ight from the mouth of the cave made its way into the cavern. Some of it fell onto the lake and was reflected to the rocky roof. The occasional drip disturbed the surface of the water and caused the light to wriggle its way across the rock, but apart from that the water was as still as the surface of a mirror.|
The three Dwarves stood at the edge of the lake and stared at the hole in the back of the cavern.
"I don't think he's coming back," said one.
"He has to," said another. "Where would he go, Gunny? The whole system is flooded in there."
"There's air pockets," said Gunny.
The third dwarf stirred but didn't take his eyes from the almost submerged hole. "Actually, Gil, it's only the first fifty feet that are flooded to the roof. The rest of the way isn't flooded so bad."
"Told you!" said Gunny. "Barra knows."
"We only showed him the way to the blockage," said the Gil. "Anyway, the side passages are closed off. He can't go anywhere."
"I don't know why we had to get one of them," muttered Gunny.
"He's coming back!" said Barra.
A series of waves came from the hole, suggesting a large body was moving through the water. There was a surge and a long black shadow shot into the lake. It turned toward the shore and, with a massive splash, leapt from the water.
Mach paused to get his breath, then shook himself like a dog. He didn't have to, but he knew it would wet the Dwarves. He lay on the stone and panted with the exertion, and smiled slightly at the protests.
"I have bad news and good news," he said at last. The Dwarves quietened and looked at him. "The bad news is, the blockage is all ice from the last winter. The entire water course is frozen solid back there." The Dwarves started swearing. "HOWEVER," he said loudly, "It's fracturing under the weight of the lake behind it. It could break any time between now and next year."
“I hope it’s sooner than next year,” said Barra.
"I suppose you want us to pay you tribute or something," muttered Gunny
Mach looked at him. "What do you mean?" he asked with a frown.
"You know: gold or something for your hoard."
"I don't have a hoard."
The Dwarves laughed. "Everyone has a hoard," said Gil. "Even Barra has one."
"It's just a little one," mumbled Barra looking at the ground. "There's no need to make fun of it."
Mach shook his head. "All I want is two sides of beef delivered to my lair."
"Just meat?" asked Gil. Mach nodded. "Was that the good news?"
"Yes." As Mach spoke a deep rumble came from the depths of the mountain, a noise so deep that it was felt more than heard. The lake bubbled as air was forced from the cave. They all stared at the hole.
"You know, if we start running now we might survive," muttered Mach.
The four ran for the opening in the side of the mountain. The Dwarves followed the canal path, which curved off to the right as it followed the mountain's contours. Mach simply leaped over the canal and into space. He spread his wings and glided parallel with the steep slope until he had built up speed, then pulled up. Soon he was circling above the Dwarves and watched as the previously calm lake blasted itself from the cave and tumbled down the mountainside in great cascades. The Dwarves climbed higher as the canal rose and began over-flowing. In minutes there was a three-mile long waterfall.
Mach landed beside them and watched as Gunny and Gil closed the water gate. "Won't your canal run out of water if you shut that?"
Barra shook his head. "Only these upper reaches. We have a waterfall thirty miles downstream which keeps it flowing further on." He looked up at the dragon. "Thanks for your help. I'll make sure that meat is delivered to your lair."
Mach smiled. "My thanks."
With that he launched, turned for the South and flapped hard as he climbed. The air became thin and cold before he saw a gap between two mountains. He shot through and gasped in relief, then relaxed and glided. Before him was a huge circular valley known as the Wizard's Vale. Normally it was a brilliant green but now it was flooded. The only thing visible above the water was a tall white spire. This was where most of the wizards lived and trained. As he came closer he could see the water reaching half way up ground floor windows.
He circled above the tower then landed on the platform at the very top. Protocol demanded that he wait there until one of the wizards arrived to ask him his business, then he had to wait for the Arch Wizard to give him an audience. He looked at the stone floor that was deeply etched with arcane symbols, and shook his head. Protocol could jump in the lake. He walked over to the door and pushed it open. "Hey!" he yelled down the stair well.
"What?" said a very young voice from below.
"Get up here."
There was the sound of footsteps then a young apprentice puffed his way onto the platform. "You can't barge in here and demand an audience," he said indignantly.
"Well, there's- there’s protocol and stuff like that," said the young man uncertainly.
"Oh, sod that, kid," said Mach irritably. "I'm here to warn you-"
"Kid?!" spluttered the apprentice. "I'll have you know-"
Mach waited patiently for half a minute while the apprentice blustered before he blew a flame over the man's head. "Be quiet. Thank you. I'm here to warn you that the lake is draining. It will take a few days, so it would be safer if your boats stay away from the northern margins or they might get sucked into the caves."
"Everywhere is north from here," muttered the apprentice.
"Erm, yes," said Mach slowly. He pointed toward the Dwarvish mines. "Well then, stay away from that side."
The young wizard nodded and thanked him. Mach launched into the air and flew from the vale.
He found his way through the peaks once more and glided down to the plain far below. The high altitude left him tired. Once he could have flown twice as high, but since his capture by the pirates... He hoped Paveway wouldn't notice. As he relaxed in the glide he saw far below another dragon, and smiled when he recognised the familiar grey stripes across the black back. It was Mavrik.
But what was he doing? Mach frowned. The young dragon was standing in the river, spreading his wings and stretching them forward over his head. Mach spiralled down and landed beside his friend. He stared at Mavrik standing in water that reached his belly, and shook his head.
Mavrik's lifted his head clear of the water, gasped "Mach!" and thrust his head underwater again. Mach braced to leap in and rescue the young dragon, but a second later Mavrik lifted his head once more. "How are you?" He casually threw a large fish onto the bank. Three other fish were already there.
"Fine, fine," said Mach absently. "What are you doing?"
"Fishing!" said Mavrik with a smile.
"I'm catching fish."
"What do you mean 'Fishing?'"
"It's the only way I can get a feed without someone shooting at me," muttered Mavrik.
"I think you're being a little paranoid about that," said Mach. "The nomads won't shoot." He shook his head. "What I meant was, how do you catch the fish? I didn't see you do a tail-flick to stun them."
"Pen Mithdae suggested it. He was wondering about our flame-"
"You flame the fish underwater?" interrupted Mach. "That time-trip must have addled your mind."
"I'll show you." Mavrik dipped his head and took a long gulp of water. He threw his head back and gargled, tiny bursts of flame erupted from the bubbles. Finally he shut his mouth and looked at Mach, who simply shook his head. Mavrik's cheeks bulged with water. He pointed at the river and thrust his head under the surface. At the same time he stretched his wings forward to create shade. Mach pushed his head under and watched.
A large perch swim lazily into the shade. As it swam past Mavrik’s muzzle he expelled the water in his mouth over it. The fish jerked and became still. He reached forward casually and caught it. Mach reefed his head from the water and stared open-mouthed at his friend. Mavrik splashed his way to the shore and handed the fish over.
"I have never, ever, seen anything like that!" exclaimed Mach. He took a bite from the fish.
Mavrik beamed happily and started eating his catch. He indicated the far mountains. "Have you seen the new waterfall at the canal's head?"
"Yes." Mach crunched the last of the tail and sighed. "Wizard's Vale is draining through the Dwarven mines. There's tons and tons and tons of water coming through."
"Where's it going?"
"I don't know. Into some stream at the base of the mountains I expect. It'll cause floods somewhere."
Mavrik looked at him. "Into this river?"
"No, into one further south."
Mavrik jumped to his feet. "You don't understand! All the streams from those mountains flow into this river!" He looked downstream. "There are settlements down there..." His voice trailed off as a sound like the rushing of the wind could be heard. Around the upstream bend came a rushing wall of water. It was twelve inches high and travelling faster than a horse. Mavrik laughed with relief. "Woo! Scary!" he shouted over the noise.
Mach shook his head. "A flood like that can still capsize fishing boats or strip the foundations from under a stilt house!" he yelled.
"There is a riverside stilt town about an hour's flight from here!" shouted Mavrik. "There's dozens of houses!" He looked worried.
Mach looked at the river and estimated the speed. "We'll get there an hour before the flood!"
"Let's go!" They both leapt into the air, and turned west to race the flood.
As they gathered speed they heard a much deeper rumbling, one that could almost be felt in the bones. Mavrik glanced behind. "Bloody hell!"
Mach looked at him, then followed his gaze. Hard on their tails was another wall of water, six feet high. As they watched the little grove of trees they had just left was engulfed. The trees were not merely washed over, they were snapped off at the base as if they were saplings and vanished instantly into the roiling mass. Occasionally a trunk leapt free only to be engulfed in a second. Deep within could be heard the sounds of grinding boulders.
"Fly!" shouted Mach. They flew as hard as they could until the flood had been left behind. Mach grew tired and slowed. When he realized Mavrik was slowing to keep pace with him, he said, "I'll be all right. You must warn the villages!" Mavrik nodded once and gathered speed again.
Mach gained some height and glided to gather his strength, and watched as Mavrik's form dwindled with distance. He frowned as the young dragon dived unexpectedly into the river valley where it meandered over a small plain. He picked up speed as he drew nearer and was surprised to see a large number of people and herd animals run up the bank to higher ground. Then he could see their home. It was a Nomad ice slider, stranded by the receding snow.
The wooden vessel was sitting squarely on a shingle beach surrounded on three sides by the river. Mach landed beside Mavrik by the open rear ramp. The young dragon was trying to get the last of the herd animals out. "Mav! The flood is on our tail!"
"I know! Hunt these up while I shut the door."
Mach faced the animals, waved his arms and made shooshing noises. They stared at him stupidly. He spread his wings and roared, then chased them up to higher ground as they bleated in fright. He halted as a group of men and women ran to him. Each had a rope in their hands; the other ends had been tied to the trees. "You must tie these to our slider or it'll be lost!" exclaimed the headman.
Mach took the ropes and glided the fifty feet back to the vessel, paying out the rope as he went. He landed on the top deck and rapidly tied the ropes to the bollards there. The people on the bank heaved until all the slack was gone. He looked over the side and saw Mavrik struggling with the door. In the distance was the sound of a rushing wind and the ground trembled.
"We don't have long."
"So you keep saying," grunted Mavrik. He gave another heave. "Almost got it that time," he muttered. He shoved again and the latches could be heard falling into place. "Got it!" At that instant the flood crashed into the valley. Mavrik turned to look at it.
Mach leapt into the air.
A tree trunk was thrown from the water and speared the thick planks of the slider a mere foot from Mavrik's head. He stared at the trunk, said "Ah bugger," and was gone.
The vessel lifted above the flood and was swung ashore by the ropes. It lost most of its rigging during that first wave, but it was mostly intact. Mach sat on the riverbank and stared numbly into the torrent. There was no sign of Mavrik.
"Mav?" The people gathered around him, many of them wept. He closed his eyes and sank to the ground, too weary to do anything other than weep. A hand touched the side of his face and he roused himself. He looked at the woman standing beside him and saw from her dress that she was the group's healer.
"He was a friend of our cousins," she said quietly. "His loss is a great blow to our hearts." Mach nodded but could say nothing. The people around them murmured in agreement. "Are you the other dragon who helped them?"
"No, but she is my mate."
The healer nodded. "I hear the furred dragons are great users of magic."
Mach knew what she was hinting at, and realised she didn't want to tell him what to do. "My mate is great with Magic, but I lost almost all of it last winter when a slaver touched me with a Sorcerer's Gem." The people backed away from him in fear. He sighed and let his head sink to the ground. "Once, I could have pulled him from the flood."
"You are fortunate to be alive!" said the Healer. She dug her fingers into the thick fur behind his head and massaged his neck. "Can you find him?"
Mach concentrated for some time but could not feel any trace of Mavrik. His thoughts drifted to Paveway, and suddenly he felt the touch of her mind. Instantly she knew what had happened and reassured him. He opened his eyes at last. "I can't see him, but my mate is calling for help. Others will be here in three days."
"Then we will search until they arrive," said the Healer. She called the Chieftain over and they began to discuss the search.
ach watched the Nomads cheer as the mast was fastened into place, but he did not feel like cheering with them. Seven days had passed since the loss of Mavrik and there was still no sign of him or his body.
e opened his eyes and found himself on his back in a cave. Looming over him was the craggy face of an ancient dragon. His first instinct to fight was overwhelming, so he drew a deep breath and prepared to flame the other. A scaly hand clamped around his muzzle and squeezed his mouth shut with unbelievable strength. He coughed back the fire and a puff of smoke popped from his nostrils, making his eyes water.
ach sat in the afternoon sun at the mouth of his lair and watched his young son wobble around on newfound feet. They had spent the morning exploring the cave, and now Amraan had discovered the warmth of the sun on his black fur. The hatchling had also discovered that he could put things in his mouth, and Mach had spent a busy morning removing sticks, stones, dead beetles and straw. Amraan was grizzling now because Mach had just removed something unpleasant left by a thylacine, fortunately
before the youngster could taste it. Mach rolled the little one onto his back and scratched him until the complaints stopped.
he afternoon sun slanted across the river, its beams picking out the mayflies dancing above the surface. The river was as smooth as glass except for the occasional splash of a fish rising to snap at a fly which lingered too long in one place. In the rushes an unseen warbler called. A family of wrens flitter-hopped their way amongst some fragrant grasses as they caught insects. The male wren, decked out in his black-and-sky-blue summer plumage, tried unsuccessfully to drive off a flock of emerald-green
ach watched Amraan stalk a pademelon basking in the late afternoon sun. The hatchling pounced on the little kangaroo, which immediately bounced in tight circles as it tried to throw the attacker off its back. Amraan cried in fright and fell before running back the lair. Mach howled with laughter. Paveway had felt the lightening of her spirit earlier, and now joined her mate on the landing stage. It had been many weeks since he had laughed, and she was happy.
indi dozed fitfully. The blackness in her heart lifted and she sighed. She looked up at the clouds and sky, and knew in her heart that Mav was alive. Without warning her view was filled by the form of one of her brothers descending on her.
en sat on the grassy bank of the tarn beside Paveway's lair and rubbed at the new bandage on his leg. He heard Mach laugh. "Ah! Good!" he said. He checked the dressing again before laying back to do some dozing.
ell me about your family," said Watcher suddenly. They had spent many hours in discussion about the world and magic, and this question had nothing to do with anything.
ne year later.
mraan hid behind a tree and watched the big black dragon land before he broke his cover and charged. "YARGH!" he squeaked, then made a curious hissing noise. As he reached Mavrik he shouted "Fire! Flames!" and with his hands mimed the flames striking Mavrik's forelegs. "Whoosh!"
Mavrik watched him with amusement. "You're a bit young to be defending your territory."
"I'm one year old!" said Amraan.
"Sorry." Mavrik chuckled to himself. "What is your name?"
"Amraan." He flared his tiny wings to stop Mavrik from moving forward. "None shall pass!"
Mavrik chuckled again, then saw a dark wet patch on the black fur of Amraan's shoulder and bent to examine it. "You're bleeding!" he said with concern.
Amraan looked away. "I cut myself."
"Have you been fighting an animal?"
"Mum says I'm not allowed," he mumbled as he stared into the forest.
Mavrik reached out and rubbed a finger over the cut. It closed instantly, leaving behind a slight line in the fur. "She must be wise. What is her name?"
The little dragon twisted his head to look at his shoulder, then looked up at the dragon towering over him. "Paveway."
Mavrik gaped at Amraan in surprise. Have I been away a whole year? he thought. He picked up the little dragon and put him on his shoulders. "I'll take you home. Guide me to your lair."
They padded silently through the woods until they reached the glade. Amraan saw Mach and shouted "Dad! I have a friend!"
Mach looked up to see Mavrik trotting into the glade with Amraan perched between his wings. "MAV!" He laughed as he ran to meet his friend. Paveway was close on his heels.
The three dragons hugged each other until a little voice said, "You're hurting me!" They sprang apart and Paveway lifted Amraan from the ground.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. "You should be with your family!" She examined Amraan's healed shoulder and frowned.
"I'm on my way there," said Mavrik. "Come with me. That way I only have to tell my story once." He sighed. "You will not believe who I met."
"The story had better be interesting," said Mach. "You've been away for a year."
Paveway stared into Mavrik's eyes and smiled. "We better find you a lair nearby so you won't have far to travel." She saw Mach's questioning look and added, "Someone has to train his magical talents. I think we are qualified."
Many hours later the two families were gathered in Striker's lair, talking and laughing. Mavrik told his story as they ate and answered their questions. He mentioned the old dragon but wouldn't tell them anything apart from the name.
Later, he took Fae aside to be alone with her. "I know the truth about Myall and Aurani," he said quietly. She looked at him but said nothing. "It's good to be home, Mum," he added lamely.
She hugged him. "Let's go back to the hearth fire."
copyright Den Whitton 1997