August 2017 Newsletter
BRING THE HEAT
Available August 29, 2017 !
Without wings or clothes and on their human feet, the small group made it several miles from their enemies. It was at times like this that Branwen wondered how humans did it. How did they go on, day to day, without wings, practically hobbled by their tiny feet? It wasn’t that she had to use her wings all the time—it was knowing that she could that made all the difference.
But now, in order to avoid alerting any of the Zealots lurking in the trees—probably on the lookout for enemy dragons—they had to stay on the ground. They had to move silently. On their tiny human feet.
She wouldn’t call all this hell, exactly, but it was close.
Thankfully Caswyn eventually woke up and was able to at least drag his feet along, his arm over Brannie’s shoulders. She was grateful for that bit of help. After two, three hours, the big bastard had gotten heavy.
Five hours in, the enemy legions behind them, Brannie stopped.
“What are we doing?” Aidan asked, Uther limping not far behind. He’d quickly gotten fed up with being “made to feel weak!” But Aidan had kept close, helping when needed to keep his friend moving on their long, wingless journey.
“I think this is a good place to turn around and head back.”
“Head back?” Aidan frowned. “Head back to where?”
“To our troops. To Izzy and Éibhear. To everyone.”
“That does not sound like a good idea, Branwen.”
Brannie focused on Aidan, her gaze narrowing. “You want to run away?”
“We already ran away. But if we’re going back, I want to take a more logical course than the one that will lead us directly into the arms of our enemies.”
“Which is what way?”
He took a moment to look around, examining the area, before pointing. “That way. We go down to—”
“That’ll take us completely off course.”
“If you’d let me finish…” When Brannie folded her arms over her chest and began tapping her foot, Aidan went on. “We go down that way through the next few towns. Then we turn back and follow around the Big Lakes of Rhionganedd. That will allow us to—”
“Lose days,” Brannie cut in. “Absolute days, if not more than a week. I won’t do it. We’ll go this way.”
“No. We won’t.”
Brannie didn’t know how it happened. How she and Aidan found themselves almost nose to nose, their anger palpable. Logically she knew they were both exhausted and feared greatly for their comrades. But that didn’t seem to matter at the moment as the pair squared off against each other.
“We are not about to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of your guilt.”
“What the battle-fuck does that even mean?” Brannie exploded.
“It means you need to stop blaming yourself for what happened. You had nothing to do with this.”
“I never said—”
“And we’re not about to run into a battle we can’t possible win because you feel guilty!”
“I do not feel guilty!”
“Oy!” Brannie thought she heard the sound coming from behind her, but chose to ignore it.
“Don’t you dare call me a liar,” Brannie warned.
Aidan leaned in even closer, their noses now touching, and snarled, “Liar.”
Startled, the pair parted and looked at Uther, who may have been trying to insert himself into their conversation for quite some time.
“What?” Aidan barked.
Uther pointed with his good arm. “That.”
Brannie looked down the opposite side of the road and watched four horses pulling a carriage, happily trotting along.
The animals began walking toward them until the horses reached them and stopped.
Brannie immediately began petting one. “They don’t seem hurt,” she noted. “Or frightened. Anyone in the carriage?”
Aidan opened the door of the elaborately designed vehicle and leaned in. “No. It’s empty.”
Brannie stepped away from the horse and walked past the carriage. She gazed down the road, trying to see if someone was running after the animals. But she saw no one and she didn’t have the time to look.
An expensive carriage like this… “Is there blood?” she asked Aidan.
Brannie waited a bit longer, but when she still saw no one looking for the carriage, she announced, “We’ll take the horses.” But when she turned she saw that Aidan had already unhooked the horses and was handing the leather straps off to Uther and Caswyn so the horses could be easily led around.
When he handed her the straps of the horse she’d petted, he asked, “What?”
“I hadn’t said yet that we were taking the horses.”
“You just did.”
“But you were already unhooking the horses from the carriage before I said anything.”
“Because I knew you’d be logical about this.”
“I hadn’t given the order.”
“Oh. I understand. You seem to think of me as someone who actually reports to you. I don’t.”
“You two,” Caswyn gasped out as Uther somehow managed to help him mount one of the bigger horses. “Before you start again with all the arguing, think I can get a drink of water before I die a long and painful death?”
“No,” Brannie immediately replied.
“Of course,” Aidan said at the same time.
They glared at each other.
“Please,” Caswyn practically begged. “I’m thirsty and I’m almost positive I’m bleeding internally.”
Deciding that arguing with Aidan at this moment wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest, Brannie easily mounted her unsaddled horse and wrapped the thick leather straps around her hands. She turned her horse and headed back from where the animal came from, assuming water would be that way if someone had been traveling from that direction. She didn’t know this area well and didn’t want to end up taking them to waterless territory.
After a solid fifteen minutes, Uther called a halt and pointed into the trees next to the road. “I hear running water. That way.”
“Uther, stay with Caswyn. Aidan and I will bring water back for you.”
Thinking the horses might need water too, she and Aidan brought them along. Brannie dismounted and led the horses in carefully. As they moved, she realized how much sound the animals made even on this mossy ground and thought about finding material that they could wrap around the horses’ hooves to silence them. The Daughters of the Steppes were known for doing that when they wanted to sneak up on an enemy, and Brannie was more than happy to try their tricks when necessary.
After a short walk, they reached what turned out to be a pond. What Uther had heard, though, was the small waterfall that fed it.
Brannie released the horses, assuming the animals would follow on their own, and went the last few steps to the pond. She dropped on her knees and scooped up the water with her hands. As she brought the clear liquid to her lips, she noticed that the horses not only didn’t follow her, but they were backing up.
She was watching them, baffled, when she heard a familiar female voice suggest, “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.”
Brannie quickly looked across the pond and with a gasp, quickly slapped Aidan’s hands, knocking the water they’d just scooped up away from his mouth.
“Hey!” Aidan complained. “What was that for?”
Brannie pointed. “Her.”
Aidan stared in confusion at Keita the Viper in her human form. Actually, her full name was Keita the Viper Dragon of Despair and Death, Princess of the House of Gwalchmai fab Gwyar, Second Born Daughter and Fourth Born Offspring of Queen Rhiannon and Bercelak the Great.
But most just called her Keita the Viper. It was easier.
She stood on the other side of the pond, looking beautiful and very royal in a purple silk gown covered in a darker purple cape, the hood pulled up so that it almost covered her long red hair, but not really. There was enough there to tantalize any dragon or man who might want to see more.
“I don’t know why you are using that accusing tone, cousin. I don’t appreciate it.”
“What have you done?” Brannie demanded, standing tall.
“There it is again. Still don’t like it.”
“Answer me, Keita. What have you done?”
With a dramatic sigh—although Keita always seemed dramatic to Aidan—she lifted her skirts, turned, and flounced off.
With a growl, Brannie followed and Aidan went after both She-dragons.
He quickly caught up with Keita as she reached a small group of royals. She faced them and with a majestic wave of her hand announced, “I did this.”
They were all dead. Every last one of them. After they’d had a drink of water from the nearby pond, he was guessing.
“Oh, Keita,” Brannie sighed, shaking her head.
“What? What is that tone?”
“Why did you kill them? Are you just bored?”
“Of course I’m not!”
“If you’re that bored, there’s a whole battlefront you can go to where you can kill to your heart’s desire.”
“Oh stop, Branwen. I killed these people because they had to die.”
“Because you were bored? Or do voices tell you things? Evil things?”
Keita rolled her eyes…again, dramatically.
“For the love of the gods,” Keita sighed. “They were transporting gold that would then be shipped to Duke Salebiri so he could hire more troops.”
“He hires troops?”
“They’re not all Zealots, cousin. Anyway, I was traveling with them, to see if my information was correct, and it was. So I poisoned the pond water and there you go.”
“And there you go?” Brannie barked. “What if someone else drinks it? We almost drank it! We were going to give the water to Caswyn and Uther, too!”
“Who knew you idiots were roaming around here?”
“That’s not the point.”
“The poison I used has a very short lifespan and with the fresh water coming in from that waterfall, everything should be fine in a…week or two.”
“Week or two?”
“I had to make sure they were dead.”
Brannie briefly closed her eyes and Aidan winced. He knew she was getting angrier by the second.
Finally she asked, “Why aren’t you safe back in Devenallt Mountain, cousin? Or, even better, with your bloody mate in the Northlands?”
Keita raised a finger. “First, I see I need to remind you, again, that I am unmarked by any male. I have no mate.”
“You’ve had twelve of his offspring. Twelve! How can you not be Ragnar the Cunning’s mate?”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you, child.”
“I am not a child anymore, Keita.”
“Well, you never were,” Aidan pointed out.
Brannie glared at him.
“Because you’re dragon,” he explained, which got him one of Brannie’s rare eye-crossings.
“You know…” Keita suddenly studied them both and Aidan was dragon enough to admit…that made him very nervous.
“We know what?” Brannie asked, also sounding a little terrified.
Keita’s head tipped to the side and one long finger tapped the side of her mouth as she studied them.
And, for the first time ever, Aidan saw what Éibhear had always said. “If you look closely, you realize Keita resembles my mother more than Morfyd ever could.”
Aidan had dismissed Éibhear’s statement, believing that Morfyd, with her white hair and crystal blue eyes, was like a twin to the queen. But Éibhear had been right all along, hadn’t he?
Aidan knew that now as he watched the princess coldly size them up like cattle she’d found at an open market.
“Plus you also have Uther and Caswyn with you?”
“I’m sure that can be fixed.” She nodded. “This could work out perfectly,” Keita announced. “Yes. Perfect. I can definitely use you all.”
Aidan just bet she could.
“Use us for what?” Brannie asked.
“To help me—”
“No,” Brannie stated quickly, with no room for argument. But Keita found room. She always found room.
“If you’d only listen—”
Keita put her hands on her hips, her expression now truly annoyed. “I am a princess. I order you, Branwen the Awful.”
And when Brannie bent over at the waist, her hands on her knees, her hysterical laughter ringing out over the entire forest—Aidan wasn’t exactly surprised.
Then Brannie looked at him. She looked at him in that way she had.
And that’s when he started laughing, too.