Married by Mistake Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

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Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

Tom knew how to get to the hotel and told Kaylee not to follow the GPS.

‟That thing is taking you around the long way. I don’t know that route, and through a neighborhood?! That’s nuts. Take the next left, go to the highway on-ramp. Three exits, and left. It’s easy to find.”

‟You have been there before?” She said, after slowing for a slightly wobbly street person who walked across the street in the middle of the block and waved thanks at her.

‟He should know better,” She growled at the scraggly man. ‟That is a good way to die and that would just screw up my day.”

‟Well, deep breath. We have a nice room waiting for us.”

‟It’s just a room.”

‟You used the married name? My name?”

‟Well, yeah.” She nodded. ”I used the card you gave me.”

She thought a moment.

‟I suppose I should give it back to you.”

‟No, keep it. Let it expire in three years and use it for emergencies, getting married, paying rent.” Tom smiled. ‟Especially if you buy books. My books.”

‟Drumming up business, are you?” Kaylee laughed.

‟Well, that would be self-defeating. My, money buying my book? Then I’d pay commission, there is no profit in that.” Tom chuckled. ‟Consider it a gift if you buy one.”

‟I’d buy a bunch and give them away, try to drum up business for you.” Kaylee winked as she merged on to the highway.

A small smile crossed his lips, then a far away look settled in his eyes and Tom looked out the window and remained quiet for a few minutes.

‟I’ll miss you.” She said softly. ‟I know you are unhappy.”

‟You know me pretty well, already.” He said in a soft voice and turned back to look out the window. ‟You will go back to school this fall, probably with an engagement ring. Melanie will stop coming to my movies, she will stop buying books and hold a grudge. The world will end and I’ll drown my sorrows in an overdose of rum and painkillers and fly the Pacific Wizard to a bad landing on the ocean with no survivors.”

‟What? Tom!”

‟Kidding, just poking at the pity-pot for a moment.” Tom gave a crooked smile. But there was some truth that glinted in his eyes. A sadness that he didn’t cover up quickly enough for Kaylee to miss.

It was a horrid sadness of soul, a soul that she cared for.

‟On the subject of the hotel, have you been there before?” She changed the subject back.

‟A time or two for book-signings. They wanted me to play, too. I have a minor weakness for blackjack. I win more than I lose, as well. The casino is always interested in winning back some that I have taken from their tables. Roulette is good, too, but I lose more there.”

‟I like dollar machines.” She smiled. “I might ask you for a few rolls”

‟I bet.” Tom laughed at his own joke.

Kaylee gave him a sideways look.

‟That was terrible.” She said with a crooked smile shaking her head.

‟Made you grin.”

Guiding the electric SUV to a parking slot, she overshot the painted line of the parking stall and began to struggle slightly getting it straight.

Outside, a woman got out of her small hybrid and started to berate them though the glass of the Tesla.

‟You people need to get over your small penis envy! That car is an abomination, sucking down more gas than you are worth! This is what will wreck the world for us all in twenty years! Selfish, stupid whore.”

Kaylee got a look in her eye that Tom had seen once before.

He had seen the look when she stomped a man twice her size nearly to death, and this look was just the same, but this time, he saw it up close along with the white knuckles of the warrior woman.

‟NO! No, Kay! No!” He grabbed at her hand.

‟Lady, go into the casino where you belong. You no clue what you are talking about.” Kaylee’s temper was a nuclear furnace. 

‟I do, you drive that gas-pig around and the rest of us pay for the global warming filth that you create, that movie showed it to us. Inconvenient isn’t it? You drive gas guzzler’s with all your careless abuse of fossil fuels.”

‟Lady,” Kaylee hissed. ‟You get in your fossil-fueled car, take your attitude and get the hell away from my husband…” Kaylee choked. ‟And me.”

‟My car is an all green hybrid. I get fifty-miles per gallon, how much does your pig get?”

‟I can’t tell you, it doesn’t take gas.”

‟Diesel! Foul, nasty, penis envy…”

‟It does not use any kind of oil. No diesel, no gas, no propane.” Tom said.

‟What?” The woman pronounced it ‟wut” and blinked in confusion.

‟It’s all electric, no hybrid. It gets an electric equivalent of over two-hundred miles per gallon.” Kaylee clenched her fists. She was an artist about to paint her version of Dante’s Inferno on this woman. ‟So. Kiss-off.”

Taken aback, the woman shook her head.

‟You lie. There is no such thing.” She looked at the back of the Model X.

‟No tailpipe, witch.” Kaylee called over her shoulder while they left her looking at the dark windowed car with the electric-car tag hanging on the mirror.

“I was this close,” Kaylee held up her thumb and forefinger. “She was about to have a problem.”

“Yeah, I know, she is still looking over the Tesla.” Tom laughed as they walked across the parking lot.

They made their way into the casino and to the check-in desk.

The clerk did not bother to look up when Kaylee stepped up to the counter.

‟Reservation for Harte.”

‟One moment please.”

Another voice from around the corner.

‟Harte? Kaylee and Thomas Harte?”

‟Yes.” Kaylee nodded.

‟Steve, go over there, I have this.” It was a dapper woman with a the air of Captain Watson, all professional.

‟What? Why?”

‟Remember I said of the VIP coming in?”

‟Oh.” And moved off.

‟I apologize for that. I was watching for your limo to come in.”

‟We came by rental car. Miss…?”

‟I have this Kaylee .”

‟Erika, thank you for watching, but we are in a rental car this time. Might go driving later.”

‟Very good. Do you need the rental returned for you and we will arrange a limo for your use later, on the house.” Erika said.

‟That would be most excellent.” Tom nodded. ‟My usual company I use here?”

‟Desert Limo? I’m sorry, but they are out of business.”

‟Oh? Since when?”

‟About three weeks ago, IRS came in and shut them down, the tax-man took out a lot of limo companies. There are only two in town now. A few gypsy limos, but the two that stayed operating for the moment is Deviance Limousine and Gemini Limousine are still in business. Until the IRS gets to them.”

‟Why is the IRS involved?”

‟They are cleaning house around here. It is causing trouble for everyone.”

‟I can understand. In any event, we will be changing and heading out in a bit.”

‟A limo will be on standby for you, Mister Harte. A moment’s notice will be all that is all we will need.”

‟Very good, as you can see, I have a small problem with my arm. Could I get a porter?”

‟Right away.” Erika said, dialing a number. ‟Where are your bags now?”

‟Black Tesla rental, in the electric only parking stall.” Kaylee said.

‟Very good,” Erika nodded to a young man who was standing within earshot, who walked up and took the key from Kaylee and headed out to the car.

‟Your bags will be up at your suite momentarily.”

‟Thank you, Erika. We will wait for the bags in our room.”

‟I will trust you will find the lodgings to your pleasure. You have a panoramic view, the gaming table on the floor is available at any time. You also have access to our private gaming area as you see fit. And as always, this will be comp. Your VIP code was not entered when the clerk took the call, so I will deduct the reservation charges now.”

‟Thank you.”

‟Mister Harte? This way, please.” It was an impeccably dressed man with a Mid-Atlantic accent wearing a name tag Gene Childs, Hotel Manager.

‟Tom. Please, call me Tom.” He smiled. ‟I ask you that every time I arrive.

‟Yes, sir. Tom.” The manager smiled. ‟It’s an old habit.”

Riding the elevator up, Kaylee looked over in front of Tom and tapped his hand.

‟We are going to the top?”

‟Yes, ma’am. This is Mister… er… Tom’s regular place when he stays. I can say that Tom does not bring his family members here often, we are always pleased to serve you in any wishes you might have.”

‟Tom’s family…” She thought for a moment and looked down.

The doors opened, there was no hallway. They stepped out directly into a frosted glass foyer with a wooden door.

‟The normal full security precautions, four-inch-thick glass and polycarbonate panels with electronic privacy. It converts from clear to frost with a press of a button on the remote control and at several panels around the room. The door is all but breach proof. The whole floor is a panic room.” Gene walked around and pointed the features. ‟Limited access to the elevator, staff and the key-holder for this floor only.”

‟Thank you, Gene.” Tom said as the elevator chimed and the young man walked in with their bags.

‟Of course, please call me directly if there is anything you need. Twenty-four hours.” Gene said as he handed Tom his card. ‟The number on the back is my direct line.”

‟Thank you, again.” Tom smiled.

Two hotel staff members stepped inside the elevator and the doors slid silently shut.

‟I thought they would never leave!” Kaylee said. ‟I’m *family*?”

‟He was being circumspect. He could have gone the other way and asked if you were a working girl.”

‟That’s just wrong to assume.”

‟Agreed. But you must admit, we are an odd couple. You are young, beautiful and vibrant. I’m OFU.”

‟Oh-Eff-You?”

‟Old, fat and ugly.” He said as he walked to the door and pressed the button on the key and unlocked the door to the suite.

She kicked Tom in the backside.

‟You stop that.” She started to make a growl then gasped. ‟Shut-up! This is not our room? Oh-my-gawd!”

The walls moved on command when Tom tapped the buttons on the remote control.

Three hundred-sixty degree views of Las Vegas and the surrounding mountains took her breath away.

‟Tom, I swear, I only wanted to get a nice room. I didn’t book a penthouse.”

‟You forget my name carries some influence. They may have thought you were just some any Kaylee Harte, and I wager they mulled that over, and did not clue on it.”

‟How many times have you been here?”

‟A few, I don’t count. Usually, I stay on the Pacific Wizard.” Tom said as he sat down in a sculpted leather chair that looked out over the landscape.

‟Is the bar open?”

‟Everything is. You heard Erika said that it was comp.” Tom said, grunting slightly as he moved his wounded arm to a comfortable position.”

‟Wow. Macallen whiskey!” Kaylee balked. “What? This one is thirty-years!”

‟They should have the full spectrum.” Tom nodded, looking out the window.

‟Holy crap! Do you know how much this is? I saw some in the locked case at the Tower of Liquor in Ocean Bay.” She turned it around in her hand slowly. ‟And I can open it?”

‟If you want. But if you open it, you better drink it. That is about three-hundred dollars you have in your hand.” He said as he kicked his shoes off.

‟I’m going to put it back, I have never held anything that expensive in a bottle.” She poked around in the refrigerator. “I can’t read this except for chocolate.”

“Oh, that would be the old world Luxemburg or German-made chocolates.” He chuckled. “Impossible to say, wonderful on the tongue. Except I don’t like chocolate.”

Kaylee laughed at that. 

‟What are you up to, hun?” She asked while he pulled off his shirt.

‟Thinking about jumping into the pool.” Tom said.

‟There’s a pool?” She turned around, nearly dropping a full bottle of Pyrate Rum, with ‟Cask Special” on the label.

‟Let’s go swimming!”

‟You didn’t bring a suit. Remember?”

‟Skinny dip!” She yelled as she ran through the suite peeling off clothes. ”After that I am going to have a cuddle with you until you cry for a mommy!”

Tom watched her jump in the penthouse pool, her skin shimmered in the ripples of the clear pool water. He didn’t laugh, in fact, it saddened him on a deep level. Until a little while ago, she was his wife.

This troubled him on so many levels, he was not sure he could count them all.

But he was going to have one last night of love with a twenty-two-year-old art student and martial arts master with the moves of a gymnast.

‟You know, you’ll need a shower after this. This is a salt pool.”

‟I’ll give you a body shampoo, before we go to bed.” She yelled from the far end of the pool while he sat in the shallow end, with his arm perched above the water.

Tom chuckled, that was a plus. He had spots he could not reach.

It was a lesson about how important each of his hands were.

*A serious lesson.* He pulled at his earlobe with his good hand while he watched the young woman swim in the private pool forty stories in the air.

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Married by Mistake Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

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Chapter 15. Kaylee Simone Grant

She sat quietly in the big plane with “Pacific Wizard” painted on the outside in big letters in thought. The flying yacht that was Tom’s home, she looked at the ring on her hand for a moment, feeling torn.

Normally she would at the academy of martial arts at this hour. Her next level required her full focus. If the Guru knew what had happened, the rapist, the professor, getting married, he would surely tell the Grand Master. A tiny Filipino man, who had been born before god invented hair.

He liked Kaylee , saying she had speed and skill to wear a black shirt (with an orange stripe on one sleeve now.) and in the years that followed she had gotten that coveted black shirt. Even her orange show uniform she folded with great care, was a gift from the man, whom she counted as among her most cherished of friends as well as a mentor.

She knew he liked the girls and kids. Having little use for the brawny male adults that thought all they needed to do was muscle their way through a fight, the Grand Master who stood only an inch above five feet tall, would throw the hulking soon-to-be-ex students around the academy’s floor, much to the pleasure of the students that watched this event time and again.

Children were a favorite of the Grand Master. (Occasionally, she felt it was because they were the only people who were shorter than him.) Taking a great deal of patience and time to teach the children the angles of attack and defense.

She pulled pants and shoes, it was time to head over to her apartment and pay the rent.

*I hate this first-of-the-month chore. The power and water are all due in the mail today. Ugh. And I need to beg for her job back.*

She did not want to have the thought that she was sponging off of Tom, even though he had given her a card. A bank signature card with no limits, is what he said, and it made her feel special. When she looked it up on her smart phone, he was telling the truth!

*I could pay my entire tuition at once, all four years. Including post-grad classes, new tires— even a new car!* That made her hands sweat. That one moment of clarity, of what could be. *But, if I do that, then I am just a user.*

It was an embarrassed her to even accept the card from him to carry around. She pulled it out and looked at it, holding it by the edges. It had her name on it – her married name – it took him no time at all to order it.

He was taking care of her and the life he was imagining he might have married into.

What kind of life was Tom thinking?

She was angry again.

*He would take care of me alright, he would make me into his version of a kept woman! A mistress with a ring!* She growled in her heart at the thought that grew in the deepest recesses of her mind. Like a whisper that would not fade.

*I need to change this accident. I want Glenn as a husband!*

*Except…*

Except… Tom.

*A gentle and kind soul, Grandma would say.* Except Kaylee still didn’t know much about him. Sitting alone with her thoughts, she watched the workers climbed up and down ladders at with indistinct conversations spoke of subjects that didn’t interest her.

Then her eyes focused the computer on Tom’s desk.

*Oh my god!* It struck her, *I know enough to search him!* She nearly face palmed herself in frustration. *How could I be so dense!*

With everything going on, she was just going for the ride. She only looked for information on the man as she might with another date – not that she ever married anyone else while baked and drunk. She had not looked in-depth on Tom, what his notes might be like.

The weed she smoked made her open to a life with Tom that was fantastic, the drinks with the guardian angel of a man, made it more exciting.

Now, she sat at his computer and turned it on. The jet, plugged into giant power cables the thickness of a man’s arm to the hangar, and the Pacific Wizard was fully operational with all the amenities, including the computer.

The built-in desktop booted into an unfamiliar operating system, she bit her lip as she moved the cursor around the touchscreen, she had no idea what Ubuntu Linux was, but forged ahead anyway. Tapping her finger on “Guest” she opened a screen with an empty desktop. It was like the one that she knew, so she tried to navigate around with her fingertip.

A fascinating system with a virtual keyboard that Tom used.

She smiled. Never would there be a popped-off key or polished with repeated keystrokes until the letters were obliterated, it all impressed her with the system that was unlike the more mainstream and bug-ridden offering.

She continued exploring around the system programs finally finding an icon for the web browser. Using the virtual keyboard, she entered Tom’s name and read the listing.

And boggled…

*Oh, crap on a cracker!*

Not only had Tom been writing, he had started a company that had imported the kind of plane she was sitting in for firefighting and modified them for use in the United States.

Bigger engines, more capacity. The government contracted to use the modified planes all over the country and Canada, a young and growing air transport company. The second listing had a page that offered his name in a link, she clicked on it and uncovered his two dozen children’s books… and his unauthorized biography.

Tom never spoke of his past family. Never hinting at the past catastrophe that drove him. The biography showed a red-headed girl with curls and a blond boy with brilliant blue eyes. The children had their arms around Tom and a woman she assumed was his wife in child-sized bear-hugs.

Reading further, he was a small-business owner and was active in various activities with students and children. He trained with FEMA and belonged to a volunteer fire department.

She continued and an entry covered one early evening when Tom responded to a call, police evidence showed his pregnant wife took the children in the family car and were driving towards where Tom was working at a fire in a barn.

Somehow they had gotten off the road on a train track in the dark and was hit by a freight-train at more than seventy-miles-per-hour. In the accompanying photo with the article, the family car was unrecognizable.

*It’s inverted!* She gasped. The car’s engine was missing and the seats were on the ground outside of the car.

A second image of the scene had two sheets covering the tiny bodies, a larger sheet hung on the remains of the car covered what was left of the mother. The archived words on the news page said there were no survivors, the children died at the scene.

More chapters of the unauthorized biography revealed that Tom closed his business, filed for bankruptcy and locked himself in his house. His name showed up on the internet a year or so later with the first of the Leafy Sea Dragon children’s book that sold in local stores along Australia’s southern coast. The books became an instant hit locally and motivated Tom to come out of his seclusion.

The light illuminated Kaylee’s eyes and her heart.

Paparazzi followed him often to the family house, which he sold shortly after that. Rumors that he had murdered his family the internet tabloids wrote, but the internet and local news services showed he went to the accident as a first-responder only to discover that it was his car and family destroyed by the train.

*He was the first one there! He found them like that.*

It was after his first made-for-tv movie in Australia had gotten him enough funds to first live on a boat. Then, when that did not deter the constant hounding with the photographers on motorbike and speeding cars or hiding in bushes using long lenses with expensive cameras, he bought at first a float plane and a high mountain lake. But the predatory creatures with cameras continued to stalk him.

Rumors began that Tom was hiding something– and again with innuendo and hints that he was running from the law. Hounded by the conspiracy press, he ran as far as his budget could take him.

Great efforts in print by the tabloids showed Tom in the company of known gay men and women that were strong-willed.

“None of your business, next question.” Would be his response at any press conferences, comicon’s or interviews that questioned the events surrounding the death of his family.

Men and women that had little to no contact with Tom would claim his involvement in drugs and sex. They told stories of his involvement with Satan churches, drugs, slavery. Nothing that was close to the truth.

In the end, the tabloids did damage enough to effect some of the sales of his books in religious dominated communities that burned anything with his name, prompting Tom into action, and he retaliated with fury and lawyers.

After a series of lawsuits, he had driven one tabloid into oblivion and severely reduced the size and operations of three others, then used the proceeds of the billion-dollar awards in purchasing of larger fire-fighting planes that could scoop up water and drop on wildfires.

Tom, now capitalized, in turn published more novels which earned him more income.

*He said he had made inroads in the United States.*

In the United States? Kaylee laughed. He had kept three books on the best seller list for children’s books six out of the last eight years. *Every year a new one on the list before the others dropped off.*

His books that followed,  he published while writing the children’s books were adventures for the young adult reader. Pirates, vampires, even mainstream zombie apocalypse type stories.

One mention about his changes to a scoop-plane used for water drops on wild land fires. In one website dedicated to such planes, it was the first one that they had just nearly wrecked in the wine country of northern California.

Then a second article about the this jet she was in, he was still being reclusive as he kept offshore and away from stalking paparazzi. Whenever they came close with their boats, he left or, in one case, turned the plane and used the engines to swamp the boat as he left the area.

It had become a game of tag when a few speedboats moved directly in front of him on purpose to stop his leaving, but the boats were no match for the twin-engine jet and the FAA with the United States Coast Guard issuing citations to all involved.

The Coast Guard cleared Tom of any wrongdoing as the speedboats cut in front of the flying-boat to prevent takeoff and get chances shoot pictures of the reclusive author.

Tapping on the screen, she opened another listing with Tom’s name and it was much of the same. Nice-guy this, great philanthropist that. It showed him with families and children.

But it became obvious – never did he have a date. No girlfriend, no scandal. A boy scout?

Hardly, Tom was toe-curling funny and lovable when they were together. He was just private, no telling the number of women he had dates with.

In fact, she was not even mentioned in any of the web pages. Suggesting that his private lifestyle kept her out of the public eye.

Nodding while she read the web page and noted the lack of information that the world did not know she was his wife. Glenn would not find out that this mistake of a marriage ever happened.

It was…

It… She did not know what “it” was.

Shaking her head.

Kaylee knew what it was.

It was a mistake.

Growling inwardly, which part of this was a mistake? She was starting to second guess herself. She had read enough and sat back.

*Perhaps I’ve read too much?* She blinked her eyes. *I have to digest all this. It is one thing on my phone, but wow. This is so much more.*

Shaking her head, Kaylee stood up with a sigh and walked out the door of the plane. Her feet leading her to her apartment.

*I have to remember, I am mad at him.* She had a soft smile while she walked out of the hangar.

And he made her smile in countless ways.

*I still want the annulment. I love Glenn more than anyone.*

*Pretty sure I do.*

*Perhaps.*

*Maybe.* Then Kaylee cussed for no reason in particular.

Married by Mistake Chapter 14. At The Wizard

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Chapter 14. At The Wizard

Bumps and sounds from the flaps and landing gear extending gave her thoughts that the flying hunk of metal was falling apart. She hated this part of any flight, it always felt like a semi-controlled crash. The sound of air rushing over the flaps unnerved her, the drift of the executive commuter on each little puff of wind was sharp and sudden.

Profanity was on the tip of her tongue every moment. When the shriek of tires touched the runway, she matched the tone for a split second with a small scream of her own.

As the speedy jet slowed down, she let go of the arms of the seat and noticed her knuckles had gone white. Not that Captain Adanna was a poor pilot, but the diminutive airplane was not a comfortable as the Pacific Wizard or the Flying Sea Dragon, the jet was all business like the pilot.

Under the expert guidance of Adanna, the winged race-car taxied near the hangar where the Pacific Wizard sat while service techs milled about, the Olympic-swimming-pool sized doors of the huge structure were open and she could see the size differences between the jet she rode in and the Pacific Wizard.

The great plane’s engine hatches were open and technicians and mechanics climbed up and down ladders as they worked on the flying yacht. Kaylee worried that the workers might stop her from going into the Pacific Wizard to retrieve her belongings she had left when she went north with Tom.

The Captain opened the door and stepped out on to the asphalt-concrete of the airport. “Missus Harte, you may deplane now. Please watch your step, the Pacific Wizard is over there and the employees are expecting you.”

“They’re expecting…?” Kaylee suddenly felt like she was in a spy movie and big brother, in the name of Tom was watching.

“Yes, it is your home they are working on, is it not? I radioed ahead while we were in the air and notified them of our impending arrival. The service crew is returning with us to assess the damage to the Sea Dragon.” Adanna nodded. “Have a pleasant day, ma’am. Stephen here will take you to your plane.”

“But it’s not my plane, it belongs to Tom.”

“You are married to him, and as this is a community property state, so it is yours, too.”

Kaylee let out a long breath. *This married  crap is not what I want.*

But as she thought further on it, he was a considerate, kind, thoughtful and caring man. Not at all like Glenn, not that Glenn was uncaring.

But in relative terms, he was as if he was a bear wearing boxing gloves trying to open a jar. Awkward, clumsy and did not have a clue what to do.

Kaylee smiled at that thought of Glenn. She wondered if he would change his last name to hers?

*It isn’t tradition.* She smiled, *But I’m anything but traditional.*

This made her laugh at herself. She had proven that beyond a doubt in the last week. Still, if he changed his name it would be Glenn Greggory Grant. His house was on Amber-Elm Boulevard in her home town, elm trees in the yard. He could be an ass, but she enjoyed his company after all these years.

Often talking in the night about getting married after they graduated, they had grown up together and would spend all their lives with each other. Her with a PhD. in fine arts and him with a degrees in political sciences. He wanted to serve in Congress.

But now, as she walked towards the Pacific Wizard in its odd paint job with a wizard flying on a broom on the engine cover. A touch of whimsy that showed the heart of the man who wrote children’s books, then used the premise to live his life.

And yet she was so angry at him on so many levels. Not the least of which, he was making her fond of him. She liked the way he smiled, his view of the world. The quirky jokes he made now and again. She loved his smell, how his kisses tasted and his attentiveness when they were together.

And the sights she had seen? The excitement and passion of discovery that Tom had? They had sparked her artistic imagination and tickled her heart, maybe she could…

That thought made her pause, was she falling in love with him? Married first and love second?

*No! It. Can. Not. Be! I need that annulment when it comes time to go home!* Her heart belonged to Glenn!

She loved Glenn, not this man who was an accidental husband from a night of – okay, that was a blank, but a wonderful weekend – of party.

Sadly, she could not remember the one important part of it.

The wedding.

She still was angry over that. He could have said no. She would have never been married and then not worry about Glenn finding out.

*Oh Glenn!* She let out a heavy sigh.

*He will never accept this if he ever finds out. But we agreed that we would be free to date other people, so there would be no cheating.* She rubbed her eyes. *But getting married is so wrong.*

Kaylee climbed the steps into the Pacific Wizard, although it felt like a wonderful sky-palace, she felt odd. It was like…

*No, it can’t be. It’s like…* She gritted her teeth against the emotion.

She was home.

This made her angry again. Her home and life was with the blond, slightly arrogant boy that snorted when he laughed and became embarrassed by the sound when he did, she laughed at the memory of that laugh.

*And then there’s Tom. A special kind of man, but not someone I planned on. He is… Just not in my plans.*

*This is just horrid. The drinking, that ugly Friday, a few hits off a bong and I have a new husband who is so kind and irritating at the same time.*

*It could have been much worse, I suppose.* She sat in a seat and pulled her legs up. *I have awakened in beds that I’ve had no clue where I was, like at Gramma’s house when I was ten.* She sat and pondered for a moment, looking around.

*And this is mine? I could attend school, not need to work forty-hours a week. Instead I could study and practice my art.*

*I could find happiness here… Wait! NO!*

No. She wanted Glenn.

*Maybe.* A sigh.

She was angry with Tom again. He was more caring about her than any other man she had dated or been with. He never tried to force her to do anything, she volunteered.

She remembered that one of his rules as far as her body went.

“No means no.”

This was unusual among her friends. Kris and Crystal had often made demands of each others attentions, even at parties. Thinking back, it was disrespectful to each other. When Crystal told people what she was going to do to Kristoph, even if he would try to say he would be getting ready for work or school. This would not deter the wife.

Kristoph of course, would brag about what he did with Crystal if she passed out after a party.

Both ways, Kaylee laughed at them when they talked about it.

Now?

Now, she found it offensive. She would tease Tom, but never tell him “Or else” or dismiss his objections.

*Dang, I’m getting spoiled.* Tom treated her with respect, it felt proper and good.

Tom cared for her and she liked it.

*That’s irritating, too.* She huffed to herself.

Dragon Master University Chapter 39. Summer in Spring

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Chapter 39. Summer in Spring

Yawning and stretching in his bed the next morning, Jona sighed. He felt exhausted the night before and went to bed while Kolo, her brother and Professor Vale sat up and talked late into the night.

The first class in the spring quarter began with social studies of dragons and humans, something at first that Jona felt was boring, but while the tall human woman instructed, she spoke of wars and prejudice.

Dragons, older and wiser than the human race, the humans had one thing more.

Conviction.

They had determination to live.

Like siblings, respected and at times hated each other, the human and dragon populations drifted apart in some ways and merged in others.

A complex relationship that developed since before the dawn of history.

And Professor Altair was already talking about homework.

A whisper at Jona’s shoulder.

“We can study together.” It was Summer. “You have that look people get before they scream and run away from something.”

Jona stifled a laugh, he would have denied it, but she was correct, the social history of humans and dragons promised to be a difficult class.

“We will meet in the library, no one will bother us there.” She said softly while the professor droned on about the good natures of man and dragon were often lost in the passage of time.

He nodded, Professor Altair spoke of how legends in dragon lore and human mythology remembered the relationship between a dragon and an intelligent girl that grows up, turning away from the great friendship they had developed.

The dragon, who stood next to the young human during great raids by great robbers from the sea that sailed in great ships.

Only when the dragon Kl’qlpff, who humans called “Puff” told the Pirate King of the raids, who then forced the rogue corsairs to lower their flags and leave forever.

Songs and legends, bards wrote about it all, then faded from even that.

“One day, the story will return,” She said. “It will come by way of bards and storytellers.”

It struck a chord in Jona, like the baby dragon Sprite who adopted him when he drove a cart of smelly peat behind a flatulent ox the previous summer.

Summer walked with him down the path to the library and they talked of how dragons had existed for so long, why they were so long-lived and if there would fully be peace.

She sat at a broad stone table, polished by a thousand years of forelegs and arms rubbing on it. Padded stone seats, wicker chairs, and a myriad of other perches surrounded the giant round disk to accommodate the different clans and species.

Kola sat in with them, his studies of human laws confused him.

Eva lounged, reading an architecture textbook for her classes, but it kept hitting her in the face as she dozed while trying to read it. Looking around to see if anyone noticed, she would go back to reading the same page.

“Summer,” Jona whispered. “What page are we on?”

She giggle quietly.

“You keep looking at Eva. She will give herself a brain injury if she keeps hitting herself with the book.”

Kola laughed, overhearing the whisper and looked at the dozing race dragon.

“Jona, I think you ran her too hard yesterday, she is not used to the exercise after being off the team when she dropped her grades.” Kola nudged him.

“Kola, shush.” The librarian, a human adult male with a heavy leather tunic studded with metal book-shaped rivets in different colors. “You are keeping others from studying. Eva, if you need sleep, go to your room, you are starting to snore and are being a disturbance.”

Eva shook herself awake and apologized, for the fifth time tried to read the same page.

“Jona, we are on page four, paragraph five.” She flipped the pages for him. “This is what the professor will test on in a couple of days. It is easy to memorize if you follow this trick to keep it in mind.”

She taught him a mnemonic to keep the lesson in his head.

“My brother took Professor Altair’s class, she goes in order, always. It is how history happened, it is how she teaches, so this memoria technica trick will help you in the test.” Summer smiled at him.

Memorizing the pattern she taught him, he looked up and saw the librarian standing there with his arms crossed. For a moment, Jona swore the librarian would make good on his threats of ouster from the study area but the man nodded with a small smile, the long beard swung with the movement when the barrel chested keeper of the books turned away and moved across the floor towards other students.

In two hours, Jona watched the big hour-glass turn again in the mechanical teamwork of dragon and human timekeeper in the front of the library. He felt more interested after every discussion that Summer, Kola (despite it not being his subject. Jona suspected Kola had a crush on her and wanted her to notice him.)and he had, the history of dragonkind was more than just words, Jona felt them.

The history resonated with the young Dragon Master, more than his parents imagined might happen.

Jona was learning.

They spent hours in the library, Summer, Jona and Kola, joined by Eva who studied long hours to keep her grades up.

Eva was happiest when flying, her studies were marginal when she flew and failed to study, but it was no more or less than what all the friends and students went through daily.

But as professors universally instructed, they were not there to fail anyone, neither were they there to pass without teaching.

Eva worked hard at both of her skills and kept talking to professors who would help.

The summer break was coming up in short order and finals were intense. Professor Vale, Professor Cush, and especially the Green Man wizard were all driving points home with verbal hammers.

Homework was coming fast and furious, Summer and Jona continued to study with a singular thought. The Csu and Gorgons were far from the minds of dragon and human students alike.

Races were a regular topic, the teams of the intraschool competitors complained they were not ready for the speeds they needed to win not only the school championship but to outspeed any other teams from other schools around the world.

Jona pointed out that other schools were having the same problems. Rumors came from visitors to the other schools.

All students, everywhere lacked free time to just relax and play.

All was study and learn.

By the equinox of spring, they were feeling ready. Lessons were familiar, preparatory tests were easier each passing week.

Jona felt ready for the next chapter of the year.

Looking at his grades on the great central post, Jona smiled.

His grades were good enough, Jona Samhain had new rivets that the school awarded him for his tunic. Two silver, three gold, one emerald-green.

He wondered what the green meant and made note to ask Professor Vale of his house.

It was a year of mind-boggling, life changing lessons.

Jona the future dragon master smiled and walked back to his room.

Dragon Master University Chapter 30. New Year, New Session

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Chapter 30. New Year Session

Tired, sore muscles, a continual headache from boggling at history, teamwork and predicted future, not counting the lessons in magic taught by Cranndair the Green Wizard, the students walked, crawled and a few fluttered back to their rooms in the various houses they belonged to. All were bone-tired.

If anything, the Green Wizard taught with the students in a practical application, humans and dragons and those that had a bit of both, hugged and smiled as they parted company, instead of being in separate houses, they all knew they were of one house.

The House of The Green Man.

Sprite had grown even longer, although she had gained some length, her weight had not increased, she continued to grow longer but, like all children, she started to stretch out into a willow of a creäture.

Back in the house of Garnet, Jona walked to his room and found Sam-Sam had already returned and unpacked.

“Hi Jona! Are you back, visiting the lower side a bit with us? You don’t have a room on the brown garnet level, anymore. You have gone up on the scale. They should place you at least in blue, if not green, I’d say. You spent winter’s break with the Green Man. So you would have a room there.”

“I didn’t know. Where would I have found that change?”

“Professor Vale posted it on pillar by the front door.”

“Oh, ugh. I was too tired, the Green Wizard is about killed us all.”

“Yeah, he does that. He is spry for an old guy, a thousand years old and he can move a mountain with a finger. Not even Professor Vale is more powerful.” Sam said.

“That is because the Green Wizard lives with Nature.”

“Yeah, always in that mountain.” Sam nodded. “He has more power from the trees and rocks that he cares for.”

“No, it’s not that, his mate is Nature.” Jona laughed. “She is his spouse.”

“What?”

“Dude, didn’t you go to study with him once?”

“No, I was more interested in racing and never went, I learned all I wanted about him from those that have went there and came back all broken down and dirty.” Sam shook his head. “Teamwork, what good is that in a race with one-on-one paired rider and ride?”

“When the world has floods, fires, or earthquake, how do we help each other?”

“Well, how do…” A familiar voice interrupted Jona.

“Well, I thought you might be lost.” It was Kolo. “Well, sexy human, you do not live here anymore, your room is in another level, since you came back from the Green Man’s mentor program. Did you learn a lot?”

“Oh HI Kolo! Oh wow, did I ever!” Jona said.

“You lost weight.” She traced her finger over Jona’s left shoulder. “You look good. You could be ridden, looking like that. You would be a good training for a racer girl.”

“What?” Jona boggled.

“Never mind. You are sexy looking, just saying.” Kolo winked. “Come with me, we need to find your new room.”

“Okay.” Jona was still trying to get his mind around the flirt he had just gotten. Dragons were a strange group. They loved like no other, but loved one after another.

“Sam.” Kolo turned to Jona’s ex-roomie. “Come with me, you are on the Blue floor. It appears you did not check either.”

“I did! The color was brown.”

“You did not have a color until this morning. Your grades have improved and the professors were talking about keeping you and Jona together. Jona is a good influence on you it seems.”

“He just showed me around.” Jona said.

“Jona, you got him to attend class. Attendance is the single most important thing in school, even if you don’t work, the professors feel that you absorb information by sitting there with your eyes open. Sam has been at ever class last session.”

“Well, I’ll have to pack.”

“I’ll send Wynter for you.”

“AH! I’ll be packed in two minutes! Don’t send the Wyvern for me!” Sam jumped up and was immediately stuffing clothes into a pillow-slip and wrapping the rest up in his big wool blanket he brought from home.

“Why is he worried about Wynter?”

“Wynter is a wyvern, and he has no patience for lower level students. He is especially angry with Sam-Sam, they’re related and he bragged about Sam being smarter than most everyone around before this little hatchling arrived.” Kolo laughed. “I think Wynter would roll Sam up in the blanket and play football down the hallway with him.”

“Football?”

“Yeah, you kick it, until it gets to where you want it to go.”

“Ooooh!” Jona laughed, imagining Sam-Sam the Dragon, already in hot water with his family, being used as a sports toy.

“Here we are. Green level.” Kolo said, her tail swaying in a more serpentine way when she was walking in front of Jona. Jona could hear the other men whisper to each other when they walked in.

“Kolo, why is he here? This is a Brown Level Garnet.” A red dragon with vestigial-black wings and eye-brow scales said. Chain mail that glittered in the light when the dragon moved, they had arms like some other people had legs.

Very muscular legs.

“Mars, this is Jona, he just came back from winter break with the Green Wizard. He passed with the wizard giving him a pat on the back and an invitation to come back.”

“Well! That is different, welcome Jona. I am Mars, the senior leader of the game-players club. Do you play Drake and Hunter?”

“I never heard of it.”

“Awesome, you are human? If you get to enjoy this and want to play a lot, you can join our club. The only requirements are good grades and play at least a bit every day.” Mars nodded, his scales glistened like polished jewels. If one did not know that he was a dragon, one would thing he was human dressed in fine scale armor.

“Mars,” Kolo smiled and traced her finger over his ear (Mars’ eyes dialated and Jona swore he could hear the scales shake.) “Would you ask that Jona have a tutor to keep his grades up? Professor Vale has requested that Jona keep his studies going from the Green Man. Jona is a racer and a good one at that.”

“You do can keep doing that, Kolo, but so that you know I’d do it anyway.” Mars laughed. Turning to Jona. “She is the one that keeps Garnet house going. And she is cute.”

Mars shook his head to clear his vision.

“You know how to touch my feelers,” Mars sighed and Kolo laughed softly.

Jona laughed awkwardly as the pretty girl dragon flirted with the brawny leader of the Green level.

“Where is my room?” Jona asked.

“This way,” Kolo smiled. “You have a choice, Green Level has had a change in tenants here. A few have not kept up their grades, another has aced her studies and has moved up from Emerald to Gold level.”

“What is Emerald level?”

“This one. We call it green informally, but the official term is Emerald. Blue is Sapphire, Brown is Rough.”

“Rough?”

“As in unpolished and dirty.”

“Oooh!” Jona said as Kolo led him to his room.

“Here is where you will stay. Mars’ is at the end of the hall, he has a private room, most of his club members meet there. You will have no one else in this room for a while. So I will check on you from time to time to make sure you are keeping your studies up.”

“Mars will, too?”

“Yes, it is important to the house that we keep our ratings up. It is a contest between each house who has the highest ranked students. It will also give you a chance to study with the Green Wizard once again.”

“I’m not sure I can survive another round with him.” Jona laughed.

“It will do you good. You will find studying here is easier than with that old man.”

A soft voice behind Jona, a human girl with tight curly hair and dark skin whispered to the new arrival.

“That is for sure, the Green Wizard made me want to come back so much, I made sure my grades were high enough I could go again.”

“I did not see you there.” Jona said.

“Part of my skills, I’m a member of the Fae.”

“The who?”

“No, that is a music group in about a hundred centuries, I am fae.” She smiled, probing eyes looked into his eyes to see if he understood the joke. “My family are more magical than dragons.”

“A fairy?”

“No, well, in a stretch of the sense, I suppose, I can change size.”

“You can get bigger?”

“Ohh, no. I am at my largest now, I can get smaller, a lot smaller.” She smiled. “My name is Retta. This is my last year.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

Watching her walk away, she wore her armor like it someone painted it on and then oiled over the leathery parts until she shimmered when she walked.

Kolo laughed.

“Human boys are so much fun. Brain damaged since puberty and it takes years to have enough blood to run all your parts at the same time.”

Laughing at himself, Jona moved into his new room that he had no one to share with.

The second session in the main school of Dragon Master University was going to be fascinating.

Instructive, anyway.

Dragon Master University Chapter 27. Jona hates Logs

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Chapter 27. Jona Hates Logs

Every one, dragon and human, male or female dragged in after six hours to eat lunch.

The Green Wizard stood in the door with his arms crossed, having watched the chaos that was the effort to put the logs in the holes.

They had pushed, pulled, used ropes and the water dragon- twice the size of a normal full grown male human and named after his ancestor, Kraken- used knots to keep the ropes from slipping.

Big levers made from saplings the students rolled, dragged, sledged, wedged the logs into place.

Each one of the students were tired to their core, on the eating tables behind the Green Wizard, piles of mashed potatos, vegetables that steamed with fresh salted butter sitting in bowls, large meat-plates with fish and roast-beast.

“Stop!” The green leaves in his beard trembled with the force of his command. “You have failed the test. Only six of twelve I see are in place as directed.”

“But sir,” Jona spoke. “They are larger than all of us.”

Jona spoke the truth. One log was so large across that he could stand at the cut end and rest his chin on the bark, and his toes would barely be at the ground.

And for a human, Jona grew into a tall youth. The tree, the Wizard alluded that it was a branch off the main trunk in his lectures, was enormous.

And yet, the Green Man tapped his leaf-sprouting staff on the ground, and the succulent foods… vanished.

Replaced with pitchers of ice water, weak teas and bread. Cheeses on plates, but only just enough.

In the glen, each log lifted out of their respective holes and floated up to the landing on the hill above and neatly stacked themselves.

The old man did not need them to do the work, it was a test, as he said.

“I instructed each of you to work as a team, to use your strengths. And yet?” He looked to each and every one of the small class of students. “You spend all your time crawling around in the mud like children, getting aches and pains, covered in slime, bugs, fungus.”

The Wizard plucked a mushroom out of the hair of a human girl, Zeva, and sniffed it.

“Death’s head mushroom. Very deadly. But not ready for class. That’s next week.” He said, tossing it to the earth, where it walked back to where it came from.

“Precocious young fruit, that was. Rather persnickety.” Then looking back at the class. “You will eat what is on your plates and no more. Then return to the hill again. There will be a six-hour test again, no breaks. Twelve logs, one in to each hole. Then you can eat the meals of champions, but not until you have finished to my satisfaction.”

The eyes of the Green Wizard passed over each grimy and exhausted face of the students.

“But mister Wizard, the day has been long now.”

“Then go home. You wish to learn about each other, every dragon lives on the wish of human, every human lives as long as a dragon wills it. No one can live without the other in this world, some humans have taken upon themselves to rid the world of dragon-kind. They will kill other humans in the hunt for dragon. You must find a way to work together. “ He looked around “Go eat. I will lecture while you are in there.”

They all filed in. The bread was fresh and warm with a crackly crust of herbs and salt crystals. A woman came in and carried plates of bread, putting a large slice on each plate in front of the humans and dragons. Two large slices for the larger dragons, a whole loaf for Kraken, the largest of the students.

While they ate, the Green Wizard, the wise man of the mountain began to walk along the tables.

“You all dragged the logs down that hill.” He looked around. “Koan, why did you use ropes to drag?”

“Sir, we could not roll them all the way, there is no room to do so, we would flatten the entire forest.”

“Aye, that would be true. What options did you have?”

“We could have carried them.”

“Ach! No!” The grandfatherly eyes beneath the white eyebrows got big. “One of you slip, the log comes down and I have no more class.”

“We cannot make them float as you do.” Jona said.

“No?” The old man stroked his beard. “I must be teaching wrongly. I thought I taught medicine and critical thinking.”

“Sir.” Kraken spoke up after stuffing a loaf of bread with the scant, cold meat that was on his plate. “We pushed and tried to lift.”

“Did you?” He stroked his beard again. “Did you try to lift it together?”

“That was dangerous, like you said.” Jona said.

“Aye,” The old man nodded. “But you have both ropes and some of you have wings?”

The entire room went quiet.

The Green Wizard smiled softly.

“A dragon has lifting power well beyond what even they know. That small dragon on your shoulder, Jona, could lift you off your feet if she had to.”

“I think Sprite is male.” Jona corrected.

“Oh. Well, still the truth is there.” The old man nodded. “How many flyers of your size or larger is in this room?”

Again, the room went silent.

“You have six hours.” The mentor said and stood in the room. “By my calculations, if you do it correctly, you will finish in less than one-hour. The food you saw before, will be waiting for you and the day finished. You will be free for the next two days.”

Never had Jona eaten so quickly, and still he was not the first to finish as dragons and humans gathered outside to plan their mission.

As predicted by their mentor, they were done in less than an hour.

Dragon Master University Chapter 26. The Logs, The Holes And The Challenge

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Chapter 26. The Logs, The Holes And The Challenge

The old mentor was exhausting in his teachings. Six-days of classes, one day off to study the notes he lectured about. It was as if the Green Wizard expected them to learn a sport.

If they did something, they did it together.

Plus, any comments made to each other that the wizard considered off-color, weird things happened to remind the offending student that it was unacceptable behavior. Never could a boy or a dragon say that someone could not do this or that because being a weaker gender or species. 

A chair would fail suddenly, or disappeared entirely, dumping the offending student on the floor or the old man was right there, like a ghost breathing in the students ear, handing him or her a broom or shovel to go clean some miserable corner of the forest glen. 

Then a miserable chore to build the teacher’s house.

Like today.

Early in the morning on the first day of the weekly class cycle, the Green clad and bearded instructor appeared in the rooms and banged his staff on the floor.

Not hard, but the sound was as if an explosion in a volcano erupted.

Even the deepest, sleeping dragon sat straight up on cue in their bed.

And it’s said that a dragon could sleep for centuries, through anything a humans might do.

This morning, however, each dragon was up, humans ran about gathering clothes. Following the green-clad wizard appeared to wear leaves in his beard and hair today.

“Shoes and footwear today, each one of you must dress accordingly. Even dragon’s scaled feet and claws may be injured.” The voice of distant thunder echoed in the clearing.

“Your challenge is a simple one. A circle of pillars, made of the logs that sit on a landing on the hill, there.” The Green Man pointed. “Each of the timbers are from an immortal tree and each one is alive and waiting for planting in fertile soil. Each of these you will carefully place in the holes indicated by the sunspark that dances above it.”

Walking around inside the circle of students.

“You are few, but you have knowledge on how to plant growing things.” The Wizard said. “Be honest with yourselves. Work together and create a cathedral here that would stand against the tests of time and weather. There are six-hours to do this challenge in. You will eat afterwards. There will be no breaks until you have completed your task.” The Green leaf-covered slave-driver looked around. “Fail? Then you will return to the school as lower class students to repeat the year before.”

The whispers of shock moved through their ranks with the speed of thought. 

“I can’t go back as lower caste!”

“What would my parents say?”

“This is my first year.” Jona thought. “How can I get lower?”

“Go!” The Green Wizard’s voice echoed in the forest and their heads.

It was a long…

Long…

Long day.

Jona never missed Sprite nearly so much as he did that day. 

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.