Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 25

Posted: 1 Jun 15


by David McLeod

War in the East

Paul's Journal: I had thought, I had hoped that someday I would meet the descendants of the people of the boy who gifted the cowrie-shell necklace to his lover from this valley. It seemed, however, that this was not to be.

Green lightning played among orange clouds that hung over stygian mountains. Paul was rapt until he heard, "This is not normal." He woke and sat up abruptly, waking Larry.

"What?" Phillip said. "What? Oh . . ." His voice woke Maranon.

Both boys felt it: their dragons' voices, not words this time, but images blossomed in their heads. The images were much as had been in their dreams: flashes of primary-colored light illuminated clouds, mountains, and dragons.

"More boys dreamed last night," Reagan said. He, Larry, and I were at breakfast.

"Our dragons are restless," Larry added. "They say they've heard other dragons, not all of whom serve the Light. They say they've heard other dragons who have no riders. Dragons will serve the Light or the Dark depending on the nature of their riders. We need more information!"

Larry was adamant. "And we need to recruit these dragons before the wrong people do so."

We invited Reagan's father, whom we had co-opted as an advisor, to join us. We saw only one path. Larry said it for us all. "Paul, we needed recce—reconnaissance. We need to know what is going on in the Elven kingdom."

"More than that," I said. "We do not know our vulnerabilities." I had been careful not to send dragons and their riders into situations where they might face danger. Still, I knew that at some point, I would have to. It seemed that the time for that had come.

"You think it may be necessary to provoke engagements with enemies," Reagan's father answered that thought.

"More dragons are waking. We must consider recruiting dragons without riders to our cause before they find riders who serve the Darkness."

I remembered reading an opinion piece about how the USA military occasionally provoked a response from enemy forces—and called it "live action training." It looked as if we might have to do that—if we didn't meet real resistance, real battle, first.

It was difficult to send others where I could not go. However, Larry and Reagan ganged up on me, and convinced me to send a wing of dragons to the west, to make contact with the people of the boy who wore a necklace of cowrie shells. Although I could not go, I sent the necklace with the lead rider.

Ten days later, Dragon Comm relayed the message from the west: the beach was empty, and there was no evidence that anyone had ever lived there. Ten days after that, the wing leader returned the necklace to me.

"I'm sorry, Paul. We all would like to have met the descendants of this boy and his family, but they were not there. The land to the west, all the way to the sea, is unoccupied."

I fingered the necklace of cowrie shells that the senior of the monastery had given me.

I thought, I hoped, that someday I would meet the descendants of the boy who gifted this necklace to his lover from this valley. It seemed that it was not to be. It appears that our battle is to be elsewhere. Forces from the south are harassing the desert people. If they succeed, they will move toward Hearne's village. I do not believe that we rescued those children from brigands only to see them taken by forces even more evil.

I returned the necklace to the senior and told him what had been found. "Please hold this at the monastery. It is the safest place, and the only place where it may be found the next time it is needed."

The dragons knew we would go to war. The people of this valley knew we would go to war. Hearne, the village master, knew it. I think the shaman of the Desert People knew it, as well. I knew it, but I did not know when or where that might be.

Reconnaissance to the south showed enemy forces moving toward the Desert People. They would be drawn into combat, and soon. I sent two flights of dragons with riders and mages to the aid of the desert people. Six dragons, two mages, four Auxiliaries. As long as they faced only ground forces . . . not mages, not other dragons . . . they would be sufficient. I hoped.

We had to leave Dragon Comm relays along the way, including at Hearne's village. The relay at Hearne's village reported that Hearne was sending forces to the south, to meet the enemy before they reached the village. "We will fight on territory that is favorable to us," Hearne had said.

"Paul? Is Hearne's plan a good move, strategically?" a rider asked. "He may have a long supply line."

I nodded. "Quatrain 27 seems relevant."

First attack and then divide.
Your battlefield, the countryside.
Never city gate blockade,
Thereby victory is unmade.

"That is, the best strategy is to balk the enemy's plans by attack. The next best is to prevent his forces from joining one another. The next best is to attack him in the field. The worst is to besiege a city.

"And, I would not want to be in a besieged city . . . or a town with only wooden palisades," I added. "It seems that Hearne has read Sun Tzu, too."

Between the Valley of Valeus and the Village of Hearne a Dragon Comm team: riders, a mage, and the two auxiliaries who accompanied them lay cuddled together on blankets padded by heather. Surrounding them, nose-to-tail, the dragons slept. Or didn't sleep. No one was entirely sure if dragons really slept, and the dragons weren't telling. Their eyes closed; their breathing slowed. But they were aware of their surroundings, and many a rider swore he could hear his dragon in his dreams. Above this assembly, stars wheeled. In the hills, cougars screamed. Sated with sex, the boys slept, oblivious to the sounds.

The Great Moon slept, as well, while the smaller moon, called in this time, The Messenger darted across the sky. Scarcely had it fallen behind the hills when another body crossed the sky. No celestial object this, its shadow passed between World and the stars. It was unseen by the sleeping boys, but sensed by the dragons. A dragon snorted. They all opened their eyes. Their heads lifted. The dragons looked at one another, exchanging silent knowledge. Their voices were too low to waken their riders. From the southeast, Titan, the lead dragon said, unnecessarily. Ancient enemy? another dragon said. She was the most sensitive of the three. #####?, the third dragon contributed. The word she used was not in any language still spoken on World; it meant evil.

There was no need for further discussion. Titan snorted loudly enough to wake the boys. Wake and ride! he commanded. The boys, instantly alert, were surprised to be ordered by a dragon, but they did not hesitate. Harnesses were thrown over dragons' necks, and fastened. Blankets were quickly tied to packs. Heather was blown across the meadow by the wind of the dragons' departure.

The dragon that had crossed the sky was tired; the dragons of Valeus were fresh. The dragons saw that the one they pursued, the one named #####, and his rider were frightened. Titan relayed the strange dragon's intentions to Leo, Titan's rider, the Flight Commander.

"Stop!" Leo cried. "Titan, tell them to stop! They're going to kill themselves! They must not!"

"There is no need," he shouted to the rider over the wind of passage. "Please! There is no need!"

Something got through, whether it was Titan's thoughts to the dragon, or Leo's pleas to the rider. Rather than pull in his wings and plummet with his rider to a sure death, the dragon glided slowly to a landing, escorted by the Valean wing.

The boy, Kenneth, ate soup as fast as it could be warmed. After the fifth bowl, he burped and patted his tummy. "Thank you. I've not eaten in four days, and thought I might never eat again."

The Valenas caught images from Kenneth's mind of his death either at the hands of those he fled or at the hands of . . . themselves?

"Why would they want to kill you? Why do you think we would have killed you?"

Kenneth drew back. He seemed to retreat inside himself. The Valeans felt a wall rise in him mind.

"Kenneth? We promise that if you will not try to harm us or our people, we will not harm you or . . . What is your dragon's name, anyway?"

Kenneth opened the wall a little. "Castor," he whispered. "I named him for the brighter star . . . "

Leo and his companions saw the image in Kenneth's mind, and felt the bond between boy and dragon. The wall opened a little more.

Kenneth accepted the promise Leo had made on behalf of his people. "Castor and I will not harm you," Kenneth said, sealing the bargain.

As Kenneth related his story, Leo and his companions watched the boy's wall dissolve until it was no longer. "They told us you were enemies and would kill us for no reason except that we were different."

The boy's story became darker as he spoke of challenging the lead rider's assertion that the Valeans were enemies. He told of being ostracized, of being taunted and teased. "I was the youngest," he said. "I had just become a boy when Castor found me. They took me away from my family, and from the cousin who would have initiated me into the mysteries, yet none of them would initiate me."

"I had to leave. I felt hatred. I felt danger. Castor saw our death."

"Are you likely to be pursued?" Leo asked.

"Castor says they do not yet know we are missing. But they will likely look for me when they discover—"

"Titan! Please warn Paul; ask for reinforcements," Leo spoke aloud for the benefit of the others, including Kenneth.

"Can Castor fly? Are you too tired?" Leo asked. The eastern horizon was becoming light. Kenneth and Castor likely would be missed, soon.

"We can," Kenneth said. "But if you must, leave us and save yourselves." His words told Leo that the boy knew the danger he brought.

"We will not do that," Leo said. "We are sworn." He felt and saw the tears that formed in the corners of Kenneth's eyes.

"We are sworn," the boy whispered.

The message from Titan woke the dragons who woke their riders. I stood in the middle of the riders' dormitory and called the boys to me. They rubbed sleep from their eyes as they assembled.

"You heard. We must ride, and quickly."

"All of us?" Larry asked.

"When you are sure, send by flights of three or four," I quoted. "We're not sure. We will strike like lightning from the heavens."

"You're mixing your quatrains!" Larry said before bolting for the bathroom.

Breakfast would be eaten while in flight. Lunch, too. The dragons would rely on magic, not mountain goats. We flew.

The sun was a quarter of the way up the sky when Dakota heard the message from Titan: Castor reports that their escape has been discovered. They are pursued. He's uncertain of the number of dragons, but Kenneth said there were 40. He does not know if all will pursue.

Forty, I thought. We are sixty. When we meet, we will separate into two wings: one of 39 and one of 21. The 21 will be commanded by Kalin. He will remain at hi-cap and send flights of three to assist as needed. Two of Kalin's flights will be detailed to protect Leo and Titan's flight and our new friends. They will not join the battle except in defense, and as a last resort. The 39 will separate into three squadrons of 5, 5, and 3 . . .

Larry, Kalin, and the others listened carefully as we prepared our strategy and assigned flights to squadrons and wings. My last order established the rules of engagement: We will not attack, first, but if we or Kenneth and Castor are attacked, we will annihilate our enemy.

Looks like we'll not have to create opportunities for battle, I thought privately.

We made contact with Leo and Titan's flight at noon; the enemy was only an hour away . . . Castor was still tired, although he and Kenneth made a valiant effort.

How do we choose our battleground, when it's the entire sky? Larry asked a question no one had considered.

Height for one, I replied. Kalin's wing, grab some altitude. Concealment for another. I directed the two squadrons of five flights to clouds. The squadron of three flights would serve as their eyes.

The approaching enemy could see Kalin's wing as well as the three flights of my wing. They saw Leo and Titan's flight, as well as Kenneth and Castor well behind us. Did they think they outnumbered us 4:3? Were they rash in their anger? Were they bold in their purpose? We never knew. The lead enemy dragon blew fire at Dakota and me. Engage, I said unnecessarily as Dakota dodged, and the flights hidden in the clouds swooped upon the enemy.

They could have retreated. Perhaps if they had, I would have spared them. I did not have that option so I did not have to make that decision. They fought strongly, but without discipline. Our dragons' aerobatics gave us more than superiority: it allowed us to completely dominate the battlefield. By midafternoon, forty dragons and their riders lay dead on the mountains below us. None of us had been harmed.

Did I feel bad about having annihilated our enemy? No, especially not after having caught some of their thoughts during the battle: blind hatred, black anger, a feeling that they had to destroy Kenneth and Castor and those who were protecting him.

Did our riders feel bad about having killed? Did our dragons? No, again. We were as firm in our resolve as had been the enemy, but we knew we were on the side of the Light. I did, however, resolve to examine that thought, later. That, however, was only one of several things that I must deal with. Another was Kenneth.

I thought about all the boys: riders and auxiliaries. I wondered who among them was the least selfish, the most giving of himself, the most loving. Rudy, I thought. He also has the mental maturity, despite his youth. After baths and supper, I summoned Rudy and Kenneth.

"Kenneth," I said, "You told Leo that you had not been initiated into the mysteries. I do not know your custom, but here, as leader, it is my responsibility to see that this is done, and it is my responsibility to ensure that the person who initiates you is . . . appropriate, I guess is a good word.

"I would like you to meet my sworn companion, Rudy. If he and you agree, he will initiate you."

I knew Rudy to be a powerful empath, but I felt nothing from him. I did feel very strong reluctance, almost fear, from Kenneth.

"He does not please you," I said to Kenneth.

"He's beautiful," the boy whispered. "He's beautiful inside, and out. I see his Light, I see his good. He's much too beautiful . . . "

Before I could speak, Rudy said, "Kenneth, you say you can see my Light. Can you turn your sight inward to see your own? I can see your Light. It streams from your mind. It is blinding. I would so much like to cuddle you and share that light.

"Beauty is only skin deep, some people say, but those who say that are people who cannot see like we can what is really inside a person. Please, Kenneth, may I be your partner in the mysteries?"

Kenneth nodded and tears rolled down his cheeks and sparkled as they fell. They were happy tears, and I felt at that moment, Kenneth had well and truly become one of us.

The wind is from the south. Dakota's thought puzzled me until I smelled the corruption that the wind bore. We were encamped in mountains south of Hearn's village, south of the home of the Desert People. Our mission was to support the Desert People's attempt to stop a dark army that was moving toward their home.

"Something dead," I said.

"A lot of something dead," Larry replied. The others had smelled it, too. The dragons, first, of course, and then their riders. Some of the boys were linked closely enough that they smelled through the noses of their dragons; others, like me, had to make a conscious effort to do so. Knowing how sensitive Dakota's nose was, I had no desire to make that part of our link any stronger than it was.

Make ready, I said to Dakota. "Make ready," I added for Larry's benefit. He checked the straps that held him to me and to Dakota. For hundreds of yards on either side of us, along the ridge, dragon wings scooped magic in preparation for takeoff.

"Launch all dragons," I cried. Dakota was first off the ground, followed by the wingmen of Odyssey Flight. We flew in the same V formation perfected by the geese of our world and of this one. The wakes—both mundane and magical—of the dragons in front made it easier for those in the rear. Dakota and Larry and I always took the lead at first, but we'd fall back to the rear after a while. This was another trick I hoped that our enemies would be slow to understand. I didn't fool myself, however, into thinking that they would never figure it out. They were evil, but not necessarily stupid.

The dragon's noses found the battlefield; their eyes showed it to us. It was not the Desert People, but a village we'd not reached in our reconnaissance. They had salleyed from their village and were being overwhelmed by an army. It was easy for us to feel who was of the Light and who was of the Dark.

In a well-rehearsed maneuver, flights of three split from the main wing and spiraled toward the battlefield. High overhead, a dragon carried a telempath: the wing's central communicator. Beside him, Dakota carried Larry and me. Our third wing man bearing another mage flew 500 feet above us, keeping an eye on us.

I had accepted the need for strategic management of the battle, albeit reluctantly. "You're the strategic thinker," Larry had argued. "You see patterns and understand—well, you understand where things are going. You've got to be able to see the big picture."

"Big picture, hmm?" I said. "You sound like the guy the mayor brought in for that leadership seminar. I thought we'd agreed he was crap."

"Most of what he said was. Crap, that is. But just because he said something doesn't mean it's crap. That, Spock, is illogical." Larry laughed softly, and then added, "Got you!" Before I could reply, Larry kissed me, stifling anything I might have said.

Now, I watched anxiously. The dragonriders had fought skirmishes, before, usually winning easily as dragon fire annihilated enemy patrols and small combat units. When friend and foe were in close contact, the dragons would land and their riders would dismount to engage in hand-to-hand combat while the dragons crouched protectively over them. More than one troll, brigand, or lizoid had met his end when a dragon had swept him aside, or skewered him on a claw . . . or a tooth.

Flight after flight dove onto the enemy forces, well behind the front where the Army of the Desert People stood their ground. The enemy, forewarned, were spread thin except where they were close enough to the Desert People that the dragons dared not use their fire.

Then, the pattern broke. A lance of fire erupted from the center of the enemy army. It struck one of our dragon's wings. Every dragon and most of the riders heard his cry of pain. The telempath on hi-cap put his hands to his head, but could not shut out the sound.

Withdraw! My command broke through to the telempath, who woke from his pain and relayed the command to the wing. Two dragons dove. Flying only a few feet above the terrain, they used ground effect—the cushion of air under their wings—to supplement the magic of their flight.

The flight that had followed struggled to gain altitude. "Tell them to slip!" Larry cried.

Without hesitation, I sent the order, even as I wondered: A slip will bring them closer to the mage . . .

The order was obeyed, and the second lance of Mage Fire missed the dragons. "Climb, now!" Larry shouted.

"Everyone's clear. They've landed about a mile behind enemy lines." This came from a wingman, aloft.

"Who is closest?" I asked.

"Alpha flight," came the answer. "We withdrew in that direction."

"Go in. Stay low," I ordered. The mage . . . he's in the center of the army . . . protected. He'll find it hard to attack to the rear, especially if we stay low. "Beta Flight: to the enemy's rear. Prepare to reinforce and support Alpha Flight.

"Larry? How did you know to tell them to slip?" I added.

"I felt him gathering magic; and I felt him stop. I felt it the first time, too, but thought it was one of the dragons. I should have—"

"No time for that. What's the range of that thing . . .how often can he use it . . . can you defend—"

"First one went about 5000 feet. Second went about 2000 feet. Probably a function of how much time he has available to gather magic. Get me close enough when he's gathering, and I can blast him. Don't know of any other defense."

"How?" I asked.

The plan was simple, but risky, and depended on perfect timing and perfect obedience. I was much less worried about the second than the first.

Alpha Flight flew quickly toward the mage from the north, southeast, and southwest: 120 degrees apart. From overhead, Larry monitored the mage.

"Now!" he shouted when he felt the mage stop gathering magic. The blast would be only a second away.

Alpha Flight tucked in their wings and dropped like living boulders until they were only a few feet above the ground, and then snapped open their wings. The mage's firebolt passed harmlessly over the head of the dragon coming from the southeast. At the same time, Dakota slipped toward the ground and the source of the firebolt. Just before we passed over the mage, Dakota rolled onto her back. Larry dropped his hands toward the ground and poured the magic he'd gathered throughout the flight into a fireball that landed in the center of the enemy army. Dakota rolled back to level flight, and the dragons hurried away.

"The mage is dead," Larry said.

The army of the Desert People boiled over the hills and joined the battle, routing what remained of the enemy army.

The healers brought word of the dragon who had been attacked by fire. He would recover, but it would be months before he would fly, again.

We followed the enemy survivors as they made their way south. We conducted reconnaissance south, east, and west of the battlefield. We found the valley from which the dark army had come. It was somewhat like the Valley of Valeus, but not as well watered. We learned that the population had outgrown the capability of the valley to feed the people. With at least 5,000 of their men, tweens, and boys dead in battle, they no longer had that problem.

Hearne and the shaman of the Desert People had accompanied us. After the survivors had told of their defeat, Hearne and the shaman met the leaders of the valley. At their request, we flew some of the leaders over the desert that separated them from the valleys to the north. I think they realized that the desert, plus the well-trained armies, plus the dragons would be formidable foes.

Fighting was over, at least for a while. Something more than what I had seen, something more than the bare facts, something I did not understand made that clear to me. The enemy in the south had withdrawn. Hearne and the shaman of the Desert People had effected a truce with the largest body of the enemy. The dragons that would have supported the enemy army had been killed in their chase after Kenneth and Castor.

I did not, however, believe that the war was over. Not by a long shot.

Reagan met me at the doorway to the Dragonriders' Dormitory—what we had come to call our home. He held a letter from the senior at the monastery. A messenger had arrived. The letter summoned us (politely, but it was a summons) to visit the monastery. It seemed that our earlier visits had aroused the monks' interest in ancient texts that had not been consulted in aeons. It seemed that they had found another.

There was no urgency expressed in the letter, but a letter was unusual enough that it contained its own urgency. I agreed with Reagan that we would go there, tomorrow. Naturally, Larry would go; I'd need another dragon and rider, as well, to carry Reagan. And a third dragon. Quatrain 80 seemed logical, yet conservative: Less is more. When you're sure, send by flights of three or four. Besides, we were training the dragons and their riders to operate in maniples of three, six, nine, and twelve.

The messenger from the monastery was a tween, who had walked the entire length of the valley, and that after descending the mountain on trails that even the mountain goats would have eschewed. I offered to take the messenger home by dragon back, but he politely declined. (I understood why the messenger had wanted to walk back: in the valley, he would be fed and have hot baths.)

"We will depart after breakfast, tomorrow," I told Reagan.

The senior showed us the reason for the letter: a document that he said was at least five thousand centuries old. "The first half is written in our language; the second half in one we do not know."

We looked at the document. "That's Elvish," Larry said, pointing to the lower half of the document. "I suspect the first and second halves are identical except for the language. If you will read the top half?"

The senior understood. He read the top half of the document to us. As he spoke, Larry and I silently read the bottom half, and realized that it was identical. The document was a treaty between an elven king and the people of Valeus, swearing eternal amity and mutual assistance against evil.

Larry and I looked at one another. Larry spoke for us both. "This is the final piece of the puzzle. This is the reason we are here. This is why we arrived on World in Derry and met Alan, and then traveled with him to his home. It is why you met Casey."

We did not say, but we both understood, that this is why we—who had lived on this world, before—had been born on Earth: to learn aerobatics and the science and technology of flight.

"Eh, what's up, doc?" Larry asked. His humor broke the tension.

"Time's a wastin'," I replied in a poor imitation of someone. I saw a large chicken in my mind, but the memory was weak. "Senior, may we have a copy of this document as soon as possible, say, three days? We'll return for it, then. We must leave, now. Thank you." The senior's surprised nod was all the farewell we allowed.

"We shall go to Elvenholt," I announced.

Larry nodded. I continued. "By taking our campaign to the east, we block what we believe to be the Dark's plan to join forces with those who were attacking the desert people and Hearn's village from the south. If they do link up, they would be a formidable force, capable of attacking this valley."

"We shall go east, then?" Larry asked. "East where we may encounter our friends—Alan, Artie? And Casey? You promised to tell him when you found a dragon."

Those three names—Allen, Artie, and Casey—were surrogates for scores of others of our friends, and each one brought a flood of memories to my mind. Artie was the first person I'd met when I had awakened on World, and the first boy on World other than Larry with whom I'd had sex. Artie represented the boys and men of the monastery in Derry with whom Larry and I had lived for some 70 years. Alan was the first elf we had met. Alan had made it possible for us to journey from Derry to Alan's home city of Rome, and beyond, in our search for a dragon. Casey was a warrior, whose map had pointed Larry and me to the mountain on which we had found Dakota—or, rather, where Dakota had found us.

I pushed these memories aside, and then said, "The elves have a military culture. Even the monks at Derry are warriors. The desert people to the south, too, are warriors. They all knew this would happen."

Larry and I tried to remember the number of ranges we had crossed between Rome and the Valley of Valeus, but finally gave up. Our memories were fogged with the repetition of the terrain, as well as the hunger and thirst to which I'd subjected us during the journey.

"We'll just have to take extra flights," Larry said. Then he giggled. "That will mean extra cuddles."

Twelve flights of three dragons, each, launched from the Valley. Bound to be enough, I thought. Eleven comm relays, at 1,000 mile intervals? That's almost half the circumference of Earth. We'll probably arrive in Rome with several flights. And won't Casey be pleased!

At least, I hoped that. I had promised Casey that I'd tell him if I found a dragon, yet seventeen years had passed since Dakota found Larry and me on a bald mountaintop.

We had crossed only five ranges before we saw an elven regiment encamped in a valley. Our scouts, operating at night, and from altitude, reported two centuries.

"Time to make contact, don't you think?" I said. Larry agreed. We reached the camp at midmorning. Only Odyssey flight: Dakota with Larry and me plus two other dragons with riders and mages, circled the encampment and then landed about 100 yards away.

I was not surprised that the centurion who met us was Casey. I had sensed him from aloft, and no longer believed in coincidence. Nor was I surprised that although he was still a boy, he held the rank of Centurion. He was the son of the tutor and regent of the Duke of Rome as well as a blood relative. More important, he was a soldier of great prowess and knowledge.

Officially, Casey was attached to a reconnaissance unit. Unofficially, I knew that Casey was looking for a dragon. I was so very pleased to be able to show him one.

"Paul? I knew it was you," he greeted me with a kiss, and had another for Larry. "You've found more than one dragon," he said, and brought us quickly back to earth.

"Yes. First, one, Dakota. Then 80 more. And twelve others who have since joined us, including one who escaped from an enemy dragon wing.

"I am sorry not to have returned to you sooner, as I had promised to tell you when I found a dragon, but, well, something came up."

Casey seemed to understand. "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy," he said. "Or it seems that way all too often. I would like to hear more, and I forgive you." That got another kiss.

Rome was only one range east of where we met Casey, and only about 5,000 miles east of the Valley of Valeus. Seven flights, or 21 dragons and their riders, circled Rome the next day. I tried to find Alan's home, but my memory wasn't good enough. After all, I'd never thought of looking at it from the air!

Casey, riding with Rudy who had begged to be allowed to come, pointed to a large building that faced a plaza, and indicated that we should land, there.

We landed on the plaza. I had suggested to Dakota that the dragons take off immediately for their own safety, but he demurred. We will be safe, here. There is one who believes in dragons. I cannot say more, but although his thoughts are unfamiliar, they are friendly.

Larry and I stood on the plaza before marble steps that lead to what could only be a palace. I held his hand. Dakota says this is right, I thought.

An elven boy, followed by a gray-haired man, ran down the steps toward us. They were followed by a dozen heavily armed and armored men who tried to place themselves between us and the boy.

"My Lord," Casey called. "We've found a dragon . . . and many more. Please tell your soldiers that they are friends!"

The little boy gestured to the guards. Apparently, this was enough for the men. They lowered weapons, and moved to stand behind the man and child.

"My Lord," Casey said. "These are Paul and Larry, my friends, who have found a dragon!"

Casey had told us that his liege was a child, so the boy's age did not surprise us. What did, however, was his seeming disinterest in us and the dragons that formed a backdrop to three riders plus Larry and Casey.

"My Lord," Casey said. "These are my friends!" I felt Casey's anger with his cousin. "I told you of their visit and their quest. I did not know when they visited that they would become dragon riders. They come to offer their support in this war. Why do you—"

"I know, cousin," the little duke said. "Yet I have lost Phillip and his dragon."

Casey pretty much forced his cousin to invite us into the palace for a talk. I was surprised that the only people present were the little duke, Casey's dad and Casey, and we. It was not hard to get the boy to talk about Phillip and his dragon, but what the duke would say was brief. "He was a strange boy," the duke said. "He was from a different world. That is all I may say, except that his dragon's name is Zosa—and she's beautiful!—and that Phillip and his companions, and Zosa, fight with the king."

Casey gave us more information that rather than clarify the situation, confused it, more. "There have been rumors of dragon fighting both for and against the Army of Elvenholt. There are also reports that the Army of Barbican has encountered trolls and lizard men. There have been battles, sporadic and isolated, some with support of our allies in Arcadia, against humans and lizoids.

"The most serious news is that the king's army may be in danger."

The little duke's voice filled the silence that followed. "You must find the king," he said. "Casey will accompany you."

This story concludes in "The Translator".

End Notes

This story is largely a translation of Paul Hansen's journal, written over a period of perhaps 200 to 300 years. He, himself, notes that he didn't write every day, and that his memory of some events may have been faulty. Where the diary alludes to what we've come to know as _forbidden technology—_technology that cannot exist on World—the translation team have used their knowledge of our science and technology, perhaps imperfectly, to fill the gaps. Otherwise, the translation is as true to Paul's original words as can be created in English.

The "point of view" changes as Paul switches from "contemporary narrative" to "recounting past events." There are times when the Translators revert to an "omniscient" point of view, trying to capture in action and dialogue the events that Paul only sketches. There are places where the handwriting clearly changes, and an entry is made from Larry's perspective. We know of these boys' love for one another; it is potently expressed in the unspoken intimacy of sharing this diary. Although some point-of-view changes are abrupt, we believe the persona of the narrator is obvious.

All persons and organizations appearing herein are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons or organizations is purely coincidental. This does not apply to public institutions (e.g., the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Marshalls Service).

The Jell-O, Polo, Tele-Tubbies, Porsche Carrera, DHC-3 Beaver, and Speedo trademarks, as well as any other trademarks herein, are the property of their respective owners.

These stories take place on an Earth-analogue which occasionally touches World. You may find inconsistencies between your reality and the reality portrayed in the story, depending on which Earth-analogue is your home. As in all realities, "boy" means a young male of the age of consent.

The boys' promise to lovers, best friends, and companions to look for them in another life is a thread throughout many of David McLeod's stories. For example:

Paul and Larry of Pilots arrive on World from J'ville, Wyoming sometime before Phillip and Argon (the Translator).

Rudy will meet Kenneth at the Sometimes Inn in Knight Templar in Training.

Casey appears in Arthur in Eblis and in Recoil.

Many of the boys in this story will meet in Durch Ferne Welten und Zeiten. There are other connections, including in the first story to have been translated, Boy of Sedona.

Although Paul and Larry find who brought them to World, they have not yet determined who is responsible for teaching them the language and stopping them from speaking of certain aspects of technology. That question is addressed, somewhat incompletely, in George of Sedona, The Translator, and Durch Ferne Welten und Zeiten.

In all realities the word "boy" refers to a young male of the age of consent.

The statement, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" is most often attributed to Arthur C. Clark, although the notion has been traced to earlier writers. The inscription at Thermopylae that begins, "Go tell the Spartans . . . " is in the public domain.

The maxims of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli's "The Prince" are in the public domain.


Some information about the quatrains was extracted from the original document, and is appended. It is incomplete. As Paul and Larry discovered, the "quatrains" are not always a four-line verse, and translation from Elvish to the common tongue is a chancy proposition.

Quatrain 1

Light makes might
The sky holds the light.
The earth provides refuge
For he who knows the quatrains.

Sun Tzu Maxims 1-3 and 4: The art if war, then, is governed by five constant factors. These are the Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, the Commander, Method and Discipline.

Quatrain 2

Be not where
they seek you.
Pick the place
they meet you.

Don't appear where you are expected; surprise the enemy by appearing where you are not expected. Pick the battlefield where you will have the advantage: height, concealment. (Sun Tzu, Maxim 24: Attack the enemy where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.)

Quatrain 17 (partial)

Numbers count
When they count . . .

If you outnumber your enemy, that's good, but not always. Do not mass forces in a way that makes them an easy target or prevents them from contacting the enemy or when they could be used to greater advantage elsewhere.

Quatrain 20

Evil will
The sun outrace,
Battle still
Comes apace.

The enemy will try to engage on his schedule, and not yours.

Quatrain 27:

First attack and then divide.
Your battlefield, the countryside.
Never city gate blockade,
Thereby victory is unmade.

The best strategy is to balk the enemy's plans, by attack. The next best is to prevent his forces from joining one another. The next best is to attack him in the field. The worst is to besiege a city. Sun Tzu Maxim 3-3.

Quatrain 33

Maniple, decuria, century, host:
Palm rules fingers
Arm rules hand.
Brain rules all.

The control of a large force is the same as the control of a few men; it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers. Sun Tzu Maxim 5-1

Quatrain 41

Balance and harmony
Midwives to the birth
Of Heaven and Earth;
From which
Commander and Men
Guided by
Method and Discipline
Go forth

The art of war is governed by five constant factors . . . these are The Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, The Commander, Method and Discipline.—Sun Tzu, Maxim 1-3, 4

Quatrain 67

A signal fire upon a hill,
The sun upon a polished shield,
A flag (missing words) shall wield.
All these show the leader's will.

Sun Tsu Maxim 5-2: Fighting with a large army under your command is nowise different from fighting with a small one: it is merely a question of instituting signs and signals.

Quatrain 75

Fight for your companions, for your name,
For your family, for your oath, but not for fame.
Fear not disgrace or loss of face
When you must turn about.

The soldier who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thoughts are the lives of his companions and his family, to protect his country, and of his duty to his leader, is the jewel of the kingdom. (Similar to Sun Tzu Maxim 10-24)

Quatrain 80

Less is more.
When you're sure,
Send by flights
Of three or four

When you're sure you have air superiority, when you aren't likely to face enemy dragons, when your objective is to harass the enemy, then use multiple flights of three or four dragons. That's enough for mutual support and the enemy may think you are stronger than you are if he is subject to many attacks at many places at once.

Quatrain 122.

As a long battle dulls a sword,
The same long battle dulls the mind.
Find victory swift or move away
To battle seek another day.

Once forces engage, if victory is long in coming, men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. (Sun Tzu Maxim 2-2)

Quatrain 150

Riders in close engagement may be found,
Sword in hand, feet on ground.
Keep your dragon by your side;
But do not to his back be tied.

There will be times when a dragonrider must dismount and fight, hand-to-hand.

Quatrain 167

Virtue against fury
will advance the fight;
and it the combat,
shall put to flight.

Machiavelli, "The Prince" quoting Petrarch. The meaning is interpreted as "Light makes Right makes Might."

Quatrain TBD

Be everywhere like the breeze Give the enemy no ease Make him expect you everywhere (Missing text)

If the enemy does not know where I intend to give battle, he must prepare everywhere. And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere.—Sun Tzu

To defeat the enemy you must know where he is; the more accurate your knowledge, the easier your task. (Czerniawski's Corollary to above)

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