Want. Her. Back. Now!” Gordell roared in the cave where his warriors had gathered. His deep, parched voice boomed in all of their ears, and practically made the stone walls vibrate. Over two-hundred of his warriors sat around the raging campfire gaping at him as if they were scared to even breathe.
Gordell Rhaumonesthius, Chief of Weyr Rhaumonesthius, was a formidable male. Standing an intimidating six-feet-ten-inches tall with broad, bronzed-shoulders as wide and solid as a medium-sized boulder; anyone would have to be insane to court his wrath.
Thick, raven-black hair hung straight reaching the lower part of his back. Long, thin warrior braids trailed down both sides of his usually handsome face, which was currently formed of rigid planes and stressed angles. Though he was covered in black soot from that morn’s battle, his perfect bone structure was ever-present, lending to his looks that every female always took notice of.
Gordell’s usual demeanor was a pleasant one; almost everyone enjoyed his wit, charm, and humor, but at present, anyone whom would attempt to approach him would be a fool. He darted his cold, deep-blue gaze around the cave daring anyone to say anything wrong. Simply one wrong word, and sadly, it would most likely be their last as such a brazen fool would not live much longer.
This was a side of Gordell almost nobody had ever encountered. He had never had any reason to be so riled, so thoroughly angered, before this day. Sure, he had a temper and, yes, most certainly they had all seen it before. But this? This was downright terrifying. Then again, this was about his Truemate, his beautiful, loving Yoren.
Gordell and Yoren had known each other all of their lives; grew up together, had the same friends, even their families had gathered for fun as well as fought at each other’s backs. They always knew they were meant for one another, and just had their official Mating Ritual less than one year ago. Also, though no one else yet knew, Yoren was carrying his youngling.
If any harm came to either of them… he did not even want to contemplate such a thought. May Meynix—their Goddess—have mercy on the fool and any of his conspirators for their unforgivable actions against his Yoren and their youngling! His fury ratcheted up another notch. Anger, resentment, fear were all eating at his insides like acid dripping through his veins. Not fear of the situation—never that—fear for them; his female and their youngling.
He had never experienced such potent emotions, and Gordell found he did not particularly care for them, either. He was too angry, too emotional. Such feelings would only serve to complicate things. But, how was he supposed to tamp them down? If he did not, he knew all-too-well he could become reckless, a terribly dangerous thing for a warrior.
Is that what the bastard wants from me? Did Mazar want Gordell so out of his mind, so crazed with emotions he would fail due to his own madness? That could not happen. If it did, he would never see them again, alive or… no! No more thinking along those lines.
He would construct a plan of action; not just attack, but action. One that would ensure the safe and swift return of his female and youngling back into his life, his care. He shook his head at himself. ‘His care’? Apparently, he had not done a highly commendable job of caring for and keeping her safe, or this would have never happened to begin with.
Shaking his head again, this time trying to dispel those thoughts, this was the worst position Gordell had ever found himself in. Again, he did not particularly care for it.
As High Commander of his troupes, he had orchestrated countless battles, never losing a single one. He had never been bested. He had taken some hits, of course, even some near fatal blows, but he always bounced back. Even on his almost-death bed, he had never felt as helpless, as vulnerable as he did at this moment.
No, this should not have happened and now it was up to him to fix, and see that it never happened again. If only he and his warriors had been faster. The other Weyr warriors had been plenty quick as they went about the business of taking his Yoren. It was only due to Gordell’s First and his unerringly accurate senses that they even knew what was happening when they did.
The abducting cowards had fled but many of them had fallen back, ordered to watch for anyone attempting to cease their efforts. Only problem was, his Yoren was long gone, way ahead of the Dragon-shifters he and his warriors had battled with. And right here, in my own territory!
The firm, always calm voice of his First brought Gordell back to the present. “Gordell, might I speak freely?” He probably should say no. Gordell was certain Darkan would say all the right things; things he, himself, should be thinking right now. Of course, he had never been this far gone, either, so anyone else would probably make considerable sense at this point.
Heaving out a long sigh, Gordell replied, “Yes, Darkan. Help me see reason or anything which may help make sense of this atrocity, if you can.” Taking a seat on the cave’s hard dirt-packed floor, he grabbed a wooden mug of fire-brew; only the best for he and his warriors. The brew burned a fine path all the way through your body beginning in your throat, not ending till it hit your toes. He could think of nothing better at the moment, so he drank long and deep, waving his other hand toward Darkan in a gesture for him to speak freely.
Darkan cleared his throat. “Let me begin by offering my apologies for allowi—”
“Do not blame yourself for this! If anyone is to shoulder the blame, let it be known here and now in front of everyone, it is me who carries this burden. No one but myself. And I may as well put it out there now, my Truemate is carrying our first youngling. Proceed, but be warned; no more of that,” Gordell bellowed.
Collective grunts and gasps of disbelief resounded from all around the cave. Gordell knew this would happen and now all of them would go crazed, just as he had. But it was best for them to know.
Gordell raked them all with one sharp glare, his goal achieved by the warriors immediately toning their voices, quietly chattering to and over each other for a moment. After another moment, everyone realized Gordell and Darkan were both glaring daggers at them. A few roughly mumbled apologies were voiced before silence ensued once more.
“My thanks for your attention. This news changes much. It has been an unwritten code for all of time that no harm will ever come to a female unless she has been taken for law breaking, or some other type of punishable offense. Now that the youngling has been announced, this is even more serious. Nobody is ever allowed to harm a youngling, especially while it is still in the mother’s womb. I believe it is safe to assume that Yoren and the youngling are whole and hale as we speak, and will remain thus. Mazar may as well have forged his own death order just by taking Yoren with the youngling growing inside her.” Scrubbing a large, soot-blackened hand down his tired, equally grimy face, Darkan took a few deep breaths attempting to calm himself. “We know where they are, or at least the general area. Do any of you know specific details of their claim?”
Every Dragon Weyr had a large territory, whereupon, they may choose any part of it to stake their main claim; the village area and where their Chief’s holdings would be available to all. Whoever did not wish to reside in or near the main claim had the option to choose another area, as long as it was within the borders of the overall territory.
Much of the outer-territory—the parts where nobody settled—was where livestock grazed alongside other animals. Many were used for continual breeding, but the majority were slaughtered and used to feed the entire Weyr no matter where they were, as long as they remained within the main territory borders.
No matter where they live out their overlong lives, most remained with their family and other Weyr members in the same area. Dragon-shifters lived for at least one-thousand years, but some—the extremely strong—lived even longer. Many fell in battle as there always seemed to be one raging somewhere in the Dragon Cove Realm.
Most males were fierce warriors, having cut their teeth on the practice field. Being a warrior was the highest, most coveted and respected position one could have bestowed upon him. If they were fated to fall in battle, that was also highly respectable.
There were accidents, nobody could fully avoid them, but it did not happen often to a Dragon-shifter. Beside the fact that there was no honor, whatsoever, in death-by-accident, it was also possible merely to be marred, crippled, or worse; death would be a welcome alternative to certain ill-fates.
When an unmated male was not engaged in battle, he was helping his father and mother to care for their homes and families, hunting to keep the Weyr fed, and doing necessary repairs and such around their homes.
Hunting was always a pleasurable sport. Any male worth his scales as a warrior was an exceptional hunter. Not only did it keep their families and Weyr members fed, it also kept their fighting skills sharply honed while they were not battling. A win-win for all.
Darkan was recalled to earlier years, back when Gordell and Yoren had been younglings and grown into their adolescent stages, then into adulthood. They were birthed in the same year, a particularly telling sign and rare happening. He was older than them by merely fifty-four years, but it certainly felt much longer at times. Especially times like these.
He had always felt protective of all his Weyr members, but those two had niched out a special place deep inside Darkan’s heart. That was why he had no reservations when Gordell had called upon him to be his First, his right-hand warrior, brethren to their Weyr. To fight directly at Gordell’s back in battle, help draw up battle plans, even simply to spend time around the two, and help keep the entire Weyr in check.
They needed someone to do it, and Darkan was the best. Having served Gordell’s own father before him for a time, he was the ideal candidate for the position. Now, with the abduction of Yoren and the coming youngling he would be expected, and rightly so, to come up with the best plan, and then carry it out to perfection. He knew by the expression Gordell had been sporting on his puss since this all began two-days ago, his expertise would make or break Gordell. He was more than up for the task.
“No replies? Has no one anything to add? I was certain at least a few of you would know something of their territory. All right, let me think.” Darkan raked his hand through his hair a few times, tousling it more with each pass. The male looked awful, he needed sleep, food, and time to think clearly. But, he did not have time for such luxuries at present, there was too much yet to do. He was surprised when his Chief next spoke, and at what the male said.
“Darkan is right, no harm should dare come to Yoren or our youngling. Without rest and food, none of us will be any good for anything, only liabilities to ourselves. Everyone go home, clean and rest up, then let us all meet back here at sunrise. My thanks to you all, too, as those two mean everything to me.” With one sharp nod of his head, Gordell left the massive cave to seek his quiet, lonely, overlarge home.
“You are not stupid enough to believe you will truly live through this, are you, Mazar?” Yoren had been throwing those kinds of words at him since they abducted her. Two. Days. Thence. His head was throbbing and he was seriously considering begging Gordell to take her back, to forget the entire, blasted event had ever happened.
No harm had, nor would come to the female. She was beautiful and smart, all the things a strong male looks for in a Truemate. But, her mouth needed to learn how not to work itself so! She had aggravated him more than anyone he had ever known, and that was the truth. He had no idea she would be such a chore to have around. In fact, he had thought she would be pleasant to look at, maybe even a little fun to tease. He could not have been more wrong.
“Do you always speak so, Yoren? Does Gordell allow you such verbal freedoms? If so, he is a fool!” Mazar shook his head in disgust.
He and all his fellow-warriors who had gone with him arrived back at their territory only moments ago. The other warrior’s females—quiet and obedient females—had readied baths, prepared foods, and were not bothering any of the males. Exactly how good females should behave.
In reply, Yoren merely gave him a scathing glare, shook her head, and grumbled words under her breath. Though he could not make them out, he was positive they were not things any female should ever be allowed to even hear, let alone repeat! She vexed him, and he knew if he didn’t make his way away from her, he feared he may explode!
Although he did not understand nor believe how she acted, Mazar had to admit she was tough. She had been dragged along through rough terrain and braved the heat without a single complaint about either circumstance. But she was still impossible.
He and his fellow-warriors had secreted Yoren away into a small, empty shack near the back of their village. He wondered now, why she was not being louder, wailing and squawking as she had on the journey back here, ensuring her grievance was clearly known to all.
Has the female figured out that I did this whole thing in secret, and merely awaits the perfect moment to take someone unawares and scream? Or cause a disturbance knowing she would be saved and sent back to her Weyr and Truemate? he puzzled. What will I do now? He should have never entertained the idiotic notion of abducting the female. His and Gordell’s Weyr had never been especially fond of one another, but they had never battled, either. They simply had left each other alone. What have I done?
During trading and other necessary Weyr business that had him traveling to other territories, he had seen Yoren from a distance many times over the years. He always noticed a radiance about her, a smile which sparkled in the light. Her long, flowing, silky tresses looked as if they had been spun of the purest gold. Her soft laugh which echoed and bounced off the mountains framing the valley her Weyr lived in.
After hearing the news that she and Gordell’s official Mating Ritual had taken place less than a year ago, Mazar was peeved beyond measure. Why should Gordell have her? He already had the best territory, the finest warriors, and the most faithful, loyal Weyr members. Why did he get her, too? Even knowing how wrong it was, Mazar had snapped and decided to take Yoren to have for his own.
Females always did as they were told even if they did not like it. They did not have to like it; they only had to do it. Or so he thought. He cursed a string of self-loathing words in his native tongue. Yoren’s head shot up and she glared at him as if he had personally insulted her. What is the matter with her? And for her to think she has any rights? Surely she errs and is not allowed to behave so at home? Surely! Females never acted out thusly!
Grumbling under his breath, Mazar got up and walked at a fast clip, seriously reconsidering what he had done as he kicked rocks all the way to his home. He knew it was wrong while the plan was being carried out, but could not help himself. He was beyond tired of waiting.
Male-Dragons sometimes had to wait many lifetimes to find their Truemate. Until they did, after reaching full adult maturity, there was a horrible, constant buzzing noise inside their heads, and they could rarely sleep. Even if they did, it was always a fitful, terror-filled sleep.
A male had to kiss a female to know if she was his or not. If she was, the buzzing would cease, and they could start sleeping at their next bedtime. What would one not do to attain such an elusive peace? What would a male not give for such a blessing? Although Yoren was Mated to Gordell, Mazar simply could not accept it. He was older than them, had waited longer, he deserved happiness and a certain measure of peace.
The worst part of this atrocity was, Gordell never suffered any of the discomforts of having to wait. He and Yoren had been born the same year and grew up together. Mazar had been told that Gordell placed a chaste kiss on Yoren’s lips when they were still very young. The buzzing did not even begin until a male was full-grown. The bastard had not suffered a single day!
Upon entering his humble home, he expelled some of his frustrations by kicking the entry-door harder than he probably should have. Trying to quell his rage before it thoroughly consumed him, Mazar went directly to the counter and poured himself a cup of fire-brew. Drinking it all down without stopping, he slammed the wooden cup down on the counter hard enough to crack its surface, making him even angrier at himself. He did not have much, but this was his home and he was proud of it.
It seemed that he was most definitely losing his mind and had been for a long time now. He just needed the buzzing to stop, and some real sleep. Was that asking too much? Have I not always been an asset to this Weyr and always treated them all well? He was not the Chief, but he did rank higher than most—did—being the operative word. After the Chief found out what he had done, he would be punished, stripped of his position, and most likely become an outcast; a laughingstock. And who even knows what else? He may end up dead, too. Along with his fellow-warriors and closest friends who had gone along with his stupid idea.
Mazar flung himself down into a wooden chair at his table. Was there a way to get Yoren back to Gordell and forget this whole thing happened? Shaking his head at his own ineptness, that was a joke. This news, if it had not already, would spread quickly throughout the Realm. There would be other Weyr backing Gordell in a massive hunt for Mazar’s head. Maybe he should just give it to them.
What a way to live… he had to think. After another drink. It would help quiet the buzzing in his head, calm his thoughts, and tame his inner animal. It had to. He got up so fast he knocked his chair over backwards and snorted in self-disgust. He went back to the counter and upended the jug of fire-brew, not stopping until it was empty.
Sighing, Yoren lay back on the filthy fur a male had thrown at her from the door of the sparse, one-room shack they had just placed her in. Her wrists throbbed and burned from the rough-rope Mazar had bound them with. The dried blood itched, and being in her carrying state, her wounds would take longer to heal; pity, that. Something she had always taken for granted—until now. She tried to find comfort in several positions, but it was no use. One of the males had at least retied her hands in front of her, as they had been behind her back since she had been abducted.
“Oh, Gordell, how did this happen? Where are you? You must hurry! I know you are coming for me, but hurry. Our youngling will not survive much of this abuse,” she said aloud. She could take it, but not their innocent unborn-youngling. She had been fed but not much nor well. Their kind had exceptionally healthy appetites and now that she was carrying, it had almost doubled. Her stomach tighten and growled loudly just at the thought of food.
Fighting back the tears threatening to break her spirit, she closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep. It did not work.
What was Mazar thinking? He had to know he would never get away with abducting her. Perhaps he had gone quite mad; she had heard tales of male Dragons doing just that if they never found their Truemate. She had never witnessed or even given it much thought, but if this is what their madness caused, she felt a small twinge of sympathy for them. She knew she was getting under Mazar’s skin and most likely driving him even madder. What did he expect?
She neither had, nor would ever do anything to harm another soul, and she most assuredly did not deserve this. And now that she was carrying her and Gordell’s youngling, she was afraid for the first time in her life.
Yoren was on a footpath which ran from the back of their holdings to the small village where many traveling vendors had set up their wares just the day prior. She knew of a female who traveled a long way to hock her silks and other fine fabrics, said to be the most beautiful in the Realm. She wanted to purchase a variety of them to sew blankets and clothing for her youngling. The nursery had been coming along quite nicely, and Yoren could not wait to decorate the walls and furniture her father had already been building. This was supposed to be the happiest time of her life.
As she walked along the footpath singing quietly to herself, she heard the sound of twigs snapping, but did not give it any real thought. There were always harmless animals in the woods minding to themselves. Younglings often played in the woods, too. She thought that was all it was.
She turned her attention back to the path she traveled on when suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, all the breath was knocked from her lungs in a rush as something large and heavy hit her from behind. She found herself lying face down on the footpath surrounded by several rough-looking males, not from her Weyr.
“So finally, she leaves the safe, protected walls of her holdings. Alone. Not a very smart thing to do, now is it, Yoren?” Mazar sneered the words from behind her, then reached down and roughly yanked on her arm to turn her over so he could see her face. She was shocked at what she saw; he looked crazed, filthy, and quite scary.
She had seen Mazar before but never up close. She was also told of his name, but never gave him any thought. Why would I? She had Gordell, the love of her life. She did not want, nor did she need to be thinking of other males. She simply never did. Mazar has to have a Truemate of his own. What is he doing here attacking me? she wondered. How could he have known Gordell and his warriors would be gone this day?
Stiffening her spine and letting her temper flare, she spat back, “How dare you attack me? What do you want? You must know Gordell will skin you alive and roast you on a spit when he hears of this!” Yoren was usually mild-mannered and friendly but this was going too far, she felt this warranted unleashing her always well-controlled temper.
“Ah, yes… your precious Gordell. And where is he now? Should your almighty male not guard his female better? Obviously he is so overly-confident, he feels no harm would ever come here to his own territory. Would he not at least set a guard around you, his ‘Truemate’? Perhaps he does not love you as much as you thought.”
Yoren shuddered inside at the hate she felt coming off of Mazar in thick, hot waves. What has anyone here done to rile him? She had not heard of any grudges or problems which would precipitate such blatant disregard and animosity towards her Weyr.
She realized quickly she would be unable to fight her way out of this situation. There were too many of them, and she was carrying. It would be best to keep that bit private for now, she decided. Furthermore, she would do anything to protect her family, including letting this crazed-male abduct her, if it would keep him from harming her and in the end, their youngling.
Feeling sick to her stomach, she wanted to retch. But that would show weakness, and she was not weak. Gordell would come for her; he would kill for her… for their youngling.
Bringing her mind back to the present, Yoren stifled a moan as she rolled from her back onto her side. There were no windows in the shack where she was being held prisoner. If there was, she could at least see the stars which always soothed her. She knew if she could only relax a bit, she could sleep. She also knew if she could sleep, she would be stronger and this ordeal would not be so hard on her body.
Why did I not pay more attention to my surroundings? She should have known when her instincts made her stop at hearing the twigs snap, something was amiss. Dragon-shifters had exceptional instincts and they were raised never to ignore them. Since she had been carrying their youngling, however, her mind seemed to go its own way often. Her current decision making abilities left much to be desired. She simply could not concentrate well of late, and that had been her downfall.
The only thing keeping her together now was, she knew with all she had that Gordell would come for her… them. If it was only her, she would have already fought back—most likely to her own death—but she would have at least made the attempt. Alas, she would never do anything to put herself and their youngling in danger, not more than they already were, so she had succumbed to Mazar’s madness.
What does this all have to do with me? She did not truly believe he would let real harm come to her. He had to know her abduction was already severe enough, but harming an innocent female and an unborn innocent was the lowest of lows. Until now, only she and Gordell knew of their coming youngling. Her and her Truemate had wanted the announcement to be a private affair, a celebration with only family and close friends. Too late now. Surely everyone knows now, since the abduction?
Only a few youngling were born into each Weyr every year, and some mated-pairs waited lifetimes to create new life. Females were treated extremely well, as if they were as fragile as the younglings they carried. They were pampered and taken exceptional care of by all, even their enemies. Therefore, just the injuries on her wrists—cuts, rope-burns, and bruises—Mazar was already begging for death.
Deciding to reflect upon treasured memories, times when she and Gordell were younger and he was always near, Yoren closed her eyes once more. She was exhausted and kept minding herself that she must sleep, or she would have a much harder time of it here; away from her Weyr, her home, and her Gordell. And it helped, as she finally dozed off and allowed darkness to envelop her.