WITCHES

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there are more of us then you think…darling

Source: WITCHES

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Married by Mistake Chapter 25. Month’s End

MbM
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Chapter 25. Month’s End

Kaylee walked slowly with Tom as while she pushed him in a wheelchair towards the ‟Garden of Healing”.

Reaching the trees, native redwoods that bounded the half-acre garden full of native coastal plants.

The garden grew rich with beautiful colors of life, a peaceful location in the middle of the huge facility of intense emotions where hearts and souls healed from having their bodies repaired from different trauma and illness.

The couple enjoyed the sunlight until they came to the natural ten-century old Cathedral Tree where Kaylee parked Tom in his wheelchair, talked and held hands like the lovers they had become.

The Cathedral Tree, a half-circle of redwood trees that grew in a large open area on the campus of the medical center. Kaylee smiled at the smells that reminded her of home. She could feel the power of the Earth that lived here. In the middle of the healing professionals, medicine and sterile atmosphere, the Gods of Old, of life and sky sat in watchful gaze over the modern lives that began, ended and healed in the nearby structures of doctors, nurses and patients.

Except for one stubborn area of his arm, Tom’s condition improved faster than predicted, he impressed the team of surgeons, one suggested that part of the healing was the hand holding by the young wife had a positive effect.

“Attitude accounts for much of the recovery.” A journeyman surgeon said during an exam of Tom’s arm while waiting for Doctor Tribbing.

Fortune had it that the wound made by the glass in the tissues was smoother than even they could do with their surgical steel scalpels. Even obsidian or diamond bladed edged instruments could not have performed a cleaner, smooth-edged incision.

The wound, they said after surgery, was perfect for them to repair. Flesh and even the ends of the bone that were cloven so smoothly that the ends matched up precisely.

The only failure was the annoying lack of healing in one deep area in his arm. A drainage kept coming from the tubes they put in to help his wounds to keep fluid from building up.

Tom had stopped eating for fear of gaining weight and lost weight, despite the IV that ran into his arm constantly. Kaylee nagged him to eat, and when he did, he would only eat the most minute of portions.

Once again she could not help but think of more than three weeks ago. The summer was an adventure in ways she had never dreamed.

They sat in the filtered sun of the Cathedral Tree. The perfume from the tree made Kaylee think of camps and a campfire, she took deep breaths and images of fire-roasted cornbread, and foil-wrapped baked potatoes danced in her head. She could feel the power of the earth coming from the ancient species of tree dance with her muse.

Even obnoxious, bored children that made noise and were under the constant shush of nurses and parents, whispered in the natural wood enclave saved by some genius architect. Such was the power of the Cathedral Tree.

Small crosses with names – people who committed to each other here –  tucked in the small areas between the trunks of the trees. Momento’s of weddings and thanks for the peaceful place in the middle of a medical center.

It promised of a time she looked forward to when the hospital released Tom and they would spend an evening on the beach.

In the quiet of the shade, Tom had slipped into a soft sleep, caused by the residual effects of heavy medications. She sat and held his hand, waiting for him to drift awake again when they would talk more. A conversation between the husband and wife, lovers and friends that could continue after a nap as if it never stopped.

In this quiet moment, Kaylee ’s phone chimed an alert to a text message. As she read her phone, it was a class synopsis that her education mentor suggested for the upcoming year.

Scrolling through the pages, the mentor reduced her class schedule. The math showed she had enough extra credit she had done the year before. She could do one less class this year, two less in her senior year if her grades qualified.

*I might do post-grad credits before I graduate! I like extra credits.*

‟Kaylee ?” Tom was awake! ‟Damn, how long have I been sleeping?”

‟Tom! How do you feel?” It was her standard question. The arm would sometimes cause him in agony. Then she smiled and gave him a synopsis. “Oh. Today or total? You woke up for a half-hour this morning, but you have been pretty groggy the last seven days. They don’t want you to move the tendons just yet.”

‟It has been a week?.” Tom had lost time during his stay. It was a regular start to all his conversations of late.

‟Yeah, a lot has happened and everything has been on hold.”

‟Let me get my mind around this. I’m still fuzzy.”

The drugs they shot Tom up with during the last week faded quickly in the sunlight and redwood perfumed air.

*The nurse had said this would happen when they discontinued his medications that kept him from moving much.* She smiled.

Even in his induced sleep, he was incredibly uncomfortable. A stomach sleeper and the doctor wanted him to keep the arm above his heart.

‟We need the annulment papers signed. We can file them tomorrow or the next day. I’ll have Robin, my lawyer, do it. You just need to sign the papers, they are on the Flying Sea Dragon.” Tom said quietly. His voice much improved since the first night when the nurse said it was a side-effect of having a tube pushed past his vocal cords.

‟What about your signature?” She frowned. This moment took a sudden turn to the sad-side.

‟I signed the papers weeks ago, a night you were crying in your sleep.” Tom said quietly, a shot of pain ran across his face. ‟You whispered Glenn’s name in that dream.”

‟Omy god, I’m so sorry.” Kaylee doubted that the pain was from his arm.

‟Don’t be. You said from the beginning, we weren’t supposed to be married. And really, you did not have to come here, either. You are a good person, but I am almost twice your age, I have all I have, but I lack one thing.” Tom moved a bit and groaned in pain and whispered a profanity. ” A future.”

Tom looked up at the big tree and gave a big sigh.

‟Like this young tree, your future is still bright and lays ahead of you with your Glenn. Get the papers and walk them over to the offices at the airport. Send them registered mail so it’s a required signature. That way it is the soonest it will be over, and you won’t have to return from your days back home to here and deal with this mess.”

‟Tom, I…” She couldn’t talk, her throat had tightened up like a knot. It was what she had wanted all month, why was it that it seemed to hurt, now that the time was here.

When this mess started she wept for the loss of her single-ness.

She loved with him.

She had fought with him.

She raced to his side in his time of need.

She spoke with the doctor about him and his arm when they thought that they may have to amputate.

She had fought for him with that witchy-woman who would demand he write while he recovered from having his arm, his future, hung by a thread of flesh.

She still felt like he told her to abandon him.

‟Tom, I…” Damn, there goes that knot in her heart again. ‟I will stay until they send you home, there are days I can catch up.”

‟You have to sign up for the classes, I’ll be discharged to attend Doctor Manga’s installation and make a speech. I can do that with only one arm.”

‟Tom, Honey, maybe you and I can get together after you get back from, Cambridge is where it is?”

‟That would be nice, but when I get back from Cambridge I’ll head to other places for a while.”

‟You think you might move?”

‟I am never in one place for long, you know that.”

‟Well, I thought. I mean, I just assumed that you stayed there.”

‟No, I was in Ocean Bay to meet with Dr. Manga and make a few donations and write. I would have been long-gone if we never met.” Tom groaned as he shifted in the wheelchair. “I just couldn’t fly away.”

‟And how do you plan to fly with that arm.” Kaylee was a little taken aback at her effect on his life. She and Tom worked well as a team and she kind of wanted him to grieve. It stung her that he had planned on moving on already. ‟You should be with someone to help you heal.”

‟I’ll hire a nurse, if need. But I think I am okay with flying on a wide-body jet in first-class. I can even buy tickets for four seats so I can spread out.”

This was all twisted, she was about to get what she wanted and he acted all matter-of-fact about how he would return to the world that he lived in.

*It feels like he woke up only to stab my heart.* Her heart and soul had a hard time with this.

*No. This,* she made a choice, *Is an opportunity. My life can get back on track, I’ve had an adventure. Me and Melanie can share this and still be friends with Tom. I can still go live my life as I meant it to be.*

But why did she feel as if she was about to lose a piece of her heart. If Tom wasn’t so badly hurt, she’d break his arm.

*And I can do it, too.*

*Ugh!* She clenched her teeth.

Even if it was right, this was so wrong.

*So damned wrong.*

DragonMaster U Chapter 36. Spring Breakthrough

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Chapter 36. Spring Break

“Kolo?” Jona tapped on her door and slowly opened it. It was dark in her room, that alone was unusual, she disliked the dark. “Kolo?”

“Jona, she left.” It was Professor Vale. “There was an emergency call to her and her brother. It came by way of Dragon Corps.”

“What was the news?”

“I’m sorry Jona, I do not know, even if I did, I would not be at liberty to divulge the information.”

Jona sagged a little. The Professor was correct, he could not tell Jona anything.

But Jona could ask. First, he needed to change his clothes to rider uniform. Get a little riding practice in, maybe find where she lived at the same time.

Walking to the door that led to the long curving stairs, he saw a note on his bed when he walked by the open door.

Breaking the seal and unfolding the neatly folded parchment, he read in the swooping quill-style that was uniquely Kolo’s.

”I am sorry I did not get to say good-bye. I will be back soon. There was a family event that the leader of our clan called all the swimmers together. I will watch for your name in the race postings for the school newsletter.

I will be back before you graduate.

I am joking. I will be back in two weeks on the first of the month.

Keep studying!

Kolo”

She knew she would alarm him with the first part.

He would pay her back for that little trick and started to set up the payback.

Walking out into the courtyard, he found his normal ride had failed finals and was on Academic Probation, including sports, until she made the test up and the grades improved and considered worthy of a dragon of her age.

Not wanting to try to connect with another, he turned and walked back to the common area, wearing his armor, to look for his ride and give Eva a little abuse, his first year he had all the tests taken care of, he never thought he would outshine his ride.

”Eva?” he spoke to a familiar shape, but the face when the dragon turned around was not her.

“Oh, excuse me.” Shaking his head. He was getting too distracted and did not recognize his own friends.

“Eva is in the caves, studying, she is not taking visitors, especially your kind.” A wyvern hissed. “She failed because of you. She should have been flying with a dragon rider. Not a pink-skinned biped-human.”

Derisive laughter followed him when Jona walked away. A small, green pine cone sailed past him. When he was fifteen-paces away.

“Hey!” Jona turned around, but the dragons were all engaged in conversation with their backs to him.

Not seeing the culprit, he walked off with the sounds of subtle snickering and comment of “Human” following him.

Humiliated, he just walked to the student store, a couple of half-dragons were inside buying snacks nodded at him.

“I saw what happened.” The one called Summer looked down as she spoke. She was a pretty girl who often hid in the library and read every chance she had, her golden eyes blinked in bright light when she had to focus on distances greater than her arm’s length.

“The one with the silver rosettes threw the pine cone at you from his far side.” She blinked behind a set of glasses. “They are not dragons of honor like they say they are. They would not pass any test if they are ever investigated for their contempt for humans. I know, they don’t like me either.”

“Why don’t they like you?” Jona blinked. “You are pretty.”

“They are racers, and don’t think anyone is worthy unless they are riders or rides.” She looked at Jona. “Like you. But you talk to me. Why?”

“Because I think you are nice.” Jona said. “I have seen you in the library helping others.”

“That’s because they asked. I don’t go outside much. I don’t ever know what to say to people.” Summer looked down. “I am not as pretty as some girls. Like Kolo, I have seen you hang around her. Are you mated to her?”

“ME? Hah… no. I have to study in school, I have a few studies to catch up on. My mom and dad are off in trade somewhere. My dad is an artisan of iron and copper, they are in another country getting trade.” Jona said. “I am going to stay here for the spring break and study and practice racing.”

“Eva has been grounded for grades by Professor Vale. She has to study her human history.” Summer giggled. “Humans have a short history, too.”

“Can you help her study? I would study with you, she is my ride and I need her to race after spring break.”

“You would study with me?” Summer gasped. No one ever asked her. “Why would you study with me?”

“Well, the last time, Kolo helped me study, another dragon friend in my dorm helped point me the right way to study for Professor Krular and his tests.”

“Was that Obon?” Summer smiled when Jona nodded. “I like him, he cuddled with me once when I had a bad week. He is studying for a healer’s title, you know.”

Summer blushed lightly.

“No, I didn’t. But, yes, it was Obon who helped me.” Jona smiled. “I never thought a dragon could blush.”

“I am not all dragon.” She looked down. “I am neither human or dragon according to some of the clans, except my mom and dad.”

Summer Set, the part-human, part-dragon, looked at the floor as if the tile would do something.

Jona pondered a moment, the way his father treated other people, strangers that came into his shop, people from far places.

Tall, short, thin as blades of grass or as stout as a barrel, Aed Samhain believed they were all worth to pay the best attention he could give.

Jona knew that was the right thing to do. And Summer had fallen to the crime of the family that told her she was worth less than that.

“Summer,” Jona smiled.  “Kolo and I are not mates.”

Jona paused and thought a moment as she looked at him.

“You are as bright as the sun in the sky and twice as warm. I think I would like to be your friend.” He said.

Summer smiled widely, something Jona would remember for years later. The day he made a friend who had a deep fear of others.

Together they sat, she told him of the guides to study for the different professors.

“In here, this library, all the answers to all the tests of all the professors are just sitting here to be looked at.” Summer smiled. “This is where they store past tests and get the questions for the next ones.”

They studied for weeks, Jona and Eve sat with Summer and studied with the shy student, and Professor Vale nodded each time the pair came in late, almost on the last grain of the hour-glass before curfew.

Each test that followed in the spring, Jona remembered. He had just seen the answers, talked about them with Summer and Eve.

His grades became the pride of his house, Professor Vale wrote his parents who sent care packages with letters of pride and toys for Sprite.

Kolo wrote, saying she was proud of him as well and would be returning within the week.

For the first time in his life, Jona felt he had something to make him happy.

The Green Man sat one afternoon and poured Jona a large ale of the newest vintage, giggling slightly.(He had already consumed two bottles himself.) Pointing out something to the young DragonMaster.

No one just gave the happiness to him, Jona did it for himself.

Dragon Master University Chapter 31. In The Showers.

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Chapter 31. In the Showers.

Sprite was laying against Jona’s back, stealing the blankets like all girls everywhere do. Jona woke up cold.

But he had time for a shower in his new semi-private room, the only problem was the lack of privacy between human and dragon and genders.

His first experience with this upper level shower room was when his hair was full of soap when someone came in.

This alone was not out of the ordinary, the bathrooms were huge and built to fit all sizes of beings.

But the voices nearly made him slip on the smooth, snowflake obsidian floors.

“Can I use your hair soap?” A female voice said.

Two female dragons had walked in and were showering and talking together.

“Careful, human-boy.” The gold dragon said, she smiled. “I know you. You’re in the Dawn Room alone, which is very cool in my opinion. But a lot of students hate being alone here.”

“My name is Starr, my parents are Polaris ice-dragons. But I am a kind of throwback, I don’t like the cold, I like warm showers.”

The redheaded human girl who stripped down had put golden scaled boots next to her clothes and stepped into the shower, borrowed Starr’s shampoo.

“This is my roommate, Beulah Kate Archi Baker.”

“Call me Kate.” She said dangerously. “I don’t know why you introduce me like that.”

“It’s that or as Boots. You wear that collection of footwear you have all the time.” Starr said.

“I just like my shoes.” Then turning to Jona. “You can stop looking now, yes, I am human, yes, I am redhead, yes, the water is cold. Make no mistake, I am willing and able to throw you out of here.”

“Kate is a member of the Wild Witch Warrior club. They perform caged magic battles.”

“Caged ..what?” For a moment, Jona forgot he was standing naked in a shower in front fo two girls. “I don’t understand.”

Starr sighed happily as she let hot water flow over her head of fine golden feathers and down her armored back. The scales she had here fine, almost skin-like on most of her body, but the dorsal scales were overlapping armor, each scale the size of his thumb with, what looked like, dentations that interlocked, giving her a silvery metallic stripe down her back.

“That’s unique coloring you have on your spine.” Jona became more comfortable with being naked in front of the girls. They paid him no mind as each one went to the job of preparing for the day.

“It is my adult scales coming out, it starts on the spine and eventually I will have all these covering me. My mom is the color of the moon. Dad looks like a setting sun. He is all copper.”

“They look smooth.” Jona said.

“Do you want to touch them?”

“Careful, what is your name?” Kate asked, leaning back to rinse out her hair. She had freckles down her body that looked like she was the victim of someone with a small marker and put dots all over her body.

“My name is Jona.”

“Jona! Don’t stroke her back, you will lose whatever dignity you have. She likes humans.” Kate winked.

“He won’t lose any dignity, he will know what dragon loving is like!” Starr said with a wink.

“As I said.” Kate laughed.

Jona felt his ears burn at the flirty women as he dressed.

The two girls finished while he was dressing and he could understand why Starr called Kate “Boots” for the colorful footwear she pulled on.

Starr did not get dressed, just wrapping up in a towel then stepping close to Jona.

“She is right, I do like humans, males and females both.” Starr winked. “I’m quarter-human myself.”

Before Jona realized it, Starr’s prehensile tail slid up the back of his leg, touching every part of his back and shoulders.

“Mmm. Nice.” Starr winked a jeweled eye at him. “Come see me if you ever cannot sleep.”

“Jona, take my word, once you do ice, nothing is never as nice.” Kate said. “And you can call me Boots.”

“Thanks, Boots.”

“Byeee.” Starr whispered as she slipped out of the room.

“Sorry about her. She has a heat cycle, when she needs to take hot showers, no one is safe.” Boots smiled and waved as she left.

Jona laughed and walked back to his room. This floor was far different from “The Mine”.

Dear Universe: Chapter 2. Be Continued

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2. Be Continued

Smoke was heavy as the ‟helo” came in for a landing on the mountaintop. Winds were unpredictable, but the hand crew deployed quickly as they expertly handed out the tools of their trade.

Brush hooks – a kind of curve-bladed ax that looks like a shepard’s staff with a razor’s edge that they used to cut and drag brush out of the fire break

Pulaski grubbing tools – An ax on one side and a trenching and grubbing tool on the other. Looks like a cousin to a pick.

McLeod – a hoe and rake combination built on the toughest proportions. Probably the least favorite tool that the crews used, but the most useful.

The R-5 Fire shovel. A short-handled round nose shovel with a sharpened edge for cutting through roots and digging quickly. Used for scraping ground and throwing dirt on fire for direct suppression. Often used to do final clean up by the firefighter crew and are last in line of a firefight often called the drag shovel.

Firefighter bodies were ready for this. Trained, hardened by repeated morning abuse called ‟Physical Training”. The team of men and woman would perform a series of stretches and aerobic exercises that ended with a five-mile run. All before sunrise and breakfast.

All summer, they would sweat more before breakfast than most people did all day. Polishing and sharpening their tools, checking equipment, then a half hour after breakfast they would load up and head to scheduled  projects for inspection or maintenance of brush clearing on roadways in the back-country. Gloves and hard-hats worn, they would test or inspect construction areas. There was little area of the mountainous terrain that they did not step foot in, a thousand square-miles that they protected with their brethren of other operational bases or centers. Dad often called her “Princess” and told her of things he did during the days he was away in his letters.

‟Continuing: It is twelve-hours later, we have cut almost five-kilometers of line in an area that is too hazardous for bulldozers. I’m seriously tired, but we need to eat here in a bit, the sun has gone down and we are now in a parking lot-sized area where the helicopters land. I see a comfy rock that we are going to sleep on in a little while. In the meantime, my meal is cooking in a can. Someone brought some spam (Yes, I know, but when you are hungry and tired, everything is a banquet!) and we are cooking it over a candle powered stove in its own can.”

‟We need to eat and then get back to the line, we are to join up with another crew that is cutting towards us. The fire is about two miles off.. probably you use metric when you are reading this so that would be a little over three kilometers and moving in our direction. We are cutting this line below the ridge top and backfiring as we go. (That is, we are burning it up to the ridge.) Food! Be back later. Don’t go away.”

She laughed. Writing on paper and he puts her on hold. ‟Don’t go away.” Once again, reminded that he was always next to her in her heart.

She remembered and loved his sense of humor.

‟Back! It is now another ten-hours later, I’m making a hike out with the rest of the crew. We had crews airlifted in, but we were out of position to get a ride, so… While we are on a break from our walk out I need to catch you up, quick. We cut a line around this old hill and hooked up with the Pine Mountaineers crew, your mom’s old party station. My crew, Iron Canyon Kings were with them when the USFS did a backfire that became a giant operation. It was not planned. (HAHAHA!) the small backfire kinda backfired. But it stopped the main front in the end. It was USFS’s game plan, but the vegetation was dryer than predicted and a bit of an uphill wind did more than expected. No one was hurt, but I don’t think the US Forest Ranger will handle a drip-torch like that again. HAHA! The backfire flared a bit more than planned and there were a few moments of a significant pucker-factor.”

She laughed. His stories of the fireline were always an adventure.

‟Anyway, we’re hiking again. We have three hours of steady walking to go, after that? I get on a bus and head back to the deployment area. We have been out here for two-weeks now and I expect the fire  will be fully contained by the end of our down-time. Three days before this all started, your mom said we were expecting you to join us in less than a year. This is simply awesome! Anyway. Not much to write as far as a letter goes. This little bit o’paper will get stuffed into a file somewhere along with many others I hope to write. Anyway. Love you, (baby boy or baby girl!) Dad.

PS. Need to get used to that now, don’t I?”

She missed him, wherever he was. The advertisement in the magazine for wildland firefighters to go to a third world country that was suffering from a severe drought and fires that were threatening to devastate the ecology and economy.

The large salary offered was too tempting to pass up. So Dad went when it was winter in the northern hemisphere to fight fires at the bottom of the world for six months.

And never came home.

A year later, a the government sent a half-dozen boxes back. The helicopter transporting firefighters crashed with only one broken radio call for help. The helicopter identifier called with ‟Mayday!” then silence. Destruction of the air transport was complete, some of the local war-clans had stripped the damaged aircraft and burned the rest without thought of reporting or even admission of involvement.

Of a dozen-firefighters and two pilots in the flight, the charred remains of the only ones that could be identified were in coffins.

The search and rescue reported that the area around the Blackhawk transport was:

‟Complete combustion of airframe and personnel.”

Official speak for nothing was left.

So she stood with a file folder of hand-written letters tucked into a handwritten book of spells, looking over the rail of the bridge and the (now empty) jar of ashes that an investigator liaison had collected at the scene and sent to the families. Five years since the helicopter went down, mom still talked as if he were just about to walk through the door. 

When she was younger, it made an odd sense of being closer to him and she was wishing she was a witch practicing “white magic” and had said a spell over a few hairs she had recovered from his bristle brush he used and some glitter that she scraped from the family portrait frame he made years ago. She and mom had a huge fight over that.

It was disrespectful, mom said through her tears.

It was the last time she tried any kind of magic, until now.  Now it was in the water, the final act of the complex spell.  She had one last thing to do, it was an immature effort, perhaps, but it was all she had.

Cassiopeia O’Danu dropped a yellow rose into the waters as they flowed out into the Pacific ocean with the second part of the complex spell spoken in Old Irish.

While Cassi watched the rose of remembrance float away to its destination. She included one wish after she finished with the spell she had read from the pages of her book. 

The wish? She had said it before, but anything to help increase the force of the spell of return.

‟Dad, come home.”

The Red Witch’s Dragon (A short story about 3,000 words)

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The Red Witch’s Dragon

Smoke of the burning ships drifted across the hills.

They had come.

The warriors from the north and east to the verdant land. Of the people, even the Green Wizard had summed up his advice in one word.

Flee.

Even the Green Wizard had told the younger, more volatile Red Wizard of the west to leave the area. They could return to the land after the raiders had left.

The Red Witch and Wizard taught the artisans the ways to perform their own brand of magic on ingots of gold, silver, copper and other metals. As they traded for and wide for the raw materials that they brought back to the village, both the husband and wife of the mountain felt they owed the village the best protection they could do.

“The best protection, my son, is to lead them to safety.”

Safety from the Dubh-Gall. Ferocious warriors that the world had not before seen. They came out of the north in high prow-ships, rowing like madmen. Swift, unstoppable and terrifying. In another age and language they went by another name.

Viking.

****

“Move along! Quickly! The sooner we are through the hills…”

A scream echoed down the line of people. In the distance, the glint of steel shown through the forest.

They were coming.

“RUN! Drop everything that you are not wearing, carry the children and run!”

Oengus, the Red Wizard turned to his wife and they both knew what they had to do.

“Come with me.” The Red Wizard said to the most well armed of the men that did duty as the rear guard.

“Flank guard, come with me!” Assa the Red Witch said loudly. ignoring the irritated look from the Green Wizard as he herded the people through the gap.

Taking a group of adults to the rear, the plan quickly evolved to keep the Dubh-Gall from crossing the stream. They lined up in two rows, forming a giant V to keep the raiders from crossing the water ford and away from the escaping people.

The plan was to force the raiders to think they had broken through, only to cross at the deepest part of the stream where the swift waters flowed into a cataract.

****

Confident in their plan they deployed their under-armed and untrained warriors, painted the ruddy color of blood, they took finely forged weapons meant for trade and selling to princes and kings. This time, the people used the fine weapons to defend children, and those that could not defend themselves.

These were not soldiers, the was the leader, but the Wizard himself was no soldier.

Still, he had read the books of Alexander and Hannibal.

****

The rending of wood and metal upon flesh. The battle of the artisans against those of the raiders was decidedly one-sided.

Battle hardened from their many raids where the people ran like sheep. They were not ready for the she-wolf in red hair in the form of Assa, The Red Witch.

****

Their attack faltered as they surged forward against the raiders, the bright red hair and furious scream of a wild-eyed warrior woman bent on protecting those that have asked for it— fell.

Of all the things to happen to a person with arrows flying both directions, spears thrown and sharp instruments swung like scythes in the field.

Stepping sideways to dodge a swinging ax, she moved in front of a charging horse that killed the murderous berserker with its massive hooves and knocked her down in the process, stepping on her foot as it charged forward.

****

Two-hundred fifty paces from the front of the lines, she was not in the lead and her line began to falter.

Fighting and falling back, the line of home protectors, elders and the crazy aunt that everyone has, stood between the fleeing line of family and the bloodthirsty men from the sea.

In the clearing of bodies, Assa’s head bobbed up and down as she tried to make a splint out of a dropped battle club. Too far away, Oengus the Red saw his wife laying on the ground in harm’s way.

The line had moved away from her as his line was putting pressure on the raiders with archers and running battles.

But Assa was alone. Without a leader, her line began to fall back.

****

One-hundred fifty paces between her and the fighting line of death.

Arrows fell around her, the Wed Ritch without a weapon or tool, dragged herself to a broad shield dropped in the heat of battle and pulled it over her as three arrows hit nearby. Using it thick leather, wood and metal as an umbrella to protect her from the steel rain.

And the viking archers were finding her range.

Pulling the shield over her, broad as two men, an arrow struck the shield at a dangerous angle. This archer was spot on target and she was the bullseye.

Looking about, Oengus sought a volunteer to become a protector of his wife. Try as he might as they pushed towards where Assa was, the raiders were too strong and pushed back.

One-hundred twenty-five paces, the line grew closer to her. The defenders were retreating inexorably back, no one stopped to help her, they were all too busy fighting. Those that fell were on their own.

Such are the costs of war.

Oengus continued to search, but no one could break away, his own line unable to make headway.

****

Her line of defense was enough to keep safe the lives of the fleeing villagers that had moved out ahead of the landing of the high-prowed ships. Little did they realize that the well planned invasion had come in three parts, each raiding party had landed ten miles apart, north to south to cut off the refugees escape route.

One-hundred paces.

The line had to reform as the fighters fell back from a wedge attack the raiders had formed.

The vikings were trying to punch through the lines and nearly did so, but Nial had other plans, half his family had yet to cross the water ford and de was not about to let the line closest to them break and endanger the people he is trying to protect.

Failure was not an option for any of them.

****

Seventy-five paces away from Assa.

Looking about at the melee of furious fighting, Oengus saw his love and reason for living now only steps from capture, hiding under broad shield, even from here, Oengus could see that her left foot was not in the anatomic normal position. It was badly broken by the warhorse stepping on her, the pain would be excruciating. It was no small wonder that she had not cast some spell of hiding or concealment, the agony of her broken foot kept her from focusing.

****

Forty paces.

No one was able to take the time, everyone was defending to their utmost

Assa could see the individual hairs in the beard of the pig-tailed, pig nosed man who carried a sword nearly as long as he stood tall.

Two thin lines of defenders, one defender deep stood between her and death, like mighty trees standing against the storm. Screaming berserkers, by the twos and half-dozens, charged time and again against the smiths, tinkerers, carpenters and farmers, crashing like waves against stone. Steel upon steel and bronze upon leather, the screams of the dying and the momentary victorious sounded along the battle line, it all blended in an awful din.

Oengus knew that they could not keep up the defense, the archers left alive were running low on arrows. Youthful runners sprinted, some never returned, a small few returned bringing arrows in hand and in body before collapsing in death, giving the arrows that had pierced them as they had run. Each man bled to hold his line next to his brother or cousin. None of the villagers would give a willing inch to the biting axes and hissing arrows.

Their own archers gave the raiders something to respect. Time and again, even as their own had fallen to arrows that came in, they outdistanced the Viking archers with their long bows.

Thirty paces. The wounded men stood against the charging invaders of the land, like time and waves on rock, it was wearing them down.

Twenty-five paces.

The line retreated, but at a hideous cost to the men of the east, dozens fell with arrows jutting out of their eyes and stuck in their throats.

Twenty paces.

Oengus was in a panic, he needed a subject, someone who would willingly endure a temporary transformation and be the hero of the day.

No one!

Anyone?

None could turn to even engage the question. Everyone was committed to the battle.

****

Fifteen paces.

He was the wizard of harvest, he could bring a flood and storm. But here in the vale, they were all in the floodplain. He had one spell, ten-thousand spells for the same effect, ten-thousand ways to cast each one and he had to undo what he was about to do. Once done, anyone else would be hard pressed to cast a counterspell on changes he wrought with his words.

****

Ten paces.

Out of time. Oengus knew who would do the heroic deed. But the return would be so much longer than the first transformation.

Sliding his sword into the scabbard and dropping it against a tree. He readied himself for the power to flow and transform.

Oengus, Wizard of the Red Dragon of the Westland was ready.

He imaged in his mind his subject and began chanting the five-keys of spells in a specific pattern.

He awoke the land and called upon its power.

****

Assa the Red Witch of the Setting Sun, hid under the broad viking shield, dropped by a raider when her defenders surged forward out of the narrows where the water flowed, her ankle hurt so bad, she screamed when she moved it. Remaining still was not an option.

“Protect the Red!” The artisians yelled. A gravelly voice of the singularly talented smith in seven villages, he called himself “The Smite”, bellowed that no one would be allowed to take the Red Witch.

“Gather her! Pick her up and take her away!” As his great hammer inverted yet another Norse shield into the unfortunate wielder.

But no one came.

She was alone. In a sea of friends and family, of those she had healed, the only help could be had were those that were fighting to protect her untenable place under the broad disk of bronze and iron.

Using a sprig of a spice she dug from the ground, Assa chewed on it for the narcotic, albeit minimal, effect it had.

She needed greater magic than she had with her, her bag, torn from her body by Ulain and his bronze-armored steed when she was ran over by the thundering hooves that stepped on her ankle.

“HERE! Assa!” It was Ulain’s son with the armored horse holding out his hand whilst holding onto the reigns of the angry warhorse with the other.

They were in a semi-circle of a path, a lane really, two rows of fighters, archers on one side shooting between the ranks of the defenders on the other, into the bodies and heads of the raiders that surged to drive the villagers into the water.

It was the plan all along, to draw the heavily armored invaders into a white water grave in the rapids, but with the falling of their leader, she now needed more protection than any of them.

A loud sound, like that of a gong, sounded loud and the great black horse fell, Ulain was gone, Assa did not know if Ulain died somewhere or unhorsed and was fighting on foot. His son now lay crushed under the horse that had an embossed mark like a hammer on the side of the horse-helmet, struggled.

Assa could feel the horse remained alive, but instead of shifting emotions and feelings of the animal, it was a soft blur, the horse was unconscious.

****

Then Assa spied an object that made her heart leap for hope— Her medicine bag, lost in the early part of the fighting. In it she could heal a broken ankle in moments, give strength to the fighters defending their homes and heal herself.

Now she needed Oengus and he was a thousand paces away and the killers of women and children were…

****

Ten paces.

The villagers would shove and battle, gaining ten steps and be driven back eleven.

If viewed from above, the line moved as a snake, writhing, biting, killing— pain.

Her bag, was fifteen paces behind her, she struggled towards it, putting distance between herself and the inexorable retreat of the line to the river.

An ax banged against the shield and bounced away.

The battle was twelve paces distant. She was getting hit with debris that flew about during battles.

A blast of wind blew her bag towards her hand, almost into her grip, but paused.

Not waiting, she lunged and grabbed the soft leather and pulled it under her makeshift roof.

Focusing as she pulled out a stone, spit on it — which was a challenge as her mouth was dry — she only needed a little moisture to have the powder stick to the stone.

And … A sound that grew louder…

The battle seemed different.

Sounds of the rage of war had changed, becoming screams of fear.

Lifting up the shield that was her savior several times in the last few minutes, she saw what looked like ruby-red tree trunks just to the battle side.

It was…

A dragon!

****

The roar of the furies combined with the sound of a thousand storms were no match for ruby-red dragons voice.

The roar echoed off the distant mountains and rolled back along the battle line.

Although in legend and by fire they bragged about being brave, but on this day, the raiders had a collective loss of bladder control at once… Then ran.

Snarling with fury the great dragon launched itself against the fleeing hoard and continued to roar and snarl as they dropped weapons to run faster. The raiders of the lands did not feel they had to outrun the dragon, just the man next to him.

Sure victory had become a race of retreat to the boats.

In legends down time, the people told and re-told the story that the roars of the dragon echoed in the hills around the vale for three days after the battle.

Those raiders fallen  behind were left by their brothers, the Dubh-Gall that fought and drove the farthest inland were now the most far behind when the running began,  finding themselves abandoned by the hoard of now frightened men who sailed away on the ships they arrived in. The abandoned warriors settled peacefully, never wishing to draw the ire of the red dragon of the west ever again.

In the vale, where the villagers returned, blood that had seeped into the ground from the defenders that would give their lives for the loved one named Assa that taught them all how to live, love and laugh.

In the days that followed, leaders looked for Oengus. After weeks of searching, finally identified him by his medallion of a Red Dragon hanging around his neck. No help could be rendered in by any artesian or even the great Green Wizard of the east.

Oengus had changed himself into the dragon, but unable to speak any human tongue in his condition, no one knew the spell he performed.

Finn of the White Water, where he lived on the river, was able to perform the mathematics to figure out the time needed to change Oengus back to his normal self.

One-hundred million ways to cast the spell, each one taking a half-minute to recite in a rush without mistakes.

Assa would age, pass, then be dead and gone if she had to go to the end and try every spell to get her husband back.

Such was the price of a hero.

He won the respect of every day the villagers lived in peace, but had no part in the celebration, he could never know the hugs of the children that he saved.

For dragons live forever, men and women do not.

Even witches and wizards.

In the decades that followed, if one stopped and listened in the far end of the vale, one could hear the red witch yelling at her husband, calling him names for using a spell that no one could reproduce.

****

Early one fine spring day, about two years after the battle, Granuaile walked to the mountain of the dragon and announced herself.

The Red Witch, always enjoying company, yelled at the husband.

Once they called her Assa, the Red. The Gentle Red Witch.

Now, she called herself Nessa, meaning “Ungentle”, she became Nessa the Red, the Warrior Witch of the Westland.

“Dragon! Show yourself! It is the girl from the village.”

Pointing to the vale, Granuaile told them of the trees that the Green Wizard had planted.

“Come see. A monument to the day you saved us all.” With that she ran off down the path, waving at the Red Witch.

In the lane, near the ford, trees now lined the path that followed where the dragon had stood and walked until the fighters and defenders that held their ground in defense of the Red Witch of the Mountain, was safe.

In the times that followed, the stream silted up and moved, the ford became a meadow, but the trees remained. When they died or fell, there were people of the land to replant the trees, eventually becoming giants, growing over the path with a protective canopy along the section where once stood a dragon that was a man who gave his life as a human to protect the jewel of his heart.

In time the vikings would return, forgetting the Red Dragon that lived in the Westland.

They would not forget for long.