Flood Tidings

    Light 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.
    "Why not?"
    "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.
    "You what?"
    "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.

Mach 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.
    He brought his attention back to the small group of dragons: Mavrik's family. No other dragons would help with the search and Mach felt bitter. He blinked up at the five expectant faces. "What?"
    "I said," began Striker, Mavrik's father, "We have searched all the river as far as the lake. Do you have any suggestions as to how we search the lake?" As head of the family, Striker was by rights the senior dragon but he deferred to the smaller, furred dragon.
    Mach looked at the map he had scratched into a bare patch of ground and shook his head. "Not really. I thought if we started along the shore-"
    "No," interrupted Cyclone. "We have to do this methodically. Stargazer, Prahan and I will fly a pattern like this." With three fingers he drew three parallel lines in a zigzag across the face of the map. "And if Dad, Bindi, and Mach fly a pattern like this," he drew three similar lines at right-angles to the first three, "we'll cover it thoroughly."
    "Only if we have a week of daylight," said Stargazer. Cyclone looked at his sister. "It's a big lake," she said. "We need to do it methodically, but we can't do it all today."
    "I suggest we break it up into sections radiating out from the river's mouth," said Striker. He drew some more lines on the map. "We could do each section in a day. That way we will definitely find Mav or his..." He could not give voice to that last word.
    Bindi put an arm around her father. "He isn't dead. I would know if he was. Mach would know too, only his heart to too bitter to let him see clearly or to use his magic."
    Stargazer gave Mach a quick hug. "We don't blame you," she said softly. "Mav would have tried to help these people even if you weren't here. Look at me!" she said sharply. Mach looked up in surprise and stared into her eyes. "Who would have sounded the alarm if you had not been here?"
    Prahan distracted everyone by lifting himself high on his hind legs and using his tail as a prop, in the manner of a kangaroo. He gazed into the east, then pointed. They turned and saw the dot of a rapidly approaching dragon. The silvery form shot overhead and banked to slow its headlong flight.
    "Who is it?" wondered Striker.
    "Fremantle," said Mach and Cyclone at the same time. Mach looked at the younger dragon.
    "I know her by reputation," said Cyclone. "She can fly faster than me."
    "She lives not far from my lair," said Mach absently as he watched the silver dragon glide over the meadow towards them. She landed heavily near them and lay on the ground, panting with exhaustion. Mach ran to her. "Doc? What's wrong?"
    "Paveway!" she gasped. "Egg! They need you now! Fae and Mum are with her.”
    Striker joined them. "Mach, you must go now!"
    "Go dammit! They need you!" Striker grabbed the smaller dragon around the shoulders. "We'll find Mav," he said kindly.
    "I'll help," said Fremantle. "I wasn't allowed to come before."
    Mach looked around at the group, nodded silently and leaped into the air. In moments he was but a rapidly shrinking dot heading east. Striker watched until he was no longer visible then said, "Prahan and Cyclone, ask the Nomads if we may have another of their herd animals. I suspect young Fremantle has flown non-stop for three days and would be exhausted."
    "Two, actually."
    Striker helped her rise. "Two? You must fly like the wind." He looked from her to Cyclone talking to a Nomad and back again. "Come and meet the family," he said at last.

He 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.
    "I bet that cleared your sinuses," rumbled the old one as he removed his hand.
    He sniffed and rubbed his nose. "Who are you? How did I get here?"
    "Ooh hoo hoo! Listen to the questions!" said the old dragon as he walked to the other side of the cave. He picked up a large wooden spoon and stirred a pot that hung over a fire, then he turned and waved the spoon at the young dragon. "You are in my den so you answer questions, not ask." He went back to the stirring.
    "Apology not needed," said the old one gruffly. "So, how did you get here?"
    "I... er." He thought hard but could not remember how he arrived here.
    "A hard question?" asked the old one. "All right, an easy question: Who are you?"
    "I am M..." He stopped in confusion His name was in his mind, but for now it refused to show itself. "M..."
    "'M-m'?" wondered the old dragon. "What sort of a name is 'M-m'?"
    "I don't know who I am!" wailed the young dragon. "I've forgotten!"
    The old dragon smiled kindly. "Only for a while. It will all come back eventually." He waked back to the side of the young dragon. "So it starts with 'M', eh?" He thought for a minute, then said "Mitch? Mithdae?"
    "Mithdae!" He frowned. "No, that's not it. I know the name but it isn't mine."
    "It wouldn't be yours unless the Elves gave it to you," said the old one. "It means 'Grey Shade' and you are neither."
    He looked at his scales, a deep blue, which was almost black. "I'm almost the colour of shadows."
    The old one shook his head. "Wrong sort of shadow. It means the shadows caused by distance." He thought for a second, then added "Like a mountain seen from afar." He looked down at the face of the young dragon. "What are you remembering?"
    "Two legs," he answered distantly. "A man! A man in clothes of faded green and brown. I can't see his face."
    "Ah! Someone from your past."
    "Are you sure?"
    "He wouldn't be from your future!" snapped the old one. He went back to the pot and sniffed at the steam. "I found you in the lake after the flood passed," he said abruptly. "You were floating on your back. I brought you here and tended your wounds."
    "What wounds?" He sat up suddenly and gasped as the pain of knives lanced into his back. The old dragon hurried over and eased him back onto the mattress.
    "The muscles in your back are torn. Rest," he said gently. "You were lucky to have no broken bones." He waited until it was obvious the cramps had released the young one, and said, "I will get you some hot food."
    "Uh. Thanks," he gasped. He carefully rolled off the bed and onto his belly, and became alarmed when he saw his wings drooping to the ground. There was nothing he could do about them for every move brought stabbing pains. He carefully climbed onto the sheepskin mattress. His movements raised a faint cloud of scented wood dust which squeeze from between the sewn skins. He settled onto it, gasping all the while as his back complained, and sighed as he sank into the soft mattress. "Who are you?"
    "I am called Watcher," the old one said. He turned and saw young dragon had moved. "Good! Good! I don't have to feed you any more."
    He frowned. "How long have I been here?"
    "Oh, about seven days." The placed a large bowl on the small table and filled it with stew, then he stared at it with a frown.
    "What's wrong?"
    "I am wondering how I can get this to you without spilling it," said Watcher. "It's almost too big to carry with one hand, and I can't walk on my hind legs like a human. At least," he added, "I can't any more. Did you know the very first of the ancient dragons did not have hands?" He held his hands out to the young dragon and wriggled his fingers. "We are blessed with these, but we are still essentially four-footed creatures."
    The young dragon struggled to his feet and inched his way to the table. "I can take a hint." He sat and gasped in pain. Lifting his arms meant putting weight onto his abused back, so he resigned himself to sitting like a large dog and ate by dipping his head to the bowl and sipping the broth. As he ate, Watcher carefully grasped his wings and folded them in, then used a long strip of cloth to bind them down.

Mach 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.
    It was now four weeks since Mavrik had been lost. Mav's family returned this morning with the news that there was no sign of him. "He isn't dead," said Bindi once more. "It's like he isn't here at all." She had added once again that it wasn't Mach's fault and the family didn't blame him. Still, he felt dejected at the loss of his friend.
    Amraan struggled to his feet suddenly. "Go away!" he squeaked.
    Mach looked at him then followed his gaze. A man was standing in the trees at the edge of the clearing. Mach was on his feet in an instant, bristling with anger. He relaxed when he recognised the man. "Pen!" he called. "Come over!" He heard Paveway stir at his call and swore at himself for being so thoughtless. She joined him
    as Pen walked across the glade.
    "Good morning!" said the wizard as he stepped onto the landing ledge.
    "I searched for him," said Mach. Paveway put her arm over his shoulders. "I really did. And did you know the only dragons who would help were his family?" Mach growled low in his throat, a deep rumble that echoed inside their cave. "Mav would help anyone, and no one would help him."
    "Don't be too bitter. He's alive." Pen glanced down and smiled as Amraan crawled under his long cloak.
    The dragons gaped at him. "How do you know?" wondered Paveway.
    "I felt him touch my mind," said Pen. "It was fleeting and rather confused, but it was Mav."
    Mach laughed with relief. "When was this?"
    "Three weeks ago, about when you returned."
    "Three weeks!" exclaimed Mach.
    "Why didn't you send a messenger?" asked Paveway.
    "I did," said Pen with a bow. "And here I-" He gasped in pain and went pale.
    The dragons hurried forward. Paveway lifted his cloak and Mach prised Amraan's mouth from Pen's leg. He looked in dismay at the torn trouser leg and the circle of puncture marks on the man's calf. "Ah, let's get that cleaned up," he said as he handed the little one to Paveway.

The 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 finches.
    "Be quiet, lad," said Watcher. "You'll scare the fish." He stood in water that reached his belly, his right arm raised to strike downward in an instant. "And you have disturbed the afternoon."
    "Something bit my leg!"
    "No, it bit someone else."
    "I can tell when I've been bitten, and when someone else has," grumbled the young dragon. He sat in the river and watched the nyarnil swimming not far away. Watcher had said they were one of the 'lesser races' and that other races didn't like them. Something about them tugged at a memory. Not their possum-like faces or the way they could swim like fish, but something about their chocolate-brown fur.
    He had come to know many of them during the last few weeks, and had spent hours with them in the river. The water took the weight off his wings and let his back heal, and the young nyarnil used him as an obstacle course.
    "I felt it too," said Watcher. "Some magic user has decided to share his pain with us. It will fade soon." As he spoke the pain vanished. "There!" He grabbed at something but missed and swore.
    The young dragon laughed and said, "I know an easier way!"
    "It had better work or we'll be begging off the nyarnil for our food."
    The young dragon took a gulp of water, gargled, then thrust his head under the surface. A minute later he came up smiling and clutching a large salmon. Watcher gaped at him. "Who showed you that?"
    "Pen showed me," said Mavrik. "I showed Mach and he looked the way you are looking now..." His voice trailed off. He looked at Watcher with wide eyes. "I remember!"
    Watcher smiled. "Who are you?" he asked softly.
    "I am MAVRIK!" He shouted the word with all his might. It echoed off the nearby hills and the nyarnil fled. Watcher chuckled and Mavrik frowned at him. "You knew that already."
    "Why didn't you tell me?"
    "You had to remember," said the old one. "I could have told you your name and you would have believed me, but you would always have doubted the rightness of it. You had to remember, and then I could set you on your path."
    "What path? What are you talking about?"
    Watcher splashed to the shore, then casually reached into the river and pulled out a salmon. He did this seven times, each time he held a salmon. "That's four each if we include your catch," he said at last. "It's not much for a pair of dragons, but it will do."
    Mavrik sank into the water until only his head was above the surface. "I know who you are," he whispered. "The Watcher!"
    "Watcher, yes." Watcher paused. "A Watcher. There are four of us. I am merely the Watcher of the Dragons."
    "My Lord..." began Mavrik, but Watcher leapt at him and pushed his head under water. Mavrik spluttered to the surface. "Wh-what...?"
    "I am not your lord or master or sire," growled Watcher. "I rule over no one, and am not to be worshipped. Do not even hint at that. Do you understand?"
    Mavrik nodded but did not really understand. He was stunned by the change in his friend. "I'm sorry."
    Watcher sighed. "Come, I have much to tell you."

Mach 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.

Bindi 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.
    "Random attack!" shouted Prahan, and they were rolling on the ground in mock combat. The noise brought their father from inside.
    "What are you doing?" Striker ran to the battling dragons. "Stop it you idiots! You are behaving like children." The pair halted their fight and sat before their father with heads bowed. "That's better. Now, what do you think you are doing?"
    Bindi and Prahan looked at each other and smiled.
    Inside the lair, Fae heard her mate shouting as their children attacked. She laughed softly. Their other son and daughter would be returning with the evening meal soon, or rather, Stargazer would be returning. Cyclone seemed to be spending a lot of time with Fremantle and her family. Mavrik would be pleased to hear that.

Pen 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.

Tell 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.
    "There's Mum and Dad, I mean, Fae and Striker," said Mavrik with some confusion, "My sisters Bindi and Stargazer, and my brothers Prahan and Cyclone."
    "Are they all dark like you?"
    "No. They're all shades of greens and greys. Why?"
    "Do you know the difference between Family and Ancestors?"
    "Of course! I don't see-"
    "Do you know about Black Myall?" interrupted Watcher.
    Mavrik looked at the old dragon curiously. "This is a strange line of questions and you already know the answers." Watcher looked at him expectantly, so he sighed. "Black Myall was an evil dragon who destroyed villages and killed people. I can feel a story coming."
    "Let me tell you about Black Myall. I'll let you decide if he was evil."
    Mavrik sighed again. "I knew it."
    "Shush. Myall was the same colour as you, by the way, and his mate was Aurani the gold. One day Myall went hunting and left his mate Aurani and their four eggs. While he was gone a glory-boy in a tin suit two sizes too big sneaked into the lair and killed Aurani while she slept. Myall returned and found her headless body and three dead eggs. The fourth egg was still warm."
    "Jeez!" exclaimed Mavrik in horror. Watcher looked at him. "Sorry. Continue."
    "A dragon from a near-by lair heard his howling and went to investigate. She found him clutching the last egg so tightly he threatened to break it. He said 'Look after this for me,' and handed her the egg. She had just had four of her own, so she took it and placed it with them. Myall sealed the lair and went hunting for the murderer. In his grief he destroyed three towns and killed a lot of people." Watcher sighed. "The knights of Townby-Whelming killed him by shooting him through the heart with an iron-bark arrow from a ballista," he said sadly. "Have you ever seen a ballista?"
    “Oh yes!" exclaimed Mavrik. "Up close and personal." He pondered the story and the earlier questions. Suddenly he could see what Watcher knew. "I was the fifth egg!"
    "Mum never told me!"
    "She didn't care. You are part of that family and they love you very much. That is all that matters. When did you leave them?"
    "Five years ago, I think," muttered Mavrik. "But I went home briefly after I came back from the...er... place where I had my wing mended, so I could shed on Itching Day." He looked the old dragon in the eye. "Why did you tell me about Myall?"
    "You were going to find out, and I wanted you to know the truth about your ancestor. Others will find out and will doubt your motives in everything you do. You must have no doubts in yourself. Tell me why you left your family."
    "I didn't fit in. I wasn't like them." He paused in thought, then said, "I was wrong!"
    "I'll go back!"
    "Later. I have much to tell you about the nature of our magic." Watcher smiled at the young dragon. "The Furred dragons are brought up trained in its use, but we scalies don't have that opportunity. An untrained talent such as yours can be quite dangerous if left unguided."
    Mavrik blinked at him. "Talent? What talent? All I can do is feel if it's there!"
    "Yes! If you can feel the magic, you can use it. Now, let me tell you about..."

One year later.

Amraan 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

Back to the Index for more Dragon Stories.