamber in tears, crushed.

When she emerged later on she was determined not to let him know how much he had hurt her and give as good as she got. But he thwarted her again by no longer coming to lessons and avoiding her scowl during feasts. She became increasingly moody and her brothers and sisters began to avoid her. Her siress would have said something to her about it but Kirken promised she would return to the way she used to be when he and Korel left.

Then the orcs came.

She was heading towards the stable to visit her griffon when she saw the group of orcs being escorted by her sire's guards into the main hold. Curious, she followed the group inside through the main hall and into her sire's audience chamber. Both her sire and siress were there sitting on their elaborately carved oak thrones and standing beside them was Baron Kirken flanked by Korel. There were twice as many guards as usual in the chamber while the orcs were only a third of that in number with only two of them armed. Kirken stepped forward to translate.

One of the orcs, Andorra assumed was their leader, began to speak in unintelligible growls, barks, and grumbles.

Kirken turned to Sir Kaladan and said, "He says he has been sent by the Great Marrok, Chief of the Big Tooth Tribe, to demand the one who cast his heir into the land of Baka be turned over to them before lamplight this cycle."

"Tell him, I am sorry for the loss of the chief's heir but had he not attacked my own heiress, her escort would not have been forced to send him into the great land of Baka," Kaladan replied and Kirken translated.

After listening to the orc reply, Kirken said, "He says they had trespassed into Big Tooth Land to spy on their tribe and when the chief's heir discovered them he was cut down before he could defend himself."

"That is a lie!" Korel shouted.

"Silence!" Kaladan roared at Korel. Then he turned to Kirken and said, "Ask how then did my heiress' escort get wounded by a spear if the chief's heir had been unable to defend himself?"

Kirken relayed this to the orc and when the orc replied the Baron seemed to argue with him before turning back to Kaladan.

"He says perhaps it was self inflicted."

At that Kaladan burst into laughter. Before he finished, Kirken came up to him and whispered something in his ear. Kaladan nodded and Kirken returned to where he had been standing.

"Perhaps, the chief's heir sent himself into the land of Baka after he could not defeat my heiress' escort, who was half his size, in single combat. Since the escort's blade had not been stained with blood when he returned how did the chief's heir get sent to the land of Baka?"

Of course, Andorra thought to herself. When she had gone to get the griffons at the edge of the lake, she had found the orc that Korel had first faced sprawled deep in the ground in the middle of dragon's giant claw print. He had been crushed not stabbed or slashed so they could only prove that her and Korel had been there not that anyone had died when they were there.

The orc was obviously angry when this was translated to him and his reply made Kirken's eyebrows rise.

"He says that our fancy words will not deny the great chief Marrok his vengeance and that if we don't turn over the one who sent his heir to the land of Baka then he will send all of those in your great walls to the land of Baka."

After Kirken finished translating, the orcs turned and left.

"Well I guess that is it then," Kaladan sighed. He motioned to one of his guards, "Send a message to Baron Serrat explaining what had happened and that we may have to deal with some local orcs. Ask him to send whatever he is able as soon as he is able."

"Do you think they would really attack the hold?" Kaladan asked Kirken.

"It would not be the first time orcs have done so on other planets," Kirken replied. "Does the Big Tooth Tribe have a lot of warriors?"

"Our latest estimates give them about five hundred or so," Kaladan said right off the top of his head. "They are the largest clan in the region but we have never seen them use anything bigger than hand held guns and grenades during their battles with other tribes. I think we can handle anything they throw at us."

"Then why ask Serrat to send help?" Kirken asked.

"Because you never underestimate an enemy, even orcs."

Dressed in tight midnight blue breeches, a sky blue short-sleeved jerkin under a deep blue doublet and jet black buskins covering her feet, Andorra helped guide the hold's twelve thousand citizens, who were unable to take up arms, into the siege shelters.

These shelters were built deep into a hill next to the main hold giving each harem a two bunk bed chamber that included a pot and bath chamber in each. They were all self contained, like a starship, with their own independent power supply, air and water circulation system and direct communication system to the planet's capital of Weepingdale.

The shelters were being occupied to protect the citizens from being hit by anything the orcs might clear over the outer walls of the hold. It took almost three times as long to get everyone in the shelters as it had in the seasonal drills because this time the people knew it wasn't just a drill. So they had to get as many personal belongings as they could carry together, some had to go find harem members on the other side of the hold, while others, mostly those betrothed to someone in the hold's citizen reserve, refused to leave their loved one's side and many of them had to be carried. There were even a few who just flat out refused to leave their homes and Kaladan himself was forced to go and order them into the shelters.

It was the following cycle after the meeting with the orcs that their army arrived under the cover of a magical fog that Kaladan's own wizard could not dissipate.

So Kaladan released a dozen or so automated cyborg displacer beasts, that the Realms used as scouts, to ascertain their numbers. All of them were destroyed but not before the video images they sent back was analyzed and Kaladan had a good idea what they were facing.

It didn't look good. The Big Tooth Tribe must have convinced several other tribes to help it because there were at least three thousand warriors outside the hold's outer wall compared to the two thousand Benaroya defenders.

The numbers weren't what worried Kaladan; the hold was designed to allow the defenders to fend off a much larger force than they were facing. It was the presence of Realms issue artillery and siege equipment that they should not have. The man-portable particle cannons alone were enough to make Kaladan's job near impossible even with the diamond steel walls of the hold being three swords thick.

Andorra had overheard all of this before she was ordered into the shelters but she had other ideas. Instead she commandeered a suit of Elf combat armor and made her way up onto the outer wall. With the helmet closed and its polarized faceplate completely darkened, no one could see her face.

Citizen reservists, armed with plasma rifles and swords, manned their positions behind arrow slits in the wall that gave them a wide arch of fire while exposing them as little as possible. These positions were completely enclosed within the wall, while those above them were opened to the air in order to keep the enemy from climbing over. That was where Andorra was headed.

From between the upper battlements she could only see the faint glow of campfires through the fog that even made the multi-optic sighting in her helmet useless. She was pulled back behind the battlements suddenly just as several laser blasts hit the outside of it. The soldier who saved her life pointed at his helmet and put three fingers that Andorra knew to be combat frequency three on her comset, so she switched over and nodded.

"Were you asleep during training?" the soldier asked. " Or are you just as dumb as an ogre?"

Andorra had to fight down the desire to lash out at him for talking to a princess that way because she knew that he had no idea who she was.

"I just figured since I could not see them, they would not see us" she replied weakly.

"That is just a bunch of griffon droppings," the soldier scolded. "When we took part in the Tabors Quest Exercises two springs ago, our division's battlemage laid down just such a fog, which, to our amazement only impeded the units we were facing, not us. So remember, they can see you as plain as day."

Andorra turned her eyes to the crest on the soldier's left breast which marked him as on of the one hundred twenty soldiers her sire had to provide to the Baronette's Battalion in the form of an infantry company in the time of war. On his right breast was the crest of Benaroya, a screaming griffin clutching three arrows in its left talon and skull in its right while its lion hind quarters stood atop a headless skeleton.

"Where is your rifle and sword?" the soldier challenged.

"The weapon-smith was already gone when I arrived so I was unable to get a rifle and my sword was being mended after I broke it during training last season but it had yet to be finished."

There was silence for a moment and she could see the gruff looking lord through his faceplate talking but she couldn't hear what he was saying. Motioning to him that she couldn't her him, he put up a finger to wait and continued talking while looking over her shoulder. She turned and found another soldier coming towards her with a rifle and sword in his hands which he handed to her. She nodded her thanks sheathing her sword at her worst and cradling the rifle in her arms the way she had seen others do.

"There you go," came over her headset. "Now take up your position again and try to keep your head down. We are scheduled to start firing back soon." Then he continued on along the wall.

Andorra wondered where Korel was as she crouched down, tucked her rifle into her shoulder and aimed it out into the fog. Aligning her right eye with the rifles telescopic, multi-optic targeting sight she searched the ground below for a target. She silently thanked her older brother Adrek for teaching her how to use such a weapon as she clicked off the rifles safety and activating its charge pack.

Her heart pounded in nervous anticipation but she kept her rifle steady despite the fear she was starting to feel. I should have stayed in the shelters where it was safe, she berated herself silently. But she quickly dismissed the thought knowing it was too late now. She started to think about what it would be like to meet Daemyn, the god of the dead, but she quickly dismissed that thought as well not wanting to curse her chances.

"All right everyone", came over her headset. "We are going to fire plasma missiles hoping to burn off this cursed fog so continue to hold your fire until the order is given."

The message had just finished when a hail of missiles soared over Andorra's head and began exploding in the orcs' positions. Liquid fire splashed over the area igniting clothes, flesh, metal, anything it came in contact with. The heat from the fires did succeed in burning off the fog but it was soon replaced by black smoke. But the defender's multi-optic sights could see through the smoke.

Andorra took in the scene before her in morbid fascination as the charred bodies of hundreds of orcs littered the field next to the smoldering hulks of several vehicles that by the looks of their remains were missile carriers. She found a missile carrier that had survived the missile attack and it was suddenly hidden behind a cloud that appeared from nowhere.

"Enemy missiles," someone shouted over Andorra's headset. "Take cover."

Andorra quickly ducked behind the barrage and explosions echoed around her. Someone's cries of agony burst through her headset and she quickly changed frequency but found it imitated there as well, so she changed it again and again and again. It was the same on every frequency but soon orders began being shouted over the screams to open fire on the approaching orcs.

Andorra grabbed her rifle and returned to her firing position but the shock of what she saw kept her from firing.

Orcs, as far as the eye could see were charging towards the walls with dozens siege towers in tow and carrying hundreds of ladders.

Shaking herself loose of the awe she was feeling at the sight, Andorra aimed her rifle at the orc horde and squeezed the trigger. The plasma rifle shook mildly with each shot but she ignored this as she sent blast after blast into the approaching enemy.

Hitting a different orc with each shot still didn't seem to make a difference in Andorra's eyes. They just kept coming closing the distance between themselves and the wall with astonishing speed. Several missiles streaked out from the hold and hit the closest siege tower at its base sending it toppling forward onto dozens of orcs. The orcs around it ignored those it fell on and just went around it, continuing forward. Then they were at the wall.

The top of a ladder banged against the outside edge of the wall in front of Andorra and it began to shake mildly as orcs began to scale it towards her. Leaning forward, she held her rifle over the edge, pointed it down along the latter and began firing. She pulled it back when she sensed someone standing over her and when she looked up she saw a soldier holding a pair of thermite grenades. She could see the smile on his face as he activated both of them and dropped them over the side of the wall. There was a muffled boom s they detonated at the base of the latter and it fell away from the wall. Then she was alone again as the soldier continued on down the battlement with a sack of grenades in hand.

Andorra went back to firing into the crowd of orcs below and the latter was never replaced. She then spied three missiles leap from the attackers and climb towards the wall. Without thinking she put one in her sights and began firing at it until it detonated in the air. The other two struck the position to her left with an ear-shattering explosion, which vibrated the wall beneath her, and something landed on her legs with a metallic clang. Looking back she found an arm lying across her legs that had been blown off someone at the shoulder. She jerked her legs and kicked it away from her in disgust then she looked over where it had come from and gasped.

There were body parts, some recognizable, some not, spread out over the area blood pooling beneath each piece. The battlement itself had been torn jagged by the explosive force of the missiles, smoking from the heat.

Andorra leaned against the side of the battlement as she tried to fight of nausea and the overwhelming urge to faint. Gulping air like it was water she kept both at bay as a loud roar echoed over the battlefield, drowning out the sounds of combat.

Gazing out over the parapet she saw a pair of steel dragons swooping down on the orcs and breathing their fiery death into the enemy.

A cheer went up over the comset from the defenders galvanized by the sight of Korel and Kirken killing dozens of the enemy on each pass. Andorra's heart soared seeing Korel grab the top of a siege tower and topple it before it could reach the wall.

Andorra was pulled away from the sight when something out of the corner of her eyes to her left. Turning she found herself looking face to face with a towering orc holding a huge club at the ready. She tried to bring her rifle to bear on him but he knocked it out of her hand with his club. She then pulled at her sword as she ducked the next blow and she jumped back in a defensive stance preparing for the next.

When it came, she put her sword up to parry it but it was too powerful for her and her sword went flying over the parapet. She watched it in horror, knowing with it went her only chance of survival.

She turned back to the orc who was swinging again this time the club struck her left shoulder but it glanced off the top and slammed into the side of her head. Sparkling blackness filled her vision as her helmet flew off her head and she tumbled over onto the edge of the parapet. When her vision cleared she looked in time to see the orc looming over her, club raised to deliver the deathblow.

She let out a scream and instinctively kicked out with her right leg as hard as she could. It connected with the orc's knee and it let out its own bellow of pain as it stumbled a few steps back.

Ears still ringing from the blow she'd taken, Andorra climbed back to her unsteady feet and tried to get away from the orc by heading down the wall. The orc, however had other ideas as he grabbed her by the hair, pulling her back towards him.

She let out another scream at the pain of her hair being yanked hard. The orc turned her around to face him as he raised his club high over his head and gave her a crooked toothed grin.

That was the last thing Andorra remembered about the orc as something grabbed her around the waist and lifted her into the air.

She looked up and saw that Korel had saved her once again from a certain death by orcs.

She glanced back at the receding battlement where she had stood moments before now occupied only by the body of a headless orc. She relaxed in Korel's rear talon as he headed for the main hold where her sire was sure to be.

As they approached the courtyard, what she saw shocked her. The entire courtyard was covered with wounded soldiers and rivers of blood. The dead were pulled to one side by adolescent heirs and piled up against a wall while their weapons were put in another pile where they could either be redistributed or destroyed, which ever was needed.

The cleric's adepts scattered at the sight of Korel, tripping over bodies in their haste. Korel set Andorra down on the steps of the main hold, being the only clear place in the courtyard, winked one of his big yellow dragon eye at her and leaped back into the air to return to the battle. Just as he disappeared from Andorra's sight everything went black.

"Andorra" a voice echoed, pulling her from darkness.

She opened her eyes slowly, squinting at the bright light that met her and looked up into the eyes of Korel the elf. Her body felt like it had been trampled and her head certainly about to explode. But even with the agony she was in she managed a weak smile.

" I guess that is two I owe you," she gasped softly, pain lancing through her with each word.

"I am always at your service." Korel smiled back, choking back tears upon seeing the dark purple bruise that covered the left side of her face and neck and the dried blood at the edges of her nostrils.

"Your sire said you loved me," she said, each word a struggle. "Is this true?"

"Do not talk," he replied, "save your strength."

"Is this true?" she repeated.

"Yes, it is true," he sniffed tears flowing down his face.

"Good," she mumbled as she slipped back into unconsciousness.

"Andorra," her sire called as she rose from the depths of blackness.

When her eyes opened, she found her sire looking down on her, his face ragged from worry and exhaustion.

"Did we win?" she asked softly.

"Yes, my little warrior," he chuckling in relief as well as at her question. "We did at that."

"I am sorry I disobeyed you," she breathed.

"Do not worry yourself about that," he stammered. "I am very proud about what you did."

Andorra could tell from the look in his eyes that he meant it and she smiled her thanks for he had never said that to her before. It felt good to hear.

A cleric that she didn't recognize came forward with a chalice that he handed to her sire that then brought it to Andorra's lips. The first swallow sent shockwaves of pain through her but the pain faded as she took a second swallow. When she had finished the rest of the chalice, her body was warm and tingly. A healing potion, she deduced.

A few moments later she felt totally refreshed as if she had just woken up from the best sleep of her life. She looked around and found herself in her bedchamber with both her sire and siress along with Kirken, Kolletta, and Korel. Despite him looking as if he hadn't slept for several cycles, he smiled brightly at her with love in his eyes. She returned the smile and asked how long she had slept.

Her sire looked uncomfortably around the room at all the faces and then turned back to Andorra. "Nine cycles" he said simply.

It was incomprehensible to her as she sat up not wanting to waste another cycle in bed. She was dressed in her favorite emerald nightgown but it didn't stop her from heading straight behind her dressing blinds, while ordering Kolletta to bring her something to wear, neither did the protests of everyone in the room who wanted her to stay in bed.

"I have spent enough time in that bed," she replied curtly. "Now unless you all want to be here while I change, you will have to excuse me. I will join you all momentarily."

Everyone shuffled out but she was too busy climbing out of her nightgown and donning the petticoat and skirt Kolletta had brought her. After she was dressed and Kolletta had done her hair and makeup, there wasn't any sign on her that she had been injured, she went to her window and gazed down at Benaroya Hold. Its citizens scurried like ants, repairing the damage the orc army had done to it using repair equipment and carpenters that had to come from somewhere else. Supplies were being brought in by V.T.O.L transports and after they were unloaded, they were loaded with the debris left behind.

Finally she turned away from the window and left her bedchamber heading for the feast chamber where she knew everyone was waiting for her. When she got there, she took her place at the table and asked her sire to tell her what had happened after she was knocked out as the servants put food before her.

She attacked the food as maidenly as she could as her sire explained that the force the Baronette had sent to support the hold didn't arrive until the second cycle of the siege. The air cavalry company dropped their infantry into the hold where they reinforced the wall and the twelve assault transport crafts began tearing gaps into the orcish horde for nearly half a cycle.

Finally, the orcs withdrew but they were pursued by the air cavalry company's crafts and the hold's six centaur armored troop carriers that had waited inside the main gate incase it was breached. Kaladan doubted the orcs would ever attack another hold on Weepingdale again.

Over three hundred had died and another eight hundred wounded defending Benaroya Hold while the orcs, it was estimated, had lost a thousand warriors with another thousand wounded. The orc ladies and maidens had just finished carting off the last of the dead two cycles ago so the retilling of the fields outside the walls had only just began. Kaladan had ordered that the anniversary of the last day of the siege be a feast day from then on and he ordered a statue built in memory of those who gave their lives in the hold's defense.

When he was finished she told her story, omitting the parts that she knew who the dragons were and her rescue by Korel. Her father explained that part though and said the dragons flew away when the Baronette's force arrived and hadn't been seen since.

Andorra suggested that if all the tales she had heard about dragons were true then they were probably passed out on a pile of treasure where they would stay for hundreds of seasons, the lazy beasts that they were. Then she gazed mischievously at Korel over her goblet as she took a long pull of the juice in it seeing his "you'll pay for that" look as reward.

After everything had been said, she asked to speak to her sire and siress alone. Kirken and Korel left the feast chamber and went outside into the courtyard to wait.

When Andorra emerged sometime after, she asked Korel to walk with her and headed through the hold's inner gate. Korel followed silently as Andorra led him onto the wall to the parapet where she had fought from.

She gazed out over the charred, black fields and broken black stumps that had once been trees, recalling the battle she had been in, in her minds eye. She turned to Korel throwing herself into his arms and wept for the horror of it all. He held her silently, letting her shed her tears, surprised it had taken so long to vent.

When her sobbing subsided, Korel handed her his handkerchief so she could wipe her eyes and blow her nose. Returning to lookout over what had once been a battlefield, this time with their arms around each other, Andorra told Korel what she had talked to her sires about.

"I am going to turn down Prince Rakyn's offer of betrothal so that I can attend the Realm's Royal War Academae," she explained. "I want to earn my own title and vassals, not betroth myself into them."

"I think that is an excellent idea," he replied certainly. He knew that any challenges thrown at her while taking this path, she could easily overcome.

"And when you leave," she continued, "I will never see you again."

Despite the shock, Korel kept his composure. "I understand," was all he could say.

"Do you?" she asked turning to face him. When he hesitated she explained. "Your sire was right that we are only fooling ourselves with notions of love that can never be allowed to flourish. It is like having an heir that is locked in a room his entire life given only means necessary to survive but nothing else. It would be cruel and my heart needs to be free of such bindings if I am going to have the harem I want once I have earned the title I am satisfied with. I want my heirs and heiresses to be conceived out of love not necessity. So you see, I must let you go if I am going to achieve these things. Do you understand?"

Korel nodded silently.

Andorra took his face in his hands and kissed him then she said, "I do love you, Korel. You will always have a special place in my heart. I hope that the dragoness you find to have hatchlings with will share with you the love we share."

Korel and Kirken left five cycles later and Andorra never saw her love until she was on her death bed almost eight thousand seasons later.

Andorra became the Duchess of Tristani when the previous duchess died without heirs or heiresses able to replace her. So King Alymaster awarded her the title and she left it in the capable hands of her oldest heiress Zhalykia.

During her life she wrote dozens of tales where dragons were the heroes that were widely popular with the next generation of Realmers. It was the groundwork for the cycle when the dragons emerged from hiding and took their place among Realm society.

To this cycle dragons remain well sought after for their knowledge and their loyal friendships and have given the Realms more achievements then could ever be listed here in these pages.

Those tales, I will leave to the bards.

 

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