Dragon Rider of Agardi
The King Is Dead
The stars began to twinkle into oblivion in the night sky as the sun burst over the horizon behind Leyla. She glanced over her shoulder for a quick peek, as well as to give her dark brown eyes a break from the chill, dry wind.
Her dark hood and the scarf around her face protected her from the cold at the high altitudes she was flying on the back of Memmonym, Lady of the Dark Night Sky. She reveled in the freedom she felt soaring through the dawn on the back of a dragon.
This was what she always wanted. To be completely integrated with a dragon. Not dependent on the riding gear she trained with. But connected as one with her very own dragon that adapted to her every thought and movement.
The splendid beast gave a loud roar and sparks from deep within its belly flickered out of its mouth, past Leyla’s legs. The thrill of the hunt always left her feeling giddy with excitement.
“Wake up, Leyla,” a voice broke through the sound of the wind.
The pre-dawn sky darkened, and the nebulous clouds around her swirled in closer and thicker. Memmonym, the dragon beneath her knees, disappeared along with the bow in her left hand. The darkness deepened all about, and only a soft glow remained in front of her.
“Come on! It’s urgent. I need you to wake up now,” the irritating voice persisted.
Leyla groaned and then rolled over with a sigh before opening her eyes. She blinked up into the face of Zuleyha, her best friend. Leyla groaned again and looked up at the open window. It wasn’t even light outside.
“I was having such a delightful dream. Riding on the back of a bronze fire dragon. Why did you have to wake me up so early? It’s not even light yet.”
“Master Danyal, sent me to fetch Princess Banu, but I can’t find her.”
“She’s probably had a nightmare and her nurses took her to sleep beside her mother.”
“I already checked. There’s a tremendous commotion around the King’s chambers, so I couldn’t enter. But Nessim, one of the guards at the door, went inside to check for me. When he came back out, Nessim told me that the princess wasn’t inside. He confided in me that the guards were already looking for her.”
“Well, she’s fine then. Go back and tell Master Danyal that the guards will soon find her and put her back in her bed.”
Leyla closed her eyes and breathed deeply, as if going back to sleep. Zuleyha squealed angrily and shook her.
“You know I can’t return until I find her and can take back news of her whereabouts. Please come help me find her. I don’t live here like you do. I’m sure you know all the places she might be hiding.”
Leyla sighed and sat up, flipping her long, black hair and pulling it back into a ponytail.
“Fine,” she sighed. “But you owe me big time. You know how much I need my beauty sleep, and how ornery I can be when I don’t get enough sleep. So, just remember that you asked for this.”
Zuleyha leaped to her feet and clapped her hands with glee. Leyla changed into something more appropriate to be waltzing around the castle in than her nightgown before heading for the door.
The halls were bustling with activity for such an early hour. Unsettled groups of guards rushed past them nervously. Some coming. Some going. Handmaids and ladies-in-waiting walked quickly around them as well.
Leyla noticed that those coming from the king’s chambers had tears in their eyes. She tried to ask one or two what was going on, but everyone seemed to be in a dazed hurry. The girls entered a large open hall where small groups whispered in hushed voices.
“Maybe Master Danyal was right about sending you here. Something must have happened to the princess.” Leyla whispered to Zuleyha as they looked around for a familiar face.
They both noticed Naile, one of the mages in training, at the same time. The girls bustled over to her and asked what was going on. Naile looked over her shoulder at the guards before answering.
“Something happened in the King’s chambers. We don’t know for sure yet. But rumor has it that the king is dead.”
Zuleyha gasped and grabbed Leyla’s arm. “What about the princess? Has anyone seen her?”
Naile shrugged and brushed her red bangs out of her eyes. “She’s probably in her room or with her mother. I’m sure she’s around somewhere.”
Another group of girls walked past them. Leyla turned to smile at them, but they all stuck their noses in the air and turned to walk around her without acknowledging that she was there.
“It’s okay. Sevda and her little clique think they are better than everyone else, but they still come snooping around to catch all the gossip just like the rest of us.” Naile whispered.
“Who is she?” Leyla asked.
“Just a girl in my class who thinks she can do everything we do better than we can like the snob she is.”
The murmuring of voices from the other end of the hall caused Leyla to look up. Metehan, the king’s brother, came striding in their direction on his way to the King’s wide double doors that the guards opened promptly.
“What’s he doing here?” Leyla asked. “Wasn’t he banished from the kingdom for treason?”
Neither of the other girls answered, and Leyla knew they didn’t know any more than she did herself. But she noticed Naile had her eyes closed. She could see the girl’s eyeballs moving rapidly back and forth under Naile’s eyelids.
Leyla glanced at Zuleyha who raised her eyebrows and shrugged. They waited quietly for Naile to come out of her trance.
“What did you see?” the girls both asked immediately when Naile opened her eyes.
Naile glanced over her shoulder again at the door, then leaned in to whisper quietly. “The king and queen both seem to be dead. Metehan and one of the guards he calls Abdulkerim were discussing how to proceed. It seems like they are plotting for the kingdom. And they are looking for the princess themselves.”
Zuleyha gasped and looked around nervously, “C’mon, Leyla. Master Danyal was right. She is in danger. We have to get moving if we are going to find her before Metehan does.”
Leyla frowned. “We have to be careful. Master Danyal may be in cahoots with Metehan and his cronies if they really are plotting against the kingdom.”
Her friend scoffed. “Master Danyal wouldn’t do such a thing. He’s a good man.”
“Well, that may be. But he knew something was up before we did. I wonder how he knew that. But let’s deal with that later. First, we have to find the princess if we want to help her ourselves. Then we can figure out who to trust and who not to.”
She looked at Naile and asked if the girl could use her gift of seeing beyond walls to find the child. Naile closed her eyes for a few moments and then shook her head.
“It’s too noisy in here. Locating a missing person is different than seeing past a wall when I already know they are there.”
Leyla quickly took the girl’s arm and guided her back to her room, with Zuleyha close on their heels. Naile lay down and rolled onto her side. After a few seconds, she rolled back over.
“Did you find her yet?” Leyla asked impatiently.
“No,” Naile scowled. “You tapping your foot is annoying. Stay still or leave the room.”
Leyla’s face burned at the rebuke, but she held her tongue. She pulled the chair out from behind her desk and sat down. Zuleyha sat down on the rug and crossed her legs. They both watched Naile intently for what seemed like hours, although it probably wasn’t actually more than five minutes.
“Found her. I think she’s crouched in a small room under the kitchen stairs that lead down into the cellar.” Naile said, sitting up.
“What do you mean, ‘you think?’. Is she there or not?” Leyla growled, still miffed at Naile telling her to be quiet earlier.
Zuleyha butted in sweetly to keep the two from arguing.
“Seeing into the glow isn’t an exact science, even for an experienced mage, Leyla. Naile is at the top of our class, but she is still studying and learning. C’mon. Let’s hurry and go see if that’s where the princess is at. We need to get there before Metehan and his dirty henchmen have time to harm her.” Zuleyha said as she pulled them out the door and down the hall toward the kitchen.
The girls raced down the spiraling staircase to the central hall. They had to pause and step aside though as a large group of soldiers barged past them. They waited nervously against the wall until the men went by before continuing on their way. The girls could overhear the men behind them shouting the princess’s name as they kicked open doors.
“Well, at least we know they haven’t found her yet,” Zuleyha whispered breathlessly as they continued toward the kitchen. “I wonder what they plan on doing to her when they find her.”
“Probably kill her like they did her…” Leyla started to say, then stopped as they rounded the corner and came across some guards.
One of them was Nessim. Leyla’s heart fluttered. She had always had a crush on him, but he looked even more striking in his uniform.
“Hey, Zuleyha. Did you find the princess yet? I guess you were onto something. The captain has the entire troop searching for her.”
The girls all shook their heads nervously. The door to the cellar wasn’t far away, and they needed to get down there before the guards did.
“No, but we ran out of cucumbers to place on our faces. So, we came down to get some more. You know how we girls are about taking care of our skin.” Zuleyha giggled nervously as she moved past him toward the cellar.
“Well, let me come with you and keep you company.” Nessim offered politely.
“No!” the girls all burst out simultaneously.
“No, we’re fine. We don’t want to pull you away from your task and have you get in trouble with the captain. Besides, the princess is probably scared and alone. You should work with the others to find her as quickly as possible.” Leyla stammered.
Nessim seemed disappointed but agreed with them.
“Yeah, it isn’t like she would be down here in the kitchen anyway. She’s probably upstairs hiding under her bed or in a dark corner of her closet.” Naile added.
“Hmm. You’re probably right. But I’ll look you, ladies, up when I get off duty. Okay.”
The girls all smiled and nodded as he walked back the way they had come. As soon as he turned the corner, they raced for the cellar door. They found the princess at the bottom of the staircase, crouching behind the staircase, just as Naile had predicted. Leyla was impressed.
The princess was bawling her eyes out. Zuleyha hugged her and comforted her while the other two girls tried to do their best to soothe the child.
“It’s okay, Banu. Everything’s going to be okay.” Zuleyha whispered.
The child shook her head and began to cry again. “They killed my mommy and daddy. I saw the guards stab him with their swords.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Banu. That was a terrible thing to see. But we’re going to protect you from those wicked men and take you somewhere safe so they can’t hurt you. Okay.” Leyla said softly.
The young princess nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes as she sniffled. Leyla and Zuley each took one of her hands and were helping the girl to her feet when suddenly the door at the top of the stairs burst open.
Leyla grabbed a gunny sack full of corn and dumped them on the floor. She threw the bag over the princess’ head and pushed her to the ground again below the stairs. When she looked up, Nessim was walking down toward them with a big grin on his face.
“I sent the other guards on ahead. I wanted to make sure you girls were alright and keep you company.”
“Oh, that was sweet of you, Nessim,” Zuleyha cooed.
“So, did you find what you came down here for?” the handsome guard asked.
“What? What’s that?” the girls stammered.
“The cucumbers, ladies. Wasn’t that what you came down here for?” Nessim asked them as he cocked his head to the side.
“Oh, yeah!” Zuleyha giggled nervously. “Not yet. We were talking about girl stuff down here. Like who the cutest guards are and all.”
Nessim smiled. “And that would include me, of course. Right?”
“Oh, yes, Nessim,” the girls all clamored in unison.
Nessim beamed as he raised his hands and spun around slowly for them to get a good look at him in all his uniformed glory. He stepped on some of the corn that Leyla had dumped out of the bag and almost tripped. The girls giggled, and Nessim blushed.
“What’s all this corn doing here on the floor?” he yelled out in surprise and begin kicking the corn back under the stairs toward the princess that was stuffed in the bag that the corn had come from.
The girls shrugged, and Leyla moseyed off to find some cucumbers. “Got ‘em,” she yelled, waving a handful of cucumbers over her head.
“Oh, you didn’t need to. There is an entire bag right here,” Zuleyha said, picking up the gunny sack that Banu was inside of.
“That’s an awful lot of cucumbers. Isn’t it?” Nessim asked as he tried to take the bag from her arms. “Let me help you.”
“No, I got it. I need the exercise to get stronger. And no, it’s not a lot. We need to look our beautifulest.” she retorted.
Nessim snorted and laughed. Zuleyha laughed nervously along with him. Somehow, between the two of them, they managed to let the bag slip and fall to the floor. The princess screamed, and Nessim looked up at them in shock.
Zuleyha didn’t hesitate. She threw out her arm and tried to summon up enough energy to toss Nessim across the room. It didn’t go quite like she had imagined in her head, and nothing happened to Nessim.
“Were you trying to knock me out,” he asked in surprise. “What’s wrong with you girls.”
In the meantime, Leyla had picked up a broomstick and whacked him across the back of the head. This time he fell like a sack of potatoes. Naile grabbed some rope from a shelf and the girls tied his hands and feet. Zuleyha brought a rag that they used to gag him.
“I’m sorry for dropping you, Banu,” Zuleyha apologized as she pushed the princess back down into the large gunny sack. “But you have to stay in here a little bit longer till we can get you out of this place.”
Leyla tossed the girl in the bag over her shoulder, and they quickly climbed the stairs. Naile opened the door and peeked out. She waved them through when the coast was clear.
“We’ll head to the stables and use a wagon to get Banu out of here,” Zuleyha said as she led the way toward the back exit.
A small group of guards entered the kitchen and walked past them. They eyed Leyla and her bag as they went by. Leyla froze for a second, but they moved on by without stopping her or questioning her.
“Guess, I look like just another cook hauling in a bag of potatoes to make french fries,” she snickered nervously after they left.
They made it outside and circled around the building toward the stables. Leyla had tired and paused to set the bag down for a minute. Zuleyha nodded and motioned with her hands for Leyla and Naile to place it on her shoulders.
“I got you, Banu. You alright in there?” she asked.
The princess replied, but Leyla couldn’t understand her muffled words. Naile was walking in front of the group. She stopped and raised her hand for the other girls to stop.
“What do you see, Naile?” Leyla asked.
“There’s a lot of commotion down at the stables,” Naile whispered in a hushed voice. “Metehan sent a large group of guards down this way.”
“Nessim must have gotten free and told them we have the princess,” Leyla growled. “I knew that boy was no good the moment I first laid eyes on him.”
The girls scrambled to move off the trail and into the shadows of some small trees and bushes. They waited for the group of guards to move on by. They listened to the sound of the guard’s boots marching in unison until they had moved on around the building, and Naile gave them the okay to stand up.
“Can you please let me out of this bag?” Banu pleaded.
“Not yet, little princess. We have to make sure we get far away from here so no one can see you before we let you out of that bag.”
The girl sighed a long, deep sigh of exasperation. Leyla felt sorry for her, but at least the girl was alive and able to sigh. Something she wouldn’t be able to do if the king’s evil brother had his way with her.
“What do we do now?” Zuleyha asked in frustration.
“Let’s head over to the dragon stables, and fly the princess out of here,” Leyla replied, recalling her dream.
“But I don’t know how to fly on a dragon, and it is way too dangerous to put the princess in that kind of situation,” Naile snorted.
Leyla looked up and said, “I’ve almost completed my training. I should be able to handle one of the smaller ones on my own. And I’ve seen Banu riding dragons before. Right, Little Princess?”
“Yep, sure can. We can fly out on Myldrynarth, the Loud One. He’s talkative and can be feisty, but he should be small enough for you to handle.” The princess replied. “Whoa! What’s going on out there?”
The gunny sack floated up off the ground, right onto Zuleyha’s shoulders. She squealed excitedly as it came to rest. “There’s my mojo. Though I’d lost it since it didn’t work on Nessim,”
“That’s just because you’re in love with that boy and got too emotional,” Naile snorted.
Leyla wondered why the girl was so ornery. “Is everything okay, Naile?” she asked.
Naile sighed loudly. “Something doesn’t feel right, but maybe I’m just nervous that we’ll get caught. Let’s just get out of here as fast as we can.”
The girls hurried down the trail toward the dragon caves. It was easier going now that they didn’t have to physically carry the princess. She was small, but still a solid little bundle. Leyla felt a twinge of jealousy that she didn’t have a special power as the other girls did. Master Danyal said hers would come with time, but she was tired of waiting.
They drew closer to the entrance of the dragon caves, and Leyla put up her hand for them to stop. She asked Naile to take a look around. The girl closed her eyes for a few moments.
“I sense half a dozen dragons in there and an old man in the back. Other than that there aren’t any other humans here as far as I can tell.” Naile said.
“Good,” Leyla replied. “It’s old man Evren. He takes care of the dragons and keeps them under control. I’ll take the princess from here. If you girls haven’t had any dragon training, it’s best if you don’t go near them. They can be feisty.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay with the princess?” Zuleyha asked. “Besides, Master Danyal sent me to fetch the boy.”
Leyla nodded. “You two find some horses and meet me down there as quickly as you can. I’ll wait for you in the chapel behind Master Danyal’s house. We’ll go see him together. I still don’t trust him completely. Not until I know how he knew the princess was in danger and why he sent you before we even knew that Metehan was back in the realm.”
Zuleyha and Naile nodded and scurried off into the darkness, back in the direction they had come from. Leyla picked up the gunny sack with the princess. “We’re almost there. Then I’ll let you out of the bag,” she whispered.
She grunted as she lifted the bag to get it up over the threshold and carried it to Myldrynarth’s stall.
The dragon backed away from her and hissed. Like most of the dragons in this stable, they only used it for training. This wasn’t a normal time for it to be ridden. And it didn’t seem to want to go out at all at this time of night.
Leyla ignored it and continued preparing the riding gear. She approached it slowly with her hands in front of her to soothe it, but it wouldn’t stop hissing.
“What’s going on back there?” a voice boomed out from the far end of the stable.
Leyla froze and backed away from the dragon. She ducked down against the wall where she had left the gunny sack. She hoped Old Man Evren would go back to sleep, but a stool scooted across the floor and footsteps came in her direction.
He came directly towards her stall. There was no sense hiding. She just had to explain herself to him till he let her go. Or she’d have to take the dragon by force. Evren was an old man, and he wasn’t a very large man. So Leyla figured she had a good chance of taking him. She stood up and grabbed onto a rake with one hand in case she needed to get physical.
“Hey, Master Evren. There’s been a terrible tragedy this night. The king is dead. So, is the queen. I’m on a mission and require a dragon to complete it.” Leyla burst out as he limped up to her.
“The king is dead, you say?” Evren inquired in an incredulous voice. “What happened?”
“I don’t have all the details yet. The guards are racing around, inside and out. It’s total chaos in there.” She replied, still gripping the rake.
“It’s alright, child. You can put your weapon down. I’m not going to fight you for the dragon. You’ve been properly trained and they are for use of the castle. However, that is an interesting story. Where did you say you needed to go?”
The gunny sack at Leyla’s feet with the princess inside rustled. She held her breath, hoping that the old man wouldn’t notice it, while she racked her brain for a reasonable excuse for needing the dragon. Just as she started to speak, the princess sneezed loudly three times.
“I assume that part of your mission is to deliver your bag of goods. Eh?” Old Man Evren said with a smirk.
Leyla squirmed and gripped the rake tighter as she stammered to explain herself. The old man bent over and untied the gunny sack, but Leyla couldn’t bring herself to whack him over the head.
“Why hello there, little princess. What are you doing here in my stall?” he asked with a gentle smile.
Banu blinked up at him and slowly stood to her feet. “A bad man stabbed my daddy with their swords. Then they killed mommy. I ran to hide. And now Leyla is helping me to escape so they don’t kill me too.”
“Hm! Well, then you two better hurry and get out of here then.” Evren said as he stood back up to look at Leyla. “Do you have a safe place to take her?”
She nodded. “I think so. I’m going to meet some friends and we’ll take her to…”
The old man put up his hand. “The less you tell me, the better. That way I really won’t know what to tell them when they come to question me about a missing dragon.”
Leyla nodded her thanks as she turned to continue preparing the riding gear. Old man Evren stepped over to quiet the dragon for her.
There was a loud thump and when Leyla turned around, the old man was lying on the ground with blood coming from his head. Sevda and two of her friends were standing just inside the door with the rake in her hand that Leyla had set down.
“Where do you think you’re going with the princess, Leyla?” Sevda asked as she pulled the rake back up over her shoulder for another swing.
Leyla ducked and charged straight for the larger blonde girl’s midriff with her shoulder. She slammed Sevda back into her friends. There were too many for Leyla to bowl over, though. The other girls held Sevda up and pushed her back to Leyla.
Sevda swung a right fist that Leyla tried to block, but realized she couldn’t move her arms for some reason. The blow caught her just above the left cheekbone, and Leyla went down hard. She could use her arms to pull herself back up off the floor, but once Leyla was on her feet, it felt as if her arms were glued to her side.
Leyla managed to duck another blow that Sevda attempted to land. Then tried to charge the larger blonde girl with her shoulder again. But it felt like she hit an invisible brick wall after the first step, and she couldn’t get anywhere near Sevda.
“C’mon, ladies. Fight fair. Stop using your friend’s power to keep you from losing fair and square.” Leyla growled at the other two girls, who grinned at her from over the stall wall.
“What? And let you escape with the princess after killing her parents. Not only are you a murderer, but now you’re a kidnapper, as well. We’re going to return the princess and collect a nice, fat reward.”
Sevda came back in, swinging again with a look of righteous indignation on her face. Leyla tried to dodge the blow, but now she was paralyzed all the way down to her feet. She couldn’t even fall down to the ground because the other girls were holding her up for Sevda.
Leyla screamed in rage and bent her knees to pull her feet up off the ground. The girl continued to hold her there in the air as she floated off the ground like a goofy punching bag. Leyla pulled her feet up higher towards her waist and lashed out with both feet.
Sevda’s friends hadn’t seen that one coming, and the kick nailed her just above the knees. Leyla’s follow-through forced Sevda’s knees to bend in the wrong way and buckle. She went down to the floor with a surprised scream. Leyla lashed out again and kicked her across the face before her friends could put a stop to her kick. But by then it was too late. Sevda was out cold.
“Oh, you’re gonna get it now, kid!” Sevda’s friend with short, yellow hair said as she stepped through the stall door. “You should have just shut up and taken your beating like the warrioress you say you’re training to become.”
“How did you find us?” Leyla asked, stalling for time.
The girl snorted. “Sevda can see beyond walls too. Did you think Naile was the only one who had that gift? Are you the only one that hasn’t developed even one ability yet?”
She reached out her hand, and Leyla began to float up off the ground towards her outstretched fingers.
“Please, you don’t understand. Metehan…” Leyla started to say through her choking as she began to black out.
Suddenly, the girl dropped Leyla to the floor. She managed to twist herself so her arms and shoulders took the brunt of the fall, but it still hurt. Leyla gasped and tried to catch her breath. When she looked up, both of the girls had fallen to the ground.
Nessim stood in the doorway with the rake in his hand. He stepped forward and helped Leyla get up. She started to wheeze out an apology, but he held up his hands and shushed her.
“No apologies needed. I know you had no reason to trust me. But I’m on the princess’s side. I’ve been hearing rumors and know things aren’t right around here. So, let’s get her out of here. Then you girls can explain to me what’s going on.”
He smiled at the princess and reached down to pick up the riding gear to throw over the dragon, which was still hissing and spitting in the corner.
“Wait,” shouted out a booming voice.
Leyla looked around to see where it was coming from, but no one else was there in the stall with them. Nessim was still trying to wrestle the riding gear onto the hissing dragon and seemed oblivious to anyone else being around.
She peeked out the stall door to see if the guards were coming for the princess already. But the only thing she saw was a dragon in the other stall with his eyes fixated on her. Leyla turned to re-enter the stall when the voice called out again.
“Wait!” the voice boomed in her head again. “Help you!”
Leyla spun back toward the dragon and cocked her head to the side. “Were you talking to me?” she asked. The dragon nodded and reached out his neck across the hall till its head was inches away from her.
“Touch,” it said. “Connect me.”
Leyla gasped and reached out a trembling hand. It was against the rules for the trainees to integrate with a dragon. Much less one of these training dragons. After completing her training, she would possibly be permitted to integrate with a dragon of her own. If she were found worthy, and a dragon was even available.
But no one was allowed to integrate with these training dragons. They were available for training use only. Integrating with one would mean it belonged to her and could no longer be used by anyone else.
“Are you sure? I haven’t completed my training yet. I don’t want you to get in trouble or even lose your position.”
It didn’t answer, but pressed its face directly into hers until their noses touched. A large horn protruding off its nose and others continuing up its head caused her to realize how large this dragon was. It was at least twice the size of the little one that Nessim was trying to prepare. A chill ran down her spine.
The dragon closed its eyes and opened its mouth a little. A soft, yellow glow lit up the base of its throat as if the great bronze beast were preparing to spew its breath weapon.
“Blow. Breath mix. Become one.” the dragon whispered into her head.
Leyla took a deep breath and blew into the dragon’s mouth several times. Their noses still touching. She felt the dragon’s thoughts becoming stronger and clearer. She could understand full sentences, not just sporadic words. It was almost as if she were learning the dragon’s language. It was beautiful.
When she opened her eyes, the dragon had pulled its head back over to its stall, but its voice was just as clear as if it were still directly in front of her.
“I am Ytar, Protector of the Sky. I come from the Elmandost deserts. I was there when the treaty was made with your people. I swore an oath to protect your kingdom. And if the princess is in danger, then it is my duty to help you protect her. Myldrynarth, the Loud One, is weak, cowardly, and will only cause you trouble that might put the princess’ life in danger.”
“Hey! That’s not fair.” Leyla heard Myldrynarth’s voice whining in her head.
Ytar roared across the hall into the other stall. Leyla placed her fingers on her lips for it to hush. “You’ll draw too much attention to us down here,” she whispered.
Nessim’s head popped over the stall wall and looked at her with enormous eyes. “What’s going on over here. What did you do to that thing? Get away from it and come help me get this little booger ready here. I’ve almost got everything buckled on.”
Leyla smiled and went through the door to pick up the princess. Sevda’s yellow-haired friend stirred and moaned a little. Leyla didn’t wait for the girl to open up her eyes. She lashed out a hard kick under the girl’s chin that sounded like it might have clipped a few teeth. Leyla hoped it wasn’t too bad, but needed to make sure that the girl didn’t wake up and use her powers to prevent their escape.
“C’mon,” she said to the little princess as she opened up the door to Ytar’s stall. “Are you ready to ride?”
Banu nodded with wide eyes as she looked up at the gigantic dragon. “I’ve never ridden one this big before.” the princess whispered in awe. “Not even when my daddy came with me.”
“What are you doing?” Nessim protested as she led the dragon to the exit. “I’ve already got the other one ready to go. You don’t even have riding gear on that one yet.”
Leyla smiled and shrugged. “He wants to help the princess and is willing to take us of his own free will.”
Nessim’s eyes widened. “And he integrated with you? You’re not supposed to do that.”
Leyla couldn’t hold back the enormous smile that threatened to rip her face in half. She even giggled and shrugged sheepishly. “You know what they say about desperate times.”
The guard put his hand on her shoulder and nodded approvingly. “It’s always the dragon’s choice. If he accepts you, then he knows you are worthy. That is all that matters.”
Nessim placed his hands together to boost Leyla up onto the Ytar’s broad back. Then he handed Banu up into Leyla’s waiting arms.
“Go with the wind. Get the princess to safety. I will stay here to make sure these foolish girls don’t tell anyone how you escaped. I’ll try to keep them occupied until you’ve had sufficient time to get her far enough away that Sevda can’t locate her.”
Leyla thanked Nessim and let the dragon know they were ready to go. Ytar leaped into the air and spread his mighty bronze wings. The swiftness and power of the dragon’s body made her catch her breath. The princess squealed with delight and excitement.
This was by far the most magnificent dragon that Leyla had ever ridden. And the best part was that she didn’t even have to use any riding gear to direct it. All she had to do was think about where she wanted to go, and the dragon was already heading in the proper direction.
“Where are we going?” Banu asked over the sound of the wind.
“I’m not sure yet,” Leyla answered honestly. “First, we are going to stop behind the chapel in the village to meet some friends. We’re going to see what Master Danyal’s intentions are. If they are good, we will go where he directs us. If not, we’ll head out on our own. But don’t worry. Ytar and I will do everything within our power to keep you safe until you are old enough to come back and claim your father’s throne. Then you can avenge those who killed your parents.”
Banu looked up in surprise. “Does that mean that someday I will still be queen?”
Leyla looked down at her and smiled soberly. “Yes, little princess. You’ve done well escaping them so far. Now you just have to stay alive and learn how to be a mighty warrioress. I will teach you everything I’ve learned. And when I can’t teach you anymore, we will find others who are better than me.”
The little princess smiled gratefully up at Leyla and snuggled into her arms to nestle up for warmth against the chill wind. Her eyes drooped heavily, and she drifted into a light sleep as they flew toward the village ahead.
Leyla looked up and noticed that the sky was getting lighter, and the stars were growing dimmer. She glanced back over her shoulder to see the light of the sun bursting up over the horizon, just like in her dream.
Suddenly Leyla gasped. Just like in her dream. She had been riding a mighty dragon without riding gear. The dream had been a premonition of her being fully integrated with Ytar before it even happened.
The only difference was that in her dream, she had been holding a bow and not a child. Then it hit her. Banu was the bow. The little princess was the weapon that Leyla had been given to defeat this evil that was attempting to take over the kingdom.
Tears welled up in her eyes. Grateful for this opportunity. Pleased to be serving her purpose. And satisfied that her gifts were showing up finally.
Did this mean that she had the gift of premonition? Would she be able to see things before they happened? Leyla liked the thought of that. She swore to herself that she would do everything she could to develop this gift and use it to protect the princess.