Chapter 1  


     The echoing thunder of hooves shattered the stillness of the morning air; seeming to come from all directions. The sound drew closer, growing louder and louder as the beast itself galloped nearer. A massive white stallion raced around the bend of the trail, the sight of the horse in itself enough to amaze anyone who might be watching.

     His tail and mane were brilliant, nearly as bright as the noonday sunlight. His tail streamed out behind him unfettered as he sped down the forest track. Every muscle stood out, rippling with each step that he took as he stretched out his long legs, plunging heedlessly around the bend of the road. His eyes flashed wildly, almost in madness. He was beautiful, yet deadly.      

     This was an apt description of the rider of this steed as well. She was regal, yet wild; beautiful, but deadly as well. Her long blonde hair matched that of her steed; untamed, unbound, it blew about her face now, momentarily hiding it from view. She wore a plain peasant blouse of a deep green, and dark brown breeches, yet with one glance you knew that this was no ordinary maiden out for a midsummer ride.

     As the wind swept back her hair you could see her face, a vision of beauty. Her eyes, deep, lustrous pools of blue that a man could lose himself in, her lips so red, so full, enough to drive a man wild with desire. Her laugh rang out, pure joy in it as she sped down the forest path heedless of any danger. She feared no one, whether they be mortal or undead. This is the Lady Briana, companion to Lord Robin and a powerful witch in her own right.

     She had been born into a poor shareholder’s family, and it had not been long before her powers were noticed. As she had grown and matured, so had her powers. When she was but a young woman, three young men of Noble birth sought to take advantage of her shapely, well-formed body after the men had consumed a few too many flagons of ale at the local tavern. They were quickly persuaded that it would be unhealthy to pursue her favors any further by the fact that their breeches had suddenly burst into flames very close to a favorite part of their anatomy. They decided that it would be in their best interests to leave the area quickly - and screaming very loudly.

     From that time on she was shunned, the village fearful of the wrath of the Noble-born. This was perfectly acceptable to her since it gave her more time to develop her skills. As she grew older she found that most of the villagers were still quick to seek her help as soon as they were in need of her healing powers.

     Using her stock of herbs and roots, powders and potions, she was usually able to help the person by nursing them back to health. To this end she earned a measure of professional respect, but was still feared and loathed by many. Many of the women were jealous of her great beauty, and of the looks that their men cast her way as she walked through the village. And so they had been pleased when she met a man, married, and left the village.

     Tales were later told of her children, sired by this “man”, whom the villagers found out later was no man, but a demon that only appeared to be human to secure a mother for his children. For many years Briana had suffered under his touch, his control, until she ferreted out the truth of what he was and what it was that he was about. Escaping his grasp with her two young children, she was able to run, but the demon followed close behind.

     In a desperate moment, knowing that her life and the lives of her children were forfeit, she rose up against him and cast him out of this world of Man, sending him back to the Hell from which he had been spawned. Free now, she had returned to her friends, the Sisters of the Dark Fell. By chance she finally met Lord Robin, but that in itself is a tale that needs be told at another time.

     And with this, we must return to the story at hand.


     The stallion’s name was Eamnonn, “protector” in the Old Tongue. And protector he certainly was. Anyone who approached the rider of this steed in his presence would meet a quick and deadly attack from the horse, if he was to divine that the person wished her any harm at all. He had been a gift from Lady Briana’s companion and the Lord of this Castle, Robin of L’ochlee, on the anniversary of their vows. Eamnonn had served her well in the past, and would continue to as long as he was able.

    The two continue their headlong plunge down the forest track, heading now for the plume of smoke that roiled up into the sky some ways ahead of them. Eamnonn’s hooves pounded the earth, great gobbets of the ground being ripped from their place in the road and flying up behind him as he went rampaging on down the track.

     Finally the two came within sight of the source of the smoke. A farmer’s hay-barn stood there in the midst of a field, completely engulfed in flames. The farmer could do naught but stand back from the heat and flames and watch as his winter feed was destroyed before his very eyes. Briana brought Eamnonn to a sliding halt a short distance away from where he stood, quickly throwing herself out of the saddle and hurrying over to the man. He stood there, tears rolling silently down his cheeks as he saw his very livelihood going up in smoke. Briana put her hand on his shoulders in commiseration, unable to offer him any solace in his misery.

     They stood this way in silence as the roof of the barn collapsed, making a loud  “whumph!” as it fell into the center of the conflagration, sending streams of sparks shooting up from all sides. The farmer turned now and looked at Briana, blinking away the tears from his eyes.

    “Yea know I love them like they was my own, Milady” he paused for a moment, taking out a large kerchief and blowing his nose loudly into it. He wadded it up and shoved it back into the cavernous pocket of his over-trousers, then sniffed loudly.

     “Where are they, Samuel?” she asked him, looking about the field now. She followed the farmer’s pointing finger, looking over towards the base of a clump of trees that stood near to the stream that coursed along the southern edge of the field.

     Briana could just barely make out two largish-sized creatures that lay in wait under the spreading branches of the nearest trees, hunkered down as if they were attempting to make themselves invisible. She wrinkled up the corner of her mouth in dismay and began to make her way across the ruts of the field and towards the two. Eamnonn trailed along behind her, dragging his reins, which Briana hadn’t thought to tie around the saddle horn.

     They drew near to the tree, the two creatures now clearly visible as they discerned that they had been spotted. One of them, the smaller of the two, was a greenish color that nearly matched the color of the patches of grass that grew along the banks of the stream. The other ones coloring matched that of the dirt beneath, a dusty gray-black that blended in with his surroundings.

     Briana stopped short some ten feet or so in front of them, her hands now on her hips, her displeasure evident on her face and in her manner. She stood there silent, looking from one creature to the other. Finally she shook her head, and spoke.

    “What happened, and which of you did it, if I need ask?” she looked hard at the largest one, who met her gaze with an attempt to appear innocent. He shifted back and forth from one set of legs to the other, her gaze clearly unsettling him more and more with each passing moment. Finally the greenish one spoke.

     “It wasn’t really his fault.” She glanced over at the other one, then back to Briana. “It was all the dust in there. Honestly, it was all I could do not to!”

     Briana looked over at the other creature, an eyebrow raised questioningly. He rolled his eyes and grimaced, looking up at her. “Alright, alright already!” he sighed. “I sneezed, is all! Not my fault the place is so dusty.” He sniffed loudly. “Besides that, I think that I may have allergies!”

     Briana turned and pointed at the remains of the hay barn. “A sneeze did that? One single solitary sneeze?” She looked back at the two young dragons that stood there sheepishly before her.

     “Well, it was a rather large sneeze, you know!” the gray one told her. This was Cayden, the last male dragon left in the world and the Heir to the throne of the Dragon King once he came of age. Until then he was the charge of Lady Briana and Lord Robin, who were responsible for their training, and in this case, their accidents.

     “It really was, Briana.” offered up the green dragon. This was Aiden, the last female dragon on this world, also one of Briana’s responsibilities. “I saw his nose twitch, and then the next thing I knew, he fired and the whole place was burning!”

     “I let you come visit Samuel, and how do you repay his kindness? Burning down his buildings and destroying his stores for the coming winter?” She shook her head once more. “And just how do you suppose that the man is going to feed his animals come first snowfall?”

     The two stood there fidgeting, not having considered this before now. Aidan looked at Cayden, who shrugged his shoulders and looked up at Briana. “I suppose we will start to work to gather more hay, since I did burn down his barn. But we are not exactly equipped to build a new barn, Briana. Do you suppose that…”

     Briana cut him off with a wave of her hand and turned and went back to where Samuel still stood watching the remains of his barn continue to burn. Walking up next to him, she cleared her throat to get his attention.

     “Are there any lads hereabout that you could hire to help rebuild your barn, Samuel?” she asked of him. “Of course, Lord Robin and I will furnish the coin for the labor and materials.”

     This got the attention of the farmer, whose eyes brightened at the thought of having a new barn. His old one had been barely serviceable as it was, and surely only had a very few years left before it had fallen in of it’s own accord. He glanced over at Briana, and nodded.

     “There are plenty of lads looking to earn a few coins this time of year, what with the harvest nearly all in and all.” he told her. “I sure can find some in at the tavern this evening that knows’ what they be doing with tools and such.”

     Briana looked over at the bright embers of the barn and then turned back to Samuel. “And make this one twice as big, will you? I want those two to really have to work to fill it back up, you hear?” Briana glanced back over at the two dragons, still standing there anxiously waiting to hear what their punishment was to be. “And no help from anyone else, either. This is to be their job and their job only. It is the only way that they are going to learn to take responsibility for their own actions, and face the consequences of what happens, even if it truly was an accident.”

     Samuel glanced over at the dragons, and his face softened. “I know, I know, Briana, but they really didn’t mean any harm, not on purpose anyways, they di’nt! And I truly enjoy having the two of them come ta visit me, as well.”

     Briana turned back towards him. “All well and fine, Samuel, but will you hike up to Castle Alleyne for the winter after they burn you out of house and hearth?” She laid her hand on his arm once again. “They enjoy visiting with you just as much, you know, and it helps me out a lot, having somewhere to send them to when they get to be a bit much for me!”

     The farmer laid his grizzled, work-hardened hand on top of hers, and smiled at her. “Very well, Milady, since you ask it of me, who am I to refuse?” He nodded over towards the two dragons. “Are you going to tell them what it is that they are to do?”

     “Oh, I think that they have already figured out what it is that they are in for, Samuel!” She smiled at the thought of the dragons tediously gathering up the dry grasses of the river plains and painstakingly hauling it back to the now twice-as-big barn to store it.

“And if they haven’t, they will very shortly!”

     With that said, she climbed back into Eamnonn’s saddle, and set off at an unhurried pace back down the forest trail in the direction of Castle Alleyne. The two dragons wrinkled up their noses at her back, and then set off to the river bottoms. There they began to drag the clumps of dried grasses up into large piles, which they then levitated a few inches off of the ground and guided up near where the new barn was to be constructed.

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