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The Scrobscyr Dragons - Chapter 2

Updated: May 29, 2023


Blaedswith is a fighting dragon in the same wing as Fritha. The two females are close friends.

Fritha’s sudden call startled Blaedswith as she flew steadily towards the border. Glancing back she saw Fritha, Dungeld slipping down her neck, sideslip to a landing on the grassy plain. She instinctively started to turn to help her friend, but Fritha’s mental yell and the fact that the enemy dragons were quickly gaining on her, decided her to carry on as fast as she could and try to get the two younglings to safety.

She was too far from the border. It was clear that the raiders would catch up before she reached it and Blaedswith made the decision to veer off. She waited until the raiding party had nearly caught up, scanning the ground for a refuge as she strained to fly faster. At the last minute she sideslipped out from under them and veered off to starboard. She had spotted a dense forest of broadleaved trees which would provide some cover. The Snotingaham dragons overshot her course alteration and took a few minutes to circle back, giving Blaedswith time to swerve between the vast trunks of the trees edging the wood. The upper leaves of the ground-cover plants almost tangled with her hind feet as she shot under the branches and into the relatively open environment of the wood. Here the foliage of the canopy cut out the light too much to allow groundcover or understory growth, and the gloom also made it more difficult for her pursuers to follow her course. Clutching Wulfram to her chest and hoping fervently that Cwenhild would be able to cling to her back, Blaedswith wove as best she could between the trees. The youngling’s talons digging into her back reassured her that her passenger was still hanging on.

The Snotingaham dragons were not yet in sight when Blaedswith flew over what was clearly the edge of an escarpment, the ground dropping away below her. She dropped with it and landed at the foot of the smallish cliff. The open area where the trees stood a little back from the bottom of the cliff had allowed the growth of a vigorous line of ground cover. Finding a place where there was a bit of an overhang, half hidden by the undergrowth, she lost no time in stowing the younglings in this meagre shelter. Giving them both a quick hug she adjured them to be brave and keep very quiet until she was able to come back for them. As she took off, she remembered to tell them not to come out unless they saw a dragon they knew.

It was impossible to fluff up the vegetation Blaedswith had crushed in her landing and scuffling about bestowing the dragonets, but she hoped that if the Snotingaham dragons saw her they would fixate on her and not look down too much. She veered off and flew west again, as though she had tried to use the time she had gained to turn towards home again. She needed to get far enough ahead that the raiders would not notice that she no longer carried the younglings. Before long she caught sight of the raiders, to the north west of her. Blaedswith suddenly realised that she had miscalculated. By veering off she had effectively flown in a triangle, and the raiding party need only fly along the third side of it to catch up with her. She had actually helped them.

Nevertheless she strained to outdistance them for as long as possible so as to get further away from the younglings. A picture in her mind’s eye of two pairs of gleaming eyes, Cwenhild’s ruby red and her little Wulfram’s emerald green like her own, peering out of the undergrowth as she flew away, gave her strength to carry on. In spite of the effort, she somehow found the energy and focus to send a desperate message to her mate, Oswin. No time for words, but she flashed pictures of the place she had left the younglings, its relation to the wood and the grassland, and her own situation. Her wings were aching and her sides heaving before the three dragons caught up with her. Knowing that she would not survive a fight with all three, Blaedswith sideslipped down into a clearing and covered her head with one wing in token of surrender. She wasn’t at all sure that the dragons wouldn’t just flame her anyway, but she crossed her talons and gritted her teeth as they landed, surrounding her.

“Where are the younglings you carried?” asked one of them.

“There was only one and she fell off when I veered away, before I got into the woods” Blaeswith, hoped she sounded sincere. “She fell somewhere in the long grass and I didn’t have time to go back for her.” She immediately realised she had given away too much information. Volunteer nothing, she reminded herself.

“We’d better take her back with us.” The one who had spoken first didn’t appear to be too bright, and looked to his two companions for approval of this remark. Blaedswith was surprised that he didn’t pursue the question of the younglings, since they seemed to have been the whole point of the Snotingaham clan’s raid.

“ I don’t know” said another, “its your responsibility if we do.”

“Well, it’ll be my responsibility if we kill her” said the first speaker, with some heat, “and that’s one thing that can’t be undone. We can kill her later if they don’t want her.” Thankful that this piece of logic was not beyond his powers of reasoning, and wondering who ‘they’ were, Blaedswith gave no sign that she had heard or understood these exchanges. After a little more debate, the one who appeared to be in charge gripped her arm fiercely, without having the courtesy to retract his talons first.

“You’re our prisoner.” Talk about stating the obvious, thought Blaedswith. “If you try to escape we’ll kill you on the spot.”

“I accept that I am your prisoner of war” she said, trying to sound calm and firm. “If you agree to treat me as such I will give you my parole that I won’t try to escape.”

Another short debate between the captors about whether a) they were at war with the Scrobscyr clan and could therefore have POWs and b) if they could, whether they should trust Blaedswith enough to accept her parole, occupied them for a few more minutes. She was glad to have delayed them and given any rescuers time to get a little nearer. She had no idea if Oswin had heard her message or where he was at this point, but she held on to the hope that he had and was not too far away. She also couldn’t help being a little entertained by the mental struggles of her captors, who didn’t appear to realise that they didn’t really need to trust her parole, since there were enough of them to fry her in a second if she tried to escape. She did wonder why they were apparently so lacking in intelligence. She couldn’t think of any adult dragon in the Scrobscyr clan who would behave so illogically.

With Blaedswith in the middle, the group took off and headed almost due east. They flew for some time, while Blaedswith kept a keen lookout for landmarks, without appearing to do so, in the hope that she could eventually escape and come back to pick up the two younglings. She really hoped they would stay quiet and in the shelter she had put them in, especially as it began to rain heavily, shortly after the flight began. Before long they entered the mountain range that had been visible from the plain where they had found the raiders, and flew over a high pass. At last her captors began to lose height. They landed on a small of plateau, fairly high up, but not at the top of the mountain, which rose steeply behind them.

Surrounded by her captors Blaedswith was ushered into the mouth of the cave. She was not impressed. The light from the entrance made a fire unnecessary, but Blaedswith would have welcomed the warmth and comfort that one would have given. It was clear that any volcanic activity in this mountain was long extinct and the cave was cold and damp. The floor was broken shale and boulders and there weren’t even any stalactites on which an itchy dragon could scratch its back. There was a stale smell of old meat and discarded bones, which no self-respecting Scrobscyr dragon would allow to build up in their home. She guessed that this was a place for the raiders to meet rather than a family home, but whether it was a legitimate military headquarters or the rendezvous of a band of outlaws she couldn’t decide. She inclined towards the latter view, on the grounds that a military headquarters would be better kept than this hovel, but given the apparently degraded state of the dragons present, even that wasn’t certain.

Her captors brought Blaedswith to a small group of males who appeared to be having a heated discussion inside the cave. The argument broke off abruptly when the group saw that the raiders had brought a captive.

“Who’s this?” enquired one, clearly a leader.

“She’s our prisoner!” announced the spokesman of the raiding party.

“Did I tell you to take prisoners?” the glare that the leader gave them would have incinerated anything less impervious to fire than dragonhide.

“Well no, but you didn’t say we couldn’t. And anyway we didn’t know what else to do with her. She and another female attacked us and the dragonets all escaped. The rest of them chased the other female and we caught this one. She’d dropped the youngster though….” The raider trailed off as he clearly realised that he had made the mistake of talking too much. Never volunteer information, Blaedswith thought again, slightly cheered by the male’s discomfiture.

Her cheer didn’t last long. Another of the males in the group spoke.

“We can’t be doing with prisoners. Who’s going to feed and guard her?”

“Who said anything about feeding her?” the leader said. “Put her in the bottom cave and forget about her.”

“You can’t do that! I strongly object to the way this operation has been carried out Guthwine, and to its objectives. It’s neither ethically or morally acceptable.” The dragon who spoke appeared cleaner and more intelligent than the rest of the gang.

“Take it up with the Supreme Leader then Gareth. I’m just following orders. And I’m in charge here. Either shut up or get out!”

Blaedswith heard Gareth begin to argue again, but Guthwine jerked his head at the little group surrounding her and they hustled her away towards the back of the cave. There were a number of passages and smaller cave entrances where the roof sloped downwards at the back, and they headed into one of these. It was wide enough at the beginning for two dragons to walk abreast, but after a while they had to move to single file. It also sloped steeply downwards. The floor was uneven and treacherous with shale. Even dragon claws couldn’t get a good grip and Blaedswith wasn’t the only one to stumble and slip her way down the tunnel. Eventually it levelled and widened out and the dragon in front of her stepped aside. Blaedswith saw that there was a sort of doorway ahead, beyond which was darkness. As she perforce stepped towards it she was suddenly shoved hard propelled through the opening. The ground fell away beneath her and she tumbled down a steep slope, crashing into a rock at the bottom. At least, she hoped it was the bottom.

Getting her feet under her, Blaedswith extended her front claws and began to scrabble back up the slope, but before she was halfway up there was a burst of intense flame in the passage. A moment later with a thunderous crash, she was knocked backwards by a rain of stones, boulders and dust. The dragons had somehow pulled down the roof of the tunnel, probably by heating the stone with their flame until it cracked. Righting herself, she scrambled up the slope and felt around the passage entrance. It was completely blocked. Instinctively she began trying to dig her way out, but after a few minutes reason took over and she stopped, realising that the task was impossible. It sounded like a dragon-length at least had fallen in and she would never get out that way.

Blaedswith turned to look at the cave. It was so dark it wasn’t worth opening her eyes. Dragons are very good indeed at seeing in the dark, but even their eyes require a few photons of light to work with. Here there were none. The cave, like the one above, was cold and dank, and she could hear water dripping somewhere. She thought of Oswin, her lovely mate, of Wulfram and all her other offspring. Despair crept over her and she laid her head on the stony floor and wept.

After a while the sound of the dripping water forced its way through her grief as though it were falling directly on her head. Irritation forced her off the ground.

“Come on girl” she told herself “don’t give up until you keel over. Lets see what’s what.”

With this stirring admonition she forced herself up and began to explore her prison - her tomb, her mind whispered - by touch. The darkness was indescribably intense. She could use her flame to light it, but without food the gases that fuelled the flame would quickly deplete, and she wanted to save her most effective weapon for emergencies.

“And this isn’t an emergency?” she asked herself. “No, this is a challenge!” she replied firmly.

By dint of banging her nose on every available obstacle, Blaedswith made a rough map of the cave in her mind. It was not particularly large, and the roof was low enough that only in the centre could she stand upright on her hind legs. She worked her way round the walls, but no other entrances appeared. One wall was running with water, and she licked up as much as she could before moving on. At last she found a crack that appeared to run vertically upwards. She risked a little trickle of flame, startlingly bright after the complete darkness, and saw that it did indeed lead upwards. There was a horizontal crack, large enough to crawl through, high up on another wall, but she thought that going deeper into the mountain would not help her get out. Also it would be easy to get lost if there were many other caves, and she would never find her way back here in the utter darkness. Not that there was much point in getting back to this cave, but the thought of getting stuck in a tight tunnel and slowly suffocating didn’t appeal to her.

There was no guarantee that she wouldn’t get lost or stuck in the chimney she was looking at now, but she had to do something, and at least it was heading in the right direction – upwards. Blaedswith surveyed the chimney as thoroughly as she could in the brief burst of light. It didn’t seem to get much narrower as high up as she could see. She was pretty sure she could fit though the opening, so, following her gut feeling she extended all her talons and began to climb.

The first part of the climb was easy enough and Blaedswith made good progress. As she went higher the chimney began to narrow until she could only just fit through. Panic began to grow in her belly as the rock closed in around her body, and she fought the impulse to let go and drop back into the cave. Sure that she would get stuck any minute, she pushed her shoulders and wings further up, feeling her hide shredding against the teeth of rock. For a second she could move neither forward nor back. Her heart pounded as she shoved and she felt lightheaded because she couldn’t breath properly. Her mind spun with visions of her long, slow death, stuck in this appalling chimney. She lived days in a nanosecond of terror. With a final, convulsive, eel-like wriggle she moved up and into a wider space. Now she had to stretch out her legs and inch upwards with hands on one wall and feet on the other, but soon the walls closed in again and she was back to wriggling.

The crack continued upwards, changing shape and angle for what seemed like hours, but thankfully never so wide or so narrow that she couldn’t manage, though the edges of her wings and her shoulders, elbows, knees and hips were raw and bleeding. At last, as she came through a particularly narrow bit, Blaedswith’s nose touched a solid surface. For a moment she despaired, thinking she had reached solid rock, but pushing harder against it she realised it was sandy soil, with roots reaching through to brush her face. She tried to dig through it with the one front foot she could spare from holding onto the rock wall, but couldn’t get enough purchase. After resting a minute or two she managed to force the rest of her body through the narrow part into the wider space just under the surface, where she squatted across the hole, wings tight to her back and her long sinuous neck arranged in a most uncomfortable coil. From this position she was able to dig away the soil with her strong front talons, and after a few moments the surface gave way and great lumps of soil and grass fell past her into the crack. Blaeswith heaved herself out of the hole and lay on the grass, panting and looking at the sky.

It was the dark of the moon and the sky was cloudy, but after the pure darkness of the cave it might have been noon to her eyes. The rain was still sluicing down and she felt the dust and soil washing from her hide, while the water soothed her many scrapes and cuts. Afraid that the raiders would find her, she hauled herself to her feet after a few minutes and, spurred on by an even stronger fear for the younglings, she flung herself into the sky and set off westward, guided by her inborn sense of direction. Her wings felt raw and stiff as they beat steadily, but her mind was on Wulfram and Cwenhild. As well as the danger of them being found by the raiders, there were some fairly appalling creatures in the forests that would be happy to prey upon young dragons. Even adults in the flower of their strength were not safe if a pack of the huge, wolf-like creatures worked together, while the great, flightless, nocturnal birds that sometimes wandered the forests would give any dragon pause.

As she flew Blaedswith sent her mind outwards, searching for any sense of Wulfram. When she had been in pursuit of the raiders earlier in the day, she had felt a clear pull towards him, almost a sense of him calling her. It was the first time this had happened to her with regard to one of her offspring, but at this point she would try anything to have reassurance about her son.

After a little she felt that pull again, and called out mentally, putting as much strength and energy in her call as possible. So much so that her concentration faltered and she forgot to flap. Recalled by the sudden drop in altitude she hastily began to beat her wings again, and was rewarded by Wulfram’s voice calling her. This ability to speak to him at a distance was something that needed careful thought when she was a little less pressed, and also that she needed to discuss with Randolf, the clan leader, and the other elders. For now, she was just glad to hear him and know that he was alive.

When Blaedswith arrived at the edge of the forest, she had no trouble finding Wulfram. Their connection seemed to grow in strength as she got nearer to him. At last she landed in front of the overhang where he and Cwenhild were hiding. Wulfram came rushing out and flung himself at her.

“Mum!” he shouted. Blaedswith hugged him tight, stretching out one arm to pull Cwenhild to her as well. The little dragons clung to her, their front claws fully extended to hook into her hide as though to anchor themselves. She didn’t mind the small pinpricks. They assured her that the younglings were safe. The newly risen sun was warm on her back, birds sang in the depths of the forest. Blaedswith closed her eyes and let herself absorb the lovely sounds. One bird had a clear bell-like call and she was aware of many tiny insect noises. After a few moments she pulled herself away and urged the younglings to get ready to fly home. She was consumed by the feeling that the raiders might find she had gone and somehow follow her here. Cwenhild once more clambered onto Blaedswith’s back and clung on with all four sets of talons. Blaedswith couldn’t resist clasping Wulfram to her chest as she took off for Scrobscyr territory.

After a few moments Wulfram remarked casually

“Oh, by the way Mum, Dad’s injured. He was knocked out and hurt his wing in the fight with the Lunenwyc lot.” Surprise made Blaedswith falter in her flight for a moment.

“How do you know that?”

“He told me, a while before you spoke to me. I think he thought you might have been trying to talk to him, cos they told him about us being captured. Where were you mum?”

“I’ll tell you all about it when we get home. How long have you been able to talk to your Dad at a distance?”

“Well, I’ve never tried before, but I can talk to Aelwyth and Cedric and Wulstan and Oswald and loads of other people.”

The dragons he mentioned were all younglings and trainees, some of them his siblings, others friends from the youngling wing.

“Why didn’t you tell me you could do that?”

“You didn’t ask. I thought you could do it too. Can’t you?”

Torn between being truthful with her youngling and retaining some measure of dignity, Blaedswith did what mothers have done since time immemorial. She changed the subject.

“Did you see any other dragons while I was away?”

“Yes, some of those dirty ones flew over a couple of times, but they didn’t look down.”

With the resilience of extreme youth and the reassurance of his mother’s presence, Wulfram seemed to be recovering from his fright and to be enjoying the adventure. Blaedswith had just begun to relax as the border came into sight, when she became aware of a dark bulk bearing down on her from the south east.

“Oh not again!” She thought, with more irritation than anything else. In her current emotional state of exhaustion, elation, apprehension and the beginnings of relief, anything more complex than annoyance seemed beyond her.

Instead of attacking the strange dragon banked to fly alongside her.

“Mestra, will you talk with me?” he enquired, courteously enough. She thought she recognised the mental voice of the dragon who had argued with the leader in the cave. Gareth she thought he had been called.

“Why should I? I will be over the border in a few minutes and you will be the one in danger of capture” she said, hoping that he was alone.

“I will land. If you choose you can fly away, but I would value a word with you.”

The other dragon glided down to land on the plain below. After flying on for a few minutes, Blaedswith

Blaedswith's youngling, Wulfram

sighed and circled round to land beside him. As she did so, she sent out a mental call to Oswin. There was no reply.

“Speak then.” She said abruptly.

“Firstly I want to apologise for how you were treated Mestra. I went down the tunnel after the others had left but there was too much rock in the way. I just couldn’t dig you out.”

“How did you find me then?”

“I went out onto the hillside, roughly where I calculated the lower cave must lie, in the hope of finding a way of digging down to you. I found the hole you made escaping and remembered where we caught you in the forest. I flew there and saw you leaving, so I followed you.” He sounded sincere and Blaedswith was slightly mollified in spite of herself.

“So what do you want from me, if you’re not here to recapture me?” She asked.

“I want to let your clan know that not all of the Snotingaham clan agree with those who have restarted the war. There is something wrong in our clan. The dragons are not as healthy as we used to be and some seem less reasonable. Game is scarce and we are getting desperate. The leader thinks that we should try to take some of your territory, if not all of it, and they have entered into an alliance with the Lunenwyc lot.” Part of Blaedswith’s mind registered, with complete irrelevance, that Gareth’s clan also referred to their allies as “the Lunenwyc lot”.

The rest of her thoughts were properly concentrated on the matter in hand, and she made an encouraging sound to move Gareth along.

“I don’t want a war with you or any clan. We are not strong enough to succeed and I don’t want to see my clan decimated. I will help you as much as I can to prevent any raids like the one today from succeeding by keeping you informed when your clan is going to be targeted, on condition that your clan promises not to take reprisals on my people or start a war on your own account.”

“You must know I can give no such promise on behalf of the Scrobscyr clan. The Leader and Elders must discuss it and come to a decision. And even if I could, I’m not sure I would. What your people did today was unforgivable. Taking away our younglings strikes at the heart of our clan. Nothing is more important to us than family and clan.”

“Believe me, I know that. I can’t say any more, but please talk to your leader and get word to me”

“Why don’t you come with me and talk to him yourself. You can make a better case than I will.” In spite of herself Blaedswith was beginning to like this polite and open dragon.

“I cannot. I have a mate and family of my own. If I cross the border and word gets back to our leader, my life and those of my family would be worth nothing. And anyway” he added, suddenly descending from high drama into the mundane, “my mate is brooding and will kill me herself if I don’t get home soon.”

“If you are serious about betraying your clan” Blaedswith saw no reason to mince her words “you will come and give whatever information you have to our Elders.”

“They are not, strictly speaking, my clan, I was born to the Oxenford clan. My mate is a Snotingaham though. I do not want to betray them, as you put it” there was some asperity in his voice and Blaedswith scored one for him. “but I don’t want this war and I hate what they did today. I don’t want any dragons to die, on either side.” Blaedswith looked at him with more respect.

“If you ever decide to seek refuge in the Scrobscyr clan, I will speak for you. My name is Blaedswith”

“I am Gareth. I won’t keep you any longer, you need to get your younglings home.”

Blaedswith bade him goodbye and took off again with her precious burden, who had both been remarkably quiet during the conversation. She had half expected Wulfram at least to express his opinion with youngling directness. She had flown for some way before she realised that she had no way to get in touch with Gareth to let him know what Randolf and the Elders had decided. She tried not to think about asking Wulfram if he would be able to speak to Gareth at a distance. After a moment his very quiet mental voice said

“I could, you know.” Blaedswith didn’t even bother to reply.

The morning was well advanced before she landed at Fritha’s cave. The whole band of hatchlings, her own and Fritha’s, with the two rather frazzled trainees behind, rushed out to greet her. Picking off, one by one, the hatchlings who clung to her like particularly prickly fruit, and placing them on the ground, Blaedswith put down Wulfram and lowered her shoulder to let Cwenhild dismount. She eyed the two trainees with resignation.

“Fritha and Cerneric not back yet then?” She enquired.

“No, but a trainee came a while ago to say that they’re ok and they’ll be back soon. But the hatchlings are so naughty. They won’t do anything we say and they keep flying away and getting stuck in the …. Look out Ethelwald, Aethelswyth is off again!” gasped Celwyn.

Ethelwald flew after Aethelswyth and retrieved him from the crag for what was clearly not the first time.

“Have you fed them?” Blaeswith switched from fighting dragon into mother mode.

“We fed them last night, but we haven’t had a chance yet this morning. And we’re pretty hungry too!” chipped in Ethelwald, clearly feeling rather aggrieved.

“Well lets have some food now and everyone will feel better”, said Blaeswith comfortingly. “And it will keep the little ones occupied while you tell me what’s going on. Bite up some meat for the hatchlings will you please?” The hatchlings were not yet able to tear meat from a carcass for themselves and had to have it presented in more or less bite sized pieces. Fortunately Fritha and Cerneric’s meat store was well supplied with carcasses, packed in snow from the mountaintop.

When all were settled with appropriate quantities of meat, Blaedswith gave the trainees a brief synopsis of her adventures, leaving out most of the detail of what happened while she was captive in case their discretion was not as great as she hoped. She made it clear to them that nothing they learned could be shared in the trainees’ barracks, and their jewel coloured eyes brightened with excitement.

All Ethelwald and Celwyn were able to tell her was that Fritha and the other three younglings were safe and that Fritha and Cerneric had gone to consult with Randolf and the other Elders. Blaedswith was in a dilemma. She needed to find out what had happened to Oswin, but she didn’t want to leave the two trainees with all the hatchlings again. They seemed to be at the end of their tethers with the mischievous little tykes, and they needed to return to the trainee barracks soon, as both were scheduled for training patrols with a fighting wing the next day. She tried again to contact Oswin, and this time she had a sense of him, but it was fuzzy and he didn’t seem to be making much sense. More worried than ever she tried to think how she could get in touch with someone. She thought of sending one of the trainees to Randolf’s cave and the other to report to the training master what was happening, but didn’t like the thought of the young dragons flying about alone with raiders possibly in the area. Also she needed to let Cwenhild’s family know that the youngling was safe.

In desperation she thought of trying to reach Fritha herself. After an effort that made the sweat break out all over her hide, a faint echo of Fritha’s mental voice came to her.

“Blaedswith? Where are you”

“At your place. Can you come?”

A faint echo of an affirmative came back and she let the connection drop with relief. She was so tired that she didn’t think she could stay awake until Fritha arrived from Randolf’s cave, some hours flight away. She longed for her own cosy cave, but Fritha’s was warm and well appointed. Pulling together her concentration it occurred to her to ask Celwyn and Ethelwald if they could contact anyone at the trainee barracks from this distance. The barracks were an hour or so’s flight away. Neither seemed the least surprised by the request, so Blaedswith asked them to get a message to the Trainee Master that they would be a little late by request of Blaedswith and for reasons of Scrobscyr security. The Trainee Master knew all the fighting dragons well and would accept Blaedswith’s word that the absence was necessary.

“Could you two possibly hold the fort for a couple of hours?” she asked. “I must sleep until your mum gets back.”

“Course Auntie Blaedswith. They’re all asleep now anyway. Except for Aethelswyth……” Celwyn took off after the hatchling, who was once again endangering life and limb trying to fly to places he shouldn’t be.

“He’s a caution, that one” chuckled Blaedswith as she curled up in someone’s comfy bed-hollow in the warm sands.

With a time sense developed over many years in a fighting wing Blaedswith woke a couple of hours later to find the cave empty. Stretching her still weary limbs and yawning widely, she went outside to find that Celwyn and Ethelwald had sensibly given the hatchlings a pile of bones to chew on. Even as she crossed the grassy space in front of the cave every hatchling’s head came up and all the dragonets looked at the sky.

“What is it?” Blaedswith asked the trainees, expecting a sudden attack. Before they could answer Fritha and Cerneric flew over the shoulder of the mountain and landed beside the group. Immediately five of the hatchlings rushed over to hug them. The rest carried on gnawing.

Almost as excited as the hatchlings, Blaedswith rushed over to her friends.

“Thank goodness you’re here. I need to find Oswin, he’s injured, and Cwenhild needs to get home and the trainees need to go back and I can’t take the hatchlings with me…” She babbled out, like a trainee giving its first report, part of her mind observed in disgust. Fritha put a comforting wing across her shoulders and laid a hand on her friend’s arm.

“Don’t worry about any of that.” She said calmly, “Except perhaps Oswin. We’ll keep your hatchlings and Wulfram here with us, the trainees can go, and Cwenhild’s mother is on her way to fetch her. As soon as you’re ready you can go and find Oswin.”

“Thank you Fritha. You’re such a rock.” Blaedswith turned to Cerneric. “Do you know where Oswin’s wing are?”

“Yes, they were with us, fighting the Lunenwyc lot on the south border. My Wing was dispersed off duty but his stayed on patrol. I didn’t see Oswin before I left though.”

Blaedswith’s worry was not assuaged by this. She established from Cerneric, to which patrol area Oswin’s Wing had been assigned, thanked both her friends and set off to find her mate. It was several hours flight to the southern border and Blaedswith was weary before she set off. By the time she reached the patrol area she was beyond exhausted, but even if she had stopped to rest, her fear for Oswin would not have allowed her to sleep, so she pushed on. She had been on patrol in this area herself many times and knew the cave where injured dragons were conveyed to recover enough to fly to their homes.

Blaedswith had only occasionally known a dragon to be so badly injured as to be unable to contact their mate to reassure them, or at least to answer when contacted. The only explanation she could imagine was that Oswin’s injury was mortal. She knew he wasn’t dead yet because, somewhere in the deepest depths of her soul, she was aware of something, not quite a hum, that had been there since the moment they joined as a mated pair, but her mind wouldn’t stop going over the terrible things that could have happened to him. He could have been flamed on his underbelly, the most vulnerable part of a dragon because the hide is thinner there, or broken his skull and suffered brain damage, or had his wing membranes burned away. If it was the latter, there was a good chance that they would grow back, since the tissue here regenerated at phenomenal speed, but if a large area was destroyed the recovery would still take a long time and be painful, itchy and frustrating. And Oswin was never a good patient. Her shudder at the prospect was not entirely unselfish.

At last, as she flew over the terrific range of mountains that adjoined the border, she recognised the peak in which the first aid cave was situated. Thankfully she lost height and circled to land in front of the cave. High altitude flying was exhausting at any time. In her tired state it had nearly been too much for her. Folding her wings she hurried into the cave, where five or six dragons lay on the heated sand floor. Although most were sleeping, and clearly exhausted to judge from the colour of their hides, none seemed to be seriously injured. A few burns, some wing tears and one male looking most disgruntled with his arm plastered with volcanic mud and propped on a boulder. The field medic who was in charge hurried over to Blaedswith.

“He’s here, and he’s going to be fine” he said hastily, correctly gauging Blaedswith’s anxiety. Although she blew out a long breath of relief, she wasn’t completely reassured until the medic showed her where Oswin was curled up. His colour was not great and his breath puffed out his lips in a way she had not seen before, but the only injury she could see was a large gash on his head. It has been cleaned and covered with spiders’ webs to help with clotting, and the greenish-blue blood had stopped flowing, but it was clear that his injury was more serious than it first appeared.

“What happened?” Blaedswith asked the medic.

“As far as I can tell he was diving to flame one of the Lunenwyc lot and one of theirs veered into his flight path. Somehow they collided heads and both were knocked out. Both of them were travelling at a terrific speed, otherwise it would just have made them see stars for a minute. I’ve never known such a thing happen before. It was pure bad luck.”

“Has he been unconscious all this time?”

“No, he’s been in and out. At the moment he’s out, as you see, but perhaps if you speak to him you might rouse him?”

“I’ll certainly try. I have one or two things to say to him, to be sure!”

The medic chuckled as he left, and Blaedswith sat down beside her mate. She called him a few times, but with no result. Then, remembering how she had managed to contact Fritha, and how the younglings could speak to each other over distance without apparent effort, she began to really think about what she was doing and how. Speaking mind to mind was so natural to dragons that she had never before consciously considered how she did it. Now she reached out, feeling for Oswin’s essence, almost picturing the fingers of her mind feeling for his mind. After a moment she became aware of a glow, though it wasn’t a visible glow, more a feeling. She moved her mind?... Soul?... spirit?... something… towards it, touched it, caressed it, and suddenly Oswin was there with her. More with her than he had ever been before.

She opened her eyes, unaware until then that she had closed them, and saw his nearer eyelid open a crack. The deep, shining violet of his eyes were always a joy to her. Now their facets gleamed at her, a little dazed, but also somehow joyful.

“Hello old girl. How did you get here?” His mental voice was not as strong as usual and sounded a little rough.

“I flew” she said dryly. The crippling anxiety she had been labouring under was replaced by a strong desire to do some damage to him on her own account. She restrained herself from shaking him until his sore head rattled.

“Well I guessed that, but how did you know where I was?”

“Process of elimination, or deduction, one of the two. Wulfram said you were injured, though he seemed to think it was your wing as well as being knocked out. Cerneric said he was on patrol with your Fighting Wing and he hadn’t seen you before he dispersed, so I presumed you were here.”

“I tore my wing a bit when I fell, but its about regrown” Oswin turned his wing and inspected the inside of it. “It was more clashing heads with that dratted Lunenwyc dragon that caused the problem” he went on a bit sheepishly.

“Well, being knocked out! For heaven’s sake. I’ve never heard of a dragon being knocked out by another dragon’s head! Not even a youngling, and you’re supposed to be grown up.” Now that her fears were relieved, Blaedswith was not above making gentle fun of her mate.

“We were both travelling at about the speed of light”, Oswin protested, with a little humour in his voice. “If the silly chump hadn’t swerved at the last minute, I’d have been fine. And I’d have got that other Lunenwyc. As it was she got away and I ended up in a heap on the floor. Ah well, I feel a lot better now, though I have the mother of all headaches.” He closed his eyes and seemed to drift off again, but his hand still held onto Blaedswith’s. She had almost dozed off herself when he opened his eyes, squeezed her hand and sat up.

“Well this won’t do. No good lying about here. Let’s see if the medic will clear me to go home.”

Although she had doubts about the wisdom of attempting a long flight so soon after such injuries, Blaedswith knew her mate well enough to know it was pointless arguing with him. ‘I’m doing it anyway’ might have been his motto.

The medic peered earnestly into Oswin’s eyes and inspected his wing and head injury. After questioning his patient about the extent of his headache, the clarity of his thoughts and steadiness of his legs he nodded them out.

“Come on old girl. Lets get going before he starts on my bowels” Oswin stage-whispered to Blaedswith as they went towards the entrance. She heard a quiet chuckle from the medic behind her. As they passed the dragon with his arm encased in mud, Oswin stopped.

“What happened to you Ado?” He enquired.

“Broke my wrist landing.” Ado replied disgustedly. “That little blighter won’t let me go until this cast’s set.” Oswin patted his friend consolingly. As they walked away they could hear Ado muttering about flying with his wings not his arms.

As they took off Blaedswith made a mental note to discourage Oswin’s habit of addressing her as “old girl”. While it may be companionable and mildly humorous, a female hopes for something a little more romantic, and possibly less insulting, from her mate, even after being paired for what sometimes seemed like aeons.

The flight home in the pre-dawn darkness seemed endless and Blaedswith, between keeping an eye on Oswin and battling her own fatigue, longed for her own cave and her own bed. There was not much conversation between them and at last Oswin said

“Are you mad with me old girl?”

“No, I’m not, just very, very tired. But if you don’t stop calling me “old girl” I will personally bash you on the head so hard that you won’t wake up for a week!”

“Ah, point taken my dear.” Oswin wisely remained silent until their own mountain came into view against the grey dawn sky.

“So glad to be home again. I have injury leave for a while, and you’re still on brooding leave, so we can have some time together, and with the hatchlings, my love.” He remarked as they landed.

Oswin had always been a quick learner, thought Blaeswith.

Blaedswith couldn't resist giving Wulfram a hug.

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